Need advice - son marrying girl w/ divorced & remarried parents

gellchomJune 7, 2010

We're not divorced, but I started looking at this forum occasionally after our son got serious with a girl whose parents are divorced and remarried (one with children from second marriage). I have gotten a real education!

Now they are engaged. We are delighted, but as we are very fortunate to have no experience with divorce in our immediate families, I am concerned that we may inadvertently say or do something that could hurt feelings or place someone (especially our wonderful future DIL) in an awkward situation. Her parents do not have a good relationship with each other.

I've met the mom (and I like her a lot) and will soon meet the dad and stepparents, too.

I am concerned with both planning the wedding (we will be involved with that and the de facto hosts for most of the weekend, even though we are the groom's family, because the wedding will be in our city, not either of their cities or the couple's) -- but even more important, although less immediate, with the future relationship.

With the wedding, for example, our families always have lots of events the weekend of a wedding (not big fancy deals, but we're all together most of the time), because we live so far apart, everyone is there for the whole weekend, and it functions also like a reunion. I don't want to make the in-laws uncomfortable by forcing them together at too many events. At the same time, I don't want to leave our out of town guests in the lurch just because the in-laws don't get along. It's easy to say, "Just invite everyone, and if they don't want to come, then they don't." But where does that leave my future DIL and my son? If her family has separate meals, etc., where do they go? If they stick with us to avoid choosing between her parents, won't that make her parents feel bad, and perhaps resent us, too?

Anyway, that's just an example. I want to know general principles to help everything go smoothly and to keep everyone as comfortable as possible.

What advice do you have? If you have had a child marry, what were the smartest and dumbest things the other parents did? If your child were marrying mine, what would be the best things I can do, and what should I avoid?

Thank in advance for the benefit of your experience.

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Congradulations -- you should have your son talk to future daughter in law. Or if you have a good relationship with her, you should talk to her, gently. Just say, heah, FIL, can we sit down and let me go over some of the parties we have in mind and see how you would like invites to your parents handled.

Yes, you are the host, but her relationship with her parents is her issue, your relationship with FDIL is your issue.

Is this out of town for either of her parents? If so, you might also want to put togethor a list of local attractions, restaurants etc, so that if her parents alternate functions they can have good time off somewhere. Also, her mom may be busy with last minute dress etc stuff, so may welcome some time off.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 7:54AM
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Her parents do not have a good relationship with each other.

Can you be more specific? My ex and I don't have a great relationship either, but certainly, we are civil to each other. And in matters of our children's happiness, neither of us would kick up a fuss or refuse to attend an event or whatever.

Of course that's not true for all divorced parents. So it depends on how "not good" their relationship is. If it leans toward "not thrilled to be around each other but we can set that aside for the weekend", you're probably ok planning as you normally would. If it's more like "we can't stand the sight of each other and will either not attend or cause a scene", then your future DIL will probably have to play the role of liaison between what you wish to plan and what her parents will tolerate.

I have to say here that I have no sympathy for parents who cannot set aside their differences for a few days for the sake of their child's wedding. If they really want to eat at separate locations, IMO, that's their problem. I know you're trying to tread lightly and I commend you for that. But ultimately, it's not your dilemma where your son and FDIL eat if there are two or three different venues for the same meal just because these two people can't be in the same room at the same time.

You know, if the problem exists, it will always exist and your son & FDIL will have to deal with it and make judgment calls about it for the forseeable future. In fact, I'm guessing FDIL is already used to dealing with it. I'd really let her guide you on how she feels things need to be done.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 8:59AM
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I agree let your Future DIL guide you. If some of your celebrations are large enough perhaps for the sake of their daughter they could be at the same gatherings and not even have to mingle with each other.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 10:02AM
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The most important advice (IMO) has already been given -- Let your FDIL guide you as she knows her parents and their respective situations best. And try not to worry too much about it yourself, because with divorce being SO common these days, tip-toeing around should absolutely not be necessary. Ask your FDIL to please be perfectly candid with you about what you should expect and how she'd like you to approach any issues versus letting her handle them.

One thing that always works well in our family is to keep things unstructured to the extent possible. For example, if you have a head table, there's likely to be a kerfluffle about who does and who does not get to sit there. In fact, assigned seating of any type is likely to cause headaches unless your room arrangement can be adjusted to the tables for the bride's mother, bride's father and groom's parents are exactly equal in desirability...

