Is It Even Possible to Have a Chill Wedding?

Photo: Stocksy / Jess Craven
I’m sitting in front of my laptop right now, a document open in front of me titled, ominously, “Wedding Spreadsheets.” That’s right, not just one spreadsheet, but many.

The first has nearly 300 lines and stretches 10 columns across. It’s filled with an array of information: names of guests, likelihood of their attendance, actual costs of everything ranging from rental chairs to lemonade, estimates for whatever we don’t have real numbers on, things for which we've put down a deposit, things we haven't decided at all. Move to the second spreadsheet and you’ll find a “Wedding Weekend” log, which will eventually contain a variety of tasks and who’s in charge of each. The last spreadsheet is a play-by-play of the wedding day itself, a minute-to-minute scheduling mastersheet that I hope to hand off to some TBD person (or people)—TBD because I can’t really afford a planner and also feel the masochistic need to do as much of this as I can myself.

This all kind of flies in the face of the note I wrote to myself about the kind of wedding I wanted to have when I started planning 6 months ago:

Not a pain in the ass; good food & booze; NOT TOO EXPENSIVE; can party late?; enough room for people/not too hard to get to? Also: chill/quirky/fun like us, not super fancy or uptight or boring/bland/basic.

Spreadsheets are not remotely quirky (even if they are color-coded), and they’re certainly not chill. In fact, if I’m being honest, there’s nothing quirky or chill about the process of wedding planning. It’s more, well, kind of a pain in the ass. After all, it’s work. It will be work up until the moment the wedding begins, and then there will be cleanup work after the guests say their goodbyes. All this takes up time I’d otherwise spend on other work, which is why this story (forgive me, dear editor) came in a day or two late.

The chill wedding is a farce, a tyranny, the equivalent of “no-makeup makeup."

And yet, when a friend asks me the simple question, How’s wedding planning going?, I smile and say it’s all moving forward nicely; I’ve reserved all the main stuff, we’re totally on top of it, it’s gonna be great! And then I go home and look at my wedding spreadsheets and consider eloping for the 11-hundredth time. Because the spreadsheets are just the tip of the wedding iceberg. There’s also the registry and the website and the outfits and the venue and the invites (OH MY GOD I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE INTERNAL ENVELOPES). What is a hair trial and do I need one? There’s making fraught decision after fraught decision for fear of losing out on this option, or that one, and there’s the growing fear that you’re about to make some terrible mistake you will surely regret for the rest of your life.  There’s the extensive emotional energy and mental wrangling as you involve yourself with the infinite questions and possible conundrums involved with having a wedding: Do you invite the friend you’ve lost touch with, even if she invited you to her wedding? Are you planning to invite full-grown adult humans WITHOUT dates, because you’ve realized you have space constraints, even though all your wedding-going life you thought people were totally lame for not inviting you with a date? What about kids? What happens when there’s some familial strife, say, people aren’t getting along, or your parents want a piece of the planning action? What happens when the person you’re marrying doesn’t quite agree with all of those plans you’ve worked so hard on?

Now, try to be chill.

The chill wedding is a farce, a tyranny, the equivalent of “no-makeup makeup,” all the effort and anxiety hidden below the surface, where it lurks and burbles and rages with resentment against how it has to be hidden, because how unchill would it be for one of your guests to realize that putting your wedding together took solid effort, blood, sweat, and definitely tears? It’s all chill as hell until the cracks emerge, releasing the emotional equivalent of lava across your perfectly staged photographic moment. Because absolutely no one can have a wedding that requires zero effort and is totally 100-percent “chill.”

But then, why would you want to anyway? For a truly chill wedding, you would have to just… not care. And most people having weddings care deeply.

“Prioritizing [your wedding] looking chill feels like one more way women are asked to put other people’s feelings first,” says Meg Keene, the founder and editor in chief of A Practical Wedding, a site that has been calmly and reasonably soothing the stress that comes with wedding planning for more than a decade. (Her book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, is a balm of a binge-read during chaotic wedding times.) “Do we have a phrase for the emotional labor of hiding the labor?” she asks. Keene feels that the goal shouldn’t be being chill at all—whether in appearance or in effort—but instead should be having a wedding “that protects or prioritizes our mental health. Taking care of your mental health means saying no, setting boundaries, having open and honest conversations, and expressing how you feel," she says.

So wise! And so the opposite of how so many of us have been taught to act, both as women and with regard to weddings, which involve not only ourselves and our future spouses but two or more sets of families and an array of friends and colleagues (whose feelings we must take into account, too, at least to some degree). And, oh, woe to the woman—because it’s so often women planning these things—who cares so much, is so unchill, that she is accused of being that worst of wedding things, the b-word. “I had a friend who admitted she said yes to stuff she didn’t want to say yes to because she didn’t want to be a bridezilla!” Keene tells me. “There’s the whole element of all the cultural pressure women are under to have the perfect wedding and play the cool girl and god forbid you be a bridezilla, which is an anti-feminist word on its face. It’s used as a threat, it’s another way to keep us in line.”

“There’s the whole element of all the cultural pressure women are under to have the perfect wedding and play the cool girl and god forbid you be a bridezilla, which is an anti-feminist word on its face.” —Meg Keene, founder of A Practical Wedding

Liz Moorhead has been an advice columnist for A Practical Wedding for nearly 10 years. She says we’re working against ourselves when chill is the goal: “I think the pressure to be chill can be stressful, in and of itself.” On top of that, “Your idea of chill might not match with what your family is expecting."

Is it even possible to have a chill wedding?, I ask. “Define chill. I think it’s possible to have the appearance of a chill wedding,” Moorhead says. “But I don’t know if it’s possible for you to be chill in the planning unless you have a ton of money.” When she and her husband got married, they thought chill meant DIY, she says. Her friends and family set up folding chairs; they bought tons of desserts at Costco and trayed them themselves. “In a sense that was chill,” she says, laughing. “It was a very nice wedding, but it was work.”

To be “chill,” you need help, Keene points out, whether it’s hired or family or friends. You can’t do it on your own. But for some reason (cough: patriarchy!) we think we’re supposed to. “The truly sane and chill approach is one that we’re all trained is the bad approach,” she says. “Hire a planner, hire a day-of coordinator, if you can afford it; they have the contacts, they can cut through the bullshit.”

Even without a wedding planner, I feel way more chill just talking to Keene, and pick up a range of tips: Don’t decide to suddenly care about things you’ve decided early on don’t matter (like, for me, wedding favors, or a videographer). If social media is making you feel bad, unsubscribe (good non-wedding advice, too). And if you are going to aim for chill, think about the aspect of chill you want: For you? For your guests? The look of chill? A chill process (to the extent that's possible)?

In the beginning of her book, Keene suggests pinpointing what you really want at the beginning of the planning process; she lists a range of words you might use to describe your wedding vibe: “authentic,” “boozy,” “hilarious,” and so on. I feel proud that my note to self wasn’t too far off, but I end up striking “chill” from my original list and instead choose, for better or worse, “quirky relaxed cool.” (Cool vs. Chill: Discuss amongst yourselves.)

We’ll see if that’s how it all ends up, but with 123 days (ACK!) to go, I’m being very low-key about the whole thing. In moments of stress, I reflect back upon another thing Keene told me. The wedding will be over at some point, and will just become “this joyful thing that was done.” The marriage, however, will be just getting started.

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