Why does everyone spend so much on weddings?

Flipping through bridal magazines trying to get some cute ideas for our upcoming big day, I started getting a little sick to my stomach. No, not cold feet. I was a little sickened by some of the extravagance, to be honest. It seems like so many people spend so much time and energy on the wedding without putting much effort at all into preparing for a life together.

I grew up in a Catholic family, and so did James. We were taught that marriage is a Sacrament. This means that marriage is much more than just a civil contract, it’s sacred. In it, two people are joined forever by God, who gives them the grace and strength to live out their vows. This puts it on a level way beyond our secular view of marriage. Take a look at the Catholic marriage vows:

“I, (name), take you, (name), to be my (wife/husband). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life.”

That’s some serious business.

I want our wedding to be about our enormous family and the life we’re beginning together. I don’t want the Plaza in June, the $15,000 gown, or the $5,000 carriage ride in Disney World. Just my James and our family and close friends (which adds up to over 300 people so we really have to scale it back! We’d like to keep it 200 MAX, preferably less). Now it’s true, having a party for 200 people that involves food and dancing is very expensive. But that doesn’t mean it has to be extravagant.

Look at the difference, for example, between Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton. Two very expensive televised events, but that’s where the similarities end. Kim married a guy she hadn’t dated for very long in a Hollywood glam ceremony where everything was the absolute most expensive it could possibly be. It was extravagance for the sake of extravagance. Will and Kate had been dating for YEARS. They showed the utmost dignity throughout the engagement and wedding, and didn’t make a show out of their love. It was expensive because it was the royal family, but it was tasteful. You could tell that they truly loved each other and had been waiting for that moment for a long time. Will and Kate’s wedding displayed true love. Kim and Kris’s wedding displayed extravagance.

I also don’t like all this emphasis on the wedding being all about the bride. It’s not just my day, it’s his day too! It’s OUR day. I’m sure I’ll have some crazy stressed out moments along the way, but I want to always remember that the bridesmaid’s earrings have absolutely ZERO consequence. What matters is that James and I are being joined together in a lifelong commitment to love and honor each other for the rest of our lives. That is what we are celebrating. And that is priceless.

Wedding Brain

Lately I’ve been having a terrible time trying to concentrate on things. Whenever I go to dinner with people, my brain is in another place and I feel flighty and uncool. This Saturday, I thought my car was stolen in Silver Spring, until I realized that I was in the completely wrong section of the parking lot. My friend who was with me smiled and said, “You have wedding brain!”

Is that what they call it? We’ve been engaged for almost 6 months, and the planning is driving me crazy, probably because we don’t have a date yet and I’m starting to feel very scared and nervous. It was our choice not to set a date until James got a job, and it’s a good choice for us in this economy, but the waiting is driving me crazy. Everyone’s been suggesting that I go ahead and plan as much as possible without a date so that when we’re ready, all we have to do is book everything and go.

So, how much of a wedding can you plan before you have a date?

A lot, actually. You just can’t finalize anything. For example, you can pick your bridal party, but it might be smart not to ask anyone until after you have a date, that way they can decide if they can commit or not. You can design your ceremony (as Catholics, this means we get to pick the readings we want, the music, and the blessings). You can decide what sort of favor you want. You can design centerpieces and table settings. You can even pick your dress. It’s still nerve-racking though. I wonder how many other engaged couples got shafted by the economy?

We’re praying really hard that something works out soon. Hopefully it won’t take too much longer. We’re praying my dad’s miracle St. Jude/Sacred Heart novena, which has never failed. Recently we got the family on board, asking around to see if anyone knows of any openings in our area. And I do think that this experience will be worth it in the end. I can already see how we’ve become stronger because of it. Maybe dealing with snags during engagement helps people prepare for better marriages in the long run. I’ll keep trusting that God knows what he’s doing, and everything happens for a reason.

