Wedding Etiquette: The Good, Bad & Ugly


When does wedding etiquette help and when does it get in the way?

Wedding etiquette is a moving target these days, if it exists at all. Ask any wedding vendor and they'll nod in agreement. The reality is we're well beyond the simplistic days when everyone knew, and agreed to, the rules.

Today is an anything goes culture  and this is in part why I believe weddings have become so stressful and in some cases pretty toxic for family and new marriages. Wedding coordinators play a delicate balance between letting their clients have their way and trying to gently push back, hoping the spirit of etiquette comes through the wedding: hospitality and putting everyone at ease because they know what to expect and they know their role.

I have read two books, by two highly regarded "wedding etiquette experts." The information provided by each wedding expert often contradicts itself between experts. One small example...did you know the grooms family is supposed to pay for the flowers? At least according to one top wedding etiquette expert. Some etiquette experts still hold that the time of day should dictate the level of formality and other wedding etiquette experts say that is not true. It can make your head spin!

The problems with wedding etiquette today?

"My day, my way" is the overriding theme of weddings today and that will always contradict the more egalitarian notion of etiquette, which is about social grace, respecting others and being as full of hospitality as you can. Everyone knows what to expect in the land of "pure wedding etiquette", but todays bridal culture is ALL ABOUT YOU, regardless of family, of friendships, of anything but what you want.  When we run into problems with our family or friends we immediately run to wedding etiquette books to "solve" our problems. This rarely works.

Wedding etiquette does not address the complexity of family life, of society today, of our hyper individualism in America. Etiquette can not dictate when you should have the wedding, who you should invite, or not invite and why, or whether kids should be invited, what role a stepparent should play, or an absent biological parent. Wedding etiquette doesn't help you with who pays for the wedding, how you manage the complexity of a shared wallet, who to have in your wedding party, how to handle a controlling parent, or even how to write a wedding invitation.

Etiquette frankly doesn't do much good if nobody else knows that is what you're trying to do by subtly including only the names of the people on the wedding invitation, thereby "excluding childrens names" is an unspoken way of saying "don't bring your kids!" Nor does it help if a parent is "old school" and believes they are the host and hostess of the big day even if they aren't paying. Excluding them from the wedding invitation can make them feel really embarassed or upset because their view of the world is set in a different time and place. They may feel horrifed that their friends will think they have lost control of their adult child who doesn't know proper etiquette!

Wedding etiquette grew out of the mass production of what was once high end weddings for high society. Weddings started out for lower income people as the two sets of parents, in the living room of the bride. That's it! Honeymoons used to be the time when the couple went around to visit all the relatives and introduce each other to the extended family. High society knew how to do a wedding with unspoken rules that you were raised knowing. As weddings became bigger in the middle and lower income levels, you had a whole generation of people who had no idea what was socially proper. (Did you know, true wedding etiquette says guests are supposed to write a formal letter stating whether they are able to come or not? RSVP cards, to some etiquette matrons, are an atrocious sign of the times.)

So there you have some reasons why relying on wedding etiquette may not help, and may actually cause more harm than good.  It really is the wild west of wedding planning.

For more on avoiding unknown traps, and to engage in deeper dialouge as a couple, check out Take Back Your Wedding, available on Amazon paperback, Kindle, or instant e-book download. 

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.