The Wedding issue

Wedding Do's

Advice from a Professional Wedding Guest

Wedding Do's

James Yamasaki


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The Wedding issue

Two years ago, I got a job at a catering company that specializes in weddings. Sometimes I'd see two a day. It was surreal and a little disconcerting to lay out one couple's polished rocks and bags of monogrammed candies and then chuck them into a dumpster halfway through the day to make way for the next couple's color-coordinated napkins and shot glasses. I served enough champagne to fill a Cadillac and enough hors d'oeuvres to bury one. I saw weddings that seemed meant to be, and ones I'd give about two months. I saw blow-up dolls dressed as cowboys. Then gay marriage passed, and I started writing a column for The Stranger called Wedding Crasher, which I got paid for, if you can believe it. I went and ate free food and danced with people I didn't know, and then I wrote down my thoughts about how it went in exchange for cash. I saw things I'll always remember, and I cried at every damn wedding. I also saw things I would recommend no one ever replicate. But let's focus on the positive. If you're planning to get married, I offer my observations and my lust for revolving beverage fountains as assistance.

Even if You're Madly in Love, Don't Get Married Until You're Thirty

Okay, I guess that's not a very positive way to start, but it must be said: People change a lot during their 20s. When I look back at who I might have married when I was 19, I cringe—a tall can of Rainier wouldn't look good in a wedding dress. I've dated two women who were dissolving domestic partnerships that began in their early 20s, and the paperwork weighed about five pounds. The most worrisome weddings I've witnessed were those of teenagers who looked either like they just wanted a party or, worse, like relatives had pressured them into it. If you're already a married teenager, don't let this scare you—it might be fine. I know a couple, now in their 70s, who got married at 15 and still fall asleep holding hands. But if you're considering having a wedding because you want a big party where everyone dresses up, consider a wedding-themed party as an alternative. You may be shocked by how hot your best friend looks dressed as a priest.

Serve the Food You Actually Like, and Lots of It

Your wedding food doesn't have to be expensive. Compotes and roulades aren't a necessity, and if you don't have a food that's a family tradition or of sentimental value, I recommend serving whatever food you would most like to bathe in. It's your fucking wedding, after all. Cover a Slip 'N Slide with Kraft macaroni and cheese if it makes you happy. One of the most fun weddings I attended was held in a family friend's coffee shop after hours because it was the only venue the bride and groom could afford. Indian food, candy, pizza, and bottles of Jim Beam covered every flat surface. Everyone there seemed exceptionally comfortable (enough so that one guest came wearing a velvet cape), and a corgi in a tuxedo circled the room getting belly rubs. Another wedding, in a backyard, was catered by Ezell's and Dick's—a dinner that inspired applause from the guests. Whether you serve tapas or Now and Laters, make sure no one is hungry, especially if there's an open bar. It seems to work best to provide some kind of appetizers before the ceremony and a main course afterward. The best thing I ever ate at a wedding was a single butter bean floating in a sauce that may have been made by milking an angel. I sometimes close my eyes and imagine that bean is my apartment.

Get Everyone Drinking, at a Sensible Pace

A small amount of booze can heighten your guests' enjoyment and prevent those less emotionally involved in the occasion from getting bored, but too much booze can result in a Beastie Boys music video/Hieronymus Bosch–type situation. Before the ceremony, serve beer (not out of a bong) and wine (but no Fireball shots). Save the open bar and shotgunning of anything until after you've said your vows. I went to a wedding/luau where bowls of joints with little bows that matched the tablecloths were offered to guests, and this seemed to cause no trouble. Of course, if there is weed or anything more psychoactive than Nutella in the food, be sure to label it. Also, if you can afford to have any beverage dispensed by a small fountain, do it. Especially if the fountain revolves or lights up. It will make everyone feel like they're getting drunk in the past and the future at the same time.

Dance Your Ass Off

Music is essential, but don't worry about your taste. If you listen exclusively to a mixture of Gucci Mane and barbershop quartets with the person you love, this should be played at your wedding. I attended one wedding where the grooms' friends had assembled a band just to play their favorite songs. One couple found a musician who played classical versions of Pixies, Queen, and Depeche Mode songs for their wedding. At another wedding, the newlyweds concluded the ceremony by performing a duet. I asked a catering company's DJ how to get people dancing after a wedding ceremony, and he said: "Play 'I Like Big Butts.' It's the only song no one can resist." My observations confirm this. The music selection for the liveliest wedding dance party I attended (except perhaps for a traditional Jewish wedding where the newlyweds were carried around on chairs) was chosen partly by the guests—each invitation contained a space for one song request. People dance really weird at weddings. Every wedding. Probably even professional dancers' weddings. If your aunt and uncle start doing the Worm when you put on Icona Pop, it probably just means your cocktails were a hit.

