Modern Ceremonies: Judith & Jacobina Martin, 'Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding'

April 29, 2010


IT’S BEEN MORE than a decade since Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, wrote her first book on wedding etiquette. Now, with help from her daughter, comedian (and newlywed) Jacobina, she offers an update with “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding” ($25, Norton), tackling modern subjects such as e-mail, dress codes and greedy gift registries.

» EXPRESS: What about today’s nuptials did you feel you needed to address?
» JUDITH: Since my last book was written on weddings, people have come up with all sorts of new, clever schemes for practicing extortion on guests. And then my daughter became engaged herself, started reading “bridal porn” and offered up some new insights, which made me realize I needed her help.

» EXPRESS: What exactly is “bridal porn”?
» JACOBINA: Pretty much all the $10, 10-pound magazines available. I ran out and got them all, but I started noticing that a lot of the advice was geared toward the bridal industry and how to get the most out of your guest. I’d compare it to the baby industry, where you’re told, “If you were a good parent, you’d buy this.” You feel guilty if you resist.

» EXPRESS: How do they steer you wrong?
» JUDITH: The bridal industry suggests that you almost forcibly make everything about your own desires, and that nothing should be for the comfort of your guests. The destination wedding is all about that. The place is more important than the people! And should you want to go, you have to spend huge amounts of money and time to get there.
» JACOBINA: And this notion that you have to outdo everyone else. It might be fun for your guests to see you come in on a helicopter or an elephant, but after a day, they’ll stop talking about it and you’ll probably be in terrible debt.

» EXPRESS: What other aspects of modern weddings incite you?
» JUDITH: Gift registries. The notion is that if you get married — and by extension, if you graduate or have a baby — you can make other people furnish your life. They have totally destroyed the whole idea of giving presents, which is, “I thought about you, and I tried to find something that would please you.” Franchising your shopping has no place in polite society.

» EXPRESS: Sounds like you find wedding registries completely distasteful.
» JUDITH: Couples who think, “Here’s our chance to get everything we ever dreamed of” don’t realize that they have taken all the emotion and sentiment out of it. I’ve been married for 50 years, and, to this day, when I look around my house, I know who gave me what. There’s an emotional content that’s at the heart of exchanging presents. You just don’t pay people to get married.

» EXPRESS: It seems like many of these mags champion that you should aim to have the “wedding of the year.”
» JACOBINA: It’s the children’s birthday party mentality, where it has to outshine all the others you’ve ever been to. And you don’t.
» JUDITH: And they invoke the noble name of etiquette, saying etiquette requires all this selfishness and ignoring your guests. And it’s really the opposite.

» EXPRESS: Any other pet peeves?
» JACOBINA: People eliminate their friends from standing up next to them based on gender and even occasionally on looks. This notion that you need to have this matched chorus line [of attendants] — what’s the point of that?

» EXPRESS: So, what are the keys to a dignified wedding?
» JACOBINA: My No. 1 piece of advice is to get rid of the notion that it’s “my day.” If you start with the idea of being inclusive, you immediately eliminate a number of pitfalls.
» JUDITH: And don’t think you’re going to put entertainment into the ceremony itself. Things like jokes, your love story — everyone knows you’re in love, or you wouldn’t be there. You want a simple, dignified service. Nowadays, you have to tell the clergy not to put jokes into the service. The reception can be a little lighthearted, but the ceremony is not a place for jokes.

Photo courtesy Judith and Jacobina Martin

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