Etiquette: Not Guilty

Feeling like a bad bride? Here’s how to stay cool under pressure — and still get the wedding you want.

Your mother-in-law is steaming because she can’t invite her book club. Your college roommate didn’t make the cut for your already-too-large bridal party. And your well-intentioned cousin absolutely insists that you wear her wedding dress—from 1983.

It’s enough to push any normally sane person over the edge. But, unfortunately, as most newly engaged couples quickly learn, pressure and guilt caused by family and friends are unavoidable in the wedding planning process.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a single couple out there who doesn’t have one situation that they feel guilty about,” says Lisa Anderson, co-owner of Two Friends Coordinators, a day-of wedding coordination company based in eastern Massachusetts.

Often, brides and grooms find themselves in the center of a maelstrom of expectations and regrets that causes extreme pressure and anxiety. “Weddings bring out people’s romantic hopes and longings, but they can also bring out sadness and disappointment, and all of this unfortunately lands on the bride’s plate,” says Jassy Timberlake, a Watertown-based marriage and family therapist.

Stress and guilt usually arise in three areas, say brides and wedding planners: the guest list, the bridal party, and—especially—the family.

Life on the B List
Lauren Lamey of Stoneham had been engaged for only two weeks when she started losing sleep over the guest list. Lamey and her fiance both have large families, so cutting the list down was the couple’s first challenge. Much to her disappointment, some important people didn’t make the cut. “I feel bad about leaving off co-workers that I’ve worked with for years,” she says.

One way to include those who don’t make the cut is to plan a post-wedding brunch, says Jennifer O’Malley, co-owner of Trends & Traditions Events in eastern Massachusetts. “Often, the families host a brunch and invite neighbors and friends whom they couldn’t invite to the wedding,” she says. “It’s a great way to extend the celebration.”

If you and your fiance have fallen in love with a reception site that can accommodate only 150 people, and your families are insisting on bulking up the guest list with second cousins, bring them out to the site. Once they see it, they may fall in love with it, too, and be willing to make compromises.

Avoiding “the Train”
Since you could think on your own, you’ve been creating and revising a list of ladies who will accompany you down the aisle. But when it comes time to actually pick and choose attendants, stress rears its ugly head, say planners. “Often, brides get caught up in the moment and immediately start calling their girlfriends and asking them to be bridesmaids. Then they look up and suddenly they have 10 bridesmaids,” says O’Malley.

In reality, brides need to give serious thought about who to include. Consider how close you are to certain friends—don’t feel obligated to ask your childhood best friend whom you now see only occasionally, or the friend who had you in her bridal party three years ago, but whom you don’t keep in touch with now.

One bride that O’Malley worked with had two sorority sisters whom she wanted to include in the bridal party, but couldn’t because it already was too crowded. To let these two friends know they were important guests, O’Malley suggested the bride give them corsages. “Flowers might seem simple, but they set people apart and signal that they’re special in your life,” says O’Malley. Or you can have them do a reading or fulfill some other role.

Family Matters
In planning an event as emotionally charged as a wedding, family issues often arise, putting the bride and the groom in the middle of difficult situations. “Weddings are a powder keg of family discord,” says Timberlake.

When touchy subjects come up, the couple should practice the fine art of compromise and diplomacy. “Whatever issue there might be, you can still have the wedding you want and keep your family happy,” says Tasha Bracken, owner and principal designer/coordinator of the wedding-planning company Simple Details in Newton. Couples need to first decide what is important to them for the ceremony and reception.

The elements that are not dear to their hearts offer an opportunity for compromise.
For instance, if there’s a particular ceremony ritual your mother is passionate about, but you’re ambivalent toward, consider including it for her sake. Then, when your mother demands you hire a wedding band and you had your heart set on a DJ, you can show her where you have compromised, and politely ask her to do the same.

Timberlake tells brides and grooms who have different religious or ethnic backgrounds to ask their families to make a list of three wedding customs that are important to them. Then the couple can choose one custom off each list that they will incorporate into their wedding, ensuring that traditions from both sides are included.

In the End
Once you and your fiance have decided what your priorities are, you can more easily handle the demands of family and friends. While Lamey wrangled over the guest list, wedding consultants told her that she could easily cut the list by not inviting small children. But this was one aspect of the wedding on which Lamey and her fiance would not budge.

“We both have happy childhood memories of being at family weddings,” she says. “It’s really important to us to include the kids in our families.” So, the kids made the cut, while random dates for friends not in serious relationships were out—and Lamey and her groom moved on to the next big decision.

Ultimately, it’s you and your fiance’s wedding day—not your families’ and friends’—and you need to do what will make you both happy. When your happiness hinges on those close to you, balancing everyone’s wishes requires creativity and compromise, talents that will prove useful as you live life as a couple.