The first weddings happened by capture. The groom, aided by his warrior friend (the "best man"), kidnapped the bride, holding her in his left hand, and fought off other prospective mates, using his right hand. This is why the bride stands on the left in modern ceremonies. Or so I learned in my online research.
The Internet is the final civilizing force of this ancient ritual, transforming its anachronistic intimacy into a fully automated cyberexperience. All things nuptial are at your fingertips, from the history of marriage to methods for entertaining your guests at a shower and software that writes pithy wedding toasts. Once you meet your fiancée or fiancé in an online chat room, you need never leave your laptop to plan, pay for, or execute the Big Day.
The chain of hyperlinks to timeless matrimony begins with Cupid's Network, which will direct you to the perfect match (please specify ethnicity and religion). Or you could visit the virtual Irish Matchmaker, who commands, "Stop saying I can't and get ready to say I do."
Weddings are ideally suited to the Internet, since a Web site can provide the unconditional love and attention that print media can't. Guns N Roses Cyber Weddings will create a Web page for you, as well as locate "an ordained minister to oversee every detail." Many sites include a customizable "timeline,"reminding you when to buy what. Online counselors, such as Ask Myrna, specialize in calming stressed-out brides. Need to come up with vows? The Create-A-Vow Kit is yours for $24.95. Even the clergy are easy: Wayward Catholics are welcomed on the home page of the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict, who "recognize that Jesus never really said No to anyone."
The Web is not just peddler but also town crier. There is no need to climb the bridge with a bottle of spray paint to announce your matrimony, or to petition the society pages to include you. Web-site designers, such as Wed on Web, promise to spare no interactive technology in broadcasting your undying love to the world. The Way Cool Weddings site links to the best pages, which include heartwarming stories and statistical details, along with music and video.
Like politics, the best wedding Web sites are local. My favorite is The Virtual Bride of Atlanta ("Thank you for entering The Virtual Bride"), which gives hard-hitting hiring advice. On wedding consultants: "Beware of the use of the word 'I.' This means that she could already be fantasizing that it is she who is the bride, not you." It also recommends packing the "Bride's Emergency Kit," whose 30-plus items include smelling salts, a small flashlight, directions to the reception, and masking tape.
A Wedding Resource Online of Houston is less dramatic but has better shower games, including "Toilet Paper Wedding Dress." New York Metroweddings includes tips on trends from the entertainment director of Central Park's most famous restaurant, Tavern on the Green. ("Unlike the Eighties, everyone is getting back down to the real meaning of the occasion.") Viva Las Vegas, one of many online sites for the wedding capital, offers theme packages such as "Intergalactic," which "includes the use of the Starship chapel, all Intergalactic memorabilia, one Minister Transporter, illusion entrance, Captain Quirk/Minister, theatrical lighting, and fog. $650.00." If your city doesn't have a site, Bridal Gallery, an online registry, will search for local resources.
Identity politics can sometimes substitute for geography when it comes to breaking down the Web wedding industry into usable chunks. There are complete guides to ethnic-- African, Jewish, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino--as well as Gay and Lesbian ceremonies. Each urges you to shake free of the tired mainstream and embrace a more spirited tradition. For those who wish to pursue this strategy to its extreme, the Medieval and Renaissance Wedding Information site, a favorite of Dungeons & Dragons types, offers advice on everything from the entertainment (jousting, minstrels, etc.) to how to get hesitant guests into the spirit ("the fathers discovered how much fun tights can be").
For those who tire of the entire process before the ceremony even takes place, wedding sites contain their share of commentary on all things marital. Al's Wedding-related jokes and one-liners provides the usual dosage of in-law bashing and sex-hurrahing, and there are several America's Funniest Home Videos-type pages devoted to accounts of actual wedding mishaps (the comatose bride, Grandpa and the topless dancer, and so on). Best of all is And the Bride Wore ..., which adds captions to pictures of hideous bridal fashions. "This bride has been hermetically sealed for your protection" and "Run! Run! It landed on your butt!" should conjure up some of the images.
For arcane legal reasons, the actual ceremony must take place offline. Still, when problems crop up after the wedding, you can go to "The Marriage Toolbox," which derides the outdated advice of yesteryear's home-economics textbooks in favor of an online "journaling" technique that helps you release your inner kvetch. ("Today I feel like a wretch. ... I am sticky and hot and not very happy.") There remains the possibility that these methods will not yield lifelong bliss. Should such a fate befall you, there's always Divorce Online.