On Mismatched Expectations

I am a firm believer in the importance of expectations. Take a simple example. Let's say you're a parent, and you are driving your child to get blood drawn for the first time. The child senses that something is going to happen but is not sure what. He asks, "Mommy/Daddy, what's 'getting blood drawn?'"

I see three courses of action here:
  1. Downplay it: "Oh, it's nothing! It'll feel like a little pinch."
  2. Exaggerate it: "It's going to feel like you left your arm on a hot stove for several minutes."
  3. Level with the child: "It will sting a little and will feel a little strange for about a minute, but you'll be OK."
Now, I would bet that it's about an even split between parents who choose Option A and Option C, with a small minority of sadists and humourists selecting Option B. As someone who believes firmly in establishing expectations, I would skew towards C.

Why? Well, it's mainly a process of elimination choice. If I go with A, and my child is particularly sensitive to pain (something that is hard to gauge when dealing with someone else's nerve endings), the child will be (rightfully) annoyed with me for misleading them. If I go with B, the child will likely panic for the remainder of the drive; their relief when the blood is actually drawn (if the blood ever gets drawn) will be nice, but likely small satisfaction. A prolonged reliance on B-like strategies will also presumably cause psychological traumatization (from here).

B, on the other hand, offers fair expectations to the child. They will be nervous, and I may be forced to offer additional reassurance, but they now know what to expect.

People act on expectations all the time. If they expect that new flat screen TV to drop in price for the holidays, they may postpone their purchase for another month. If they expect to get a raise, they may start spending a bit more money in advance. If they expect to have to skip lunch, they may eat a larger breakfast, or may pack a Nutri-Grain bar for the road.

Like most things, weddings are about expectations. Everyone who heard that Katherine and I got engaged had some expectations about what the wedding will actually look like. Likewise, everyone who gets an invitation will, for at least a moment or two, create a picture--or, rather, a mental model--of how the wedding will look.

(This is another one of those principles for me. Back when I was in an educational psychology class, we talked a bit about mental models in learning. One of the jobs of a teacher is to help students draw accurate, understandable mental models of reality; the mental model of the solar system for a third grader will inevitably be less sophisticated than the mental model for an astronomer, but both models need to depict the abstract concept in a concrete way in order to be effective. I see the wedding the same way.)

Mismatched expectations lead to conflict, fights, divorce, miscommunication, wars, and all manners of other problems. Take weddings. If John likes to drink, and assumes that weddings will have alcohol, but sees no alcohol when he arrives, John will be angry. If, however, John has been informed in advance of the dryness of the wedding, John will adjust his expectations accordingly (or wisely send a small gift and skip the affair altogether).

I anticipate that the most controversial aspect of the wedding will be the choice of food. We have made two potentially-unpopular decisions:
  1. We will not be serving a full meal; the menu calls for a variety of hors d'oeuvres and other light fare.
  2. We will not be serving a traditional wedding cake, having decided that pies are better, and more interesting, than cake.
Thus, going forward, we have two places for potential disappointment or, worse, outward anger (particularly when combined with freely-available social lubricant). My goal here is to determine how best to enhance the mental models of our guests, and head off any potential problems before the wedding day.

I see a few different ways to do this:
  1. Strategic leaking: We can leak to select potential (chatty) wedding guests that the menu will be mostly hors d'oeuvres, and that we are serving pies, rather than cake.
  2. Publicly-available website: We can direct people on the invitations to this blog or our wedding website, which will have the full menu available to readers, well-wishers, and guests.
  3. Invitation enclosures: We can include a copy of the menu in the wedding invitation.
  4. Caveat emptor: We can do nothing, and conduct a small social experiment.
Option A gives me the enjoyment of categorizing our guests according to their interconnectedness (and loquaciousness), which might be perversely fun. Sadly, I think it is ultimately too difficult to verify that the information has been passed.

Going with only Option B requires a good bit of additional work from the guests. Most people will not visit a website that they receive on a piece of snail mail. People are busy, and have far more important things to worry about than our wedding. (As my mother would say, it's probably not in "their top two.") By the time they start thinking about the wedding, it is quite possible that the invitation was lost, or that the information was written elsewhere.

