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5 Life Lessons I Learned at My Perfectly Imperfect Wedding

I got married before Pinterest or Instagram. (Thankfully.) We had a wedding website, for which we were endlessly mocked . . . because who has a wedding website? Yes, 2003, I'm talking to you.

Getting married before typing "wedding" into Google produced infinite images of DIY centrepieces and venues from here to Kathmandu has its pros and cons. Mostly, I'm grateful because I would've lost hours of my life staring at a screen, crippled by decision fatigue, and begging to elope!

We weren't bombarded with Pinterest-perfect images, but we didn't know the first thing about wedding planning. After six years together, one question over a bottle of Champagne and a ring had thrown us into uncharted territory, where ironically our future selves would reside permanently, navigating marriage, children, and life — tethered together for better or worse.

Like most weddings, mine did not go according to plan.

Nothing catastrophic or devastating occurred. I have no stories to tell my great-grandchildren about dresses going up in flames or rain wreaking havoc during the ceremony.

My wedding wasn't perfect, but the imperfections taught me some valuable life lessons for marriage.

1. Maps are helpful, but expect detours.

I planned our wedding to the minute. For one, venues are expensive and they do actually shut down when the clock strikes end-of-contract. For two, every book I was given as an engagement gift said you MUST have a schedule, so I obediently mapped out the day.

Things went smoothly until the vows, which we had written with the intention of actually saying . . . to each other . . . in our ceremony.

It started with the reverend calling my husband a name that was not his (but one that sounded a lot like it). He continued reading whatever generic, ready-to-recite vows he had in front of him, and we nodded along. Because guests.

In marriage, parenting, and life, it's not always possible to walk away. Sticking around and letting the chips fall is often required. With a partner by your side, it's easier to pick up the pieces. Despite unintended detours, we usually end up where we're meant to be.

2. Actions speak louder than words.

The words we chose so carefully to use when promising forever to each other were not the words we actually said. Nonetheless, we stood in front of friends and family, held hands, exchanged a "we should have had a friend marry us" look, and said "I do" anyway.

It wasn't how we expected, but the intention was the same: we made a promise to stick together, even when words fail us, knowing our actions can be the glue that holds us together.

3. You can't please everyone; stop trying.

Weddings require so many choices: food, music, venue, the list is endless. Everyone has an opinion, making it mathematically impossible to please them all. Our wedding guests are the nearest and dearest to us. For the couple of hours it takes to have a ceremony, dinner, and few (free!) drinks, they shouldn't care if the food, music, or venue is not what they would have chosen.

Sometimes in life it's about us, sometimes it isn't. We can all keep our bridges intact and benefit from knowing the difference.

4. The kindness of strangers is life's Elmer's Glue.

Because we got married before all living, breathing humans carried smartphones, we decided to hire a videographer, which was serendipitous. After our vows were left unsaid during the ceremony, our videographer walked us above the venue, to a hill overlooking the tree-covered mountains, and had us recite them with no one around — the best way.

Because of someone we hardly knew, we were able to say our vows on our wedding day, the way we intended to say them.

5. Who we are when we get married is different from who we become.

If I had it to do over again, my wedding would be 180 degrees different. It was gorgeous and lovely, and I understand why the me of 14 years ago wanted it just that way. I took comfort in the traditional path to "I do." I followed an age-old recipe of programs, cake cutting, seating charts, and, of course, the bouquet toss. Without taking away from tradition, I would throw out the rule book if I were to do it today.

I've changed. We've changed.

My husband and I are not the same people we were when we got married. Our priorities have shifted, and so has our definition of family. We're now raising two little versions of ourselves, and that alone transforms us daily.

If we got married tomorrow, we'd let kids run amok, relax more, and care less what we were "supposed" to do. There would be no program or bouquet toss, but I'm pretty sure there would be s'mores.

And it would still be us. We'd still pick each other.

Weddings, like life, are made up of sweetness and moments that break your heart just a little. My husband and I did not marry by the vows we wrote, or even our correct names, but we said "I do" anyway.

We still say it, every day. "I do" anyway.

When the to-do lists are longer than our patience.

Or the kids are sick . . . or screaming . . . or both.

Or the dog is being rushed to the vet for eating the gorgeous, green, homemade play dough that is now gone . . . causing the sick kids to scream even louder.

Or when there are more dishes than date nights.

Or when we are angry, or hurt, or just. so. tired.

As pieces of ourselves break off and get left behind because they can't be reattached or fixed. We recalibrate and embrace the detours, together.

We hang photos on walls of the home we have built together, capturing memories with the kids that test our endurance daily — and we say "I do" anyway.

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