Rent a Bouncy Castle


Choose a Location You Love

This town is full of amazing rentable spaces. My favorites have included a beautiful old ferryboat on Lake Union called the Skansonia, and Georgetown's oldest building, called the Stables, which has lots of sexy exposed brick and a carnival theme (not for couples afraid of clowns or antiques). Your own home is a fine place for your wedding, particularly if you have a pool in your backyard surrounded by Christmas-tree-sized pot plants, or a rooftop garden/private art gallery, OR A BOUNCY CASTLE. The right company can make a driveway just as memorable—or a tree house, or the zoo, or a submarine (which I heard actually did happen in the San Juans in the 1920s). Think less about what a wedding should be and more about the wedding that will make you and the person you love happiest.

Select Party Favors That Are Meaningful to You and/or Aesthetically Pleasing and/or Full of Condoms and Jewels

At one wedding, there were black-and-white paper straws in the cocktails that reminded me of Beetlejuice's legs. I kept the one from my drink. My friend said, "You know, people will remember these straws for years." She was probably right. It's hard to forget M&Ms with a couple's faces printed on them, or bobblehead dolls made to look like the bride and groom, or a cake that matches the grooms' ties and cuff links. One couple had a huge poster made of the artwork from their favorite album, one had a banner that read "For the greater glory of Satan" in Latin, and one actually had small paintings commissioned for all of the guests. The best thing about all of these party favors and decorations was that they had special significance to the people getting married, either because of family traditions or because of a memorable event in their relationship. On one occasion, the wedding cake was carved, according to tradition, with a sword. That said, I will always remember a piñata full of condoms, bottles of bubbles, plastic jewels, and gummy candies shaped like biblical figures that I really doubt was an heirloom.

Make Everyone Cry, Even Strangers

On a boat, I watched a man twirl a parasol and then strip off a black spandex bodysuit to officiate for two men who had been together for 20 years. My distraction by the delightful theater of the ceremony made the appearance of these three people and the real circumstances of their lives hit harder, and I began to cry even earlier than I usually do. The officiant, now dressed in a simple, elegant black suit, was a longtime friend of the couple who had many stories to tell about them. There is a Philip Larkin poem in which he describes the individual as a "million-petalled flower," fantastically complicated and impermanent. I think on a visceral level, humans know how improbable their existence is and how complex the elements are that shape an individual. Each of us is the product of all of history, but also of a series of events so specific that it's incredible we can love each other. When people get married, they are choosing to share history. The complexity and number of the events that lead people to each other is miraculous, and it's miraculous how they can change and color the shared events of each other's lives. There's more in a moment with another person than it's possible to ever know or understand, and the celebration of the decision to share time is perhaps the most significant celebration there is. I don't know about you, but it's enough to make me cry into my Fireball shot. I'd say the best ceremonies are the ones that feel both very personal and specific to a relationship and also very universal, but really that's any wedding ceremony. Invite the people you love to speak at your ceremony, whoever they may be. recommended


Comments (21) RSS

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Great article. I really enjoyed it.
Posted by boses on January 15, 2014 at 9:37 AM · Report this
Great list of suggestions. To that, I'd add: make sure your guests can get home (theirs or someone else's) safely. My wedding was about an hour outside of Washington, DC - every mile away from town saved us 50 bucks on the venue. I was concerned about people being too nervous about consumption to cut loose, or losing track of their consumption and letting them loose on the roads afterward. My wife and I are fortunate enough that we could afford to hire a bus to get people to and from the hotel. (They cut us a deal because I hired the getaway limo from the same outfit.) Other options are to have your ceremony (or at least the reception) near public transit, or have guests stay at a hotel with shuttle service.

Also, tip the wait staff, florists, everybody, and tip them well. They're having to watch you party on a Saturday night, do the bulk of the heavy lifting to make it happen, and then deal with the detritus. That may have been you, and someday could be your kids.
Posted by DC_Rob on January 15, 2014 at 10:41 AM · Report this
Re the first: Teenagers shouldn't get married. Because they have very little adult life under their belts, by definition. That said, my grandparents did and it worked. And the current odds are kind of on a par with the twice divorced managing to make the third time work: less than 50/50, but loads of people manage it.

Once you pass 20, the odds of a first marriage lasting even out, statistically speaking. Waiting until you're 40 doesn't build in some sort of guarantee: the 22 year olds are dealing with not having lived on their own before pairing off, and the 42 year olds with having lived on their own without needing to adapt to someone else's desires for 20 years: they have the same odds of getting it to work. (I think the "young marriages doomed" thing for people who marry under 30 or 35 persists because it's such a great no-fault explanation: time fixes being young.)

