75 Weddings and Counting: Confessions of a Professional Wedding Guest
From Milan to Malibu, Brussels to Bel Air and Minneapolis to Maui, I’ve had the honor of attending more than 75 weddings—with two more coming up this fall. And that’s not even counting the 20 plus nuptials I was invited to, but couldn't attend, or the nine weddings at which my husband Art, represented the two of us (thanks, honey!). I guess you could say that watching 75 couples take a trip down the aisle makes me a bit of a professional wedding guest.
When people hear that I’ve been to that many weddings they often look at me in semi shock. Some ask if I have a big family. Not really. Only eight of the weddings have been relatives.
Others tell me they find attending weddings a chore or a bore. Not me. I am a sucker for the entire spectacle. The declarations of love! The inappropriate speeches! The family drama! The tears! The dancing! The wacky moments! The gorgeous flowers! The champagne! The cake! What’s not to love?
I’ve been to weddings that were super casual and DIY as well as those that were crazy expensive affairs fit for a magazine, and I can tell you that couples don’t have to spend their life savings or invite hundreds of guests to create a beautiful, personal and memorable experience.
There was my sister Carolyn's low-key wedding on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean followed by a potluck reception in the club room at a mobile home park. There was Mark and Gloria’s small fete at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego for fewer than 20 people. My friend Barbara had her girlfriends make floral arrangements the night before her wedding with attached notes reading, "made with love by...” followed with our names. It added a sweet, personal touch.
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Aaron and Stephanie transformed the parking area at their apartment complex in Venice into a lovely wedding venue with homemade white and blue paper decorations and streamers. And everyone loved it when the In-N-Out Burger truck showed up at Lisa and Hugh’s Hawaiian-themed wedding on a sound stage in Culver City.
But I’ve also been to some super elegant fêtes—like the black tie wedding in an Italian villa where five courses were served under giant candelabras. The bride, a fashion publicist, wore a custom Calvin Klein gown and the designer himself was in attendance. And I’ve seen many tasteful ceremonies at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel Air Hotel complete with its romantic gardens and white swans.
I’m partial to weddings by the water. I’ve gotten my feet sandy at four beach events and taken in the salty sea air at least ten others—whether on a cliff overlooking the ocean, in an event space on the beach or in the ballroom of a yacht club.
I’ve also witnessed grooms vow to honor and cherish their brides in churches, backyards, wedding halls, community centers, casinos, hilltops, train stations and resorts, and heard brides say “til death do us part” in vineyards, photo studios, gardens, parking lots, hotel ball rooms, missions, and camp grounds.
I’ve seen Irish marry Italians, Hispanics marry Brits, Jews marry Christians, older men marry younger women, older women marry younger men, women marry other women, republicans tie the knot with democrats, and high school sweethearts vow to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives.
I’ve seen matchups between a firefighter and an event planner, an actress and a cyclist, an architect and an agent, a veterinarian and a school teacher, writer and a chef and many other combinations.
I’ve been to the weddings of quite a few photographers and journalists and seen them walk down the aisle with flight attendants, artists, fashion designers, gallery owners, screenwriters, computer coders and travel agents.
And yes, I've been privy to plenty of wedding guest hook ups (some that even led to marriages!) and helped nurse many a bridesmaids’ hangovers the morning after.
I’ve also seen my share of mishaps from the great aunt’s shawl catching on fire at my friend Mara’s wedding to torrential rain at Jenny and Doug’s yacht club fete, to Claressinka and Joe being stranded on the side of the road in Malibu when their getaway Rolls Royce broke down—we rescued them!. But as I wrote in a previous story, sometimes mishaps add to the uniqueness of the day and make for riveting stories later.
Wedding fashion trends? I’ve seen ‘em come and go, from bridal up-dos adorned with flowers, to tiaras, veils and wreaths. From poufy sleeves and ruffles to slinky, sculpted gowns. From pocket squares and colorful cummerbunds to skinny black ties. I’ve also seen bridesmaids in every shade of pastel, rainbow colors, white, black or even just wearing whatever they wanted.
