Erin’s Engagement: Circles of Support

Erin finds a wedding-planning support system on- and offline.

In the vast galaxy of cyberspace, there’s a tiny, very chatty planet called Heralded as “the Internet’s most-trafficked one-stop wedding-planning solution,” it was the first wedding Web site I browsed when I got engaged. Initially, I visited it to get a sense of the reception venues available in Washington. From there, I stumbled on the Knot message boards and was quickly sucked into a world that teeters precariously between helpful forum and venue for high drama.

Erin and her friends show off their rings.

The purpose of the message boards is to communicate with other brides-to-be about everything from budgets to bridesmaid dresses. If you want an opinion, though, be prepared. These women don’t hold back. Most of them offer great suggestions. For example, I found my photographer, deejay, and invitation vendor through the recommendations of “knotties.” Some women, however, treat the knot as Mean Girls Part Two and will sharpen their claws on an unsuspecting bride who asks whether it’s okay to invite someone to your shower but not your wedding (a huge no-no!). The Knot even has its own language. Your fiancé is simply FI, your maid of honor is MOH, and if you’re posting about something not wedding-related, you’d better preface it by saying it’s NWR.

My favorite knotties are a group of women that I actually know IRL (in real life). Shortly after my engagement, my good friend Christine looped me in with four other friends who were also planning weddings in 2009. I don’t remember exactly how it began, but soon we were e-mailing one another multiple times a day, asking for advice and opinions on all things wedding-related. As the last to be engaged and the last to get married, I’ve had the benefit of picking up the best of their planning ideas. Among my favorites:

• Sara’s husband loves a good cigar, so she surprised him by hiring someone to hand-roll cigars at their reception. She also had a groom’s cake designed in the shape of a humidor (it sounds expensive, but it cost her only $60 and it was incredibly realistic).

• Christine K. and her husband decided to make a donation to their favorite charity, a DC shelter for women and children called House of Ruth, instead of spending the money on wedding favors. Christine has volunteered with the organization, and her husband first asked her out at a fundraiser for the charity, so the donation was both generous and meaningful to them as a couple.

• Christine B. had beautiful necklaces made for her bridesmaids through a vendor on Working with the jewelry designer, Christine chose pearls strung on a pink ribbon that matched the bridesmaid dresses. They’re unique but also simple enough to wear every day.

• Maggie had a candy buffet at her reception. Her wedding colors were red, gold, and white, so the candy buffet consisted of red and white Jelly Bellies, red gummy hearts, sour lips, and red licorice. She had the candy displayed in clear bowls, and guests could scoop their treats into little red bags monogrammed with the couple’s initials. It was elegant and sweet.

• Lauren and her husband are big fans of teen dramas (think 90210, The OC, and Dawson’s Creek), so instead of having table numbers at their reception, they named their tables after their favorite characters. I was seated at Brenda Walsh, which I tried not to take personally. They also had a signature cocktail named after One Tree Hill’s spiky-haired heartthrob: the Chad Michael Murray.

In addition to providing me with inspiration, my fellow brides have taught me the power of negotiation. I’ve always shied away from situations in which I appear pushy or demanding. Their philosophy, though, is to ask for what you want or to propose a reasonable substitution, and you just might get it. For example, Christine B.’s reception package included dessert with dinner. She had already ordered a cake, though, so she asked her venue if an extra hour of open bar could be substituted for the dessert course. Voilà! She got it!

The hotel where Sara’s guests were staying wanted to charge her $3 to deliver a welcome bag to each room. Sara pointed out the amount of revenue her wedding was bringing to the hotel and asked if the fee could be waived if her guests booked at least 20 rooms at the hotel. The hotel agreed. These examples have strengthened my backbone and encouraged me to speak up when dealing with vendors. The worst they can say is no.

Of course, it’s possible to plan a wedding without the help and support of friends. I will say, though, as sweet as my fiancé is, it’s tough to get him worked up about floral arrangements. My advice to any newly engaged woman is to find a community of women who are going through the same process, whether it’s an online message board, a group of friends, or even acquaintances from your office or gym. You could do it all yourself, but let’s be honest: Would you ever conceive of a cocktail named the Chad Michael Murray? That’s bridal brilliance.

Dedicated to Christine Kohlmeyer Huber, who’s always in my thoughts and prayers.