Ms. Owens did not know if she would ever meet someone and settle down. Still, she printed pictures of hairstyles, flower arrangements and ring settings she found online. She looked up locations like Birch Hill
, a serene farm outside Albany, and found a wedding planner, Shannon Whitney, who agreed to speak to her even though she didn’t have a ring.
“I had it all planned out,” Ms. Owens said. “Just in case.”
And she said almost every plan became reality, from the bridesmaids dresses to the outdoor wedding. “The big joke at our wedding was that I had booked the band nine years in advance,” Ms. Owens said. “I had gone up to them one night at a bar in 2003 and said: ‘I love you guys. I don’t have a groom yet, but when I find one will you play my wedding?’ They said yes that day and honored that commitment.”
Ms. Owens is hardly the only woman (or man, although wedding experts said it is usually the woman) searching the Internet to plan a nonexistent wedding.
, a site that sponsors forums for users to discuss all wedding topics, reports that in 2012, 14,974 members identified themselves as not yet engaged.
Anja Winikka, the director of TheKnot
.com, said 40 percent of 20,000 brides it questioned in 2011 revealed they visited the site, whether they had a boyfriend or not, before becoming engaged. Thirteen percent created profiles, which means a “highly engaged person,” Ms. Winikka said. “You get a checklist and your planner and your budget tool, so they could have been playing around with numbers.”
, a site where users can create virtual bulletin boards by “pinning” their favorite items, is imbued with wedding-themed boards with titles like “Yeah I’m single and…?;-),” “Someday my prince will come,” and “I want to get married. 2018?”
Claudia Hanlin, the founder of the Wedding Library
, a boutique location in New York where couples can research vendors, said that one could look at Pinterest “and realize that there are far more people pinning pictures of weddings than there could possibly ever be brides.”
Single women, it would seem, have dreamed of their weddings as long as fairy tales have existed.
“By being obsessed with your fantasy wedding, it gives you hope that you are going to find your dream guy,” said Tatiana Byron, the owner of the Wedding Salon
, a company that runs wedding trade shows.
The Internet has made it easier to plan and plot weddings in private. “I think women love the anonymity of visiting a wedding site instead of buying a magazine and having it anywhere in sight of your boyfriend or a guy you are dating,” Ms. Winikka said.
Many of these sites also provide an important forum for these women to communicate anonymously, something that may make them feel validated and encouraged. TheKnot.com, for example, has a “not yet engaged section,” where users message at length about whether it is appropriate for singles to go ring shopping.
But the Web’s influence on single wedding planning may go even deeper, said Ms. Whitney, who also runs Wedding Planning Plus,
her own company. As single women see endless photos of weddings on Facebook and seemingly infinite ideas for wedding cakes, dresses, canapés, lighting, dance floor shapes and other details on wedding blogs like Style Me Pretty
, Bridal Snob
, the images become eye candy.
“When you watch a lot of commercials on television, all of a sudden you want that product, and you don’t know why you want that product, but it’s because you’ve seen that commercial 10 times,” Ms. Whitney said. “It’s the same with weddings. It’s just the way our brain works. We’re just programmed to want what we see and what’s around us.”
A desire to get every detail perfect inspired Caroline Royce, a 24-year-old freelance graphic designer in Minneapolis, to plan her wedding since she was 18, spending endless hours online. “I think that planning before I get engaged is just practical,” said Ms. Royce, who did not have a boyfriend when she began her research. “You can explore all these options before you ever have to, and by the time you get engaged, you already have a good idea about what you want.”
Pamela Prindle, 26, who has no boyfriend and who works in the accounting department of the Angel Fire resort in New Mexico, gave similar reasons for spending “a good portion of her day” on her Pinterest board titled “I’m single but still planning my wedding.
“I have friends who aren’t really pinners, and they had their weddings, and it was the last day, and they still don’t know what they wanted,” she said. She, on the other hand, already has firm ideas for her wedding, displayed on her board, including napkins with favorite song lyrics written on them and a particular dress style. “I’m a very picky person when it comes to that,” she said.
It’s helpful, Ms. Byron said, if the bride has a clear idea of her wedding needs. “It’s much easier to give the bride what she wants because I know what she wants,” she said.
But there is also a downside.
First, what some single women imagine may not be feasible and may actually be a waste of effort. “What brides don’t realize is while you might want a pumpkin soup, if you’re getting married in Miami in February the chef might say, ‘I know you love pumpkin soup, but it’s not in season right now,’ ” Ms. Byron said.
Even Ms. Owens recognizes that many of her plans, like the dress she picked out, didn’t make sense once she actually married. “When I went to go pick out my dress, all the Maggie Sottero dresses were so heavy,” she said, “and I thought, ‘Summer wedding in June, I can’t do that.’ ”
Another problem is the not-quite-bride is not taking into account a future partner and what his needs and considerations might be, Ms. Byron said. “Even though you have all these ideas and you’ve done your homework and you are prepared as a single girl,” she said, “you have to understand that marriage is a union and you have to take your other half into consideration.”
Ms. Prindle, for example, said that if she met someone she wanted to marry, she doesn’t think his input would matter. “I figure, this is what it’s going to be,” she said.
Ms. Owens said that once she was engaged, her fiancé, Shawn Owens, was initially frustrated “because he’s like, ‘This is not your wedding, this is our wedding.’ ”
But Mr. Owens, 34, said he didn’t fret. “I knew she would listen to my ideas and do her best to incorporate me — and us — into the planning, and she did,” he said. “And as time went on, the fact she had so much planning done ahead of time, I realized how low-stress this planning process was going to be on me, and us. It freed up a lot of time and anxiety so that the result was we could better enjoy the excitement and each other’s company leading up to our big day.”
For some, it may present an obstacle in finding and keeping a partner, said Lisa Morse, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan whose clients include many single women. “Finding somebody who wants to be plugged into your life exactly the way it is, and all the choices you’ve made, is not so easy,” she said.
Some would say planning so far ahead is the definition of putting the cart before the horse.
“I think for anybody it’s much easier to plan a wedding than it is to form a meaningful relationship that is going to lead to a fulfilling marriage,” Dr. Morse said. “And so I think for some people this becomes a way of taking away their anxiety or refocusing their anxiety away from their real concern, which is meeting somebody.”