New Year, New Life

For my birthday this year, James and I went to Colonial Williamsburg over New Year’s.  We had a wonderful time! One of the best parts of this trip was strolling down Duke of Gloucester Street on Sunday morning, January 1. It was warm, maybe 60 degrees, and there was not a cloud in sight. The whole place was gleaming in sunlight. It was so quiet and peaceful. I’ll never forget it.

One of the interesting points of our relationship is that James is a morning person, and I wish I was. I always  have a lot of energy after 6pm, and end up staying up way longer than I should and sleeping late. Whenever I do get up and experience a calm morning, I love it. One of the things I’m looking forward to in our marriage is having some help with going to sleep on time and waking up early.

I’m really looking forward to this new year (providing the Mayan’s are wrong, of course). I feel like I have a new chance now to start a whole new life. I want to write more, weigh less, and create more reasons to smile. We’re already making plans to go to Philadelphia, Williamsburg, and hopefully some beautiful warm place for our honeymoon (if God answers our prayers and lets us get married this year).

2012 started with a peaceful morning in a beautiful place. I hope this warm feeling continues throughout the year.

Why do we make New Year’s resolutions?

Everyone likes a chance to start over, but maybe we put too much pressure on January 1. Perhaps the reason we never keep our New Year’s resolutions past February is that a whole year is just too daunting. We always tell people to take life one day at a time. Maybe we need to take our resolutions one month at a time. Maybe every 30 days we need a New Month’s resolution.

Here’s an idea: Write down your big goal, or your New Year’s resolution. Then, write down what you are going to do this January in order to work for that goal. When January 31 comes around, make some notes on what you can do in February.

This year, instead of being one of those people who crowds the gym in January, maybe I’ll take some time to think about small steps I can take to accomplish my goals. For example, it’s not too hard to keep up exercise for one month. Maybe I’ll say, “This month of January, I am going to work out 3 times a week, write 4 hours a week, and spend at least 30 minutes reading that book I’ve renewed from the library 6 times already.”

Personally, I have several things I want to do this year. I’d like to publish some articles, get started on a book, find a  job that fits my interests, get a wedding date that’s not too far in the future, brush up on my Italian and maybe start learning French, lose the 15 pounds I gained last year, spend more time at the park, make more dates with friends, and save as much money as possible. Funny how the last one makes all the rest more difficult. I’m sure I’ll find a way to make it all happen, but I have to take this one month at a time.

Christmas and the promise of a new life

Another Christmas Eve is here, and all I can think about it how different it’s going to be this year. I’m in a new place in life: James and I are engaged, he’s finally done with college, and I was fortunate enough to have a steady job all year. Sure there were plenty of problems this year, but all of that is ok for now, because James and I have each other and the promise of a new life together starting sometime soon.

This year, for the first time in 5-6 years, I’m not cooking. I was really bummed at first, since I love cooking our major Italian feast we do every year. Today, though, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about 15 eggs worth of fresh pasta and can just go to James’s parents’ house and relax this evening.

Why is it that life is nothing but one change after another, yet humans still can’t get used to it? Something about the holidays always highlights this feeling. People always long for those golden years, whenever they were, when Christmas was perfect and the same every year. Christmas is way different for me this year, but it’s going to be ok. Despite everything else, one wonderful change is that we’re engaged. Even though we don’t have a date, we’re getting married soon. I think at Christmas, like every other time of year, we just have to have faith that everything is going to work out for the best. Maybe that is what Christmas means anyways. The day Jesus was born was not the day that he saved us, but it WAS the day that we receive the promise of hope, that God has a plan, and that all things will work out for good in the end.

Merry Christmas!

Engagement Stress = Blessing in Disguise?

Like most girls, I love the movie Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. One of the major themes of the movie is how engagement stress can either drive couples apart or bring them closer together.

James and I have had our share of engagement stress. Thankfully, we’ve been able to recognize that with every road-block comes a chance to work together. We’ve never put it in those words, but it’s true. Every issue that has popped up in our path has made us turn to each other for help. Everything that’s happened to us has been another chance to hold hands and walk forward.

