INTRODUCTION

So you're male, you're thinking about getting married to a female, and you have no idea what you're in for. Not a problem. This is a relatively short guide of everything men NEED to know before getting married. It is by no means comprehensive, but should act more like a survival pamphlet than anything else. While I'll try to keep it light, I consider this to be a very serious subject. So without further ado:

WHEN TO DECIDE

- There are a few things you need to know about yourself and your mate before you pop the question, or even come close to it.
  • If you had to choose between her and your best friend in the world, whom would you choose?
  • If only one of you could live, and the other had to die a horrible death, who would it be?
  • If you had to spend the rest of your life only exposed to one person, who would it be?
  • Who can you trust, more than anyone else in the world, to stand by you at your lowest point?
If the answer to any of these questions is not her, then your relationship is not ready for marriage. Contrary to popular mythology, love is not enough. You will have to make some hard choices along the way, and the sooner you realize this, the sooner you can approach the subject maturely. Despite the decades of history you may have with your best buddy, in the end, it will be your wife that you must return to every night. It will be her that will help you get through the hardest moments in your life. It will be her that will be taking on the full-time responsibility of your burdens, in addition to her own. You must be able to trust, love, and choose her unconditionally.

This level of confidence may take some time to establish. Consider living with her first. After living with someone for a year, you have a pretty good idea of the sort of person they are. If it hasn't really gone anywhere, then cut your losses and move on, or at least move out and work up towards breaking up. The worst marriages are the ones where you simply settle for what's there, rather than what you want (or need).

THE RING

- So you decided to take the plunge and propose. That's great, congratulations! Where's the ring?

What? You don't have a ring?

Do not put your mate in the situation of having to say "Oh, yes, we're engaged, but we're still saving up for the ring." Not only is it embarrassing for her (and you), but it also completely removes any symbolic tie to the actual moment when you ask her to marry you. Afterward, it's just a piece of jewelry.

So, what to do? You really want to propose, but can't afford a big rock? Try a promise ring first. For about $100-200, you can get a pretty sweet promise ring with a tiny, flawless diamond and gold band. It might only be .005 carats, but if it's flawless, this will excuse it in her eyes, especially if you shower her with poetry comparing her to the flawless diamond (shining, fiery, perfect, etc). Additionally, her initial trepidation at getting such a tiny rock in her engagement ring will turn to immense relief and joy when she finds out it's just a promise ring. Or, more verbosely, "a promise to buy a bigger ring".

Some jewelry stores will even let you trade up for the engagement ring down the road. Keep in mind though, she may not want to lose that first symbol of your commitment.

Now, on to the REAL engagement ring...

I don't care what your personal feelings are on the matter, people (especially women) will judge you based on the ring you gave her at the time you proposed. Even if you and your mate are both completely non-materialistic, and would be perfectly happy with a bit of glass scotch-taped to a foil gum wrapper, you will at some point, suffer humiliation at the hands of those who are materialistic. Let people go on and on about diamond company conspiracies, it doesn't matter. The diamond engagement ring is as ingrained a part of tradition as presents at Christmas, only more people are offended by a cheap diamond than a cheap gift. And though you may not care now, you will as you get older. And god help you if you try to fool her with a fake, because she will find out, and when she does, she'll forever resent you for not telling her the truth.

To avoid this, I recommend getting a good, real diamond engagement ring. By good, I mean one that is of decent quality, and appropriate to the finger. There are 4 C's to consider in a diamond:

Carat (size), Clarity (flaws), Color, and Cut. Though the ignorant consider carat size to be the most important factor, they are ignorant of the fact that a large, polished turd is still a turd. The real reason women like diamonds is because of the "fire", or that colorful sparkly light that makes a good diamond brilliant. The truly important factors in this are actually CUT and CLARITY. A poor cut diamond that is perfect in every other way will not fire, and an included (internally dirty) diamond will block fire with its own particulates.

Research a bit to find the best value for your dollar, but a good goal for the truly ignorant of any diamond is Carat=0.5 or better, Color G or better, SI (slightly included) or better, and a "brilliant" or "round" cut with a ratio equal to about 60/60 or better. The jeweler will know what you're talking about at that point.

And for those where money is not an option, and still don't want to learn about diamonds, just look for a vendor of "Hearts on Fire" diamonds. They are, in my experience, among the best quality cuts, but very expensive.

That said, there is one other reason for getting a good quality diamond ring for her. It shows that you have enough financial acumen to provide her with a good life. This reasoning may be flawed, but it is an ingrained message that very few parents will be able to overlook.

For the band, unless you are going to make the fact you want to get married a complete and utter surprise (and thus set yourself up for possible humiliating failure), I recommend taking her with you to (or you being dragged to) a jewelry store, and getting a vague idea of what kind of band she wants (thin and dainty, big and bold, white gold or yellow gold, how she wants the diamond set, etc.), but not actually let her know which one you'll get. Do this a few times.

