Dreadful news: All of your friends are deliriously happy and in love and want to throw a $20,000 party to celebrate it. It is wedding season, and if you are between the ages of 25 and 26, then you have just been invited to your first one. Maybe it is your slightly older friend who has really got her life together, and this is no surprise. Maybe it's that guy with two kids who is just doing the right thing. Maybe, most terrifyingly of all, it's just two people your age, who have been in a relationship even less time than you have with your current significant other, and... just... seem... to... be... really... happy? God. Fuck. God. Nothing like wedding season to put your own inadequacies into sharp relief.
But perhaps you have not attended the wedding of a friend before. Yeah, when you were a kid, weddings were fun, weren't they? You skidded around on your knees on the dance floor, maybe you were roped into something fun and ceremonial like throwing flowers about, and then you had a bunch of cake and soda while your mom wasn't watching and hyped the fuck out before crashing at 9 PM. As a kid, weddings were brilliant. As an adult, the reality of them—that your peers have found love and sanctuary in a time of ghosting and Tinder—can be harrowing. Here's how to survive your first go:
GET ON TOP OF THE INFINITE FUCKING ADMIN OF IT
First thing you will notice when you are invited to a wedding is a "save the date" card (this is a small piece of paper mailed to your house—to your actual house, through the mailbox—that tells you to keep a certain weekend some distant date in the future free, as if you ever make plans that far ahead anyway). It is a card that says, "Please, refrain from spending Friday 6 PM through Sunday 10 AM doing drugs, mainly on your own, and occasionally drinking with others, and instead come to an idyllic field in Kent and attend a party about our love." Pass the save the date through your hands a couple of times. Turn it over, feel the heft of that expensive stationery. This is a card that is asking you for your time. This piece of A5 paper is making your weekend plans for you. Fuck this cardboard. Fuck it right up.
What we all do with a save the date card is put it on the mantelpiece and forget it exists.
That is why people send invitations: to remind you, proper, that you have already agreed to give this weekend up, to turn your back on the gods of fun and instead commit your time to the lords of matrimony and monogamy, to eat from a buffet, to get mayo on your suit. Invitations are very well-designed extensions of the save the date card. They often have complex and fun little jokes about how the couple met on them, and will also have your friend's full names on them, as tradition dictates. This is confusing. Do you know how confusing this is? It took me a full 30 seconds to process that my friend Bob was getting married in September because the invite said "Robert." This is what wedding invitations do to you: You have to get a Filofax for all the paperwork, a paper calendar to hang on your wall. You need to learn the actual names of all your friends.
WHAT IN THE FUCK TO WEAR
Yeah you mainly have to dress nice for a wedding. Unless it's one of those "fun" weddings—"The Mad Hatter's Tea Party: Wedding Style!," that sort of thing; "Grease: The Wedding!" or something like that—you need to put on a suit for a boy and a dress for a girl. But look in your wardrobe. Isn't the only suit you have that gray old Burtons thing you wore once ten pounds ago to an interview? Isn't the only dress you have that weird taffeta thing you wore ironically to the summer ball? Unfortunately for you, you now have to go and buy an entire wedding outfit. The most expensive and uncomfortable clothes you own, plus shoes. You are $200 down, and you haven't even bought train tickets and a hotel yet. Other people's love is the greatest expense in your life. 1
1A small aside: Something inside your young lithe body is going to feel a certain undeniable need to try and "twist up" your staid and adventure-less outfit and make it young, somehow—you're going to try and wear Converse with a dress, aren't you, you Anti-Establishment bastard, you're going to try and do something preppy and GQ-y with a pocket square—and can I tell you now, from embarrassed experience: Do not do this. The only people who can get away with twisting formalwear is people who wear formalwear on the daily. If you're wearing a suit with all the presence of a 12-year-old at his dad's funeral, you are not ready to twist on a classic. Wear your uniform, and shut the fuck up.
