There's a reason that millions of women, the day they get engaged, immediately start compiling guest lists, calling venues, registering in two to five places, buying $10 bridal magazines by the dozen, and otherwise setting in motion the weddings they've envisioned for years. The idea that wedding planning is fun has been ingrained in our minds since our youths. Love, Actually's trumpet-heralded I dos, Bridesmaids' girl-power-infused bash, The Little Mermaid's aquatic nuptials — who didn't want to recreate those scenes in their own lives? Hell, The Wedding Singer even made the process of marrying a man you don't love seem fun. (Sorry, ladies: A drag queen bridal fashion show is not a wedding planning given.) And the big screen is just the start. One glance at a newsstand reveals dozens of pearl-hued magazine covers promising women that they can pull off the wedding of their dreams — without going over budget (ha!).
Half of that statement is true. Having successfully lived through it, I would never trade my 150-person party for a quiet elopement, no matter how many times I considered it throughout my one-year engagement to my now-husband. But make no mistake: Planning a wedding sucks.
I do realize that there are future brides who enjoy the process, but I'm convinced these unicorns have simply been hypnotized by Swarovski crystals or intoxicated by scrapbooking glue fumes. Before embarking on this joyous journey, most brides need and deserve a guide to the frustrations ahead. Martha Stewart Weddings and Brides Magazine won't tell you the worst parts about planning a wedding, but I will. Follow along with this handy checklist.*
*Inspired by Real Simple, which should be credited for creating a legitimately clutch checklist that made my wedding planning experience slightly more bearable.
Nine to 12 Months Before
Organize Yourself. Purchase a wedding folder to hold receipts, agreements, and anything else you need to print out during the course of your planning, and decorate its cover with sparkly wedding scrapbooking stickers. After realizing the folder cannot possibly fit another reservation form, purchase another wedding folder, but hold off decorating it. After realizing that folder cannot possibly fit another receipt, create a wedding pile in the middle of your apartment, free of charge.
Determine Your Budget. Then add an additional $20,000 to determine your real budget. Add an additional $20,000 if you're planning on getting married in New York City. Now begin your personal game of Wedding Monopoly. Go directly to the bank for a loan. Trade in your fancy car for a worn-out shoe. Do not pass go. Eagerly await whatever your family might contribute to your community chest on your wedding day.
Pick Your Wedding Party. Or, more accurately, rank all of your friends based on closeness and reliability, and wonder if your top five will be happy or angry to be given the honor of purchasing a pre-selected dress in a color that doesn't suit them. Also, fight with your fiancé over which side of the wedding party a shared friend belongs on, and ultimately choose neither.
Pick Your Date and Venue. A wedding factoid for you: The nicer the weather, the more expensive the wedding. So, if you have any plans to make a down payment on anything significant in the future, enjoy your big day in the hell sauna of August or the ice den of January!
Pick Your Officiant. And pick whether you want to be married by a complete stranger or a friend who will spend months trying to get approved as a minister of the Church of Internet LOLHumans before being ultimately rejected. Or you could always go with a government official, who is automatically deemed more worthy of marrying you than your friend of several decades. You know, like a Rob Ford-type.
Plan an Engagement Party. And then immediately un-plan it when you begin to feel guilty about your friends feeling obligated to come with gifts. And then immediately feel guilty about the fact that they will feel obligated to come with gifts to your wedding in nine months time. And then wonder if all your friends will hate you when all this is over. And then remember that you'll have to give them the same at their weddings next year, so who the hell do they think they are? Jerks.
Breathe a Sigh of Relief. Because all of the difficult stuff is out of the way, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong.
Eight Months Before
Hire a Photographer. Who will be so charming and fun, she'll convince you to pay only a small $400 extra for engagement photos. Which, essentially, is just paying $400 to irritate your friends on Facebook.
Hire the Entertainment. Oh no, the Cupid Shuffle. Not the Cupid Shuffle.
