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Bernadette Coveney Smith, owner of the nation's first gay wedding planning firm and a same-sex wedding expert, sprinkles entertaining anecdotes through her guidebook as she leads couples through the complicated process of...
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Bernadette Coveney Smith, owner of the nation's first gay wedding planning firm and a same-sex wedding expert, sprinkles entertaining anecdotes through her guidebook as she leads couples through the complicated process of wedding planning. After examining the differences between gay and straight weddings, Smith provides step-by-step details and timelines that will teach gay couples essential how-tos for planning their wedding:
• Develop a budget and stick to it.
• Involve parents and family in the planning process.
• Choose a wedding party and create a guest list.
• Implement gay wedding traditions.
• Decide on a location, menu, and wedding day attire.
Gay Wedding Confidential shares a candid and sensible approach that provides the tools that will help gay couples create the wedding of a lifetime.
"When it comes to LGBT weddings, Bernadette Coveney-Smith is the authority, having planned hundreds. She is authentic, real and understands the nuances of planning gay and lesbian weddings. This book is a must-read."
--Katie Martin, Editor of Eco-Beautiful
Here's my story: I had my very own gay wedding on July 3, 2009, in downtown Boston on Boston Harbor. I married the love of my life, Jennifer Coveney. She's beautiful! We met about two years prior, at a bar, and it was a love-at-first-sight kind of moment. That day was Jennifer's first day at a new job in Connecticut. She had returned to Boston that night to go out with friends and as fate would have it, I was there.
We had a whirlwind romance as many lesbian couples do, and within nine months, she had quit her job in Connecticut, took another in Boston and moved in with me. Have you heard the second-date joke?
What does a lesbian bring to her second date? A U-Haul!
That was us, almost!
Before Jen moved back to Boston, however, we'd been talking about marriage for a few months and knew that we were completely perfect for each other. We had had conversations about engagement ring styles and I had a sense of what she wanted. I even had an image printed off the Internet of what she liked. One day after I left a client's office in downtown Boston, I decided that, just for kicks, I'd go ring shopping, and get a sense of what the cost might be and how difficult it would be to find the style she liked. (It should be noted that this is one of the parts of planning a wedding I'd never been involved in, since my clients almost always have the ring when I meet them! Prior to my turn, I'd never been ring shopping).
The second store I went to had the setting (which was a hybrid-tension setting) in stock, and the salesman showed me some diamond options. Before I knew it, I had committed to buying a ring. It happened so quickly and so easily, much more so than I expected. In the week or so that the ring was being made, I cooked up a number of elaborate and clever ways to propose. I was full of brilliant ideas but when I picked the ring up, I buried it in the back of my file cabinet and tried not to think about it-I wanted to wait a few months.
A few weeks later, Jen moved in. That Sunday night, I made dinner (and it was appallingly bad). We sat in our pajamas, looking adoringly at each other when Jen took my hand and said, "I can't imagine being any happier than I am at this moment." I'm not sure what came over me-I think I saw her statement as a challenge-and politely excused myself to "get a sweater." I returned with the ring, mumbled something sweet, and before I knew it, we were engaged! Over burned steak!
Everyone has a different story and it's been fun watching my own unfold while working with others. One of my favorite parts of being a gay wedding planner is getting to know all kinds of couples and catching glimpses of their lives. I've worked with couples who've been together for thirty years living in the suburbs; couples who have kids and live on a quiet urban neighborhood street; couples who live in a downtown loft and have season tickets to the Celtics; and many couples who, like Jen and I, experienced love at first sight and didn't want to wait to begin the fun part of being together forever.
Your Beginnings: Who Proposes and Who Gets the Ring?
Common question: With gay couples, does the person who was proposed to have to "propose back" with a ring?
With gay and lesbian couples, there's no right answer about who proposes, who gets a ring, and what that ring looks like.
I've seen rings that are a mirror images of each other, rings that had a fingerprint imprinted on them, rings that were formed from family jewelry; and simple platinum or steel bands. I've noticed that many lesbian couples don't want a "rock"-a big diamond engagement ring. I've seen femme lesbians present their butch partner with cuff links instead of an engagement ring. That's a very cool idea!
If you and your partner are talking about marriage, don't be afraid to have a conversation about the ring. It's better to know what your partner likes so you can be prepared.
In many cases, gay and lesbian couples have been together for so many years that they already own rings that symbolize the permanence of their relationship, and those are the rings that they will continue to wear after their marriage. Conversely, many couples that wear rings that are a symbol of their relationship choose to pick out new wedding bands together-bands that symbolize the next chapter in their lifetime journey. In my experience, couples who've been together for a while are less likely to have had a traditional "pop the question" proposal experience, and hence they don't buy or give engagement rings.
