So. All recriminations aside - you weren't to know (although if you love your friends you'll send them my way before they follow in your stupid footsteps) and it's too late to do anything now anyway. The mind-change prerogative belongs to her. And you'd better hope she doesn't exercise it. As mentioned, I'm here to help you navigate...
In general, the role of the groom in what we'll call a 'traditional' male-female coupling that results in marriage boils down to some simple principles. In this post we will discuss the processes involved with and the benefits of taking as much friction out of the wedding planning process as possible. Think "expectations management". You'll want to keep friction as low as possible. Obviously this is mightily easy to say and mightily difficult to actually implement. It is also just, well, sort of how you should probably be operating generally in life and your relations with your other half (please note that this is not a relationship advice situation, however, and cannot be relied upon as such).
There are some specifics that apply to friction during the wedding planning "period" (ahem), however, that are worth mentioning just in case (after your beach-related party foul) you were planning on making any more rookie, schoolboy balls-ups:
These are key. You'll be aware already, no doubt, that you and your beloved are not the only people with views, opinions and vested interests with regard to your nuptials. From the same school of thought as forewarned being forearmed, expectations management and all that other good stuff, comes the idea that you should identify as many stakeholders as possible as early as possible. ALERT - you need to identify those who THINK they should have, are entitled to etc opinions, axes to grind, agendas etc, not just those who ACTUALLY do or even those that you and your ladyfriend have decided to award them to. The unnoticed stakeholder can be a total loose cannon on the day - 12 months of resentment at being ignored just needs that one extra glass to bubble over into tears, shouting and mascara all over a nice white dress.
Once you've identified your interested parties, you will have to navigate your way through all the different expectations and somehow find a way that results in a content collection of individuals. You might need to refuse the generous offer of financial assistance from parents if it comes with too many strings attached; you might have to agree to compromise on cultural, religious or traditional elements of the day if there are mutually exclusive demands, or you might even have to cross a few names off your invite lists. Whatever it is, get the conversations done early so that you can move forward with as few timebombs ticking as possible. I'm not going to tell you how to resolve all the conflicts you might come across (grow up) but I am going to list for you some of the potentially unexpected conflict areas (don't say I'm not helpful):
1. Parents and grandparents
How many are there? Do they get along? What are the financial dynamics with regard to the wedding? Are there exes involved and how do they see their respective roles? Is a stepmother going to clash with a mother? Seating plan is one thing to bear in mind later on with stuff like this but early on you will need to sort out things like who is actually going to attend venue visits, who's going to be involved in decisions and who (if anyone) has the right to veto. I've seen a wedding where the FOB refused to attend because he was going to be required to wear a particular waistcoat - perhaps try to maintain a modicum of perspective if you can. Don't trivialise the day (god help you) but if you can remember that ultimately it's meant to be a celebration, it's meant to be fun, and it's meant to unite families not tear them apart, then you'll be doing better than a lot of people out there.
2. The Bride
As the key stakeholder she needs a section of her own. There will be times in the next few months when you can't see or find the woman you love and you may find yourself wondering why you asked that stupid question in the first place. Relax. Think about all the coping mechanisms you have and that you use regularly, whether it's on a monthly basis or more frequently. Calm, logic and perspective are weapons that are removed from most Brides' arsenals and that's just something you're going to have to deal with. Do everything you can and if it gets too much, back down and go for a run. You're going to be in those pictures too and no one likes a pasty fatboy.
3. Bridesmaids, sisters, MOB
Key female roles during the day and in the build up. Lots of views on perfect day, lots of desire to prove that they're really the person that knows the Bride best, concern for photographs second only (and in some cases exceeding) that of Bride. Much emotion throughout. Also likely to be the people to whom Bride bitches about what an utter arse you're being, how you don't understand or care how important it is to her, that you've invited all your idiot mates from Uni and she knows they're going to ruin it - so unlikely to be the [insert your name here] fan club until you get back from honeymoon (although bear in mind this role probably never goes away so you might need to get some fans from elsewhere too). Of course you must resist the temptation to point out that they'll be singing a different tune after three bottles of cava when being swept off their feet by... aforementioned... idiot mates from uni.
4. The Dress
Yes. A stakeholder. The dress will define most of the rest of it. Colour schemes, cake and flower decoration themes, possibly even the venue and quite probably the outfit that you and your party will wear on the day. And then it'll go in a bag and probably spend the rest of your life in an attic somewhere. Non-sensical? Yes. Part of the deal? Absolutely.
Pretty much all wedding suppliers appear to be convinced that it is their service or product that really defines the day. Cakemakers think a day is ruined (/not a real wedding?!?!?!) if the cake isn't considered and treated with the level of attention and scrutiny that they think appropriate. Similarly photographers have been known to derail timetables and have the bride absolutely soaked and freezing for three hours just to get that perfect shot. All very admirable, don't get me wrong, but in a world where compromises have to be made and there is neither unlimited time nor unlimited money, you're gonna want to get on top of this. Bridey is, if you're lucky, going to be keen to avoid what she sees as unnecessary confrontation and thus some of the more difficult conversations with suppliers will fall to you. This is your opportunity.
On a positive note - some venues and/or caterers have earned reputations for being realistic, helpful and balanced. If you're using one or more of these then take advantage of their experience and knowledge - the fact that they do this every week, while not necessarily filling you with some sort of bohemian DIY "whatever man" glow, is in fact a good thing for your day. It's the same as any business out there (and yes I'm sorry to say that weddings are a business - £6bn a year in the UK says so) - practice makes perfect and the experts are the best. It's the most important day of your life (allegedly) - why leave it to chance?
That said, do NOT, under any circumstances, misunderstand this as a plug for wedding planners. I cannot stress firmly enough how strongly I believe that this particular breed of Wedding Supplier is a total waste of time and money. The thing that makes your day unique is the detail and the big bits should be a given. Wedding planners have no idea how to run a back of house team, they aren't going to be down in the kitchen doing quality control on the canapes, and they have little or no experience in the running of your chosen venue. Let the catering and venue teams look after the big stuff (they're going to anyway, regardless of how hard the WP flaps) and keep the fun details for yourselves. If you want to call someone a Wedding Planner, make it the chief bridesmaid and tell her to have a drink or ten and enjoy herself. You'll have got exactly the same thing, without having to pay for it.