THE PROPOSAL

Between Hollywood, and TV shows like "Perfect Proposal", and so forth, it's really easy to assume you can't possibly come up with a proposal worthy of her, when so many other people have done it better.

However, you don't need a big movie budget, a TV show, or even a particularly clever set of friends. For the budgeteer, take her to a park, at sunset (or sunrise), and propose to her on a quaint little spot that can forever be "your spot". There is, however, no excuse for the lazy bum who just rolls over in bed and says "hey, how 'bout we make it legal". It's just plain white trash. She might marry you, you both may live happily forever, but she will have many female friends. After your beloved hears about how her friend was proposed to, at the top of a mountain paradise, do you really want her response to be "Oh, when John asked me we were both just laying in bed."

Find something that is special to her and incorporate it. If you can't, then you really don't know her well enough to even think about spending the rest of your life with her, and frankly, she can do better.

One thing to remember is that she will need ready access to either her mother, or her best friend. After you propose to her, if she says yes, she will immediately want to tell the whole world. If you're completely incommunicado with the world, not only will it drive her nuts, but if she says "no", you've got a long uncomfortable journey home ahead. Ideally, her point of contact should be reachable via phone, or even physically nearby the occasion.

It can be as complex or simple as you want, but the two most important things are to make it a special occasion to her, and have her point of contact available immediately afterward.

THE CEREMONY

She said yes. Good on yer! Now what?

Most men pretty much sit back at this point, and just kind of wait to do what they're told. This is, without a doubt, the smartest option possible. Take an active interest in the wedding, if you like, and feel free to give your honest opinion (after, all, if you can't be honest about your wedding, how can you hope to be honest in marriage?). But when it comes down to it, this is her day, her decision, and most likely, her parents' money. You want to help out whenever possible, but don't confuse that with getting your way. She may just want a Justice of the Peace and a court date, or she may want a six-digit wedding to be televised on cable. Regardless, she has very precise reasons for everything.

Now, that said, a few things you need to decide on ahead of time, before an argument results.
  • Is she going to take your last name? - This is actually something you need to know before you ever even look at a ring. Just because she has a right to say no, doesn't mean you don't have a right to insist. However, if you go into this already disagreeing about something like the last name, expect a lot of heartache, argument, and resentment later on.
  • Who will perform the ceremony? - Usually either you or she will have a strong preference, and the other won't care too much. If you don't care, let her choose. If you do care, mention it. If you both have a strong opinion that does not coincide, you might want a mixed-service where both ministers perform the ceremony. My sister, for instance, had both a priest and a rabbi perform at the same ceremony, and used an historic mansion in lieu of a temple or church.
  • Budget - A wedding conventions for a future bride is like an electronics store for men. All monetary thoughts are thrown out the window, and the budget is only looked at in the dark of night amidst tears. Figure out, as tactfully as possible, what the budget for the wedding will be, and start a spreadsheet on the numbers. Even a modest under $10k wedding can spiral out of control if no one is watching the numbers. It will take a load off her, make you look responsible, and teach you something about budgeting in the process. If money is no object, you can obviously skip this step, but might offer to work with her parents on it to help out. After all, you're going to be the man of your own family soon, and need to know it anyway.
  • Fight! Fight! - Another thing you can bet the farm on is that at some point, your bride-to-be is going to be royally pissed off at her parents, her maid of honor, her bride's maid, her relatives, God, the World, and You. The important thing here is to never take sides, and NEVER join in the insults you hear. She might call her own mother names that would make a sailor blush, but as soon as she stops being mad, she'll remember every last thing you said about her. Just nod, offer sympathetic and above-all NEUTRAL comforting words such as "I know you're doing the best you can", and "Don't worry, it will all work out", and "I'm here for you." Those three sentences have paid off incredibly.
  • Honey-do list - Undoubtedly, there will be a list of things you need to do. The to-do list for a wedding is insanely long. There are easily 100+ things that need doing that we, as men, have never really been taught or even thought about. When you get asked to do these things, do them. Being unreliable in assisting in your own wedding is not only disrespectful to your bride and the ones footing the bill, but is also a pretty good indicator that you aren't ready for the responsibility of marriage yet. A few things that you can do pre-emptively are:
    • Make a list of all friends and relatives you want to invite, then show it to your parents to make sure you didn't miss anyone.
    • Get the REAL names and mailing address for each.
    • Make sure your wedding party (in your case, the groomsmen) knows when and where to be, as well as any special rules of conduct you might have to impart.
    • Find out how much the minister is going to cost, and get the money to your best man (who is tasked with paying the officiant).
    • Find out any special considerations and needs for your half of the invitees, such as handicapped access, children, etc.
    • Start thinking about what you'll do for a honeymoon, and brainstorm some ideas. She'll want to know, and may even have you end up planning it.
    • Keep your family and wedding party abreast of any changes in time, especially where photography and videography is concerned.
    • Start networking your family and friends to see what services can be offered to you at a discount, or better yet, as a wedding gift.
    • If you two are writing your own wedding vows, I seriously recommend starting on them early, and running them by her ahead of time. These words are not supposed to be funny, amusing, or sound hip. It's best to use established language that you would learn in school from a teacher. Wedding vows are not the place for slang or jokes.
  • The Tux - Your tux will need to match the bride's dress. She will probably go to the shop with you with a swatch. Assuming you get a say in the tux, try to keep in mind that even though you have an idea what's cool, it probably doesn't mesh with her idea of matching. Unless you feel completely stupid about what your tux looks like, then just shut up and let her choose. Otherwise, feel free to try making suggestions.

