Monday, August 04, 2008

My Big Fat Wedding Tip

As long-time readers will be aware, I'm getting married later this month.

If sitcoms and films are to believed, the groom's an almost unwilling participant in the whole business - no doubt I've been guiled into proposing by some crafty female shenanigans, and am almost a non-participant in the preparations, reduced to little more than a bit-part dupe who just says "whatever you want, dear", writes cheques as required, and shows up on the day.

For my part, I prefer to think I've met a remarkable woman who I want to spend the rest of my life with, and that we've worked well together to plan a day which will be both a legal ceremony and a party with music and cake and booze, but it's very much a personal thing, I guess; a lot of grooms don't want to get involved in the specifics of table decorations and the like, and some people see the wedding as being pretty much 'the bride's day', so I can see why the groom might be somewhat sidelined.

Anyway, I wanted to share the one thing which has, as the day draws nigh, been the big and over-riding lesson I've learned about arranging a wedding, and which, if possible, I'd try to impress upon people in a similar situation. I don't think it's necessarily a new insight, but wanted to share it, just in case.

Okay, here we go. You ready? Drum roll…

If you can, tell both sets of parents to bugger off.

Obviously, I don't expect you to actually use those words, but from what I've seen over the years, parental involvement in weddings is a major issue. It's partly to do with generation gaps and the like, but the main problem which often happens is that there's a complicated interference by well-meaning parents, an interference that's often armed with the twin swords of financial control and (this is the more potent and emotionally-charged one) a delayed attempt to make amends for deficiencies in their own wedding.

In many cases, parents (often the bride's parents, though no necessarily) pay for the wedding. And in many of these cases, the parents want to 'be involved with the wedding' as a result - or, as the happy couple are more prone to see it, they want to interfere, and invite relatives and friends of their own. And this latter point is the stickier one, because when Mum and Dad are paying, there's always the implied leverage (or sometimes not so implied) that since they're paying for it, well, it's only reasonable. I seem to recall a terrific exchange on this subject in an episode of All Quiet On The Preston Front, which went roughly as follows:

Mother: Don't forget, we are paying for this wedding.

Bride-To-Be: I know Mum, but you're not buying it off me.

I think that's very true; a lot of parents, with all the best intentions, think that by stumping up the money, they get to be very involved indeed, right down to drawing up a list of 'suitable attendees'. I know that this was the case with my parents' wedding and many others of their generation, and the problem is, this seems to create a residual feeling that their wedding day wasn't quite as they would have wanted, and this niggling feeling takes root in the back of their mind until, a generation later, they start trying to live out their unfulfilled day by inviting Great-Aunt Shirley to their child's wedding, despite the fact that the kid has no idea at all who this person is. And so the cycle begins again.

I'm simplifying, sure, but having told both sets of parents that we'll pay for the wedding, and that as a result they get no input whatsoever into who's invited (and indeed, if they don't behave themselves, that they may not be invited either), m'lady and I have sailed through the whole process with a tiny fraction of the hassle I've seen amongst others in a similar situation. Actually looking at the guest list for the day and knowing that every single person attending is going to be there because we want them there is, surely, much better than (to give a real example from my experience of spectating on such things) being forced to invite someone who was the bride's mother's neighbour when she was growing up, but who the bride hasn't seen in a couple of decades… and all because of the implied leverage of the parents paying for the event.

It's not always possible on financial grounds to pay for your own wedding, I know, but if you're thinking about getting wedded and either or both sets of parents offer to pay a large chunk of it (that is, what business folks might call a controlling interest), if you agree to take their money, I strongly, emphatically, urge that you accept only on condition that they don't think it gives them any kind of right to influence or control the day. This sounds a bit cold, I know, but my experience is that it makes this so, SO much easier.

If the above tip isn't relevant to your wedding arrangements, though, then my other, hot off the press tip is that you do not engage the firm 'Wrapit' to arrange your wedding list* . A tip which, I think, applies across the board, to weddings guests and happy couples alike.

*We actually thought about using them, but didn't really care for the rather perstersome way they kept phoning and telling us to come in for a consultation session. Thank Buddha their poor customer service approach made us go elsewhere - though it does help explain how the company didn't manage to make any profit at all in six years.

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