Never bring a date to a wedding—unless, of course, you want to break up with her. It’s just too hard to enjoy yourself when you’re surrounded by so much damn love. The vision of a woman dressed in white walking down the aisle, her eyes moist with marital bliss, clenching her loving father’s arm, the organ bellowing Here Comes the Bride is enough to reduce any un-engaged couple to charlatan status. The absurd pageantry of the ceremony itself and the endless, ostentatious demonstrations of love seem to expose—and then magnify—whatever weakness exists in your own bedroom. It’s sort of a relationship MRI.
Even when the bride and groom aren’t really madly in love, they sure act like they are. After all, it’s their wedding day, and they’re paying for it. So, no matter how ugly the road to the alter was, they bury their ambivalence and neurotic fears behind wide smiles and warm embraces. Meanwhile, the rest of us just sit there and wonder why the hell we’re not as happy as them—when in fact, we might be. Just not today.
My first experience with wedding-date hell was four years ago. A Hollywood friend of mine, Ken, was getting married at a spectacular private vineyard in Napa Valley. It was one of those four-day nuptial extravaganzas, filled with an endless assortment of sporting events and daytime activities. It was part wedding/part vacation, and since it involved Hollywood types, part networking.
I was dating Sara at the time, a 26-year-old aspiring film producer with zero interest in developing a serious relationship with someone like me—a corporate lawyer with no connection to “the biz.” It’s tough to spend three days celebrating love, loyalty, and intimacy and still feel good about a fling with a woman more commitment-phobic than you. I have very few rules in life, but one of them is “Never be less screwed-up than the woman you’re dating.”
Our misery began long before the plane even took off. As we sat on the runway, Sara was doing the beautiful-girl-freaking-out-that-she’s-going-to-look-ugly-at-the-wedding thing. After indulging her narcissistic tirade for 40 minutes, I said, “Don’t worry. You’ll look beautiful.” Sara, however, didn’t appreciate the compliment. In fact, she called me an asshole.
As a result of my alleged insensitivity, Sara barely spoke during the two-hour ride from the Oakland airport to Napa. I’d ask a question, and she’d answer in less than three words. I’m pretty sure she was trying to break the world record for fewest words uttered on a two-hour car ride to a beautiful destination resort.
As we drove in bitter silence, I couldn’t help but resent her apathy and distance. I felt like a fool for wasting my “optimal dating years” and little free time from the firm with a woman utterly uninterested in a real relationship—even though I’m not even sure I want to get married in the first place. She was no longer fun or beautiful; she was simply an opportunity cost. But that’s the thing with weddings. They turn the intimacy-phobic into marriage-obsessed fools.
After 73 minutes of passive-aggressive silence, I finally erupted. Like a stiff shot of whisky, a wedding encourages you to say what you’ve always wanted to say, which in this case was: “Our relationship is ridiculous.” And like that, our romantic weekend had become a hate competition.
The next day, Ken and Janine exchanged nuptials on an ivy-covered veranda overlooking a sprawling vineyard. Sarah and I split up three days later.
Worse than bringing a casual date to a wedding, however, is bringing a serious one—someone with expectations of marriage. Especially if you don’t share the same expectations.
After a series of recent wedding debacles with various “serious” girlfriends, I constructed what I call “The Wedding Date Hell Matrix” to measure the likelihood of having a miserable time.
There are essentially three components:
1. Magnitude of disparity in commitment-level between boyfriend/girlfriend;
2. Length of time dating relative to bride and groom;
3. Exoticism of wedding venue.
Each component is then assigned a value between 1 and 3, meaning the highest (and worst) possible score is 9. An additional 5 points, however, is added to the aggregate score if either you or your date actually introduced the bride and groom.
In other words, if you’re less interested in marriage than your date, and you’ve been dating much longer than the bride and the groom, and you actually introduced them, AND the wedding is in Fiji, your score would be 14—and you’d be guaranteed to have the worst time of your life.
As luck would have it, last year, I introduced my fellow associate, Greg, to my then girlfriend’s ex-roommate, Emily. (Laura, my wonderful, marriage-oriented ex-girlfriend and I had been dating for five months prior to the fortuitous introduction.) Selfishly, they fell madly in love and decided to get married in Istanbul after only eight months of dating. The only good news was, for the first time in my life, I finally received a perfect score on a standardized test.
As expected, my relationship with Laura began to deteriorate shortly after Greg and Emily’s engagement. We began arguing about everything. What movie to see, if broccoli was healthier than asparagus, who was funnier. Though we didn’t discuss the wedding, it was present in every conversation. Unfortunately, we both had the horrible misfortune of witnessing, from the front row, how fast two people who really fall in love can march to the altar when it’s right—which, of course, suggested Laura and I were wrong.
Laura and I had discussed marriage a few times, but in a theoretical kind of way. I was open to the possibility but didn’t want to discuss specifics. I was the boyfriend equivalent of Switzerland. After years of being single, I’d become a pro at heartfelt ambiguity—saying the right things without saying anything.
But with the specter of the upcoming wedding, Laura became less accepting of my single-guy waffling. The wedding MRI had located an inoperable, golf ball-sized commitment tumor. Further, Laura, sensing the prognosis was bleak, no longer cared about the consequences of her actions or pronouncements. She simply wanted clarity.
We arrived in Istanbul. Overwhelmed by the beauty and historic uniqueness of the city, we actually managed to enjoy ourselves—for about 12 hours, or until the love-filled, toast-heavy festivities began. It was like every time someone praised Greg and Emily, they were mocking me and Laura. No matter where we were—the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque or eating hummus at some Turkish café—there was a nagging sense that we probably weren’t really in love.
Plus, every time we turned around, Greg and Emily were kissing, holding hands, laughing. Their affection lingered in the air like a thick, taunting mist. If it could speak, it would have said, “We’re more in love than you are—nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”
By the end of the week, we were so saturated with unwelcome droplets of love, Laura and I practically stopped talking to each other.
Finally, after a long, romantic rehearsal dinner party overlooking the Bosphorous River, Laura and I finally confronted the elephant that had been sleeping in our hotel room for the past few days—if not months. Laura wanted to get married (whether it be to me or someone else), and I didn’t. By the time the wedding began, Laura and I were no longer dating. We didn’t even sit together at the reception. The relentless avalanche of wedding love had finally caused our (already weak) foundation to collapse.
Weddings don’t cause break-ups, of course. They simply accelerate the inevitable outcome. If you’re madly in love and blindly committed, a wedding will accelerate your engagement. If not, it will hasten the demise. The problem for me is, I guess, I’m not usually blindly committed, which is why I RSVP-ed “without guest” to a recent weekend wedding on Martha’s Vineyard. I’d just started dating someone and didn’t feel like breaking up with her.
The only problem is, she broke up with me the day I returned. She was apparently annoyed that I didn’t invite her.