The tacky bridesmaids' dresses, the packed church of relatives stuffed, grudgingly, in all their finery. The corny wedding band or, worse yet, the DJ who corrals the single women for a bouquet toss.
When it came time for their nuptials, Kris and Rob Thompson wanted none of it.
"We didn't want to do it in a traditional way just to do it a traditional way," says Rob Thompson.
So the couple eloped, marrying last New Year's Eve in a tiny chapel where the only guest was their beloved dog, Henry. For the reception, they wanted casual, quirky and fun.
Thus was born the Thompson Tournament of Love, held a few weeks ago at a Simsbury, Conn., bowling alley.
As couples try to recapture the sanctity of an event whose meaning gets buried in a sea of frilly white and lost in the frenzy of the $72 billion wedding industry, more and more couples like the Thompsons are shunning stodgy traditions in favor of personal twists.
"Brides and grooms don't want a cookie-cutter wedding," says Rosanna McCollough, editor in chief of WeddingChannel.com. "As people get married a little bit older these days, I think they want to express themselves in a different way. They've been to so many weddings over the years and nobody wants their wedding blurred with all the others."
Industry insiders like McCollough are seeing whimsical wedding details that give a nod to the couple's personalities - unconventional menus of macaroni and cheese, McDonald's hamburgers or Southern fried chicken, a la Britney Spears. They're seeing an increase in destination weddings, where exotic locations serve as backdrop for the momentous event - and help weed out the peripheral guests invited out of obligation.
They're hearing about gatherings that incorporate group activities such as horseback riding or kayaking - social lubricants they say bring strangers together better than cocktails.
"You know when you go to a wedding and you're dreading who you have to sit with? I always felt like I constantly got stuck at the table with all the singles. And you're just sitting there, trying to make small talk over this enormous table centerpiece," says Kris Thompson, a West Hartford, Conn., native.
The Thompsons are both copywriters and 34 years old. They live in Los Angeles, but brought the celebration back to Connecticut to be closer to the bride's family.
"I think it's a great alternative way to go," said one guest, Mike Beach, leaning against a bowling ball stand that doubled as a cocktail table. Serving as a centerpiece was a single bowling pin paired with a two-toned bowling shoe that sprouted a simple bouquet of flowers.
About 125 family and friends milled about the 1960s-era alley, shuffling around in rented bowling shoes and feasting on salmon and roast pork loin.
The wedding dress: a white, vintage bowling shirt reconstructed into a fitted tank top with a small, ruffled puff at the back in a lighthearted nod to a gown's train. The groom wore a black bow tie and a tuxedo shirt from JCPenney, his name embroidered, bowling-style, at the corner.
Then at 9 o'clock came the last words one would expect to hear at a wedding reception.
"All right, everybody, it's time to bowl!"
As social roles have evolved and as people marry later in life, many couples are also skirting wedding convention because so much of it has become outdated.
"The woman is no longer the commodity that's passed from father to husband," says Jim Sniechowski, a relationship expert who, along with his wife, Judith Sherven, wrote the coming book, The Smart Couple's Guide to the Wedding of Your Dreams (New World Library, November 2005).
Personalizing their nuptials "allows the couple to enjoy the planning and enjoy their own wedding and wedding party, because it's something that suits them," Sherven says. "They're not having to fit themselves into a predetermined pattern that may have very little to do with who they are."
The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.