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Sandy Malone’s Wedding Hack: 10 Ways To Identify Nightmare Relatives

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There is an “Aunt Mary” and an “Uncle Charley” at every single wedding. These are our code names for the problem children that the brides and grooms sometimes (not often enough) warn us about before they arrive. The brother who will be drunk and out of control, and the sister-in-law with a mouth that should be duct-taped shut, for example. These are our “special” guests.

For years, our staff has joked about which wedding guests would be our biggest nightmares as each new group arrives. We can usually identify them at the welcome party. If they’re not sloshed to the point of babbling incoherency, they’re dead sober and latch onto the wedding planning staff like a life raft. Probably because everybody else is avoiding them.

We try to escape, but it’s hard. We are paid to be polite. Which is how our “special” guests got their nicknames. “Uncle Charley” and “Aunt Mary” are our gender-specific code words for “watch the heck out for that nightmare guest.” And for us, they work. The funniest thing is when it’s exactly the people our clients warned us about. Brides and grooms know their guests.

This sounds like a joke, but it’s completely serious to us. In fact, even our vendors – from the caterers to the DJ – know about Uncle Charley and Aunt Mary. And believe me, we point them out for the vendors’ safety. And if we don’t remember to warn them, the bartenders tell us who they are 15 minutes into the reception.

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These people come from all different parts of the wedding group – disturbingly enough, it’s too often a member of the immediate family, a member of the wedding party, or their date. The very same people who should be on their best behavior are their own worst enemies, and the bride and groom’s least favorite guests.

Here are 10 ways to identify Uncle Charley and Aunt Mary at a wedding:

1. Uncle Charley is the father of the bride who got so wasted during cocktails that when the wedding group got out of control and started breaking things and we asked them to stop (actually, the groom went around and asked them to behave), this Uncle Charley FoB stood up and yelled “bang all you want – we paid for it.” Um, actually, you didn’t. You rented it. But thanks, now you’ve bought it. Or rather, your daughter and her new husband will be paying for the damage.

2. Aunt Mary is frequently the mother of the bride or groom who can’t handle the fact her ex has brought a date or new spouse to the wedding and drinks too much and tries to cozy up to the male staff. It’s embarrassing for the couple (mortifying, actually). When it’s my husband, I only let it happen a few times because it’s funny to watch him try to dodge Aunt Mary. But if I need to, I’ll intervene and ask her to refrain from touching him. We have a sexual harassment policy and it’s not just about the female staff. To us girls, nothing is funnier than watching the tables turned, once in awhile. We’re all on headsets so we’re tormenting whoever Aunt Mary has chosen as her victim while she’s bothering him. But we can’t let it continue for long.

3. Uncle Charley is THAT friend who thinks he’s hilarious and is just dying to get his hands on the microphone. This Uncle Charley gets angry when he doesn’t get his way. The brides and grooms leave him off the toasting list for a reason – they don’t want to have a wedding roast. And he wasn’t asked to sing because it’s not a karaoke bar, it’s a wedding. And he’s awful anyway. As a general rule, he gets nasty and sometimes physically aggressive when he’s told no. Not too different from an average two-year-old child.

4. Aunt Mary wishes she was a wedding planner. Usually, we’ve never even heard of this Aunt Mary prior to her arrival because she’s that low on the bride’s priority list. And the bride hasn’t given her any authority to push the staff around, make demands, or attempt to supervise or control anything. Once rebuffed, she gets pissy and starts drinking heavily. Halfway through the night, she starts heckling the staff. Not even kidding. Oh yes, we take videos of this stuff. Some for personal blooper reels, some for liability purposes. If she tells the bride we were rude to her, I want the bride to be able to see EXACTLY how Aunt Mary is spinning the tale of how we refused to create “to-go” containers (a total wedding no-no) and spoke rudely to her. The bride always asks for her own copy of the film because, half the time, Aunt Mary wasn’t on HER guest list. She was a “must-invite” by somebody else.

5. Uncle Charley is frequently a random date of a member of the bridal party who doesn’t know anybody at the wedding and tries to latch onto our staff for their entertainment for the evening, including begging us to dance, trying to get us to do shots, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Uncle Charley will spend the entire rehearsal dinner beach party standing next to our staff chain smoking and telling us stories about his fascinating life that bore the hell out of us. If it’s an Aunt Mary, she’ll be hovering around the actual wedding rehearsal (that’s she not supposed to attend) offering her opinions on how the ceremony should be choreographed, as if we haven’t done this literally hundreds of times.