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 10:56AM
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Congratulations! I see much good advice already. The only thing I can add is about the I don't want to leave our out of town guests in the lurch. I wouldn't worry about that, to be honest. Go ahead and have your family reunion type events; I think it's unlikely that your son and FDIL are going to have that much free time the weekend of their wedding to be attending too many non-essential events anyway. And FDIL might enjoy the chance to spend a little time alone with each parent without having to worry about the other parent sitting alone in a hotel room.

It sounds like you're going to be a great in-law; it's very thoughtful of you to be so helpful and considerate.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 11:28AM
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Oh that's right! That was the other thing I was going to address -- The whole 'reunion' thing...

Go ahead and schedule your reunion-style and out-of-town guest parties as you normally would. Just tell your FDIL about your family custom and let her know that she and all of her parents and their respective spouses are very welcome to attend, but should not feel pressured like they have to attend. In other words, you'd love to have them there and think they might enjoy meeting 'wild Aunt Sally and nutty cousin Joe', but certainly won't take offense if they have other plans.

That's what we end up doing over the holidays due to everyone's his-or-her-parents/divorce/spouses/step-kids' situations, and it usually works out very well with everyone getting a chance to stop by and being grateful for not feeling pressured by a specific time-table or expectation.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 1:10PM
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Thank you all. I'll try to give the additional info you requested. Apologies in advance for the length!

Neither of her parents lives anywhere near here (nor near each other).

I don't know the details of their relationship, but I believe it is between the extremes you described, lowspark.

FDIL and I get along great (she's great, period), so it's easy to talk to her about this -- but I still want to make sure she isn't uncomfortable.

She told me that her parents are able to coexist at large events, but that they might be uncomfortable at a dinner for twenty or under.

I also understand that they have rarely been around each other in recent years; last time was a graduation a few years ago, and who knows how long or how often before that. I'm guessing there isn't much precedent one way or the other.

I think I misrepresented what I meant about the other events of the weekend -- "family reunion" was an unfortunate choice of words, because it sort of suggests a retreat somewhere with games, etc. That's not what I meant. What I meant was, because we are so spread out, when we have a wedding, bar mitzvah, etc., it sort of functions as a reunion.

Moreover, I think our community (and perhaps most Jewish communities?) may differ from others in a relevant respect. Weddings are very much family events, not so bridal-party-centered as it seems they are in other communities. For example, all out of towners are always invited to the "rehearsal dinner" (i.e., the "night-before" casual party, which may have nothing to do with a rehearsal) -- and usually also in-town close relatives (none in this case) and very close family friends who have participated in some major way (given showers, hosted out of town guests, etc.). The bridal couple attend everything; they don't go off with their friends instead (maybe after!) -- it would appear very rude and kind of strange (dissing Grandma, as it were).

It would be very strange to have NOTHING except the wedding itself. I'm not saying that's how everyone should do things! But it is so ingrained here to entertain the out of towners pretty much all weekend, not to do it would be like advertising that something is very, very wrong. And it has to be some sort of planned event; we can't just walk into a restaurant with 100+ people.

Thing One's wedding will be a Monday-holiday weekend. We have no relatives here. Most guests will be from out of town; we anticipate 100-150 or more (which means we can only invite an awkwardly small number of local friends, which is another whole story!). Here is what I am anticipating:

Hospitality area in hotel with coffee, cookies, for hanging around, all weekend
Friday: Shabbat dinner at someone's home (ours or a friend's) or at the hotel
Saturday: services at synagogue in the morning, followed by kiddush light lunch there. There will also be a bar mitzvah, so the lunch will mostly be that family's event -- we will put in some money because of the extra guests we will be causing, but they will plan it.
Saturday night: some sort of casual dinner for the out of towners and a few "quasi-host level" in-town close friends
Sunday: wedding!
Monday: drop-in brunch -- probably at hotel (in hospitality area) for out of towners, but a friend may insist on hosting at her home.

Our thought was that we would not "advertise" the Friday night dinner, just wait until people tell us when they will be arriving; if they say Friday, invite them. This is both to avoid scheduling too many events that might scare Future Mrs. Thing One's parents and also not to create pressure on other guests to come for three nights when they might prefer two -- the hotel bills can add up, and for most of them it would mean taking Friday off of work, too.

Also, I doubt many of the guests will go to synagogue Saturday morning -- probably just a few. I don't think it would be odd for one or both of FMTO's parents to skip it.

