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doves, dresses, and dacquoise
wedding planning in the real world
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
pop culture

You know how long it takes to pull off the perfect wedding? Just two weeks.

Not for us normal people, no. For Bree, on “Desperate Housewives.” And it’s true, her character is supposed to be detail-obsessed and driven, so maybe we’re supposed to think, “Well, no one normal could pull this off, but Bree sure could.”

To borrow the Australian lingo: Evs.

Of course television is always unrealistic. There are some things it does well, such as teaching us that “Evs” is Australian for “Whatever.” (It was the only good thing to come out of an entire season of “Rock Star: Supernova”, I assure you.) But there is much, much larger number of things -- a vast conglomeration of things -- that television does poorly. Representing gays and minorities, showing healthy ways of dealing with conflict, depicting realistic apartments in New York City. Making a comedy show that’s actually funny. Helping you set expectations for a wedding, well, that’s just one more log on the fire.

Should I take my cue from movies? Well, there are a host of wedding-focused movies (like The Wedding Planner and The Wedding Singer) and other mainstream flicks (like Serendipity) that bear this proud message to the viewer: The occasion of your engagement is a really great time to start looking around for someone better.

Hm. Have I used up my “Evs” allotment?

Or, there are always celebrities. Weddings equally divided between the sumptuous and the secret. One of the smartest pieces of wedding advice I’ve gotten so far is to read as many wedding magazines as possible except for InStyle Weddings, which is designed to make you feel cheap and shady for not spending the millions of dollars the celebrities pictured in the magazine can throw around for their weddings. For not having organic flowers, or a six-carat custom-designed engagement ring, or 700 guests. For failing to enlist Versace to make you a $40,000 gown. For not honeymooning at a secluded resort in Fiji while wearing the $600 bikini with your new hubby’s name spelled out on the behind in Swarovski crystals. Who needs it?

On the other end of the celebrity spectrum, there’s the wedding of Britney Spears… oh, no, not the Vegas one that she immediately had annulled. Her… I can’t even find the word. “Real” doesn’t seem appropriate. “Official,” I guess. With its sweatsuits and its lace. Its strong whiff of trashiness. Its fascinating notarized documents.

Let’s just say, as we’ve said before, it never pays to emulate the famous.

Okay. No TV, movies, celebrities. Not going to emulate Diana’s gown’s massive train, or Jennifer Aniston’s veil, or even those lovely bridesmaid’s dresses the “Sex and the City” girls wore for one of Charlotte’s weddings. I will be a regular person.

And yet: there are just as many regular people who aren’t setting an example I want to follow either.

I’ve been using TheKnot.com as a resource for wedding planning stuff, and it’s a great one. There’s so much money in weddings that the advertising for reception halls, florists, photographers, and everyone else involved is utterly over-the-top. Being able to see what real people have done, and hear first-hand about real weddings, that’s key.

However, many of these woman also appear to be crazy.

The number of message board posts denouncing friends and family for their various sins is truly amazing. Brides get angry not only at people who can’t attend their wedding, but those who can’t attend the post-wedding brunch, or one of several showers. People who do not RSVP are regarded as the lowest dregs of humanity. Fights break out over the shape of the cake, the bridesmaids’ shoes, the order of toasts at the reception. This is the kind of fury and frustration I would expect to see in life or death situations. Last I checked, the choice between raspberry or strawberry filling in a ginger genoise is a matter of neither life nor death.

I don’t want to become an angry person over planning such a happy occasion. I really don’t. So, what to do?

Really, the only thing I can do is treat the planning of a wedding as I treat anything else. Like buying a house, or throwing a party. Gather up all the information. Ask other people’s advice, but don’t be swayed by it. Manage the details, but don’t get consumed by them. In the end, recognize that no one decision is so important that it’s worth sacrificing your mental health for, nor is it worth alienating someone you love.

And if I find myself cutting pictures of table numbers and do-it-yourself centerpieces out of Martha Stewart Weddings, well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. At least she understands the time-consuming nature of wedding details. I think she, too, would raise a skeptical eyebrow at Bree.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

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robert melos
10.4.06 @ 12:28a

As someone who has never been nor ever will be married, I have two words for you: Vegas Baby!

The party is great, but the everafter is more important.

And finally, isn't Bree getting a lot of help from the other Desperate Housewives? I missed the first episode, and only caught the end of the second ep. Of course if you've got a friend with a fabulous backyard for your wedding, and thelet you use it for free, and they foot the bill for everything, that would be nice.

jason gilmore
10.4.06 @ 11:11a

People who do not RSVP ARE the lowest dregs of humanity.

But seriously, it can be a beautiful day that you remember the rest of your life, but if it makes you miserable to assemble it, it's much ado about nothing. Best case scenario: work hard to get what you want from it, but realize that your wedding will never be exactly what you want.

We were looking through this famous wedding magazine as our day approached and were intrigued to discover that many of the most expensive, fabulous weddings of all time still ended in divorce. So have fun, because after you say "I do" is when the clock officially starts ticking.

russ carr
10.4.06 @ 1:20p

Lower still, however, are those who don't RSVP, or attend the wedding...

...yet still appear at the reception hall.

jael mchenry
10.4.06 @ 4:44p

Are we going to need a bouncer?

A lot of people don't get around to RSVPing -- I would imagine they'll need a prompting phone call or Email. I am as lazy as anyone when it comes to RSVPs, but I wouldn't dream of not saying anything and just showing up, or saying I couldn't come and then coming.

But, everyone has their own sense of what's appropriate, which is why they make flowergirl dresses for dogs.

Really. They do.

sarah ficke
10.4.06 @ 7:32p


We didn't have any bouncer-worthy problems at our wedding, and we got an amazing number of RSVPs, so there is no need for despair.

michelle von euw
10.4.06 @ 8:50p

This is the whole reason d'etre for bridesmaids: tracking down errant non-RSVPing guests so the b&g don't have to spend the energy doing so!

And on the serious side, I think the biggest lesson that Britney et. al. have taught us is to spend less time during our engagements preparing for The Day, and more time preparing for all the days that follow. Weddings happen. Real life is what comes after the party, and that, I think, isn't thought through often enough in the worlds your column so aptly characterizes.

sandra thompson
10.6.06 @ 7:43a

When in doubt, go with whatever Martha says. (Unless it involves pine cones and glue guns. Some of us are just nor as "crafty" as the rest of us.)

Good luck and don't forget about the pre-marital counseling.

jael mchenry
10.6.06 @ 1:23p

There was something involving a craft punch and coin envelopes that I will probably not get into, but most of her DIY stuff in the wedding magazine seems pretty simple.

I still remember an episode where an "easy" wreath involved using... a craft drill. Who has a craft drill?

The bridesmaids have SO many raisons d'etre. And they're just such good moral support, besides.

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