Inside the wedding planner-couple relationship from the perspective of a wedding planner. An authentic look at how emotions play a lead role in this career. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to have a job in an industry based largely on how people feel? Is it ever possible to care too much?
I’m often asked about what it’s like to be a wedding planner. Usually, people want to hear the crazy bride stories or anything worthy of a reality show. My career is frequently seen as “luxurious” and “fun”. From the outside looking in, it appears I have somewhat of a dream job. But that’s because not only do most people have no idea what I actually do (especially when I’m not physically at a wedding), but they also only see the finished product in pictures. That product being a happy couple at a beautiful wedding.
What happens Monday-Thursday and on the weekends when I don’t have a wedding or event? Why do I consider being a wedding planner a heartbreaking job?
In my email signature line and throughout my website, it says, “An event planner is a mother, sister, friend, drill sergeant and psychologist,” and in this blog, I’ll tell you why.
Wedding Planner-Couple Relationship
There are countless careers a person can choose from that won’t require emotional investment, but being a wedding planner isn’t one of them. Plenty of you are reading this blog right now from a desk at your job that you don’t even like. I have friends that tell me they get paid just enough to keep them from quitting. Money can be a great motivator, especially, when it’s the only thing you care about in relation to your job.
Except studies have shown that money is in fact not the best way to motivate people at their jobs. One study in particular, Frederick Herzberg’s Motivational Theory, goes into detail about what workers consider satisfying and dissatisfying in the workplace. If you’ve got the time, you can get lost reading up on all the scholarly articles that cite this theory. However, since this is a blog and not a thesis paper, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s been proven that money is not the ultimate motivator to get people to do their job.
Seriously though, when you have the time, look this stuff up because it’s mind-blowing. Anyway…
The reason I bring up all of that, will become obvious throughout this blog. Starting with the difference between having any number of other jobs versus having a job as a wedding planner. Even though we’re all motivated by money at some level (because bills), we’re also all motivated by our emotions at some level. Those emotions could cause a person to stay late to finish a project, or go the extra mile because they’ll feel amazing with the approval of their superior.
When you’re a wedding planner, your emotions can get the best of you though. This is all because of the unique relationship between a wedding planner and the couple. That relationship is unique because it is unlike the one you have with your boss while working in a different industry.
Any different industry.
Caring v. Caring
Completely ignoring the whole money as a motivator (or not) thing, and pretending no one actually goes to a job they hate everything about, everyone cares about their job. People naturally care about the quality of their work. Why they care is irrelevant because there are hundreds of different reasons.
As a wedding planner, I too care about the quality of my work. It’s important to me that my work is organized, my weddings are produced well, and my clients are happy. I have all the egotistical reasons that people outside my industry have for caring about the quality of my work. Where I differ is my other reason to care, which is, the people I work with.
Let me be clear that not every wedding planner is the same. I’ve been around long enough to know that there are wedding planners that care about the quality of their work for dozens of reasons that have nothing to do with how the client perceives them. Some wedding planners can go through the motions of planning a wedding while never connecting with the couple. They meet, they plan, the wedding happens, and then they move on. Maybe they smiled during the first dance or even choked up while listening to a toast at the wedding reception. In the end, it’s just another wedding for them. It’s just another job.
Not for me.
When I work with a couple and plan their wedding, I care about my job because I care about them. There have been times when I struggled with just how much I cared. I’m not talking about the “caring about the job” level of caring. It’s how I care about and more importantly for my couples. I have questioned if I care too much and, in some instances, wondered what would happen if I cared less.
A Wedding Planner’s Curse
In the beginning of this blog, I stated that lots of people have no idea what I do. This includes couples that I have worked with, as well as couples that I never got the chance to work with. Many grooms have sat in my office and flat out told me they have no idea what I do or why a wedding planner was even necessary. Given the chance to explain what I do as a wedding planner always turned those couples into my couples. When I wasn’t given that chance, the couple never understood the value of working with me because they walked away with no knowledge of what I do.