People change a lot in their 20s, and they change a lot before and after, too. There is no magic age (current age plus five) at which your adult personality will lock into place. (At which point you will join your life with someone else's, make life-altering career and location decisions based on that, and have some kids, none of which will at all impact you because: grown-up.
Posted by IPJ on January 15, 2014 at 11:04 AM · Report this
Two things for a great wedding. 1)Open Bar, 2)BBQ.
Posted by rolfburger on January 15, 2014 at 11:09 AM · Report this
wisepunk 5
The illustration looks like Megan Seling.
Posted by wisepunk on January 15, 2014 at 11:42 AM · Report this
Sarah! This article is perfect, especially the last paragraph. Weddings are best when they are about the two people being married, rather than what everyone thinks a wedding should be.

Thank you so much for coming to ours, and for including us in this article. I feel so lucky to remember it all over again.
Posted by thisiserika on January 15, 2014 at 12:43 PM · Report this
Jessica 7
FYI: there is nothing more fun than being drunk and newly married after-hours in the Seattle Aquarium. I highly suggest this. We saved a shitload on decorations and it entertained adults and kids alike.
Posted by Jessica on January 15, 2014 at 1:34 PM · Report this
I was expecting to see something eye-opening or new here, as I'm planning a wedding for a few months from now, but you've basically just rehashed tips that are available anywhere else on the web. I really hope you didn't get paid for this.
Posted by treehugger on January 15, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this
@8 There actually is a whole section of new "magical" wedding tips that have never ever been printed anywhere on the entire internet in this article - but because they're magical they are automatically hidden from douchebags like you.
Posted by jack chandelier on January 15, 2014 at 8:24 PM · Report this
@8 Man, your wedding sounds like its going to be a hoot and a half
Posted by thisiserika on January 16, 2014 at 11:22 AM · Report this
Great article. One thought: A missed opportunity for a corrected song title and a hometown shout-out to Sir MixALot. But it's true. "Baby Got Back" makes every most-requested-wedding-reception-song list out there, according to Google.
Posted by BakedInSeattle1 on January 16, 2014 at 10:39 PM · Report this
Yeesh...someone is actually marrying treehugger? I pity the impending spouse.
Posted by a nonny mouse on January 17, 2014 at 12:33 AM · Report this
Great article! We loved having you celebrate with us and love the references to our perfect day! You have an open invitation once it gets warm again! D&R
Posted by DL&RS on January 17, 2014 at 3:29 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 14
When I was part of the marriage-industrial complex, I had a little speech I used to give couples, especially if they were young (and I started out doing weddings in Iowa City, where everyone was young).

I'd tell them that everyone will tell you your wedding day will be the happiest day of your life, but in reality, it will probably be very stressful. The happiest days will be the days that come after (yes, it was sappy, but I felt like it was a point that needed to be made.)

Also, I'd always try to make sure the bride and groom ate something, especially if they were drinkers, and even if it meant fixing them a doggy bag. You'd be surprised by how many don't eat.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 19, 2014 at 11:24 AM · Report this
Call me Scott 15
Sex with a lot of different people may make you a much better lover. Making lots of mistakes in many more casual relationships may allow you to avoid pitfalls that could otherwise trip you up with your lifetime love. Waiting on the accumulation of experience and maturity served me well.
Posted by Call me Scott on January 19, 2014 at 11:24 AM · Report this
16 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Slip and Slides are not safe for adults.
Posted by MikeB on January 19, 2014 at 4:18 PM · Report this
Posted by UberAlles on January 19, 2014 at 9:50 PM · Report this
Alot of bullshit in that last paragraph. There is nothing miraculous about finding someone to wed or in sharing your life with someone. In fact, it happens to most people. The truth is we are wired to be social and share our lives, and there are a lot more compatible people available to do this with than society would have you believe. No magic or miracles or divine intervention involved. The whole idea of 'the one' is a ridiculous lie.
Posted by sanotehu on January 20, 2014 at 9:07 AM · Report this
@3 is correct. The largest decline in 10-year divorce rates (48% to 40% to 29%) occurs when the wife's age at marriage passes 19 then 20 years. There's a smaller decline (29% to 25%) when she passes age 25.…

What I'm finding based on the literature and data is that how you phrase the question matters a lot, and it is difficult to compare 10-year outcomes for women born 20 or 30 years apart without running into the problem of, basically, confounding influences of women's lib over time.

Posted by wxPDX on January 20, 2014 at 11:39 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 21
@14.. and water.. drink water. if not before the ceremony because, pee, then after. my best man's job was to make sure i ate something and drank water, because i knew i would have forgotten. i was amazed at how drunk i didn't get.
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on January 22, 2014 at 8:42 AM · Report this

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