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Retying the knot

Second weddings are more common than ever, but they still raise tricky questions of etiquette

Posted: 03/19/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 03/19/2013 9:51 AM | Updates


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When Cheryl Sinclair married her high school sweetheart in 1985, she walked down the church aisle in a long white gown with five attendants.

There had been a "big-hall shower" and a social. More than 200 guests attended the wedding reception, which was largely planned by her parents, who even chose the menu.

"I think my parents had more of their friends at the wedding than we did," recalls the Winnipegger, who was 20 at the time. She divorced in 1997.

Sinclair, now 47 with two grown kids, recently got engaged to her partner of three years, with whom she already owns a home.

Where her first wedding was "more of a show," she says, this one will be "completely different" -- as in a backyard gathering with fewer than 50 guests. Or maybe even a trip to an Elvis wedding chapel in Las Vegas.

And that suits her betrothed, who has never been married, just fine. "It's an important event, sure, but a wedding is just one small part of a marriage," says Sheldon Root, 44.

Perhaps, but that small part can pose big etiquette questions when the bride, groom, or both have been married at least once before.

Should second-time brides wear white? Who pays for the wedding? Do you invite the exes, the former in-laws? Is it tacky for repeaters to have a gift registry? (When two become one in this case, they often need to purge possessions, not accumulate more.) If there are kids, should they be involved?

Remarrying is what the English writer Samuel Johnson described as "the triumph of hope over experience."

And given that approximately 43 per cent of first marriages end in divorce, and that more than half of divorced Canadians end up repartnering, according to Statistics Canada, there's no shortage of hopeful people willing to get back on the connubial horse.

About 60 per cent of his business is encore weddings, says Winnipeg marriage commissioner Henry McDonald -- a.k.a. The Marrying Man.

His clientele "used to be all what seemed like young kids," he says, and now most of them are in their 40s and 50s.

"I've married people who have been married five times, but who's counting? I tell them they're my repeat business," says McDonald. "I always ask them, 'You've been around the racetrack before. Are you sure you want to do this? If it's what you want, we're good to go.'"

Less than one per cent of the population will marry more than twice, according to StatsCan, but around 10 per cent will tie the knot a second time (at around age 39, on average).

Norma Dawson, who, along with her husband, Bruce, has been performing marriages in Manitoba since 1989, says that up to 80 per cent of their business is now encore weddings. (In 1996, their peak year, they married 500 couples.)

Although Bruce did officiate weddings for the same bride three different times, most people are second-timers, she says, and they usually opt for a more intimate, scaled-down celebration.

Dawson says few "mature" brides opt for the "big frou-frou gown."

"They're typically more into the blue-suit kind of routine when they're older," she says, "but you will find 40-year-olds who will put on a white cocktail dress."

Fancy restaurants are a common reception venue, Dawson says, as is the Assinboine Park Conservatory or the Leo Mol sculpture garden. Second-wedding guests lists also tend to be shorter: "They only invite close friends and family, not second cousins."

Tina Dubois, 40, says she and her fiancé, who is also on his second marriage, opted for a destination wedding to bypass the fuss.

"We had all the bells and whistles on our first time -- very stressful and a lot of trouble," says Dubois, who married for the first time at age 21. "I was so busy trying to make everything perfect that I personally did not enjoy the day at all."

Melanie Reimer echoes the sentiment.

"I don't want to be a full-on bride this time," says the 37-year-old Winnipegger, who will wed Sebastian Luque, 43, in June at a llama farm near Selkirk, before about 50 guests -- 18 of whom will be children.

Reimer, who was 23 at her first wedding, says she's not sweating the details as much this time. No fancy gown, no attendants.

"I've been so much more relaxed and flying by the seat of my pants a little bit," she says. "It's less about the etiquette and more about standing in front of the man I love and promising to spend my life with him."

They're doing the wedding mostly for her daughters, nine and seven, Reimer says. "We're already living together, but I wanted my kids to have an understanding that there's a serious commitment here."


Winnipeg marriage commissioner Sherri Rehill says many encore couples choose to write their own vows, or will request a personalized ceremony, especially if there are children involved.

