Here .Coms the Bride

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006

It was the moment I dreamed of my entire life. From the top of the hill, the sun poked through the clouds, illuminating the glimmering Pacific Ocean and an island in the distance. I wrapped my hand inside my father's arm as he prepared to walk me down a grassy knoll covered with orchid petals to the perch where my groom stood, waiting for me.

A bride worries about a million things on her wedding day. I knew I might mess up my vows or break down sobbing, but I was confident of one thing: My strappy white sandals would not sink into the grass and trip me on my way down the aisle.

Thanks to the power of the Internet and my online community of women, I was able to plan my Hawaii wedding down to the smallest detail -- including how those heels would fare on that grass -- within six months and from nearly 5,000 miles away.

Through social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Friendster, millions of people have found comfort in a community that doesn't exist in their physical world. I had never jumped on the bandwagon because I thought it was odd to talk to a bunch of strangers you'd never meet. But that changed after Michael proposed to me under the cherry blossoms last year. We wanted to get married soon, and we wanted it to happen in Hawaii. The problem was figuring out all the details in between.

I heard about a wedding-planning Web site, http://www.theknot.com/ , from a newly married woman I met at a cocktail party soon after our engagement. She mentioned it like it was a secret club. "You're on 'The Knot,' right?" she said. The Web site's best features, she said, are the online chat rooms where you can consult with other brides-to-be on any topic and in any location. There are groups for women who just want to talk about wedding dresses or honeymoon ideas, or even vent about future in-laws. Those getting married in Washington can compare notes on the best florist and dressmaker in town. Groups of local brides, who call themselves "Knotties," arrange to meet in person over cocktails and gab about wedding plans.

I wanted to gag when I heard this. And then I wanted to go home, log on and see what it was about.

Planning a wedding on the Web is nothing new. But the tools and connections you can find today are far more sophisticated than they used to be. Several wedding-planning Web sites offer online software to keep track of guest lists, budgets and deadlines, and to offer advice on every etiquette question and social situation. In exchange for these tools, the Web sites are savvy about directing their advertisers to you. TheKnot.com, which is a publicly held firm, says it gets 2.1 million unique visitors a month and 3,600 new visitors a day. It is the largest e-commerce retail Web site selling wedding-related items, and it is not shy about this.

One section of the site, called the "wedding shop," sells everything from disposable cameras (in colors to match your wedding) to chocolate candy wedding favors (with your initials) and also offers branded products, such as the Knot's white American Express card and wedding registries with Target Corp. (Not to mention off-line products, such as the Knot's bridal magazine and notebook planners.)

The constant barrage of sales pitches made me queasy. But I made a mental agreement to put up with the advertising so I could get in touch with the Hawaii brides who quickly became my social life.

Most of my online friends live on the West Coast, but some are as far away as Australia or Europe. MrsBabySalute, whose real name is Evonne, lives in Maui and is the mother hen of the group. She and MrsKimandDaniel, a social worker, still dispense advice nearly a year after their nuptials. EditorJax, like me, works at a newspaper, but she lives in Washington state. Animal_lover, a North Carolina veterinarian who got married on Oahu last year, is the go-to gal for advice on uploading photos and adding other fancy stuff to your personal wedding Web site. After she got married, she changed her last name and her online name, too: Now, she's MrsPresley.

Months before our big day, the Knotties had already told me what to expect. The company responsible for my wedding cake would make memorably yummy creations but screwed things up every once in a while (they got one bride's frosting in the wrong color), so I would be taking my chances. My hairstylist was a pro who had brides all over the world raving about her. The only shop on Maui that would press my silk dress was going to overcharge me. And my wedding photos were going to be awesome. I know, because I saw numerous other brides' snapshots from the exact spot where we would be married.

Before I knew it, the Web site had sucked me in, and I became a full-fledged online-planning nerd. Most nights, my fiance and I would sit facing each other at the kitchen table, our laptops back to back. He would type up a song list for our reception while I would search for Hawaiian-themed wedding favors. The late hours were our crunch time. With a six-hour time difference, Hawaii was just waking up by the time we came home from work.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company