Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ultimate Wedding: Gay Wedding Etiquette, Equivalents and Encores

Two Weddings
Q. A young couple who lived together for a year and then were married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse have just—six months later— issued invitations to a large, formal church wedding and all of the additional traditional accompaniments—rehearsal dinner, reception at the country club, etc. They are being advised and encouraged by their parents, who should know better. I am only a friend, but it hurts to hear the critical, and sometimes cruel, comments being made about this plan. Many people treat it as a joke, or say it is just a way to get the presents not received after the private civil ceremony. Are two such weddings proper? It seems odd to me. Perhaps I am way behind the times.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding, too, finds it is extremely odd that the wedding, as a social event, has become increasingly divorced, if one may use that term, from the actual marriage ceremony. What your friends did is not unique. Weddings are commonly being held now for already-married couples, with various explanations. If it is during the first year, they say that the necessity of having the actual ceremony earlier (more usually for reasons of taxes than pregnancy, which seems to be no longer in the urgent category) didn't give them time to plan the party. If it is even longer after that, they say that the original wedding wasn't the wedding of their dreams, or, if it was, that they want to renew this dream.

Miss Ultimate Wedding can understand the ceremonial yearning, if you will. But the idea of satisfying it totally aside from the reality of the sacred and legal union at the heart of it gives the couple a sort of unpleasant air of entitlement. Surely, the sentiment connected with the real exchange of vows ought to be powerful enough to remain unique, however simply it was done, and whatever festive parties are later given in celebration of it.

In other words, there is nothing wrong with a newly married couple giving a later reception or dinner, however formal they wish it to be, or for a couple married longer to have a fancy anniversary party. Of course they want to celebrate their marriage with family and friends in an elaborate way.

When guests find that they have been invited to a wedding that turns out to be only a reenactment, they do feel that some sort of fraud is being perpetrated. Mind you, Miss Ultimate Wedding does not approve of such carping. Those who are fond of the couple should participate in what is offered and those who are not should politely decline. But she does understand why they do not feel the same solemnity that they do about witnessing two people actually joining themselves in marriage.

Gay Wedding Etiquette
Q. My wife and I have been invited to the Episcopal commitment ceremony of a male couple. I work with one of the gentlemen and my wife and I have entertained the couple many times over the years. We are honored to witness the union of these fine people, but are unsure of the etiquette surrounding a same-sex ceremony. Specifically, are gifts expected? Where does one sit? Are grade-school-age children permitted? My wife suggests that when in doubt, we defer to the etiquette of traditional weddings. Is this advised?

A. As this ceremony is intended to simulate a wedding, you would do well to follow your wife's suggestion of following the etiquette observed at weddings. Since weddings are public ceremonies, the first rule is not to get too interested in the sexual angle. So stop worrying about which is the bride's side and which the bridegroom's. Besides, as you are friends of both, it wouldn't matter. Sit where an usher indicates or where you find places.

One should never bring uninvited guests anywhere. If your children were not invited, they should not attend, no matter what their age. No one is ever supposed to expect presents, although Miss Ultimate Wedding has heard enough of such expectations to last a lifetime. But as these people are your friends, she imagines you will want to send them something to commemorate the occasion.

The Mock Wedding
Q. My daughter and her fiance are planning a public "ceremony" with family and close friends in attendance, at which time they will share their vows of love and commitment for one another. They do not plan to legally wed.

What is the procedure in this situation—how is the announcement/invitation worded? Are showers/gifts appropriate? I am totally in the dark on this one. Any light you can shed would be gratefully received.

A. Goodness gracious, if these people haven't gone and reinvented the mock wedding! Miss Ultimate Wedding has always said that if you live long enough, you will see everything come back into fashion, no matter how foolish.
The mock wedding was a staple of nineteenth-century melodrama, although its antecedents are more ancient. Traditionally, it was planned by the bridegroom, with the aid of some rascally friends, in order to delude the bride into thinking she had been legally wed. The custom was for the bridegroom to point out to her shortly afterward— sometimes the next morning—that she was not and to bid her adieu. Showers, gifts, invitations, and announcements were all unnecessary.
When the bride is in on the planning, as in this case, the mock wedding seems to lose its point. Why simulate a wedding in order to have two people announce in public that they are in love? Can't they just carve their initials on a tree like everyone else?

The Repeat Wedding
There seem to be an increasing number of people around who want to have second weddings without all the fuss and expense of divorce. So they are staging repeat weddings, in which, as long-married couples, they "renew" or "reaffirm" their wedding vows, with varying amounts of bridal trimming.
Considering the state of marriage nowadays, Miss Ultimate Wedding would like to congratulate these couples. She would also like to inject a note of caution about their desire to elicit more than congratulations from their friends.
An established married couple should not lightly ask others to shower them with bridal honors—as opposed simply to attending an anniversary party—just because they have lived happily ever after. That is, after all, what they promised to do the first time.

It may not seem fair that those who stage repeated weddings with different partners have glutted the market, but the patience of potential wedding guests has been sorely tried. At the very least, a repeat wedding should be a decent interval after the original one—preferably measured in quarters of centuries.
The rule about inviting people to wedding renewals is the opposite of that for first weddings: At first weddings, the more elaborate the arrangements, the more people you can invite. At repeats, one's entire circle of friends can be invited to a party given after the simple participation in a religious service, or during which the vows are just spoken, almost as if the couple were toasting each other.

If there is to be a serious restaging, only people who are very closely and dearly attached to the couple, such as their descendants, the original bridal party, and really intimate friends, should be expected to think them charming in their original wedding clothes—or the outfits they had always wanted but couldn't afford when they were young.

This brings Miss Ultimate Wedding to the motivation for restaging a wedding, when one can have all the festivities of a celebration without the ceremonial repetition. She supposes that the most endearing reason for wanting a repeat wedding is to act on the lovely sentiment of "I'd marry you all over again today." After all, most people married that long were married in an era when one had to take a leap of faith without knowing the other person's daily household habits. Another reason may be that a couple had omitted the religious ceremony, which they now want to celebrate. Miss Ultimate Wedding can also imagine that couples whose wedding vows got damaged and then repaired might crave a formal fresh start.

Miss Ultimate Wedding is aware that she antagonizes people by her lack of enthusiasm for the newly popular renewal-of-vows ceremonies, in a time when congratulations seem in order for every week that a married couple actually manages to stay married. But however often wedding vows are broken, they are still serious vows, made for the length of life itself. They are not limited business contracts, with options to renew every year. To remake an eternal vow after only one year seems to make a joke out of the permanence that the marriage vow states.

Miss Ultimate Wedding should not have to caution decent people that one does not have a repeat wedding as a fund-raising drive for one's favorite cause—such as a trip one could not otherwise afford to take, or a pension to continue the marriage. She does have to warn those who are properly horrified that the event might be taken for such that there is only one correct way to head off making guests feel obligated to send presents for an announced repeat wedding or anniversary party and that is to issue party invitations—formal or informal—without telling people in advance what the occasion is. They will be pleasantly surprised when they get there, and will keep murmuring, "I wish I'd known—I would have liked to get you something," but that is not to be taken literally.

The Fifty-Year-Old Wedding
Q. My parents did not have a traditional wedding, since they eloped, and therefore my mother wants as many of the trappings of a regular wedding as she can get for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Their plans include having six of the youngest grandchildren (age four to twelve) walk up the aisle, dressed in coordinating, but not matching, outfits. She'd like my sister, my brother and me walking up the aisle in procession, but I felt that our position in the front pew and participating in a reading during the Mass would be more appropriate. When she started talking about whether her original maid of honor or I, as elder daughter, should "stand for her" I began to think this has gone too far. My dad has just asked my brother to "stand for him" as his original best man is deceased.

I understand my mother's motivation, but I'd like to know how one draws the line in good taste between what's appropriate for a Golden Anniversary and what's just plain silly—as is my mother's hinting at wearing a veil. I don't want to begrudge my parents their legitimate cause to celebrate, but even my father has begun to wonder what is appropriate here.

A. After many years in this trade, Miss Ultimate Wedding is only now beginning to realize the hold the ritual of the formal wedding has over the American female imagination. Rather than being merely one ceremonial choice among many proper and traditional choices of styles in which to be married, the formal wedding is thought of, obsessively, as an entitlement. Not only do those who were unable to be married formally seem to count this as a permanent lack in their lives, but those who made another deliberate choice—who eloped or married informally because that is what they wanted at the time—also feel that the world owes them a formal wedding.
So here we have your mother, after fifty years of successful marriage, out to collect her place in a ritual to which she believes every lady who marries is entitled. And she is far from alone in this yearning. Superfluous wedding ceremonies on the part of people who are already married are becoming astonishingly common.
The formal wedding ceremony presupposed a young lady, shyly veiled and surrounded by her girlhood friends, going from her father's household to her bridegroom's. While we retain an affection for these forms, to make them apply to obviously independent ladies, there is such a thing as stretching it too far.

Like you, Miss Ultimate Wedding finds your mother's hopes slightly ridiculous. The bathos of a respectable older lady publicly revealing her dream of appearing as a young bride, is bound to seem foolish, however touching it may also be.

There is, then, a trade-off between pleasing your mother and subjecting her to ridicule. The family should try to gauge whether this event will be taken in a sympathetic spirit by those whom they propose to invite. Meanwhile, Miss Ultimate Wedding is thinking of revoking new couples' freedom to declare that they don't want any wedding fuss and to be married without such trappings. It creates too much trouble for the rest of us later on down, the line. Then, too, people who underwent elaborate weddings seem to have acquired some sense of proportion about it all: Many of them claim that they wished they had eloped.