Recently I was telling a priest some of the struggles we’ve gone through, and he pointed out that perhaps it truly is a blessing in disguise. People that have fantasy engagements do not always get the chance to prepare for what marriage really involves: sharing and sacrifice. I pray every day for a happy marriage. Maybe this is God’s way of answering my prayers. If we learn what to expect now, we will have an easier time adjusting later. Maybe if we can be happy together in bad times, we can be happy in good times.

I know I’m very young and often naïve, but I have a good feeling about this.

Dating on Faith: How important is Spiritual Compatibility?

It’s time-honored advice, marry someone with the same religion as you. Or at least, be compatible on a spiritual level. What does this mean, really?

From the time I was a little girl, my parents told me to marry a fellow Catholic. Marriage, they said, was hard enough without a difference of faith. This was a little surprising coming from my mom, as her dad was Catholic and her mother was Lutheran. When I got a little older and went to Catholic University, I still held on to this belief. It took a few years to realize though, that there was more to faith than a religious label.

Plenty of people say they are Catholic, or Lutheran, or Jewish, or Episcopalian, or whatever. It’s easy to find someone with the same religious label as you. What is NOT easy, though, is finding someone with the same view of God.

You can tell a lot from a person by asking one simple question: “What would this person do if God showed up at their front door?” Some people would fall to their knees and beg forgiveness. Some people wouldn’t care. My family would answer the door and say, “Hey man! How’ve you been? We’re just sitting down to dinner. Want some spaghetti?” If you’re type who would invite God as part of the family, find someone who shares that. At the end of the day, a person’s ingrained view of God can affect everything! A person’s relationship with God affects every aspect of their life. This includes how they treat others, how they raise their children, and how they deal with the trying times of their life.

Like a lot of naive young women, I learned this the hard way. Spiritual incompatibility can make you lose sight of who you are. It wasn’t until I found my James that I remembered why my faith was important. James’s faith reminded me of my dad’s faith: a strong belief that God is a friend, a member of the family. God is a sweet, loving father who will always be there for you, no matter what you do. Go to church on Sunday, pray every day, at least just to say “hi”, because God loves you and wants you to be happy. Love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself, and put your family first no matter what age you are.

It usually takes a while to figure out what kind of faith someone has. You can listen to them talk all day, but you’re not going to know who they really are until you spend some time with them. Faith isn’t just a personal thing, it’s a life changing, cultural thing. For me, it took a lot of mistakes and years of searching to figure out what was important to me. It’s not all bad, though, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Without those years of searching, I would never have found myself, my fiancé, and my faith.

Mr. Right, Mr. Perfect, Mr. Good Enough

Recently, author Lori Gottlieb sparked controversy, thanks to her advice to women about choosing “Mr. Good Enough” instead of waiting for “Mr. Right”. After the onslaught of women accusing her of advocating “settling”, she answered that what she really meant was that too many women have stupid requirement and expectations, making it completely impossible to find a life partner. (See original article here)

She was right, really. Some women are too picky. How many of us know people (including ourselves) who have ditched a guy after the first date because of some odd quirk? At the same time, we complain when we’re on the receiving end of such quick judgment. The truth is, you need to give someone a chance before you can really get to know them.

Let’s look at an example:

James and I had a lot in common. We grew up in the same town and knew a lot of the same people. We had never met as kids, but later on, towards the end of college, we met online. Here comes the first date. We had a nice time talking over milkshakes for about an hour. At the end of the date, he walked me to my car, gave me a little hug and got the door for me. I said my polite “this was fun,” and I meant it. I just wasn’t sure if I would give him a second date. Sure, he was nice. He was a gentleman. He paid the bill and opened the doors. We had a similar childhood and had the same religious beliefs. To top it off, he was extremely good-looking. What was the problem?

I wasn’t sure if I felt a spark. I wasn’t sure if we would have much to talk about. I wasn’t sure that we would enjoy the same things. I wasn’t sure if his good manners were just a show. I wasn’t sure if our different levels of education would become a problem down the road.

