ovely brides and bridegrooms: Miss Manners wishes you the fulfillment of all of your dreams except one. She does not wish that your wedding day be the happiest day of your life -- that it be, in sum, perfect.
This apparent churlishness comes out of an intimate knowledge of that touching bridal hope, and the questions you send your Miss Manners in hopes of making it come true. Questions such as:
"Ever since I was small, I dreamed of having a big wedding with all the trimmings, but my parents are arguing for something more affordable. How can I make them understand how much it means to me?"
"Our parents want a big splashy wedding, but we're the ones who are paying for it and we want to keep it casual, something that our friends would enjoy. They say their friends would be offended by the music we want. Isn't it our wedding?"
"My stepfather is paying for the wedding, and my father is only paying for the liquor. Who should give me away?"
"Do I have to let my father's new wife be there? I don't want her at any family table -- she's not family. And there's an aunt who's never liked me and would just spoil everything. Can't I leave her out?"
"I'd like to have my friends from high school, but I'm afraid of how they might show up looking. My fiance' comes from a big family, some of whom probably won't feel at ease with my family. Is there any way I can let people know how they should dress and behave?"
"We don't like silver, and have all the household things we need. But we're saving up for a big trip to Europe. How can we let people know that instead of giving us a lot of things we don't want, they could contribute to that, which we will really enjoy?"
Before Miss Manners attempts to answer these questions, you have to allow her to sigh. There you are, all shining with love and plans. But if she brushes the sweet bridal veil aside from your ideas, here is what she finds:
"How can I make it clear to my parents that I want them to pay the bills without quibbling, and not interfere with the staging of my private wedding fantasy, no matter what it costs?"
"All right, then -- what percentage of the wedding bill entitles the parent or stepparent who pays it to which honors and decisions? If we pay our own bills, don't they forfeit the right to have any say about anything?"
"How can we exclude relatives we don't like from the wedding or, if we must have them, use the seating arrangements or other maneuvers to show how we feel?"
"How can I have a perfect wedding when I have so many imperfect friends and relatives, with their own awful ideas or wishes that don't fit in with mine? How can I force everyone who attends to dress and act the way I want them to?"
"How can we maximize the fund-raising potential of our wedding in order to get what we want (for instance, we like cash a lot), instead of all the dumb things people may try to give us?"
The answers to all of these questions are the same, and not what you dear brides and bridegrooms had hoped. That answer is: You can't. Don't try. It isn't nice, and it won't work.
There are, indeed, aspects of marriage that are designed for the exclusive pleasure of the bridal couple, regardless of what anyone else thinks. But the wedding is not one of them. Weddings are held for the families and friends involved, and must accommodate themselves to those people's circumstances and wishes. You cannot successfully stage a wedding that is out of line with your family's style of living, or that requires your intimates to follow an alien pattern of behavior.
The hosts are generally the bride's parents. Most brides seem to forget this, although they could check it easily enough by reading the opening lines of their own wedding invitations. But even if the bridal couple issues the invitations, parents are still parents.
This means that while the bride's dreams may be taken into account, the wedding should be within the taste and means of her parents, and that all parents and stepparents have a right to be treated with respect, and to have a say in the invitation list. It does not mean that bridal honors are for sale, nor that contributions buy influence in the arrangements.
All guests must be treated with courtesy, but they cannot be controlled. You just have to trust them to dress properly and behave themselves, and accept it if they don't. Bridal attendants are close friends, but not slaves, and consideration for them ranges from not forcing them to buy dresses they hate, to showing surprise and gratitude for little services rendered.
The same unnatural reactions must be accorded to the prospect of presents, which must not be treated as tickets of admission, but as freely given symbols of friendship. You may hint indirectly at your tastes if asked ("We like modern things") or allow ideas to be coaxed out of your parents or discovered through a bridal registry. But you cannot dictate what you want, because that indicates you expect everyone to come across.
Miss Manners has never held with the idea that a wedding, any more than any other large gathering involving many people, can be mandated to be "perfect." Nor does she understand why it should be envisioned as the happiest day of the bridal couple's life.
Is the marriage, then, to go downhill from then on?
Instead, plans to enjoy oneself by providing enjoyment to others are generally more successful. In any case, the posture of loving and wanting to share happiness is much more becoming. Who would want to marry a person freshly proven to be greedy, selfish and tyrannical, who sees relatives and friends only as supernumeraries or sources of revenue?
Q: Last summer, the florist delivered to me a lovely package containing a single red rose. When I opened the accompanying card, I was shocked to find that it was from my new dentist.
It read, "Welcome to our dental practice." I am puzzled because I had always thought a single red rose was a symbol of romantic love. I am young, attractive and married.
At my next visit, neither he nor I said a word about the gift, and it was business as usual. Was I right not to mention it? Please explain this to me.
A: A red rose accompanied by a card that says "I can't live without you" symbolizes romantic passion. A red rose accompanied by a card that says "Welcome to our dental practice" does not, no matter how young and attractive you are.
Public-relations gimmicks are not presents and need not be acknowledged, either with expressions of thanks or with romantic passion.
Q: I am a single woman who involves herself in various civic, political and cultural functions, and would like to enjoy some of the social functions that go along with this.
My problem is attending luncheons or dinners where the invitation states table reservations in groups of 10. On too many occasions I have been seated at a table with people who are relatives or close friends of each other, whose conversations made me feel as if I had intruded on a private family gathering.
Why can't planners of such events be more cognizant of single patrons before they set up these tables of 10? Since most of these events are benefits of sorts, perhaps more singles would participate if they felt their feelings mattered.
A: Miss Manners will not go so far as to say that planners don't think the feelings of single people matter, chiefly because she doesn't like the slightly whiny tone of it. But she does think you have an important suggestion that they ought immediately and gratefully to adopt.
The luncheons and dinners you describe are not private parties, in which people expressly go to meet one another, but neither are they like restaurant dining rooms, in which people confine themselves to the company they brought.
They are more like shipboard meals, where some people stay with their own group, and others mix. Those of you who remember the dear days when crossing the ocean was a civilized event will recall that passengers were always asked their seating preferences, and that the steward regularly made up tables of passengers traveling alone who wished to meet other passengers.