Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest


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Copyright © 2014 by Jen Doll

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ISBN 978-1-101-63185-0

Names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

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For Mom and Dad, Brad and Scarlett,
and all the wedding guests

“Saw a wedding in the church. It was strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor fools decoyed into our condition.”


“It is such a happiness when good people get together—and they always do.”


Author’s Note

The stories that follow may not be absolutely chronological, nor the napkins that precise shade of blue, but the events and my emotions are presented honestly, as I remember experiencing them. That, along with a waitstaff that pours generously and returns regularly to refill your glass, is one of the main things you can hope for with regard to a wedding.


I Bought You a KitchenAid

llow me to begin by saying, I am very, very happy for you. Allow me to begin by saying, Once upon a time there was a girl who met a boy, and they fell in love and wanted to be together forever, and she wore white, and he wore a tux, and they walked down an aisle strewn with rose petals into their bright, shining future. That girl was not me. Congratulations! Or is it best wishes? Here is your KitchenAid. Le Creuset Dutch oven. Kate Spade stemware. Crate&Barrel flatware. Highball glasses. Crystal paperweight shaped like a heart. Hundred-dollar gift card to that furniture store you like. “Informal pasta,” whatever that is; you had it on your registry, so it
be good! Four tea towels, a stainless-steel garlic press, a “Love” coaster set, a pack of organic coffee filters, and a butter knife, because I didn’t have a moment until just before this grand event to go online and buy you anything and that was all that was left. Your family sure is proactive.
How can you stand them? Oh, here is your bowl. Yes, I bought you a bowl. I realize it wasn’t on your registry, but I got it for free when I bought the same bowl for myself. I guess that doesn’t mean I bought it so much as acquired it, but, wait, I’m talking too much, aren’t I? You look amazing! Cheers to the gorgeous couple! Yes, please, a refill would be excellent.

But let’s backtrack.


Sometimes they come once a year and seem like a good excuse to go on a vacation to a predetermined destination, a place with built-in friends and a legitimate purpose and even a prepared schedule of activities, a wedding gift basket waiting for you in the hotel room, packed with granola bars and locally derived tchotchkes and miniature bottles of sunscreen. Sometimes they come like migrating birds or wolves, in flocks or packs. When you glance behind your shoulder, there’s another one gaining ground, and you can’t seem to stay ahead of them no matter what you do. They’ve got their eye on you. Sometimes it seems every weekend is a wedding. On the odd occasion, one weekend brings two, forcing the invited into a perilous decision-making scenario that has grave, long-lasting consequences: Which couple will be anointed friends forever, and which will descend slowly but surely into the status of “mere acquaintances,” their big day having been forsaken? Intrepid guests who don’t want to choose will go to both, driving for miles, taking red-eye flights, swapping out dresses and shoes and jewelry and handbags and itineraries as if actors in a play or models in a fashion show, which is a not entirely inaccurate depiction of a particular State of Wedding Guesthood.
This is
just what’s happening to us right now
, the wedding guest of a certain age will think, gasping for breath but shrugging it off, going along.
We’ve reached that stage in life. It’s only temporary. This, too, will pass!
At some point, surely, the perpetual wedding dance will cease, and we will be able to sit back in the comfort of our wedding guest retirement and possibly even save a little money by not going to so many weddings. But while we’re going to weddings, we should try to have fun at weddings. They only happen how many times a year? Well, we really have no other choice.

And oh, there is fun! There is plenty of fun. There’s fun even before you get to the chapel or the reception hall or the rented suite of the fancy hotel or the country club or your best friend’s parents’ backyard. The weeks and months preceding each wedding will inevitably involve secondary parties—bachelorettes and bachelors and showers and engagement celebrations and whatever else is deemed necessary to get the crowd pumped for the headliner. Do not be fooled by these seemingly casual add-ons: They are the octopus tentacles of the ultimate party, stretching farther in all directions, part and parcel of an event that in most cases, when all is said and done, guests will have shelled out rather a lot of time and energy and cash to attend. We do this willingly, even joyfully, because not only are we often actually quite happy to be there but also this is an algorithm we’ve been brought up to believe in. Tit for wedding tat; eventually it will be our turn, too, and we’ll get back everything we’ve given and possibly more. You go to my wedding; I’ll go to yours. I’ll buy you a heart-shaped waffle maker (in stainless steel, per your request); you’ll eventually return the favor with an enameled stockpot in
Marseille blue. There’s little time to consider whether this formula will resolve as promised, who’s getting a better deal, or if we even want our turn in the wedding lineup of the ages—and if we do, how and when and why—because we’re already on to the after-party! The fun never stops.