Still, I was intrigued. I did want to find out the answers to my questions. I knew he would probably be a nice friend to have. I just wasn’t sure that I could date him. So what did I do?

I decided to tell him that I wasn’t ready for a relationship. But, we enjoyed each other’s company so we went out a few more times, as friends. Then came “date” number 3, when the sparks finally hit full-force and we ended up kissing goodnight and planning DATE number 4. We’ve been very happy ever since.

I’m not 100% perfect, and neither is James. We’re human, after all. My mom always told me, don’t look for the guy who is without fault. Look for the guy who has faults that you can live with. Give a guy a chance. You never know how happy can be until you try.

(Of course, many women, especially young ones, make the mistake of dealing with WAY too many faults in a partner, thanks to their insecurity. See Are College Relationships Detrimental for Women?)

Jake and Vienna, Seriously?

The big news tonight was that Jake and Vienna are together. (Ouch, right?) They announced after the show that, after 3 months of living in separate states to keep their relationship a secret, she’s moving in with him ASAP.

Moving in with a guy that she hasn’t even dated? That’s a little crazy. Think about it, they had a few “dates” on the show, then were long distance for 3 months, and now moving in together? Can anyone say looney-bin?

I liked Tenley better, though after watching tonight’s episode, I’ve decided that she deserves someone better than Jake. She’s right, she needs someone who will love her with everything he has. It takes a little heartache to learn what that really means, and I’m glad she knows what she wants. That’s not unrealistic standards, that’s respect for yourself.

Ali the Bachelorette? Not bad. She did have the most personality. I liked Gia and Tenley better, but Ali seems to be the most well-adjusted and ready for the challenge. I just hope she’s not the b-word that she seemed to be at points this season.

I wouldn’t have picked Vienna for Jake, but I wouldn’t have picked Ed for Jillian either. I guess whatever floats your boat, right? I mean how much should other people’s opinions matter, especially the opinions of people who only know you from watching you on TV?

The other big news was that Jake will be on Dancing with the Stars. I LOVE that show. I don’t really like Jake much anymore. I really do think he’s just a “good-looking dork.” And have you noticed that he walks exactly like George W. Bush? Some how I can’t picture either of them as good dancers. Must be a Texas thang.

3 Steps to a Perfect Valentine’s Day (or any date, really)

Valentine’s Day 2010 was a smash-hit… probably thanks to “Snowmageddon”. Being snowed in for over a week and not being able to see James for almost 2 weeks wasn’t too much fun. But it did make Valentine’s day even more special. For future reference, however, I’ve realized that there are 3 easy steps for a perfect valentine’s day, or any memorable date, for that matter.

1. Do something different for a change

James picked me up in the morning and took me to brunch at this fun French place in Columbia, MD called “Cafe de Paris”. Very original, I know, but the owner really is French, we met him, and French is clearly his first language. The decor was fun, faux plaster/stucco-ish walls with vintage French posters and big comfy red leather couches. The Crepe Cafe was the section of the place that served breakfast. I had a crepe filled with eggs and ham, and James had one with brie, tomatoes, and onions. The onions were a little heavy and he didn’t like it very much, but he was a good sport about it, and I gave him some of mine.

2. Have a thoughtful and heartfelt surprise planned

The best surprise of Valentine’s day this year was the gift James gave me. He made a CD of all the love songs he sings to me in the car. You know, those classic 90’s love songs like Brian McKnight’s “Back at One” and All 4 One’s “I Swear” (best re-make in pop history, in my opinion). I love it. He couldn’t have done anything else that would have made me so happy. What made it so great was that it really means something to us. He was so thoughtful.

3. Make it clear, you love spending time together

After brunch, we spent the day together. We ended up going to the mall and walking around for a while, before heading back to my house just to hang out. Sometimes it’s really nice just to be together. Later on around 7:30 we watched a movie and ate pizza for dinner. Maybe that doesn’t sound special, but it’s the attitude that matters. Sometimes there’s nothing better than cuddling on the couch with take-out. Love stories aren’t about fancy restaurants and expensive presents. They’re about hearts.♥