You're getting married in less than 14 days. You know this because you've had the MOST IMPORTANT day of your life marked on your calendar, probably inside a big heart, for more than year. It's the only day that you and your fiancé should be focused on right now. And you're counting down the minutes until you say "I do."
Everybody else in America is counting down the next 14 days, too. But not because you're getting married the first weekend in November, unfortunately. Your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, your wedding party, and your family are all watching the Presidential campaigns with fascination, or disgust, and counting down to the most sensationally bizarre election day we've seen in modern history. Maybe ever.
You may, or may not, have realized you were getting married the weekend before the Presidential election when you chose your wedding date. Chances are you don't work in politics, because November for political hacks is like April for accountants. Meaning you're likely a "regular" person, for whom November is more about football and turkeys than elections. Your dreadful choice of November 4, 5 or 6, 2016, for your wedding date was an innocent mistake.
Why do I say it's a "dreadful" weekend to get married? Because it's unlikely your group of wedding guests has homogenous political views. And this nation is so divided over the upcoming election that people who are usually friends aren't even speaking to each other over one or the other's support of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. People who are normally kind, civil, and open-minded are posting broad pronouncements on social media platforms like Facebook saying that they don't want to be friends with people who support the other candidate, and that the opposition's supporters are horrible people (I'll avoid using the word "deplorable" here because I'm not pointing any fingers). The old adage about not discussing "money, religion, or politics" among friends has gone the way of the floppy disk. We may not like it, but it's true.
Scrolling through social media used to put a smile on my face, as I "liked" pictures of puppies and pandas, and "retweeted" to-die-for wedding pictures that inspired me. Once you start liking and following wedding pages, you get inundated. But not anymore. Now it's all political posts, election memes, and nastiness (even when it's funny) everywhere you look. And people have firm opinions on who and what they support. Many of us (I include myself in this) have been guilty of over-sharing. And this has created an entirely new dynamic to consider for weddings that are happening between now and November 8th.
A bride brought her election concerns to me a few weeks ago, as we were wrapping up the last details of her wedding. She's got some family members who have strong opinions about the candidates, and their opinions happen to be different from hers. She actually got me laughing really hard with her descriptions, but the problem is not funny. She's having a destination wedding, and all of these guests (a large group) are going to be staying together for several days. There will be drinking and socializing. And with the election just a few days later, politics will come up in conversation. Even if it's just to ask each other if they'll be home in time to vote. At least initially.
Sometimes, seemingly harmless political discussions can turn very ugly, and very personal, very quickly. People are passionate about their beliefs. I grew up in the Washington, DC, area, and I'm used to election-season chaos. But this year is different. This behavior is uncivil. It wreaks of the mess in the 1960s, but it's worse because of the Internet, and more specifically, social media. And it's gotten much more personal than anybody could have ever imagined.
When I picture a worst-case scenario at a wedding, I imagine the chaos of all those weddings I've read about where there was a massive fight, like the groom in Pittsburgh who hit on a waitress at his own wedding, or the wedding guests who got pepper sprayed by the riot police in England (have you ever noticed most of the outrageous brawls seem to happen at UK weddings?). Could the vitriolic comments from supporters of both Presidential candidates bring people to blows at weddings between now and Election Day?
Ridiculous, right? Nobody would start a brawl at a wedding over Hillary or Donald, would they? A year ago, I would have said political opinions could never a ruin a wedding (unless it's a traditional marriage supporter at a same-sex wedding), but I think the times have changed. In previous years, voters mocked and heckled the candidates they didn't like – this year, they're attacking the supporters of the candidates they don't like. Trump's religious supporters are posting graphic pictures of all the babies they say Hillary's policies will kill. And Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says women who don't support Hillary have a "special place in hell." Now seriously folks – what has happened to us as a society? Since when do political appointees doom souls for eternity? So much for having an educated political dialog.
No, it isn't ridiculous to be concerned about the impact the negative energy surrounding both the Trump and Clinton campaigns might have on wedding guests. Fortunately, my bride has a well-educated and very civilized crew (I think), and it's unlikely we'll see any drinks tossed.
The question became how to handle her request. I did some serious thinking, because I was a little derailed when she expressed her desire to lay down the law that nobody could talk about a specific candidate. You can't do that. A bride and groom should not invite a large and diverse group of friends and family together for an event – ever, not just the weekend before an election – and make a rule that applies to only half of the attendees. That's rude. You can ask everybody to refrain from doing something, but not point fingers.
Also, her guests are traveling to Puerto Rico for four days of wedding activities immediately preceding a hotly-contested, nation-changing Presidential election. It's not like they just have to drop that one subject for a five-hour wedding and reception in her hometown. I'd be lying if I told her I didn't think there will be bombshells dropping in the media, and that half of her guests will have their noses buried in their phones at her beach party, catching up on the latest WikiLeaks dump, or new video of Donald Trump sticking his foot in his own mouth. It's going to happen.
So we took the following steps:
- We added a paragraph to the welcome letter that all of her guests will receive upon arrival that very politely asks them to refrain from talking politics on the bride and groom's wedding day.
- She will ask her father to have a word with a couple of specific relatives who are likely to stir the pot, and hopefully, they'll refrain out of respect for her dad, if not for the bride and groom.
- There will be a discreet, framed sign on the guest book table at the entrance to the reception that humorously reminds new arrivals that they're entering a "politics-free" zone.
- The bride and groom will ask their wedding party members not to make any political remarks - or snarks - in their toasts, as doing so would certainly invite additional conversation on the subject matter later that evening.
And that's all we can do, without being tacky.
Oh yes, you could post cutesy "no politics" and "safe space" signs throughout your entire venue… if your wedding theme is supposed to be Millennial Life. You could ask your wedding planning team to intervene if they overhear a political discussion between guests (I wouldn't do it, but you could ask). End of day, your wedding guests are adults. They have freedom of speech, even at your wedding. While it would be rude to disregard your wishes and have a heated discussion with another guest over Hillary's emails, again, your wedding guests can and will do whatever they want. The only way to guarantee they won't say something you disapprove of is to not invite them at all.
Now we wait, and see if anything goes viral about a wedding where the guests trashed the cake, while fighting over the legitimacy of Trump University or the Clinton Foundation. Or gun control. The crazy won't be coming from the other side of the pond this time. It will be homegrown.
For those of you who are wedding guests over the next few weeks, keep in mind that you're gathering to celebrate the most important day of the bride and groom's lives so far, and you need to leave your political opinions outside the wedding venue. Don't engage, even if somebody else starts the conversation.
If you happen to be attending a wedding where political chatter is not verboten, keep your conversations friendly, your language civil, and don't raise your voice in disagreement. We're all going to have enough bad memories from this election cycle. Let's not sully their wedding memories too.
Until next time, happy wedding planning from Sandy Malone Weddings & Events!