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How to have a dream wedding

I recently went to a wedding, but I’m not going to talk about that one here. It’s too fresh in all of our minds to make complete sense of it.

You need some time after significant events — such as weddings and funerals, or other cataclysmic occurrences, like volcanic eruptions, surviving an ocean landing in a jetliner, or a war — before you can put them in perspective and really learn from the experience.

What I do know is that weddings and deaths in the family tend to bring out the worst in people. There’s just no way to predict the effect they’ll have on someone.

We all have our own way of dealing with them. I think it’s because we’re already pretty twisted, and just having a big event kick us out of our comfort zone is often enough to make us seem even crazier than we were before.

It’s kind of like what I used to see happen to people in the ‘60s when they took powerful, mind-altering drugs. Sometimes they just zoned out with a big goofy smile on their face, marveling at the pretty colors and the strange sounds. Other times they freaked out about the spiders on the ceiling. They didn’t suddenly turn crazy, I figured, they were already that way, and the pill they took just brought it out.

So, what do we do when we plan a wedding? We intentionally make it as stressful and crazy as we possibly can. We build up this gigantic, impossible idea of what a dream wedding should be. It can be made more complicated and multifaceted than the Normandy invasion. There’s the dress, the flowers, the venue, the vows, the dinner, the guest list, music and photography, the reception, and on and on.

Then, of course, there’s that weird thing that happens when two totally different clans of people are brought together, even though they didn’t know each other before this — and might not care that much for each other once they do get acquainted.

Face it, this is a recipe for disaster.

This all came back to me last week when I received a notice about a new book, “Dream Wedding Secrets: The All Important G.S.F.,” by wedding photographer Eric Gulbrandson. The key to the whole thing, according to the author, is what he calls the G.S.F. — the Guest Satisfaction Factor.

“It’s how others perceive your wedding,” says Gulbrandson. “Most brides do want their guests to be able to enjoy their wedding, but they overlook the G.S.F. because all the advice is geared toward beauty and budgets.”

Gulbrandson, according to the press release about his book, “interviewed hundreds of wedding guests and compiled more than 200 dos and don’ts for ensuring a high G.S.F.” What follows are the publicist’s summary of some of them, followed by my own interpretation of what they mean:

n If you invite children, arrange a supervised activity area for them: The goal might be to make it a family-oriented event, but the kids are going to get bored with all the sitting quietly, and the adults are going to drink too much. Set up a corral of some sort for the kids and hire a couple of wranglers to keep them busy.

n Don’t make costumes a requirement for your themed wedding: Well, duh. If you’ve got it in your head to have a renaissance faire or zombie wedding, maybe you should just go to your room and think about it for a while.

n Don’t plan your wedding for a holiday weekend: Sometimes brides think this might help out-of-town guests, but it fails to acknowledge that local people might be out of town themselves. Most working people have only two guaranteed three-day weekends a year, so they plan ahead for them.

n With food and drink, if you choose between quantity and quality, choose quantity: Nobody will care if the food isn’t the best they ever had, but if you run out, they’ll never forget that as long as they live. Much like the Kennedy assassination, everyone can tell you where they were when the food ran out.

n Don’t ruin your perfect wedding by failing to send thank-you notes: Sure, technically, guests have a year after the wedding to send a gift (and one to three months is considered acceptable for sending thank-yous), but if you don’t keep a list and send handwritten notes as quickly as possible, you will be remembered, and not in a good way.

The first wedding I ever went to was my own. I had no idea what was going on, I made a number of mistakes personally, and our families had neither the money nor the inclination to do anything very fancy — but it was a very nice occasion. I’m pretty sure the guests were satisfied.

And, perhaps most important, it took. Forty-six years, four months and five days later, we’re still together, and I think that should count for something.

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.

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