“A Modest Affair in Which I Will Entertain 100 or So People”

Two future Slate grooms debate the importance of wedding planning.

Illustration by Charile Powell.

Derreck Johnson and Jordan Weissmann.

Illustration by Charile Powell

In celebration of Slate Plus’ first anniversary, we’re republishing a selection of pieces from the past year, including this article, which was originally published on June 19, 2014.

Allison Benedikt, senior editor: This week at Slate, we are celebrating that notably stress-free, easy-to-plan, no-big-deal thing we do to get ourselves married: the wedding. Two staff members are actively planning their own weddings RIGHT NOW. So, Derreck and Jordan: How’s it going?

Derreck Johnson, Web designer: Well, the major thing I’m dealing with is that I’m not getting married here in New York. I’m getting married in Pasadena. So, in essence, I’m planning a wedding via emails, text messages, and phone calls.

Jordan Weissmann, senior business and economics correspondent: No carrier pigeons? Apologies, that sounds like a nightmare and a half. But on the bright side, it means you can shirk some of the responsibility, right?

Benedikt: Derreck, are you taking the lead in planning, or is your soon-to-be wife?

Johnson: It’s about 60–40 in favor of my fiancée. Maybe even 70–30. Her family has been helping out immensely, doing a lot of legwork for us. 

Benedikt: What about you, Jordan?

Weissmann: So, we’re in a funny situation. My fiancée and I are probably the last two people on Earth you would want planning a wedding right now. I am a parody of an absentminded journalist. She is a highly focused prosecutor who prefers to stay out of the limelight and right now has her plate full at work. So neither of us is really cut out to orchestrate a big celebration.

However, an old friend of mine has been trying to break into the wedding-planning business, and she’s been using us as a guinea pig, pro bono. This has led to several conversations where my friend has tried to explain how weddings work to my fiancée and me, and we’ve just stared back like two deer in the headlights.

Benedikt: I have never heard anyone say, “Planning a wedding is so fun!” And you guys sound a liiiiiiiiiittle stressed. Why do we do it?

Weissmann: We’ve been asking ourselves that recently. And we’re suddenly vacillating on whether to make it a big event, or keep things small and family-oriented.

Johnson: I’m doing it for my family, mainly—my mom, for the most part. We talked about eloping a couple of times, but my mom would hold that over my head for the remainder of my natural life. I’m her firstborn, and at one point she thought I was going to be a permanent gigolo.

Weissmann: Wait … were you a gigolo? Because now that will get you on reality TV.

Johnson: No, my mom used that term. Remember the game Leisure Suit Larry? She thought I was gonna be like that. Just casually dating the rest of my life.

Weissmann: Permanent Gigolo would be a great band name.

But, you know, some people just want to be the star for a day. And, when I’m being entirely honest with myself, I kind of like the idea of standing in front of 100 or so people in a sharp suit with the woman I love. (The short version is that I’ve secretly discovered there’s a tiny groomzilla inside me. Thankfully, my finances will probably keep him at bay.) How big are you thinking for your wedding?

Johnson: Right now we’re wavering somewhere in the 105–110 area. We are keeping it somewhat small because weddings are expensive. My fiancée is an accountant, so budget is everything with her.

Weissmann: I love that you think 100 is small. This is what the wedding-industrial complex has done to us. But as we’ve discovered the cost of planning a wedding in New York, we’ve started edging toward smaller.

Johnson: One area we lucked out on is that the venue we’re getting married at is a catering place that just so happens to have an amazing backyard with a 200-plus-year-old tree in the back. So two birds with one stone, there. No need to search elsewhere for food.

Weissmann: “Oh yes, a modest affair in which I will entertain 100 or so people.”

Johnson: We’re also doing buffet-style pasta bar as a main entrée. No servers or anything.

Weissmann: See, my parents did the ultimate DIY wedding back in the ’80s. Had it at a friend’s apartment in the city, catered it themselves. I used to hear stories about the meal from their friends when I was a teenager. Also, my mother wore purple.

Johnson: I want it to feel more like a party than a stuffy wedding. Like, take your ties off after the ceremony if you want. Put on your flats. Let’s dance.

Weissmann: The more time I’ve spent going through this process, the more crazed it all seems! I mean, as a culture, we expect young people to start their lives by burning money on a piece of jewelry that could easily equal a down payment on a car. Then you spend money to entertain the people closest in your life, rather than stash cash away for the life you’re about to attempt to build together. Even when the parents are footing the bill, we’ve decided that an elaborate act of conspicuous consumption should be Step 1 for starting a family? It’s just kind of strange.

Johnson: My accountant fiancée loves the fact that we’re getting married and doing it in front of our families and it’ll be such a great day. But then she was like, “This could have been a fat down payment on a house.” We had a slight argument about that one night. She’s absolutely right. But when you see how excited everyone is, it kind of makes it all worth it.

Weissmann: I don’t know. There have to be more budget-friendly ways to make your loved ones excited.

Benedikt: What is the one thing about your wedding that you care about the most? Flowers, food, suit, what?

Weissmann: Probably the food. The fiancée and I are considering a brisket theme. Barbecue for her (she’s from Austin), and pastrami for me (I’m from New York). 

Johnson: Oh man, that’s such a good idea.

Benedikt: Thanks in advance for inviting me! Can’t wait.

Johnson: For me, it’s the music. Our DJ is a friend of mine. The DJ dictates how the event flows. He also dictates how much you drink. And when you drink, you have fun. I think that’s how it works.

Weissmann: That is how it works. But most wedding DJs are terrible. That’s why they’re wedding DJs. But you’re lucking out with a friend.

Johnson: Our DJ is actually a party DJ. He’s solid as hell. We’re going to have a “music meeting” with him soon where we pick all the important songs (the entry, the exit, the first dance). My fiancée is Costa Rican, so he’ll need some guidance on the Latin music, but other than that, he’s going to wing it.

Weissmann: One last thing—as a Jewish kid, there are only a few times in your life you get lifted on a chair. Basically, your bar mitzvah and your wedding, which is part of the motivation for having a celebration here. The business writer in me gets worked up about the money. The ham in me wants to get lifted in a circle of people dancing the hora.