Riding Shotgun: Goin’ to the Chapel, pt. 1

Steve done got hitched … well, signed up for it, anyway.

What did I do over my summer vacation? (Can you still call it that if you have to work 40 hours a week? Sigh.) Well, I did what so many men of my age find themselves doing. (No, not that, you sick fuck!) I got engaged. Actually, I got engaged in March, but the novelty still hasn’t worn off. I am a “fiancé” now. Isn’t that neat?

What I actually did during my “summer vacation” was start planning a wedding.

Now, while the topic of this column has meandered from pop culture to politics to religion and back again, it’s always centered on “things you should know, but don’t.” And, brother, believe me, the sheer volumes of things you don’t know about planning a wedding could break an ox’s back. I’m talking to the men out there. For women, those sheer volumes can be found in any Borders or Barnes and Noble in the form of about 20 monthly periodicals devoted to the subject: Bride, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, Southern Bride, Trailer Trash Bride, Knocked-up Bride. There’s a whole rack of ’em. And is there a Groom magazine? Just one? Hell, no. We don’t even get a pamphlet. And we haven’t spent the last twenty years of our life planning our picture-perfect Barbie and Ken fantasy wedding, so the learning curve is a little steep.

It’s not like we don’t have the capacity to learn. We can become experts on any subject given the right motivation. Ask any engaged man what the Four Cs are and he’ll shout them out like you were his drill sergeant: “Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat, sir, yes sir!”

But the asking is the easy part, at least in retrospect. There’s only one prop, two players, one set, and you can improv with the timing. More work if you want to make it a real surprise, but 9 times out of 10, she’ll see it coming. (Sidenote: I was told my biggest mistake was being “too nice and not as much of a smart-ass” that day, so there’s a lesson for ya.)

No, planning a proposal is to planning a wedding like doing your taxes is to calculating the GNP of a largish country using a slide-rule while riding a unicycle blind-folded.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m a man. It’s a wedding. I don’t care. Stick me in front of an Elvis impersonator and, as long as he’s licensed by the state, I’ll say, “I do.” Yeah, that’s what I thought too. It’s “her big day.” Let her do the lion’s share of the planning. She loves this kind of stuff. I only care about a couple of things.

Before the actual planning — before the proposal, even — there were only two things I wanted in my wedding.

  1. I wanted an outside ceremony. No church for me, bucko. And since my fiancée wanted that too, neat little check mark next to number one.
  2. As little God as possible. I’m an agnostic. My wanting to get married has diddley and squat to do with any particular religious belief, so if the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost didn’t get an invitation, I wouldn’t be cryin’. I want no God. My fiancé wants a little God. So, we’re compromising with a very itsy bitsy little bit of God. We’re thinking Unitarian Universalist.

That’s all I cared about. Two little things. And then the planning started. I started getting asked questions like: what should our colors be? Colors? It’s not a high school homecoming dance. It’s a wedding. White dress, black suit, green grass — what else is there?

It’s because there is no Groom magazine that I am forced to ask questions like that.

And do we want formal, semiformal, casual, elegant, contemporary, traditional? Do we want a theme?

There are themes? (There are! And if we’d had my way, we would have gone with the Civil War theme offered by a particular Gettysburg B&B. There were some, however, who argued dressing the in-laws up in the Blue and the Gray might not be the best way to introduce the families …)

And the invitations. Oh, sweet zombie Jesus, the invitations! You would think: invitation = envelope, invitation, reply card.

Oh, stupid man.

There are the paper types, invitation styles, invitation colors, envelope colors, ink colors, reply card colors, invitation fonts, reply card fonts, etc., etc., et cetera.

So, yes, there was shit I did not know. There is still shit I do not know, but now I’ve come to grasp the approximate tonnage of that shit and am adjusting my expectations accordingly.

More surprising was that I found I had an opinion on these things. I knew what invitations I liked and didn’t like. I knew what colors I’d like to see at the wedding (red is the prevailing tone). I even knew what kind of cake I wanted (chocolate cake, chocolate icing and since I’m marrying a chocolate fanatic, no problem).

I quickly discovered that the whole “let her do all the planning” philosophy just wasn’t going to cut it. For one: she wouldn’t let me. For two: I might actually enjoy this. Planning a ceremony, I have discovered, is much like directing a play. (I’ve done that. I like doing that.)

Planning a reception is like planning a party. (Whom do I invite? What do I feed them? How much are they going to drink before I’m forced to cut them off?)

So, seven months after the proposal and 11 to go until the big day, I find myself hip-deep in wedding planning, every so often getting hit in the face by some of that “shit I didn’t know.” Like giving presents to each other before the ceremony (isn’t half my stuff enough?) and what actually happens at a rehearsal dinner (hint: blood sacrifice).

And, every once in a while, I’ll talk about it here. When I’m not lining up photographers or vetting ministers or looking up flight times to Vegas. More as a way to organize my own thoughts than anything else. I’m determined to keep a firm hold on my sanity through this. What good is it for a man to gain a wife and forfeit his marbles? I think George Burns said that. Or Jesus. One or the other. One was married and died at a ripe old age. The other wasn’t, and was slaughtered by the Romans. There’s probably a lesson in that, too.

Article © 2005 by Steve Spotswood