I'm sure that FMTO's parents will both come to the wedding and reception and behave beautifully. But the night before party, and Friday night dinner if they are already in town? It's one thing just to invite them and say we won't be offended if they don't attend. But I can't control how anyone else will feel, and I think that our relatives, who are always very eager to meet and befriend the new family, are going to feel a little rejected if FMTO's relatives don't attend -- and I don't see how they could come, if the ex-spouse to whom they are related won't.

Wouldn't that be awkward? What has happened in your families? If the two exes won't come to the same event, do their parents and other relatives come, or not? If they don't, and each hosts their own dinner, brunch, whatever, where do Thing One and FMTO go?

I just wish so much that they could "Brady Bunch" it for the whole weekend! But I know that I can't tell them how to feel. And I don't want them to sense that I am walking on eggshells; I don't want to make them self-conscious.

Thank you so much in advance for your advice.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 1:59PM
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What a lovely fun weekend that sounds like! How nice that the bride and groom will get to see their families all weekend; it sounds so much nicer and more relaxed than a mad rush of trying to speak with everyone at the reception.

I think it will help if the parents also know exactly what they are in for. If they know that it's a smaller dinner but that you will do your best to have them at opposite ends of the table, they may be more likely to want to attend then if they have very little idea of how many people will be there, the set-up, etc.

Fortunately all of my family has been able to behave at least well enough to not cause any public scenes at such events (there's been some leaving early and avoidance but nothing noticeable if you didn't know what was going on).

One of the things that we did at our wedding, though, was to ask a couple of very close friends and relatives who were not part of the wedding party to be semi-bouncers, so to speak. We asked the kind of people who are very pleasant, calm and good listeners and told them ahead of time who to keep an eye on and why (the few who might drink too much and get loud, who might get into an argument with whom, etc.) We had asked them to subtly and tactfully intercede and try to head off any brewing problems; fortunately they didn't have to but it made us much more at ease to know that there would be someone available who would discreetly step in without having to have someone in the bridal party have to suddenly leave in the middle of pictures or something.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 3:53PM
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Gosh, I never even thought about anyone making a scene or having an argument! I was just worrying about whether they would feel uncomfortable being at the same event, and, if one or the other didn't attend, what the other relatives (and Thing One and FMTO) would do.

No one has said anything about relationships being that volatile. But I guess I don't know, do I?


Anyone here a daughter/son of divorce? Was this an issue at your wedding (or other event)? How did you handle it?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 4:00PM
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It sounds like the people are too nice. I wouldnt expect volatile. In my situation, I dont think my family would come if I were not there. My XMIL might come if her son, FOB in this situation were not there, and my family would be charming to her. So I think you have to give FDIL lead time.

Who is planning wedding you or FDIL? In addition to the extra party stuff, who is going to discuss pictures, as to who goes in pictures?

I assume both of FDILs parents will walk her up aisle and stand under the chuppah with her. I assume reception will be large enough that you can seat MOB and FOB and each of their groups at tables away from each other.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 4:14PM
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FMTO's relatives ... I don't see how they could come, if the ex-spouse to whom they are related won't.

OK, so this is where you need to sit down with FDIL and explain to her what you just explained above to us. Here's the potential schedule. We want all of your friends and relatives to feel free to participate in that schedule if they are going to be here at those times. In order for that to happen, it would be best if both of your parents planned to attend all that as well. How are they going to feel about that? Is it doable? Is it out of the question? Are there certain things we can do to ensure their comfort if they can commit to coming?

I don't know the details of their relationship, but I believe it is between the extremes you described, lowspark.
She told me that her parents are able to coexist at large events, but that they might be uncomfortable at a dinner for twenty or under.

So, it's probably all going to work out ok. It doesn't sound to me like any of these events are going to be small enough to put them in an uncomfortable situation. Even the brunch which might be the smallest event (?) if it's in someone's home, which I assume would make it necessarily some kind of buffet, that makes it pretty easy to avoid each other as you can just stay in different rooms without anyone noticing anything amiss.

Alright Gell, I'm going to say it. I think you are fretting unecessarily. I'm betting that once you sit down with FDIL and discuss all this, you'll feel much better. She can give you her take on it, and she can present it to her parents and get their take. I'm thinking that they're all going to say, "no sweat!".

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 4:46PM
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Just to clarify - my parents are divorced but it was not either of them that we were worried might behave badly!

