Everything That Went Wrong on My Wedding Day

A whole list of disasters blew two years of planning—and showed me what mattered.


by Gemma Hartley

photo courtesy of Katarina Simovic

filed under Fun, True Stories

I walked into the empty church and my heart skipped a beat. It was horrifically hot inside and everything was bare. It didn’t look ready for a wedding, not by a long shot. I went into the back room, painted my neglected toenails, and called my florist. I asked him when he was going to set up for my wedding.

“Tomorrow?” he asked.

I paused, took a deep breath. “My wedding is in an hour.” The florist was an hour away.

Everything seemed to slow down. I thought about the hours I had spent combing through bridal magazines, cutting out photographs of beautiful bouquets and hydrangea-lined church aisles, all of which I meticulously organized into my master wedding planning binder. I had been planning this day for two entire years. I left no stone unturned in my quest for the picture-perfect wedding, and now guests were arriving to a barren, overheated church.

Everyone looked to me, the bride, to figure out how to proceed. Should we panic? Should we rage? Did I need to be consoled? Should someone call and berate the florist? Should we postpone the impending nuptials, tossing aside the rest of the wedding timeline?

Though I could hear the chatter swirling around me, I suddenly found myself feeling calmer and more comfortable than I’d been all day. I was no longer jittery with nerves, because the moment I realized things were going wrong, I found peace and clarity of purpose. I was exactly where I was supposed to be: right here, in this empty church, getting ready to marry the man I loved. I took a deep and deliberate breath, and let it go. The flowers weren’t why I was here. This wasn’t a catastrophe.

“I want to get married,” I said.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait?” my photographer asked. “We can do some pictures before the flowers get here.”

I agreed to some photographs sans floral arrangements while the guests began arriving, but made certain everyone knew the plan hadn’t changed. I wasn’t about to wait around for my florist to show up with some half-assed arrangements to get things started.

A family friend found a French restaurant down the street willing to help a bride in need. She secured a bunch of peonies by plucking one from each of the vases on the tables. I ripped apart my cathedral veil and wrapped it around the bouquet of repurposed flowers as we finished taking photos. The bouquet was soft, simple, and romantic.

The music began playing and the bridal party lined up. One of my bridesmaids decided to have a small meltdown over what she should do with her hands when walking down the aisle since she had no bouquet. Then, as an answer to her prayers, the florist ripped into the parking lot, bestowing us all with bouquets mere moments before the ceremony.

They weren’t quite the right color, and many of the flowers were missing. There was no time to rush in and decorate the church with the processional music playing. The men were pulled aside, interrupting the music, to put on their boutonnieres. These were things I would regret and resent the next day, but the only thing I wanted and needed in that moment was to get down the aisle and get married.

The videographer’s phone rang loudly during the ceremony, giving us one of the most endearing photographs of real laughter in our album. People didn’t know where to sign our photo mat, so throughout our first year of marriage, we would encourage people to write us notes on it while pretending to be at the wedding. When it came time to pay the vendors, we couldn’t find my purse, and I spent some time outside in a lightning storm, marvelling at the beautifully savage night while we searched the deck. The videographer dubbed over our first dance, so we look terribly off beat. The church bell wouldn’t ring when we pulled the rope. The list of things that didn’t turn out the way I had planned goes on and on.

The details that fell apart on my wedding day showed me what truly mattered: my love, my marriage, and a celebration that didn’t hinge on perfection. It was the first reassuring glimpse of how we would handle the things that went wrong in the years ahead of us. Soon we would buy a house in the winter only to find the roof falling apart when the snow melted. We would plan to have a baby after college graduation, and he would be born early, on finals day. There would be many moments that didn’t go according to plan, but as long as I was able to keep perspective and remember the reason we were together, everything would turn out the way it was meant to be.

It’s hard to fight the kneejerk reaction to be outraged when your well-designed plans fall apart at the seams. But when I keep my relationship at the forefront of my mind, I am reminded to take a deep breath and stop sweating the small stuff. If my imperfect wedding taught me anything, it was that I had chosen the perfect union—or at least as close to perfect as I ever want to get.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly on SheKnows, Ravishly and Romper. Follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

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