I wasn’t a little girl who dreamed of her wedding and neither was my girlfriend, but after several summers of friends’ weddings, we started talking about what we would and wouldn’t want at our own.
We went to a wonderful weekend wedding in the Berkshires, where all the guests stayed in the same hotel, playing games and eating many delicious meals together on the grounds. That inspired us to look up similar set-ups in Lake Tahoe, which is a very special place to me.
We went to a beautiful, intimate, outdoor wedding in Ojai, where the bride and groom danced with their best friends to all our favorite songs. That inspired us (or maybe just me) to look up barns and fields in the middle of nowhere where we could turn the music up loud and keep it on into the night.
We looked at our bank accounts and I started lobbying for a surprise wedding. We’d invite our local friends over for what they thought was just dinner and then… SURPRISE! We’d get married. The girlfriend was skeptical.
We went to my cousin’s wedding at her father’s house and had so much fun with far-flung relatives, I knew I couldn’t truly picture a wedding without as much family as we could gather.
The internet is a great and terrible resource when you’re planning a wedding (which I’m sure is a theme I will return to), but after checking out all the local places we could think of and feeling only so-so about any of them, I found a master list of venues for the greater Pasadena area and we struck gold. There was a kids camp nestled into the foothills that rented their grounds during the off-season. We took a tour and fell in love. Everything we’d thrown out during those fantasy brainstorming periods could become a reality at this venue.
Friday night movie screening? Charming amphitheater with log seats and power hook-ups. Outdoor ceremony with interesting lighting? A giant old oak tree could be spun in string lights and serve as a majestic altar. Dance floor with a view? A deck wrapped around the lodge looked down to a wooded canyon and up to the mountains. Space for us to crash with our friends for a few nights? There were a number of yurts and even more flat spaces for tents. Within our budget? Miraculously, yes.
We reserved a date, hugged the venue coordinator and I started filling a Pinterest board with camp-themed party ideas. The picnic tables would be lined up in rows, covered with brown paper and lain with little gilded California brown bears and spatter-ware pitchers filled with wildflowers. I ordered a wood burning tool and envisioned charming wooden signs pointing guests toward their seats, the bar and the dance floor.
An email from the venue coordinator popped up in our inbox and I assumed it contained the date she wanted us to sign our contract, but instead it was short apologetic note saying the camp had decided to stop renting the grounds completely.
I was surprised. I shed a few tears. I started to have an existential crisis.
“Make it your own” is something you see a lot in books and blogs and magazines and whatever else you’re using to guide you through the wedding planning process. It sounds freeing, until you internalize the message.
A wedding you have made your own communicates to all your guests who you are as individuals and a couple. We both felt that Venue #1 communicated just the right message about us to our guests and with that yanked away, I descended into a kind of self-consciousness I hadn’t felt in a decade. I saw every decision I could make from every critical viewpoint I could imagine.
There was a pretty local venue that checked some boxes, but restricted you to their catering. What if the food wasn’t interesting? I used to be a pastry chef. I currently have a small baking business. If the food at my wedding was neither good nor interesting, will people assume I’m a fraud as a chef?
If we went with anything like a standard wedding venue (white table clothes and parquet dance floor), will people think we’re more boring than they realized?
If it was too simple (i.e. within our budget), will people think we’re just broke?
This internal monologue makes it seem like my friends are shallow and hypercritical. They are neither, but I couldn’t get out of this tailspin.
My girlfriend took over calling venues to get price lists and set up appointments, while I wallowed. She remembered a tip from a friend about the benefits and affordability of women’s clubs and that’s how she found the Women’s 20th Century Club in Eagle Rock.
Its exterior is that of a big old craftsman house, which we both love. It has outdoor space, which was important to both of us. The rules for rental are lax and the price was well within our budget. The money we’ll spend there goes to the upkeep of the house and club, which feels good to us. The woman we worked with was kind and welcoming. She told me I look like her daughter-in-law and that she adores her daughter-in-law. Seemed like a good omen, so we signed a contract and handed over our deposit.
After our experience with Venue #1, it was a relief to feel solid with Venue #2, but my over-all feelings about the decision were fringed with disappointment. The WTCC doesn’t allow food trucks, which is what I was going to use to prove to my friends that I have good taste in food. And they don’t allow open flame, which I was going to use to fill the candle holders I’ve been crafting from cut tin on and off for a year. There are some smudges on the walls and a threadbare couch that looks old and dirty. It’s not in the middle of nowhere and we have to kill the music at 11PM.
We’re determined to celebrate whatever we can on our way to the altar, so after signing our contract, we grabbed the very nice bottle of wine I’d been gifted by a client and took ourselves out to dinner at the same Eagle Rock restaurant we’d gone to on Valentine’s Day.
“It’s done,” I kept thinking. “We have a venue, so now the rest can start falling into place like it did before, except this time for keeps. I’ll figure out a way to cover the threadbare couch and we’ll invest in market lights instead of candles. We’ll cover the smudges on the walls and I’m sure with the lights down low and tables filled with flowers, the space will look like a million bucks.” That night at dinner, I didn’t quite believe those things, but I wanted to.
A few months have passed, and I’m much farther down the path of belief. My cousin found sets of photos from other people’s weddings at the WTCC, so I know it really can come alive with a few decorations and a crowd of happy people. My girlfriend and I have come up with new ideas that should make the wedding both an earnest reflection of why our relationship is so great and a fun party for our favorite people. And I’ve started to trade my woodsy themed Pinterest pins for ones that I think are a stylish combination of contemporary bohemian and old Hollywood.
I love hosting parties and I’ve hosted some fun ones, but what is tripping me out about this particular party is how many pits filled with judgement I find myself stumbling into–how much old insecurity I’m uncovering within myself. “Making it my own” is turning into code for infusing these logistics with my specific pathos. And we haven’t even started looking for a caterer.