Fred Dickey

Fred Dickey is a writer living in Cardiff, CA, USA

HERE COMES A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF BRIDE — AND GROOM

It wouldn’t be your momma’s idea of a wedding. Grandma might think you’re crazy, and the fact that you two have been living in sin for a year would make great-grandma fear for your soul.

Those old wedding bells have been muffled, often drowned out by digitized, gushy pop or new-age vanilla music. You don’t have to be a sociologist to realize the Hollywood weddings of Doris Day are passé.

The evolution (revo?) of matters matrimonial is clear to a woman who has seen it all, and maybe sometimes wishes she hadn’t. Anseth Page Richards, 51, is a wedding consultant and owner of The Bridal Bar in La Jolla. For three decades, she has been major-domo for more than a thousand weddings. She has seen a lot of changes on the rose-petal trail. …

“I like to think the grace and elegance aboard the Titanic has been reborn as Carnival Cruise Lines — wild and crazy and often not elegant. The traditional trappings of marriage have been discarded, even by people who seem to be pretty conservative,” she says.

One thing that definitely has changed is the cost. Today, commonly, a wedding will cha-ching up to about $40,000, and that’s in El Cajon as well as La Jolla. That would be for 100 people and include a reception, open bar and sit-down dinner. “And that’s only for a simple centerpiece and chicken dinner,” Anseth says.

How about for poor people?

“Well, there are lots of weddings for $10,000.”

How about for 500 bucks?

“Five hundred bucks gets you a license and maybe a drink.”

She says one way of cutting costs is a “planned elopement,” which is just a play on words for doing it on the cheap with few frills.

But to me, a bona fide elopement requires a tearful mom and an angry dad wondering why sweet-young-thing Ashley ran off to Vegas with that deadbeat and probably ruined her life.

But for a wedding that doesn’t involve a ladder propped against a bedroom window, who pays?

Or, who gets stuck with the tab.

Anseth says the tradition of the bride’s parents paying for most of the wedding started changing about 20 years ago. It’s now a group effort. Usually, both sets of parents pitch in, more or less equally. However, different social or economic backgrounds sometimes lead to conflict. What settles the argument is that he and she (mainly she) who pony up usually make the major decisions.

“It’s not unusual for champagne parents and beer parents to butt heads. That’s why I think about two-thirds of brides and grooms are now paying for their own wedding. They don’t take a lot of money from mom and dad because they don’t want to have to do it mom’s way or the groom’s mother’s way. They want it their way.”

Who chooses the guest list?

“Everybody always wants all their people included, but it depends on who’s paying. If the bride and groom are paying, it’s going to be more their friends and just a few of the parents’ friends. If the parents are paying, a lot of times it’s their friends and not so many of the bride’s and groom’s.”

Anseth says church weddings are still common despite the drop-off in church attendance. It’s often done to please parents’ religious beliefs.

However, even on a beach, an ornamental overlay of religion might be present. All it takes is a few bucks, and a website will make the “minister” a legal reverend. And some even take it seriously. Heavens.

A big change in the ceremony is the music. Pachelbel’s ponderous “Canon in D” has become so common that it’s a borderline cliché, and also rescued that baroque composer from centuries-long obscurity.

Strangely, the most traditional wedding music — Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” (Here comes the bride) and Felix Mendelssohn’s joyful recessional — have largely been shelved.

That’s a cruel cut for Wagner, who created the prototypical singing fat lady. It’s one of his few hum-along creations in a lifetime portfolio of thunderous turgidity.

(Jews don’t use Wagner’s music because he was an anti-Semite. Some Catholics object to using Mendelssohn’s secular music in a wedding Mass.)

Once upon a time, the most awkward outcome of the wedding was the wedding night, but the Internet’s YouTube trumps that with a clip of a ceremony ending in the “Harlem shake” at the altar. That’s a jittery dance that looks like a palsy victim attacked by a bee swarm.

I wonder if the absence of solemnity and tradition in many wedding ceremonies indicates reduced reverence for the institution itself, or is simply a reflection of our hang-loose social norms. I ask, you decide.

The underlying truth of every marriage is that half will end up in another event — divorce court. That means many of those blissful unions are built on sand, and I don’t mean a beach ceremony.

No doubt it has occurred to parents in the midst of writing big checks that their investment would bear the same returns as Enron stock.

Anseth has run into that. “A lot of parents have concerns that they’re spending big money on a wedding that may not last. The reality is, every couple thinks they’re the exception, otherwise they wouldn’t be getting married. I have friends who’ve paid for their daughter’s wedding hoping it wouldn’t last, but they did it because they wanted their child to be happy.”

She also says many couples are going international. Mexican resorts offer enticements to the wedding party of big discounts or even freebies, based on the number of guests. Of course, what that does is shift the cost burden onto guests coming from afar. In other words: If you, our guest, spend $1,000 on plane tickets to Cabo San Lucas, we can get our rooms, the dinner and liquor free. (Oh, and don’t forget the gift.)

Anseth is offended by the unfairness of that to guests. “It’s absolutely the rudest thing on the planet, but brides are rude now. They’re self-centered, and it’s all about them. The first thing I tell a bride when they come in here, ‘I only have one rule that I hope you’ll follow: be aware of your guests’ comfort.’ ”

What’s the most expensive wedding you’ve ever done?

“Five million dollars.”

Whoa.

“We had Elton John play.”

The latest entry in the parade is the gay or lesbian wedding. Anseth says, “Gay weddings are huge. We love them. They’re always elaborate and colorful and expensive, because they are very stylish. They know exactly what they want, and they usually have money.”

How are gender roles assigned?

“There are two grooms or two brides. They’re usually all in suits, whether it’s men or women. Two lesbian women are likely to both wear tuxedos, just as two gay men.”

Anseth says she’s never seen a jilting at the altar, but one woman got cold feet about a week in advance, and sent her to-be packing. Since she had already paid for a lavish event at the Hotel del Coronado, she had no choice but to disinvite the guests of the guy she kicked to the curb and throw a big six-figure party for her own pals. Anseth says a good time was had by all, but if that’s really the case, the dumped groom might have been the lucky one.

Anseth says such a simple duty as bringing the ring down the aisle (if an aisle, indeed, is used) has turned a bit freaky. She says she’s seen that job done by ring dogs, ring horses, ring birds and ring fish.

(How a fish bears a ring is beyond the range of this inquiry.)

She tells of a wedding where a cat was supposed to be the ring bearer, except Puff freaked out in its carry-cage and had a hissy fit, so the best man had to do the honors, which is the way it used to be.

The way it used to be. Sigh. Where have you gone, Felix Mendelssohn?

Fred Dickey’s home page is www.freddickey.net

His email is   [email protected]

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