Wedding Etiquette Hell
The Bride's Bible to Avoiding Everlasting Damnation
By Jeanne Hamilton
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2005 Jeanne Hamilton
All rights reserved.
The Devil Is in the Details
Weddings are fabulous crucibles that reveal the true characters of those involved. — Elizabeth York
Just as soon as that ring is firmly ensconced on the left hand, a magical transformation occurs. It may effect a delightful change in the bearer, who adopts a sincere and enlightened altruism and noble gentility about the wedding-planning journey she is undertaking together with her beloved groom, family, and friends. Or the ringbearer can disappear altogether, with the creature that emerges having no resemblance to the bride's former self. The ring has become a burdensome "Precious" that transforms its wearer into a despicable, self-serving wretch. The latter type of bride proceeds down the aisle under the enchanted misperception that she is the most beautiful of women when she is in reality a pitiable creature feared by some and despised by most.
How well you cross the wedding-planning chasm will be determined largely by the attitudes you bring to the process and whether you choose to succumb to the dark side of the Wedding Force. The sweetly whispered temptations are many and the opportunities to fail frequent, but I'll help you navigate through the morass and come out the other side as a radiant bride who has inspired gratitude and fond memories in her loved ones.
Rule 1: Money and Rock Size Are Taboo Subjects
Sheri got engaged before me and went on and on about her gorgeous ring, how she never took it off (even to bathe), how it came from some exotic country, was the only one cut like that, how much it cost, etc. Her ring was amazingly huge and I complimented it several times, even after she began sharing all the inappropriate details about it. She also gave me all the details on her custom-made $10,000 dress and how much the bridesmaids' dresses were costing (last count was $500). Cut to a few months later, when I got engaged. Sheri sent an e-mail to congratulate me, but the only comment in the e-mail was, "What cut and clarity is the diamond, and how many carats?" Her words exactly. I didn't bother replying to that.
It's crass and uncouth to discuss money. How much a person earns and how much something costs are taboo questions to ask other people. Tacky, very tacky. It is equally tacky to brag about how much money was spent on elements of the wedding. (Want to know a secret? We couldn't care less if your dress is a Poochi Diva Original costing fifteen thousand dollars for that unadorned sliver of fabric.)
Brides who obsess over diamond size and cost give the feminine gender a bad name by drooling over a choice diamond like bone-hungry dogs. It gives the impression that all you care about is wealth accumulation. If the glittering boulder adorning your heavily bejeweled left hand isn't obvious enough, your friends and family really don't need you flaunting the price tag, too.
Immutable Fact of Life
Be so crass as to brag about how much you spent on flowers, dress, or photographer, and your guests will start speculating how much you spent to entertain them. A perception of a negative balance will not endear you to them, so keep your mouth shut.
Rule 2: Moderation in Everything, Including Moderation
I have too many stories to tell but this one takes the cake. This is a story of tackiness and greed. After a friend of mine got engaged they had an engagement party. That was fine, I bought a gift and went. A couple months later they had another engagement party held by his parents (yes, another engagement gift was expected). The next month another. A total of three engagement parties. Next came the bridal showers. I was invited to three of her bridal showers. I was a friend of the groom so did not feel the need to be at each shower, however I did go to the first with a gift. Next comes the prewedding party. I have never heard of a prewedding party. Then the wedding and last but not least a gift-opening party (they sent out invitations to this event as well, with a note of another place they had a registry). And yes, they did expect you to bring another gift. Had I showed up to all of their parties with gifts, I would have bought eight or nine gifts. This was just plain crazy to me but some people did not mind or were too embarrassed to say anything or to not bring a gift. They got all that they wanted from all four places they registered.
Is it really necessary to have three engagement parties? Traditionally, engagement parties were hosted by the parents with the announcement of the engagement kept secret from the guests to squelch any notion that the party was a gift-giving opportunity. As can be seen, some guests interpret these invitations as requiring them to come bearing gifts even if there are not registry cards or information plastered everywhere. (Note to all future wedding guests: one shower gift and one wedding gift is generosity aplenty for any wedding.)
There should be some moderation in the total number of parties, showers, and gift openings guests are invited to attend. Whether you like it or not, people do interpret an overabundance of gift-centered parties as being greedy. So the engagement should not be viewed as a scheduled series of events all designed to maximize the likelihood of acquiring registered gifts.
Rule 3: No Dueling Wedding Dates
When I first met my friend Audrey, the first thing she did was tell me that her "baby sister" was engaged and that the wedding was to be a year and a half later. I didn't think much of this information, just something that a new acquaintance — later, friend — was sharing about her life. I quickly realized that Audrey, at thirty-nine, was desperate to get married and have babies. She soon met Roger, and within five months of meeting, they became engaged.
