It’s summertime, so it’s wedding time. Psyched? No, I know. What should be a maybe fraught but generally lovely tradition of intimacy-made-public, of vulnerability-made-brave, has come to sanction and even require demanding, ‘zilla-ed out brides, wedding websites, multiple pre-wedding showers and parties and gift requirements, tropical destination weddings, and ever-cuter, ever-craftier, ever-more-competitive personalization. It’s all very bonkers, financially terrifying, value-dubious, something something something, Bridesmaids, Bachelorette, wedding-dress reality TV, something something.
I’ve been to every single wedding ever in human history, and I get very kindergarten-tears about how disassociated the act of getting married has become from the point of it, and also how everyone going is all sour, like “Eww, I have six weddings this year,” which is really unnecessary baditude. So, here are some ideas on how to return weddings to a day of, you know, love and commitment, for havers and goers alike. I’ll spare you the details of my own dream wedding. (Jokes: it’s far away, ten people are there, I’m knee-deep in a warm ocean and my dress and hair are loose and wild and shades of white, and then at the party at home I’m in a strong-shouldered black Thierry Mugler and a matte red lip and it’s midnight and my friends all hook up with each other, and then there’s brunch or something.)
Stop Talking About It
If you regularly overshare (pulling “overshare” out of storage for this one) about your wedding for six months or a year before it happens, nobody is going to want to go. Like, they’ll still go, but they’ll already have “Jane’s wedding” in their mind-grapes as something tired-ish, negative and vaguely compromised. Think honestly and self-servingly about how much you would ideally like to know about the minutiae of your friend’s wedding planning, and then cut it in half, and that’s how much to talk about it.
Or: treat the wedding like a fun, semi-secret, long-term project, and indulge only whoever is always bugging you for deets (your mom?) with them. Really, weddings are public events that are featuring you, but are for your friends and family, and should include a strong sense of “service design.” Advance over-exposure (which includes the seven bridal showers) is bzzzzzzzoring.
Don’t Have Your Wedding On a Long Weekend
Your wedding is, in the particular, an opportunity for your people to bear witness to your love and commitment to your man or woman. That’s so great! I love love. But, listen, in the abstract it’s also an obligation that has to be scheduled, prepared for, traveled to, recovered from, paid for. Don’t force your friends to forgo a rare short holiday or a do-nothing-spectacular on their own turf by planting your wedding in the middle of a three-day weekend. It’s not “easier” for anyone; it’s “annoyinger” for everyone.
Related: Saturdays are fine; Friday nights are ideal; New Year’s Eve is cool if you are setting everyone up with transportation home and your open bar is actually “open” and not just a red, white, or beer situation.
Know Who Is “Wedding” and Who is “Not Wedding”
Understanding where your attendants fall on the “She’s very ‘wedding’” and “He’s not ‘wedding’ at all” continuum is very important. It doesn’t make them “good” or “bad” or “forever-friend” or “axed from the first-string line-up.” Know that some of the people who love you very, very much (so much! So so much!) and want to see you happy (So happy! So so happy!) might also feel differently than exactly what/how you want them to feel about your wedding.
(Also know that weddings are, just, complicated: maybe your friends are duly excited for you, but also worried because of that time your fiancé did That Thing, or because you are dropping mega-dollars to feed medium-OK banquet-hall food to hundreds of people who don’t really want to eat it, or maybe they are alienated by weddings generally, or whatever else. It’s fine, though. It can be fine. Because we love you.)
Think about who your friends are in their regular lives before you cast them in your Oz of glitter and cabbage roses. I am somewhere between ‘wedding’ and ‘not wedding,’ as in, as the Arya Stark of a large suburban WASP family, and of many friend-families, I get nu-traditional weddings even though I am not fully of them, like, I know candles and flowers and religion and rules but when I am around women who want to play wedding-shower games and wear feather boas to nightclubs I am, I guess, the Arya Stark of that situation, too. However, my friends understand: one left me basically alone when it came to helping her choose a dress (this is, to me, very much a part of Girl World that seems unfun and best left to professionals) and the cake (“How about Popsicles!”) but wanted my ideas about invitations (I understand paper and fonts); another friend put me in charge of seating arrangements, and organizing the guests, which I am Type AAA enough to do really well. This, to me, is amazing: I didn’t have to feel guilty for not having an instinct for or interest in some of the more “awwww” stuff, but I got to both help and express my very fluffy-melty-sticky sentiment for the situation and the people involved. And even if your friends are deeply ‘wedding,’ some of them might be broke or busy, you know?