I personally am leaning towards Option C, likely in combination with B. It is the most direct and transparent way to circulate the information that I want to circulate. It also, I think, gives people a chance to look inside the process a bit, and to feel involved.

In another context, Option D could be fun. But I would like to get the marriage off on the right foot. There are thousands of potential flashpoints in this sort of social interaction; as the logistics guy here, my goal is to minimize them.

So, as of now, I am in favor of including the full menu along with our invitations, preferably on some sort of ceremonial stationery, along with posting it on the website. Katherine agrees, but we're still trying to figure out a way to word it and make it look classy. Any ideas?

Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding

I'm running out of chances to renew this book again, so I wanted to try to get in the notes I wanted to take down about Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding. As Robin commented the last time I mentioned Miss Manners' book, as you're reading it, you do feel a little bit under attack as the bride. Fortunately, Miss Manners at least ends the book with a letter from a beleaguered bride listing the many occasions in which rudeness from guests comes up and then acknowledges that she's been a bit "snappish" after being overexposed to brides with the "After All It's MY Day" credo.

In general my attitude to these kinds of guides to etiquette is that it's at least good to know what other people might be expecting. I bought a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior after I behaved entirely gauchely towards a college roommate who was going through a rough time with the deaths of several relatives. Western culture etiquette has been something that I feel like I've needed to try to teach myself. [edit, in response to Lisa's comment] Regardless, I think generally if you honestly try to be considerate and thoughtful of others, that's the whole point of etiquette anyway, so it doesn't matter if you didn't follow an advice columnist's directives exactly.

The helpful thing to remember is that Miss Manners isn't trying to sell you anything here, unlike etiquette givers in wedding magazines might be. My favorite line in the whole book is, "the theme of a wedding is marriage." Also, I've always rather enjoyed Miss Manners' arch tone, but I can see how that's not for everyone. In conclusion, worth checking out from the library but probably not worth buying.