After that, I was constantly barraged by Audrey e-mailing me photos of wedding dresses, telling me her plans, and almost every wedding-related conversation ended with her wailing, "What's a bride to do?" I kept reminding myself to be patient, that in her place, I'd probably drive my friends just as crazy without realizing it. In addition, the entire time, Audrey made it clear that she didn't like her sister's wedding plans, didn't like her sister's bachelorette party plans, and didn't like her sister's choice of groom. I was invited to a party that their family was giving, and since her sister's wedding was to be in two months, that was naturally the topic of conversation. It soon became obvious that what Audrey didn't like was her younger sister getting all the attention.
Then the kicker came. It was almost time for Audrey's sister's wedding. Audrey and Roger, being pagan, decided to plan a handfasting ceremony for themselves that was to take place two weeks before her sister's wedding. For those unfamiliar with handfastings, it is usually a "promise" to marry, as opposed to a marriage ceremony itself. (It can be either, I would like to note.) However, I was given the distinct impression that this would be the "promise" ceremony, not the "marriage" ceremony.
So the guests arrive to the handfasting — and to my surprise, it was the actual marriage ceremony. Audrey's sister had come — but she looked extremely upset. I can't say I blame her. I found myself suspecting the worst — that Audrey had pushed up her wedding to beat her sister. I told myself that I was being silly, that since Audrey had been planning the big fussy wedding, there was surely a good reason that she suddenly went for something small and simple.
However, my worst suspicions were confirmed when Audrey came back from her sister's wedding. I asked how it was, and instead of the usual, "It was lovely, thanks for asking," I got a very smug, "It was better than I'd hoped, since now I wasn't the spinster older sister!" I think the saddest thing about this is I couldn't see being this petty to my sister.
This touches on several attitude issues, the first being who rules the calendar. No bride owns the calendar. Insisting that everyone within your acquaintance not dare schedule their wedding anywhere within a six-month time period labels you as a classic Bridezilla. Equally silly is the notion of "racing" each other to the altar. Who cares? In ten years, no one will even remember the weddings, let alone the anniversaries.
For heaven's sake, crying because your sister plays some stupid game and has a quickie wedding two weeks before your elaborate one? One theme the reader will see throughout this book is the idea that calm, civil brides are very difficult for family and friends to torture with ridiculously petty games and manipulations. We never want to give these people the satisfaction of knowing they have jerked our chain big-time, so we resist the urge to display any emotion that would give away our distress.
Audrey's "baby sister," recognizing that big sis was about to attempt an upstaging maneuver, should have calmly let her carry through with it content in the knowledge that her wedding was sufficiently different and reflective of her and her fiancé's tastes. There can be a delicious pleasure in depriving people of the anticipated fruits of their manipulative games while maintaining the dignity to stay above the fray.
The Wedding Consultation
Having recently become engaged and wanting to have a wedding to remember, Brideweena has sought out the services of Miss Jeanne to help her coordinate her wedding. The sum total of Brideweena's wedding knowledge has been acquired from a weekend visit to the library to read back issues of every bridal magazine ever printed and attendance at the weddings of close family and friends. Her best friend Muffin Louise's wedding several months ago will go down in the annals of local history as the most spectacular Bridezilla extravaganza ever to occur in Granville County. Brideweena knows she doesn't want a repeat of that debacle, but also thinks she knows what she wants and how to get it. She needs more professional help than Muffin Louise's offered assistance in planning her wedding.
Miss Jeanne: Hello, welcome to my office. Will you have a seat?
Brideweena: Thank you. I am so glad you are available to coordinate my wedding for me! I am, like, totally stressed out at how much has to be done in the next six months. I have already beaten my head against the wall trying to find chartreuse miniroses for my hairpiece.
Miss Jeanne: I'm glad I can be of assistance. You do understand that the nature of my style of wedding coordinating is to not beat around the bush but rather to tell you all possible consequences of the choices you are considering making. Most wedding coordinators are not going to directly tell you that doing X, Y, and Z will classify you as a first-class Bridezilla, but I believe in telling it like it is. The perfect wedding is one where the newlyweds, the family, the guests, and vendors all walk away marveling at what a wonderful wedding it was. I'm here to give you the wedding of your dreams while preventing mass murder of every relationship you have. Do you think this will work for you?
Brideweena: Oh, yes! Muffin Louise didn't have a wedding coordinator, and believe me, she should have been on some sort of leash. Why I forgave her for putting me through maid-of-honor torture escapes me.
Miss Jeanne: Great! Let's get started. What have you done up to this point?
Brideweena: I have a firm wedding date and I sent out my save-the-date cards a few days ago. Now everyone knows to mark the calendar and I can expect everyone to attend. No excuses for "no shows"!
Miss Jeanne: I think you misunderstood the meaning of the term "save-the-date cards," interpreting them as second-person plural imperative mood — in other words as commands, which they are not.
Brideweena: But everyone who receives a save-the-date card is required to accept the invitation. I will really be peeved if I put all this effort into planning the best wedding ever and people tell me they cannot attend.
