Some wedding toasts are funny, some are sappy; some come with an epically long song-and-dance routine; some are short and sweet. But no matter what the style or who the presenter, it's guaranteed toasts will be made at a wedding reception.
In her new book, Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give, author Ada Calhoun writes about marriage in a raw and relatable way, and why "the first 20 years are the hardest." We talked with Calhoun about what takes to be—and stay—married, all filtered through the lens of, what else, wedding toasts.
What would be your advice to someone giving a toast who doesn't know what to say?
I'd say they shouldn't feel like they have to explain marriage, or life, or give advice. Just pick a funny story about the couple and use it as a metaphor to express something deeper. Like, was the cross-country road trip they took on their third date an example of how they dare each other to do interesting things? Are their backyard barbecues about how they both love taking care of people? Are they sports fans whose romantic life mirrors their favorite team's last season? And keep it to five minutes.
What about someone who gets brain freeze mid toast?
Given how much people tend to drink at weddings I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often. My advice would be to just stop cold and say, "I love you guys so much I'm overcome with emotion. Cheers!" Everyone will happily raise their glasses just the same as if you'd delivered the best toast ever. Because toasts are important, but so is eating salmon and running into old friends and dancing to "Hey Ya!"
What is one of the greatest wedding toasts you've ever heard?
Hands down, my cousin Rhoades, who talked at his brother's wedding about the statistical impossibility of soul mates. He figured the odds of ever finding the one person "meant for you," given the billions of people on the planet. He concluded with: "So I think the odds are against your being soul mates, but that doesn't make it less of a miracle that you found each other." It was funny and deep, sweet but not sappy—toast perfection.
Pop culture is filled with some epically great wedding toasts; what are a few of your faves?There are so many! I really like Angelica's in Hamilton and the one Benedict Cumberbatch gives to Watson in Sherlock. Oh, and of course in My Best Friend's Wedding, Julia Roberts: "I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that some psycho was trying to break the two of you up. Luckily, I woke up and I see that the world is just as it should be. For my best friend has won the best woman." That's pretty high-quality rom-com.
Any that are epically bad?
The one in Friends where Joey uses his toast as an opportunity to show off his acting range is pretty terrible. And in Old School, Luke Wilson says, "True love is hard to find. Sometimes you think you have true love and then you catch the early flight home from San Diego and a couple of nude people jump out of your bathroom blindfolded like a goddamn magic show, ready to double-team your girlfriend…" Oh, and there's Claudio's in Much Ado About Nothing: "Don't insult a friend by giving him a beautiful orange that rots inside. She only appears honorable from the outside. Look, how she blushes like a virgin! Oh, sin can disguise itself so artfully!" Yeah, don't do that.
Who toasted you at your wedding? What did they say?
My father said something smart and funny, my aunt eulogized a family member who had just died, my father-in-law (an excellent deacon) quoted the Bible, and my matron of honor talked about our friendship. And our man of honor and best maid sang a Fleetwood Mac song. It was all lovely, but I had so much adrenaline that it's pretty much a blur.
Why did you set out to write a book about wedding toasts?
In 2015, my husband—who I've been with for 16 years—and I were going to a bunch of weddings. The people getting married kept saying things in their romantic, self-written vows like: "I will never let you down" or "I will always be your best friend." My husband and I had already been through a lot together over the years, and so I was sitting there thinking, You guys, it's going to be so much more complicated than that—so much worse and so much better. Around that time, my husband screwed up some plane tickets and I wrote about it for the New York Times Modern Love column as I would say it in a wedding toast. That column went weirdly viral. Seeing the response, my agent and the editor of my last book, St. Marks Is Dead, said, "Hey, can you write some more of those?" And so that summer and fall I wrote another six. One of those new ones just ran in the Modern Love section, full-circle style!
Have you ever had to give a real life wedding toast?
Nope. No one has ever asked me to. And now that I've written this book, I'm pretty sure no one ever will.