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Love & Sex

Planning a Wedding After 50

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Planning a wedding doesn’t necessarily change because you’re older, of course.

If you’re having a pretty traditional event you’ll still need all the basics, from officiant and music to rings and food. But how you think about it, and what matters to you, might be a little different now. I’ll be 51 when I walk down the aisle for the first time this September, so goodness knows I’ve had plenty of time to consider our Big Day.

But the truth is that quite a few things I would have obsessed over in my twenties or thirties don’t seem very important (or even appropriate) now. There will be no bouquet-tossing, no wearing of white, no wedding theme or colors, no string of bridesmaids (though I would never begrudge any bride at any age these things.) “One of the great things about getting married or remarried after 50 is you and your fiancé are at a stage in life where you know what you want,” says Stacey Colino, a writer in Chevy Chase, Maryland, who married for the second time last November at 52. “And because you’re likely financing the wedding, you can do it your way—in a style that appeals to you, without having to worry about pleasing your parents or other people. John and I planned our wedding together every step of the way.”

Rather than scrutinize every detail, at this stage of life I'm simply trying to ensure that the day goes smoothly and that my fiancé, Fred, and I, along with our guests, get to really enjoy ourselves. For us, nothing matters more. So with that in mind, here’s some advice from a first-timer on how to plan a wedding later in life (including some I wish I had taken myself!), plus a few words of wisdom from Stacey:

  1. Hire a wedding planner if you can afford it. We decided against doing so, but now I’m beginning to regret that choice. If we had skimped on some other things to pay for a planner she'd likely be saving me the endless back-and-forth with vendors I’m dealing with right now. I found out the hard way, too, that if you're planning your nuptials in under six months (this is considered "last minute" in Wedding World), you may be hard-pressed to get the florist/DJ/officiant/string quartet of your choice, especially if you’re getting married in high season, which starts in the autumn in many places.
  2. Be honest (with each other) about who you really want at the wedding. Culling the guest list down to my essential family and friends hasn't been so difficult for me, but Fred has worried over leaving some people out, especially work colleagues we almost never socialize with and whom I hardly know. I could invite many more people (and might have done so in my younger years), but not only can we not afford a huge wedding, the idea of talking all night to a bunch of people I don't care that much about just isn't what I want out of my wedding day. What I’m looking forward to the most is the probably not-to-be-repeated chance to have all the people we love most in one room. Stacey concurs: “You may need to be extra-selective about whom to invite if you want to stick to a budget and keep your guest list manageable; after all, by now, you both know a lot of people so it’s easy to over-invite.”
  3. Decide what matters most to each of you and spend there. Since I was 16 and we had to plan our ideal wedding in my high school Human Relations class, I’ve known that four things would matter a lot to me: my dress, the cake, flowers, and the photographer. So I’ve spent more time finding these, and I feel good about the choices I've made for each. I know I should probably care a little more about the dinner, appetizers, and drinks, but those are being handled by our venue, which will also host and manage the ceremony. While these parts of the wedding may not be 100% to my taste, I know the venue will do a very good job, and most important, I don't need to worry about them. For Fred—a classical music lover—the choice of music for the ceremony and reception are paramount, so he's vetting these folks to choose who we go with. Together, we're tackling the rest—rings, vows, invitations, officiant, ceremony readings, and beyond. (For us, the "divide and conquer" approach seems to be working pretty well--though an up-to-date spreadsheet helps a lot.)
  4. Do it your way. If you’re anything like me, when you get engaged everyone will tell you to plan your wedding the way you want—choose the location, the date and everything else that works best for you and your fiancé. You will do so—and they will complain. Stick to your guns; trying to please everyone is a sure route to insanity. It is your day and the people who need to be there almost certainly will find a way to be there. (Remember how many weddings you’ve had to move heaven and earth to attend over the years.) It will all work out (at least that’s what I tell myself). Stacey says she and John knew they would make their wedding their very own: “For the ceremony, we walked each other down the aisle (we’re too old to be given away!) and wrote our own vows. One of my best friends was our celebrant,” she recalls. “John’s … younger daughter read a beautiful passage about the power of having a welcoming, loving home—like the one we’ve created—to come back to after adventures; it was from The Lord of the Rings and incredibly touching!”

Stacey says that in the end her best advice for anyone planning a wedding when you’re a little (or a lot) older “is to think about the style and vibe you want to create, figure out how much you want to spend, then design your wedding your way,” she stresses. “Think of it as a celebratory party as much as an official union. You’ve earned it at this stage of your life!”

It should be said, too, that, for us, marrying later in life means Fred and I can afford to pay for a few more special touches than we otherwise could have, had we wed in our 20s. Which is very nice. Since we’ve waited a long time for this day we know that the only real difference between marrying young and marrying not-so-young may be this: We understand just how remarkable it is to find the right person and we feel profoundly grateful that, finally, we did.   

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