Basic training for the wedding march

Matrimony: Leaping over planning hurdles, plunging into a pool of expense and fighting to trim down to bridal weight.

March 10, 2002|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,Sun Staff

I am ravenously hungry. My legs are throbbing. And instead of spending Sunday morning under the covers, I am grunting on an exercise machine under the watch of my Wedding Fitness Planner, a man whose motto is "Pain is just weakness leaving the body."

This is what I waited my whole life for?

Welcome to bridal boot camp. After the champagne buzz wears off from your engagement night, this getting married thing, I've discovered, is nothing short of a military operation.

Your early missions: canvass reception sites to find one that will cost less than the gross national product of Guatemala; beg a church to marry you since you haven't been to one in years; harness a caterer who isn't already booked through 2005; reduce your assessment of friends to whether they are worth $60 a head for smoked salmon and oh, lose 25 pounds because the pictures of that day are going to be on your mantel for the rest of your life.

Now on to day two...

I got engaged in October. In the four months since, I have learned one essential truth. Getting married in America is an Enron-sized business, with people inventing and re-inventing rules constantly to sell you something.

Consider the "Welcome" basket. Filled with candies and other sundries, they are to be placed in out-

of-town guests' hotel rooms at $20 a pop. Everybody does it -- didn't you know? Vendors will tell you.

I knew about the dress, and the cake, and the ring, but the "Welcome" baskets?

Web sites like weddingchannel.com or theknot.com abound. Cyber-advertising bombards you as peruse thousands of wedding dresses or try them on a "Virtual Bride" that you create to look like you. (I made mine 35 pounds lighter.)

If you sign up on the Web sites you get "tools" like programs to manage your guest list. But now, along with buckets of cyber junk, I routinely get e-mails announcing: "It's 126 days before your wedding, Caitlin! Have you registered? Gotten your 'Welcome' baskets? Solved world hunger?" It's enough to rattle even the most iron-heeled brides.

Rarely on the Web sites, or anywhere else for the matter, does anyone say specifically how much anything costs. Wedding dresses are listed simply with one dollar sign for an inexpensive dress to four dollar signs for a stratospheric one, as if real brides don't have to ask.

Caterers sent me menus listing scrumptious hors d'oeuvres -- which made me weak with hunger because of my starvation diet. But when I asked them how much they charged, they would say 'Well, we do custom menus. It depends on what you want." I'd tell them that I want to know what I can afford. "Well that depends on what you want," came the reply again. I found myself screaming, "Just tell me how much it costs to give 175 people decent food so no one will talk trash about my wedding!!!"

Screaming would be conduct unbecoming a bride. I know you are supposed to be blushing and polite, not acting like a street fighter. But soon after the engagement the tune "Some Enchanted Evening" stopped playing in my head and now I feel I am planning the wedding to the score of "Rocky."

When I managed to get my fiance and me into the church we wanted to be married in by trumpeting my brief career as a writer for a Catholic newspaper, I felt like a champion. When I bumped another bride out of the reception site because she didn't have her deposit in on time, I felt like I had scored a knockout punch.

I quickly realized that all the misty-eyed images I had of planning the wedding were fantasy. I remember eagerly awaiting my mother and sister's arrival from New York so we could set out to look at wedding dresses convinced this would be, you know, a moment.

But once we were in that back room of the bridal salon, surrounded by clouds of tulle, my mother never cried, my sister didn't get the slightest bit wistful and the saleswoman kept pulling dresses on and off of me as if I was some sort of super-sized Barbie.

And now I have got to get into the thing. So for the past four months, I have eaten nothing but pre-packaged food that looks like Army rations and will likely end up being blamed for cancer in years to come.

Co-workers wrinkle their noses at the sight. A close friend even said she found it anti-feminist that I would subject myself to this. "I am in control of my body," I barked back. "That is the definition of feminism."

Actually, I can't say I am in control of my body. I relinquished that to my sadistic trainer, the Wedding Fitness Planner, who has me working out like I am going to run a decathlon. He is furious that I refuse to drink protein shakes to help me build more muscle.

"No, no, putting calories into my body is not the point. Taking them out is," I tell him.

He launches into fitness jargon about how my real weight doesn't matter, it's my ratio of body fat that counts and muscle weighs more than fat and blah blah blah.

"You've got to make a commitment to fitness," he says to me.

"Well, buddy" I think to myself, "I am making plenty of commitments these days. One is to a husband and another is to a 24-inch waist."

Little does he know that I am already fantasizing about the buckets of paella and red wine I will devour the minute we hit Spain on our honeymoon.

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