Wedding Planning Checklists Are Evil

Some wedding planning to-do lists are better than others but all have an inherent problem: They make a wedding into something that requires a checklist.

"It's completely insane," one bride told me of the "definitive" checklist she'd bought from a well-known wedding purveyor. "We didn't end up doing all of it," she told me. But the rest of the stuff? "It felt like: We have to do it and apparently we have to do it right now."

Planning your wedding takes an average of 10 hours a week. If you were working 10 hours a week on anything but your wedding, it would be called a part-time job. You'd insist on being paid for your time. But planning a wedding? You're expected to plan it without pay or complaint. Your compensation? Well, you'll be a wife at the end, right?

Enter The Checklist. It comes in varying forms. Some include witty asides (one of the best I’ve seen recommended a little, shall we say, personal time during the day before the wedding to relieve stress). Others are a marvel of precision and detail. All offer their services to the overwhelmed and overworked and they are, as advertised, helpful.

Indeed, few things feel better than crossing something off a checklist. You wrote down a goal and you completed it. That's an awesome feeling. But there's a problem: Weddings shouldn't require checklists.

The unquestioned ubiquitous of wedding planning checklists implies that if you're planning a wedding, there’s a master plan to follow. And you can only access that master plan if you visit this website or buy this book or go to this expo.

That is a dangerous and costly assumption. It's an assumption that hurts people. Specifically, it hurts those who plan weddings. It doesn't hurt the professionals (we’re being paid to complete a checklist). It hurts the people charged with planning their wedding, which, in most straight relationships, is the woman.

By its very nature, a checklist implies that you should check everything on it off. That's what a checklist is. So when someone has the audacity to skip part of a wedding planning checklist — a part she can't afford or doesn't identify with or, heaven forbid, doesn't actually want — she's often left with a feeling of guilt.

"There was a part [on the checklist] where it said 'buy your grandparents a gift' and I was like, 'for what?!'" a bride told me. When she and her fiancé decided to forgo the tradition of compensating their grandparents for, well, being their grandparents, she worried she'd "missed something."

"Were they expecting a gift? I couldn't really afford a gift but should I have gotten them one?" she recalls thinking.

The wedding industry loves this kind of thinking. It's what brings in customers. People who would never consider buying Grandma a cut crystal vase suddenly find themselves asking if they can get one engraved. What compels us to change so dramatically so quickly?

Because we're worried if we don't, we're not doing it right.

"I saw my checklist as a necessary evil," said one bride. "I looked at other, shorter checklists but I felt that at least [the one I had] was so comprehensive that chances were good I wouldn't miss anything and have a failure of a wedding … I had so much fear of missing something."

Fear sells. What doesn't is knowing that a wedding planning checklist is a suggestion. You — not the company that wrote the checklist — have the power to decide what you do and don’t want to do on it. In fact, there's only thing that actually matters on that checklist: Signing the marriage license.

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