Ultimate Wedding: Canceled Wedding

Should the whole thing seem to be more trouble than it is worth, the wedding is called off with no more illuminating explanation than a dignified, "It was a mutual decision—we have the highest esteem for each other." If formal invitations have been issued, they must be formally recalled:
Mr. and Mrs. Greatly Relieved announce that the marriage of their daughter Darling Airhead to Mr. Fortune Hunter will not take place

If wedding announcements have been engraved or printed, thrifty Miss Ultimate Wedding suggests you make use of them by correcting them with a pen so that they read:
Mr. and Mrs. Greatly Relieved have the honour of announcing that the marriage of their daughter Darling Airhead to
Mr. Fortune Hunter will not take place

The Response to a Canceled Wedding
Q. Gould you please advise this gentle reader on the appropriate response one should make to receiving an announcement of a wedding being canceled? The wedding had been planned for years, was to be very large and formal, and was canceled one week before the date. There was a formally printed announcement mailed out.
It seems that some response on the part of the recipient is warranted; however, this seems like a land mine for etiquette errors. If one calls the bride, it may put her in an awkward position of feeling that she has to offer some sort of explanation. To not respond in some way seems cold and uncaring.

A. It is indeed an etiquette land mine that you describe and Miss Ultimate Wedding is always grateful to those who chart new territory for her. The least she can do is to help you find your way back.

At least one of the parties involved—erstwhile bride, bridegroom, or a parent—is a friend of yours. Rather than placing a call, which you astutely realize might be awkward, dash off a note to your friend saying "I wish you (or Natasha or Calvin) all the best, and would love to see you." A reintroduction to normal social life, with no explanations required, would doubtless be welcome.

The Broken Engagement
Q. I'm in love with the man I was once engaged to. Our plans were put on hold because he had a problem that arose from the past with his ex-girlfriend and resulted in marriage. We are still seeing each other and very much in love. He wants out, but due to his financial situation, he's not stable enough to move out at this time. But he is in the process of taking care of this financial problem.
To me, it's taking a long time. It's been eight months and there are no children involved. Just recently, we decided not to see each other until he's out of this situation because several of our plans were canceled due to this. We call from time to time, keeping communication. I'm only going to give him one and a half months to take care of this, but I did not tell him that.

A. A man who persuaded his fiancee that he loves her but has had to solve a little problem by temporarily marrying someone else may well have broken some etiquette rules. It's just difficult for Miss Ultimate Wedding to find the shards in all that moral debris.

If the question now is whether you are breaking any by rescuing yourself, the answer is no. One can hardly dissolve an engagement more thoroughly than he did, so you have been relieved of any obligations.

Returning the Ring
Q. My son received money from my husband and me for graduation from college and used it for an engagement ring for his fiancee. Several months later, she did some things to hurt him, so he called off the engagement, four months before the wedding date. Being a spoiled rich girl, the fiancee had put her wedding invitations on "rush order" in hopes he would change his mind when the invitations were received.

To make a long story short, they have not reconciled and he says they never will get married. He has asked her for the ring back, but she said her mother told her to keep it, as it is the least my son could do after all the expense to her family in preparation for the wedding.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding is afraid that it never occurred to etiquette to pass a rule against rushing the wedding invitations in a desperate attempt to hoodwink a reluctant bridegroom. But it strikes her as rather a nasty idea to invite innocent people to a doomed wedding, so she is willing to issue the rule now.

There certainly is a rule that a lady whose engagement is broken returns the ring. This was found necessary precisely to counter that unpleasant urge to grab whatever assets are at hand, so to speak, and to encourage jilted ladies to maintain the more acceptable posture of scorning a token from someone who has proven unworthy. Unfortunately, etiquette does not have a police force to send in to enforce this. Should the gentleman wish to pursue the matter, you must consult the less subtle form of encouraging polite behavior known as the law.

Keeping the Wedding Presents
Q. I have always understood that when a wedding does not take place as planned, wedding and shower gifts are returned. But what if the wedding is called off and yet the couple sets up housekeeping together anyway?

In the case I know, the presents were kept and seem to be regarded by the couple as housewarming gifts for the new house that they have bought. I have received a thank-you letter telling me how nice my gift looks in their home and assuring me that they appreciate my kindness as they "embark on their new life together."
Frankly, my idea of a housewarming gift is a bottle of wine, not the silver and china that we were asked to select from the bride-to-be's register at a local store. I know I sound like a prude or a tightwad, but this seems wrong to me.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding isn't crazy about it, either. Wedding presents should be returned if a wedding is called off. She presumes that the couple's not-very-nice rationale is that the engagement was not exactly broken. Rather, the clock has been turned back to a preengage-ment state of courtship which may or may not progress to a wedding. If it does, send them a lot of good wishes unaccompanied by a package.

Ultimate Wedding: Reception

The two styles of menus for wedding guests are Dainty and Heartburn. Dainty, which can be little more than finger sandwiches, wedding cake, and champagne or punch, is rather chic and a whole lot cheaper. Nevertheless Miss Ultimate Wedding does not advise administering this to families coming from one of the many traditions that consider that a wedding from which the guests don't reel away holding their bloated tummies does not constitute a real marriage.

Within those choices, the time of day is what counts. Are these people going to be starving? A morning or noon wedding is followed by a wedding breakfast, which in the inscrutable manner of etiquette means a luncheon. An afternoon wedding requires only teatime fare. The increasingly popular evening wedding does call for dinner, which makes it a poor choice for a limited budget.

The Long Wait
Q. At one wedding we attended, we waited for two hours at the reception and the bride and groom showed up as we were leaving. They were joyriding in their rented limousine. At another, we waited an hour and a half while pictures were taken. My mother (who was once kept waiting three hours at a wedding reception) told me that in her day, photos were taken a week in advance so that delays were avoided. We can't figure out what has changed.

A. What has changed is the concept that guests are guests. These people seem to think of them more as a background crowd, with nothing better to do than to stand around until there is something at which to gawk. The first couple preferred to entertain themselves, rather than their guests, and the second wedding was aimed at posterity, rather than those in attendance. That their victims don't retaliate by simply going home when they are ignored is a miracle of manners.

The Receiving Line
Q. I feel that a receiving line at the wedding ceremony or reception is unnecessary—that greeting the guests individually at the reception is more personal. Several of my coworkers believe that the traditional receiving line is mandatory for the 250 guests who will be attending our wedding.

A. Let's say that you got Miss Ultimate Wedding to agree with you. "All right," she would declare, "no receiving line, provided you make guarantees that the key figures of the wedding will all greet every single one of those 250 guests personally, making absolutely sure not to miss any."

How would this be managed? Well, the bride, bridegroom and at least some of the parents, as hosts, would all have to stand by the door to be sure to get everyone entering. Poof! You have reinvented the receiving line. Now perhaps you can tell Miss Ultimate Wedding why the very name of such a practical and hospitable institution frightens people.

The Receiving-Line Order
Q. My husband and I are giving my stepson a small wedding reception soon, and need your advice on receiving-line etiquette. Both the bride's parents and the groom's parents are divorced and are either remarried or seriously involved with another. The reception is small, only fifty to seventy-five people. It is formal, with candlelight dining. My husband is paying for most of the expenses. The bride's mother is also contributing. The bride's father and the groom's mother are not contributing to the occasion. In what order should the receiving line be?

A. In order of the size of their financial contributions, Miss Ultimate Wedding supposes you expect her to say. Deadbeats need not apply.

Well, money has nothing whatever to do with it. The custom is for either the mothers of the couple, or their mothers and fathers, to receive with the bridal couple. If you and the bridegroom's mother get along well, you might join them as hostess, but Miss Ultimate Wedding hopes you will not make an issue of it. There are too many extraneous people here, some of them not even related, and they will all be screaming to be treated "fairly."

However, you only asked about the order. If you really want to have a receiving line nearly as long as the guest list, Miss Ultimate Wedding will put her feelings aside and give you an order:
1. The bride's mother
2. The bridegroom's father
3. You
4. The bride's mother's husband
5. The bridegroom's mother
6. The bride's father
7. The bride's stepmother
8. The bride's stepfather

And oh, yes—then the bride, bridegroom, and bridesmaids.
Note diat this is not "order of importance." The traditional idea is to mix up the two families (bride's mother, bridegroom's father, bridegroom's mother, bride's father). Miss Ultimate Wedding has merely added the rule, when families are mixed enough already, of avoiding juxtaposing people who used to be married to each other, or to each other's spouses. It makes far too interesting a spectacle for the guests.

The Cuisine
Q. Please help a young bride-to-be! My fiance is Italian and I am Yugoslavian. He says he would like Italian food served at our reception. I do not want to make my side of the family feel left out by serving Italian dishes only, nor do I want a mishmash of international courses or dishes representing both sides. In fact, I do not want to make an ethnic statement at all with the food. I simply want something neutral (roast beef, for example) that just feeds everyone.

My fiance will not agree to this compromise and claims his side will be offended. My family is willing to go with the Italian food, but I am not. This will only serve to have the meal slant the wedding to one culture. What is proper in such a situation?

A. In the New World, we don't consider eclectic menus to be "an international mishmash," but rather the interesting use of different traditions. This is especially appropriate when it is likely to flatter and please the guests, not to mention the bridegroom.

It has not escaped Miss Ultimate Wedding's attention that you are marrying into a family of Italian origin, as he is into a family of Yugoslavian origin. Casting out both traditions for the sake of fairness is a bad way to start a marriage. Hardly better is the notion that everything must be exactly equal. If both families felt strongly, you should try to please both in the menu. But if your family doesn't care, what possible reason is there not to please his?

The Menu
Q. We are planning a wedding dinner for fifty guests. The caterers offer three entree choices, with selections to be made in advance. This plan would entail response cards listing choices, a seating chart, place cards, etc. It seems to me that we, as hosts, should simply decide on a single entree as we would if the dinner were at our home.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding shares whatever exasperation you may feel that people cannot simply sit down nowadays and eat—or not eat—whatever is put in front of them. They have to whine about it. There were always restrictions because of religion or allergies, long before people began scrutinizing their plates for philosophical or nutritional implications, but polite people accepted graciously what was offered, eating what they could and ignoring the rest.

