Once upon a time, weddings were well, simple. The bride announced her engagement, she picked a dress, she selected her bridesmaids, and Mother did most of the rest. If you lived in New England, as I do, a wedding consisted of three acts, Church, Cake (with punch, nibblies, and champagne) and Dancing, with the happy couple making their festive getaway (with rice, funky car, bouquet throw, etc.) after about three hours. It was a lovely ritual, that allowed just enough time for the two families to introduce themselves to each other, while avoiding the inevitable crankiness that comes with several hours of being cooped up with free booze. The guests ended the day with a cluster of their favorite relatives at a restaurant elsewhere, talking trash about the ceremony and giggling over how lame the other family was.

That was then. Somewhere in between then and now, weddings suddenly went from "a nice party, like Christmas, but in the spring", to somewhere between a coronation, an honor-yourself beauty pageant, a no-rules game show, and a Broadway musical. Whereas once it was considered very creative to leave out the word "obey" in the wedding vows for the woman, and it was a bit nouveau to include music intended for operas in church, now we have all manner of bizarre ceremonies, overly elaborate menus, and crass rituals masquerading as "a proper wedding".

Here are some Very Bad Ideas, and why they are such, even though they might be popular.


  1. "After all, it's my wedding."
    This is usually invoked by the bride to justify putting both families in debt, offending the tastes of well, just about anyone in sight, and acting like a spoiled princess if anything goes wrong. No, it's not, really. Your parents (in theory) are giving this party; you are the guest of honor, and should behave accordingly. If you are giving the party, remember as a hostess, that your duty is to your guests. You've got a lot of people here, several generations, and two families that should leave on reasonably good terms. Therefore, think of them first. Oh, yes, do leave on time. Yes, I know you'd love to stay all night. But your guests can't leave until you do.

  3. Sexy wedding dresses.
    Yes, you want to look good. But walking around flashing your boobs is well, kind of redundant when you've already landed the guy. Try for prim, or at least sweet. After all, you may not be virginal, but you can at least seem to have unrealized potential.

    (This may mean a lot of negotiation with your bridal shop, and some extra expense, if you aren't having this gown made by your loving relatives or yourself. The problem is, apparently, that getting sleeves and a neckline to fit on something like a bridal gown means not only extra fabric, but a whole lot of fiddly bits to outsource to those wonderful Chinese convicts who do the actual sewing on a Vera Wang, thus cutting heavily into the profit margin. Sob piteously, and claim that the minister won't bless boobies, or that your Great-Aunt Sarah won't write you into the will. Either way, you'll have a truly custom dress, not that mass-produced crap...)


  5. Hitting people up for money.
    Yes, I know about a whole boatload of customs from various places: the purse, the money dance, the shoe auction, etc. That's OK, if you're a) from that particular ethnic group and b) are going to hold the wedding in the style of that group, no shower (which is a Dutch Colonial innovation, to take the place of a dowry) or other gifts asked of the guests. (Remember, you aren't going to be asked to provide proof of virginity the morning after, and very likely are going to duck having a Shivaree, as well. Count your blessings.) Along with this, there are such Bad Ideas as getting various concerns to "sponsor" the wedding, having a cash bar, etc. If you can't afford the wedding, you'll have to scale back (and if you can't fathom why, you're too young to be married).

  7. Hitting your spouse up for money.This includes bickering about the size of the engagement ring. An engagement ring is a gift, not an inalienable right. Formulae such as "two month's salary" are not sanctified by social etiquette, but by jewelers who know a good thing when they see it. Be modest, and the time may come that you'll have the ring of your dreams...for your anniversary.

  9. "We want to personalize our wedding."
    Mostly, tinkering with established standards is hazardous -- yes it's a lovely idea to have a wedding in the Scots tradition, if you've got ancestors or relatives in that country, but not if your relatives are Chinese. Deciding, just off the cuff, to throw quotes from Kalil Gibran and the Desiderata into the service, along with your favorite pop songs makes the occasion kind of hard to follow...does "We've Only Just Begun" come before the exchange of haiku, or is it after the body painting? (The same goes in spades for anyone who's decided that their wedding is going to be ironic, or clever with a "theme". OK, so you like circuses or golf, but do you want a wedding, or don't you?) And the dove and butterfly release, and this unity candle thing is touching, but isn't it a little um, presumptuous? So is making little speeches about how you really feel about your spouse -- you aren't going to be saying much that's original, if you're in love, and no one wants to hear if you're not. Trying to convince your audience that your love is realer or specialer than everyone else's is just going to sound naive to most older people (who may have felt the same way) or insulting. As it is, it's like most attempts to try to 'put emphasis' into everyday life: it just leads to a wearing emphasis escalation. If everyone comes away with a memory of a nice day, no one will forget who you are.
    Double especially bad idea:  Consider this 5a, only noteworthy because I see this as a trend: "Goth" weddings, Zombie weddings, Vampire weddings, memorial candles, the bride dressed in widow's weeds, mourning jewelry, black and white as a motif, anything at all that might be considered funereal to anyone in the bridal party.
  10. Sigh. I know. You absolutely thought that the Twilight series was the most romantic story ever, and you were Team Edward until you fell in love, and then, for the rehearsal dinner, you gave all your friends Team Bride and Groom T-shirts, and what's so wrong in having a celebration in your own deeply held and personal style? These days we have gay weddings, for heaven's sake! Why can't we show our everlasting love, by invoking what is truly eternal? And, I think it's touching to point out that there are people who might have liked to be here who have passed away! We held the celebrations for their lives in this very church!