"They want a ceremony that's about them and not just something that's 'Insert name here,'" Rehill says. "Quite often, couples will want it to be more a marriage of the family rather than just between the couple, and children will be included in the ceremony."

She recalls one groom who, after exchanging vows with his bride, presented his eight-year-old stepdaughter with three rings, to represent the members of their new family. At her own second wedding, Rehill's stepchildren, who were 12 and 10, served as honourary maid-of-honour and best man and presented her and her husband each with a red rose.

Kathryne Cardwell, 29, would have been happy to elope, but she didn't want to deprive her never-married fiancé of the wedding experience.

She got the full-meal, traditional deal when she walked down the aisle at age 21: hall shower, home shower, spud-and-steak social, stagette, fancy white gown with long veil, 250 guests at the reception dinner and dance.

This time, she's more focused on the marriage than the wedding.

"I wanted to be a princess the first time, and this time, I just want to be with my new husband," says Cardwell. "I'll likely wear a bridal gown, probably off-white, but no veil."

The couple has only begun the planning process, and still haven't set the date, she says, but the wedding will likely be a traditional one, with fewer than 70 guests, and take place in her fiancé's hometown in Ontario.

"Maybe it's because I was raised in a rural farm community, but I think I am a traditional guy," says groom-to-be Charlie McDougall, 41. "To me, weddings are about proclaiming your commitment to each other, your friends and family and your community.

"Maybe if we were both younger and a little more carefree, we'd be dancing up the aisle to LMFAO, but we're going to play it straight and traditional."

Kathryne may be decades too young for the "blue suit" routine of Dawson's mature brides, but she admits she's nervous about breaking any encore-wedding etiquette.

"I am really aware of the fact that I've been married before, and I am wary of doing anything that will look tacky or inappropriate," she says.

"I have heard many, many people make comments about how second-time brides shouldn't have more than two attendants, shouldn't allow anyone to throw them a shower, shouldn't have socials, shouldn't wear a veil, shouldn't have a big party, shouldn't let anyone else contribute to the wedding costs, shouldn't wear white, shouldn't spend more than a certain amount, shouldn't accept gifts, shouldn't be walked down the aisle by their fathers, etc., etc."

Dawson's advice to second-timers who worry about following the list of dos and don'ts is: Don't.

"Don't worry about following the rules," she says. "Enjoy yourself. Just pick a person you like, pick a place and be happy."

Second time around

WHEN the bride, groom or both have been married before, the wedding-planning process can pose some unique etiquette challenges. Here's some conventional encore-wedding wisdom:

-- Notify an ex-spouse: It's common courtesy to pick up the phone and let the ex know as soon as possible after the engagement. Better the news come from you than second-hand. Doing so is particularly important when children are involved.

-- Wear white if you want: The wedding day is supposed to be about what the bride and groom want, and that only. There are no set rules as to what a bride, at any age, should wear as she journeys down the aisle, and the same goes for who she takes those steps with.

-- Include kids in the planning process: They'll be able to warm up to the new family situation over time, versus dealing with it abruptly around the wedding day. They'll also have a chance to speak up about aspects of the ceremony or reception that might make them feel uncomfortable.

-- Enlisting parental support: Couples who are remarrying are usually older, and therefore more financially independent. That said, parents tend to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when their child is getting married and they often want to help out in some way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting their offerings.

-- Gift registries: Guests will want to share the new bride and groom's joy by offering something for them to take with them into this new life. Setting up a registry allows friends and family a chance to give the couple something they'll truly appreciate. Even if a prior marriage for one or both was more recent, a newly engaged couple should never feel guilt over setting up another registry.

-- Gift ideas for encore weddings: personalized keepsakes (books, frames, blankets, photo albums), gift baskets, picture frames, gift certificates (restaurants, spas, stores), donations to charity, espresso maker, pasta maker, cookbooks.

-- Don't: duplicate your first wedding, marry in the same location, use rings from a previous relationship, wear the same dress as your first wedding.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 C1


Updated on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 9:35 AM CDT: corrects typo in cutline

9:51 AM: replaces photo

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