Fifteen years ago, signing up to be someone’s wedding date might have only meant giving up a couple of hours of your life. You would go to a short ceremony at a neighborhood church followed by a rubbery chicken dinner nearby. You might have had to awkwardly dance to “Shout!” with strangers, but knew that it would be followed by a free slice of cake and the chance to sneak out and head home. Okay, so maybe I’m describing a montage from Wedding Crashers but, hey, it did effectively capture a simpler time! A time before Pinterest was queen, and helping the wedding industrial complex blossom like a lavishly overpriced, crepe-paper bouquet.
These days everyone wants to put their signature stamp on their union and create the sort of unforgettable experience that can be Instagram-ed for weeks to come, so now weddings are often multi-day affairs that might involve traveling to a remote location, rehearsal dinners, morning-after brunches, and/or boozy afterparties. You will likely be requested to attend all of these social events with people you barely know, and it might mean running into an awkward or stressful hurdle or two. But not every wedding has to be a DEFCON 1 level social situation! Weddings are fun once you’re past the details, even if you’re a guest of a guest. Pick up a glass of champagne and let us help you through it.
If someone invites you to be their date to their friend or family member’s wedding, this means some combination of the following:
- You are great arm candy and someone they’re proud to flaunt to others.
- You’re trustworthy and can be relied upon to be a good buddy or sweetheart.
- The person you are dating wants to test the waters of being more serious.
If you were a complete social klutz or misanthrope, there’s a good chance your wedding date would have invited someone else or would just go the event alone. Feel good about that for at least a single moment. This is a good place to start.
There’s nothing worse than a passive aggressive wedding date. If you are not sure about if you want to go to the event or not, for whatever reason, tell your date as soon as possible. Too often I’ve seen people deal with their negative feelings about being dragged to a wedding by whining about the dress code, spending the whole time checking their phone or generally sulking. If you sense that you’re going to feel uncomfortable, have a terrible time, or be the kind of date that has to be babysat, you’re better off saying so and getting out. There’s no point in doing something nice for someone else if you’re going to make them feel like it’s a burden!
If there are people you’re worried you might run into and want to avoid —an old boss, an ex, whatever—talk about it with your date ASAP. If someone who will be there gets on your nerves, trust that your date will have your back and swiftly save you from them if need be, but give them a casual heads-up so that you don’t find yourself quietly bristling during cocktail hour. Try to anticipate anything that could potentially lead to a very public drama fest.
It’s always nice to offer to pay your way and split the costs of a wedding, no matter if you’re the main recipient of an invitation or just a +1, but that’s actually not the commonly accepted etiquette. It really depends on your relationship to the person you’re accompanying. If a friend, or someone you are not in a very serious relationship with, invites you to the event, they should offer to pay for your travel, lodging, and the wedding gift. If they haven’t made the offer to make your arrangements and you are under any financial strain at all, find a way to politely decline the invitation. This should not be a bill that you are keeping tabs on or going to resent someone over later. Money is always a touchy subject; try to stay gracious, forthright about your budget, and don’t create grudges out of misunderstandings.
If you are in a serious relationship, it is likely that you both have an established relationship with the person getting married, so splitting the costs of the travel, lodging, and gift is a fair way to go. But these rules are not set in stone. Expect some reciprocity. If your significant other is coming with you to your friend’s wedding and splitting the bill, expect to do the same when the time comes for their friends. Suggest Splitwise as an easy way for you both to track expenses.
Weddings tend to trigger thoughts about whether or not you are going to die alone. If you are single or in a dead-end relationship you might feel a twinge of hopelessness. Even if you are already happily married, it might make you wonder if the best days have already faded into twilight. Not worried about your love life? You or your date might shift your anxieties to the clothes that you’re wearing, whether or not they are on the right career path, and other vague life-orienting issues. Don’t worry, it’s natural! Just remember that the weekend is not about you. It’s about a group of loved ones propelling two people into their own, exquisite orbit. The couple getting married are two people who are very different from you that you love all the same. Judging yourself against others’ accomplishments is never going to improve your mood, especially in these moments. if you find yourself or your date getting overly emotional, take them to get some air or a drink. It’s very likely that everyone else will be too preoccupied to notice your momentary absence.
Having a date is like having a secret sidekick who you can count on to liberate you from a boring conversation or drag you to the dancefloor when “Pony” drops. Appreciate any effort they went through to get you two there and lean into the feel-good vibes of the event. Compliment them on how nice they look! (When they return the compliment, you will remember that being praised for putting in extra effort is the best.) If they are a wallflower type, expect that you might spend a fair amount of time sitting and drinking and talking. Be chill with that and don’t abandon them if something more fun comes along. Trust that following some cousin bros to play laser tag/go to the club/take bong hits isn’t going to be as fun as it sounds in the moment.
Open bars are dangerous. On the one hand, booze is a delightful social lubricant, especially when you are forced to eat dinner next to people you don’t know and listen to long-winded, faux-whimsical speeches. Also, wedding debauchery make for some of the most memorable experiences (especially when you are an old and don’t get out of the house or away from your kids much). But if you know that tears and crushed dreams follow in your drunken wake, if you have a tendency to alienate people when you booze, or you make questionable sex decisions, do yourself and your date a favor by at least attempting to pace yourself. Try to keep close tabs on how much you are consuming.
If you are in a romantic relationship or suspect the friend you are with may have feelings for you, DO NOT FLIRT WITH OTHER PEOPLE. (DO NOT FLIRT WITH OTHER PEOPLE.) If you want out of this situation or to have the desperate itch to prove a point, please wait to self-destruct until after you get home.
We all love differently. Some people express their feelings through planning an over-the-top Mason jar-filled extravaganza in a barn. Some do it small and intimate at home. No matter if you think the wedding you are at is a magical fairytale or a show-off-y shitshow, if you have the pleasure of attending the wedding with a person you love (or at least like as a person very much), make the best of it.
Chat with the cutest older couple there and revel in the idea that true love can endure for a long, long time. If you are with a significant other, hold their hand when the bride and groom declare their vows. Slow dance with them to Al Green. Take them home and have amazing sex. If you are with a friend, pose for silly photos with them. Rate the bangability of other guests. Stay up all night and explore the city or countryside. You both deserve it.
Alexis Stephens lives in Brooklyn and writes about cities, identity, pop culture and music. Her nom de internet is @pm_jawn.
Art by Tara Jacoby.
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