I didn’t know how bad I was at being a wedding guest until I had my own wedding. I was bad about gifts and good about stiffing bartenders. Worst of all, I was terrible about crying on the dance floor when the DJ played “All The Single Ladies” because I was fresh off a breakup.
Don’t make these mistakes, friends! We’re in the midst of summer wedding season and you don’t want to just get in the hang of things after all ten thousand of your closest friends have tied the knot by September. That’s why I’m here to help you learn from my nuptial mishaps.
What can you do to be a gracious guest? It’s pretty simple: behave, be thoughtful and be halfway decent at playing like you’re having a nice time even if you kind of want to die, which sometimes you will, and that’s okay. You don’t have to like everything; you definitely don’t have to like weddings. But if you get invited to them, and you decide to attend, you should try to play the game.
First: get the couple a card and sign it with something beyond “Best Wishes, Me.” Presumably you’re invited to a wedding because one or both of the marrying-folk know and like you, so say something about how nice that is. It doesn’t have to be a novel — just a sentence or two wishing them well starting their lives in their geographic area or expressing excitement about how cool it is that two fine folks like Bride and Groom found each other in this wide world.
If it’s more of an invite-out-of-obligation situation, dig deep into your heart to find a, “You guys are so great together!” I also think “Stay cool, have a great summer!” is a pretty good line, but I’m into yearbook humor, so. One of my favorite things to do post-wedding was line up all our cards on our bookshelf in the living room. The kitchen gadgets and bed linens are lovely, but a high-quality whisk just isn’t personal the way a handwritten note is. If you don’t do anything else but attend the wedding and send a nice card, you’re doing just fine.
Second: if you can afford to get a gift, get one. That you can afford. If that’s a huge wad of cash or the Calphalon cookware set, awesome. If it’s not? Don’t stress. The sitch gets murkier in high wedding season when many friends get married at once — it’s a drain on your finances and it’s also one of those situations where friend groups make these weird, often unspoken agreements about how much they’re going spend on each other.
When Patrick and I got married, some of our friends gave us hundreds of dollars. I cannot possibly reciprocate, and I feel bad about it — especially now that we’re going to those friends’ weddings. But I can’t do anything about it besides spend what I can and, again, send a real nice fucking card. I promise you that your friends would rather have just a card, or a nicely printed engagement photo, than a resentful guest who feels obligated to break his or her bank.
Well, that’s not true all the time. Some brides and grooms will get pissy (probably not to your face) about how nobody bought them the $400 KitchenAid mixer or their college friends only bought the napkin rings. That’s not your problem. That’s their problem. It’s sad that weddings have turned into giftstravaganzas wherein some people expect their guests to pay for the “price of plate,” but blame the Wedding Industrial Complex first and wedding-crazied friends second. I hereby absolve you of any gift-giving guilt: go in peace, my lambs.
Third: make friends! Make all of the friends. Weddings are a weird and goofy opportunity to play Six Degrees Of This Guy! with literally every single person you run into. After all, you’re all there because you have at least one mutual friend — and if you’re a date invite, you’re completely off the hook to play dumb, and thereby fun, with other guests. Offer to bring the grey-hairs a drink at their table and ask them which couple-person they go with. Comment on the length (or not) of the bathroom line. Loudly praise your gazpacho. Someone wants to talk about it.
Fourth: dance. Or avail yourself of whatever entertainment has been provided for your edification and amusement. So the DJ is playing all 80’s pop hits and you’re more into metal? Well, it’s not your fucking wedding, is it? You can have the Motorhead cover band at your handfasting-slash-dissertation-party-slash-45th-birthday-bash-slash-I’m-registering-for-the-hell-of-it-cocktail-hour. Tonight, you will listen to 80’s music and you will wear it until you love it!
The other thing you should do is try to do whatever it takes to pretend like there is no world outside of this wedding that you are at. That means no texting ex-boyfriends in the bathroom because yoooouuuurrrr sooooooong got played during couples skate. Nobody else knows that’s your song and tears make the dance floor dangerous. So forget that your sister hasn’t sent your kids a birthday card in two years. Operate in a magical bubble of love wherein all sins are forgiven for five hours. Rage tomorrow. Dance today. It’s so easy to dance on the high road. The high road was made for dancing.
Of course, appreciating a chamber quartet or hitching up for swing-dancing or ignoring your college roommate’s judgy stink-eye is a lot easier if you’re drinking. So fifth: tip your bartender, especially if you’re at an open bar. If you think being at weddings is a little weird, consider how tedious it is to be on a catering team that does this bullshit twice a weekend. Bring a five-dollar bill and put it in the little glass decanter thing. Probably whoever’s paying for the wedding will tip the staff, but you know what? Karma is a nice thing to have on your side and the Lord smiles upon those who treat service industry folks with respect.
That said, it’s a lot easier to do some drinking if you leave your kids at home. Sure, kids might be completely welcome at the wedding in question. If so, it will probably say that on your invitation or you will hear this explicit fact from friends and family. Backyard barbecue? Discovery Zone nuptials? Probably bring the kids, especially if you know they’ll have fun playmates there. Hell, bring extra kids; round ‘em up from some boring basketball camp.
But if it’s an evening or late afternoon affair, spring for a babysitter if you think you can possibly afford it, and cab home or find a designated driver so you can cut loose and nobody will give you the side-eye during the ceremony when your kid is crying, because your kid is definitely going to be crying or maybe also vomiting on something. Sorry. Law of kids. Don’t make this gamble. You already got all the kudos at your baby shower, homebirth drum circle, etc. and so on. Your kids are not the star of this show and everybody will think you’re an assbag for bringing badly behaved (read: non-certified-angelic) children to a grownup party.
Ditching the kids also means you can stay for the whole shebang, which you should do. I know, it’s 11 p.m. and you have to get up for church tomorrow, but church happens every Sunday and your friends get married, you know, like twice at the most. You can stay for the send-off. Don’t eat your fish-or-steak-or-chicken and cut out at 9 p.m. because you’re waaaahhh tired. Unless you’re bleeding or eligible for senior discounts, you’re almost certainly a jerk if you ditch early.
If any of these suggestions seem untenable or offensive to you, my last suggestion is this: don’t go to weddings you don’t want to go to. They can be fun, and they can be wonderful moments of love and hilarity. They can also be horrible and boring beyond belief for people who are invited out of obligation, or for people who aren’t in a good heart-place to deal with them.
Think the couple is doomed? Tired of attending nuptials for chronic re-marriers? Can’t get vacation time without jeopardizing your job? Bought one too many $400 cross-country plane trips this year already? Know this: you are completely allowed to stay home. It’s nice to have everyone you invited come to your wedding; it’s even nicer if there aren’t sour faces watching the clock at the reception. RSVPs don’t come with a “regrets” option just because people really like the way the letter “R” looks while gold-plated in scripty font.
If that’s the case, just do that first thing I mentioned: send a card with some words in it, and build on that with whatever else you think you can handle. That way you, on your own, can stay cool and have a great summer.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com.