I've witnessed decor trends change too. It used to be all about hotel ballrooms or lush gardens with a few hippie/nature weddings thrown in. These days rustic-meets-glam affairs are all the rage. You know—old barns filled with velvet couches and chandeliers, chalkboard signs, mason jars full of lemonade, wildflowers and jars of honey or bottles of olive oil as party favors. And everyone seems to be loving long tables as opposed to dozens of round ones scattered around the room. They all work for me.
What stands the test of time though, are the weddings that feature something unique. I’ve seen a donkey carry cold beers to guests on a beach, a horse drawn carriage ferry the bride to the church and a dog serve as a best man. I’ve even eaten grilled seafood while exotic fish swam above me in huge glass tanks at the San Francisco Aquarium. Okay, that was a little odd, but I'l never forget it! I also recall the desert table strewn with dozens of different cakes, (Caitlin and Andrew!), the sparklers guests lit as the bride and groom entered the dance floor (Janelle and Kyle!) and the lanterns we lit and released up into the sky at a beach wedding reception in Mexico (Brenna and Paul!).
Humor goes a long way towards making a wedding memorable. I laughed along as my husband’s funny college pal John and his new wife Elyssa entered their reception to the theme of the sixties TV hit, The Dating Game, as a cheesy announcer introduced the new Mr. and Mrs. as if it were a game show.
The other thing that makes a wedding one to remember? Awesome music. I’ve gotten down to "Funky Cold Medina" and "Cake By the Ocean", reggae, big band swing, classic pop and Spanish guitar. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is as long as it makes guests want to move. At my wedding I even got on stage and sang "Jammin" with the band (OK, that was after a few glasses of champagne—but still.). The point is that guests will remember a lively reception with people tearing up the dance floor far more than they will recall whether they ate chicken or steak, Which brings me to the food.
Wedding food is important but not as crucial as most people think. I’ve partaken in fine cheeses, caviar and lobster. I've stood at buffets, helped myself to heaping family style dishes and been served by white gloved waiters. But when I think about the weddings I’ve been to, food just isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Nobody wants tough roast beef or soggy salad, but in my humble opinion, too many couples fret needlessly about steak vs fish or asparagus vs Brussels sprouts. But most people even don’t recall the food unless it’s extremely amazing (5 courses from a top chef!) really horrible, or super fun like an In-N-Out Truck, taco bar, slow roasted pig, or warm donuts as you wait for your car. The rest of the meals are all a blur of perfectly fine mashed potatoes and roasted chicken. I will say that a tray of inviting appetizers can go a long way though!
To me, drinks are more important. I have been to a dry wedding and I respect that decision. Perhaps it’s to save money or for religious reasons or because the bride or groom is an AA member. I get it. But I’m not going to lie. I prefer weddings with alcohol served and it doesn't have to be an expensive cocktail. A cold beer or a glass of merlot will do. And note: signature drinks are really fun and add a personal vibe.
Most weddings I’ve been to have not served alcohol before the ceremony, which in general is probably a good idea, but I also really appreciate it when guests are offered a glass of bubbly to get things started. At a wedding in Sayulita, Mexico we sipped champagne and were serenaded by a mariachi band at a beautiful villa before heading down to the beach for the vows. Nobody got smashed until the reception.
But I also once went to a raucous wedding in Southern Long Island at one of those big event venues. We were running late and thought we had missed the ceremony, because when we entered the room we found the guests feasting on shrimp cocktails and pounding mixed drinks. But then someone made an announcement asking everyone to please enter the main room for the vows and we realized this was just the pre-party! Whaaattt? Let’s just say too much pre-game booze can make for a fairly boisterous audience.
I often get asked how many of the marriages I’ve witnessed have ended in divorce. Only twelve of the 75 couples have split so far—knock on wood! Not bad actually, when compared with the national average. But I have also been to eight second weddings and in three of those cases, in three of those cases I was also at the bride or groom's first.
I may not have seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. People ask me “Which was the best one?” or “What was the worst?” I’m not about to pick favorites or make any critiques, but I have learned a lot!
Meanwhile, who knows how many more events I’ll add to my roster, but I’m aiming for at least 100. And I’m sure the next 25 will be just as unique and lovely and fun as the first 75!