    Dear hearts: You are getting confused as to which rite of passage you are celebrating. Just because we love to point out that 'death is not an end, but a passage', we've forgotten that a wedding is a passage, and not an end in itself. Think of the symbolism: a funeral is a kind of divorce. Alluding, even in a wholly respectful and loving way, to a relationship that has ceased to be, bodes ill for what you hope to be a lasting one. You might not be wishing each other dead, but it certainly shows a certain lack of respect for each other that the first thing that comes to mind when talking about your love is sick, juvenile jokes and the smell of bad meat.

  11. Too many doodads.
    Yes, it's nice to have party favors, and all the little bundles of white Jordan almonds look cute, especially with those silver porcelain-look wedding bells around the necks of the bicolor net bags, and wedding bubbles are fun, and kind to the pigeons and all, and well, you just wouldn't want a wedding that didn't have personalized napkins and matchboxes for people who still smoke, and gee, the wedding planner was talking about how everyone's going to need a little box to put their take-home slice of cake in...
    Athem. Let's get this straight. Is this a grown-up event, with some dozens of people attending, or a gala kids' birthday party for as many guests as your age, plus one? As much as you cherish the notion that everyone's going to sigh with nostalgia every time they look at the little plastic bell, most of the time there's no real way to store or display otherwise worthless doohickeys in a normal apartment or home. Also, every extra doodad, no matter how cheap, is going to have to be multiplied n-fold. It does add up. Think: would you rather that they remember your wedding for your really great courtesy and hospitable nature, or for the really great Jordan almonds?

  13. Ducking out of thank-you notes.
    OK, so you never sent them as a kid, and maybe you managed to get a job without them. And you're in a four-star luxury resort in an exotic part of the globe, having hot and steamy sex every night and engaging in guilt-free drinking, dancing, gorging, active sports and sightseeing, and you are living a life the Gods would envy. Sorry. You're just going to have to hunker down with a stack of little white cards and envelopes, and learn to write a dozen variations on "Thank you for <example> the lovely Louis XVI antique silver churn</example>. I'm sure it will be useful, and have a place of pride in our home." while hoping the store will take it back without a sales slip. Life is hard, dying is easy, and there's no wiggle room. Those nifty preprinted cards you can leave at each person's place (so they can sign and mail it to themselves), sending out bulk laserprinted generic thank-you notes, and the like are not only cheesy, but insulting. Remember, about half of these people are people with whom you're going to want to leave a good impression. A handwritten note or letter (five minutes to fire off, a minute to address and stamp the envelope) can make the difference between "Oh, certainly I'd love to ...(take your youngest for a weekend, loan you the condo, help you in your new business...)" and "Well, I don't know, I'm a little tied up right now..." later. (This goes double if you're in the we-never-write-we-phone set.) After all, it's their family too.

  15. "Ever since I was a child, I wanted a fairy-tale wedding."
    You're not one now, and fairy tales are fiction. Just look at Charles and Diana. Come to think of it, most weddings in fairy tales are usually the beginnings of disaster.

  17. "It's the happiest day of your life."
    Oh, really? Gee, being married must be really boring...

To expand on a few of these:

  • There's a good social reason to leave the reception sooner rather than later: staying conveys the message that you and your new spouse would prefer to spend the first hours after having your relationship finally recognized by God with a large group of people rather than somewhere you can get some privacy*. You're not going to fool your friends, but is this something you want to tell your mother?
  • Your wedding is already personalized. After all, it's your names that are on the program. Writing your own wedding vows is never a good idea; at best, it's neutral. You can, as teleny notes, take out "obey," but when you write your own, it makes your guests wonder what else you're doing that's weird. People take for granted that if you're getting married, chances are at least one of you is in love, and they will probably find it more offensive than charming if you imply your love is better or specialer than anyone else's. Do not confuse special and unique. At least with the traditional vows, no one will snicker when if you get a divorce.
  • Sensible people do not judge the strength of your commitment by how much you spend on the wedding, how many guests you have, or how elaborate the whole thing is. If your mother is not sensible and thus expects you to have a big wedding with all the trimmings, she can pay for it.

In general, remember what the purpose is. It's not to have a big party. It's not to brag about how in love you are (that's what the engagement period is for). It's to publicly declare your commitment to each other in front of the community and any deity or deities you feel you need to involve. Keep that focus in mind when you plan Your Day.

*This is true even of Jewish weddings, where there's a tradition of yichud, or allowing the couple a few minutes alone immediately after the ceremony.

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