THE RECEPTION

The Ceremony was the easy part. Now what? Music, Food, Friends, Family... it's a party! You can relax, right? Wrong. This is where the majority of the work and expense will occur. The most natural and relaxed receptions probably had the single greatest amount of work put in on all sides. So you need to be aware of this ahead of time, and do your part.
  • Know Your DJ - To put it bluntly, a DJ will make or break a party. You can have crappy food, uncomfortable temperature, cake that tastes like cardboard, and no liquor, but with a good DJ people will be informed, entertained, and amused. The DJ is almost like a Master of Ceremonies at an awards convention. Make sure he speaks eloquently, knows his equipment and music, and very organized. Ideally, your DJ should already be set up at the reception site an hour ahead of time. He will work with the coordinators, caterers, wedding party, photographers, videographers, and anyone else he needs to, in order to establish an schedule. With this schedule he can flawless go from song to announcement, directing traffic or attention to or from an event. I cannot stress how important it is to have an experienced DJ. Your friend Bob may have his own equipment, and be the hit at the local karaoke bar, but he can't hold a candle to someone with 20 years in the business. Pay the extra money to get a good DJ, and regardless of anything else, your guests will have a great time.
  • Beer, Liquor, Wine, Champagne? - Let's face it. Most people are cheap. If you aren't going to provide an open bar, there really isn't much point in a cash bar. Why pay $5 for a drink when you can go to happy hour or the after-wedding party and get schnockered for half the price? I recommend either going with an open bar, or just a champagne toast. You know your friends and family are going to be bringing flasks of the good stuff anyway, and most likely hers will too. Hopefully, they'll be discreet.
  • Learn to Dance - Tradition dictates you MUST dance at least once with your bride. If you want to look like a complete git, don't bother learning. If, however, you want to appear suave and impressive, you and your fiancé need to get a few basic dance lessons down. Practice every now and then. At the very least, you need to know the basic 1-2-3 and 1-2-3-4, and 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 circles. I can't stress enough how stupid grooms who don't know how to dance look when the bride and groom dance comes around. Learning how takes all of an evening, practicing takes all of 5 minutes or so every couple of weeks. It's worth your time for the most important day of your life. If you can't handle that much time to devote to your wedding day, you need to re-evaluate your lifestyle.
  • Snack Time! - After the Ceremony, someone is going to have brought the car around. Make sure that someone has a bag of food for you and the bride to eat on the way to the reception. McDonald's or some sammiches, or something else light, along with some breath mints. You will be starving after the ceremony (don't ask me why) and it is almost a certainty you won't get to eat at the reception. You'll either be too busy talking, mingling, having your picture taken, shaking hands with people who will hand you money, or whatever. By the time you get to your food (if you get any) it will be cold and nasty. Do yourself a favor and eat on the way to the reception.
  • After-Party - DON'T be the hosts to your own after-party. You may want to bail out early, or miss the party altogether. If you're the hosts, this is not an option.

AFTERMATH

- Make sure you have delegates to help clean up the mess. Caterers and the DJ will pack their stuff, but if you don't specifically have staff to clean up the mess, then someone has to. Try to make sure someone is seeing to it.

A wedding is, in theory, a beautiful and wonderful occasion whereby two people propose their eternal love for each other. In reality, it is an experiment in social sciences, political diplomacy, and micro-economics. Whether or not it is a success or a failure, you'll never stop hearing about it for the rest of your life. What you end up having to hear depends largely on how responsible and prepared you are ahead of time.

It's all very fine and good to enumerate the trappings of a wedding, but this operates on the fallacious assumption that the groom plays a role in any of it, or is even allowed a say.

Here is all a man needs to know about an actual wedding:

  1. Sit down and shut up.
  2. If it's your own wedding, stand up and say "I do" at the appropriate time.
  3. SIT DOWN and SHUT UP.
  4. If it's your daughter's wedding, sign the checks. Although more modern families leave this responsibility to someone else.

A PATENTED* Gorgonzola throwaway** writeup for temporary humorous effect.

*Pending

**A few people have begged me not to delete this. It's clearly gone beyond "temporary humorous effect".

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