Try not to worry about it too much; it's their daughter's wedding and if they've managed to co-exist at graduations and such, they're going to be fine for such a happy event. It sounds like all of the events will be large enough that they can avoid each other.

I had posted this before but I'll repeat it for you - I once went to a wedding where the mother had left dad for "Aunt" #1, then left Aunt #1 for Aunt #2. And they were all at the wedding; Mom, Dad, Aunt 1 and her new partner, and Aunt 2. Everyone got along just fine; it was a lovely wedding. I'm sure your son's will be as well.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 4:49PM
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Oh, thank you all! You are being so reassuring, you have no idea.

KKNY, I think that at least officially FMTO is planning the wedding, and I think her mom will want to be involved, too. I know my role as MOG is to wear beige and keep my mouth shut -- BUT -- in this situation, that is very difficult, because my husband and I are the ONLY ones that live here, and this is where the wedding will be. It is impossible for me not to be involved in the planning, especially for logistics and all the events besides the wedding and reception themselves, some of which will be hosted or co-hosted by our local friends.

I am sure that they will get it together for the chuppah, kkny -- I am sure I would have heard about it by now if it were THAT bad. I hadn't thought about pictures, and I really don't care -- that can easily be left to FMTO and/or Thing One and/or FMTO's parents. In this age of digital photography, it's easy to take lots of shots and let people choose what they want.

Tables. Rats, I'd forgotten about that. We don't have head tables with the bridal party or sweetheart tables. Typically, the bride and groom sit with their parents and also siblings and/or grandparents -- the cutoff depends on the size of the table and the family. I wonder if that will work for this wedding. I would feel odd not sitting all together -- that was such a special memory for me from my own wedding -- but I'll be a big girl if I don't get my heart's desire on that one. I'll let Thing One and FMTO figure that out, too.

May, your advice is perfect. I need to calm down! I already had part of that conversation with FMTO and Thing One (that's when she told me about the "20 and under" concern). We don't talk about wedding plans much because FMTO's sibling's wedding is coming up, and the family very understandably doesn't want to worry about the next wedding until that one's over.

And we are invited to that one, so I will get a lot of information and, I hope, insight. I like the family members I have met so far very much; I cannot imagine them making a scene. I know her mom loves her very much, and that is key, isn't it! (Not to dis Dad or stepparents; I just haven't met them yet.)

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 7:22PM
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gellchom, Mazel tov and hope your new family gives you much nachas!

I cannot imagine having any volatile situation. I would not worry.

the only problem I anticipate is if her parents must sit at the same table yet they clearly are not comfortable. I would ask DIl what she thinks. other than that I do not anticipate any prooblems, arguments or inappropriate behavior. I can assure you that people would behave appropriately, i cannot imagine them causing problems.

But i agree with others talk to your FDIL and let her guide you! Mazel Tov on your son's wedding.

"I know my role as MOG is to wear beige and keep my mouth shut." hahaha no way "beige" haha you made me laugh

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 7:53PM
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I did attend wedding where the mother and the father of the bride did not get along, the mother and her boyfriend got wasted at the rehearsal dinner and it caused poor bride crying in public. and then they got wasted at the wedding again, mother passed out at the table while her boyfriend fell down on a dancing floor. we are not talking about some low lives, but educated professionals. It is funny to talk now, it wasn't funny then. But i do not anticipate anything like that at your son's wedding, clearly not yours or DIL's family style. hahah

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 7:58PM
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Gell, I didnt mean it like who is planning this wedding anyway, I just didnt see how this was moving.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 10:38PM
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kkny, don't worry -- I didn't take your question in that or any negative way; I know you weren't telling me I was supposed to wear beige and keep my mouth shut. It was a very good question and an important factor.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2010 at 11:44PM
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Oh yeah!! The sister's wedding is coming up! That's PERFECT! Your opportunity to observe the family in action. See how THEY do it. Where they are seated. How they interact with each other. See if they "get along" ok or if they completely avoid each other. Etc. Boy, you couldn't ASK for a better opportunity.

So... I take back at least a LITTLE bit of what I said. It's a good time now to really think this through with ideas and questions so that you can at least try to get them answered through observing how things go at this wedding. The more you think of now, the more you can notice.

I still say don't fret though! I'm sure it's all going to work out beautifully!!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 8:14AM
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It further occurs to me that I will be meeting my "mirror" in-laws this weekend -- the parents of the groom. They may have advice and/or information for me, too. I certainly am not going to try to talk about it this weekend, but if I get to know them well enough to establish a relationship, maybe I can talk to them some other time if necessary.

