When I blogged about why I cringe while listening to marrying couples read vows they've written themselves, I got called "cynical", "bitter", and (my personal favorite) "a little black cloud." (I just love that expression; it's really the perfect mix of adorable and evil. Kind of like me.)
Now I'd like to cement my reputation as the Grinch Who Stole Weddings by floating my lil' black cloud over to the guests' section, raining on their reception parades with my unsolicited, iron-clad rules for What Not to Say While Giving a Wedding Toast. These mandates apply whether the party in question is the wedding reception, the rehearsal dinner, the farewell brunch, or any event at which a) the couple's parents; b) their work colleagues; c) a member of the clergy or respected judge, ship captain or notary public or d) all of the above are present.
While giving a wedding toast, just make sure to never, ever mention any of the following
1. Exes. More often than I care to remember, I've heard friends or relatives (usually of the bride) say, "So-and-so is such and amazing daughter/sister/friend. We're so glad that s/he has finally found someone worthy of her." I get the point; your loved one is amazing and she finally found her beshert. You're psyched. The problem is, I'm usually seated at the table with one of the exes in question, who is still friends with the bride or groom, and didn't realize everyone thought he was a chump all this time. Or, while the ex himself may not be there, certainly people who knew him during that era (college, say?) will be, and they will all immediately think of that person and exchange uncomfortable glances at a time when everyone should be thinking about the future, not the past.
2. Dating history in general. Sure, bad dates make for great stories (and, often, excellent television; that is the lesson of "Sex and the City"). But a colleague who got married over a decade ago is still upset at her camp friends who thought it would be amusing to name, and tell an anecdote about, every guy she'd ever been on a single date with, or even had a crush on, since they all became BFFs the summer before seventh grade. Here the issue wasn't one of quality, but one of quantity. "I don't think of myself as having dated around that much," said the friend. "But if you start counting at age 12 and stop at 28, it begins to seem like a pretty long list."
3. Sex. The "fun" friend of the groom at another pal's wedding thought it would be amusing to announce, at the rehearsal dinner, "I know Ted and Carol are really in love because whenever they come visit me, I can hear them a-humping and a-pumping in the next room." This did not provoke the anticipated hilarity in many who were present, including the bride. It wasn't just the falsity of the statement that bothered her -- ("when we have guests, not even feelies!" she protested when recounting the story later) -- it was the inappropriateness of the audience; Carol made the toastgiver apologize to the rabbi and her grandmother the next day, but she and her husband still haven't visited the loudmouth since the wedding. Because of the mixed bag of friends and family in attendance at a wedding, even generic "there's no sex after marriage" jokes should be avoided -- a note a friend wishes she had passed on to her brothers, who used a three-pack of condoms as visual aids to illustrate the amount of sex a couple has in one weekend before marriage and one year after. If you want to go blue, do it at the bachelor(ette) party.
4. Money. Fathers-of-the-bride, paraphrasing the MasterCard commercial while spouting off the cost of the wedding might seem like a good idea now ("Seeing your daughter marry the man of her dreams...priceless!) But at the moment of truth, your guests don't want to know how much their plate of chicken francese cost. They'll either feel guilty or think you overpaid. Neither is what you want them pondering as you raise your glass.
5. "Cute" sore spots. Sure, we all like to hear sweet stories about each other's dorky youths. But unless you know for sure that the friend or sibling in question isn't still upset about that failed driver's test, or sensitive about having carried a blankie until he was 12, don't bring it up. And if you do feel safe starting out with a roast of your pal, make sure it turns into a boast. "Adam carried a blankie in his backpack until he was 12. And he's always shown that same kind of devotion to the people he loves, not just the linens, so we all knew whomever he married would be one lucky person."
Follow these rules and I promise you'll still be friends with the couple after all is said and done on the big day. Flout them at your own risk.
Of course, I said no one should exchange original vows, either, but I was at my friends' wedding this weekend and after poems were read, legal vows were exchanged, and the chaplain gave a moving speech about the solemnity and historic importance of the moment (it was a gay wedding in New York), the grooms exchanged self-written vows that were so sweet, honest, and brief that I have to admit I loved them. So go ahead and prove me wrong. Consider this a challenge -- make an appropriate, appreciated toast about sex, money, and secrets, and watch this lil' black rain cloud go up in smoke.
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