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6. Uncle Charley is usually the party lush. He thinks he’s cool because he’s getting trashed. We know which table Uncle Charley is seated at as soon as the servers tell us that somebody has just ordered 25 shots for one table, in the middle of a dinner service for 90 people. He’s already been pointed out to the bartender and his mixed drinks have barely a kiss of alcohol in them because he was wasted before he even got to the wedding ceremony. It’s a lot easier to fake his drinks than cut him off – that’s the kiss of death at a wedding. Anybody drunk enough to be cut off isn’t sober enough to realize that making a stink about it will ruin the bride and groom’s night. He’s all about what Uncle Charley wants.

7. My husband says that most women between 25 and 35 who are away from their children for their first vacation become Aunt Marys. Once, we had to remove a cousin of the groom from the rehearsal dinner because she was so trashed that she couldn’t even sit upright at the dinner table. I was sneaky – she wanted to go outside to smoke and I offered to go with her. A few minutes in, I told her the party had ended and everybody had gone home (she couldn’t see into the restaurant from where we were standing) and convinced her to get in my Jeep so I could take her back to her hotel. I took this Aunt Mary all the way into her room, helped her get unzipped, and literally tucked her in, then returned to the rehearsal dinner and bragged about my accomplishments to the staff. Next day, we find out that Aunt Mary escaped after I left, went to a bar, and invited a random person to the wedding. Of course, we didn’t know that til some local guy showed up at the venue claiming to have been invited to the wedding by Aunt Mary. That’s when we pointed out her 300-pound former linebacker husband and suggested he get one drink and leave.

8. Uncle Charley is ALWAYS the first one to get naked. This takes place in a variety of forms. Sometimes, we walk into the staff room at a villa to get more hand towels during the reception and find Uncle Charley asleep – stark naked – on the bed. More frequently, he takes off his shirt when he gets hot dancing at the reception (super tacky), and then takes off the rest of it to jump in the pool later on. Sometimes he’ll keep on his skivvies, but that doesn’t leave much to the imagination when he gets out of the water. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Uncle Charley shouldn’t be running around naked in front of anyone but his spouse.

9. Aunt Mary often appears to be bi-polar. She’ll kiss up to the wedding planners (why???) through a couple of events and then suddenly flip on us when something totally unrelated to the staff pisses her off at the wedding or reception, cursing at the service staff or the DJ because he doesn’t have her favorite song (which he actually does, but it’s on the bride and groom’s “do not play” list). God forbid she doesn’t like the seat she was assigned at dinner because, obviously, the staff made the seating chart. Not. This Aunt Mary usually apologizes before she leaves at the end of the night. Gee, thanks. Please don’t come back to our island to visit. The tribe has spoken.

10. Aunt Mary LOVES to torment the bride. She makes backhanded compliments like “aren’t your flowers cute – too bad you didn’t do something with orchids since they’re more tropical.” Or when it’s almost show time and the weather is iffy, she’ll do her very best to upset the bride under the guise of making her feel better. We recently had a bride who was totally cool and calm despite the fact we were having to implement “Plan B” because of rain. Even the bridesmaids were ready to toss the future mother-in-law down the staircase because she kept going back up to the bridal suite to make snarky remarks about how our team wasn’t handling the problem. Everything was under control for moving the ceremony under cover, but she was right, I didn’t turn off the rain. Shame on me.

Sometimes, a mother of the bride or groom who wasn’t allowed to help plan the wedding (for personal reasons of the bride and groom) has to become Aunt Mary to get attention once the wedding weekend arrives. And they usually embarrass their children in the process. There was the groom’s mom who requested “We Are Family” at a wedding where not one single member of the bride’s family was in attendance. When her son, the groom, accidentally sprayed her in the face with bug repellant when she was bitching about non-existent mosquitos, I almost wet my pants. You can bet she was a lot nicer to me after I pulled out the first aid kit and the saline solution.

You’ve probably attended a wedding in the not so distant past – stop and think about who Aunt Mary and Uncle Charley were at that wedding. If you can’t come up with anybody, you’d better think a little harder. It might have been you.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Sandy Malone Weddings & Events!

– Sandy

Sandy Malone is a reality TV star, expert wedding planner, and internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast's BRIDES and The Huffington Post, in addition to Monsters... read more
Sandy Malone


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