Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Education on Weddings

     As October hits its midway point, I find myself getting ready to suit up for my fourth wedding in five months.  For one of these weddings, I was an invite, for one, I will be an usher (upcoming), and for two, I was the best man.  Before this summer, weddings were simply an event that allowed me to wear a nice shirt and tie, buy a generic $20 gift, drink adult beverages, and party at a reception with the hopes of meeting that perfect woman.  After this summer, my understanding and appreciation of weddings in nearly all facets is deeper than ever before.  This is going to run a lot like a “what I’ve learned” list, so forgive me for the cheesy bullet point format, but like many wedding day itinerary schedules I’ve received this summer, it only seems appropriate.
  • Bachelor parties are so tedious yet so simple at the same time.  While the perception is that they must be planned out perfectly to a T and there often pressure to do so, is there really much more a groom needs than a day or weekend with his best friends, shooting the breeze and enjoying life? I’ve been on a houseboat, attended baseball game, and stayed at a lake cabin up north this summer, and each case, while the surroundings have been enjoyable, it’s the pleasurable company that makes the weekend.
  • Gift shopping is difficult and is made easier and harder at the same time with gift registries.  When your close friends are getting married, there is a strong urge to get them a unique gift that stands out alone above the rest.  However, with that seven page registry sitting under your nose, it’s hard to not succumb to laziness (as I did, every time) and grab something nice from the list.  It’s a double edged sword in a way; yeah, you cheaped out and bought a gift that required no thought, but on the other hand, you have given the newlyweds a gift that they obviously wished for so you’re in the clear.
  • Weddings in the summer months are completely overrated. I’ve always thought this, but now it’s been affirmed.  I imagine the logic behind summer weddings goes something like “we need to do this in nice weather so let’s have it in June or July!”  This is so backwards it’s insane. If you have your wedding in June or July, this is what you’re guaranteeing yourself: it’s either going to be ridiculously hot or it’s going to rain/storm. No middle ground. I take more issue with the heat because the wedding party will inevitably be stuck outside for a lengthy period of time taking pictures and sweating like pigs. Also, being stuck in a church with a large amount of people is simply inhumane in 100 degree heat. I nearly fainted in one wedding I was in this summer; sweat was dripping from my brow all over the floor just feet away from the groom and nearly tipped over backwards.  As for the rain, in another wedding this summer, a storm rolled through the town the morning of the ceremony and cut power to many buildings. It also knocked down numerous trees throughout the city. If that storm comes through five hours later, we would have had a disaster on our hands. C’mon couples, use some more sense, shoot for a spring or fall date.  Odds are the temperature will be more favorable, and the general mood will be more enjoyable as well. In the spring, everyone is pepped up because nature is turning green again, and in the fall, people will be in awe of the beautiful autumn colors.  There’s a reason the phrase “dog days of summer” exists. It’s because things stagnate in those hellishly hot summer months.
  • Rehearsals are a crap shoot.  Good luck with this one newlyweds!  One rehearsal I was in this summer was loose and free flowing, but there was never enough order where we simply walked through the entire ceremony fully one time. The other was so strict that the pastor made us start an entire section over because two girls in the crowd were whispering back and forth.  I have to assume some rehearsals find a middle ground, but I would also assume that those are far and few between.  Each rehearsal will have its own identity and you can only hope it will prepare you enough to feel confident going into the actual ceremony.
  • On the subject of rehearsals, I’ve found they contain the biggest hidden enjoyable part of the wedding process.  The rehearsal is the first official time the bride and groom stand in front of the presider and hold their hands/recite their vows. The pure joy and excitement is truly something awe inspiring.  I was lucky enough to be mere feet away from two of these moments, and I can tell you that I saw expressions and mannerisms of happiness that I had never seen from a few of my best friends.
  • Rehearsal dinners are a strange tradition. The aspect of these that surprises me most is that there’s not really a general format to them. One I went to, the groom spoke, in one, he didn’t. One served only appetizers with an open wine/beer bar, one had a pasta and salad bar.  One was formatted such that the groomsman and bridesmaids opened their gifts in front of everyone at the dinner, one did not. Both were great, but both were completely different.  There simply appears to be no rules at these dinners other than some type of food and beverage is served. 
  • Decorating the marriage car is a job that simply should not fall upon the maid of honor and the best man.  These two have planned bachelor/bachelorette parties, agonized about speeches, and comforted/consoled/calmed their bride or groom. Make someone else do this job.
