Elena Lesser Bruun
The Wedding From Hell
I write this blog to convince engaged couples that what counts is not the wedding. It’s the relationship, their strengths and coping skills. I like to tell the following story to lower their wedding day expectations which, more often than not, rise to a level of a fever.
Nancy & Andrew were in many ways a typical couple. In their late twenties, they knew each had lived together for two years and knew each other well. They had much in common, similar upper middle-class backgrounds, similar interests, good jobs, same dreams about meaningful careers, the house, children, and so forth. Early in the relationship they discovered they were even born on the same day! In-laws and friends approved. Seemed to everyone they were off to a good start. On New Year’s Eve, Andrew proposed with a beautiful diamond and sapphire ring given to him by his grandmother. Thrilled, Nancy hired a wedding planner.
The day had to be perfect, which made Nancy so nervous she could barely sleep. Xanax helped, but not every night. She worried a lot about how much the wedding would actually cost and how smoothly everything would go, I don’t know how much it cost, though I heard that it was “considerably over budget.” I can tell you how it went because I was there.
On the advice of the wedding planner, they rented a four-story Manhattan brownstone on West 72nd and Riverside, almost a year ahead. Nothing outdoors in case it rained. Rev. Richard Ashton (Rick), a family friend, put the following September 10th, 2013, a Tuesday, on his calendar, the date chosen to honor Andrew’s grandmother who would be in attendance on her birthday. Save the Date cards went out online.
All Spring, the specifics were discussed, debated, and decided one by one. By Memorial Day, the couple had selected and signed up a photographer, a caterer with waitstaff, bartender, and cleaning crew, a three-piece band, a DJ. Nancy ordered her dress, and the flowers. The calligraphed invitations, expressing their aesthetic and to match the table settings, went out by regular mail.
Fast forwarding to September 10th, 2013, my husband and I arrived from Brooklyn a few minutes before six, the appointed time. It seemed odd that although we repeatedly pressed the bell outside and the door was ajar, there was no one there to welcome us, take our belongings, the gift, or give us the lay of the land. After waiting around for a bit, we decided to wander upstairs, hoping to find a prewedding gaggle somewhere. But, we neither heard nor saw anything happening as we ascended. No drinks, no hors d’oevres, no people. Until we reached the 4th floor.
Peering around the top step though, we glimpsed the bride. Not exactly the picture of blissful wedding anticipation. Quite the opposite. Nancy was stomping around, cursing in a raised voice about having “just ruined my god damn dress” with what was in truth a rather large cigarette hole. Her mother was trying to calm her, but it was not working. Quickly pivoting, my husband and I rushed back down to the main floor, leaving the bride and her mother to their misery.
It was now 7:00, an hour into the intended start time. Still no groom, best man, maid of honor, father of the bride, our friends the parents of the groom, Andrew’s grandmother, not to mention extended family or friends. We were tempted to take a walk or leave entirely, but controlled the urge, and went outside instead to sit on a lovely looking deck we spied in the back. It was indeed a beautiful spot outfitted with a small lily pond, some small potted new guinea impatiens, my favorites, and a few large inground shade trees. Too bad the wedding wasn’t to take place there.
A car’s worth of guests we hadn’t noticed before arrived from Westchester and joined us in the garden. We all sat around perplexed, trying to relax and make sense of the situation, as the evening sun went down across the Hudson river. It might have been romantic, but it wasn’t. Not at all in the mood. it was seven thirty according to my watch, dark now, and we were getting cold without our sweaters and jackets. Everyone in our small group was either starving or furious or both.
Nevermind. All too soon our moment of calm was over.
Through the screen door we heard Mom on a rant as she eyed the empty main floor expanse on her way downstairs. “The damn caterer was supposed to be here hours ago. And where is everyone else?” What the hell is going on?” Mom had apparently abandoned her daughter on the fourth floor, to check on the main floor proceedings.
