Every now and again, Wes Dodge gets a late-night knock on his door from a couple bent on getting hitched right then and there.
Dodge, co-proprietor (with wife Gloria) of the Deacons Bench Wedding Chapel in Madison County, gives the eager pair the bad news.
"Well, you can't do it that way," he tells them in a Boston accent untamed by a quarter century in the county.
The Dodges prefer a decent bit of notice, so that they can call on a minister (or backup minister, if need be) and take some care with the arrangements. Plus, the couple needs to have their marriage license in hand, notes Dodge.
Those nocturnal requests help point up the enduring appeal of that venerable institution of marriage. Even though it's more acceptable than ever to live together out of wedlock, millions keep taking the plunge. In 2001, in fact, nearly 4.7 million people exchanged vows in the United States, reports the National Center for Health Statistics. In Buncombe County alone, 3,354 folks got married in 2000, according to state records.
Across the board, today's prospective newlyweds represent an older lot: The median age for brides increased about four years (to age 25) between 1970 and 2000, while over the same time period, the median age for grooms increased by 31/2 years (to age 27), according to census data.
So what are the local options for the maritally minded? Naturally, they run the gamut -- from a gilded affair at the Grove Park Inn to a trot down to the magistrate's office in jeans and Doc Martens. Here are just three of the many-splendored paths to connubial bliss.
The wedding planner
Gwenn Ford makes a compelling case for why couples should consider hiring a wedding planner. Ford owns Wedding Inspirations, which offers matrimonial-consulting services and a bridal shop from a 101-year-old house on Asheville's Charlotte Street.
Ford, a wedding consultant (a term she prefers over planner), insists she can save people time and money because she researches the quality, price and availability of wedding locations, florists, music groups and all the other trappings. And a new turn toward larger weddings -- Ford points to a Sept. 11-inspired reverence for traditional ceremonies -- has made her services increasingly popular.
Ford meets with the prospective bride (yes, it's usually the bride) to figure out a budget and come up with a plan. She offers as much help as requested, she says.
"There's many girls that just need help from A to Z," Ford notes.
Part of that help is cautioning her clients that planning a wedding shouldn't be attempted in a single marathon session. "This should be an enjoyable process," she declares.
Ford considers six months to be a comfortable amount of time to plan a wedding, though most women take a year, mostly because they want dibs on the perfect location. She recalls one bride, however -- "she was Martha Stewart from one end to another" -- who gave her one month to plan an elaborate affair. Though it came off successfully, "that's too stressful on a person nowadays," Ford suggests.
Since 70 percent of her roughly 100 weddings a year cater to brides from out of state -- Asheville, apparently, is a natural destination spot for nuptials -- the help of a wedding consultant may be critical in pulling it off.