Pious Petunia Braves the Wedding Season

Jun 27, 2014

Today, guest blogger and advice columnist Pious Petunia offers hard-earned wisdom for brides, grooms, friends, and other victims of the summer wedding frenzy.

Dear Miss Petunia: My girlfriend and I have talked about getting married, and I’m ready to propose to her. But I don’t know how to do it! Her friend’s husband proposed by organizing a flash mob which performed a dance number to her favorite song, and then he parachuted in with the ring attached to the collar of an adorable Pomeranian puppy. How am I supposed to compete with that?

PP: Oh dear. I don’t think you can compete with that, nor should you. As much as Miss P enjoys spectacular dance numbers and Pomeranians, she also believes that a marriage proposal is a private moment. It is not a performance you stage for YouTube viewers. All due credit to those proposers who wish to move beyond the old stand-by plan of a restaurant dinner with the ring presented before dessert—but honestly. There’s no need for a marching band.

“Surprise” is simply not a wise policy when it comes to proposals. After all, you want freely given, full-hearted assent. You do not want a flustered “yes” delivered under compulsion because forty relatives and friends are waiting, perhaps panting for breath after their exertions, or because twenty thousand baseball fans are roaring for the ritual smooch on the jumbotron screen.

You have already taken the essential step of discussing marriage seriously with your beloved before making any official, ring-enhanced overtures. Good for you. Now go ahead and give your magic moment a little thought and planning, and do something meaningful to you both. But for goodness’ sake, allow you and your beloved the dignity of rejoicing in this moment privately. If by some chance she has a few lingering worries or doubts, you can discuss them quietly and—one hopes—lay them gently to rest before dealing with excitable friends and relatives.

Once you are both aglow with happiness, if you want to announce the good news to your friends with a musical-fountain/tap-dance number, well then, knock yourselves out.

Dear Miss Petunia: As a pastor, I do about a dozen weddings per year. You would not believe what even good, church-going people ask for at their wedding ceremonies. How can I find a way to tell them no without driving them away from the church?

PP: Oh, Miss P has been around the block a time or two. I doubt you could shock me with the kinds of requests you receive from families suffering from wedding-induced delusions.

For instance, here are some violations I’ve witnessed at Christian weddings merely in the category of “meditations gone very wrong”:

  • A meditation based on a poem by Khalil Gibran rather than the Scriptures. Gibran is all very well, but ought to be confined to the reception or the rehearsal dinner. If the couple wants something hip for a wedding text, use Song of Songs and allegorize like mad.
  • A five-minute meditation consisting of cute jokes and cliché advice, evidently kept short in order to save room in the twenty-minute “service” for cousin Tiffany to warble Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” with recorded accompaniment.
  • A sermon on the virtues of abstinence, delivered by the bride’s pastor-father, making pointed reference to the sexual experience (i.e., lack thereof) of the bridal couple. More than we need to know, even if, as was suggested, there are teenagers among the guests who need to be “inspired.”

The point is, people have wacky ideas about weddings, and this can easily lead to pastoral malpractice. I do sympathize with your delicate role in this situation. Even faithful families can sometimes regard the pastor as a sort of character actor, hired to play a role according to their script. But please remember that you are the professional here and they are not. It’s your job to safeguard the guests—captive and helpless—against the idiosyncrasies of the dazzled couple and their frazzled families.

So draw your line in the sand. If the family gets huffy and threatens to leave the church, calmly remind them of the $1200 fee charged to nonmembers for use of the church facility. Tell them you take VISA.

Dear Miss Petunia: My daughter is getting married and, frankly, my wife and I are worried about the expense. I’ve been hearing about “potluck weddings.” Is this too tacky, or could I suggest it?

PP: Charming of you to imagine that the father of the bride would be allowed to suggest anything, but we’ll let that pass for now. Since potlucks are practically a sacrament in some churches, I wouldn’t rule it out. For a small, modest wedding in the right community, it could be great fun and charmingly old-fashioned. Remember the days when wedding receptions meant punch and cake in the church basement served by a bevy of skilled church ladies? One can be allowed some nostalgia for those days, especially if one is in charge of underwriting a modern wedding.

I suppose the potluck reception could be considered a way of honoring simpler times, a countercultural, hipster-oriented salvo against the consumerist extremes and class aspirations of some weddings. On the other hand, one must examine one’s motivations: are you just being cheap?

