Second Wedding, Second Chance

If it wasn't quite right the first time, here are some helpful tips to ensure you do it right, the second time around.


I had a blast planning my second wedding. Which is not to say that my first was a disaster. That wedding, when I was 26 years old, was a magical event. But although I was happy with the way all the details turned out, it was really more my mother's affair; I lived in another state and she orchestrated the entire thing. We had 220 guests, a live band and lots of pale-pink roses. There was no way of knowing that the marriage wouldn't last.

For my second wedding, many things were different. I was a little older, with a better sense of what I wanted my wedding to be like. We planned it in six months, which was all I felt was needed. Being more in tune with my decorating taste made registering easier and more rewarding this time. My husband, Bobby, and I wrote our own vows. Our photographer took great, photojournalistic-style pictures, instead of the posed portraits taken at my first wedding, where I felt so many moments never made it onto film. I had half the number of guests as at my first wedding. My bridesmaids wore long black dresses they chose themselves.

And yet initially I had been uneasy about planning another wedding. Hadn't I done the celebratory thing already? Did I deserve a party again? My family and friends had already given me gifts. No one said anything, of course, but I still felt funny. Then I talked to our rabbi, who said that every wedding is a reason for celebration. How right! If you're about to plan your second wedding, you know exactly what I'm talking about. You had the princess gown and the four-tier cake - but the marriage didn't make it. The first thing you have to realize is that you are not alone. "Eighty percent of divorced people get remarried within three years," says Sharon Naylor, author of 1,001 Ways to Have a Dazzling Second Wedding (New Page Books). Even so, "some are still carrying around shame and a sense of failure over getting divorced."

And yet many under-40 second-time brides do feel deserving of a party, and are less likely to be cowed by the etiquette rules of yesteryear. Gone are the days when a second-time bride had to sport soft pastels or a conservative suit for a low-key visit to the justice of the peace. While old-school etiquette says second-timers should skip the frills of a first wedding, that guideline seemed ridiculous to Leslie Henning, 33, of Moonachie, New Jersey. "To save money, I sacrificed certain things that I would have liked at my first wedding. We had a civil service followed by brunch," she says. Feeling fortunate to find love again, Henning wants to celebrate in full force. "This time, I'm pulling out all the stops, with an evening wedding, a videographer and limos."

This Looks So Familiar…

The Second-Time Mind-Set

You’ve found love again and couldn’t be happier. So what’s with that nagging second-time-bride guilt? We asked Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts (Zondervan/HarperCollins) and founders of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, for tips on how to get over the guilt of first-time "failure" and move on to second-time bliss.

• Prepare. Talk to a counselor or minister, attend a relationship seminar or read a good marriage-preparation book. The more ready you feel for the challenges of marriage, the less apprehensive you’ll be about meeting them.

• Communicate. Talk one-on-one with family members and close friends as soon as you get engaged. Express your trepidation. For example, you can say, "I’ve got to confess that I feel a little funny asking you to do this for the second time, but I really appreciate your support." Most likely, the other person will offer supportive comments that you can hang on to when uncomfortable feelings arise.

• Think positively. Don’t spend time worrying that your guests are calculating whether this marriage will last. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, and such rumination is not productive. Instead, keep your focus on the purpose of the day: a public pledge of your love and commitment.

• Be graceful. Never apologize to anyone for what you are doing, and don’t feel guilty about receiving gifts. People give gifts because they want to. Assume they’ve come from the heart, and thank your guests from your heart.

Since you've done this before, you're already ahead of the game, planning-wise. The concept of booking a band, choosing flowers and attending tastings isn't totally foreign to you. You know about the stress and worry that go into arranging that one special event. Perhaps your first wedding flew by in a dizzying blur. Well, now you can look back and think of all the things you would have done differently. Trust yourself: You have knowledge that only a been-there-done-that bride has. For example, remembering my insomnia the night before my first wedding (it made me one crabby bride in the makeup chair the next morning), I decided to take a mild sleeping pill the second time around, and woke refreshed.

"The second time around is easier," confirms Sarah Boggess, 37, of Albany, New York. "You can have more fun planning because there doesn't have to be as much pageantry if that's not what you want. I got married the first time at age 24, in a church, with a traditional wedding party. My second wedding was held in our own backyard, with just family and friends. I didn't have attendants - to me, the whole bridal-party concept seems more suited to a first-time bride in her twenties."

