This has been a big summer for weddings. I've been invited to at least six and have thus far attended four, most here in town, one far away. When I go to a wedding, I feel a little like an anthropologist, stepping in to observe the cultural rituals of others. It is interesting to compare the rites people use to mark this common ceremonial occasion. What priorities in both the wedding and the marriage different couples choose to highlight never stops being fascinating. I'm just a few more weddings away from showing up with a butterfly net and some binoculars, my khaki culottes perfectly paired with an elegant safari hat in lieu of a trendy British fascinator. Here are a few of the things I've learned in my summer of research.
Not all weddings in the South are Southern weddings, but when you are at a Southern wedding you will definitely know it. Southern weddings tend to be dry, except for perhaps a champagne toast or a couple bottles of red and white at the table to enjoy with dinner. The reception is often buffet-style, and you should expect to choose from chicken or fish. There is a high probability there will be either pimento cheese or cucumber sandwiches on white bread—or both. Above all, the thing you can always count on at a fully Southern wedding is a lot of disco music.
With many parents, grandparents and friends of parents in attendance—and a minimum of alcohol—it takes the reliable oldies to get anyone on the dance floor. A properly danceable club hit like Rhianna's "We Found Love" might serve only to get a couple tipsy bridesmaids on the dance floor. "We Are Family" and KC and the Sunshine Band are far more likely to draw a crowd. If you ever doubt the wedding you are attending in the South is a Southern wedding, measure the ratio of Foster the People to Sly and the Family Stone.
A wedding where you don't know anyone is a sobering thing, even if there happens to be an open bar. It's one thing to have your Bridget Jones moment attending a wedding stag; it's quite another to attend a wedding when you're dating someone and they decline to attend with you. When you throw in a solid religious element, you can feel extra-isolated. Weddings are so much about community, especially the religious ones, that you just might find yourself dying to belt out Barbara Streisand's "All By Myself" by the cake cutting after not knowing the lines to the hymns or who to talk to over mini-quiches and ham.
Definitely plan extra strategies to manage a wedding where you only know the bride and groom because you probably won't see much of them. These strategies can include everything from a secret flask in your purse to sip from in the restroom to being extra-friendly and gregarious to make friends at your reception table. The former might even assist in the latter. I often take the approach of channeling Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" and staking out a corner of the dance floor to get the party going/occupy myself with some sweet moves.
Speaking of sweet moves, you'll need them during the bouquet toss. Like the cliché about cats only wanting to sit on the person who is allergic to them, if you are the person who does not want to catch the bouquet it is guaranteed to not only come toward you but hit you in the face. Every time I attend a wedding while single, I get physically assaulted by a ceremonial bouquet in flight. The best was at a recent wedding when the bride knew how funny it was that I caught it and told me, "It's OK, Meghan, you don't have to get married!" The worst instance was about eight years ago when a guy I had recently broken up with was also at the wedding and caught the garter. Many well-meaning but ill-informed old ladies ran up to us, demanding to know about our future wedding plans foretold by projectile wedding accouterments. It was terribly, terribly awkward and soul-crushing.
Pretty much any wedding you attend with an ex- present will be somewhere on the spectrum of awkward to soul-crushing. There is nothing like palpably confronting your mutual failures at creating a lifetime of happiness while congratulating others on their success at this exact thing. I recently attended a wedding that was the first occasion I had seen my ex- in person since we broke up. Though it was an amicable separation, I nervously ended up drinking too much wine and spent the happy occasion wracked with a sense of awkwardness and guilt. If you know an ex- will be present, try to have a buddy in place as a buffer, try not to get tipsy, and make sure you look fantastic. If you can't be in the same room without throttling each other, the bride's gratitude you didn't cause a scene will surely outweigh her disappointment at your regrets.
Happily, most of the weddings I've attended have been populated with friendly faces without fraught histories. The best thing I've learned about weddings is that whether they are dry or free-flowing, proper Southern weddings or half-French ragers, indoors or outdoors, religious or secular, there's nothing better than looking at the bride's and groom's faces throughout the whole thing. Behind all the anthropological and sociological variations, there's the very special experience of seeing two people embark on a great and mysterious journey. No matter what, in the end, love is a many splendid thing.
Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.