  • Marriage compatibility classes are a sham and everyone knows it.  A lot of couples will probably try to justify them somehow, but everybody knows that it gives you a discount on your marriage license if you take them.  To me, this is just the church capitalizing on young (or old) couples trying to save a few bucks.  If I ever get married, I can assure that my thinking won’t be “boy, just to make sure I’m ready to be married, I better have someone who knows nothing about my relationship evaluate it.”  This is also a cheap out for priests/pastors to use the weeks of classes as a part of their sermon.  Here’s an easy line “I’ve been doing these classes for years and I’ve never seen a couple score as high as Johnny and Jane.” Another favorite is the, “there’s a question that asks, ‘what would you change about your partner,’ and guess what Jimmy said about Jane?” Develop a real sermon for a change.  I don’t mind if the couple meets with the presider a few times before the ceremony, but leave the evaluating to yourselves, your friends, and your parents.
  • Speaking of sermons, ladies, if you’re at a Catholic wedding, quit crying that the sermon preached that the man should be the breadwinner and the woman should be the homemaker. It’s the Catholic Church and they’re conservative. If you’re expecting a progressive sermon at a Catholic wedding, you need to reevaluate your thought process.  That would be like expecting the new Transformers movie to have an intricate, in-depth plot, and stunning character development with exquisite dialogue. Not gonna happen.
  • Not yet finished with sermons, I really wish there was some more creativity in their creation. Here are the 3 sermons you’ll hear at a wedding. If it’s Catholic, it’ll be about the beautiful union of a man and woman, that the man should provide and the woman should be pretty and take care of the man. If it’s not Catholic, you’ll hear about Agape love, the highest level of companionship.  And lastly, I guess this isn’t a third sermon, but you’ll hear various generic anecdotes that the priest/pastor sprays at the crowd regarding his time spent with the couple during marriage classes.  I keep hoping now to attend a wedding with a fresh outlook on the union of two people.
  • One of the most important aspects of the ceremony if you’re planning it is to MAKE SURE that the wedding party gets to sit down sometime during the ceremony.  This is especially true during summer weddings. The combination of heat and pressure to stand stock still is enough to defeat any man or woman. Please, do your wedding parties a favor, let them take a break and sit every so often.
  • The duty of holding the wedding rings was something I was very interested to take part in this summer, mostly because I had never really thought about what the protocol is for it. As with rehearsal dinners, I found that there isn’t a very uniform set of rules. One wedding set me with both rings in my pocket, which led to extreme amounts of paranoia and me constantly checking to make sure they didn’t fall out.  Another had me wear the bride’s ring on my right pinky. This was comical because her ring had to be custom made due to her hands being abnormally small. Being that my fingers resemble the thickness of sausage links served at your favorite breakfast restaurant, the wearing of that ring led to my right pinky going numb about 15 minutes into the ceremony and not knowing if I couldn’t feel anything because of numbness or because the ring had fallen off (fortunately in both cases, final ring delivery went smoothly).
  • The big question at the end of weddings, will there be a receiving line or will the bride and groom usher everyone out pew by pew? I have to admit, I’m a receiving line guy. I firmly believe they are faster than the usher method, but the usher approach seems to be catching on. Here’s my basis, in a receiving line, you only have to greet people once. If you do the usher method, then all the guests are left milling around the lobby of the church waiting for the bride and groom to exit. This can lead to second chance opportunities for guests to glad-hand the bride and groom, ergo making the wait to leave longer.
  • The signing of the marriage certificate continues to be a mystery.  I understand the purpose of the actual signing, but what I don’t get is why it’s imperative that there is photographic evidence of it. I can’t imagine a scenario where a couple hurriedly rushes to their wedding mementos looking for the picture of the maid of honor signing the marriage certificate to make sure their union isn’t a farce.
  • Distance matters. Having the reception hall and hotel where everyone is staying close to the church is such a huge bonus to any wedding weekend.  Having to travel 35+ minutes from any destination begins to affect the planning of how people will get from here to there.  It also sucks up valuable time in between events.
  • That being said, plan for two hours of fluff time on your wedding day.  If I were the wedding czar, I would make it a point that the first dance of every reception begin at 8pm.  It’s good to have a schedule on wedding day, but I would advise that you plan out plenty of time in between the ceremony and reception. Odds are the day will quickly start running late and this can be made up by giving yourself a nice cushion in between the ceremony and reception.
  • Reception food is interesting for two reasons. 1.) it’s incredibly expensive to feed everyone and 2.) the food, although delicious, is almost always unmemorable.   I don’t even remember what I ate at the weddings I was in this year, but I can probably guess it was a pork, chicken, or beef cut with some sort of gravy, potatoes, and a veggie, coupled with an appetizer salad and rolls.  I would suggest if you really want people to remember the food at a reception, make it something new and fresh. Ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, meatballs, loaded baked potatoes, etc. Anything unique that people haven’t seen before.