For Erika Taylor, 33, of San Jose, California, the planning of her second wedding has been stress-free - the polar opposite of her first wedding. "Back then, I planned for a year and a half and spent tens of thousands of dollars on a reception for 250 guests that was over in a blink of an eye," she says. "I was so stressed out all day making sure that everything went perfectly that I couldn't even enjoy myself." Now, she feels simplicity is the key. "I'm wise enough not to care about what other people think. I'm planning a small ceremony that my fiancé and I will actually enjoy - a barefoot beach wedding with just 12 guests."

Regardless of how many times you get married, the first steps in planning are always the same: Figure out the type of wedding you want and the time of year you want to get married, then start calling places to try and secure a date. Once the date is set, everything else will fall into place. Feeling too busy? Consider hiring a wedding planner to take some of the pressure off. "The more mature bride has a more entrenched career, maybe even kids. Her life isn't always conducive to the full-time job that planning a wedding can be," points out Naylor.

I'm Detecting a Theme Here…

Many second-time brides opt for a small ceremony at home, and some get away from it all by planning an intimate destination wedding - a trip to the Caribbean or a jaunt to Las Vegas. But a growing number of second-timers are hosting traditional receptions complete with flowers and music. And whether their weddings are larger or smaller now, second-time brides are infusing their nuptials with a big dose of personality. "Brides who first got married at 23 or 24 are different women at 34 or 35," says Naylor. They have stronger voices, "are better at delegating and have more of an interest in personalizing their wedding to reflect who they have become."

When Christine Benton, now 30 and living in San Diego, got married for the first time, she was 26 years old. The bulk of the guest list was taken up by her mother's friends and her fiancé's family. Her fairy-tale church wedding included a white horse-drawn carriage, a reception in a five-star hotel, huge centerpieces and a live band. Although her second wedding, which took place last October, was larger - she invited about 140 guests - this time she traded someone else's fantasy for her own reality. "I'm half Japanese," explains Benton, "so we held our wedding in a lovely Japanese garden. We hired a vocalist who dressed in Japanese garb and sang Japanese music accompanied by a guitarist." Lanterns and paper-bag luminaries, printed with the Japanese characters for "love" and "longevity," carried out the unique theme. "This time, I felt free to create a ceremony and reception that reflected my own and my new husband's style, rather than focusing on what is ‘appropriate.'"

Carolyn Izzo-Feldman, 37, of Nyack, New York, first got married at age 29, and her parents paid for and planned the very traditional affair. For her second wedding, she and her husband covered the costs, organizing an outdoor ceremony in a garden he had designed. Afterward, they moved to a nearby restaurant for a reception featuring a jazz band and a gourmet meal. "It was very special to us because my husband and I met in a garden," she says. "Our invitations were poems printed on scrolls and sent in boxes with dried flowers, and we gave away African violets in tiny pots as favors."

White Not!

Some etiquette experts maintain that second-time brides should not wear white, veils or trains, but few second-timers are listening. As with any wedding, the time of day and level of formality of the event you're planning should dictate what you wear - not to mention your own personal style.

When you start looking for a dress, be open-minded. Think about enhancing your beauty rather than pleasing someone else. While you may opt for white or ivory, you may want to steer clear of overly frilly looks and Princess Diana-style trains. You're not going for the 21-year-old virginal look. "I wore a corset-style gown that definitely showed some cleavage," says Izzo-Feldman. "It wasn't something I would ever have picked for my first wedding, so I thought, ‘why not go for it?'"

When I shopped for my dress, the style I had firmly planted in my mind was a simple cocktail dress or sleek evening gown. I was determined to avoid anything "bride-y." Of course, I was wrong. I ended up buying a bridal gown with a beaded, halter-style bodice. It was everything I had sworn I didn't want - and it was perfect. That said, I made a few changes, asking the seamstress to chop off the train so I wouldn't have to bother with a bustle at the reception.

I chose not to wear a veil; instead, I wore my hair in a sleek chignon accented with tiny white flowers. But not every second-time bride skips the veil. "This is the first time I am marrying this particular man," says Henning, "and I want it done right. To me, that means wearing a gown and a veil." Other sophisticated options: a tiara, a jeweled headband or beaded barrettes.