Now home entertaining has had to alter slightly as a result of the society's preoccupation with what it eats—or food fussing, to use the technical term. A good host is by no means obliged to provide different meals-on-order for everyone, but tries to have a wide-ranging menu that will give at least some sustenance to everyone. Try to do the same for the wedding dinner. Miss Ultimate Wedding finds the project of having guests order in advance not only ridiculous and cumbersome, but ultimately futile, as no two or three choices could possibly accommodate all the variations now in common practice.

The Cash Bar
Q. Bo you think it is appropriate to have a full or partial cash bar at a wedding reception? Some coworkers and I were wondering if it would be rude to ask your guests to pay for a drink, or whether today's economy warrants such actions.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding is going to take to drink herself, if she keeps having to listen to that argument. No, you cannot use the economy as an excuse for the extreme rudeness of charging your own guests for their refreshment.
Have you never heard of the blessed poor who share what little they have, while vile and greedy people who begrudge sharing are accursed? If you can't afford liquor at your wedding reception, serve tea or punch. If you can't afford that, serve water. But serve it graciously.

For the Wedding Party Only
Q. A friend told me that at her wedding reception, she plans on having champagne for the wedding party only. I think it is rude and ill-mannered not to include everyone. I have suggested that since they cannot afford champagne for everyone, they shouldn't have it just for some. Instead, they should just have it for themselves after the reception is over. She says this has been done at other weddings (which should not justify it as being proper).

A. It sure doesn't. The perversions of hospitality being practiced at modern weddings would make your hair curl, Miss Ultimate Wedding trusts. However, this has got to be high among them. If one cannot afford something special for one's guests, one does not consume that very thing in front of them. Nor does one invite certain people and then demonstrate to them that they are second-class guests. Did the bridegroom have a part in this idea? If not, Miss Ultimate Wedding worries about him. If so, she only worries about their children.

In Which the Bride and the Bartender Fight over the Tips
Q. At a wedding reception where there is an "open bar," there is a large brandy snifter, vase, glass jar, whatever on the bar. Who is the money which is left by the guests meant for? I say it is a tip for the bartender. My daughter says the money is for the bride and groom. Please advise as to who is correct.

A. Nobody. Everybody here is so incorrect that Miss Ultimate Wedding feels like offering you all the change in the bottom of her purse just to go away. There is no correct use of a large brandy snifter on the bar at a wedding reception except for the convenience of a guest requesting brandy; the vase should be used for flowers, and the glass jar should have been thrown away once the maraschino cherries were used up. At a private function, it is not customary to tip the bartender, much less the bride.

The Seating Plans
Q. Why do brides take it upon themselves to arrange seating charts like a fourth-grade teacher?
Since their guests are presumed to be adults, can't they make their own decisions about whom to eat with?
I attended a cousin's wedding, halfway across the country. Although distance has prevented us from being close, my cousin is a wonderful person. A sizable contingent of my family was going, and since I am fond of them and do not often have the chance to see them, the opportunity seemed worth the airfare and hassles of travel. But at the reception, we were assigned tables for dinner and while most of my family sat at one table across the room, I ate with eight total strangers. (Since I am perceived as single, the invitation was for me only, and I did not bring my significant other.) While these people were all very pleasant, I would have preferred to spend time with my family.

Shortly after, I attended the wedding of a college friend. The invitation was again for one, and since my significant other did not know anyone from my college years and was not interested in going, he stayed home. It did not seem worth it, or even proper, to make an issue of it. The guests fell into two categories: dear friends I haven't seen in some time and people I had hoped never to see again in my life. Again we were assigned tables and you can guess where I was assigned. Granted that the meals only last an hour or so. But when you've traveled a great distance to see people you haven't seen in years, time is more valuable.

A. The reason that adults can't find their own seats at a wedding is that they turn childish and start turning over chairs to save seats, arguing about where they want to be, feeling no responsibility for wallflowers, and so on. For a formal meal, seating should be worked out in advance.

But these brides were operating on the assumption that the only social desire of single people is to meet other single people. While weddings are traditional sources of other weddings, such is not always the case. Weddings also function as family reunions and this should be taken into account. Alternating family seating groups with ones including strangers likely to be of interest romantically or socially is a sensible compromise.

The Toasts
Q. When our daughter got married, a strain developed between the groom's parents and ourselves. They chose not to speak at the rehearsal dinner or the wedding. I'm sure no one has to speak about their son or daughter, but isn't it strange?

A. As these people are now your daughter's parents-in-law, Miss Ultimate Wedding urges you to put the omission down to an oversight or stage fright and relieve that strain. Only if you promise to do so will she tell you, for the record, that yes, if the bridegroom's parents give the rehearsal dinner, his father (or mother) should welcome the guests with the first toast, to be returned by the bride's father, after which anybody who is so moved, sober, or brief may offer one. At the wedding itself, the best man offers the first toast, and others may follow, including the bridegroom, to offer toasts to his bride and to her parents.

Businesslike Guests
Q. During our wedding reception, a number of friends mentioned to us that the wife of one of my best friends was passing out bright (orange with black print) flyers for her new house-cleaning business. (Our wedding colors were orchid and black.) At the time, I did not know what to say or do, so we did nothing. Should I have said something to her at the time, or is it too late to say something now? Was this proper?

A. Please don't give Miss Ultimate Wedding false clues, however entertaining. For one awful moment, she thought your objection might be that the flyers clashed with your color scheme.

It would have been preferable to stop this outrage when it occurred, although Miss Ultimate Wedding sympathizes with your paralysis at the idea of reprimanding a wedding guest. It would have been best to send an usher to collect the flyers and hand them back to the offender with the explanation, "This is not a business occasion."
Now it seems pointiess to make a fuss, unless you plan to take the unwise step of inviting this person to another party. In that case you could say, when you issue the invitation, "This will be a social occasion, at which we prefer that business not be conducted." Better yet, you can have great fun turning the wedding anecdote into the kind of you'll-never-believe-this story that gets funnier, Miss Ultimate Wedding promises you, as time goes by.

Loud Music
Q. When attending a wedding reception and sitting with friends or family one may not have seen for some time, it would be most enjoyable to concentrate more on companionship than the loud band. As the volume goes up louder and louder, it becomes impossible to hear what the person next to you is saying. One must leave the table and find a quieter spot to catch up. Would it be rude to ask that the volume not be so loud? Or is this standard at wedding receptions? Very inconsiderate.

A. Yes, it is—inconsiderate, standard, and loud. But before you take that as Miss Ultimate Wedding's encouragement to stop the wedding by saying, "Will you kids please quiet down; some of us are trying to talk!" she must ask how you plan to make your request. You cannot, of course, disturb the wedding and you cannot step in and manage it. What you can do is to take one of the hosts aside—make that the parent with whom you are connected—and ask plaintively, "Is there somewhere the guests at my table can go to talk? We don't want to bother anyone, but we can't hear ourselves over the music."

Doggie Bags
Q. Over the past year, my family and I have attended a few weddings and we hope you can tell us what would be the proper etiquette technique when there are plenty of leftovers from the sweet table at a reception. I say to eat what you want and take home any leftovers, knowing that it would be a waste of food if it's not eaten. My family says to eat what you want and leave the leftovers alone, or bring home any leftover pastries only if they are served at each table and the bride and groom don't mind that you take them.

A. What did you have in mind here? Tapping the bridal couple on the shoulders during their last dance and asking them if you could run off with their food? Miss Ultimate Wedding gathers that your plans involve more than taking home two bites of wedding cake to put under your pillow so that you can dream of your future spouse. Is going off with two or three layers of uneaten cake more like what you were considering?

It is kind of you to worry about food waste, but that happens to be the problem of the hosts. Perhaps they have plans for it. Perhaps, unless you plan to outlast them, not everyone will be finished eating by the time you decide that there is enough to sustain you later. Miss Ultimate Wedding has defended the practice of the so-called doggie bag at restaurants, but the case is different; there, the diner has purchased the food. Guests are offered refreshment at an event, not a share of the investment for future use.

Staying On
Q. My daughter and her fiance have invited many out-of-town friends whom they haven't seen for a few years, and they want to stay at their wedding reception until it is over. Her grandmother says they should leave at a reasonable hour and not make the guests stay.

If they throw the bouquet, etc., and then leave to get changed, I feel they can return and party with their friends. We want people to stay as long as they wish, but not to feel they must stay if they want to leave. Would it be appropriate for the Master of Ceremonies to make an announcement to this effect?

A. The fact that newlyweds feel cheated if they have to go off and spend the evening alone has become increasingly, not to mention indecorously, apparent in recent years. As a result, the rule about guests not leaving until the bridal couple does is routinely violated and the couple does eventually end up alone, although at the reception site itself.

Miss Ultimate Wedding prefers your solution of the formal, but not actual, departure to the one about announcing that people are free to leave. Of course they are, but being told so, however merciful the motivation, can only make them think that they have long overstayed their welcome.

The Aftermath
Q. My sister is having a full wedding (the couple has lived together for a few years) and all of the immediate family is traveling from out of town. The couple has not offered to help with expenses. They say they have to pay for the wedding. Most of the family is returning immediately after the wedding and my sister is upset that no one is staying over an extra day to watch her open her gifts. Is this a new tradition—watching the bride open gifts?

A. How old is this bride? She seems to be confusing the tradition of the single-digit birthday party with her wedding. Watching people open presents, unless it is the joking offerings of a rare adult birthday party, is not a grown-up occupation.

The new tradition here, if you want to call it that, is the marathon wedding. Although a party the night before the wedding has long been customary, next-day parties featuring the bridal couple did not appear until everyone was willing to admit that the newlyweds had no particular reason to want to be alone together.
A guest's obligation when attending a wedding is still only for the ceremony and celebration immediately following. If others want to hang around longer, out of sentiment, curiosity about the wedding presents, or cheaper air fares if they stay over, it is fine to plan events to entertain them. But guests are not obliged to stay after the wedding day to witness the marriage.

