The Book Club

Don’t Forget the Novelty Boxers

Dear Debra,

I am exhausted. I started out with the Bridesmaid’s Survival Guide because it was on the top of the pile next to my bed and looked like it had a lot of big, colorful illustrations and a minimum of sidebars and lists and diagrams of body types and corresponding dresses. As it turns out, it was essentially a quick, one-joke book that would work well enough as a gag gift, if you like that sort of thing–that is, until the author, Mary Kay McDermott, started veering off into the land of Earnest Heartfelt Advice. Then it got painful. “Your friendship [with the bride], like a mother’s belly, will get firm again,” she writes. “But will never be as tight as it once was.” Ugh. Nevertheless, one book down. Anxiety level still low.

The next book I picked up was the The Knot Complete Guide to Weddings in the Real World, and that was where things went horribly wrong. This is the mother lode of wedding protocol, and it feels like it. Like you, Debra, the deluge of minutiae in this book dredged up all the feelings of anxiety and utter exhaustion that I thought I’d left behind the day I got married on Oct. 4, 1997. In her introduction, by the way, Carla Roney says her book is intended for “modern, smart, in-love couples.” Show me one couple who doesn’t think they fit those requirements. Anyway, this book is so larded up with information (some of it actually useful) that I felt compelled to take a nap. I dreamed of a glowing, freshly engaged person running out to buy this book, reading the first chapter, skimming through the next 500 pages, and calling off the wedding. It’s a classic case of too much information–I mean, did you get a load of the ideas for “Extreme Weddings,” wherein adrenaline-starved couples can exchange vows while skydiving or whitewater rafting? My personal favorite, however, was the straight-faced suggestion for “Ecologically Sensitive Couples” to print their invites on recycled paper, use potted plants as centerpieces, and to ask guests to make donations to Greenpeace instead of giving presents. Couples who follow that advice may be ecologically sensitive, and more power to them, but they’re also nuts. Getting presents is one of the top perks in any wedding, and you know it.

The only wedding book Jenny and I consulted was a spiral bound wedding planner (if you must know, it was a Martha Stewart wedding planner, but please don’t hold that against me), and things seemed to turn out well for us. We knew where we wanted to get married (in Brooklyn, where we live), we knew how big we wanted it to be (125 to 150), and we knew we didn’t want to see anyone doing the Macarena at any point during the evening. We knew we wanted lush flowers and didn’t care so much about the fine bone china. So, what we needed help with were timetables and checklists, what to do and when, and that’s what you get with The Knot’s Ultimate Wedding Planner. I thought this one was more manageable, and it gives you pretty much all the information you’ll need. Which is not to say that there weren’t things about it I didn’t like. Take, for instance, the six-pages-long master to-do list in the front of the book, in which Ms. Roney lays down some classic benchmarks for the aspiring newlyweds. Twelve months out, make a Web page to announce your wedding. Eight to 10 months out, start “envisioning” your dress. Six to eight months out, finalize the menu. Four months out, “attend pre-wedding counseling.” Counseling, indeed.

I think the cumulative effect of all these endless checklists and niggling details and dire warnings about potential disasters is, in many respects, intentional, and maybe even malicious. Can’t you just feel the panic setting in as you read this stuff? “Oh, my God,” I said to myself as I wound my way through the monstrous Ultimate Wedding Planner. “How could I have forgotten to pick out novelty boxers and fun socks for the guys in my wedding party? I’m such an asshole.” And that’s the beauty of these books. Get people worrying enough about how little they know, about how essential $350 veils are to their happiness, about how much gardenias say about the essence of your personality, and they will dive into this stuff headlong, ready to pay whatever it takes.

Speaking of gardenias, there was one choice moment in The Best of Martha Stewart Weddings (which, by the way, is roughly the size of the catalog for the Metropolitan Museum collection and is too big for my coffee table) that I’d like to share. Did you see where the author wrote, “Flowers are part of nearly every courtship, and those with private resonance convey a message the bride and groom will both read clearly.” Ah, yes, much like that S.O.S. of a yellow Zegna tie that Monica gave to the Big Creep so many months ago. Please. I guess we can save Martha for tomorrow’s discussion if you’d like, but I thought her “contemporary” music recommendations for service and reception were worth a thousand words alone. “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg? “Is This Love” by Bob Marley? Where are the Geto Boys?

The one morsel of advice that I didn’t see in any of these guide books that I feel obligated to pass on is this: Never have a bachelorette (or bachelor) party in the days immediately preceding the wedding. Jenny did and it didn’t turn out too well. She went out on the Thursday before our Saturday wedding, and got home very late, while I was sound asleep. On Friday morning, as I went off to work, I woke her up to gauge how she was feeling. A little hung over, but it didn’t seem like anything too extreme to me. When I came home from work that afternoon to get dressed for our 7 p.m. rehearsal dinner, I stopped by the manicurist where she was getting her nails done to say hi. On the floor next to her was a plastic bucket. She recovered enough to make small talk and choke down her meal four hours later, but all in all, I’d advise against it. Strongly.

Debra, I also enjoyed reading about other people’s weddings. Did you see the guy from Australia who got married in New York City, wearing his family’s kilt from Scotland? Make up your mind, man. I wonder if his groomsmen set up him with some fun “novelty boxers” to go underneath. Before I go, I’ll leave you with one final question: Did you happen to read “The Big Night: Let the Games Begin” section in the Knot Complete Guide dealing with sex on the wedding night? Who writes this stuff?

And aren’t you glad you’re not doing this again?