Aug 25, 2005

I Rise to Toast the Bride and Groom

A wedding toast should be egoless, true and brief. Most are exactly the opposite.
Marc Gellman

Two weeks ago, in my ongoing attempt to improve the state of spiritual etiquette, I wrote a self-help column on how to deliver a eulogy. I hinted at that time that a column on how to give a wedding toast was on the way, and I immediately received in my e-mail satchel a needful e-letter from an e-woman whose e-husband was facing an impending wedding toast and hoped I could offer some advice as soon as possible. So, here goes....

My advice to toasters is pretty much the same as my advice to eulogizers except that you should always remember that the people you're talking about aren't dead yet. Like a eulogy, a wedding toast must be egoless, true and brief. Like eulogies, the point of the toast is to wish the bride and groom well and ask God to bless their marriage, not tell everyone everything about yourself and more about the bride and groom than they would want known.

The two main problems I have seen in disastrous wedding toasts (which amount to at least 99 percent of all the wedding toasts I have had the painful opportunity to hear) are that, one, the people giving the toast are already drunk and two, the people giving the toast are trying to be funny.

Being successfully sober is much easier than being successfully funny, so unless you are professionally hilarious, like me, my advice is to go for the tender personal toast over the potentially funny but usually tasteless toast. Most male wedding toasters (best man, brothers and buddies) just can't pull off either tender or personal toasts--drunk or sober. Fathers have a shot at tender and personal toasts, especially when they are marrying off their "little girl," but even fathers tend to be stiffer and more stilted than they need to be or should be during a wedding toast. Women can do this in their sleep, but they tend to cry a lot.

I think it is also unwise to extemporize your toast unless you are a professionally accomplished public speaker. Even then, winging it is dangerous. Write it out and read the damn thing. Yes, it's true that the emotional impact of a memorized toast is far greater than a recited toast, but what you lose in spontaneity, you will gain by not dissolving into a pool of sobbing incoherent goo, or saying something you just thought up that minute which will make the bride and groom hate you for the rest of their lives.

Also, if your written toast is more than one half of a typed page (single-spaced, 14-point font) it is too long. I have never ever heard a wedding toast that caused listeners to demand that the toaster keep on toasting for another 10 minutes. Less is more, just like a eulogy.

Another common mistake of wedding toasters is in assuming that it is funny or endearing for either the bride or groom or the guests or the waiters or the party enhancers or the valet parking guys to hear a list of the bride and groom's most embarrassing moments. If any of your sentences begin, "Dude, do you remember the time we were trying to score chicks at Cabo Wabo?" rip it up and try again.

Another problem is sibling rivalries. Get it through your head that your lifelong envious bickering with your brother or sister is embarrassing, irrelevant, unattractive and almost always destructive in a wedding toast. Talk about the great things your sibling has taught you and how much you love him or her. Even if it's a lie, who cares? Most people will not discover it until after the party and the people who do know that you hate your sib will think you finally made up--which you should do anyway. For a father of the bride who is offering a toast (I don't know why more mothers don't give toasts, but they don't and it's a shame), the obvious is the obvious. You should welcome everyone and tell them how much it means to you and your wife or ex-wife or both your ex-wives that they have all joined you for this joyous occasion. Welcome your son-in-law and his family into your family and tell his family how much you love their son and how happy you are that he will be spending every single holiday and vacation with your family and how he has willingly agreed never to see or speak to them again. Whatever you say during your toast, for God's sake don't end it with "Now let's party!" or "Boo-yah!"

For nonreligious toasters, I beg you to try to stifle your atheism for a minute and include in your toast at least the formulaic phrase, "God bless you both!" at the end of your toast. If you are religious, you might include the old Jewish legend that, just to keep busy, God spends every day after creating the world matching up brides and grooms. Then say, "Today we are here to celebrate some of God's best work." If it is a Christian wedding, say that it is an old Christian legend. If anyone presses you for a source, just offer him or her another martini.

I like toasts that include the phrase, "I pray that you will be blessed to see the children of your children's children." However, you should first check out any fertility issues. I once said that to a bride and groom during a wedding ceremony and discovered later from the weeping bride that she was infertile. I was then quickly ushered out of the party by her large and angry brother, so the fertility prayer is something of a risk.

A final word about eloquence, the guests who hear your toast are not expecting Shakespeare because some of them even know, or heard on MTV, that Shakespeare is dead. However, I implore you to try to lift the rhetoric a few clicks above "You guys are totally awesome!" You can do it. I believe with all my heart in the power of natural eloquence. A good way to do this is to talk about what you learned from the bride and groom and from their love for each other. Speak about how their love has lifted up and inspired not just the two of them but you and all their friends and family, as well. Speaking about our family and friends not just as family and friends but also as our life teachers is a good way to elevate and honor the true place of family, friendship and love in our lives. You might also want to speak about the shared passions of the bride and groom. However, if their principal passions are shopping and drinking beer, forget this and go right to the old Jewish legend. Just speak from your heart about what you love about them, and then sit down.

I once said to the bride who was marrying a kid I had known since he was 2, "Melissa, I always knew David would marry you. I just didn't know your name or your face until that day when he introduced you to me. But I knew it would be you; I knew it would be someone who would love his energy and his passion, his loyalty and his kindness. You were not only made for each other, you were made only for each other. And so my deepest hope and prayer for the two of you is that, in the words of D. H. Lawrence, 'May you have the courage of your tenderness'." Something like that might work.

Anyway, Mazel Tov to all the brides and grooms and toasters out there, and now ... Let's party! Boo-yah!

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