MAKING POLITE SMALL TALK WITH SOMEONE'S DISTANT COUSIN OR SOMETHING
Thing about weddings is that they have strict seating plans—it's because, as it emerges on their wedding day, everyone has these weird diverse groups of friends and family, and even if you think you know the friend getting married intimately—you grew up together, you live together, you've known them longer than you've known yourself—at one point they will go, "Oh, you've got to meet my college friends!" And then they will introduce you to a table full of people who all have nicknames, and you will suddenly feel this weird pang of jealousy, you'll see your group of friends reflected in this alt universe version of you all, you'll make direct eye contact with You 2.0, and then—
We're getting off topic. The point is, you will have to talk to a grandma for a bit, because you'll be sat next to her for two hours, because of seating plans. This is the rule. This is the punch you have to take if you're going to be invited to a wedding. This grandma does not understand what your job is ("What's a social media manager, dearie?") and doesn't really want to know. This grandma will be on a weird restricted diet, and you will feel duty bound to go to the buffet for her. This grandma will eventually conform to type and say something emotional about her right to display a golliwog tea towel in her village post office. This grandma is your penance for having a friend who is capable of being loved.
The DO YOU GET TRASHED/DO YOU NOT GET TRASHED CONUNDRUM
The primary thing here is: Yes, you absolutely get trashed. But you have to pace yourself at a wedding, because it's not just "vows then get on it." There's this whole 45-minute interval where everyone stands outside and takes photos. Everyone has to really slowly sit down in a marquee and eat a meal. Someone dings a glass, and there is, like, an hour and a half of speeches about love. If you hit the complimentary champagne too hard when you got there, then you are going to be a shapeless mass of moaning by this point. Like: You're going to go full Katona.
My rule is: You are allowed three glasses of champagne, and then you need to take a break. You are allowed two glasses of wine pre-speeches and one during. And then when all the boring wedding shit is over, you get so on it that it makes history. I am serious. I am talking: There are nerds in basements updating the Wikipedia page for "drunkest a human has ever been and lived." You need to get so drunk bystanders watch and abandon their religion. "Why?" you ask. "Why get so drunk?" Because it is free. If you go through life and don't take every opportunity to rinse a free bar down to its very dust, then did you really live? Did you, truly, exist?
THERE IS GOING TO BE SOME FUCKING
Science did a formula about it, hold on. Some study in 1997 found this:
Weddings + singledom = odd sense of romantic misery (or, 'O1')
O1 + alcohol = bad kind of drunk + bad kind of horny
Because there is Always One. Always One person who gets carried away and spirals down one of two staircases of drunkenness: the one where they take their trousers and/or underwear off in a way that literally everyone sees (bad), or the one where they get really weird about the fundamental lack of affection in their life and get really morose and ornery and also horny in a very hard-to-quantify way (extremely bad). We've all been there: When everyone is coupled up and dancing, there is you, alone at the free bar, eyes darting hither and yon for something, anything, to grind up to. This is how you end up rubbing your ass on someone's extremely geriatric uncle. This is how you end up trying to ask a newly crowned mother-in-law if she "wants a bit." If you find yourself getting sadly horny at a wedding, sit down, have a glass of lemonade and a bit of cake, and try and get on a level a bit. Then do shots and make everyone do Rock the Boat in a completely non-sexual way.
Unless you are rich, you do not have to get a gift. That is my rule, anyway. I don't think it is a widely accepted rule. But that is my rule. If you invite me to your wedding, know you're not getting a gift. Your gift is my company. Your gift is I will be nominally nice to your grandma.
ATTENDING A BACHELOR PARTY: A GUIDE
Can't offer you any advice about attending a bachelorette party (but as far as I can tell, it's a 400-message-long email thread where every entry starts with the words "Hi girls!!!!!" and somehow ends up costing $1,000 each, even though you only go to the nearest city and do a cupcake class before getting your penis straws confiscated at the doors of Funky Fish) but can tell you that bachelor parties are essentially just 12 guys divided into three distinct groups, with at least two of them named "Jonno," and you'll all go to a really shit pub and have this weird day drinking synthesis of fun, going through all the motions of fun but not quite having it, and to try and overcome this awkwardness you get so drunk it gets weird, then on the day of the wedding you will half-recognize some guy you drank beer out of the ass of, and you will greet him with a silent nod. Outlaw bachelor parties.
