The wedding industrial complex is real, and it will eat you alive. If you make it to the big day, congratulations on coordinating the caterers, videographers, day-of planners and photographers without going insane. In the meantime, all those caterers, videographers, day-of planners and photographers are people, and their eyes — just like everyone else’s — are on you. So if you’re having doubts or cold feet, they’re often the first to know.
And while I’ll admit to placing longevity bets at one or two weddings myself, people who work in the wedding industrial complex are the true gamblers. They’ve seen so many weddings and dealt with so many couples that they begin to see a few patterns. And by patterns, I mean red flags.
As we head into wedding season, it’s time we knew the truth: What are the telltale signs of trouble in paradise that your vendor can spot before you do?
The Cake Cutting
Alex Grodkiewicz, wedding photographer in Ohio: To me the biggest sign is the cake cutting. Some people like to smear the cake everywhere as a joke, some people don’t. Usually the couple is in sync about this. They know what the other would like and they don’t smush cake on the other’s face if they wouldn’t want that.
It says a lot about how much the couple listens to and respects each other. Those characteristics tend to come out throughout the day. In the cases I can think of where there was a cake-cutting conflict, it had followed after a day of the two of them bickering and snapping at each other about other little things here or there and not handling the wedding-day stress well.
I’ve had a handful of nonconsensual cake-smashing incidents over the years where the bride got very upset. The ones I’ve kept up with have ended in divorce.
A Grumpy Groom
Grodkiewicz: Also, when it comes to the groom, a few red flags might be how grumpy he gets during the parts he doesn’t like (photos usually), how he talks to his bride when he’s feeling grumpy, how he talks about the bride with his groomsmen, how he treats the bride when they get a little/very drunk, and how often he lets her speak for herself. Sometimes grooms dominate the conversation when the couple is together.
Sweating the Small Stuff
Rachel, former day-of wedding coordinator in Indianapolis: There is not a single wedding in the history of weddings that goes according to plan. Bold. Italicized. Underlined. If you’re having a big wedding with a lot of moving parts (several vendors, caterer, DJ, rentals…), there’s always a piece of the puzzle that goes missing, is the wrong color, shows up late or is misplaced. It’s the job of a coordinator to fix these issues and make the picture complete again. Any couple that attacks the coordinator for minor, fixed issues are people who can’t take responsibility. People who can’t take responsibility tend to have a more difficult wedding day and beyond.
We estimated this one wedding to be $500,000, easy. Dad paying for all of it. The bride was a total sweetheart when I met her. The groom seemed quiet but was very easygoing. Always nice to have a sober groom, and he didn’t drink a drop during the day. Then the photographer/videographer left to take some venue shots. The bride began berating everyone, myself included, on how her perfect day had to be capped out because no one wanted to give her more. My clothes were trashy, the DJ’s computer was a PC, the bar staff were wearing red vests and she hates vests.
Photographer came back and she was an angel again.
Being a Pushover
Rachel: This is an unfortunate one because sometimes it isn’t the couple’s fault. I’ve had mother of the bride/groom that just rampage what the couple wants, but the couple never fights back.
Even if they are perfect for each other, that stress doesn’t end at the wedding. Their lives are defined by a controlling mom or aunt or father, and that is a terrible way to start a relationship. It’s important to involve your family, but it is more important to stand your ground so that you start your new life together on your own terms.
Too Much Booze
BHS, wedding videographer in Texas: This is going to seem cliche, but excessive drinking is a big one. Particularly excessive drinking before the ceremony. I’m no teetotaler, but when I show up to shoot during the pre-wedding photos and one or both of the soon-to-be-wedded parties are already clearly drunk and belligerent, then that’s a strong indication of future wedding difficulties.
There’s a definitive difference between seeing a groom that’s hungover or has had a couple of toasts with his groomsmen before the ceremony and seeing one that has to be coaxed into putting his beer down to get a photo done. I would guess that it’s indicative of either someone who is drinking to counter the reality that they’re facing, or a person who is more committed to having a good time with their pals than they are to having a special day with their spouse and family.
Without getting into details, I had one a couple of years ago where the bride, who was a delight, if somewhat disorganized before the wedding, was almost unable to stand by the end of the reception. I found out later that the marriage had ended within a year’s time due to infidelity on the part of the groom… which even in my brief time with the couple was not difficult to imagine. I would assume that she must have known this on some level as well.
