The Paradox of Choice, or how I applied economic, social and psychological principles to avoid becoming a Bridezilla (so far)

I’ve been engaged for over 5 months now, and our wedding is in a little over 4 months. We just decided on a untraditional wedding party and wedding colors last week, we don’t have a confirmed cake yet (but definitely some favorites in the cake-topper contest), and our registry is little more than a wishlist of honeymoon expenses with some small kitchen tools and large household appliances my fiance hopes someone will purchase (yes, that round robot vacuum cleaner thingie is on it).

People ask me how wedding planning is going, and to be honest, I think it’s fine. Or it was last time I checked. I was worried that my professional event planning tendencies would drive me crazy, but they’re not. Once I internalized that no, my wedding guests were not conference participants that I have to book non-smoking hotel rooms for, guarantee 3 daily meals and 2 coffee breaks, or greet at the airport with a sign with my company’s name and logo, once I realized they are responsible adults with airline miles and credit cards and, for the most part, very global travelers who want to be present at this very special moment in both our lives, I relaxed.

There were – and still are – some tense moments over inviting guests, and some family intricacies to smooth over, but other than that, wedding planning has been quite low key. And I hope it stays that way.

When freshly engaged, I pored over wedding fora on the Knot and Wedding Wire, and worried myself frantic over minutiae before we had even found a venue or decided what continent we wanted to be married on. What brought me back to my senses was a very special ‘kick-off’ to wedding planning with my future husband, who showed up at my door in hiking boots and whisked me off to a local park. There, we walked trails hand-in-hand and came up with ‘our wedding motto’. Over the course of three hours in the August sunlight and shadows, we talked about what we want our marriage – and wedding – to mean.

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From then on, we found a venue, we got in touch with a few priests, we decided on a continent; within a few months, I had my perfect dress (from the discount rack at David’s Bridal, no less), and he just recently found his tux. I still don’t have shoes or a veil, my maids of honor (yes, there will be two) don’t have their dresses, I have very little idea of what I’d like to do with my hair but I hope the hairdresser is good at figuring it out, and we’re still not sure what exactly is going to happen with the cake.

But – I’m happy. He’s happy. We are both happy. We spent our time this snow-filled weekend bonding over a 2000-piece puzzle, playing rummikub with neighbors, and discussing our future life together.

Part of it I think comes from consciously narrowing down our choices. The most painful was the decision as to which geographic location to host our wedding in. But with the help of detailed budgets, a whirlwind tour of the properties that DC, Northern Virginia and Buffalo have to offer, and lots of conversation, we made a decision and haven’t looked back.

This weekend a bride-to-be friend asked me if I was also getting angsty about the kind of dishware on our registry. And I realized that I had actually actively removed myself from stress-inducing environments by choosing not to make those decisions. I’m pinning more lunch recipes than bouquet designs on Pinterest, I flip through bridal magazines at salons within 15 minutes and then I’m done, and I left both Wedding wire and the Knot right after we’d found a venue.

Before the proposal, I had managed to finish reading “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz. The basic premise of the book – which I heartily encourage you to read –  is that we live in an era of unending – or even continuously multiplying – choices, and paradoxically, that makes us more and more unhappy (sunken costs, missed opportunities, and other psychological mechanisms factor into it). In an excellent chapter in the latter part of the book, he explains how we can use limitless choice to our advantage and not let ourselves be overwhelmed by the constant choices (and rejections) that we must make.

Somehow, I think I managed to apply those principles to wedding planning, not the least thanks to my fiance who is very much a ‘satisficer’ as opposed to ‘maximizer’ me (read the book for more, but basically, ‘satisficer’ is actually the more positive of the two, the one who enjoys life more). We had somehow subconsciously followed some of Schwartz’s guidelines for better decision-making, including: settling on the main/overall goals and accomplishing them, not second-guessing decisions after they were made and contracts signed, refusing to feel regret after the ink was dry, and also simply choosing not to make certain decisions.

We cut out many decisions of our planning, simply because they are things that are not a priority for us in our wedding vision, they are not essential, and ultimately they are not worth our additional stress. Admittedly, this was easy for me, a craft-avoider whose main (only) artistic talent is painting Easter eggs and cutting shapes out of radishes and whose pinterest includes a separate board for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and snacks) and only two related to weddings. Designing centerpieces or cute entrance signs to the venue is the last activity I’d want to do on a winter evening. So cutting out DIY projects and simplifying, simplifying, simplifying was not really a statement against the wedding industry and the angst it promotes as much as just me and my fiance being who we are and acting as we normally do.

So there we are, 4 months before the wedding

I can’t pretend I know the secret to calm and stress-less wedding planning, but I know what’s worked for us. It probably has a lot more to do with an extremely supportive fiance’s hand to hold and shoulder to snuggle on, a lack of passion for crafts, and a general desire to just move ahead with the wedding so we can get started with the marriage, rather than an expression of a deeply held philosophical belief with social, economic and psychological underpinnings.

But, bride-to-be or not, I still recommend you read the “Paradox of Choice.”

That, or you know, just take a walk in the park. It works too.

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