Ultimate Wedding: Giving and Receiving Thanks

It has come to Miss Ultimate Wedding's attention that there is a great deal of misinformation circulating about thank-I you notes. One such canard is that people who get married have up to a year to thank those who give them presents. This is a fiction perpetrated by brides with writer's cramp. No, they do not. Miss Ultimate Wedding gives them about twenty minutes after the arrival of each present; more lenient souls admit the possibility of its taking up to two weeks. The highly rude notion that one can wait a year to express thanks seems to have originated with the correct rule that one can send a wedding present within a year after the marriage. But once received, it must be acknowledged immediately.

Is Thanking Passe?
Q. Three months ago, I attended a wedding for a niece of mine and I have not received a thank-you for the gift I gave them. I was told by the mother of the bride that it is not necessary to send thank-you notes anymore. I have never heard of such a rude thing before.

Giving and Receiving Thanks
Q. A fatal problem with amateur etiquette advice-givers (especially those who should have recused themselves from the situation out of a glaring conflict of interest) is that they only do half the job.

If the writing of thank-you letters is to be declared defunct, then the giving of presents must also be declared defunct. You cannot have one without the other. Miss Ultimate Wedding suggests you stop giving these people presents and that you stop taking etiquette advice from them.

Dividing Tasks
Q. My husband and I decided to split the wedding gift thank-you-note duties into those of his friends and colleagues with whom I am not really acquainted, as his responsibility, and those of our mutual friends, my friends, and my parents' friends as my responsibility.

My notes went out promptly. Three months after the wedding, I realized he had only written a few notes, but he said he had verbally thanked just about everyone. I was mortified! I thought a note that long after the gift was given (we were married five months ago) would almost be insulting! To make matters worse, I just went over the list with him and he has only thanked a third of his colleagues. What on earth can I do? Is it too late to do anything?

A. It is late, but not too late, to write those thank-you letters; and it is exactly the right time now to work out a peaceful division of duties with your husband. The bargain you had made with him—that he write his circle and you write yours—is an eminently fair and reasonable one. However, insistence on always being fair in every little thing, as opposed to over the long run, is ruinous to the happiness of marriages.

The better way to divide things is that each of you takes over the tasks you don't mind doing and you either split the rest or decide that you both hate them so much that you will sacrifice elsewhere in order to be able to pay someone to do them. We can now take it as a given that your husband hates writing letters. His excuse—that he thanked people verbally—not only violates the rule of etiquette that wedding presents deserve letters, but also violates the bargain you made with him.
These letters must be written and it is a task you may not hire anyone else to do. Miss Ultimate Wedding assures you that it is more insulting to ignore a wedding present than it is to send a belated letter. So you should sit down this minute and write them, just as you managed to write those other letters.

Is this fair? Sure, if you say, "Okay, I'll be the letter writer in the family. But you know what I've always hated? Vacuuming. I can't stand it. You don't seem to mind—will you do all the vacuuming in the family?"

Deputizing the Task
Q. I attended a grand wedding in my daughter's husband's family and sent them a pair of silver candlesticks. After quite some time, I received a thank-you note. But the odd thing was that the note was not in the bride's handwriting, but in her mother's! I know her handwriting well and so does my daughter. There is no mistaking it. The note was written in the first person—"I," not "they"—throughout. Such as "Bob and I really love the silver candlesticks and they look so nice in our new home" signed with the daughter's new name.

Miss Ultimate Wedding, is this now an acceptable way of thanking someone for a wedding gift? To me, it almost borders on forgery. Nor does it do the daughter any favor, as she certainly isn't teaching the daughter the values of responsibility or honesty, do you think?

A. It seems to Miss Ultimate Wedding that your friend has long since taught her daughter something about responsibility: namely, that she can get her mother to do her job.

Thank-Yous for Money
Q. Over half of the wedding gifts we received were gifts of money. How would one go about writing a thank-you card to someone for such a gift without sounding crude?

A. However useful and welcome money may be, it is, Miss Ultimate Wedding would like to point out, a crude present. For one thing, the recipient knows exactly what it cost. The most graceful way to disguise this in your thanks is to select a real present on that person's behalf—that is, to tell the donor what you have bought with the money. The rest of the thanks can then apply to the present, as if the giver had selected it.

Thanking Oneself
Q. Since the majority of the '60s generation, especially brides, are slow with thank-you notes for gifts, could a self-addressed, stamped envelope with note paper be enclosed in the gift box? Brides enclose similar envelopes for R.s.v.p.'s.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding sees that you are generously willing to forgo the give-and-take of present giving, by assigning the guest both the task of giving the present and thanking him- or herself for having done so. This doesn't seem quite fair. Perhaps such a bride ought to be allowed to buy herself a present and then thank herself or not as she prefers.

Prewritten Thanks
Q. At an extremely extravagant wedding I attended, there was a printed card at every place setting at the dinner table stating, "Thank you very much for sharing this special day with us, and thank you for your gift."
Am I behind the times (I am twenty-seven, and have been to many weddings but never came across this)? I thought a thank-you note was to be very personal, handwritten, and was to state the gift received.

A. Personal? Do you think of the relationship between bridal couple and their guests as personal, rather than commercial?
Evidently these people think otherwise. They have provided an all-purpose, standardized receipt which is not going to thrill those who had hoped to hear that whatever they had selected actually touched and pleased the couple. But Miss Ultimate Wedding can imagine that their method would be of advantage to those who had not selected a present and who can now forget about doing so, although honor would then require them to leave the card on the table.

Fishing for a Thank-You
Q. I left a wedding gift in the form of a check at a wedding I attended several months ago. I had met the bride once before, years ago, but had never met the groom. Thus far, I have not received any acknowledgment that my gift was received. It was cashed a month after the wedding, but I would like to know that it was received by the proper party. Is there any specific correct waiting time before making inquiries? I could call the bride's parents, but do not want to embarrass them or their daughter unless necessary.

A. You know and Miss Ultimate Wedding knows that what bothers you is not the presumption that the check was stolen and cashed with a forged signature, but the likelihood that these ingrates took your money and never bothered to thank you for it. To give a present to someone who doesn't even acknowledge it is galling. You shouldn't be ashamed to admit it—to admit it to Miss Ultimate Wedding, that is. You can't admit it to the ingrates or their relatives, because that would be a social declaration of war.
This brings us full circle back to your claim that you are merely afraid that your present went astray. Indeed, that is the excuse used to point out that a present was never acknowledged. Miss Ultimate Wedding doesn't know why she forced your real feelings out of you, except as ammunition against the rude, who are given to claiming, on no evidence whatsoever, that "no one cares about receiving thank-you notes any more."
In the case of a bought present, one voices doubts about the store where it was purchased, or the mail or delivery service, so as to avoid accusing the recipient. With checks it is harder, because you have evidence from your own bank that the check was received. By all means, question the parents (who seem to be the people you actually know) as to whether this is, indeed, their daughter's handwriting, with which you are not familiar. Let them figure out why you are not familiar with their daughter's handwriting, so they can pass the embarrassment on where it belongs.

Ultimate Wedding: Presents Not on the Registry, Cash

We've been living together for ages, so we have already everything we need."
"We've both been married before, so we have two of everything."
Are those the statements of people who would truly rather not receive any presents?
Oh, perhaps. Every once in a while, Miss Ultimate Wedding actually does hear from someone who is genuinely embarrassed at the idea that inviting intimates to a celebration generally brings forth tangible offerings.

More often, she hears these remarks from people who not only don't object to receiving presents, but are way ahead of the potential givers in thoughts about how best to please the recipients—themselves. If they can't actually surprise themselves, they at least want to do everything else connected with giving the presents they will receive— except, of course, paying for them.
How, they inquire, can they ask guests to get together and sponsor, for example, a major holiday trip? Or how, they ask with even greater candor, can they just get guests to donate cash? Such a useful present and easy to wrap.

If you will allow Miss Ultimate Wedding to mix in some ranting about the vulgarity of this approach, she promises to help make presents do what they are supposed to do, which is to please. The fact is that much of present-giving has become a burden in both directions, which is one reason (the other reasons being greed on the one hand and laziness on the other) that it has deteriorated into the mechanical transfer of money or selection of an item from the recipient's shopping list.
Miss Ultimate Wedding acknowledges that there are many for whom the traditional household presents are not appropriate. She is not as unsympathetic as she pretends with the exasperation of those who deplore the waste of money on unwanted goods. But first we must change attitudes; then we can see about changing the goods.

It is necessary for the preservation of civility to maintain the idea that generosity is—well, generosity. You are not supposed to seem to count on receiving presents—and as a matter of fact, presents for second weddings are not particularly traditional. Nor are presents supposed to be compensation to the celebrants for their expenditure on food and drink. It should also be remembered that guests are guests. Should they happen to be moved to give something they think might be enjoyed, there should be a pretense that they have been successful. You have to seem pleased and grateful.

Attempting to crush out of these well-wishers any impulse to exercise their own thoughts or taste is a mistake. (For that matter, Miss Ultimate Wedding won't even let the nice people put "No gifts," or that painful pun about wanting the guests' "presence, not presents," on their invitations.) Rather, their thoughtfulness should be encouraged.

People who claim to have "everything" have not, it seems, done all the shopping they plan to do for the rest of their lives. They merely mean that they have the staples that once characterized wedding presents. If this isn't obvious to their friends, they may—but only if asked—say modestly, "Oh, we really have all the basic household things," leaving unsaid but obvious the idea that little luxuries would be appreciated.

If the guest cares about the people concerned, he or she should be willing to undertake the obligation to try to think of what would be suitable and pleasing. (Those who don't care enough should decline the invitation and be done with it.) Occasionally people are bound to guess wrong, which is why it is a good idea to make the place of purchase obvious and not inquire after items that may have been discreedy exchanged.

A household where there is enough flatware and appliances can usually use an extra picture frame or vase; most people welcome a case of champagne; many people are known to have an appetite for art books or compact discs. Miss Ultimate Wedding does not presume to know the tastes of your friends better than you. She is only suggesting that expanding the idea of what makes a suitable wedding or anniversary present is better than killing the practice of generosity.