The rule, as always, is what would be most gracious to your guests, and this all depends on the customs of your tribe. If your family is full of eager cooks who live nearby and would rather whip up a lasagna than mail-order from a gift registry, then perhaps this is a way to go. If your guests are flying in from out of town, can’t tell a casserole from a jello salad, and expect a choice of filet mignon or salmon, then perhaps you are engaged in wishful thinking.

Dear Miss Petunia: I have been a bridesmaid for several friends now, and in every case it was an awful experience for me. My dear friends turned into petulant, bossy, unreasonably demanding divas. I put up with it because I love them, but now I’m getting married and I’m worried. How can I avoid becoming a bridezilla?

PP: Well, my dear, congratulations on your upcoming nuptials as well as on your quest for preventive medicine.

Bridal narcissism is a common malady, highly contagious. The wedding industry tells brides that this is the one day in their lives when they can spend obscene fortunes, get their way on every point, and dress like a princess. This is what six-year-old girls generally long for, so no wonder some women revert to pouting and tantrums in the run-up to the wedding: they are finally indulging impulses they have been forced to repress in the name of civilization since early elementary school.

Unfortunately, the only antidote to this is a metaphorical slap in the face and a stern word: It’s NOT all about you, honey. Sorry, but no.

A wedding is the uniting of two people (remember the beloved?) and—this is the tougher part—two families. Meanwhile, the guests are present not as extras on the set of the extravaganza you’re directing, nor as judges for your entry in the wedding competition sweepstakes, nor as the suppliers of home goods in exchange for a meal. They are guests; you are the hosts. If you want to get theological about it, they are there to represent the body of Christ that enfolds your marriage, and—I speak from experience here—you need them. So think of their needs and treat them graciously.

Thus, my primary word of advice is this: Remember that this may be your Very Special Day, but for all but your innermost circle, it’s kind of a nuisance. Your guests have to clear their calendar, arrange travel, figure out what to wear, get you a gift, and spend hours acting polite and charming. In short, they are doing you a big favor by going along with your Very Special Day. They sincerely want to wish you well, but at the same time, they would like to be home mowing their lawn or watching the game. Instead they are patiently waiting for their chicken breast, hoping to manage a quick, personal word with you and enjoy some decent cake before 10 p.m.

By the way, Miss P’s hair stylist assures her that mothers-of-the-bride are far worse than brides, for reasons that might be pondered philosophically from shampoo to blow-dry.

Here are a few ideas for avoiding the currently most prevalent bridezilla symptoms:

  • Avoid Pinterest obsession. Miss P has heard about young women who have been pinning wedding ideas to Pinterest for years, long before there was any POI (person of interest) in their lives who might serve as an excuse to wear a white, beaded dress. These young women have accumulated hundreds of clever ideas for everything from table centerpieces to bridal headpieces, all of them crafty and labor intensive. When the day finally comes to plan an actual wedding, no one else’s stake in the occasion matters, because who can compete with the bride’s years of research and expertise with tulle?
  • Avoid labor-intensive crafts. It seems that brides experience an excess of nervous energy in the weeks before the big day, resulting in hare-brained ideas that require hundreds of hours of intricate labor (See Pinterest, above). When the bride inevitably collapses in nervous exhaustion three days before the wedding, this leaves various set-upon family members and attendants to finish the project at hand: hand-tied bows on wedding programs, table favors of tiny jars of jam made from hand-picked strawberries, hundreds of foil stars dangling from the dance floor ceiling, etc. No one cares about these things. They are neurotic coping mechanisms. Just let them go.
  • Avoid guest “down time.” Please do not leave your guests stranded for hours between ceremony and reception while you take pictures on a quaint bridge across town. Do not give them a “things to do” sheet with map, send them back to their hotel, or—worst of all—send them to the reception hall with an open bar and no appetizers. Arrange the day so that your guests can move briskly from ceremony to reception, feed them a nice meal with due promptness, and then send them back home to mow their lawns or watch the game. If you and the wedding party and some close friends want to party all day and night, by all means go ahead, but do so after giving Aunt June and cousin Phil the opportunity for a graceful exit.

Finally: Say no to as many ridiculous frills and overly eager wedding-related vendors as you can bear. Simple can be beautiful, and a joyful spirit is far more important than coordinated table accents. However, if you hire live musicians—and of course you should—pay them well and thank them heartily.

I have published books on motherhood, Christian spirituality, and language in worship. I write regularly about all sorts of topics for The Twelve, and I teach literature and writing at Calvin College, where I have served on the faculty since 1996.

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