To a single woman, a lifetime of weddings can begin to seem like a nuptial-themed
Groundhog Day
; we guests behaving slightly differently each time within the same basic framework as we strive for the ending that will put a stop to the unremitting weddings, or at least to the way we’ve been methodically acting our way through them. The story of a serial wedding goer is rarely the impeccable scenario depicted in the brochures and magazines or promised by the wedding planner, nor does it align with the aspirations of a pushy mother of the bride, an entitled groom, or one of those so-called bridezillas (such an awful word). The dream-wedding-in-the-bubble, the “perfect day” meticulously constructed to suit the whims or long-held fantasies of the marrying couple or their kin, is all too easily punctured by wedding guests who don’t share quite those same goals and aspirations. Or who get drunk and then decide they don’t. A “perfect day” becomes an entirely unrealistic concept when you start to let in the riffraff, not least because “perfect” is a matter of opinion. There is no “perfect day.” There is only the day upon which two people are married, for better or worse.

Sometimes those days are worse. Take, for example, the wedding in Connecticut where I lost my mind and my shoes, the latter quite literally. (Wedding Tip: Avoid nihilism; the aftermath is bleak.) But there are many shades of weddings, and wedding guest-
hood: The destination wedding in the Dominican Republic, the first wedding of a college friend, was attended with none of the cynicism of my later years and, indeed, with little baggage beyond a suitcase full of colorful bikinis, strappy sandals, and summery party dresses. My best friend’s wedding in Nashville involved the unraveling of my own relationship set upon the foundation of hers. Another series of weddings meant the painful end to what had been a valued friendship. There was the courthouse ceremony of two very good friends, a strikingly modest affair compared to the exotic locations of my wedding-going past—and no less satisfying for it. In the future looms my brother’s wedding, yet to be planned despite an engagement and the dwindling comments of my parents, who’ve gotten tired of asking when. There was the wedding of relative strangers, attended with a date offering all the promise of new love. Someday, maybe, there will be my own wedding. Or maybe there won’t be.

The wedding isn’t the thing; it’s what comes after that’s truly important, yet the wedding is our focus, the vehicle chosen to represent a couple’s love and the guests’ love for that couple. It’s an established, functional transaction, but it’s also a performance with only a certain level of truth to it, everyone well dressed and on their best behavior—or at least, that’s the idea. It’s supposed to mean more than it does, to be more than a party or a day. With all the implications and expectations riding on this single event, it should be no surprise that things occasionally go off course.

The wedding stories that follow are my own, but attending weddings and even occasionally making a jerk of oneself as a wedding guest are shared experiences. Indiscretions and accidents
and even major missteps are bound to occur, particularly when you add in the free-flowing alcohol, the tremendous amount of social pressure for everything to be “perfect,” and the guests—the uncontrollable, incorrigible, independent-minded guests. We come, we see, we do not always conquer. Then, quick as a flash, the wedding is over, leaving us with traces of what we have learned and what we steadfastly deny learning . . . until the inevitable next one, featuring a revised color scheme and costumes, different flowers, a varied assortment of fresh players, and possible new feelings, or the old ones brought forth again, almost as if it were the first time.

While one might assume a wedding is about
—the couple getting married—a wedding is about everyone. It’s a means through which we guests can identify and reidentify our friends, our enemies, our lovers, and those we no longer love. Through it we see what we want, what we don’t want, what we think we want, and sometimes, dangerously, that we have no idea what we want. Each wedding we attend, in whatever role we uphold, will highlight some aspect of our own lives, reflecting and reframing the way in which we look at ourselves. We do not go to weddings as blank slates. The event may be a happy one, but we are still whoever we are, beings comprising our past histories as well as our desired futures, when we show up to celebrate.

