Surviving wedding season: Sanity-saving strategies for brides, grooms, attendants and guests.

It’s upon us, once again. You can hear it in the sound of the harp strings, the camera clicks, the echo of Corinthians — “Love is patient, love is kind.” You can hear it in the muffled screams of frenzied bridesmaids who are thisclose to giving their beloved “friend” a black eye for her big day.

Wedding season. It rolls in each year like a taffeta-­wrapped bouquet of stress, resentment and anxiety. And love, too. Let’s not forget the love.
So as the tuxes are donned and the glasses are raised, we’d like to give you a gift of our own. Consider this your wedding survival guide, meant to get you through the next few months with your bank account, friendships and sanity intact. You’ll find pearls of wisdom for engaged couples, wedding guests, attendants, and singles who have found that all their friends are suddenly — smugly — married.

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See advice for:
Couples     Locations     Guests     Gifts     Grooms     Bridesmaids     Single Guests    

Couples: What they would do differently

Let’s start with you, dear bride and groom. We know you are frantically checking off your to-do lists, making sure no detail is overlooked. The linens must be perfect, and the flower girls’ hairstyles must match. And in the end, of course, none of that will matter. What will matter is whether you are happy. If you are, your joy will pervade every other aspect of the day.

To get some perspective on the issue, we asked couples previously featured in The Post’s wedding stories what they would do differently if they had a do-over on their wedding day.

Here’s what they said:

A picture is worth a thousand words

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Carmela Clendening and John Fernandez (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

Looking back, Jennifer and John Meeks, who were married in December 2011, wish they had been more specific with their photographer. Jennifer says she would have given more detailed instructions on what shots were important to capture — “e.g., traditional portrait sizes of me, bridal party, families, etc.” And while their wedding had to end at 11 p.m. because of noise restrictions, she wishes it could have gone on longer. “Try to add on an hour to your reception if you can,” she says. “You will be happy you did.”

Don’t forget to eat!

When Monique and Chris Samuels tied the knot at the Ronald Reagan Building in March 2012, they left their reception hungry. “Everyone began coming up for pictures and to chat, so we never were able to finish our meal,” she says. After the wedding, they drove around at 4 a.m. looking for a bite to eat. Monique suggests having the caterer “make a doggie bag for the bride and groom so they can eat after the festivities.”

Plan on a planner

Annie Lumerman and Marc Grinberg, who also married in March 2012, wish they would have hired an event planner, at least for the final weeks leading up to the wedding. “Things would have felt less stressed as we got closer to the wedding had there been someone to help us manage all of the details,” she says. “We did a lot of worrying before we walked down the aisle, and it wasn’t about whether or not we should get married. We were worried about the timeline, organizing the bridal party, transportation to and from the rehearsal dinner.”

Take time to breathe

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Nancy Nicolaides and Scott Knight (Evy Mages/For the Washington Post)

Carmela Clendening, who married John Fernandez last May, suggests couples plan time between the ceremony and reception to just be together and enjoy the moment. “You are finally married, and the party is about to get started,” she says. “John and I worked hard to make our wedding vision become a reality — we didn’t want to miss any details — so we squeezed 30 minutes for our own photographs to see how everything came together, and they turned out to be the photos that we loved the most.”

Leave the phones at home

Deborah Ayala Srabstein and Ari Houser married in Baltimore in April 2012. The couple wishes they had asked guests to keep their cellphones tucked out of sight for the day. “We had two great photographers there, but many of our guests also were taking lots of pictures on their phones, and in retrospect, we would have preferred for the phones to be put away,” Deborah says. “One cousin was clearly texting through the toasts and was in our direct line of sight, and it was distracting.” Additionally, the couple wishes they had been more specific in their contract with their transportation company. They were promised an “eco-friendly hybrid vehicle,” but guests were instead transported in “what looked like a kidnapper van from the ’80s.” (Getting as much detail as possible in contracts is recommended for everything from photographers to florists).

What did you say?

Ralph Brabham and Drew Porterfield have few regrets about their October 2011 wedding at Long View Gallery in the District. But they do wish they had gotten a microphone for the outdoor ceremony. “I think some of the guests in the back had a tough time hearing us when we were giving our vows,” Ralph says.

Don’t forget the honeymoon!