Miss Manners says:
  • [edit, forgot to include this part initially because I didn't have a post-it note marking it] Determining your guest list: when starting to plan a wedding, first sit down and figure out who your A+ list is (that clearly isn't Miss Manners' terminology, I just made that up), meaning who has to has to be there, for the couple in consultation with both sets of parents. I'll admit, we didn't really do the parental consultation part too much before deciding on our estimate of 100 guests and looking for venues to fit that number of people. Miss Manners shakes her finger at not including your parents just because you're paying for everything on your own, which, yeah, fair point. I hope Dan and I managed to strike a sufficient compromise, though.
  • Maid of honor (p124): you don't have to have a maid of honor, you can just have all bridesmaids. I have to say, I'm not entirely clear on what really distinguishes a maid of honor from bridesmaids, unless the position is basically saying, here is my very best friend of all the girls I've asked to be my bridesmaids. I think someone's told me at some point that the maid of honor serves as one of the witnesses when you do the legal bit, but I'm not sure if that has to be the case.
  • On dealing with people trying to invite themselves (p147): "Here is a phrase that every prospective bride and bridegroom and everyone in both families should memorize: 'Oh, dear, it's just going to be a small family wedding, with maybe a few old, intimate friends. You are so nice to take an interest.' ...Let us say that the word [small] is used out of modesty, rather than crowd estimation."
  • On the plus one issue (p152): for established couples, both members should be invited. The hosts can ask their unattached guests individually if there is anyone they would to bring, get the name, and issue another invitation in this person's name, so guests don't feel pressured to bring a date (I really want to make sure people don't feel pressured to bring a date simply for the sake of having a date). Miss Manners frowns upon just issuing an invitation "plus one," though this is what we're going to do for everyone over 18 (one of the points that Dan feels more strongly about). If you've been invited to a wedding as the guest of a guest, you should check to make sure you've really been invited with a note to the bride that's something like "____ has asked me to accompany him to your wedding. I would consider it a great honor to attend, but I would also understand if his enthusiasm has overrun any boundaries. In any case, I send you my very best wishes for your happiness."
  • Timing of invitations (p192): send out 4-6 weeks prior to the wedding date
  • On invitation design (p179): engraving is meant to imitate handwriting for making it more convenient to send out a greater number of formal invitations, so hand-printed invitations (calligraphy) are perfectly acceptable to getting professionally engraved invitations.
  • Invitation wording (p213): "a couple giving its own wedding modestly goes into the passive tense when issuing formal invitations," something like "The pleasure of your company is requested at the marriage of ____ to ____ on Saturday, the eighteenth of June at one thirty, Mountain Lakes House, Princeton and afterwards at a reception."
  • On reply cards in invitations (p185): unnecessary to include stamped response cards.
  • Thank you cards (p246): for gifts of money, write your thank you message referencing what you bought or plan to buy with that money, so that the "rest of your thanks can apply to that present, as if the giver had selected it."
  • Thank you card response time (p244): should be written and sent out as soon as the gift is received in order to acknowledge it. It's actually wedding presents that can be sent up to year into the marriage.
  • Miss Manners is against both registries and favors (p270 "Etiquette has never thought of weddings as comparable to children's birthday parties, where the guests might need consolation for not being the center of attention.")
  • No programs (p90): "the only excuse for a program is to give the order of the service, which is not necessary at a wedding." (Miss Manners is pretty strongly against all things that make the wedding a bit of a show, which I am down with)
  • Receiving line (p120, 261): charming and necessary for making sure you talk to all the guests at some point during the wedding. Guests are received at the beginning of the reception. The traditional order tries to mix the families of the bride and groom with bride's mother, groom's father, groom's mother, bride's father.
  • First dance (p272): the bridal couple opens the dancing, not gives "a private dance featuring their relatives." Halfway through the bridal couple's dance, the bride's father cuts in to dance with his daughter, the groom brings in his mother (can also be done with respective in-laws first), and then followed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen to encourage the rest o the guests to follow.
  • Toasts (p270): "At the wedding reception, the best man offers the first toast, and others may follow, including the bridegroom, to offer toasts to his bride and to her parents."
  • Tipping the bartender (p268): you don't tip the bartender at a private function
  • Reception timing (p261): the married couple should leave the reception before the guests.
  • Announcing your decision on changing or keeping your last name with an at home card (p216): either "Mr. and Mrs. James Scott will be at home after the Fourth of July" or "Ms. Heather McGee / Mr. Daniel Scott" with the adress in the bottom right o the card (my question is though, how do you actually send these at home cards out? Tucked into thank you cards?)
More on thank you notes from Souris Marriage:
However, you have to toe the line between deep appreciation and unmasked materialism. It's fine to be excited about your new Dutch Oven, for instance, but you should always be MORE excited that whoever gave it to you came to the wedding. Specifics are very important in both cases. Extra points for referencing some future event or experience unrelated to the thing you're thanking them for--this emphasizes lasting friendships rather than stuff.

APW Book Club: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed

I read Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed: a Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage a few weeks ago, after Meg first posted about it as the selection for the next book club meeting. I'd enjoyed Dan Savage's The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family but that APW book club meetup happened the same day as our engagement shoot so I missed the book club in favor of getting fake eyelashes, pretty much. I was rather skeptical of Elizabeth Gilbert and the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing, but realized that I was unfortunately pretty much playing into exactly what Meg was talking about in the "if women like it, it must be stupid" assumption. Very disappointing, and to make up for it, I decided to trust Meg and give it a shot.

And actually, I quite enjoyed it! And then went ahead and read Eat, Pray, Love afterwards, too. The thing that won me over was when I realized, sure, Gilbert can seem rather self-absorbed and privileged at times, but she is entirely self-aware of this and even makes fun of herself sometimes for it. And then I found myself just enjoying how she uses words and her sense of humor. Even though she and I have very little in common, there were still many passages when I felt myself nodding along.

I went to the NYC meetup tonight at Entwine and had a really lovely time with the five other women who came. Everyone had pretty different backgrounds and prior expectations when it came to marriage, but they all had insightful and interesting things to say. I think meeting people off the internet is one of the best ways to meet people, since it's generally related to some already stated shared interest and so when it happens, there isn't that painful awkwardness of trying to find some topic to discuss and you know when you do start talking about that shared interest, it's probably a self-selecting enough group that the conversation flows far more easily than it would at a party or happy hour or whatnot.