So, ask your pals what they want to do. Be super-real about it, like “This is huge for me, and I want you to have a good time and feel right.” Just think: if your request gets out and hits Jezebel, you will be the Reverse Sorority Girl Emailer.
Let The Bridesmaids Choose Their Own Dresses
There is nothing at all more determining of whether or not you will have fun at an event than feeling good in your outfit (this seems ABSURD to type out, but it feels true), and whatever color you think is cute has nothing to do with your bridesmaids’ skin tones, and whatever cut you think is cute has nothing to do with your bridesmaids’ bodies or how they feel in them. Dig?
If the objective of everything about the planning is “Have a good wedding,” a sub-objective should be that the women closest to you, the women who you will want to relive this day and night with for all earthly forevers, had a good time and feel good in the photos and in front of a crowd. Soooo why would you want a few women with disparate coloring, bodies, styles, tattoo situations and high-heel facilities to dress up in matching silky car-show model uniforms? Instead, maybe think of them like a posse of My Little Ponies: beautiful, in their own individual ways. If they look and feel good, you will look and feel good.
It’s already weird that the matching bridal party is still a thing, this long after we’re all laughed-out about ‘80s chicks in their exploding fuchsia numbers. This all said, I have a photo of me and one of my best friends in our matching, simple, cute bridesmaid dresses and there’s no other occasion since the sixth grade in which this is acceptable so, hmm.
Anyway, you absolutely have to pay for the dress unless you say “Wear whatever you want” and mean it.
Have A Registry
Cool, you think it’s selfish to ask for a bunch of shit? What is more selfish than demanding that a couple hundred people spend an hour wandering around a department store having to pee being like “What do they waaaaant?” but also feeling gnarly about stuffing an envelope with cash and leaving it on a table in a hotel, or gnarlier, writing a check? If you don’t want to own a bunch of stuff – because, word – sign up for one of those sites where your guests contribute to a vacation, or sports equipment or something tangible and big, or just straight donate to a charity that you both like. But don’t make me choose from the great blue sky what to give you and your new husband or wife. I’ll write you a poem, and it will be terrible.
Everyone Gets A Plus-One
Having fewer people than you can strictly afford and letting them bring dates is a lot better than inviting everyone and limiting plus-ones. Here’s why: inviting a single friend to a wedding and not offering a plus-one suggests that you don’t super-care if they have a good time or not, especially when they know for a solid fact that you don’t like a mutual friend’s boyfriend who you “had” to invite (no you didn’t). This is also “service design.” Basically, you can do one of two things: have a smaller, friends-only wedding where the non-friend boyfriends and girlfriends are left off the list (I dare you), or have a wedding where you give your friends who are single (or who you think are single because they aren’t in the obnoxious habit of absorbing every new like or love into the friend-fold before it’s serious-serious) a plus-one so they have someone to travel with, share a hotel room with, sit with, spend the interminable post-ceremony/pre-reception time with, and, crucially, dance with. Also, it’s kind of a losery feeling to be alone at a wedding (it’s a wedding!!!), even if you are icy-cool about single-ness, so, in denying a plus-one you significantly decrease the amount of time they’re going to want to spend having fun, and the veracity of that fun. Think this through. It’s your “big day,” but it’s also still… their day.
Maybe Give Your Dad Something Non-Gross To Do
First, he walks you down the aisle and gives you away; then, he dances with you in front of everyone. I guess? (Like, have you ever danced with your father before? I mostly talk about John Cheever with mine, and then spill coffee all over his car.) Maybe get your mom to walk you down the aisle, too? That’s nice. This is maybe pointless; I guess I just mean to say that it would be nice if a dad had something cooler to do too, you know? It’s your dad.
