How to say "I do," take two.
When I proposed to Nicole last October, it was the first time I'd ever gone through the craziness of purchasing a ring, but it wasn't the first time she'd gotten one. This would be her second marriage, making our wedding—like about a third of the weddings in America these days—an "encore wedding."
So what exactly are the rules of an encore wedding? According to Rev. John Graf, Jr., the nondenominational minister who performed our ceremony, "There is no right and wrong." As with a first wedding, the unique desires of the couple are what matters most. In some ways, there's more flexibility, because at least one party probably already has the "big" wedding out of the way. As Graf advices couples, "You can have whatever you want."
Despite the general lack of rules, however, pretty much everyone agrees that it's poor form to compare the current wedding to any previous ones. Nicole admitted to me that although she was able to offer a wealth of experience from her first wedding, she felt she often had to be careful not to make it sound like a comparison.
For the most part, though, we had it easy. Neither of us had children from previous relationships, Nicole's family didn't care for her first husband (in fact, her mother has pasted a magazine photo over his face in the family portrait taken during the first marriage), and my family— well, I'm an only child from a very close family, and this was my first marriage, so that's how they treated it.
Any of those elements could have made things more complicated.
Children are probably the single biggest issue, because these kids are going to be part of the new relationship, so they need to approve of it and be a part of it early on. "You're not just uniting a man and a woman; you're uniting a family," says Rev. Graf, who offers a variety of "family unity ceremonies" (variations on the unity candle and sand ceremonies). I've also heard the suggestion that children—rather than the traditional parents—could be included as hosts in the invitation, and I think I like it. What kid could resist the appeal of "Little Bobby McGee cordially invites you to the wedding of his mother"? Heck, I almost wish my parents would have a second ceremony so they could include my name in the invitation!
Children may be the most important family members in an encore situation, but they're not the only ones who are relevant. As I said, we were fortunate in that Nicole's family doesn't care about her first husband, which meant that, in many ways, the first wedding was a non-factor. Of course, many couples are not so lucky. The family might prefer the first spouse to the new one, or still have a hate on for the person who wrong their loved one. Either situation can be problematic, because this is bound to bring up comparisons with the first ceremony, and that's one of the things that everyone seems to agree should be avoided as much as possible.
Can I Get a "Do-Over"?
Since we didn't have to deal with either of those issues, what were the differences in our encore wedding versus a first wedding?
Well, first and foremost, experience was on our side. Nicole had been through all this before, so she knew the ropes, and that was something we definitely took advantage of. Six months after I gave her the engagement ring, we were already back from the honeymoon. We were able to plan a wedding (for almost a hundred guests—we're not talking a tiny affair) in a matter of weeks, with very little stress, mostly because of Nicole's experience. The fact that she's incredibly organized didn't hurt, though.
I think the biggest differences with an encore wedding—at least with ours—come before the ceremony. Because Nicole's family had already thrown her a shower, they weren't about to throw a second one. That's not uncommon, and wasn't a real issue for us, because my mom—who I'm pretty sure secretly wanted me to have a few sisters—didn't want to miss out on any of the festivities, nor did my cousin Ali (who has been asking to be in my wedding party since she was about ten years old), or some of Nicole's friends who didn't know her the first time she got married.
That's actually something pretty important to remember with encore weddings. Even if it's not the first ceremony for either party, it's probably the first time that some of their friends have seen them get married, so it's not wrong to treat it like it's the first time, complete with a shower (if only for the folks who didn't have the opportunity to go to the first one) and gift registries. Since Nicole and I were both out on our own—which is likely to be the case in most encore weddings—the items that we registered for were probably a little different than if we'd both been first timers, but, hey, I don't care how many times you've been married, everyone can always use more towels...
Very few of our decisions about the ceremony and the reception where influenced by the fact that Nicole had been previously married. The idea that a second-time bride can't wear white is outdated—these days, she can wear whatever she wants! As Rev. Graf says, "The etiquette of the 1970s is out the window." Some people will say that the bouquet and garter belt traditions don't belong at an encore wedding, but dumping those—along with the chicken dance—was in our earliest round of decisions, so it wasn't a factor.
"I think the pressure to stick with tradition is off when planning a second wedding—you've been there, you've done it—typically the bride and groom are a bit older and maybe more sure of who they are and how they like to entertain," says Nick Yarmac, senior account executive for New York City event planning company State of the Art Enterprises. "Does this mean they don't want a big celebration—definitely not—but it does mean that they're not tied to Wedding 101 formalities."
Nicole made some adjustments to her guest list based on the invite list from the first time around, but her decisions were equally motivated by finance. One of the downsides of an encore wedding? The parents probably aren't pitching in.
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and no money from parents means no interference from parents here. Besides, we're both more financially established than if we'd gotten hitched years ago, so even though we paid for the entire wedding, we were in a much better position to do so than Nicole had been at the time of her first marriage.
"One of my favorite weddings was a second for both the bride and the groom. They were married on a Saturday night, in front of 50 or so of their closest family and friends—no maid of honor, no best man—right in the middle of cocktail hour. It was great. Dinner followed, with a string trio playing in the background," explains Yarmac. "The next morning, they hosted a brunch celebration for about 200 at their home. A blues singer performed, backed by a gospel choir. The bride went barefoot because it was her backyard and that's what she wanted to do. I think a cinnamon bun may have pulled double duty as the wedding cake."
While we discussed some of the logistics of Nicole's first wedding, we never discussed the wedding itself. Some guys might get jealous, but for me, it was almost the opposite. Her first wedding was "her" day, which meant that our wedding was wide open to be "our" day. As an encore bride, Nicole had already planned a wedding and knew what to expect when the day arrived, so we were able to plan quickly and efficiently and really enjoy the day when it came. We had the day we wanted, and we were able to relax.
And that may be the most important rule of an encore—or any—wedding: it's your day, so do what you want with it!