So while there is no standard "gay-engagement ring" or "gay-wedding band," this can be one of the first areas where you as a couple can express your personality through your wedding.
In my observation, many men will wear only one ring, not two. In this case, the engagement ring will often double as a wedding band.
I've found that younger lesbian brides (those under forty) are likelier to wear two rings. For example, my wife Jen, like many lesbians, wears her engagement ring and wedding band next to each other on the same finger. This is very common, and of course, traditional. My engagement ring doesn't have a stone (my choice), so my engagement ring is now on the ring finger of my right hand, and my wedding band is on the ring finger of my left hand.
Whatever decision you choose, walking into a jewelry store with your fiancée or fiancé looking for a wedding band can be intimidating to say the least, particularly if you would like a nontraditional band. Call around ahead of time to gauge the attitude of your local jewelers about working with same-sex couples. They may be great, or you may encounter an awkward pause, or even outright homophobia-but at least you are dealing with it on the phone rather than face-to-face. If you do have a great phone call, make sure you catch the name of that associate so that you can work with the right person when you stop by the store.
A Marriage or a Wedding?
There have been twelve thousand same-sex marriages in Massachusetts since they became legal in 2004. During the six months that gay marriage was legal in California, there were eighteen thousand gay marriages! That's a lot for sure, but I know for certain that many of those couples had a simple marriage ceremony, not a big wedding. I met a couple recently that, like many couples, had a brief marriage at the Unitarian Universalist Arlington Street Church during the first week that they were legal in Massachusetts. At that point, the church was holding marriage ceremonies every fifteen minutes.
My company provides wedding planning services - but it also provides marriage planning services for those who simply want to make it legal. Whatever you choose, there's a good reason for each.
I've seen the "marriage vs. wedding" debate arise among couples, especially those who grew up thinking it would never be possible to marry, or who've never envisioned their own wedding. I've met many couples that are unsure whether they want a wedding, or in which one partner is trying to convince the other on the subject. In the beginning, back in 2004, many couples I worked with were in their forties and fifties and there was enormous pent up demand for the legal right to marry. Some of those couples in their forties and fifties rushed to marry right away because they were afraid the right was going to be taken away.
Now that gay marriage is secure in the six places it's legal in the United States, it's become normalized, like the next logical step in a relationship, just like our straight counterparts. And with that, I've seen the average age of my clients drop to their early thirties, which is around my age and the average age of many marrying couples in general.
So what do you do, have a marriage ceremony or have a wedding? Jen and I can relate. We were talking about this topic when discussing how our wedding planning would have gone if I hadn't been a wedding planner. She said that she would have tried to convince me to have an elopement; just the two of us. I said that even if I hadn't been a planner, I'd never have gone along with that: having my friends and family witness and validate my marriage was way too important to me.
Of course, weddings cost a lot of money, typically between twenty thousand and thirty-five thousand dollars, depending of course on the number of guests. I have a lot of experience with weddings and there is nothing more moving to me, still, to this day, than seeing a gay or lesbian couple stand up in front of their friends and family and get legally married. The validation and support they receive from their guests is truly priceless. The key word is validation. Gay weddings are jubilant. There is a sense of triumph. And there is no greater party.
I understand the desire to elope or to keep the event small. Many brides or grooms don't like being the center of attention or simply can't or don't want to spend the money or deal with the planning stress. And I'll never try to convince a couple otherwise. The validation of one's community isn't something everyone needs.
What is Normal?
One of the questions I often get from couples and clients (and reporters and anyone curious about gay weddings) is, "what's normal?" "What does a gay wedding look like?" This is one of the reasons I developed a seminar for engaged same-sex couples and another seminar for those in the wedding industry hoping to work with them-and it's the main reason for this book!
Every time gay marriage becomes legal in a new place, this question arises over and over. Couples never expected the day would come and don't know what to do to prepare or how to make their wedding special. In fact, I went to an event recently where I heard a story of an Iowa couple who came to Massachusetts to get married one week before the ruling legalizing gay marriage in Iowa was issued. I know that when many same-sex couples in Iowa began applying for their marriage licenses, they were thinking, "now what?" "How the heck do I plan a gay wedding?"
You should know that any wedding, gay or straight, should be about the personality and style of the couple. Don't let anyone tell you differently. The fundamental decisions are the same regardless of the couple's orientation. You have to think about how much to spend, who to invite, what kind of celebration to have, and where to have it.
The Inevitable Wedding Stress
Wedding planning can create emotional havoc. Even when you're a wedding planner! (Possibly especially when you're a wedding planner!)
