15 years ago, I got engaged during the holidays down in Florida. Ironically, my father was probably only 10 miles away at that time, but we were not in contact back then, so the celebration of the engagement and Christmas Eve occurred solely with my fiance’s family. Immediately the questions began about possible dates, location, etc. Honestly, I just wanted to elope and avoid all the drama and hype, but in deference to fiance’s family, we went forward with a traditional church wedding with about 80 guests in Washington, DC.

Learning to stick to a budget and compromise on major decisions was actually an incredible lesson for us during that year-long engagement, and navigating the various family personalities was quite the bonding experience. During that year, I learned why so many of my married friends said that the whole wedding experience itself was a right of passage– it definitely is not the same as just agreeing to shack up together and merge accounts.

According to the Sunday Style of tomorrow’s Washington Post, 33% of the engagements in the DC Area occur between Thanksgiving and New Years, and the average cost of a wedding around here will be $33,727. Looking at that figure, I’m definitely more inclined to go with my original inclination to just elope– only problem is I still need to find a groom first, but it is also easier for me to say this because I have already had the big traditional wedding once before.

For those about to take that first walk down the aisle, I say enjoy the year-long engagement. Work out a realistic budget, don’t let family dynamics corrupt your love, and accept that everything may not be absolutely perfect on the final big day, but who cares? As long as the vows are exchanged and you have officially changed your legal status to “married” then you have accomplished the mission of the day.