Well, it is that time of year again when you go to a wedding and come home chattering over how painful some of the wedding toasts were.

The warm, loving wedding toast seems to have fallen by the wayside in this age of reality television and talk show therapy. Today, we must hear how many loser lovers the bride lured to her bed, and how the groom got drunk one telltale spring break, and threw up on his Bermuda shorts.

Ah, memories! I’ve seen a groom savagely mock the social strivings of his new mother-in-law as if she were a dragon he had to slay. I’ve witnessed toasts that made note of the hapless groom’s slovenliness (before he was domesticated by the conniving, neat-freak bride, of course).

So where is the politeness, the sacred moment when guests weep for joy that two people, both comfortable within their own skin, have united as a greater whole?

I’m thinking that the wedding toast has suffered from the demise of the old-fashioned “rehearsal dinner.” This bawdy night-before-the-ceremony meal was usually the best place to rib or “roast” the bride and groom in a small-group setting. In this meal’s absence, folks find no other avenue down which their jokes and jollies can turn, so they now insult the bride and groom within an hour of the actual wedding ceremony in in the presence of 10-year-old nieces and 93-year-old great grandparents.

Believe me, I’ve been on all sides of the wedding toast problem. I spent the first day of my own Barbados honeymoon weeping over a toast that was given by a college roommate. I’ve also botched a toast or two of my own. (Oddly, I aced the first one I ever gave.) My most surreal wedding toast memory, however, is set at a pre-wedding Big Sur bonfire party, when I heckled one of the bride’s drunk best friends whose toast became so obscene (grandparents and kids were there) that I could no longer listen to it. “Oh, hurry it up. Other people want to go on!” I shouted from the shadows of majestic redwoods. Sadly, he only paused. Other members of the audience gasped at my intrusion. But some thanked me later for hastening him along. Next morning, the man’s mother accosted me for interrupting her darling boy, and when it’s all said and done, I learned not to heckle anyone ever again. These are tender moments for any speaker, even when the speaker’s in the wrong. Better to go off and fix your lipstick when the wedding toasts take their lurching, rotten turns, or resign yourself to watching them in silence like the amazing HBO series they always are!

If you’re saddled with toasting responsibilities yourself this spring or summer, here’s ChatteringMind’s best advice:

1. Don’t wing it. Even the most experienced public speakers jot out thoughts in advance. It’s a good idea to rehearse your toast the night before in front of a person you trust. Then that friend can help you analyze where you might be off base.

2. Divest yourself of the fantasy that your toast will impress people, and make you look good. Rabbi MarcGellman once said that wedding toasts, like eulogies, should be egoless. How smart that is! While you’d like to look witty, sexy, and well-read, your aim here is to graciously wish your friends a happy life. Your toast is about them, not you, you silly doufus! Ask your ego to shut up for a few minutes. In doing so, you will look fabulous (but forget I told you that).

3. Never mention an ex. Never mention an ex. Never mention an ex! Unless you are the ex. And even then, or especially then, don’t mention it.

3. Eliminate all sentiments that don’t spring from a loving place. Now is not the time to settle old scores, or march us through a relationship that has had more lows than highs.

4. Keep your toast short. If you’re running over two or three minutes, you’re in over-time. Exceptions exist, but are rare.

5. Have an ending. You need a little “kicker,” or conclusion so that people will know when to raise their glass. Round it up. Close it out. Wish your friends nothing but happiness. When folks start applauding, and you finally sit down, you’ll want to feel happily married to yourself, complete, in the face of a challenge that could have exposed your weaknesses, but didn’t.

Wedding guests are so shell-shocked nowadays that you could recite anything sentimental and get a huge, warm, loving applause: “To the lamp of love–may it burn brightest in the darkest hours and never flicker in the winds of trial.” If you’ve got ample planning time, buy any one of these books. Read Rumi. And Rilke.
Write in your journal. Confront your own desire to tease or humiliate. Let your love direct you, and you’ll shine.

What are your best and most ghastly wedding toast moments? Let’s get a good conversation going on this!

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