I figured while I still had the book around, I'd try jotting down my quick answers to the questions posed for the book club:

Gilbert talks about how pragmatic marriages caused alliances and saved kingdoms and ran farms. Now marriage is mostly touted as a very individual, or a ‘for the kids.’ Do you think there is something that marriages, generally or individually, can offer to the larger community? Economically? Socially? Emotionally? For our neighborhood, our nation, our friend group, our families, or another group? Discuss.
  • I think there marriages are a stabilizing force in societies. People like to know where other people stand, and while of course you'd never know what truly happens behinds closed doors, there's a strong enough cultural assumption of what a marriage means that to know that someone's partner is a "husband" as opposed to "boyfriend" can be rather comforting (boyfriend = on and off partner, just met 2 weeks ago, or have been living together for 10 years?). Marriages are certainly not the only stabilizing force, however, and in many instances the stability is not worth the costs paid in an unhappy marriage.

Has the evolution of men’s and women’s roles in our social network negatively or positively affected our marriages in the Western world? (see page 31)
  • I think the evolution of gender-based roles in our society may have only negatively affect marriages if you define a positive effect to consist solely of most people getting married, and married for life. I see what Gilbert's saying about the evolution towards the idea of your spouse being your end-all-be-all of your social network, instead of one part of a larger community as she says it is among the Hmong people, setting unrealistic expectations for many people, but I think she's mixing up two different things here. Not needing an entire community's mutual support to survive and being self-sufficient is different from taking up the idea of finding your soul mate.

Gilbert asks on page 185 “how might we work together as a society to construct a world where healthy children can be raised with out women having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls to do it?” Discuss.
  • Much like not demanding that your partner match your every need, I think we as a society need to not expect mothers to have all the answers and ultimate responsibility for children that are borne. I also think we definitely need to have greater acceptance of the concept of paternity leave and that stay-at-home dads shouldn't face social stigma.

Early in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert says that “every intimacy carries the ever-coiled makings of complete catastrophe.” Do you think that’s true of your relationship? Does it make you feel doomed, or hopeful?
  • Yes, I think that's true of all truly intimate relationships. When someone really loves you, and I mean you, not the facade of you, they know all your deepest secrets and fears and nastiness--and the wonder of it is, they love you anyway. I think you can't have real intimacy without exposing yourself and becoming vulnerable to this person you've decided to trust not to hurt you. And unfortunately, sometimes that part doesn't work out, but you can't let that possibility stop you from opening yourself up to hurt, because you'll miss out on love, too.

On page 35 Liz states “… the person whom you choose to marry is perhaps the single most vivid representation of your own personality. Your spouse becomes the most gleaming possible mirror through which your emotional individualism is reflected back to the world.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • DISAGREE. I mean, yes, who you choose to marry says a lot about the kind of person you are, but I utterly recoil from these kinds of absolute statements. I just reread that section and you should note that Gilbert is actually discussing her theory of how western cultures perceive marriage, and how especially for women, their marriage is "at the center of their own emotional biography." I agree with her characterization, and I also think that it's part of the culture of holding up marriage on such a lofty pedestal that contributes to a lot of disillusionment when people realize that "and happily ever after" doesn't exist magically.

How has/have your own parents’ marriage(s) influenced your view of marriage? Have you learned anything surprising about their marriage as an adult?
  • I'm skipping this, because I'm not comfortable discussing this in a public arena (generally when I think about what to blog, I imagine how I'd feel if the last person in the world I wanted to read it actually did read it, and then I decide), but I'll just say that I do think it's very important to examine the models that you may be unconsciously looking to, for both yourself and your partner, so that you can try to emulate or avoid aspects of these models consciously.

How did Gilbert’s list of demographics’ effect on marriage make you feel about the prospects of your own marriage?
  • I thought this part of the book was so funny. I was fond of her at this point, as someone who dove into books and research and general obsessiveness when trying to deal with a conundrum (my modus operandi when I feel like I don't know something is to go out and get a book on it...hence this rather long list now of wedding/marriage books I've read in the right sidebar). Anyway, you can't apply generalized statistics like that to yourself directly in that way at all. That's not how it works. It is interesting for the noting what may be your "risk factors" and try to plan for how to lessen their potential effect.