I don't mean I want to go behind FMTO's or her parents' backs, but I can envision a few small areas where I could possibly avoid putting them in an uncomfortable conversation by just checking with those other in-laws first. Can't think of an example right now, but I think you know what I mean.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2010 at 6:15PM
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Here is an update --
We attended the sister's wedding this weekend. It was wonderful. Pertinent to this thread, everyone from both sides behaved beautifully, of course, and although I know there was some tension, no one let it get in the way of anything. I don't know if that's why everyone wasn't together the night before or if there was some other reason, but people interacted fine. Both parents walked the bride up the aisle and stood with her for the ceremony. The three sets of parents all sat at separate tables at dinner, which wouldn't be my preference, but it certainly isn't a big deal. I think that the stepmother was included in the hairdressing festival along with the attendants and mother. That is so nice.

I really liked her relatives and family friends, and they seemed to take a real interest in getting to know us. I mention this because it indicates (unless I am projecting my own hopes onto them) that they, like us, really value family and want to be close with us, not just a sort of "oh-your-kid-is-marrying-my-cousin-well-have-a-nice-life" kind of thing. Anyway, it's what they will be getting from our relatives and friends, so at least I know they won't think it's strange!

So I am very hopeful. Both of these things -- the way they made such an effort to get along (and succeeded) and the value that they, too, seem to place on one-big-family -- seem to me to be good signs that we will be able to plan an everybody-included weekend when it is our turn.

Thank you all for your support and insights. If you have more advice, believe me, I want it!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2010 at 3:38PM
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I am so pleased you had the opportunity to attend the sister's wedding and see the family dynamics. Now your son and FDIL have the advantage of "they have been through this before and did okay". I really believe next time around it will be even better. At least it was in my divorced sister's case. 3 weddings, first wedding, some tension & barely spoke, second they did speak but each had their own tables. By the third they sat at the same table and now with the grandchildren we invite her Ex and his wife to all the family gatherings and it is really nice for the children and grandchildren.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2010 at 7:26PM
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Eandhl, thank you SO much for posting that. I had been nervous wondering if any of the people I am writing about read these forums -- but now I hope they do.

I am so happy for your family. That is exactly what I am hoping for. Let's hope that it's what THEY are hoping for, too.

Grandchildren do work magic, don't they!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 12:06PM
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Yes, grandchildren help but the 3 weddings fairly close did a lot too. It really is nice.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 1:00PM
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I think you are borrowing trouble. Just invite them and let them take care of their own accommodations and meals while in town. It's to many people to try and please, doing so will probably cause more stress than you would have if you left them to their own devices.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2010 at 9:11PM
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Vala, I'm not sure what you mean by "just invite them" -- to the wedding itself, or to everything we plan? It's not really for me to invite her parents to the wedding; actually, I don't know who will be the "official" hosts for the wedding itself. We (the couple and all the parents) are all contributing to the costs, and we're all (maybe not so much her dad, at least not so far) participating in the planning, too. I don't know (or especially care) how the invitations read.

We aren't planning on paying for anyone's hotel rooms, although everyone will be staying at the same hotel, where the reception will be.

As for meals, other than Friday and Saturday nights (and the wedding on Sunday), we'll have bagels and coffee available in the hospitality area at the hotel at breakfast times, but not a "real" meal, except for more substantial food, but still drop-in buffet style in the hospitality area, for brunch on Monday. I feel very confident that that will work out fine, because at the sister's wedding last week, everyone stayed at the hotel, which had a breakfast buffet in the lobby, and everyone hung out there without any problem. In fact, they crossed paths often and were gracious to each other.

So really, only Friday and Saturday nights are at issue, and after last week, I really am feeling confident about that, too.

I think we are going to get through the wedding weekend just fine and, I hope, feel close with both her parents and their families. We got a really good start last week. I am grateful for the insight and advice you all are giving me.

I have another question for AFTER the wedding, but I'll start another string!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2010 at 11:15PM
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when is the wedding? no, I am not planning on attending LOL, just wonder when is the happy event?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2010 at 8:07AM
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Vala, I dont agree with you. If this is what is common in gell's circle, there is apparently no reason why she shouldnt go for it.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2010 at 9:18AM
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Finedreams, it will be September 2011. Sure, drop by! :-)

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 5:26PM
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My anniversary is September 12! It's a great month for a wedding.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 5:46PM
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