Nancy and Scott Knight were married in January 2012, and Nancy wishes they’d gone away right after the wedding. “Remember that work can wait,” she says. “I should have taken a honeymoon, but I convinced myself that it was a bad time and I needed to get back to work immediately. Trust me, no job is that important.” Besides, you’ve probably never needed a vacation more than after the stress of planning — and surviving — your wedding day.

 

Fun and historic wedding venues

If you’re still looking for the perfect place to get married and don’t like the idea of a hotel ballroom, the Washington area has plenty of great alternatives. Here are some of the most interesting local wedding venues to consider and what they’ll set you back. Rental fees vary depending on when you get married and number of guests.

Nationals Park: Exchange vows overlooking home plate and have your personal slide show play on the Jumbotron. Your guests will love taking photos in the dugout, and you can offer an elegant reception in one of the stadium’s dining rooms. (Prices vary).

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Jake Kohlman and Melissa Oliver are married at Nationals Park. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

National Aquarium: Who wouldn’t love cocktail hour with a few friendly sea turtles and sharks? The National Aquarium’s locations in Baltimore and the District are available for private events, and exhibits are open to guests during the festivities. (Baltimore location: $1,500-$7,000; Washington location: $4,000). Torpedo Factory: It’s always a bonus when guests have something to do during cocktail hour. At the Torpedo Factory in Old Town, Alexandria, they can peer into the windows of artists’ studios and galleries that are housed in the factory complex. ($3,200-$8,000). Arena Stage: The theater company’s new Southwest digs are architecturally jaw-dropping and work beautifully for weddings. Get married on stage, and have cocktail hour on the terrace overlooking the Anacostia River. Of course, you’ll have to book around the company’s  production schedule.  ($5,000-$10,000)

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President Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage in NW DC. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post).

President Lincoln’s Cottage: If you want to give your guests an unparalleled taste of historic Washington, check out Lincoln’s Cottage, where the Civil War president spent several summers. Your wedding could take place in the house, the visitor’s center or on the lush grounds. Guests will be impressed when they see the chair “Reserved for President Lincoln.” ($500-$15,000). American Visionary Art MuseumYour guests will automatically be in a good mood when they see the giant pink poodle and colorful hot air balloon adding ambiance to your wedding space in Baltimore. Visual curiosities are around every corner. And the brick-walled loft space is perfect for dancing late into the night. ($2,000-$7,000).

Making wedding guests feel welcome is all in the details 

When you get married, you’re not just king and queen for the day, you’re also playing host and hostess — often to people who’ve traveled many miles at great expense to attend your nuptials.

With that in mind, we surveyed wedding planners around town to get their tips on the best ways to make guests feel welcome and taken care of on the big day.

  •  “Don’t underestimate the impact of a special amenity offered to guests as they check in to their hotel,” says Allison Jackson of Pineapple Productions. “It doesn’t have to be an elaborate, expensive bag of gifts. Pick one special treat for people to enjoy — homemade scones for the morning, a sack of salted pistachios for a late-night snack, a stack of decadent cookies for an afternoon pick-me-up.” She also advises couples to “ask those who are offering toasts at your wedding to keep their remarks brief and to avoid inside jokes, political statements and esoteric intellectual musings. No one likes to feel like an outsider at a wedding.”

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    (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

  •  “For outside weddings during warm weather, provide bug-repellent wipes and even sunscreen wipes in bowls at the bar,” says Laura Weatherly of Engaging Affairs. “If it is buggy or bright, your guests will thank you.”
  • Planner Amanda Swenson recommends “flip-flops for tired dancing feet,” and amenity baskets in bathrooms with “hairspray, clear polish for hose, spray deodorant, gum, breath mints, combs, nail file, bobby pins, safety pins, mini disposable toothbrushes and toothpicks.” She also suggests having babysitters at receptions where there will be children and offering guests a late-night snack as the party winds down
  •  Andre Wells of Events by Andre Wells suggests providing transportation to all wedding-related activities. He also advises couples not to schedule weddings over holiday weekends when travel is more expensive and people often have already made plans.

 

 

Wedding gift ideas for giving or receiving

By Becky Krystal

Wedding registries can be awkward for everyone involved. What should couples put on them? What should guests buy if they want to go — gasp! — off-registry? And what if there is no registry?

We consulted a few local experts for suggestions of gift ideas worthy of giving and receiving.

