Wedding advice

April 30, 2011 BY danariely

Wedding planning: A case study in joint decision making

By an anonymous PhD

My fiancé, Matthew, and I are currently planning our wedding, an absolute adventure in joint decision making.  I am learning that even though I am a decision researcher, I know surprisingly little about how to make decisions with another person.

Since both of us greatly value autonomy, in the past if we have had different preferences, we’ve simply done our own thing.  For example, one afternoon while vacationing at Arches National Park last summer, Matt wanted to go on a 7-mile hike, and I wanted to read by the hotel pool.  So, we went our separate ways and did precisely what we each wanted.

But, that doesn’t really work out in the wedding domain.  Obviously, I can’t say, “Well, you can have a big fancy wedding, I’m going to elope.”  Thus, we recently find ourselves repeatedly gridlocked.

Some background:  I am not a fan of weddings in general, and my own is no exception.  I don’t like the pomp and circumstance, I don’t like the symbolism behind a lot of the traditions, and I think it’s a silly thing to spend many thousands of dollars on.  Matthew, on the other hand, is much more sentimental than I am, in a surprising bit of gender-role reversal.  He values the ritual of weddings, and it’s important to him to have a large audience of his friends and family there.

So, while I would prefer to have a small handful of people at a justice-of-the-peace style affair, we’re planning a traditional wedding and reception for 150 guests because it is important to Matthew, and Matthew is important to me.  Fine – one bit of joint decision making solved.

But: one decision point has not been so easily solved.  Matt wants to have attendants (i.e., groomsmen, bridesmaids) so that his brothers can be his groomsmen; Matt was a groomsman at his brothers’ weddings, and thinks his brothers will feel honored at being selected.  But, I really don’t want to have attendants, I think because it’s such a clear marker of a typical, traditional wedding.  Plus, I then have to choose bridesmaid dresses, theme colors, and the actual bridesmaids (the politics of which are arguably much more complicated when choosing female attendants vs. males).

One option we entertained was to have groomsmen but no bridesmaids, but this is unpalatable because I’m worried that everyone will infer that no one would be my bridesmaids. This appears to be a win-lose sort of endgame, rather than those nice win-win solutions exhorted by the negotiation books I’ve read, and I don’t see a way around that. So, the options apparently are:

a)    have both groomsmen and bridesmaids

b)    have neither

Dan proposed that I use his blog as a forum to ask for advice.  So, readers, which of the two options would you advise us to do, and how did you come to that conclusion?  Or, are there other win-win options we haven’t thought of?

Please take our quick survey here and give your thoughts.