Buy Your Dress. Tell the sales associate your budget, only to watch her pummel all hopes for a sensible wedding into the ground when she brings you the perfect dress for only $2,000 extra. It's just rent, right? Also, if you plan on asking for a non-strapless dress, prepare to make the very difficult decision between approximately two gowns — wedding designers refuse to carry a robust selection of non-strapless dresses, because, presumably, they've never heard of armpit fat.
Create a Guest List. Be sure to include plenty of people you'll have a falling out with in the next year and co-workers who will be fired before you walk down the aisle. Forget to list that one relative who is especially good at guilt trips.
Reserve Hotel Space. Be forced to predict which guests will be too pregnant to travel, which guests will have just changed jobs, and which guests will change their RSVP via text two days before the wedding. Find yourself overbooking anyway and being forced to pay a $1,000 fee in eight months time. But that's a whole eight months away! Worry about that then; assume for now that everyone's coming!
Register For Gifts. Argue with your fiancé over whether your future home will favor warm tones or cool tones. Register for china you'll never use, its sole purpose being adding weight to heavy boxes when you inevitably move apartments or homes.
Create Your Wedding Website. Spend hours trying to be funny to ensure that your wedding website isn't like any of those other obnoxious wedding websites. Include a picture of you and your significant other kissing, making it obnoxious either way.
Talk About How the First Six Months Went So Fast. The last six months will not go fast.
Seven to Six Months Before
Order Invitations. Would you like to spend extra on invitations featuring a picture of you or your significant other? Or would you rather save the money, realizing that your relatives and friends should know what you look like and probably don't need the visual identification? Nah, let's spend the money.
Book Your Honeymoon. Let's go far away to Bora Bora — thank god we have all these airfare and hotel points!, says someone who doesn't yet know how it feels to be void of all those airfare and hotel points in eight months time.
Pick the Bridesmaid Dresses. Quickly determine that there is no cut or color that will complement all of your friends' skin tones and body types and end up choosing a dress that will make all of them uncomfortable. But it's all worth it — that photo of your army of identical bridesmaids with forced smiles lined up in a straight row is an instant and necessary classic.
Reserve a Limo. Worry that a cab is not reliable enough to get you to your location. Book a limousine instead. Watch your limousine get lost in six months.
Pick a Florist. You want your wedding to be beautiful, but you also don't particularly enjoy paying huge amounts of cash for something that will be dead in a few days time. (It's why you never invested in Zip drives.) Grumble that you could do it yourself with $50 at a bodega but be ultimately impressed to find out that a good florist is worth it. Realize it doesn't win to be a total wedding grinch.
Reserve Extraneous Equipment. Yes, you knew about the dress, the florist, and the transportation, but don't forget about the power cords for the deejay; the WiFi card for the great-aunt who can't attend but wants video streaming of the entire event; and the ever-romantic portable toilets for outdoor weddings. You don't want to know what would happen if you forget to invite Uncle Porta John.
Spend Every Day Thinking About Cheese. Because you felt the need to conform to wedding tradition and diet six months before your wedding. You'll feel great!, you were told. Spoiler alert: You won't feel great. Hunger irritability will make you fight with everyone, from your significant other to your mailman to your cat.
Five to Four Months Before
Pick a Rehearsal Dinner Venue. Now you get to feel guilty about asking your fiancé's side of the family to help with payments!
Buy Wedding Shoes. Nod your head when your dress sales associate says your gown would go perfectly with a brushed antique silver shoe. Realize you have no idea what "brushed antique silver" is, buy a pair of heels on Zappos that look decent enough, and, upon the bedazzled shoe's delivery, realize that you should never assume a sparkly shoe will be classy.
Book Hair and Makeup. Why, yes, it will cost you more than $100 per person to turn each member of your wedding party into a Kardashian sister.
Pick Your Song. Would you like to dance to Phil Collins, Celine Dion, or Captain & Tennille?
Book Dance Lessons. Laugh about how ridiculous you look dancing to Phil Collins, then become overcome with a feeling of terror realizing how everyone else will laugh about how ridiculous you look dancing to Phil Collins.
