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Dealing with Bad Advice on Your Wedding Day

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Weddings: They're not just for girls! To keep this week from getting too bride-centric, we've recruited a recently-married New York City gentleman to offer advice to the future husbands among us. Welcome to his column, Confessions of an Anonymous Groom.

Image via stevendpolo/Flickr

On his wedding day, a child of divorce fights the feeling of being a rube. The tenuous certainty of "to death do us part" only looks more foolhardy when the two people from whose gross union the groom-to-be came, and whose disunion he witnessed, are in the room. Exhibits A and B for the prosecution. This uneasy dynamic is exacerbated when the parent offers advice.

In my case, my father—who had found out about the wedding from my grandparents and had shown up wearing a cream suit with turquoise floral trim clearly selected for him by his very young Kazakh mistress living in Brighton Beach—drew me aside right before we entered the chamber. He grew serious. "Infidelity is great in the short term," he said, "but bad in the long term."

Advice on wedding days usually ranges from bad to useless. It is the duty of the groom—as friend, son, or cornered by the in-laws—to absorb the palaver with aplomb. (It is also the duty of the bride but as for her, I have no idea what kind of advice she is given, if it is good or if it is bad, if it is followed or if it is ignored and regardless, how it is received.) In my case, I did not do a very good job. "No shit, Dad." I said. Then our number was called and we were summoned to the altar. Advice usually comes in two species: The Useless Cliché is the more benign form. The Inappropriately Cynical is perhaps truthier but more malignant strain.

The Useless Cliché can be both a proscription or a prescription. "Don't take her for granted,"; for example, is an old chestnut. "Make time for each other" is pretty common too. "Tell her 'I love you' every day," "Listen to one another," "Don't lose the romance" are high scorers as well. These have the advantage of both being true and good-hearted. On the other hand, as indicated, they are so general as not to be actionable. Advice on which one can not act is hogwash.

In addition, this advice is often made more infuriating in proportion to how well one knows the marriage of the adviser. For instance,"Listen to one another," was from a man who hasn't listened to a word his wife has said in the last 20 years though if he had he would have realized she is much smarter and wittier than he is. Either way, the proper way to respond to this is to say "Thank you" with as little condescension as possible. This advice comes from the insurmountable pressure to offer advice even if one has no insight to offer. What can a guy do but spout platitudes?

The Inappropriately Cynical advice can be more difficult to handle. Inappropriately Cynical advice includes sentences like, "The magic doesn't last" and "If she's angry, just give her the credit card" or, my favorite,"Just wait" followed by a pregnant stare and a sigh. The Inappropriately Cynical is infuriating because it is disrespectful or insulting or both. The whole Vince Vaughn shtick is insulting to the bride who, in case the adviser hasn't noticed, you are crazy about. "Just wait!" is patronizing, gnomic, and kind of a dick thing to say. The proper response to this sort of advice is a cold long stare back. Treat it as a racist joke. Don't start your marriage selling out your wife for social comfort. "Bros before hos" stops at the altar.

Ideally no unsolicited advice should be given on one's wedding day. And if one is already soliciting marriage advice on Marriage Day One, something is rotten. But advice will always be given. The advice I found most useful was the more specific: "Skype often when away." "Downton Abbey is great to watch together." "Paul Simon's Graceland heals all wounds." Also this one: "Remember the first time you met her."

Strangely, my father's advice has turned out to be the best advice. It had the force of truth and, because it was delivered to me by a lonely old man with bad knees, an estranged son, and a bevy of ex-wives, it dropped like a hammer. It was, on reflection, also the only advice he could give with integrity. Sinners, it seems, make the best advisers.
· All Weddings Week 2011 coverage [Racked NY]