It's a bridesmaids party

I've already written about definitely having my sister as a bridesmaid but about a month ago I decided to also ask Dan's three sisters to be bridesmaids. I'd been waffling on this for an even longer (I just checked and I wrote an email to Mama G about this very issue in...July. Yeah.) but I finally made up my mind to ask them because Dan's family has been extraordinarily gracious and welcoming and just so nice to me all along. Not a hint at all of any future-in-law drama or trying to impose their opinions or anything at all!

I think I'm very lucky because Dan's extended family really respects his judgment so I assume a lot of it is that they're confident that things would never get too crazy because Dan wouldn't stand for that, which is true. But, that alone isn't enough to explain the other nice things that have happened, like his aunt digging out a red dress with a full skirt that she wore to her graduation from her attic to give to me, just with the thought that it might be useful as I work on making my own red dress. This was the same aunt that took charge of pumping me for wedding planning info at the Easter family gathering this year because Dan had not been sufficiently forthcoming, and then all the (women in the) family reacted with exactly the kind of support that you'd want.

The main reasons I was hesitant for so long were that I didn't want them to feel like they had to be bridesmaids at their brother's wedding, I wanted them to be able to just be family and guests since that might be easier on them, and I also just assumed that more people involved = more potential for drama. With just my sister, I know that I would be able to boss her around and it'd be fine (isn't it fun how younger siblings always stay younger?) but I wasn't as sure about it with Dan's sisters. We've always been on friendly terms and I figured they've just seen me hanging around their house for so long that I just kind of fade into the scenery but we'd never really hung out outside of when I'm with Dan.

Plus, I kept asking Dan whether he thought they would care one way or another and he kept insisting it wouldn't really matter to them, that the only thing they would care about is that there's enough food that they can eat and that there isn't anything too weird at the wedding overall. Mama G said to definitely include them, it would be a really good bonding experience.

So, what did I end up doing? When Dan's older sister Cara and her boyfriend came over to our apartment in August for dinner, I cornered her and asked her to please, please be honest with me and tell me if they really wanted to be bridesmaids or if they really didn't want to be bridesmaids so I could make sure I didn't impose on them in either direction. Her answer really surprised me, something along the lines of, "whatever you want to do, we're totally cool with!" Is there anything sweeter to hear when you're trying to make everyone happy?

And then, when I asked his two younger sisters, Katie and Emmy, to accompany me to the mall to get my makeup done before the fauxgagement shoot, they were so sweet and complimentary and supportive the whole time that I was like, this is awesome! Having these girls around me on the day of the wedding would be great!

So after checking with my sister that she was ok with the bridal party getting quadrupled (she was totally fine with it, of course, and I wonder how much was due to this meaning an automatic promotion for her from the one bridesmaid to maid of honor instead, haha), I kept trying to get them all in one place to ask them in person but it kept not working out. I ended up just sending them a group email that included the following:
All that you need to do to be my bridesmaids is: 1, not roll your eyes if I'm going on for too long about the wedding plans (check), 2, accompany me on wedding errands if you're free and I'd like some company (check), and 3, stand up with me when we say our vows (TBD).

There is no: bridal shower or bachelorette party planning (Miss Manners says bridal showers can't be given by family anyway), no required matching dresses, and no other tasks other than the ones outlined above. You can wear whatever you want, really. Something cute and comfortable, which I imagine you were planning on doing already anyway.

If you don't want to be involved either, that's totally fine as well. No reason needed.
And they all responded with excitement and their mom was thrilled as well. TOLD YOU DAN, that girls really do care about being bridesmaids. TOLD YOU. He admits now that when he said they wouldn't care, what he really meant was that he didn't care.

Last week, we all got together to go bridesmaids dress shopping, including his mom and grandma who'd been driven down by his aunt especially for this dress shopping event. I brought over my sister's dress for them to check out the color and try it on for size, as Katie came up with the great idea of potentially getting summer dresses in different styles from J.Crew but in the same color. We still went to the mall just to see what was out there (answer: nothing appropriate for summer weddings anymore) and go to the J.Crew store there to try on what dresses they might have for size. They only had sack-like dresses in the store, so that was disappointing, but we got an approximate idea (I asked if I could use their names in my blog and they said that was fine but I didn't ask about sharing sizes, so suffice it to say: they are tiny).