The One-Year-To-Give-A-Present Rule
Q. My twenty-four-year-old son was recently in a wedding for his friend, and when I asked what he was giving the bridal couple, he told me that he hadn't even thought about it, since he had up to a year after the wedding to send a gift.
I guess my shock was apparent because he proceeded to tell me that this was the new social rule for gift-giving. He said that everyone his age knows that, and that the rules as I once knew them had changed.

A. You almost caught Miss Ultimate Wedding there. If she hadn't been paying strict attention, she might have acquiesced in your son's assertion that this was a new rule and obliged you by sliding into the things-are-deteriorating mode.
The fact is, though, that this is a very old rule. That it happens to be more sensible than ever in a time when marriages themselves may not last a year is coincidental. Any time from the announcement of the engagement until the end of the first year of marriage is considered appropriate for sending a wedding present.

Presents at a Reception
Q. Is it acceptable for an adult to attend a wedding and not bring a gift? I feel that it is not, but my fiance says that you will say it is perfectly acceptable.

A. Oh, he does, does he? Funny, Miss Ultimate Wedding doesn't remember him from the Etiquette Council.
Having strenuously maintained that there is no social form, invitation, or announcement that translates as "Present due," Miss Ultimate Wedding might seem trapped into agreeing with your fiance. Fortunately, she is wilier than that. If you do not feel sufficiently pleased by someone's marriage to be moved to try to contribute to that person's happiness, you don't belong at the wedding.

It is possible that your fiance is referring to occasions where he accompanies you but does not actually know the bridal couple who are your friends. In that case, he may be included in your present. And Miss Ultimate Wedding trusts that you do not mean the verb "bring" literally. Wedding presents— properly sent to the bride's home before the wedding, or to the couple's home afterward—are a nuisance when brought to the event, where no one has time to deal with them and there is a danger of their being lost, the cards disappearing, or, Miss Ultimate Wedding regrets to say, the packages being stolen.

Not on the Registry
Q. I am puzzled and hurt, having just received a reproachful thank-you note from my stepsister. I chose a generous but not extravagant wedding gift that I thought she and her fiance would enjoy and sent it with a card wishing them happiness. Her note informs me that they liked my gift, even if it wasn't on their bridal registry list.
I didn't realize that the bridal registry list had become the absolute ironclad means of choosing wedding gifts, and that imagination was no longer appreciated. What should I do the next time my stepsister and I meet? I don't want to allude to this incident, but I'm very much afraid she will.

A. It is indeed a topsy-turvy world where a guest is deemed thoughtless for making an effort to think of something that would be pleasing as a present and where a letter of thanks can be used to chide someone. This kind of thing drives Miss Ultimate Wedding to despair. Then she pulls herself together and agrees with your admirable stance that it is not worth a family quarrel. If your stepsister brings it up, you might allow yourself merely to murmur sincerely, "My intention was to please you."

Q. Is it true that a cash wedding gift these days should be at least one hundred dollars?

A. Who told you this? Some sweet little bride who could hardly stop blushing as she said it? Miss Ultimate Wedding doesn't approve of cash presents and only grudgingly admits them to the outer rim of propriety when people plead that they are bedridden, out of touch with the tastes of the recipients, or dealing with ingrates who spurn all other offerings. Even then, she can't help asking why one doesn't order by mail, or why one is anxious to please those one hardly knows or knows to be ungrateful. In any event, she will certainly be no party to establishing rates.

Presence Doesn't Count
Q. When attending a wedding abroad, what is considered proper for gift-giving, taking into account the guest's traveling expense to be in attendance? Can the guest's presence be considered as a gift?

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding is curious as to what you think your presence is worth. More than an electric can opener, but less than a tea service? Guests do not get expense accounts for attending weddings, which they can then apply against the debt of a wedding present.

Displaying the Presents
Q. When I was young (I am very old), it was the custom to spread out all the wedding presents for display at the bride's home, with the card of the donor beside the presents. No one does that now. When you suggest it, people are shocked.
It was fun. The guests used to walk around saying things like, "Oh, how pretty the crystal from Aunt Emma is" or "Uncle Louis' plates go so well with the table linens the Smiths gave, don't they?"

A. As partial as she is to tradition, Miss Ultimate Wedding, whose memory goes even farther back than yours, can think of many wedding customs that she would be leery of reviving. Don't ask about the others (they have to do with checking up on the bride's purity and the bridegroom's potency), but this is one.
In an age of consumerism, it would be unwise and unseemly to encourage people to evaluate and compare one another's wedding presents. Suffice it to say that Miss Ultimate Wedding doubts that the comments made would be confined to the sort of genteel compliments you recall.

Ultimate Wedding: Wedding Guests

Invitations to Cater
Q. This wedding invitation enclosure card ("Miss Ultimate Wedding says it's okay if you would like to help with donations of food for the reception") left me and other recipients speechless. Since you never seem at a loss for words, would you please comment.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding is speechless, too, and you will have to excuse her, because when she recovers, the first person she wants to talk to will be her lawyer. Not only did Miss Ultimate Wedding never say any such thing, but she is on record as being violently opposed to the notion of issuing non-hospitable invitations.
Guests (as opposed to those who may volunteer to help, or who respond to a suggestion that everyone pitch in on a cooperative event with no particular host) are not expected to bring their own hospitality along with them. "We're getting married and we expect you to cater the reception" is not an acceptable way to entertain.

Q. My first cousin is getting married, and his mother, my aunt, keeps saying, "It is going to be a small wedding." By that, I assume she is saying I won't be invited. I don't care about myself, but my youngest daughter, who is ten, has never been to a wedding in her life. My oldest daughter, eighteen, has not been to one since she was five. I want very much for them both to at least observe the wedding ceremony. I would be willing for them to pass on the reception, etc. I am on excellent terms with my aunt, but how do I approach her on this subject? I heard that a church is a public place, so a wedding can be observed by anybody. True?

A. Technically, you are right. But Miss Ultimate Wedding promises you that should you take advantage of this, you will no longer be on excellent terms with your aunt. Any way you or your daughter attempt to attend this wedding to which you are not invited—by making any kind of a plea, or by simply dropping by—will be interpreted as a reproach for their not having invited you. And it will create a major embarrassment for your relatives who expect to go off to whatever small celebration they are having, without you.

By the way, Miss Ultimate Wedding, susceptible as she is to maternal solicitude, has failed to be touched by your argument in favor of your daughters. A wedding is not a show to be viewed simply for the experience or amusement.

Parental Discretion
Q. I have received an invitation to my cousin's wedding, addressed to my husband, myself, and our four children, ages nine and a half to one and a half. My aunt, the mother of the bride, told my father that she was upset when she heard I was thinking of hiring a babysitter, at least for the two youngest, because she desired all my children to attend. She loves children, especially tots, no matter how rambunctious they are. I know she wouldn't bat an eye if a youngster ran up the aisle or cried through the service. On the whole, my children are sweet and well behaved, and many enjoy their company. However, most times they are typical children and behave as such. I'm afraid the scene might be this: The four-year-old will talk loudly through the whole service, the two-year-old will flirt with the people behind him, and the one-year-old will want to get down and go off to observe on his own. My husband will not be able to attend and help me. Although my dad would lean over backward to assist me, I don't want to put him in the position of parenting my children at an affair at which he should be enjoying himself. And quite frankly, if I had to spend time in the back of the church, outside, or running after them during the reception, I'd just as soon stay home.

Miss Ultimate Wedding, I want to honor my aunt's wishes. I know she will be disappointed if I only bring part of my brood, but the thought of less than a perfect day exhausts me.

A. You have no idea how refreshing Miss Ultimate Wedding found your letter. To understand that, you would have to see the piles of correspondence she has from people who are vehemently opposed to having any children at family occasions, and from their relatives who are equally vehement about bringing theirs, whether it is appropriate or not.

How nice of your aunt to take such a warm interest in your children, above the technical perfection of the occasion. And how nice of you to take such a warm interest in the occasion, above the natural limitations of your children to tolerate. While hosts are within the bounds of politeness to invite adults-only to a wedding, the parent of invited children is the one to make the decision. (Miss Ultimate Wedding's awkward wording is to head off any misinterpretation that a parent can make the decision about the attendance of children who were not invited.)
You make a strong case for not bringing yours. The polite way to say so, given the hospitality of your aunt, is 'You are so sweet to include them, but, really, they're not old enough to appreciate and enjoy it. They'll be happier hearing about it, and meeting the couple on an occasion when they can really enjoy their attention."

Q. The man with whom I have had an "affair" for the last fifteen years is getting married. Technically, I guess it hasn't been an affair, since neither of us was married or in significant monogamous relationships. However, the sexual aspects of our relationship were quite important and were hidden from our various other friends.
He plans to invite me to the wedding. After all, I am one of his closer and longer friends and to not invite me would raise suspicions, he says. Should I go? I will, of course, send a present. Any particular presents that should be avoided or that you would recommend? We have stopped our sexual encounters; however, he continues to visit me occasionally alone, as well as sometimes with his fiancee. Would it be proper for us (or him) to let her know our history?

A. Let us take that last question first; Miss Ultimate Wedding has the feeling it is the key to the rest. What, pray, did you have in mind? A luncheon with the lady during which you wait until she has a mouthful of chef's salad before murmuring, "I don't know if Jeremy happened to mention this to you, but. . ."? Warning the gentleman that the next time they pay one of their visits, you expect him to sit with you on the sofa, facing her, and to say, after simultaneously clearing your throats, "By the way, there is something we think you should know"?

Surely the gentleman's history is his to confide or not, as he sees fit, and in a manner of his own choosing. To suggest otherwise is something very close to blackmail. You would not care to have him coming around in the future, should you form a serious attachment, with an offer to enlighten the gentleman.
Your quibble about what does or does not constitute an affair suggests that you believe that the only legitimate hurt one can inflict is deception, and you seem to count not confessing the past as deception In his remark about not arousing suspicion, the gentleman has indicated that he disagrees.