Three Months Before
Buy Gifts for Bridal Party. Because the only thing your bridesmaids want more than a unflattering dress is a silk robe monogrammed with you and your significant other's initials.
Choose Your Readings. Would you like this Bible excerpt claiming women should be subservient to men, or this Bible excerpt claiming women should be subservient to men?
Print Menus, Programs and Place Cards. Your celebration is Mother Nature's funeral.
Find Your New Favorite Date Spot. Saturday night at your local haunt will be replaced by Saturday night at your local FedEx Kinkos. (See above.) Rubber cement really is the best aphrodisiac out there. Oh, I meant, inhalant.
Two Months Before
Finalize Vendor Details. I guarantee you'll be able to get in touch with all but one. Because, you know, the wedding gods love to laugh.
Mail Invitations. Discover your significant other misspelled your aunt's name. Wonder if her 100 percent probability of attendance should be reduced to 50.
Enjoy Your Bachelorette Party. Tell your friends you don't want a stripper while simultaneously hoping your friends get a stripper, since you just saw Magic Mike. When the stripper arrives, be overcome with so many emotions (my friends love me! This man looks nothing like Channing Tatum! Oh god, a stranger's grundle is inches from my face!) that you can do nothing but burst into tears.
Become Overcome With a Feeling of Shame. His grundle.
One Month Before
Follow Up on Invitation RSVPs. Call your friend whose relationship is on the rocks to make sure he and his girlfriend are still coming, contact your drama-prone great-aunt to let her know the entire family is so excited to see her, and confirm that your bridesmaid is not planning to add a plus one at the last minute.
Apply For Your Marriage License. Already feel bad about leaving work for two weeks for your honeymoon? Well, now you get to leave work to wait several hours in line to sign a piece of paper! But getting married isn't that easy — you'll have to wait several weeks, perhaps until after the wedding, to discover whether your officiant is legit. Shocked by the big check your relative gave you for your wedding? Well, now you have the opportunity to fear being even more shocked about the state's very possible wedding surprise: You're not actually married!
Attend Your Final Fitting. Realize your dress looked beautiful while you stood standing in front of the mirror but is not conducive to everyday activities like dancing, walking, and breathing.
Create Your Seating Chart. During which you will be forced to decide which friend in a table of nine you like the least and will doom to sit with the outcasts at table 11.
Fight With Your Fiancé Constantly. About everything. About the seating chart, about how the wedding is killing trees and your soul, and about whether or not to save that two-year-old episode of Law & Order that's still on your DVR. Just pick fights for no reason, because you are a hungry ball of stress who is only rolling further down the path of irrationality with every wedding question you are asked. Pro tip: Just eat some cheese, goddammit.
Week of the Wedding
Send in Your Final Guest List to Vendors. Because your friend canceled two days before the event after a break-up with his significant other, your drama-prone great-aunt threatened not to come because she claimed no one thought she was important enough, and your bridesmaid met a really hot Starbucks barista that morning and she might have invited him to come, is that OK?
Finalize Your Vows. If you're smart, you decided to go with the traditional, pre-written vows. If you're a writer, you decided to try to impress everyone with your creativity, before remembering that half the room won't understand your So I Married an Axe Murderer jokes.
Whiten Your Teeth. Realize one hour into your three-hour treatment that your teeth are sensitive to whitening product. Continue whitening anyway — beauty is pain, right? Wake up the next morning with pain and teeth that are no whiter than they were the day before. Enjoy fielding all the "bridezilla" comments when you refuse to be your usual talkative self — even opening your mouth to let the air in hurts.
Put Together Gift Bags. Realize you have two dozen bags too many and feel overcome with sadness that so many Cheez-Its' lives were for naught.
Get Married. And realize that all the blood (from those bedazzled shoes), sweat (from the sweltering August heat), and tears (from the guilt — oh the guilt) was totally, 100 percent worth it.
That is, before you look at your bank account.
Image: Mike Fleming/Flickr