And Mom certainly had a point. No caterer, no food, no seating, no tables or chairs, still no guests to speak of. So, our small group on the deck came inside to warm up and we just milled around wondering what to do.
Finally, finally, everyone else arrived from New Jersey, or should I say, “burst in,” in one big clump. Someone yelled out the excuse that nearly ended Chris Christie’s career. “Don’t blame us; we couldn’t help it! There was a huge traffic jam on the GW bridge!”
“Sure there was”, Mom muttered. Too late; no excuses were believed until we read about “Bridgegate” in Fort Lee as it gradually unfolded.
By the time waitstaff started passing out a few piddling hors d’oevres and a glass of prosecco, it was eight o’clock. The wedding itself took place back on the 4th floor at 8”30, so we had to trudge back up again to witness the ceremony. No, no elevator.
Unfortunately, Nancy and Andrew had positioned themselves against the back wall of the long rectangular room facing out. Rev. Ashton stood facing them, and I’m guessing the already seated family members occupied the 10-15 seats facing the couple and the alter. Forty of us, the rest of the guests, stood on tippy toes, even my husband who is 6’ 2”, stretching to see and hear in the overcrowded space that remained in the 50’ long room. The upshot is that I can’t tell you how the service went, because we weren’t really there! I’m sure it was “nice”.
“Oh well” I thought. “At least we can eat soon. And it better be good,” I prayed.
Back down to the main floor for dinner. The five or six tables and chairs that had hurriedly been set up in our absence - again not many – were taken. Or, should I say “grabbed” by friends of the bride and groom, that had rushed downstairs after the ceremony, before the rest of us could get there. No one complained. No one said a word. Except the Andrew’s grandma, who was able to sit on a bench brought in specially for her.
The food was in an adjacent room next to the kitchen. A line formed consisting of the kids at the tables who made sure, of course, to leave something “reserving” their place, like a scarf or keys. Someone my age at the back of the line lost it, belting out “whatever happened to manners?” But it was too late again. By the time my husband and I got up to the buffet, they had run out of everything except some cold mashed potatoes and peas.
Our last hope was dessert. And you will not believe me, but there was none. I mean NONE! The maid of honor had answered the door at 5 pm to receive the wedding cake, which she dutifully placed in the refrigerator. The only problem was that it was an ice cream cake that really needed to be in the Freezer! Which meant that when it was time to bring out the cake, the whole thing oozed out of the refrigerator onto the floor like soft mud down a stream.
The sight was so funny all we could do was laugh. And everyone did.
So that was the wedding from hell. On the way home we stopped at Veniero’s, a great old Italian bakery/restaurant in the East Village. We wanted dessert, to gossip and recover. Ordered Cannoli, Sfogliatella, Bombololone Laziale. Ate some there and brought the rest home.
What can we learn from this and other wedding disasters? My recommendation is to have a lovely home wedding. Or pick a beautiful, meaningful spot. Maybe where you met. The beach, the mountains. Forget the distant destination wedding, unless you want to go by yourselves and run it as a videoconference. Coronavirus has probably ended that once trendy idea for years to come anyway.
Forget the wedding planner. Plan it yourselves. Invite those you love and those who love you. Wear something beautiful or cool. Do not lose 60 pounds just to fit into it. It should not cost the earth. Do not spend more than you - or your parents - can easily afford. Save the money that would have been spent on a lavish production for what that really matters like your first few years rent, a down payment on a house, pay off student loans, start a vacation budget, or for the most cynical among you, marriage counseling or your divorce!
Another possibility, better than a set of placemats you don’t need or want, ask guests to contribute to an important cause. These are the things that count and really get you off to a good start. After all, a wedding is just a party; over in a flash. Use your creativity. Keep it simple. Make it your own.
Want to know what I think? It didn’t matter. Who cares? Andrew and Nancy are still together after 7 years. They have two adorable little kids, they are still laughing about their wedding from hell, and seem to have a wonderful life. They’ve had a few rough spots, but who hasn’t?