The answer to your questions about attending his wedding and choosing a present is to continue the discretion you showed, when it was presumably in your own interest, now that it is no longer your concern. As the visits seem to have worked, Miss Ultimate Wedding presumes you are enough under control of your behavior to attend the wedding under the guise of innocent friendship. Your present, also, should be in keeping with that relationship. A photograph album of your last trip with him would, for example, be in bad taste.

Skipping the Ceremony on Principle
Q. When my wife and I get invited to the wedding of a son or daughter of our friends, we usually don't go to the church part, but always go to the wedding reception. We make sure to talk to the bride and groom and always bring a gift.
The reason that we don't go to the church is because I'm not a religious person and my wife is not a member of a major religion and this is known to our friends. But a number of people not involved in the weddings have let their displeasure be known to us in no uncertain terms. Are we obligated to go to the church if we want to exercise our desire to go to the reception? Are we inconsiderate and does this give them the right to be rude to us?

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding does not recall "the right to be rude" as being in the Bill of Rights and grants it to no one. But she can certainly see how you and your wife tempted these people beyond endurance. Attending a wedding ceremony is not an expression of one's own religion, or an endorsement of anyone else's. It is participation in a ceremonial milestone in the lives of people who are important to you, in a way that merely attending their social events is not. What you and your wife have done, by following your idiosyncratic reasoning unrelated to the understanding and customs of the society, is to establish the idea that you attend parties but not more serious events.

Q. Living in Miami, we are surrounded by both Spanish and English. Recently, my husband and I were invited to a wedding and the entire hour-and-a-half ceremony was in Spanish. Unfortunately, I am not fluent in Spanish, and my attention span did not last ninety minutes. Should a couple inform the guests on the invitation if a wedding is to be in Spanish, so each can choose whether or not to attend?

A. You certainly have a peculiar way of choosing whether to attend a wedding. It is Miss Ultimate Wedding's understanding that wedding guests are there out of affection for the bridal couple, not in the expectation of riveting entertainment adjusted to whatever their attention spans happen to be. Unfortunately, there is no way to indicate on a wedding invitation that unsuitable people should decline. If there were, it would read "If you don't care about us, don't bother to attend."

The Obligations of "And Guest"
Q. I am a divorced woman. When I am invited to a wedding, birthday, or any other special occasion, it is addressed to me "and guest." Is it customary for the guest to pay some of the expenses, such as for his dinner or for the gift? I assume that since he is my guest, I do not expect him to pay for anything. However, what if he asks or wants to contribute? In the card, if I am paying for the monetary gift that is enclosed, do I sign my name only, or do I write his name too, although he made no contribution? Does he also write in the guest book? Since I am inviting him to go to the party with me, is it customary for me to pick him up, since I'm going there anyway?

A. You are asking for rules on a practice that Miss Ultimate Wedding considers wrong. Inquiring of one's friends "Who is that charming man you've been seeing?" so as to invite him by name is one thing; giving one's guests two slots each, the other to be filled however that person wishes, is another. The result is that occasions that should be celebrated by one's intimates are half populated by strangers.

Now that Miss Ultimate Wedding has gotten that off her chest, she will address the reality of the situation. Yes, the gentle-man is your guest and should not be asked to pay anything, or to buy a present for a stranger. (Who drives whom is a matter of convenience.) However, as he did attend, his name should appear with yours in the guest book. That at least gives his hosts a chance to find out afterward who was there.

Fielding Questions
Q. I have just received the joyous news that my younger brother is to be married in a little over a year. While I share his excitement, I am already dreading the wedding day for one reason: I am gay.
In and of itself, this should not cause such strong anxiety. However, I anticipate that many of my more distant relatives will attend who are unaware of my sexual orientation. I also expect them to start asking me (and my immediate family) questions about my plans for marriage, as I am nine years older than my brother. Obviously, I have no such plans.

Because I am open about my sexual preference, at almost any other social function I would probably just tell them the truth and add that I have been living happily with a wonderful man for several years, dismissing any distress at that response as the querist's problem. At my brother's wedding, however, I feel that such honesty would detract attention from my brother's special day and place it unwillingly on me. This was an issue at my sister's wedding several years ago.

I don't want to offend my relatives, as such questions are neither prying nor insensitive and are politely meant to engage me in friendly conversation. Yet I would like to discourage such conversation from the beginning. To complicate matters, I expect that my lover will also be invited to the wedding, as my other immediate family members welcome him as a member of our family.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding appreciates your delicacy in not wanting to make your brother's wedding into a coming-out party for yourself. She also would like to note that "When are you going to get married?" is about the most unpleasant conversation opener there is, for anyone of whom it might be asked, at a wedding or anywhere else. But she notices that the wedding is a year off. Surely your family will have some opportunity to be in touch, informally, during that time, with the relatives who will be attending. They could easily slip in a pre-introduction to your lover, and mention how happy they are to have him in the family. Although Miss Ultimate Wedding does not believe in announcing anything about one's sex life, including its orientation, your living arrangement is properly of interest to those who care about you.

Ultimate Wedding: Wedding Guests Duties

Chief Duties of the Wedding Guests
1. Answer the invitation immediately and definitely, in the style (third person or informal letter) in which it was written, and only on behalf of those to whom it was addressed—and then fulfill the pledge to show up (having made their own travel arrangements) or (even if that better offer fell through) not to show up.
2. Be moved to send (but never bring) wedding presents, bearing in mind that it is nice, but not strictly necessary, to give a second wedding present for the same person's second marriage, nor more than a note of congratulation to an acquaintance whose wedding they do not care to attend; and also bearing in mind that while it is desirable to please the couple, it is not necessary to comply with any rude attempts to direct what the guests are to buy, donate, or contribute.
3. Dress according to the formality of the occasion (neither in white nor, except for gentleman's evening clothes, black), rather than defy it in the name of comfort or personal style.
4. Head for the receiving line immediately upon arriving at the reception (telling the bride's and bridegroom's mothers and any fathers present that it was a beautiful wedding; the bride, that she is beautiful and that they wish her the best; the bridegroom, that they congratulate him and that he is a lucky man; and the bridesmaids, that they look beautiful), after which they may get a drink and socialize with other guests, provided they do not use the occasion to inquire into these people's prospects of being married.

Accepting a Wedding Invitation
Q. Back in the olden days, one replied to a wedding invitation by writing an abbreviated copy of it, starting with one's own name:
Mr. and Mrs. John Jones accept with pleasure the kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts for Saturday, the tenth of June at half after seven o'clock City Club
Is this form of reply passe? What is currently the proper method of replying?

A. Passe in what sense? There is no need to update this form, as it is succinct and correct. It is not for guests to treat the style of the occasion with less formality than the hosts do.
Miss Ultimate Wedding does not deny that an awful lot of people have declared the necessity of answering invitations at all to be out of fashion. Since they are not the hosts, they have kindly taken it upon themselves to declare that hosts "don't care any more" to know who is attending their events.

This is a shameless falsehood. Ask anyone connected with giving a wedding. The timid will declare that they themselves don't care, but that the caterer does, which isn't true, either—they do care, and the caterer is satisfied if all the meals ordered are paid for, whether or not they are eaten. Therefore, the olden days, as you call them, are still upon us and will be forever, or at least until such time as people get fed up entertaining ingrates and stop issuing invitations.

Declining a Wedding Invitation
Q. Here is my plight: I am a single, middle-aged man with no intent of marriage. I have celebrated many weddings of friends, relatives and colleagues, as either guest or groomsman. Now I'm receiving invitations to the many more weddings for the children of these couples. Though they have my best wishes, I have no desire to participate either with my attendance or by providing gifts. How may I politely express my position?

A. You are in luck. Etiquette has taken the precaution of supplying the exact words you need; you have only to fill in your name at the top, neatly centered. It is:
Mr. Algernon Asquith regrets exceedingly that he is unable to accept the very kind invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful for Saturday, the eleventh of June
Miss Ultimate Wedding only asks that you do not fool with this wording, in the disastrous hope of personalizing it to your situation. There is no polite way to say that a gentleman thinks he has gone quite far enough in enduring the nuptial festivities of his friends without boring himself senseless at those of their children.

Response Cards
Q. In a wedding invitation from a very influential family, I looked for a response card, but there was none. On the invitation itself, on the lower left-hand corner, were the initials "R.s.v.p." with no date to return a response by.
Since I thought this was odd, I asked my sister, who replied that this is now the proper way and that we were supposed to buy our own response cards to send back. I disagree and think the party involved should send response cards. Who is right?

A. Has it come to this? That people who refrain from doing something incorrect are now being thought rude by the very people who violate the rule themselves? Allow Miss Ultimate Wedding a minute to sit down and search for her vinaigrette.
She suggests that you also take a minute to think. What you are saying is that people who offer you hospitality must also be responsible for seeing to it that you answer their invitation. Response cards were never correct. They are a desperate, and not particularly successful, way to make up for the extreme rudeness of people who think it too much trouble to inform their hosts whether or not they will attend an occasion to which they have been kindly bidden. Wedding invitations are properly answered on your very own paper, with your very own hand. Following the form of the invitation, they say either that "Mr. and Mrs. Phiffle accept with pleasure" or "regret exceedingly that they are unable to accept" the kind invitation of their hosts.

Using Response Cards Anyway
Q. How can one decline an invitation including an engraved response card that has a blank space indicating the number of guests attending? Placing a zero on the blank with no explanation seems ridiculous.

A. Writing a zero on the card provided is, Miss Ultimate Wedding agrees, unspeakable. But you could put a dash there, and write a brief statement of regret ("So sorry I can't be there—very best wishes") after it.

Q. My husband and I spent our own money to treat ourselves and others with a grand celebration of our decision to marry. We spent six months of our life, and thousands of dollars, planning a big wedding. Many families we invited R.s.v.p.'d for the entire family, or for the husband and wife. Unfortunately, we discovered that many husbands and children "do not like to go to weddings." Out of the 150 guests expected at the wedding, only 40 showed up.

