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March 25, 2010


Professional bridal counselor Francie Hartsog Dolack, M.A., L.P.C. answers your most pressing questions about your wedding.

If someone would have told me five years ago that I would be a bride at age 42, I would have fallen onto the floor laughing. But on June 6, I found myself getting married on the rooftop terrace of one of the oldest churches in uptown Charlotte.

With my family there to support me and to make sure I didn't run, there really wasn't any chance that would happen. After all, I found a wonderful man who loves me and appreciates my quirky personality. He also cooks for me. No, I don't think I'm going anywhere.

Even though I was secure in my decision to marry my husband, Christopher, I admit there were many stressful moments that often bordered on panic. Prior to my engagement, I had the attitude that all brides were spoiled, neurotic, crazy women. I realize that's a terrible thing to think, but the truth is, I don't think I truly understood why weddings are so important. I didn't understand why brides got so nutty when planning their big day. Now I get it!

It wasn't as if I turned into a bridezilla. But I will admit to being neurotic at times, worrying about everything. What if it rains? What if my dress doesn't look right? What if everything doesn't get done? And if you've been a bride or have been exposed to a bride, you understand perfectly.

As a mental health professional, I believe the stress involved in planning a wedding can be potentially harmful to a person's mental health. Brides can develop depression, anxiety and panic attacks. They may have difficulty sleeping. It's possible they may develop problems with eating too much or not enough. I like to call it "Bridal Stress Syndrome."

A week before my wedding, I went to an expensive salon to get the full bridal treatment. When you are a bride, people treat you differently. I got mineral water with lemon. Several master stylists discussed my hair as if they were brain surgeons and I was the patient. (One wrong snip and the wedding could be ruined!) But my stylist calmed down once she realized I wasn't one of "those" brides. She confided in me that she really wanted a wedding, but the fear of the stress caused her to elope. "I just couldn't stand the thought of all that stress!" she explained. "It would have been nice, but it just wasn't worth it."

It was then I realized just how many women really suffer over wedding planning. The thought of eloping just to avoid stress made me sad. After all, most girls dream of their wedding day their whole lives. It's an important rite of passage. It's the day you get to be a princess. And most importantly, it's the day you marry your prince.

I immediately knew what I had to do. I rushed home and announced to my fiancé, "I'm going to be 'The Bride Whisperer!'" Most men would have been surprised by such an explanation, but my prince doesn't seem surprised by any rabbit I pull out of my hat. He started brainstorming with me, and before I knew it, I was applying my nearly two decades of counseling experience in the world of weddings.

As a professional bridal counselor, I provide brides with the support needed for a stress-free wedding - before, during and after the main event. Here, I'll be answering your questions about your big day, while providing a kind of public forum for brides just like you. To submit a question, send me an email at

Dear Francie: My fiance and I need your advice. Our parents have very different opinions about whether or not alcohol should be served at our wedding reception. My parents insist that no alcohol be served, but my future in-laws will not attend if alcohol is not served. My family and the majority of their friends not only do not drink, but are offended by alcohol. My fiance's family insists that their side of the family not be invited to the wedding unless alcohol is offered. This is non-negotiable because their opinion is that people don't have to drink if they don't want to.

My parents are paying for 50% of the wedding, and my fiance and I are paying for the other half. My fiance and I are not drinkers, so alcohol is definitely not important to us. We originally thought we would have a bartender to serve alcohol and soft drinks behind a counter, so the alcohol would not be out in the open. But we feel completely stuck in the middle of a no-win situation. What should we do?

Wedding Date: September 2010

Dear Katherine: Believe it or not, many couples struggle with this issue, and it can be a difficult one to navigate. While it's true many people "expect" alcohol to be part of the reception, there is definitely no rule that says you must serve alcohol. There are many reasons not to serve alcohol, and you have named some of those reasons. People who have suffered from alcoholism may be uncomfortable around other people drinking. Also, some people stay away from alcohol for religious reasons. While your parents have very strong convictions against alcohol, your future in-laws see it as an expected part of the wedding celebration. Although it is a difficult situation, it is up to you and your fiance to make the final decision. It is your wedding, and the two of you are adults, capable of making hard decisions. Now is the time to show both sets of parents you can make difficult decisions and stick by them.

Once you make the decision, you can expect some fallout. Would your future in-laws really not show up if you decide to have an alcohol-free wedding? I certainly hope not, but don't allow threats to push you into anything you are uncomfortable with. You are free to invite drinkers and non-drinkers to your wedding, and they are free to decide whether or not to come. Just remember, how you handle this situation with your family will set the tone for future issues.

Dear Francie: I have been dreaming about my wedding since I was 12 years old, and now I am engaged! I want my wedding to be perfect. I want a Cinderella dress, an elegant venue with the best food, the greatest music, etc. Every time I tell my parents what I want for my wedding, they say I'm expecting too much. I know they aren't rich, but I'm their only daughter! I have been losing my temper and even yelled at a lady in a bridal boutique when she brought me an ugly dress to try on. Is it so horrible that I know what I want and get upset when people don't understand?

Wedding Date: June 2011

Dear Jen: Many girls dream of their wedding day and have lots of ideas about what they want by the time they get engaged. But most brides-to-be understand fantasy doesn't equal reality. While it is possible for you to have a wedding that is meaningful and beautiful, it isn't possible for you to have a perfect wedding. Since your parents are paying for the wedding and are not wealthy, it's important to understand the meaning of compromise. While you may not be willing to compromise on the Cinderella dress, there may be other details you can live without. Unless you have the financial ability to pay for everything, I would suggest you sit down and make a list of things you want, in order of importance. You must be willing to negotiate on the less important details. For example, your dress and venue may be very important, but you may discover finding a gorgeous cake and great music for less money is possible.

The only person who controls whether you become a "Bridezilla" is you. Treating your parents with disrespect and yelling at a consultant in a bridal store is inappropriate and unacceptable. Being a bride-to-be is not a license to be rude. Planning your wedding is a very special and exciting time in your life. It's a time to celebrate the love you and your fiance have found, and to share the special day with people you love. Embrace the true meaning of the event and focus on what is really important. I promise you will be a much happier bride.

Dear Francie: I just became engaged last week and have been overwhelmed with warm responses, but my best friend has not responded at all! I suspect she is jealous because she has been waiting for her boyfriend to propose for a long time. Yesterday I sent her a text telling her I was engaged, and she didn't text me back. Meanwhile, I have changed my Facebook status to "engaged" and friends are making comments, but I haven't heard a word from her. I know she has been online, and I think she is just ignoring me. I was really considering asking her to be my maid of honor, but now I am reconsidering. I'm really hurt and am actually considering ending our friendship. I think a true friend would be supportive, regardless of her own situation. What should I do?

Julie Ann
Wedding Date: November 2010

Dear Julie Ann: It's easy to understand you are very excited about your recent engagement and are anxious to tell everyone about it. It's such a happy time in your life that sometimes it's hard to understand why some people don't respond with as much joy as you are feeling. There could be many reasons why your friend has not responded, but unless you talk to her face-to-face it's going to be difficult to figure out what's really going on. Facebook and texting are great ways to communicate most of the time, but ending a friendship because someone has not responded to a text or status update may not be the best idea. If this is a person you care about enough to consider as MOH, perhaps a telephone call would be a good idea. Maybe she has had the flu or has been overwhelmed with work. Maybe she is feeling a little jealous and just needs a few days to adjust to the idea. Call her and ask her to meet you for lunch. Let her know how important she is to you and that you really want her to be part of your special day. If she is truly a good friend, she will most likely put her own feelings aside and be happy for you. If not, at least you know you tried.

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