After all the mall-ing, Dan's mom treated us to lunch at a local diner where the food was pretty good but the room smelled of spray paint fumes and the service was atrocious. We had a good time making fun of how much our waitress obviously didn't care about her job at all. When we wanted to get the check, Dan's mom had to wave back and forth for some time, like she was trying to hail a cab or something, until a manager noticed her and brought it to our waitress' attention. I put it all into the "so bad it's funny" category, though of couse that may have just been my impaired judgment after brain cells were killed dead by the paint fumes.

When we got back to their house, we browsed through the entire J.Crew website looking for what was available in that "fresh mint" color that's like a light green-y Tiffany blue and it ended up that the only style that was still available in all their sizes was this cotton cady Madeleine dress that Katie had been eyeing from the start.

The plan is for all the girls, including my sister, to find red accessories that'll inject their own personal style onto these dresses as canvases.

At the start of the day, when they were asking me what my vision was and what I wanted for bridesmaids dresses, I told them that this was what I wanted:
  1. That they would under no circumstances agree to a dress that they didn't like the style or felt was unflattering on them, just because I said I liked it.
  2. That they would solemnly swear to wear these dresses again.
I thought about having them put their right hand across their heart and repeat after me, but then I decided that was going into the creating my own cult territory.

But here's the best part of the story: we got these dresses for $40 each. $40! Where the original price on this style was $195! And we found a code for free shipping! They were final sale, so they can't be returned, but they just got delivered today and seem to fit just a little big but nothing that a tailor can't tackle. I figure, though, I've had dresses I've bought for more than $40 that I only wore once and so even if KWu's two rules for bridesmaids dresses are broken, at least it didn't cost them too much. I am so far winning at my own "being a cool bride" contest.

We won a day-of coordination giveaway!

No burying of the lead here, no sirree. One of our potential officiants sent over a newsletter from one of her colleagues, Carina of Luxe Events, who had her birthday earlier in October and wanted to celebrate by holding a giveaway for free day-of coordination service by herself! I thought about it for awhile but then got busy with life. Luckily, I managed to put together an entry just a couple hours before the midnight deadline.

And we won! This is so cool!!! Here's part of what I wrote in my entry:
I entered a few wedding-related giveaways in the beginning when I was looking at various wedding blogs and such, but stopped after awhile when I realized that many of what they were giving away wasn't entirely what I was looking for anyway. This giveaway, though, would be really appreciated by us because our current day-of coordinator is actually a dear friend of mine, the mother of a friend from work whom we affectionately call "Mama G" (her last name begins with G). She's supported me throughout the whole planning process as an impartial, sane voice I can always turn to who I know always wants the best for me. She even sent me an engagement present of the Martha Stewart Weddings book and has spent time talking about my wedding when she's visiting her daughter in NYC.

If we were able to have the help of a professional coordinator, then Mama G would be able to organize and plan the parts that she really enjoys without having to deal with anything that she's not as interested in, which would be a great gift for me to be able to give her in gratitude for all that she's already helped me with. 
I think Carina and I are going to get along really well. She has a background in organizational psychology and describes her strengths as an organizational nature--nature, mind you, not just skills, which is how I feel about my own personality as well--and her attention to detail. One of the stories I like to tell people when asked to describe myself is that when I tell colleagues that I used to be an editor on a research journal in college and did a lot of copyediting for them as a result, they invariably go, "Ohhhhhhh...yeah that explains a lot/makes a lot of sense."

Carina's sending us her contract in the mail, but basically our part to the giveaway will involve writing a testimonial for her and giving our consent for her to use the photos by Kelly within the stipulations that Kelly sets out. From what I found on her website, Carina's been running her wedding planning/coordination business since 2009 and has some great testimonials already but no reviews on Wedding Wire yet (I've decided that of the many, many vendor review sites out there, I like Wedding Wire best because they have a pretty easy-to-use design and most of the vendors I've researched for our NJ wedding have had a good amount of information on there). We'll get that fixed up.

Hooray for putting ourselves out there and getting offers of help from the universe in return!