Miss Ultimate Wedding, I do not care about the money we wasted. What hurt was the emotional devastation we felt when we stood to walk down the aisle of a church filled with loved ones, and discovered that the church was empty, save for two rows. It was the same feeling when we entered a large reception hall with place settings for 150 people, and found only 30 people. This was supposed to be our wedding day, one of the best days of our life, and it was horrible. I wanted to write this letter to let people know what happens when they decide not to go to a wedding, or think that sending one representative of the family is sufficient to satisfy any social obligations they may feel.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding knew this is where we would end up once people started regarding social invitations as negotiable, transferable, and nonbinding. Going to the pseudo-parties given by businesses and patronizing restaurants has given people the incredibly rude idea that among their friends, as well, they may send representatives, drop by or not as their moods dictate, bring extra people, demand special foods and so on.

Wedding invitations are particularly sacred, but all social invitations must be treated with respect or there will be no order, pleasure, or point in extending hospitality. Miss Ultimate Wedding hopes people will learn from your experience and is sorry you had to be the victim of such callousness. But please don't remember this as just a horrible day. You had each other, didn't you?

Conflicting Events
Q. The planned dates of my high school reunion and my brother-in-law's wedding are the same. Do I have to attend the wedding? GENTLE READER—Yes. Only if your brother-in-law starts getting married every five years, in synchronization with your reunions, will Miss Ultimate Wedding allow you to consider neglecting such a major family occasion in favor of an alumni event.

Not Bills
Q. You have not mentioned the fact that a wedding invitation is really a wedding announcement. So many people have decidedly fluttery guilt feelings about being invited to weddings of people they really don't know. Is it proper to send these newlyweds a card wishing them happiness? Isn't a person obliged to send a gift when invited to the reception? If this were not the case, wouldn't you have to send a gift to every couple whose announcement is printed in the newspaper?

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding begs your pardon, but kindly requests you not to add to the confusion. A wedding invitation is a wedding invitation, not a wedding announcement. A wedding announcement is a wedding announcement. The former asks you in advance to attend a wedding, and the latter informs you afterward that one has taken place.
Your problem is that you think that one or both of them is actually a bill. Why do so many people have trouble believing that there is no way at all that bridal couples, or anyone else, can send a social communication that informs people that they must ante up? It is true that when the matter is voluntary, nice people are supposed to want to give their marrying friends some tangible evidence of their delight. Thus attending a wedding is associated with the giving of a present.
If one doesn't actually much care about the marriage, one need only decline the invitation and send good wishes to the couple. Wishes for happiness are the proper response to a wedding announcement, although those, too, occasionally inspire people to send presents.

Not Theater Tickets
Q. A girlfriend of mine and her husband were invited to a wedding. Her husband cannot attend, due to a prior commitment. My friend has asked me to attend with her. The bride is an acquaintance of mine, but more friendly with my girlfriend. Because I was not formally invited to the wedding by the bride, but will attend as a guest of my friend, am I required to give a separate wedding gift?

A. No, you are not required to send a wedding present because you are not going to attend the wedding. Miss Ultimate Wedding will go so far as to say that you are required not to attend the wedding.
A wedding invitation addressed to a married couple is not like a pair of theater tickets that may be transferred to others. It is not fair to bridal couples to populate their weddings with guests-once-removed—people to whom they are not close but who are the guests of their guests. Had the bride wished to invite you to the wedding, she would have done so.

Not a Referendum
Q. We are a couple in our sixties. The twenty-eight-year-old daughter of good friends of ours has invited us to a commitment ceremony for herself and her female lover. They lived together for several years and now are throwing a big bash, with vows, many guests, and a reception.

We do not approve of this lifestyle, but of course would not make a big show of refusing the invitation. We are wondering, however, if we can refuse and, if so, if we should say why, or if we should invent a prior engagement. There really seems to be no happy solution. We don't want to lie and we don't want to butt in with our opinion of homosexuality, nor do we want to attend an event that would make us uncomfortable.

A. An invitation is not a referendum, in which guests are asked to give their opinions of the arrangement being celebrated. It is a mere inquiry as to whether you would like to be present, and in this case, the answer is no.
Miss Ultimate Wedding assures you that you do not need to lie in order to avoid explaining your objections. You need merely decline politely. Although no specific excuse is necessary, it is customary to accompany this with a congratulatory wish, which Miss Ultimate Wedding trusts you can supply in good conscience. Wishing someone happiness does not involve you in debating how happiness is best achieved.

Ultimate Wedding: Duties of the Bridesmaids, Best Man, Maid of Honor

Chief Duties of the Maid or Matron of Honor
1. Continues to act as the bride's best friend to the extent of listening to confidences and helping with tasks even when driven to distraction by the repetition of petty worries and details.
2. Attends all wedding-related functions and becomes spontaneously moved to gather bridesmaids and other intimates of the bride for a shower.
3. Fusses over the bride on the day of the wedding, helping her dress, telling her that her doubts about the bridegroom are only traditional bridal jitters, taking charge of the bride's bouquet during the ceremony, gracefully straightening her train, and producing the bridegroom's ring at the appropriate moment.

Chief Duties of the Best Man
1. Delivers the bridegroom to the ceremony at the proper time, correctly dressed, and in a suitable frame of mind—which is induced by (a.) sending him home early the night before and (b.) reminding him that he adores the bride and is not making a mistake.
2. Supervises the ushers, checking out their clothing, encouraging them to ask the bridesmaids, and especially the junior bridesmaids, to dance, and vetoing any ideas for jokes that would shock guests or disable the going-away vehicle.
3. Offers a flattering toast to the bride, omitting any details about the courtship or the bridegroom's character that the bride's grandparents might not want to know.
4. Produces the bride's ring during the ceremony, either from his pocket or by nudging the ring-bearer, and the tickets for the wedding trip at the conclusion of the reception.

Chief Duties of the Bridesmaids
1. Be good sports about the bride's taste in their dresses, jollying her into a compromise that they can both stomach and afford, and then putting up with the results.
2. Keep smiling charmingly, not only while marching up the aisle together, but while marching back down it on the arms of ushers they may not fancy, while standing in the receiving line, and while going around the reception accepting silly compliments.
Chief Duties of the Ushers
1. Keep their right arms bent before the ceremony to seat the lady wedding guests, while the gentlemen follow behind; and again at the ceremony's conclusion, to escort the bridesmaids down the aisle. 2. Be good sports about restraining their sense of fun on the grounds that the occasion may seem a complete joke to them, but apparently has a serious element for their friend the bridegroom.

Bridesmaid Abuse
"Would you be so kind as to abolish the institution of bridesmaid?"
Miss Ultimate Wedding was startled at the request, but only for a moment. It was no accident that it came from a meticulously polite young lady who also happens to have lots of friends and looks wonderful in pastel dresses, even ones with bows on the backside.
Bridesmaid abuse has become rampant, and it isn't the groomsmen who are inflicting it. At least such is not the thrust of the complaints addressed to Miss Ultimate Wedding. The outrages she hears about result either from tyranny on the part of the bride, or from the observance of an unwieldy accumulation of unauthorized but persistent customs that have made what ought to be a pleasurable duty of friendship into a social and financial burden.

Before absolutely abolishing the post of bridesmaid, Miss Ultimate Wedding will attempt to return some perspective to it and to restore humane working conditions. If this doesn't work, she will find herself in support of those who resolve to decline politely any such honors that may be proposed to them.

The original point of having bridesmaids was that the bride would wish, at this momentous occasion in her life, to be surrounded by her closest friends. That a group of young ladies might add a decorative element to the ceremony, and that they might want to fuss over the bride a bit because their fondness for her filled them with vicarious happiness, were merely delightful but incidental advantages.
These two factors have now come to overwhelm the intention of the institution. Things have come to the point where bridesmaids' appearance is as strictly mandated and inspected as if they were in boot camp and their kindnesses are no more optional than if they had been conscripted.

The attributes of prettiness and willingness to perform extra services may be considered so important by the bride that the mere fact that someone has been her lifelong friend may no longer be enough to qualify her for brides-maidhood. Miss Ultimate Wedding is always hearing of cases where the bride wants to eliminate from her entourage a friend who doesn't have the right look, or doesn't make herself available for chores, in favor of a comparative stranger who looks the part or is willing to enter service.

Thus the institution of bridesmaidhood may abolish itself without Miss Ultimate Wedding's intervention. The time cannot be far away when some entrepreneur puts forth the advantages of hiring professionals for the occasion, rather than having to depend on mere friends.

The fact is that the only real duty of a bridesmaid is to hang around the altar during the ceremony, paying attention and looking pleased or moved (both, if she can manage it without getting so carried away that she stands on the bride's train). Being chief bridesmaid, known as maid or matron of honor, does carry light duties in addition to witnessing the ceremony—holding the bride's bouquet as she receives her wedding ring, producing the bridegroom's wedding ring when it is needed, and keeping an eye out in case the bridal finery needs straightening or the bride's new mother-in-law has left lipstick on her cheek.

That's it. Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear clothes that they cannot afford and that make them look stupid. Because bridesmaids are supposed to be such good friends of the bride, they often do get together to give a shower or a luncheon in her honor. It is charming, and even usual, for them to be so moved, but it is not obligatory. From the same wish to please their friend, the bridesmaids should listen tolerantly to her ideas of what dresses might be pretty on them for the occasion. Personally, Miss Ultimate Wedding prefers to see bridesmaids dressed similarly rather than identically, but the specifics of either should be arrived at by a consensus among those most concerned.
What a bride needs in order to ensure their cooperation with her plans is exactly what ought to form her basis for asking these ladies to honor her with their presence: affection. If she spent her energies cultivating that, rather than issuing orders, she would be more successful, not to mention more bridal.

The "Best Person"
Q. I am to be involved in a wedding in which two of my dearest friends will marry each other. In lieu of a best man, the groom has asked me, a female, to act as "best person." This is an honor and I am touched as well as proud of my friend's openmindedness.