Throughout our engagement, it became increasingly odd for me to be on the other side of wedding planning and to go through so many of the same issues that my clients face. My concerns and emotions were not issues specific to a gay wedding; rather, they were issues any couple may go through.
My parents passed away over nine years ago, so the planning was always a little bittersweet for me. Jen's mom came to town to go dress shopping with her. That's a timeless rite of passage that I relied on the kindness of my friends to experience with me (once I finally figured out what to wear).
All of my family lives out of state or out of the country, so only those in my immediate family were invited to our bridal shower, and from that short list only my sister actually came. Jen's family, on the other hand, lives mostly in Massachusetts, so our shower guests were mostly friends and Jen's family. My sister can hold her own and I was grateful that she was there, but it made me sad that she came alone. It also makes me enormously grateful to be blessed with amazing friends and for marrying into a family that completely embraces and supports me.
Like many brides, I was anxious about who from my family would come to the wedding. I invited dozens of cousins, aunts, and uncles from around the world but had zero sense as to who from my entirely Irish-Catholic family would make the trip to Boston for my gay wedding. When it was all said and done, I was lucky to have great representation from both sides of my family, with many cousins making the trip and even a few elderly aunts. But the anticipation was a killer.
I have a client whose wedding planning is on hiatus because the brother of a bride recently died, and there's no joy in planning after such a major loss.
The trick is preparing for a wedding as a celebration, to allow yourself to experience the joy of what you have and what you are creating, while finding whatever way you can to acknowledge the journey. Memorializing the path that you're on is something that a skilled officiant can do as part of the ceremony, and I'll touch on that later.
I've been joking that I need to start carrying around nips of liquor in my emergency kit: sometimes my brides and grooms get really nervous! It's actually very cute ... but I can relate. Yes, I am a very calm person, but it's strange how nerves manifest themselves.
During my engagement, I dreamt this highly implausible dream that had little basis in reality: our ceremony and reception were across the street from one another, but that street was a very busy road in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Guests had to walk across this traffic-filled road in severe heat. To enter the reception site, there was a very long, gradual, ascending stairway, followed by a trap door down! The reception began with no cocktail hour, and Jen and I were immediately seated. The cheesy, 70s-era disc jockey who came with the wedding package introduced some live musicians, one of whom did a Kurt Cobain tribute (in costume), and another who sang folk music. I then left the reception because I forgot something back at the ceremony site, and by the time I returned, everyone was standing around for cocktail hour but I missed all the food. Let me tell you: it was a lot of pressure planning a wedding when your career is a wedding planner. A lot. The expectations of guests, acquaintances, clients, vendors, colleagues, and followers on Twitter were very high. Even without this kind of pressure, Jen experienced anxiety on the verge of panic attacks-but her stress came while she was awake.
My point is that I can relate to clients' and friends' stories of wedding nightmares. One of my clients had a nightmare that her fiancée left her, saying, "I just want to be friends." Another wrote, "I dreamt about the wedding again last night. This time, it was a requirement that we both wore veils and I was not happy."
It's horrifying what the subconscious creates.
I am hereby giving you permission to be a Bridezilla (or a Groomzilla)!
I look at it this way: you're probably spending tens of thousands of dollars on your wedding day. You want it to be perfect. You want to do this only once.
Add to that moms or future mother-in-laws who have strong opinions (and may be paying for a portion of the wedding). You may encounter dear friends who themselves are showing 'zilla tendencies. You may suddenly have a lot of extra pressure at work. You may want to lose weight for the wedding. You may be very upset by your wedding gown alterations (Jen knows all about this one ...)
You can be a 'zilla. Those of us in the wedding industry don't mind. And we know better than to take it personally.
Honestly, I understand, and Jen and I have each had our own 'zilla moments in the course of planning our own wedding. Weddings are stressful and get many people around you excited! You are probably going to get lots of unsolicited advice and opinions, and if you are a LGBT couple, you're probably going to get lots of advice from straight friends and family who will tell you how a wedding should look and feel based on their own experiences with straight weddings.
Stand your ground. It's your wedding, and your vision. I'd hate for you to lose sight of that, and to lose part of your identity in the process (even if this means that you sometimes act like a 'zilla.) You don't have to apologize for it, certainly not to wedding professionals. At some point in every planning process, I hear from one partner, "I'm sorry, I'm having a 'zilla moment" or "I went so 'zilla on my mother last night." I'd much rather have that happen than have a couple upset that their vision has been compromised. If you're my client, I take it all in stride.
Excerpted from Gay Wedding Confidential by Bernadette Coveney Smith Copyright © 2010 by Bernadette Coveney Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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