  • Reception cake follows along the same lines. It’s usually really tasty but often forgotten.  I’d blow the whole thing up and serve pie instead.
  • Regarding speeches, I only ask for one thing, don’t read from paper. I don’t care how touching or how funny it is, if you don’t want to look at least mildly silly, get it memorized. If you take the actual time to write out a speech, then you usually have at least a year to write it and memorize it.  Giving a speech without a piece of paper allows you to engage the audience more, gesticulate, and be more vibrant.   I actually like to take speech giving a step further. Don’t write a speech at all. In both weddings where I was best man, I wrote no speech, and the main boost that it gave me was that I was able to incorporate images I had seen and emotions I had felt from the wedding weekend into the speech, and those were some of the best words I said.  You should have some sort of idea of what you’re going to say for a speech (will it be heartfelt, funny, profound, etc.), but I’m a huge proponent of using some of the weekend’s events in it.  I understand that a large amount of people are very uncomfortable without having anything written, so here’s what I would suggest, draw up a general outline of what you’re going to say. Have a main idea, and three key points you want to touch on, but from there, let your speech be spontaneous with the moment.
  • The old “clink the glasses and watch the newlyweds kiss” is a great concept that’s been getting ruined.  A.) now couples are adding quirks to it which have been putting the kissing onus on the audience instead of them and B.) Audiences are simply abusing the glass clinking privilege. My solution: only one session of glass clinking per half hour for the first two hours of reception (4 times total). From then on, only one glass clinking session every hour.  Like golf fans at the US Open, don’t take your enthusiasm and make it annoying, respect the couple!
  • One of the best ideas I witnessed this summer was the concept of the bride and groom saying hi to everyone during the course of dinner instead of waiting for the DJ/band to begin. Dinner always takes forever to get everyone served and then for everyone to eat and there’s a ton of down time.   I applaud any couple that chooses to use this time to get their meet and greets out of the way.
  • Band or DJ? DJ or Band?  Hard to say.  With a DJ you’re virtually guaranteed to hear music that you’ve specifically chosen and like, but I’ve also heard some pretty horrific stories about DJ’s that have taken their microphone skills a bit too far, with one saying that the current wedding he was at wasn’t as good as one he previously DJ’d (he was being serious). With a band, you’re paying a bigger price, but live music is awesome. On the flipside though, even with talented bands, they may not play well to the crowd attending the wedding, giving people an opportunity to criticize them. This debate is a wash, you just need to be lucky.
  • Dollar dances are outdated. Get rid of them and come up with something new.
  • Bouquet tosses are WAY overrated.  I missed both of the ones I was at. Neither one ruined my night.  And for those of you saying “but it’s a HUGE event for all the women there!”  I say this; how many married couples do you know that tell the story of their marriage “well, we had been dating for awhile and then Sheila caught the bouquet at a wedding so we HAD to get married as soon as possible.”  Virtually none.
  • Party favors are underrated.  While most people will have a great time, some may not and others may not be able to stay long enough to enjoy themselves. Having a unique party favor that’s well thought out always gives these people something to hold on to as time passes. It’s something they can use or look at and say “yeah, I remember that wedding, it was excellent.”
  • Booze at receptions is always tricky, and I’ve seen a lot of configurations as to how it’s set up.  The best I’ve seen thus far is complete open bar for the first two hours and then open tap beer and cheap wine until they run out.  This way you don’t get nailed with super expensive drinks, and the people who want to drink a decent amount probably won’t care about the quality of whatever they’re drinking, win-win.
  • On that note, champagne should always be served with dinner; it’s the drink of celebration. Not wine, not whiskey, not rum, not tequila. Champagne.
  • It’s really incredible how the wedding experience changes when you’re a part of the party compared to just being a guest. As a guest, ceremonies may drag, receptions may be too short, DJ’s may suck. As a member of the wedding party, the ceremony comes and goes before it starts, receptions cap an extremely long day, and pictures surprisingly don’t take as long as you’d think.
I have one more wedding to go this year, and this time I’ll have the opportunity of escorting men and women young and old up the aisle to their preferred seat.  I hope to learn even more about these ceremonies from the perfect vantage point. Being an usher is like being in the backseat of your parents’ car taking a 500 mile drive. You’re not right in the middle of the action but you’re able to observe all the nuances.  I would say the most important thing I’ve learned about weddings is this. They’re often described as “the perfect day.”  I would have to say that the events of the day go far from perfectly. Props are forgotten, dresses and tuxes are the wrong size, and simple events go overtime. However, at the end of the night, regardless of all the things gone wrong, everyone is feeling perfect, and that’s what counts.

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