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Is a Wedding Planner Worth It?

I am not a party thrower. The last party I had that called for formal invitations, a band, and cases of booze involved my five college roommates and, at the end, the Fire Department. My fiancé had a similarly slim entertaining history. He threw himself exactly one birthday party in the last fifteen years. But since we didn't think renting out a basement bar and plugging in his iPod would make for a memorable wedding, we had to start from scratch.

I'd always thought that finding a dress would be the hardest part of the process. Once I signed the credit-card slip for that, I figured planning the main event without a wedding planner would be something I could handle. I say "I" when it comes to our wedding because at the very moment that key decisions had to start being made, my normally opinionated fiancé morphed into a groom who had no opinion on anything. (I'm told this is common.)

So I bought a notebook with multiple color-coded sections (I know, I know) and made lists of "vendors" in each one. How hard could this be? I already knew the lingo. And we already knew the place: my parents' lawn. Truthfully, I'd always imagined planning my wedding along with my mom, like in the movies. She is an expert problem solver and an efficient haggler. So good, in fact, that I feared if we did this together, I'd fall into the familiar trap of letting her take over. Simply handing over the reins on an occasion that was meant, in part, to confirm my entry into adulthood would, I thought, be like saying, "I'm not an adult." And hiring someone to play my mother - a professional wedding planner, in other words - seemed like a cop-out.

My fiancé and I discussed our budget in vague terms, but then had to completely throw out our estimates when we met the band. It was our first appointment, and the smallest possible collection of musicians cost four times more than we had imagined. The caterer whom everyone recommended was twice the price of the band. We'd meet with people, and while they talked, our eyes would glaze over. It was like when a waiter reads you a long list of specials at a restaurant. It all starts to blur. "Did he say seventeen thousand or seventeen hundred?" I'd ask.

The advice I kept hearing was to pick what was most important to us - the food, the music, the flowers - and throw our money there. The problem was, I cared about everything.

The paper stock for the invitations took a weekend to approve. For one week, we'd rendezvous with photographers. We met one in a park and sat in our coats like spies reporting on a mission, discussing the intimate details of our family dynamics. Sometimes it got emotional. When I called to tell a photographer we'd decided to go with someone else, she called back to say she really wanted to come to the wedding.

With three months to go and a notebook full of lists and numbers and more lists, it occurred to me that I was essentially producing a musical. We had a cast, an orchestra, technicians. It was overwhelming and ridiculous to be doing alone, but in making all the choices, there were some unexpected side benefits. It forced us to define simple things about ourselves that we hadn't thought about before and, perhaps more important, to define our style together. It turns out we both don't like roses. We like pie better than cake. We think "Twist and Shout" should be banned at weddings. "I've Been Waiting," by Matthew Sweet, on the other hand, is a perfect first-dance song.

Doing the legwork without a planner had another unexpectedly pleasant result. I not only liked everyone we hired, from the rabbi to the head waiter, but by the time spring rolled around, I was friends with them. I always thought there was something strange about having so many people you've never met participate in such an intimate occasion - there were relatives we couldn't afford to include, after all. But these people were like wedding guests who have pages in our album. I'm still good friends with our photographer. Months later, we ran into the lead singer at a party our wedding band was playing at - we ran up and hugged each other.

The only moment when a planner might have come in handy was on our actual wedding day. I'd called everyone involved the night before to triple-confirm that the champagne glasses, tablecloths, and portable restrooms would be there as scheduled. I wrote up a master list of contacts to keep with me under my dinner plate. But when I was getting into my gown with my bridesmaids, and battling the hangover from the previous night's raucous rehearsal dinner, the phone rang. It was a guest gently reporting that the cute yellow school bus I'd hired to shuttle everyone from the hotel to the wedding never showed up.

It was the one call I'd forgotten to make. I guess if I'd had a planner, he or she would have thought of it. But then again, I like to think I have the kind of friends who can call for a cab.


From the Spring 2005 New York Wedding Guide


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