At the very first wedding I remember with any clarity, I was eight and my brother was five. We danced exuberantly around the tables and on the dance floor. The cake-cutting was as engrossing as any Disney movie. We learned to our great pleasure that a lift of one’s fork to a glass would impel the bride and groom
to kiss. What strange power that was! Love and this celebration of it seemed, frankly, wonderful, and it also seemed inevitable. But nearly thirty years later, neither of us is married, though I
been to more than twenty weddings.

Think of how many you have attended that you remember. Then think of how many you don’t remember, exactly or completely, because you were a child or perhaps very, very drunk, but nonetheless there exists horrifying photographic evidence of your attendance—yep, there it is! Untag yourself now. Imagine how many you’ll have been to by the end of a life long and welllived, out of duty, friendship, hope, love, jealousy, self-torture, guilt, desire for free food or drink, or some confusing potluck mix of emotions. Sometimes the emotions evolve and change and are created anew right there at the wedding. Consider all the roles you’ll have played, from guest to sister to bridesmaid to maid of honor to friend to colleague to date to person who has no idea why she’s been invited—nor why she’s come—to the one who will hook up with the best man, no questions asked, so that the bride and groom can, as they put it, “live vicariously” through her. We smile and nod and agree and wear what we must wear and do what we should do (or we try, we really try) because it’s their big day. It’s a wedding.

Count the dresses worn, gifts given, plane tickets purchased, and hotel rooms rented; the boyfriends forced to tag along and split the cost, or the groups of girlfriends shacked up for those weird adult slumber parties based in economy, hotel vanities cluttered with makeup and hygienic accoutrements, a cot shoved into a corner, an additional roommate sneaked past the eyes of hotel
management to save a few more dollars. Number the brave or irreverent times you’ve gone solo and paired up with a groomsman or another wedding guest—and the other times, nights ended alone watching pay-per-view in an anonymous hotel room, the wastebasket next to the bed (just in case), or crumpled, tear-soaked tissues surrounding the pillow. Add up the bouquets held for brides, the bouquets caught, and the bouquets abandoned at our feet, each petal an unspoken accusation. Make a note of the dances danced, glasses of Champagne sipped, speeches delivered, goblets struck with the silver tines of forks held in fingers manicured, smiles forced, smiles honestly given, tears shed, friends and strangers embraced, hangovers and regrets treated the next morning. How many feelings have we had?
How many feelings.

Like the weddings, the feelings never end. Sometimes we have all of them at just one outwardly simple—simple but
—nuptial occasion held at the quaintest of inns in rural Vermont, or at a tropical resort set in cliffs and surrounded by impossibly blue water in Jamaica, or at the tree-lined, leafy-lawned country clubs of the hometowns we haven’t been back to since graduating from high school and aren’t sure we ever want to return to again. The feelings can grow greater than the weddings themselves as they play out in heightened relief each time we again bear witness to a couple pairing off and heading down the aisle, leaving us alone, date or no date—and let’s get this straight: Being part of a couple doesn’t mean we’re not alone. Couplehood can make us lonelier than ever, especially if we’re in a certain kind of couplehood, barely hanging on, sniping and snarking or not really
talking, or at least not “communicating,” making it through yet another wedding.

For many of us who are single, it’s not that we’re dying to be married. It’s more complicated than that. We’d never get married
just to be married
. We’re set on finding that right one, whoever and however that may be, if we’re going to do this thing. And yet, there’s a certain misty desire that filters through even the most perseverant of hearts at the sight of a marrying couple, neither of them any better than us individually but somehow greater as two, vowing to stay together forever. All of this hope and light and the expectant faces and eager congratulations thrust upon the moment make it something we think we want, that we’ve been brought up to want. It is something of a luxury to be able to feel ambivalent about weddings, and yet, it’s hard to feel
ambivalent about weddings, about the institution as well as the reality of marriage. Both macro and micro, in the fabric of life, weddings are a primary thread—which is yet another reason denying any adult the right to weave that thread into his or her life seems so blatantly cruel, small-minded, and wrong.

But given the choice to marry, if we
marry, are we, in fact, missing out? Is there something wrong with us if we never go down that aisle in the white dress or the crisply pressed tux, adhering to those old-fashioned, still-resonating traditions with our loved ones on hand to watch and support and celebrate?

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