So, as it happens, I’m not all that big on weddings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for marriage. Marriage is fundamentally good. But weddings, I can basically take or leave. I say take or leave, I mainly mean leave.
The very worst kind are those where you only know the bride and groom. The only people in the room you know are the very ones you cannot speak to for more than 2 minutes during the entire day. It inevitably means you spend the entire day with nobody to talk to, hanging round for hours with nothing to do and inevitably seated on a table with a bunch of strangers you have nothing in common with. What person ever thinks an 8 hour day making tedious small talk with somebody you are never ever going to see again is the hallmark of an excellent Saturday?
Then there is the stuff that now goes hand in glove with weddings, like stag/hen dos. Excruciating evenings (or whole weekends) engaged in some abysmal set of highly expensive activities involving a bunch of people you barely know or don’t know at all and feel none the richer for having met. We are asked to go on an incredibly costly trip, to do some awful exercise in the name of organised fun with a gang of people we don’t know. At best, that is a terrible dynamic for a day trip.
The root of the problem has, by some, been put down to the desire to be unique. And the attempt to be unique is a real problem. The number of times I’ve heard people claim “but my wedding will be different” or “but we’ve got an amazing surprise” as if I’ve never seen a bouncy castle or met a man that sells candy floss before. Though I basically agree with the sentiments David Mitchell describes here and here, I fear the attempts at uniqueness are merely a symptom of the wider problem. The heart of the issue is a narcissistic, me-centric, selfishness. Clearly the uniqueness problem feeds into the root issue. The reason people try so hard to come across as unique is that they kid themselves into thinking they are different and that their day will somehow trump all others. Why? Because their day must reflect everything about them. And if it reflects everything about them, that surely makes their day great, right?
This imperious self-centredness means that buying a gift and travelling halfway across the country to celebrate “the special day” is no longer good enough. Nevermind if you have young children who will be horrific if they cannot get to bed; it doesn’t matter if the combined cost of stag/hen do, travel, gifts and the rest will mean you can’t afford a holiday this year or you have to go into debt; forget whether you have no desire to make yourself sick by drinking copious amounts of alcohol; put out of your mind whether you can afford it, get the time off work or the huge inconvenience and imposition of the whole thing. Anything less than total and complete involvement in a pre-wedding do and your ongoing presence until the bitter end on the day itself will be forever frowned upon and marked against you as not taking the relationship seriously enough.
The truth is that any wedding is something of an imposition. It often involves travelling some distance, spending money and trying to contain children apart from the stuff with which you usually entertain them. All of that falls under the category of reasonable things you can expect people to do. Insisting that people spend considerable amounts of money on a totally unnecessary stag/hen do, making them stay at an evening event until goodness knows when simply to watch lots of people drink far too much, frowning upon them considering the well-being of their children and not staying until late into the night all falls under the category of unreasonable and selfish imposition.
There are two equally viable, acceptable answers to the problem. The first is to stop being so narcissistic. Accept that uniqueness is irrelevant, that the day is special for you (and potentially your family) but not so much for anybody else. Don’t treat it as “the most special day of your life” and simply do what everybody else does, letting everyone go home at 8pm having had a nice meal and countless photographs.
Alternatively, if you particularly want a “unique” day and you are desperate for it to reflect your personality at every step, that’s fine. But please have a little grace. Please don’t weigh up decades of solid friendship against your particular view of what certain people should have done on the day. Acknowledge that not everybody can countenance a full day of knowing nobody. Note that not everyone is in the same boat (eg kids, distance, money, illness, etc). Recognise that a friendship is based on more than leaving your wedding before your first dance.
I may not be the biggest fan of weddings but there are definitely some that are more tolerable than others. And I am prepared to tolerate them if we are friends, I really am. But have a little grace and cut us some slack. After all, we have travelled halfway across the country to be at your special day, with riotous kids in tow, having spent money on your gift, all to show you we care and are happy for you. Please don’t presume the friendship is a waste of time because we have other things to take into consideration.