Generally, I start planning with couples early on, helping them secure the venue and vendors, designing their day, handling logistics…you get the idea. This puts me in my office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and has me communicating with my couples every other day, on average. Doing the math and given the average engagement length of 1.5 years, this means I connect with my couples over 270 times while wedding planning.
270 times doesn’t break down evenly, of course. My office is closed on Mondays, and if I have a wedding on the weekend, that’s the only couple that gets my attention. Factor in holidays, vacations I take and the ones my clients take, weekends with my family, and everything else, sometimes I connect with a couple 20 times in one day or go 3 days without hearing a thing. The breakdown of when the communication happens doesn’t matter though and the path to 270-ish will vary from couple to couple.
The point is, it’s a lot of time connecting. In fact, it’s more time than I spend with most people I know, aside from my husband and children. If you spend that much time connecting with someone, how does a deeper relationship not develop? The thing with me is, I really only have one personality. My couples meet the same person that my friends know. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it gets me in trouble. More on that later…
What happens during those 270 or so connections? I see how the couple laughs together and more often than not, how they fight together. Some of those connections are private one-on-one emails with me and some connections are random afternoon calls from brides that just need to vent.
I quickly become “a mother, sister, friend, drill sergeant and psychologist.”
There is an end date on the relationship between a wedding planner and the couple. The difference between this relationship and one with a friend though, is that you know what the end date is in advance.
The Wedding Day
All of the work that has been done, and that final product that is produced, comes down to one day. No matter how emotional things got during the wedding planning process, the actual wedding day is filled with more emotion than all of those preceding days combined. Even more challenging? It’s not just the couple’s emotions anymore. Now it’s the emotions of the parents, the immediate family, the wedding party…
Basically, the people in the couple’s life that don’t have an end date stamped on their relationship (at least, not one they know about).
I watch emotions run high on wedding days, and truth be told, I’m working so hard it’s pretty easy keeping mine in check. Total transparency though? I don’t like people seeing me cry. It’s not for any particular reason, and I’m pretty good at psycho-analyzing myself. I just don’t like crying in front of people, what can I say?
People cry at weddings though. Even if they’ve been to 100 weddings, people cry at weddings. Somehow, people think that I won’t cry at a wedding because this is my job and I see this all the time. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) this has never been just a job to me. Aside from a handful of couples, I have been unsuccessful in stopping myself from forming a relationship and caring about my couples.
270 interactions over the span of less than 2 years will do that to you.
So, I tend to cry at weddings. I cry when I see my bride in her gown for the first time, because it’s real then. I cry when she goes down the aisle, because it’s real to her then. I cry when my couple is announced into the reception as Mr. and Mrs. and I have to close the doors behind them and let them go. Because that’s the end date. That’s when it’s over.
While I stay for the duration of the reception, my work is essentially finished once that married entrance is made. Without a wedding to plan, future emails, phone calls, texts, or in person visits, will never come from the couple that is now having their first dance together. It is in that moment when I have battled the idea of whether or not I care too much. Does it make the job or just make the job harder?
Not having a “business” personality has pros and cons. A big pro is that my couples know they can trust me and everything that comes out of my mouth. I will never tell them something is possible when it isn’t. A big negative? I will never tell them they are right when they are wrong. That, right there, is why I’m never the right wedding planner for couples that want someone to work for them instead of with them.
It also causes problems if there is a disagreement and a couple pulls the “we’re paying you” card. In fact, there was a bride I planned with that when told what she was asking for (it was ridiculous, believe me) was not feasible, informed one of my team members (and this is a direct quote): “I’m paying you, so you have to do what I tell you to.” Suddenly, it’s a power game and the mutual respect goes out the window. Not only will our relationship never be the same but, to deal with hurt I feel, I have no choice but to treat the wedding as a job.
“A wedding planner is…a friend.”
A common misconception is that since I own my business, I don’t have a boss to answer to. That’s partly true. I don’t have a boss to answer to; my brides, grooms, and sometimes parents are the people I answer to. At any given time, I have over a dozen bosses. These people are my bosses and I do understand that, which is part of the reason I extend such respect and work so hard. The difference between my boss and your boss though, is the relationship is deeper than boss-employee.