BHS: Another flag would be if one member of the couple seems excessively flirty at the reception. I shoot a lot of the dancing and I get a strong sense occasionally that the bride or groom seems overly affectionate with one of the wedding guests.
There was one specific instance when the bride kept dancing with the same guest at the reception who was definitely not a family member and I had a strong feeling that something was up. Two days later I received a couple of calls. The first was from the groom requesting all of the raw footage from the wedding as soon as possible (I do a lot of editing and my turnaround is usually around two weeks).
The second call was from a woman who was an employee of the groom and the mother of the wedding guest in question. She had been tipped off and given my information by the bride in an attempt to get ahead of the situation and wanted me to destroy the footage. Luckily I had avoided shooting too much of the two dancing because I knew I wouldn’t want to use it in the final edit and, upon review, there wasn’t anything in my video that was overly unseemly. I did not follow up, and I don’t know if they’re still married.
Affection (or Lack of It)
Stanley, wedding photographer in California: My husband and I are wedding photographers. We’ve been pretty lucky so far and haven’t had too many crazies. Our red flag in weddings is, honestly, you can tell just by how they look at each other. The little touches sometimes where they touch each other’s arms or things like that. It sounds cliche, but those little things make a world of difference later. We meet with couples for a consult before we book them, and if they are on very different pages, usually that’s a bad sign.
The one couple we hope we never see again barely looked at each other. It was so bad. We had to photoshop a smile onto the groom a couple of times so he at least looked happy in the ceremony of all things. Totally brutal.
Nerves to the Point of Inaction
Amy Danger, wedding planner in Australia: Nerves pre-wedding are super-common, of course. It’s very much in the realm of “normal” to feel an overwhelming sense of, Holy shit, this is a big deal! However, after working with 300-plus couples, you can kinda tell if it’s just normal pre-wedding jitters or if it’s I’m not sure if I’m making the right decision nerves.
For example, you can totally feel nervous about having all your friends together in one space: How will I be able to chat to them all? Or having family in one space: So-and-so haven’t seen each other in years.
I’ve done weddings where the parents haven’t been in the same room in 15-plus years! That can make anyone feel uneasy. It’s normal to feel nervous about your speech, walking down the aisle: Will I screw up? Everyone is going to be staring at me.
A lot of guys struggle with being the center of attention in an environment that they’re not used to (dressed in a suit if they’re usually pretty casual, public speaking, dancing). Likewise, women might be nervous about their dress choice: Does it fit properly? Do I look how I imagined? I don’t wear much makeup usually; is this over-the-top? All normal!
Where nerves become a red flag is when one or both parties are so uninterested in the planning that they avoid meetings or delay progress. They argue constantly about selections. They might be extremely indecisive about everything and not meet deadlines, which purposely starts arguments with their partner. So in some ways, I guess these actions can be masked as ‘nerves’ when prompted. Oh, he’s just nervous, it’ll be all right!
In my experience, couples who make it are the ones who’ve lived together prior. Living together, sharing bills and talking about money, doing that daily grind and getting through it, is where it’s at. While I certainly don’t believe simply living together is the same as being married, I do think that in order to have a long-standing marriage, you gotta witness those daily habits of your significant other!
Trying to ‘Fix’ Each Other
Jeff, wedding photographer in Tennessee: I try to get to know both people beforehand so I can work their hobbies/unique traits into my product. A big red flag for me is when one person is clearly trying to change the other.
I had one dude who loved poker, craft beer, cigars, hanging with his rowdy friends, video games, etc. I planned a cool shoot where I had all his friends in an Old West saloon, and he sees his bride to be, etc. But she steps in and declares, “Oh, he won’t be doing any of those things any more.”
Poor bastard just sat there in silence as I awkwardly had to plan them shopping for a Yorkie puppy instead.
Halfway through post-production after the wedding, he called and said he was getting an annulment. I wanted to say, “Could have told ya so,” but I try to stay neutral. The times I usually get it right is when I remove myself and my preferences and look at a situation objectively. I see women screaming at their husband, emasculating him and embarrassing him in front of his friends and family. But then later I see the guy all excited that his bride is going to totally own him. So you see, it’s easy to think a marriage won’t work when it’s not your cup of tea… but that’s the thing. You never know what someone’s cup of tea is behind closed doors.