Lessons learned

After nearly two years of planning, my wedding is now just about two weeks away. It’s been a sometimes-stressful, often-fun, enlightening and exciting two years, with more lessons than I can count.

Here are just a sampling of dos and don’ts I picked up (or wish I had picked up!) to make your big day a bit easier.

Do know your expectations

Knowing what kind of wedding you want before you start planning is important, as that will dictate the seemingly millions of subsequent choices you’ll have to make.

Booking a venue is the first decision you need to make, before you even can pick a date. Large or small, church or hall, backyard or beach? Give serious thought to the size and scope of your event because, once you book a venue, it’ll be hard to go back. Knowing your budget is key to figuring out realistic expectations. You likely can’t have a huge, upscale affair for under a couple thousand, but there are ways to cut corners if a low-key, small gathering isn’t your style. Look at your funds and the amount you could — without giving yourself or your partner too many extra grays — save before the wedding, with ongoing and possibly unforeseen regular life expenses factored in, and marry that to your own vision for your big day.

Similarly, do some thinking ahead of time about the different aspects of your day and what’s most important to you — photography, music, food — as diving in without having a general idea of what you want can lead to a lot of headaches. Likewise, know what you want in terms of the guest list: This can be a major cause of stress, so be realistic about who needs to be there (making lists of people who could be cut or added as a Plan B can be helpful).

Do your research

Researching venues and vendors is enough to make the most patient person ornery, but it’s an unfortunate necessity.

LGBT wedding-planning sites like EquallyWed.com, GayWeddings.com and the LGBT section on TheKnot.com offer good resources to narrow your search. But don’t just take a listing on an LGBT guide as proof; look for photos of same-sex couples on their promotional materials, information about LGBT wedding expos where these vendors have tabled or reviews by couples they’ve worked with. Shouting out to friends, family or even social-media followers is also a good way to compile a list of LGBT-friendly vendors.

Before you start setting up meetings, make sure you know what you’re looking for from your vendors. Research different styles of wedding photography and videography, options for music, pros and cons of all-inclusive food versus a-la-carte packages. The more prepared and educated you are before you start meeting with vendors, the more smoothly the process will go.

Do keep notes

My fiancée and I are both list people — we love the feeling of getting to check things off. So we’ve been in list heaven.

We have a USB full of wedding documents, including an overall to-do list that we’ve been whittling down. We started an Excel workbook for our invitees, where we recorded everyone’s addresses, as well as an RSVP sheet with everyone’s meal choices once they started responding. We used those lists to organize our guests into tables, and we’re now compiling a sheet for people to whom we need to send thank-yous after the wedding.

When we were exploring honeymoon options, we kept lists full of websites and prices, and also have similar documents of vendor notes. After meeting with four or five photographers, they all started to blend together, so after each meeting we would write down the prices and a few pros or cons about each vendor to help us compare our choices.

Don’t be easily offended

Never again will I let an RSVP for a wedding accumulate dust on my kitchen table.

One of the biggest frustrations of the wedding-planning process was the painstaking collection of RSVPs, as we watched the deadline to reply approach, arrive and leave, with not a peep from many guests. When following up, we literally got a “my dog ate it,” a “maybe,” a few “it must be lost in the mail” and a few more who said they didn’t know they needed to send their RSVP cards back.

But, from talking with other couples, we found that an aversion to the RSVP deadline is a common thing, so we didn’t take it personally.

Adapting to others’ habits was also necessary for working with our bridal party, such as when bridesmaids purchased their dresses two months after the cutoff date. But, we tried to keep in mind that a wedding brings together a whole slew of people with different customs working for one joint goal, so there’s always bound to be some friction.

Don’t be afraid to say no

In that vein, not shying away from the word “no” can cut down on friction.

Weddings involve a lot of decisions and a lot of people, and with a lot of decisions and a lot of people come a lot of opinions. Decide early on who gets to have a say, and on what, and who doesn’t.

Even if you make it clear who’s helping with what, or whose input you’re seeking with what, the opinions will surely flow; everyone involved comes to the table with their own goals, views and vantage points, and wedding-planning seems to bring out the opinionated in all of us.

You can always just nod, smile, say thank you and then just do it your own way. Or, if that route becomes cumbersome, make clear to your (likely well-intentioned-but-maybe-not-very-aware) opinion-givers who’s making the decisions. And then still go do it your own way.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I took away was to keep things in perspective. It’s frighteningly easy to lose yourself among details when planning a wedding, so taking a step back to look at the big picture every now and then is absolutely necessary.

A wedding is just one day, but the marriage is (hopefully!) a lifetime, so find time to work on yourself and work on your relationship — and the wedding will work itself out.