Matrimonial Madness

Weddings evoke emotions — the good, the bad, and they ugly.

By: Leslie Milk

This article is from the 2009 edition of Bride & Groom. For more wedding content, head here

Weddings can bring out the worst in the people you love.

You invite friends and family to share your joy, convinced that they will absorb the atmosphere of love, rise to the occasion, remember that it is your day, or, at the very least, not stand in the way of your perfect wedding. But it doesn’t always work that way.

My own wedding was a prime example. That morning, my mother spoke to me only long enough to ask for help applying her false eyelashes. Then she went off in a huff, convinced I had joined the enemy camp because I had agreed to some to the groom’s family’s “outrageous demands,” even though they hadn’t contributed a dime to the festivities.

I had pictured a dignified affair. I forgot that I had to invite my own relatives, not those genteel folks from central casting.

As the procession began, my great aunt Molly, who had never met the groom and was hard of hearing, could be heard asking, “Is it the fat one or the skinny one?”

My husband’s cousin Shirley could not attend but sent her son instead. He brought a date—we had to squeeze an extra chair at the table for the unexpected guest at a seated luncheon.

My cousin Joan, still smarting over the demise of her brief marriage undertaken in a futile attempt to make her real boyfriend jealous, wore a dress with a neckline so low that several waiters nearly set themselves on fire with the Cherries Jubilee when they caught sight of her glorious bosom.

I have been married for 40 years. But three years ago, when I wrote about my wedding in my book, “It’s Her Wedding But I’ll Cry If I Want To: A Survival Guide for the Mother of the Bride,” I got an email from my great aunt Molly’s granddaughter. She protested my callous treatment of aunt Molly and added that Molly was deeply hurt by the fact that all of her children had not been invited to my wedding.

Talk about holding a grudge!

That wasn’t the only incident at my wedding that has echoed down the years. During the reception, my college roommate reconnected with her old college boyfriend. It would have been a perfectly harmless reunion except that he happened to be engaged to one of my high school friends at the time. I was the one who introduced the newly-engaged couple.

The old flame fizzled faster than the Cherries Jubilee, but my high school friend blamed it all on me and never spoke to me again.

The engaged couple did get married and lived reasonably happily ever after. I know this because the old college sweethearts do keep in touch—from time to time. Guests aren’t the only ones who can hold a grudge.

Weddings evoke emotions—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Along with the happy memories come some guests’ recollections of their own wedding days—and bruised feelings, dashed hopes, and bitter break-ups of marriages which began with all of the optimism you feel today.

Weddings bring out the worst in mothers who feel they were cheated out of the spotlight at their own weddings and want to make up for it or who are still so enamored of their nuptials that they want to recreate them.

I wrote the book when my daughter got engaged because I was determined not to become a Momzilla. I recently heard about a groom’s mother who insisted on wearing a bright red strapless gown—the bride’s color scheme was black and white. When the wedding planner told the mother that she would stand out in all the wedding pictures and suggested that she see if the gown came in a subtler color, mama made it clear that she wanted to be the center of attention. She is all over the wedding video, introducing herself to all of the guests and announcing that she “feels like a bride.”

The bride in this case was remarkably tolerant or remarkably confident. She realized that the groom’s mother was out of control, but she refused to let it spoil her wedding. And, truth be told, middle-aged mama was no competition for the beautiful young bride in a gorgeous gown.

Then there are the mothers of brides who cannot accept that times have changed. One bride I met had to shop alone for her wedding dress because her mother refused to believe that her daughter could be married in church in a strapless gown. The minister had no problem with bare shoulders, but the mother of the bride insisted on adhering to her own sense of propriety.

Mothers aren’t the only misbehaviors. Etiquette expert Letitia Baldridge wrote about a father of the bride who slugged the mother of the bride’s current husband during his daughter’s reception. Quantities of champagne soothed all parties, apologies were offered and accepted, and the reception went on without further incident.

Wedding guests can also be surprisingly unreasonable. One couple made it clear that their wedding was for adults only. That didn’t stop one guest from bringing her children and then complaining that there wasn’t any kid-friendly food on the menu.

What can a bride and groom do to prevent maternal meltdowns and other familial disasters?

Separate the exes and the enemies

If you are lucky, sparring former spouses and cousins who don’t speak to each other will bury the hatchet—or at least not wield it—on your wedding day. But why take chances? Make sure there’s at least an aisle between them at the ceremony and that they are seated far apart at the reception.

Alert the wedding team in advance

Ask the wedding planner to “consult” your over-involved mother or mother-in-law any time you need a moment alone. Recruit the maid-of-honor to “review” the best man’s wedding toast so that he doesn’t say anything that will mortify the bride. If Aunt Sally is an enthusiastic imbiber, point her out to the bartender so that he can water down her drinks.

Blame the wedding planner

Uncle Alfred wants to sing with the band. Cousin Susie wants the DJ to play the chicken dance. These are not your problems—that bossy wedding planner just won’t allow you to comply with every outrageous request.

Let Them Eat Bread Sticks

Invariably one guest will announce that he or she is on a new diet and ask for a special menu. Most caterers are prepared with a vegetarian option. There is also enough food so diners who have to pick and choose will not starve. So let them eat bread sticks—unless of course, they are gluten intolerant.

Minor Mishaps Make Memories

My cousin Joanie’s magnificent décolletage is immortalized in my wedding album. Since nobody was actually injured by the Cherries Jubilee, Joanie and her almost-dress have become a funny wedding memory.