Miss Jeanne: Oh, I see [that I am dealing with nascent uncouth behavior that I will have to nip in the bud as soon as possible].
Rule 4: It's Rude to Make Comparisons
My story concerns comments made to me by two other couples planning their own weddings. The first was from my brother-in-law: "We want our wedding not to be as formal as George's but definitely better than yours." Our wedding was a simple buffet with hors d'oeuvres, homemade breads, special family dishes, that I'd made myself.
The second comment came just weeks ago from a good friend for whom I will be a bridesmaid at her wedding. She told me that she, too, wanted something more formal and better than our wedding. She is having a barbecue of ribs, chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs, outside in her parents' small backyard. Apparently barbecue is more formal than homemade hors d'oeuvres, chocolatedipped fruit, etc.
I guess the lesson to be learned is this: If you're engaged, please use common sense and don't tell someone, "We want our wedding to be better than yours." How rude!
It's really uncouth to tell people you intend to surpass their wedding plans with what you think are infinitely better choices. While it may be tempting to play "Keep up with the Joneses" with your wedding plans, wedding planning isn't yet an Olympic competitive sport.
The only comparison you should be making, quietly to yourself, is that no way on God's green earth are you going to behave like your best friend, Muffin Louise, who morphed into the Bridezilla to beat all Bridezillas when she married.
Rule 5: Rehearsal Dinners ... Pay Up! Not!
We had been invited to come to the rehearsal to get details on our duties (programs, gift attendees, flower petals, etc.). After a two-hour rehearsal, we drove to a nearby restaurant for dinner. About twenty people were there, including the bride's and groom's parents. Entrees were $12 to $15 each, and we waited forty-five minutes before our order was taken. At the end of the meal, I noticed a line forming at the register of rehearsal dinner guests. Apparently we were supposed to pay for our own dinner! I heard later that one of the ushers paid for the bride and groom, and another usher covered the tab of those who left early, who didn't think they had to pay. We decided that paying for the rehearsal dinner, to the tune of $35, was our wedding gift.
It is becoming an increasing — and annoying — practice to require the bridal party to pay for their own rehearsal dinners or the bridesmaids' luncheon. What with tux rentals, dress and shoe purchases, hair appointments, shower gifts, and travel coming on the bridal party's nickel, you would think the bride and groom or the parents would properly host a rehearsal dinner or bridesmaids' luncheon that does not place yet another financial burden on bridal party members. No wonder people are refusing the "honor" of standing up for a couple's wedding. It's too darned expensive!
Rule 6: Budgeting for the Wedding
Before you can really begin planning a wedding, there is that little matter of money. It's a bit difficult to contract with vendors if you have no idea what your spending limits are. But lack of financial resources has never stopped some people who can devise numerous creative ways to afford a wedding that exceeds their means.
We hear that it is to be a "sponsored" wedding. Tammie does not want to pay for anything, and has convinced Peter that this is the way to go. She claims to be too busy to attend to any details. (What she wants is for someone not to have read her mind so she can rant and blame, but that is another story.) Peter is to call florists, dressmakers, photographers, etc., and convince them to give away their services for free, and they will receive an ad in her wedding program!!!!! Not only that, but my husband is to be the best man, and Tammie has decreed that since he is included in the wedding party, his restaurant "will" provide all of the food for the reception and rehearsal dinner — free. Too bad if he has to leave the wedding to supervise his employees at the reception. And he had better not do that, by the way. He needs to find a way to get it done the "right way." Oh, my God.
The sad part is, Peter has become a lot like her — he is now calling my husband and asking who he has got "to sponsor the bachelor party" and "What airline did you get to pay for our tickets home?"
Both of these people are in their thirties, have professional careers, and come from families of great affluence. I really wonder what on earth is going to happen to this marriage.
Emily Post would be spinning in her grave if she knew weddings were becoming advertising venues. By far the worst solicitation I have ever seen was sent to me by a vendor in Georgia who received a letter from a groom detailing the many "benefits" of sponsoring "Our Wedding":
Your business name or logo displayed in the announcements, programs, printed on T-shirts and other wedding favors, listed on three Web sites, in the monthly wedding e-mails and newsletters, in the credits listed in the event CD-ROM/VHS tape or DVD movie of the wedding ceremony, signage at the reception venue, on the place cards at the buffet tables and in the table centerpieces, in a published "thank you" in the newspaper; and finally, on the thank-you cards.
Other nefarious methods of accruing cash for a wedding include panhandling Web sites and even eBay auctions. The authors tell piteous tales of overextending their credit or poor income potential that precludes them from getting married. The concept of a simple, affordable wedding either doesn't cross their mind or is summarily ruled out as too plebian for their exalted status. No, what they want is a wedding extravaganza on someone else's dime. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Wedding Etiquette Hell by Jeanne Hamilton. Copyright © 2005 Jeanne Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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