ON OCTOBER 23, 1998, ANDY, THEN MY BOYFRIEND, proposed marriage to me. I accepted happily. As far as I was concerned, this was a done deal. My friends and family, however, had a different idea: They, apparently, expected a wedding.
I have nothing against weddings. In fact, I love to go to them. I love the flowers and the folding chairs covered in silk. I love carefully wrapped little bundles of Jordan almonds and the matchbooks printed with the couple's names and wedding date. I find the ceremonies touching, and I am always amazed at how many meals are served and eaten without incident, and that there is almost always a vegetarian option-how thoughtful! No, it is not weddings themselves that frighten me. It was the idea of planning a wedding that caused my entire body to shut down and my brain to go into full-fledged denial.
I was allowed approximately one day of basking in the simple joy of being engaged before the interrogations started. "Oh, you got engaged! That's great...." people would say, and before I could get out a thank-you, they moved in for the kill. "Have you set a date? Where are you getting married? Are you going to have a big wedding? You know, you really have to book a year in advance. Are you going to have a band?" A band? I didn't even have my engagement ring properly sized yet.
I will readily admit to doing the giddy new-bride-to-be thing of rushing out to buy an assortment of bridal magazines. I loved looking at the pictures of other people's weddings as much as I liked going to them, and I marveled at the gorgeous gowns. The articles on planning, however, led to fear-induced illiteracy. I simply couldn't face the "1001 things to do before the big day" or "52 important things to remember in the 52 weeks before the wedding day." I read bridal magazines in the same way I had when I was 10 years old: as if I were enjoying a fairy tale that really had very little to do with me personally.
I started to answer people's queries by saying, "I am just hoping if I wait long enough, someone else will plan it for us." People laughed. I was serious.
Andy, a genetic scientist, had always wanted a very private ceremony anyway, so my apparent lack of interest in planning a traditional wedding was a relief. We both agreed that a private ceremony for the two of us followed by a party for our families was the way to go—you know, whenever we got around to it. Those around us, however, were not so relaxed. About 11 months into our engagement (just as Andy and were really getting the hang of the whole engagement thing), the pressure about setting a date turned into worried questions like, "Is everything OK?" The checkout girl at our local Ralphs supermarket paused in the middle of scanning my prewashed organic greens to whisper, "It's OK, honey. It will happen." And one of my best girlfriends (who got engaged, set a date, and married during the course of my own protracted engagement) confided that she and her new husband had bet $100 on whether or not we would "go through with it" (she claims to have put her money on "yes"—I'm still not quite convinced).
Finally my sister, Jennifer, who was responsible for getting Andy and me together in the first place three years earlier, completely lost her cool and sat us down in front of a computer to look for a party location. We were stilt determined to have a private ceremony, but the idea of having friends and family in an exotic locale for a four-day party held a lot of appeal.
My sister had so traumatized Andy with predictions of "hotels selling out completely, many years in advance" that he came home the next night and announced that he had booked 20 rooms at the Manele Bay Hotel on the Hawaiian island of Lanai beginning May 30, 2000. That gave me more than six months to plan our post-wedding celebration. Excellent, I thought, and promptly returned to my busy schedule of procrastination and denial.
Because our guest list was made up of family and a few very close friends, we invited people in person or with "save these dates for a trip to Hawaii" phone calls. We explained that we would arrive in Hawaii "pre-married" (our plan was to go to Las Vegas for a quick ceremony beforehand), so it was really just a four-day reception and a chance for our families and friends to meet and play. We would have one formal dinner, but other than that, it would be casual and relaxed. Unfortunately, I still underestimated my capacity for procrastination.
As the date drew closer and our work schedules remained demanding, we found we were no closer to tying the knot. Luckily my sister, girlfriends and my assistant realized that a four-day party—wedding or no wedding—would take some planning. My assistant, Stephanie, sat me down with menu options and forced me to call Cindy Robison, the brilliant and relaxed event planner at Manele Bay, to decide where and when we would eat. My sister and my friend Missy walked me through creating memos for the guests (the time for elegant engraved invitations had long passed at this point, and our guests were starting to annoy me with questions about silly little details such as plane reservations and exact dates), and my girlfriend Rya got me into a dress shop by bribing me with lunch at a nearby restaurant. Now I just had to get married. Oops.
I was very busy at work, then Andy was very busy at work, and before we knew it, six months had passed, and it was time for me to leave for Hawaii to enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation with my mom and my sister before our guests arrived. Never mind that we hadn't actually gotten married yet. Andy and I had convinced ourselves that the fact that we "felt" married was enough (we have a slightly exaggerated sense of our own power), but some of our friends weren't buying it.
