How To Be A Stress-Free Wedding Guest

Love, Self

Whether dating or single, attending someone else's wedding can be stressful.

Family weddings can up the ante even more. Jennie, a doctor who lives in Devon, and Martin*, a Royal Air Force pilot, had been together for four years when Martin’s brother got married. At the event, "I was being considered part of his family," Jennie remembers. "I felt as if I could be married to Martin already, which felt very scary."

Martin was affected, too. "They looked completely in love," he says of his brother and sister-in-law. "I always thought that everyone had some issues, but this made me think that maybe issues were just a part of my relationship! The vows really made me realize that marriage is all about loving forever unconditionally. I didn’t know if that was Jennie and me, or not."

Jennie and Martin broke up a few weeks later. But six months after that, Jennie began to have second thoughts. The catalyst, ironically, was being a bridesmaid at another wedding. "This wedding was much more what I’d like for myself, and I enjoyed it," she says, despite the awkward conversations with other guests about her relationship status. "At the end of the evening, when the cheesy tunes came on, I found myself wishing Martin was there."

Jennie’s nostalgia for her ex is a typical wedding-guest reaction, often exacerbated by what author Darcy Cosper calls "prom mentality." "Everyone is well-dressed, high on champagne, well-fed, and often far from home, surrounded by attractive strangers in a flower-bedecked, candle-lit setting," says Cosper, whose recent satirical novel, The Wedding Season, takes its protagonist and her boyfriend through 17 weddings in a single summer. (Yep, a movie version, starring Nicole Kidman, is in production.) "And, of course, the day itself is about the ostensible triumph of love over all."

In Jennie and Martin's case, love did eventually triumph—surviving not only Martin’s brother's wedding, but also Martin's subsequent dalliance with another girl, and Jennie's six-month sojourn in Australia.

Seven months after Jennie's "bridesmaid moment," the pair is back together, and even looking forward to going to weddings together again. "We’ve got five this year," says Jennie, two of which are on the same day.

But is each one just another opportunity for disaster? Cosper puts weddings in a class of red-alert events: "Any occasion where there's particular pressure for things to be Very Romantic—an anniversary, Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve—the super-elevated expectations set us up for drama and disappointment. Add to that the inevitable if unspoken questions a wedding raises about the couple's own future, and you have ideal conditions for a knock-down-drag-out, or at least a respectably protracted snit."

Exhibit A in the knock-down-drag-out category: Kevin, 26, an IT coordinator, and Celia, 26, a pharmacist, had been together for two years before attending their first wedding, where they succumbed to that most obvious of pitfalls—the open bar. After what Kevin describes as "too many glasses of red wine," and Celia reckons was "the equivalent of my blood supply" in booze, they decided to discuss Celia's traditional Church-of-England upbringing versus Kevin's agnosticism.

Cut to full-scale drunken row.

They patched things up the next day, though, and soon their wedding-battle wounds became merit badges. When Celia slipped a disc and Kevin was sent to Singapore for work, the religion issue faded in significance. A little over a year later, in the place they first met—a summer music festival in Essex—Kevin went down on bended knee, in the mud, amongst the cigarette butts and empty pint glasses, to offer Celia a plastic ring from one of the stalls. "I feel sure that I want to marry Celia, what with getting through the fight at the first wedding and all," says Kevin.

Attending a few more friends' weddings gave Celia similar confidence. "It made it less scary," Celia adds. "I started to think that maybe I wasn't too young to get married and maybe I will still have a life and my personality won’t be sapped out of me in a bid to find the perfect matching curtains and bed linen."

In fact, she and Kevin are now happily throwing themselves into the line of fire. "I've started to find going to weddings with Celia a romantic experience, especially the actual ceremony," he says. The couple admits to "holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, and giggling," during the last celebration they attended. (They will marry this September, in Surrey.)

So are there any rules for a bird and bloke teetering on the make-or-break brink when yet another wedding invitation arrives in the mail? If commitment is what you're after, hang out with the blissful husbands and wives at the reception, rather than the swinging singles.

"Surrounding yourselves with happily married couples is a great way to 'market marriage' to your mate," says Daniel Rosenberg, co-author with Richard Kirshenbaum of Closing the Deal: Two Married Guys Take You From Single Miss to Wedded Bliss.

If you're looking for the escape hatch, Kirshenbaum has the strategy nailed: "Wait for a really important wedding and don’t invite him. He'll get the hint."

And if your goal is simply to have a good time? Just remember you're there to celebrate someone else's marriage, not to audition for your own.

*name has been changed


Any bride will tell you—at great length—how stressful it is to plan a wedding. But what about the guests? Rarely does anyone acknowledge their pain.

As this summer’s wedding season heats up, my stateside pals tell me they're counting on cinematic comic relief: They have high hopes for the July movie Wedding Crashers, featuring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as randy rogues who prey on starry-eyed bridesmaids at their most susceptible. I can sympathize.

Even here in Britain, the country that produced Four Weddings and a Funeral, that wry, candid classic of champagne-fueled hookups and heartbreak, we haven’t mastered the art of attending O.P.N.’s (Other People’s Nuptials).

Every year there are around 2.2 million weddings in the United States, and roughly 300,000 weddings here in the U.K. Multiply that by the length of the average guest list—about 200, in both countries—to get a sense of just how many of us go through the familiar routine: pick main course, pick present, pick outfit, pick date. If you’re in a serious relationship, the last choice is already made for you, but you can still find yourself picking—at each other.

The truth is that these lovely, sacred events—opportunities for voyeuristic romance and, hopefully, some amour of your own—often wreak havoc on relationships that are, shall we say, at the tipping point. Is it the sight of another couple making the ultimate commitment? The "are you two next?" factor? The sense that your friends are moving forward with their lives, and you’re in a holding pattern?

In Jackie and Neil's case, it was the groom's speech. Jackie, a 26-year-old advertising executive from West London, remembers, "He said that when he had first seen his wife he thought, 'Wow!'. I realized that I didn’t go, 'Wow!', when I first saw Neil, and had always felt that he was the one who was more into me."

Although she and Neil had been seeing each other for four years and living together for one, Jackie knew things hadn't been right for a while. She admits, "I'd already started worrying, and was looking forward to the party side rather than the romantic side of going to the wedding."

The death knell sounded when Jackie overheard the mother of the bride urge Neil to "get a ring on that girl’s finger." She called it quits the very next day.

Family weddings can up the ante even more. Jennie, a doctor who lives in Devon, and Martin*, a Royal Air Force pilot, had been together for four years when Martin’s brother got married. At the event, "I was being considered part of his family," Jennie remembers. "I felt as if I could be married to Martin already, which felt very scary."