So I just got married. A wedding is a funny and rather unique activity in that there is so much time and money aimed towards a party that must be fully-imagined but never pre-staged. At least for a certain kind of reception-hall where one plans and plans and hopes for the best, there is only months of envisioning, spending and sending things along to a group of people who will set up this elaborate stage for a largely-scriptless play. It is, at best, mild madness, at worst, a runaway train of money and expectations. There is an abundance of information designed to make the planning easier, but often, only encourages more excess that makes it necessary to question just whose side these “helpful planners” are on. (The terms: welcome basket, groom’s cake, bridal post-wedding brunch were quickly banished in our home.)
To note: I am not your twenty-something first-time bride. Though this is a first (and last) wedding for both of us, we are both old-enough to be a few weddings in by now. For him, this meant going along with church and hoopla that had never been his style. He did it for me and my family. For me, this meant I knew about perfect. Where it counted and how little I cared for it. If I could have something perfect, it would be my husband’s health. Nearly fours years together has us realistic about what this means or can mean. A perfect wedding? Really? I could not care less.
I cared about never acting frazzled, bitchy or imperious. I gave glowing reviews every chance I got. In fact, aside from one theft involving an artist collecting my money and never sending anything for it, followed by suddenly disappearing, I had never left a negative review. I guess the notion of “say something nice or nothing at all” informed this, followed by a bit of “I barely write what I wish to write why waste my time texting out my displeasure?”
As I write this, I have thirty-two dollars and seventy-seven cents in my checking account. The wedding was ten days ago and I am still recovering. It was a wonderful evening but it was not without glitches. No matter. I expected some. Why then, have I written no fewer than six negative reviews for the reception hall venue nestled in Millcreek canyon and providing all of the pricey ambiance that any Utah wedding might?
Because it is such a ridiculous industry. Because to be human and humane during this process is not easy. It’s even more difficult to do while avoiding such things as “The Run of the Bride” or the bridal shop where I walked into to get measured, newly engaged and all lit-up who told me that “we will not measure you if you are ordering your dress online, it is out of respect to all of the brick and mortar bridal shops.”
Hey, I’m liberal, academic, all about some bricks and mortar, but my dress, I fell in love with it and the quality was astounding and the price? Less than a fraction of what you’d imagine. I am no princess, and I like fashion more than a little, but a good dress can be had and I am not sorry that I shopped wisely for mine. I left with a sinking-feeling. I had not yet found dresses for my line and had walked into the shop hoping to get measured and find some possible bridesmaids frocks as well. I went home and found their dresses online, too. I had no desire to be spoken to that way again only because I chose to go hundreds instead of thousands of dollars for a dress to be worn for one day. (A trick: most dresses for bridesmaids come in white and ivory, many are full-length and as lovely as many astronomical “wedding gowns.”)
But back to the reviews, my cruel-to-be-kind attitude and the wedding industry, here’s what I’ve learned. Venues make or break the lives of florists, bakers and even the sites designed to help out the bride with good information (The Knot, Wedding Channel/Wire etc.) The problems with my venue were not unique to me (missing appetizers, rude wait staff, an oddly arrogant owner, and issues on the bills again and again that work in the venue’s favor) and had been listed in many reviews. Where were these reviews when I looked? They were tucked behind the great reviews (many of which are fake, and in response to poor reviews that get stuck at the end of the reviews or worse, on another link entirely, only viewable if one clicks through to them). I researched, but I didn’t know how hard places like The Knot work to keep the venues happy and to keep the bad reviews from ever being seen. It makes sense, I am one bride with one wedding. The reception hall is a fountain of weddings and thus, bridal business.
For me then, the only fair thing to do was try to warn the next bride. My venue would be workable if you had the money for it (plan to have that $36 dollar a person bill end up closer to double-it or even nearly triple, if your guests like mine, are mammals and might crave any sort of liquid with their meals–not just alcohol which is wildly-overpriced and impossible to track as they use kegs and one cannot ever tell how much of keg was really consumed–but coffee or tea, there will be an extra charge. In fact, there are extra charges for nearly everything and you will want to track them all: any tablecloth at all, let alone color which only a king could afford, candles, and gratuity, enormous gratuity for a wait staff even if you go with a buffet instead of sit-down service). But the money for the venue will not be adequate. You will require a very savvy, top-notch wedding-planner. Not one with the venue, someone on your side. They are there to protect you. (I splurged on the venue as I thought that their wedding coordinator would fulfill this role.) If you find an independent wedding planner, as I noted from some of the reviews, you will also find that some wedding planners will refuse to work with your venue, so hard it is to secure a good experience from it. (I wish I had known.) If you have all of this money, you could go almost anywhere and have any menu and need not fuss with such a venue at all.
None of this is really interesting to anyone but those zombified-souls wandering in the land of Pre or Post Weddings. But to me the issue of being negative without ruining something crucial that is tied to the negativity was interesting.
Upon finding my reviews, the wedding coordinator (whom I had written again and again asking for answers, assistance, reimbursement and received none of them) said “but you seemed so happy that night, I don’t understand.”
I was happy and I am happy and part of what made me so happy was knowing that I was presenting myself as I had wished to, despite so many mishaps.
The truth is: I found a character and wrote the reviews from that perspective.
I gave the stories away and kept for myself the photos, the great moments and left those to rest outside the bitterness.
I was pleased to see myself stand up for myself and for my family who had felt more than a bit embarrassed and ripped-off.
I thought of the next bride and that my reviews might help lead her to do more research and to be able to fully enjoy something so wildly extravagant in its promise, its emotional weight, the gathering of people there only to celebrate love and remind you of theirs. And I am thrilled to have done it, to be beyond it and to have had with me that night and always, the most amazing someone that I get to call “husband” a word that I still stumble over but in a good punch-drunk-tripping sort of way. I am digging marriage, and as for the wedding, you won’t find a more toothy, dorky-joyful looking bride in any hundred photos anywhere.