Almost every couple I know who has gotten married has, when they dated, broken up for a little while, or encountered some other relationship-valley. And, isn’t emerging together from that tough stuff what makes it so good and so right? Isn’t that why you’re getting married? So, say it: acknowledge the whole story. This is why I liked Ben Affleck’s Oscar speech so much. People who say “Love is hard; life is hard; we’re going to keep working at it anyway” get ten heart-shaped-firework explosions out of ten heart-shaped firework explosions.
Oh yeah. Do fireworks!
That’s what my mom said when I asked her for advice. She probably meant to say “Why can’t you be more like your sisters” but w/e.
Don’t Be Selfish
I guess this assumes that you are “Not Wedding,” because women who are “Wedding” aren’t going to do selfish or selfishy things like: 1) resent being invited to a wedding at all, or 2) put in less than their best effort when it comes to things like getting dressed up, getting the gift, and generally acting right. As someone who lives with a lot of regrets about my choices in my twenties (and I’m only 32 so maybe in ten more years I’ll be like “Wow, I got hellza sanctimonious for a while there”), I implore you to put your whole effort, and your whole heart, into someone else’s wedding, even and especially when you are the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily want or know how to.
Don’t show up with wet hair and an unwrapped gift. Don’t wear a dress that you might also wear to the office or to a regular Wednesday night dinner, unless the wedding is in the Portlandia style. Don’t bring the creepy, drunk drummer you are dating to your sweet friend’s hometown wedding. Don’t go to the mall in between the ceremony and reception. (Actually, that was fun.) Don’t bail to go to a bar. If you care about your friend, steel yourself against any feelings of wrongness – no matter what, weddings are a lot, they are emotional, they are the friend-equiv of Thanksgiving – and against the expectations on you as a guest, and be there as much as you can at the top of your maximum effort for your friend. This is called “honoring an obligation” or “trying” and it is important. Do all of this double if you are in the wedding. All it really takes to avoid feeling distaste for yourself in a few years is a cute dress, a present, twelve hours, and a smile.
Do Everything You Can
I have M.C.-ed a few weddings and in doing so found my happiest place. I got to be a little bit bossy and a little bit smooshy and it was just my favorite. At one wedding where I co-M.C.-ed I hustled like a movie producer on a rained-out ten-day shoot, and was running full-flight to Starbucks in heels because the groom wanted a coffee. When you embrace your job, whatever your job is, it feels amazing.
Get Messy and Weird
It’s totally cool to cry, during the ceremony and in the receiving line and at the speeches and later when you’re dancing and getting mascara all over dude’s nice new jacket. It’s fine to get drunk and scream “YOU’RE MARRIED!” in your friend’s damn face. So much of the awkward emotionality around weddings has been repurposed into, like, prezzies and parties or whatever, but it is a day of great meaning, and toasting messily with tequila shooters is a rite of late-youth that should be embraced.
Cool Out on the Wedding Judgments
Weddings are revealing of so much, for better or worse (ha, get it???): socioeconomics and class stuff; families-of-origin; lifestyle aspirations; how a guy looks in a suit and a clean shave. It is all so bare! So, unless you are so chill and kindhearted that you’ve never felt anything other than “Oh, this is just lovely” (Who are you? Email me! Be mine!), you should come to know that it is your job within the super-personal social performance to just shhhhh, to tuck your own evaluations and comparisons into the pocket on your kicky skirt, and participate without being like “Why did they serve soup?” (Because soup is delicious.)
Don’t Talk-Talk To Someone At Their Wedding
Smile, tell them everything is perfect, hug them, spin them around in their dress, compliment their sisters, don’t touch their hair or face. Remember that they have to do this act with every single person there, so, they probably don’t have time or capacity to talk to you about much of anything. Wait, is this true for dudes? I actually have no idea.
Bring The Present With You
Etiquette says you have a year to pony up a wedding gift (and the couple has a year to send a thank-you card), and bringing it to the wedding gives me the anxiety-furies about losing it or having it stolen or getting it damp with champagne-glass-sweat or whatever. Regardless, I advise bringing your gift to the couple’s house a few weeks after the wedding, like a wedding-extendamix which will be fun for everyone. This is extra good, because if they’re not home but their side door is open, you can arrange their new plates in a fun way on the table and sneak back out and it’s all very “Surprise!”
Kate Carraway is a writer who never goes off-registry. Follow her on Twitter: @KateCarraway.