This is your brain on wedding planning

Story highlights

  • When Kristy Griggs got engaged, she didn't anticipate what it would do to her brain
  • She calls this state "Wedding World," an alternate reality where planning takes over
  • There's a lot of bliss involved -- right before the freakout sets in
  • She finds most engaged couples go through it and find their way back to normalcy

Doing 75 mph down a winding canyon on an otherwise calm afternoon evoked some discomfort from my then-fiance passenger, white-knuckling his door handle.

"Am I making you nervous, Sweetie?" I asked. I was enjoying the speed thrill and was acutely aware that he was not.

"Not really," he managed to squeak. But we were a month and a half away from the "biggest day" of our lives, and I knew better. The nerves were starting to fray a bit. Five seconds of silence before he said: "I just don't want anything to happen to us before the wedding."

And there it is. The very sentence that summarizes what I like to call "Wedding World" -- an alternative reality not elicited by drugs, engaged in by the weak of heart, nor entered often by choice. A place where you believe, unequivocally, that the universe does revolve around you. A place that gave me some sympathy for the narcissists in my life.

This frame of mind is entirely limiting. There is no time to enjoy a beautiful sunset when you've got to put lotion on your skin for the fifth time that day.

Let me clarify. I love my husband dearly. I wanted to get married, and I think, as an observer, weddings are beautiful occasions. Everyone is smiling, and if they're crying it's because they're so very happy. Weddings are inspirational events, evoking notions of summer evenings, blushing brides, silly pranks by younger brothers and pretty bridesmaids all in a row. That's what a wedding is all about, right?

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I was the sort of bride-to-be who prided herself on not capitulating to the capitalist wedding-day requirements. Yes, I know that the average U.S. wedding costs a staggering $28,000, but those "free spirits" who serve Cheetos and Ho Ho cakes at their soirees didn't seem that bad to me. I was certain that I would not lose sight of what the occasion was all about: marrying the man I love.

Four months before our big day, after we moved into a house large enough to accommodate a polygamist family, I realized things were getting out of hand. It wasn't explicitly said, but we chose that house knowing his family and friends were coming into town and would not be impressed by our basement apartment. We chose that house to have a big-ass rehearsal dinner.

People do crazy stuff in Wedding World.

Soon I was faced with such "heavy" decisions as: Reserved or open seating? Band or DJ? One or two entrees? Veil or no veil? Roses or tulips? 6:00 or 6:30? Guitar player or violinist? Pachelbel's "Canon" or "Over the Rainbow"? Sanity or nuthouse?

After all was said and done, our wedding was wonderful. I have the best husband a woman could ask for, but it turned out that leaving Wedding World was not so easy. As part of my 12-step Wedding World cessation program, it helped me to identify six fairly distinct phases of this common affliction -- and laugh at our silly ways.

Phase 1: The post-engagement high

This is a blissful, short-lived period when the wedding still feels like an exotic, far-off event. "Yay, we're getting married!" You and your partner bat around loose ideas about what sort of wedding you each want ("Oh, maybe we can get married in Hawaii!") and leave it at that, which brings me to the next phase.

Phase 2: Denial for two

For me, this lasted too long -- about five months of our nine-month engagement. Toward the end of this phase, a mutual friend said over drinks at a bar, "You know what I love about you guys? That you never talk about your wedding. Engaged couples get so consumed and you guys aren't like that at all." Her comments made me, um, think about things.

Phase 3: Reality bites

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In this phase you collide with the fact that you're essentially throwing the largest party of your life for the most important people in your life. And you realize you want very badly for this party to go extremely well.

We picked out invitations and tasted cakes as if Martha Stewart were on the guest list. We scoured weddings sites as though our very lives depended on finding the perfect location -- would people prefer the view of a mountain or a beautiful garden? -- and went to Napa Valley to taste wines. OK, this one was an excuse to take a break from this phase, which boils down to a package of stress with the delivery date pounding your brain every minute.

Phase 4: Crunch time

This phase, mere weeks away from the main event, was actually more bearable for me. My fiance and I talked as if we were planning a military operation: "I've got the flowers covered, the RSVPs are coming in and we should have a final count by Tuesday at 16:00, but the backyard is the fly in the ointment." The wedding loomed larger than ever, but we were too busy to stress about it.

Phase 5: The big day

This is the phase Wedding World folks live for. It is the height of WW, the reason you do it all. It absolutely amazes me how wonderful this phase was. We got pre-ceremony massages. There were pretty bridesmaids all in a row and it was a summer evening. No silly pranks were played, but we danced the night away and love was all around us.

Still, it's ironic that this is the shortest phase. We spent how many months planning -- for a five-hour event?

Phase 6: Post-honeymoon detox

This last phase is much less stressful, but definitely the silliest. My husband and I actually volunteered to videotape and DJ a friend's wedding one week after we returned from our honeymoon. We double-handedly sought to make it an affair to remember. I gave a toast in front of 250 people, of whom I knew approximately 15. My husband became DJ and announcer. We danced to every song, hoping to inspire people to get footloose. I think our freakish, post-wedding energy scared and confused guests as they remained firmly planted in their seats.

Despite the stomach knots, obsessive thoughts and money squandering, Wedding World is ultimately a difficult place to leave. If you know people who are in this alternative reality, cut them some slack. Their days are strange and their logic skewed.

Don't be afraid to approach them when they're poring over wedding pictures like dealers with a new load of premium cocaine. This phase will end. You'll get your friends or loved ones back, and when it's your turn to get married they'll be there to help you. And you'll be glad that they are.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Salt Lake City Weekly. Share your stories from Wedding World in the comments below.