Having some life experience under your belt gives you a better sense of what makes you look beautiful, rather than conforming to a trend. "Every bride wants to look her best, no matter what number marriage it is," says Todd Skog, owner of Todd's Room in Birmingham, Michigan, a hair and makeup salon that specializes in bridal beauty. "Usually, second-time brides have learned what not to do with their hair and makeup. In my experience, they are also less tense than first-time brides, because they know what to expect," says Skog.

Registering Realities

Don't worry: It's completely proper for second-time brides to register for gifts. But since you likely already have a toaster and tablecloths, think about moving beyond the standard registry list and checking out items like luggage, stereo equipment, books, wine or camping equipment. You can even register for your honeymoon. That said, you might also want to do an abbreviated traditional registry, especially if the thought of using the china you and your first husband registered for makes you feel too queasy to eat!

For many second-timers, the problem isn't finding something to register for, but feeling uncomfortable accepting presents from people who forked over a gift for the first wedding. "My main concern was for the family members and friends who'd attended my first wedding," says Boggess. "My fiancé had also been married before, and registering just didn't seem right to us. Instead, we made it known that we would like our guests to make a donation to a charity that is dear to both of our hearts." If you choose to do something like this, be aware that some guests will still give you a traditional gift. But at least you know they had that option, and made their own choice.

Izzo-Feldman agonized at first about whether to register, but decided to do it. "People were asking what we wanted, so I thought it would be better to register and get what we need, rather than what we don't." If you do decide to register, you'll have a lot more fun this time. In preparation for your first wedding, you were probably overwhelmed with the task of registering for everything from spatulas to silver. You may have gone to the store with your mother and maid of honor in tow. This time, however, you're a pro. You have the basics, and are now selecting not what you need, but what you want. Your future husband will likely be at your side as you strut straight towards the desk to pick up your scanner and zap your way through your departments of choice.

Be Our Guest

For a very small affair (to which you're only inviting immediate family and a select few dear friends), you may decide to send out an informal note or even extend the invite via telephone. If you are hosting more than 50 guests, however, ordering printed invitations, in a style to match the formality of your event, is necessary. Unless their parents are paying for the whole shebang, most second-timers put their own names first on the invitation. Those with children may want to include their names, too, so that it appears as though the whole family is hosting this joyous occasion.

There is no limit on how many people to invite to a second wedding. "The trend is to have a smaller wedding, but if it's five years past your first marriage, you probably know more people. There are no rules that say a second wedding has to be smaller," says Naylor. No matter how many folks you invite, you should leave your former spouse or in-laws off the list, even if you have a good relationship with them, recommends Elizabeth L. Post in Emily Post on Second Weddings (HarperCollins). There's no need to make anyone feel awkward.

If you have children, by all means include them in the celebration. How about asking them to escort you down the aisle, or to serve as flower girls or ring bearers, or as maid of honor or best man? You can also assign them special duties like handing out programs or wedding favors, or reading a special prayer or singing a song during the ceremony. And, they can come to the altar with you and your new husband to help you light a unity candle.

Don't Forget the Groom!

If your first wedding was really more of a pet project for you and your mother, it may surprise you when your new fiancé offers opinions of his own. "I think it's interesting when second-time brides marry first-time grooms," says Boggess. "The groom often wants a more traditional wedding."

That's for sure. When I got engaged and suggested eloping, Bobby glared at me in horror. You would think he had been the little girl who grew up dreaming of that walk down the aisle (minus the princess gown, of course). Apparently, having a traditional wedding meant a great deal to him, and not just a simple ceremony followed by a champagne brunch. My husband wanted an elegant, black-tie, sit-down-dinner affair, with a live band and an open bar. Listen to your guy; it's his day, too. Think of it this way: You certainly don't want him to miss out on anything or, worse, have regrets.

Even with all the planning in place, there are bound to be some jitters as the wedding day approaches. If you find yourself thinking back to your first wedding, don't fret. "You should take the time to remind yourself that you've finally gotten it right, that this time it's going to be different, and that you're a stronger and smarter person," says Naylor. "Your mind may get pulled back to the past, but all you have to do is look around at the day you created - and at that wonderful man waiting for you at the end of the aisle - to know that you don't have to be afraid anymore."