"So," our friend Pete asked one day, "are you guys going to officially announce that you are going steady?" That was looking more and more like the plan. Luckily, when you invite people to Hawaii for a four-day party, they don't worry about such details as why; they are generally more interested in when.
Something happened to me when I got to Hawaii, however. I don't know if it was the beauty of the island, the intoxicating scent of the air on Lanai, or if i was just finally able to relax enough to allow the reality of how much I wanted to marry Andy to hit me, but suddenly I realized that many of the people I love most in the world would be in one place for four days—and I wanted to share my wedding day with them. The only problem? My year and a half of available wedding-planning time was now down to two days. It was time to make some calls. First I phoned Andy, who was still working hard back in Los Angeles. Brilliant man that he is, he said, "Whatever you want to do, honey." Then he asked, "Do I have to wear a suit?" "Yes," I answered, "and I have to go plan a wedding." The next call was to Cindy Robison.
"Cindy, this may be crazy, but do you think it would be possible for us to have a wedding ceremony this week?"
"When?" she asked, unfazed.
"Well," I continued, "the formal dinner is on Thursday night at 7:30, so I was thinking maybe 6:30-ish?"
"I don't see why not," she said, as if I were asking for soup instead of salad. "let me call the minister and get back to you."
Like magic, things started to fall into place. The minister just happened to be performing a ceremony on the island at 5:30 on Thursday night, and he could make it to our location by 6:15. The local general store happened to have a silver ring in Andy's size (which was lucky, because our other option was an adjustable toe ring from the hotel gift shop). My assistant set up appointments with a florist and pastry chef. My sister took me to get a manicure and a pedicure. "What can I do to help?" my mother asked me daily. "I don't know," I would respond. "What needs to be done?"
At our welcoming dinner on Wednesday, May 31, when we announced that there would actually be a wedding ceremony the next day, many of our guests said, "I knew it." How did they know? I didn't know myself until Tuesday afternoon!
On Thursday afternoon I wandered in a daze down to my massage. (Note to brides: The massage table face cradle leaves telltale marks on your forehead. Be sure to end on your back). Our room was deemed "chick central," and my mom, sister and girlfriends all came up to get ready there. My friend [actress Lisa Rinna] graciously offered to help guests with makeup and set up shop on the dining room table. I did my own makeup and prayed for a good hair day. After friends tied me into my dress and gave me a flower-covered headband to wear, we were on our way out the door.
Somehow the pictures got done and everyone made it onto the shuttle to the Lodge at Koele, where the ceremony was to be held. Because we had had no rehearsal, we now had no choice but to improvise. Andy grabbed his brother and his friend Harry (who, because he had no idea he would be standing up at a wedding, was resplendent in bright white tennis shoes), along with my sister and my best friend, and headed for the altar, while I grabbed my parents and my niece, Cassidy, and went the other way. Then we froze. What next? Luckily, I was awakened from my daze by the sound of our friends humming a very out-of-tune (and very beautiful) rendition of "Here Comes the Bride." Unfortunately, the singing seemed to frighten Cassidy (3-year-old ears are so sensitive), and she faltered in her already slow, weaving walk down the aisle. Just as we were beginning to fear she might not make it, she spotted my sister and broke into a relieved, happy run. Now it was my turn. Somehow I also made it down the aisle, kissed each of my still-stunned parents and walked up to stand next to Andy.
Having just met the minister five minutes before, we were both a little nervous. We needn't have worried. The ceremony was lovely and, unless the bit he spoke in Hawaiian held some secret pact we don't know about, wonderfully traditional. When the minister announced us as "Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Conrad," and we turned around and saw so many happy (relieved?) faces, I knew we had done the right thing by getting married in front of our loved ones.
With the help of our friends, the reception flew by in a haze of love and laughter. The toasts (my father's began with, "I have the interesting task of giving the toast at my daughter's wedding, to which I didn't know I would be going"), the first dance (because we had no band, I have my friend Mary to thank for starting all assembled on a warbling rendition of "Close to You," which I suppose is now our song—thanks, Mare) and the cutting of the delicious cake all went off without a hitch.
There is something to be said for lack of wedding preparation: It leads to lack of expectations, which in turn can lead to magic. I truly couldn't have done it alone, and I can honestly say that my wedding could not have been more perfect if I had planned it—which, as we now know, I did not.