It has come to my attention that some of the other women in the bridal party are apprehensive in regard to my role in the wedding, a formal church ceremony. I wish to be sensitive to the feelings of those who may be uncomfortable with this break with tradition, as well as being correct in my behavior.

A. It troubles Miss Ultimate Wedding to think what those bridesmaids might be apprehensive about. Do they imagine that one of them will have to dance with you at the reception? Do they think of the recessional as a parade of pseudo-romantic couples?
All this would be silly. Traditionally, the bridegroom is attended by his best friend, friendship being the chief factor, not gender. Of course you will dress as a lady and dance with gendemen. You will not offer any lady your arm, but merely march at the maid of honor's side as paired bridesmaids do in a processional. But if the bride's honor attendant is a gentleman, he may offer you his arm.

Mother as Matron of Honor
Q. I have asked my mother to be my matron of honor. I have no close female friends and my mother and I have a close relationship. Despite these facts, she fears that it would be incorrect. She promised to abide by your advice.
A. Miss Ultimate Wedding wishes her great happiness in the role. How odd it is that there has long been the custom of bridegrooms selecting their fathers for the best-friend role of "best man," but not for brides' selecting their mothers.

Q. I am considering getting married again. The time before, my sister was my matron of honor. I would dearly love her to fill that role again, but in discussing it, we thought that this might be frowned on or socially unacceptable.

A. What, pray, is your reasoning? That when changing husbands, it looks backward to retain the same sister?

Pregnant Bridesmaid
Q. My granddaughter is being married and among her bridesmaids will be a lady who will be nine months pregnant, walking along with the other bridesmaids. My opinion is that she would be out of place among them. Would it be in good taste? I am eighty-three years old, and my children believe I'm old-fashioned.

A. Indeed, pregnancy was once considered to be in poor taste and signs of it best concealed. This was a tremendous inconvenience to ladies who got pregnant anyway and is a fashion that Miss Ultimate Wedding is delighted to see gone.
Presuming there is no question of physical difficulty for the lady in question, she should properly take her place as a bridesmaid by virtue of being one of the bride's friends. Her own family situation is irrelevant to the occasion.

Q. I am a widow and my friend has asked me to be her honor attendant in her wedding. Would I be called the matron or maid of honor?

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding does not want to be the one to break the news to you that maidenhood is not renewable. So she will confine herself to saying that a widow would have to be a matron of honor.

Ring Bearers and Flower Girls
Q. My fiance and I are trying to finalize the members of the wedding party. Should the ring bearer and the flower girl be a certain age, or is it up to each couple to decide?

A. The ring bearer and the flower girl are supposed to be of an age to make everyone smile and nudge one another and say "Awwwww, looooooook" during the processional. A mere "Don't they look cute?" with no extra letters in the pronunciation means that the young people are old enough to be a junior bridesmaid and usher. What age produces the desired effect is something that the bridal couple may decide.
Whatever their ages, Miss Ultimate Wedding urges you to fuss a bit over the younger members of your bridal party. Children in weddings usually treat their roles with great seriousness and share the bridal couple's sense of the importance of the occasion. They also frequently retain vivid memories of such events, which they trot out a decade or two later when they want "a wedding just like Cousin Adelaide's."

A Mother's Wedding
Q. My twenty-eight-year-old daughter will be marrying for the second time and she would like her seven-year-old daughter to be a flower girl. But she feels that her eight-year-old son is a little old to be a ring bearer, and would like him to come in from the side, as is the custom in our church, with the groom and groomsmen, and stand next to the best man at the altar. Do you agree that he is too old to be a ring bearer, and if so, is this a viable alternative? In either case, what would be the proper attire? Neither of us cares for tuxes on little boys, but we feel he is too big for short pants.

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding finds herself amused at how you managed, with one question, to arouse both what is rigid about etiquette and what is flexible. She is in the peculiar position of wanting to back you up and to lighten you up at the same time. Absolutely, miniature versions of gentleman's evening clothes should not be worn by boys under the age of eighteen. Miss Ultimate Wedding is even more firm about that than you are. But she would never, never try to explain to a child that the one-year age difference between him and his sister means that she will have a role in the wedding party and he will not. No rule of etiquette draws such a fine line, which is likely to arouse such hurt feelings. It is to deal with precisely this kind of problem that the positions of junior groomsman and junior bridesmaid were created.
However, in this case, Miss Ultimate Wedding would prefer to have both children standing at the altar witnessing the ceremony at close hand, since it affects them so directly. She is not, frankly, enamored of the idea of having one's children as bridal attendants. But given the choice, she would choose an inclusive arrangement over an exclusive one any time.

Bridesmaid's Tattoo
Q. I am to be a bridesmaid and the bride let us pick out our own dresses, as long as they were velvet and not strapless. Wheee, I found this elegant off-the-shoulder dress.

I have a tattoo on my right shoulder that shows. I don't know if I should cover it with special makeup (the bride's sister thinks I should) or leave it alone. The tattoo is now a part of me and they should accept me the way I am. I am a middle-class woman, well groomed, clean, not the biker type.

The bride really doesn't care if I cover it or not, but I feel as if she's not telling me her real feelings about the matter from not wanting to hurt my feelings. She's a really good friend. I feel if everyone at this wedding is so offended by my tattoo and not more interested in the wedding day, then they have a problem.

A.Okay, what's the tattoo look like?
Never mind. Unless it is positively nauseating or obscene, Miss Ultimate Wedding is going to surprise you by defending it. Wheee! (as you would say).

It is silly enough that bridesmaids are required to wear the same dress, without their subjecting their bodies or hair to criticism. The notion that the bride can make them restyle their hair or change their weight in the hopes of standardizing them into a matching set is as insulting as it is silly. This bride has done nothing of the kind. She has been fauldessly polite—and yet you are goading her to tell you her true feelings. Miss Ultimate Wedding feels that if you are not more interested in your friend's wedding than in her opinion of your tattoo, it is you who have a problem.

Never, Ever Black
Q. Our sister is having an evening July wedding at which the five girls in our family, all over the age of twenty-eight, will be attendants. We are all on a limited budget and would like to purchase a dress we could wear again. We have suggested black, but the groom's mother feels black is inappropriate. I have read that it is acceptable for bridesmaids to wear black in an evening wedding.

A. Not here, you didn't. Miss Ultimate Wedding has never understood, much less espoused, the Oh-Well-Who-Really-Cares? School of Etiquette.
That is not to say that customs do not sometimes change and that etiquette should not embrace changes that are for the good. But that a keeper of manners should succumb to thoughtless change, just because it is tiring to try to point out the difference between good change and bad, strikes her as outrageous. Black is the traditional color of mourning, and confusing the symbolism of marriage and death is a particularly unfortunate idea. While formal mourning has gone out of practice (a change with both good and bad aspects, but we'll leave that argument for another time), the symbolism remains for many people, including, in this case, the bridegroom's very own mother. To these people, the wedding would not look chic but sad.

Q. Although I was honored when I was asked to be a bridesmaid, I am having second thoughts. We had already been fitted for gowns and I had paid for a fitting. Now the couple wants to suit the entire bridal party in tuxedos! I won't wear a tuxedo. I think it's silly. My fiance is to be best man and I don't wish to look like his brother. Should I decline and hurt my friend's feelings? What should I say?

A. My, what fun everyone will have trying to tell the sheep from the goats. And won't the bride look adorable? Friendship may require fulfilling a lot of difficult but legitimate demands, but making a fool of oneself in public is not one of them.
Miss Ultimate Wedding doesn't usually recommend that bridal attendants organize job actions and set non-negotiable working conditions, but desperate measures are called for. She suggests that you, as a friend of the bride, and your fiance, as the bridegroom's best friend, have a serious talk with these people. If they do not listen to reason, bring in the other bridesmaids. Miss Ultimate Wedding is confident that they will be willing to help bring these people to their senses—if not for reasons of taste, perhaps because they have already made an investment in other clothes.

"Take this job and..."
Q. A friend I used to work with asked me to be in her wedding party a year later. Reluctantly, I gave in and said okay.

All this time, there has been no talk of wedding plans or any kind of get-together among the attendants, who don't know one another. This friend and I are not as chummy as we were five years ago; in fact, I spoke to her only a handful of times since she called me. I've had two very, very last-minute invitations to her apartment for some kind of parties. (I thought it was inconsiderate of her to call me at 7:30 and expect me and my date to be over at her place by 8, so I never promised I'd be there and went about what I had planned in the first place.)

When I call her I get:
1. The answering machine, and my message is never returned.
2. "I've got company" or "Can I talk to you later?" and she never calls back.
3. The Call Waiting modality where she puts our conversation on hold, and when we are disconnected, she never even calls back to say "sorry" or "good-bye."
I'm totally baffled by her actions and the whole situation. At this point, I can't continue to plan around some wedding I'm supposed to be in, while screwing up my life, my vacation plans and possibly my own wedding. My mom is on my case to call the bride-to-be and find out the details of the wedding. I say no—let her call me to say what's going on. After all, she asked me to be in her wedding.
What is the proper way to get some information without putting her on the spot? I'm beginning to believe she forgot she asked me to be in her wedding, or she changed her mind and thought she told me but really didn't. I'd like to tell her I've changed my mind, or something suddenly came up. Is it right for me to do that?

A. Miss Ultimate Wedding joins your mother to the extent of insisting that you get this cleared up before you make other plans, and of believing that you must take the initiative, as the bride has lamentably failed to do so.

You make a convincing case that the friendship is no longer one in which it would be appropriate for you to be her bridesmaid. If the wedding were imminent, you would have to go ahead with it to avoid disrupting her plans. A year-old invitation to a far-distant wedding, without the reinforcement of continued discussion, is not that binding.

Just avoid blaming her or offering trivial excuses. To say that you find you are going to be married at about the same time is a legitimate excuse, if true, but to seem to value a vacation above something as important as a wedding is offensive. Write her a letter saying how honored you were to have been chosen, how sorry you are that you find you cannot be in her wedding after all, and how much happiness you wish her.