IT IS HARD TO KNOW WHEN TO HECKLE THE DJ, BUT IT IS BASICALLY "NEVER"
You're four or five drinks ahead of where you're meant to be, and it's 10 PM, and you're possibly high a little, and for some reason the DJ—a 17-year-old local boy with a single revolving disco ball and two big iPods—keeps playing Abba, and you are shouting at him—as you remember it the next day, you were at the back of the dance floor being jovial, but photographic evidence will show you were right in the face of this kid—this kid who is basically acne, half a mustache, two pubes, and a Spotify subscription—yelling about Wu Tang. Try to avoid doing this. This kid is only trying to raise the roof for a family audience.
YOU ARE GOING TO GET INVOLVED IN A 45 MINUTE CONVERSATION ABOUT YOUR JOB WITH A FRIEND-OF-A-FRIEND WHO IS "SURE SHE CAN HELP YOU OUT" BUT FOR SOME REASON THIS CONVERSATION HAPPENS OUTSIDE, SOMEWHERE, BY AN OLD DEAD TREE
Something weird about that first juddering summer wedding of adulthood is it tends to coincide with two or three personal crises you may be going through in your real life, most of which you decide to tell some stranger outside when you both try and get a bit of air and watch the sunset out from the oppressive heat of the main wedding marquee. You are both clutching small plastic cups, empty of their punch. You are both very seriously leaning on a fence and saying, "I just thought I would be more by now, you know?" You look into the reception going on behind you. "John and Lisa seem so happy," they say (John and Lisa are 100 percent the name of the couple who's wedding you go to first). "Why can't I get my shit together?" It's because you're a shitshow, mate. No blaming anyone else. Get your shoddy life together. Start tomorrow. But for now, in a field in fucking Cumbria with a load of friends-of-friends, you may as well get trashed.
HARD PARTY DRUGS: THE DOS AND DON'TS
Grade As are generally OK at a wedding, if that's your thing—I am going to heaven so it is not my thing—as long as you don't do it, like, directly in front of an aunt. At weddings, aunts rove like floating robots in some sort of lonely, futuristic shoot-'em-up—aunts around every corner, aunts bumping into you at the buffet, aunts beckoning you disgustingly with a single finger onto the dancer floor—and they are offended by you doing keys in the middle of reception. So you need to be discrete and avoid the aunts. You need to remember you are not in south London anymore.2
2 Note: A lot of aunts think they are "fun aunts." A good way to tell if an aunt considers herself fun is if she says either of the following sentences: "I'm a fun aunt!"; "I'm an old girl, but we can still be fun!"; "Ooh, if you kids knew what we used to get up to in our day!" Do not be tricked by the aspirational fun aunt. She is designed to lull you into a false sense of security. This is a pretty cool aunt, actually, you think. Maybe I'll offer her some gak? And then as soon as you do, she goes cool and says, "You know, of course, my husband Paul is a police officer?" No. Do not be tricked by the fun aunt.
DON'T GET ALL WEIRD AND PROPOSE TO SOMEONE JUST BECAUSE OF THE OCCASION
It's nice, though, isn't it, and you can see yourself here in maybe a year, little Chinese lanterns lighting up the sky in the name of your love, you doing a fun choreographed first dance to a fun and unexpected first dance song, cake, crying, all your friends in one big hired marquee, the pomp of it, the ceremony, everyone in suits and dresses, everyone looking his or her best, the best day of someone's life, one of the best of yours, and you're fuzzy and warm and filled with loving vibes and you think: Hey, maybe it's time. Maybe it's time I popped the question. You think: Hey—maybe this wedding thing is for me. No, come on. Get real. You're a shitshow. Come on. You don't even know what income tax is. Come on. We've discussed this. You're a shitshow. You're a good ten, 15 years away from being ready for this. Just enjoy the wedding for what it is and try not to wet yourself in front of people.
Follow Joel Golby on Twitter.