Christine Myskowski of Salt & Pepper Books in Occoquan recommends:

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(Deb Lindsey/For the Washington Post)

The Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition,” by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker ($35.99)

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(Deb Lindsey/For the Washington Post)

Judy Newman, assistant buyer for housewares at Strosniders in Bethesda, Potomac and Silver Spring, recommends:

A four-, five- or six-quart saute pan with straight sides and a lid, such as All-Clad ($149.99-$295)

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(Courtesy of Four Roses Distillery)

Derek Brown, the bartender behind such hotspots as the Passenger and Columbia Room, recommends:

Four Rose Distillery’s 2013 limited-edition single-barrel bourbon (suggested retail $89.99-$99.99; inquire with your local liquor store) and a vintage decanter from the Hour in Alexandria (prices vary).

 

Grooms: Wedding planning shouldn’t be a his-or-hers job. You’re in it together.

By David Malitz

Shortly after getting engaged, once all the congratulatory e-mails, phone calls and Facebook “likes” had been collected, my life became one gigantic spreadsheet. This was how my fiance, Melissa, and I decided to attack wedding planning — columns, rows, sorting, data. Order instead of chaos. We broke it down into multiple layers. Each element we parsed the list of possible invitees as if we were general managers preparing for the NBA draft. (Okay, maybe she’d use a different metaphor.) But there was one column header we did not add — “Melissa or David.”

(Mark Gail/The Washington Post

(Mark Gail/The Washington Post

Meaning: We didn’t split duties. There was no, “I’ll take care of the music and photography, you take care of the flowers and invitations.” I remember on an early episode of “The Office” — back when the show was still great and I was a long, long way from thinking I would ever be engaged — it was revealed that the characters of Pam and Roy split their wedding-planning tasks. When Roy asked Kevin whether his band, Scrantonicity, would play at the wedding, Kevin asked Roy if he had Pam’s approval to make this decision. Roy’s response: “Whatever. I’m in charge of the music.”

And how did that marriage turn out? It never happened! In fact, Pam was making out with Jim later that very episode! This is not to say that I’m taking all of my wedding-planning advice from a single, seven-year-old sitcom. But the lesson is strong. Why would we approach the day on which we will be joined together until death do us part by going our separate ways? Shouldn’t we be working on building a foundation? I truly have no strong feelings about wedding flowers.

For all I care, we could get them from the guy who sells bouquets for $7 outside the McPherson Square Metro. But that doesn’t mean I want to completely take myself out of the process. And then there’s the fact that for either of us, taking ourselves out of the decision-making process would be wishful thinking. It’s a reasonable expectation that a bride will want to know every detail of her wedding day. (And that’s acceptable behavior without being termed a Bridezilla.)

A decision can be handed off in theory, but will it really be handed off in practice? I can say I’ll handle, say, the booze to purchase, but I bet I’d still get some helpful “consulting.” And what’s wrong with that? Isn’t a couple being equally invested in the wedding just modeling good behavior for what really matters — the marriage? That’s where we are, and with three months to go, things seem to be going smoothly.And that’s why we won’t end up like Pam and Roy — with a regional Police cover band set to play at a wedding that never happens.

 

For destination bachelorette parties, ‘no’ can be liberating

By Cara Kelly 

It wasn’t until we made our way through customs that I came to terms with how excessive the past four days had been. “That is an EXPENSIVE bachelorette party,” I heard a glaring woman whisper to her husband as my girlfriends and I snaked through the disembarcation line. The truth of the comment took hold once my initial indignation subsided. A cruise was an expensive bachelorette party.

I found myself asking: Had I grown complacent with the idea that celebrating the end of my friends’ single lives would cost me a small fortune? Or had I unknowingly become part of a trend toward extravagance in pre-wedding rituals?

“There’s been a gradual increase in the last five years of brides looking to travel on bachelorette parties,” says Pamela Yager, a stand-up comic-turned bachelorette party planner and consultant. Gone are the days of a cocktail after the wedding shower. Yager, founder of Bride’s Night Out, says about 60 percent of her clients are looking to travel.

Las Vegas continues to be the top destination — one reason why Yager is in the midst of a permanent move to the gambling mecca — though cheap drinks and abundant clubs are no longer the sole appeal. Luxury packages and spa treatments are becoming popular options for women looking to be pampered ahead of their nuptials. The Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas has seen more interest for its renowned spa, and frequently hosts brides from Southern California, Arizona and the East Coast. 

The Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah, has similarly seen an increase, recently renting the entirety of its relaxation and treatment rooms to one group of 30 women, complete with champagne bars and refreshments. After their day of relaxation, the women took a limousine to downtown Park City to enjoy the night life.

While the thought of spending a weekend of indulgence with close friends is appealing, the price tag can be shocking. The cost for the Waldorf Astoria weekend? A cool $20,000. At the Mandarin, the spa and pool activities average $300 for each woman. And those numbers don’t include travel, notes Brides magazine travel editor Jacqueline Gifford. “Even if your heart is in the right place and you want to go to every wedding and every event, it can be unrealistic,” Gifford says.

Turning down a party invitation is notoriously risky business, however. “It does get really tricky,” Gifford says. “There’s a lot of politics and maneuvering.” The best policy for over-extended friends and bridesmaids is honesty, says Anja Winikka, site editor of the Knot. “As soon as you’ve made your decision, make that very clear to not just the bridal party, but the bride herself. Reach out; explain the situation.”

If you can’t attend, think about scheduling a time to celebrate alone with the bride, or send a small memento or bottle of wine along with the women attending, Winikka suggests. But when a well-intentioned girls’ weekend turns into a stressful burden, the power of “no” can be liberating. So when the latest save-the-date landed in my inbox a few weeks ago, I quickly hit reply. “I’m sorry, but I will be unable to attend. Can’t wait to see you at the wedding.”

With My Friends are Married Tumblr, a single girl’s lament goes viral

By Jessica Goldstein

Samantha Stach had a friend conundrum. The 25-year-old Charlotte, N.C., native left her hometown for a stint in the District and, upon her return to the South last spring, found that every last one of her high school friends was married. They stayed home on the couch, snuggling in Snuggies instead of hitting the bars and, the moment they finished exchanging vows, developed amnesia about what it was like to be single.
In an effort to find the funny in a frustrating situation, Stach took her angst to the Internet. Keeping in the model of the trend-setting Tumblr What Should We Call Me, Stach started My Friends are Married, which pairs one-liners about her coupled-up friends with .gifs from television shows and movies. Her inaugural post on Aug. 16, 2012: “When your friends say you’ll find someone when you least expect it” with a .gif of Clint Eastwood, looking up slowly with that murderous rage in his eyes. “People say that to me at least once a month,” Stach said. “And this is the worst thing married people say to single people.”

The site now gets 1.5 million views a month. Stach, a Duke University grad, just moved back to Washington, where she’ll work as an analyst and continue to blog about the life and times of Couple People.

What’s the MFAM origin story?

I’m single. One of my friends came to Raleigh, and we were going to go to this quiet bar, and she looks at me and says, “I hope it’s not too loud and crowded.” And I was like, I am in such a different place in my life than all these other girls. There have to be other people who feel the same way I do.

How do you put the posts together? Quotes first or pictures first?

Finding the pictures sometimes is the biggest battle. Sometimes I’ll work in reverse; I’ll know what emotion I’m thinking and Google for that.

Who provides the best .gif material?

I love using Emma Stone, because her faces are just the best. . . . I’ve definitely used a few “Pretty Little Liars” and a few “Downton Abbey,” which people really like. A lot of times, it’s female actresses. Jennifer Lawrence, of course. I could use one of her every day and never get bored. My most popular has definitely been “When my friends say men are intimidated by me” with a .gif of Beyoncé.

How have your married friends reacted to the blog?

My opinion is that, if you’re offended by [the blog], it’s probably because it’s a little bit of the truth. . . . I have a [married] friend who was sort of annoyed about it; she kind of used it as a way to give me a lecture about “putting myself out there more.” And then I just blogged about it.

What are your biggest wedding pet peeves?

I hate the bouquet toss so much. Another thing that drives me absolutely insane [is that] I’m always invited [without] a plus-one, and I wind up at a table with the husband and all his male co-workers. It’s like the worst thing ever. You are clearly trying to set me up with one of these guys. Just give me a plus-one, and we wouldn’t have to deal with this!

If you could give one piece of wedding advice from a single guest to a couple-to-be, what would you say?

Open bars are always much appreciated.

Advice from Carolyn Hax:

Bridesmaids dilemas

Wedding traditions

Showers and pre-wedding duties

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12 tips for singles at weddings

Wedding budgets