I asked my son, Daniel Dowd, and my daughter-in-law, Rebecca Carton, on their first anniversary to give a reflection on weddings and what they learned along the way. They came up with five pillars in protecting their union.
Rebecca: Marriage was never something I thought about when I was growing up. I never had the little girl fantasy of finding the perfect partner and the perfect dress and walking down the aisle as everyone celebrated my husband and me. Maybe I just assumed it would happen at some point in my life or maybe I didn't really care if it did or not. So the traditions that have grown and stuck with marriage -- all of the do's and don'ts, all of the rules and expectations, the pressures -- none of that ever mattered to me. In fact, I found myself wanting to rebel from it all, because none of that is me or how I choose to operate. So when Daniel, my high school sweetheart (I know, sickening right?!), asked me to marry him, for me, the process of planning and executing the wedding was very exciting. It was completely ours to shape.
Daniel: Marriage was always something that I knew I wanted growing up as a child. I've been a serial monogamist since I was 5 years old and had the same girlfriend (if you can even call it that) from age 5 to age 10, and then only a few other relationships in between age 10 and when I met Becca at age 15. Between ages 15 and 28 I proposed marriage to Becca approximately 50 times in varying degrees of sincerity at different times in our life and relationship. Luckily, Becca had the foresight and maturity to refuse my inopportune proposals until the time was right for both of us. By the time we decided to seriously consider getting married we were already living together and were very aligned on what it meant to us to be lifelong companions, and so the whole process was all the more enjoyable. Because we waited until we were truly ready we were able to focus on building a wedding that would be ours and a reflection of each of us, our love and our union.
Here is our list of five guideposts we held onto for our wedding in an attempt to ensure authenticity as anxiety surfaced:
1. Don't start your guest list with a number
List out the people that you want to share your wedding with. Try not to say "Well, we have to invite that person," or, "If we don't invite them they will be upset." Obligation and guilt should not be dictating your guest list. People are forgiving. It should be intimate. You will want to be able to have a real conversation with every person that you invite to your wedding. This will not be easy but it is very important. Controlling your guest list is going to involve tough decisions and hard conversations with people you love very much in which you have to say "no" and sometimes justify this decision. Be ready for it and don't shy away from necessary confrontation to make your wedding yours. For our wedding, we ended up with about 50 people. Doing this enabled us to speak to each person several times throughout the night and in turn everyone there felt that they were an important part of our celebration.
2. Share the planning equally (no matter how painful)
Do not fall into the stereotype of the groom playing the passive role and the bride planning the lion's share. Having an equal say in planning will make it a ceremony that both of you are invested in, able to enjoy and involved in prioritizing during the process. Event planning is inherently stressful so ensuring that both of you are on the same page along the way will help make everything that much smoother. The more you can honor each spouse's personal interests and individual tastes when planning the wedding, the more personal and special the celebration will become. Don't be afraid to let out your "inner nerd" and voice your unique interests during planning. We celebrated each other's individuality and quirks throughout our wedding and this enabled both of us to be continuously excited and proactive during the process. In our wedding, we split the planning into two parts: the ceremony and the reception. Each of us took the lead on "project planning" one part while still collaborating together on the details that were important to us.
3. Design your ceremony from scratch
Don't follow a template. A wedding is intimate and special and if you are following a traditional, rigid structure it will not feel that way. A good place to start is simply how long you want the ceremony to be. From there, you can start to add in any key elements that are important to you (readings, certain people speaking, music) and then build it out from there. You will essentially be writing a full script (much like a play) from scratch which is no small feat if you haven't done it before. This will require a high level of collaboration and for you to flex your creative muscles quite a bit during the process. Doing it this way requires a lot more work but the payoff is worth it. Your ceremony will not only be a truly unique expression of your love but also a different and exciting experience for your guests the more you depart from a traditional ceremonial structure. For us, it was important to have our parents at the center of our union and so we decided to make them our officiants. All four parents shared in officiating the wedding, which included: readings we carefully selected from Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," Pablo Neruda's "Sonnet 81" and others, a few minutes of free space for each parent to offer their own reflections, a ring exchange and the pronouncement.
4. Plan the whole experience not just the parts in isolation
A wedding is more than just a ceremony and reception for you and your guests. It is an entire experience that all of you will remember well. Whether it is a destination wedding for a week or just 24 hours jam-packed with a rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception, try to infuse every aspect of the experience with what you want your wedding to be and how you want it to be remembered. Looking at the whole thing from start to finish as a unified experience will allow you to stay present and in the moment instead of worrying about what is coming next. The more present you and your guests are the more memorable and enjoyable the whole thing will be. That's zen 101. During our wedding, we spread the experience out over three days. The first night, we chose a restaurant/bar in the area that people could meet us at if they wanted to hang out. The next day we had lawn games all day and a rehearsal dinner at a pizza joint in the evening. The final day we had our ceremony and reception, and decided to host an after party where we were staying to keep the good times going.
5. It is OK to be selfish in planning your wedding
It is yours and no one else's. It should be exactly what you want it to be. There will be enough pressure along the way to change things so hold true to your vision of the wedding as tight as you can every step of the way. As we loved to joke repeatedly along the way, "It's MY day!" This is a (if not the) big event in your life and it is important to those closest to you as well. Because of this importance, other people will have an interest in influencing the outcome for a variety of reasons. You should never shy away from listening to ideas and suggestions from your loved ones because often these ideas are fabulous and you will want to incorporate them into the wedding experience. However, it is important for you to remember (and perhaps remind others) that you reserve executive authority and final cut for all decisions that will need to be made. In the end, this will ensure that the wedding truly is an expression of your love and is manifested in the way you want it to be. In our wedding, there wasn't a single element that we didn't have executive authority over. From the ceremony script to the music, to having our dog be the ring bearer, to the medieval design at our reception -- every choice was ultimately Daniel and Rebecca's.
The main reason our wedding was so perfect for us is that all of it reflected who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple. It was playful and silly, artistic, dorky, existential, intimate and completely and utterly personal. We avoided formalities wherever possible and purposefully built in space for the unexpected and organic experiences that arose to have a place. We planned the wedding as we plan our lives in hopes that the experience would be a three-day microcosm of our love and, in reflection a year later, it really did hit the mark.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.