“A wedding planner is…a psychologist.”
My couples are able to open up to me about absolutely anything. There is never any judgement, and there is always a shoulder to cry on or a sounding board to vent to. I have kept secrets my couples have entrusted me with, and I have created an atmosphere where my couples can feel safe.
“A wedding planner is…a mother.”
There have been times when I have misjudged my relationship with a couple; I have thought we were closer than we actually were. Those scenarios, though few and far between, always made me question if I care too much. When talking to friends about those brides, I would always be told something like, “Whatever…you’ll never have to deal with her again after the wedding.” I’m sure you can imagine how unsatisfactory of an answer that would be to me.
“A wedding planner is…a sister.”
Another con when you only have one personality? When that personality includes being sarcastic and blunt. If I’m close with you, I’m very both of those. Dishing it and taking it is commonplace with the couples I plan with, and just another example of how my boss is different than yours. I get a lot of “I can’t believe you said that to your bride,” because who speaks to their boss like that? Me. I do. Almost always it strengthens our relationship.
So, why do I label it a “con” and not a “pro”? Because it’s either not noticed by my couple (because they’re also sarcastic and blunt with me) or it is noticed and not appreciated. This becomes heartbreaking when I find out my couple has been offended and I never even knew about it. It’s heartbreaking because I care. As quickly as I can bust chops, I can just as quickly become that shoulder my bride needs to cry on.
“A wedding planner is…a drill sergeant.”
Being blunt with my couples not only includes telling them they’re wrong when they are wrong, but also giving tough love when it’s needed. The dream wedding doesn’t just come together on its own (otherwise, I would be out of a job) and I said earlier that I plan with my couples, not for them. If my emails go unanswered, deadlines are missed, or they are finding ways to self-sabotage the wedding details, I’ll let them know nicely…firmly, but nicely. I consider this a pro since most of the time my couples express how grateful they are to have a wedding planner who keeps them in check; again, nicely.
If it was just a job, it wouldn’t be heartbreaking to find out when my personality traits upset my couple; it would be something I would attempt to improve on and fix. But then, how do you “fix” your personality? You can’t change who you are. So what’s the answer? It’s obvious: You create that business personality.
That is an answer I have been faced with. An answer I have ignored time and time again. Because, if I become a different person when I am a wedding planner for a couple, than the person I am with those I care about, then what the Hell am I doing planning weddings? I should quit right now and focus solely on planning holiday parties for the 9 billion pharmaceutical companies based in New Jersey. No emotions there, and plenty of drugs to keep those pesky emotions away should they happen to show up.
Emotion drives the wedding industry and my emotions are who I am as a wedding planner.
Anytime I hurt a client, I spend a great deal of time reflecting. I will never tell someone that they can’t feel a certain way, because how people feel is how they feel. I’m sarcastic and blunt, but I am not mean. You will never hear me say “I’m sorry you feel that way”, even if I believe my couple is being irrational. It’s important to me that a client, someone I care about, knows that any hurt I caused was unintentional. Which is why I believe in apologizing when my actions (which come from a good place) hurt my couples or any of my bosses.
For the clients that hurt me…the ones I thought I was close with that spoke badly to my vendors on the wedding day about me…the ones that screamed at me for something that happened because of their actions…the ones that snapped fingers in my face and treated my team members like worthless personal servants…I can only hope they do even half of the reflecting that I do. No boss has the right to treat any employee like that, in any industry.
No matter the strength of my relationship with my couple, I have always cared. I have always believed in recognizing the humanity in others and treating everyone with respect. Would it be easier to simply care less and create that business personality? To be one of those planners that meets, plans, and moves on?
Then again, I probably wouldn’t have those friends that once upon a time were my couples; friends that have been to my home and even traveled with…and I definitely wouldn’t have worked with them in the first place by being something and someone I’m not. It might be easier to care less, but it most certainly wouldn’t be worth it…anything worth it, never really is easier though, right?
You cannot be a true wedding planner without putting your whole heart into it. At least, I know I can’t. It’s a wedding and a wedding is all about love. I wedding plan with my whole heart and with love….
…and sometimes love hurts.