Does Going to Weddings Suck More the Older We Get?
Our resident Old Guys™ break down a good wedding vs. a terrible one.
BY Dave Holmes, Luke O'Neil And Ben Boskovich | Nov 17, 2017 | Culture
Weddings: still hanging in there! Though we’re doing it at older ages and sometimes in different gender combinations than our parents' generation, we’re still saying intensely personal things at altars and throwing ourselves great big parties afterwards. The demise of the American family still seems a few generations off.
But what changes about the wedding guest experience the older you get? How do your responsibilities evolve from the time you’re at the kids’ table to when you’re at the weird one full of distant aunts and single friends from work? Do resident Old Guys™ Luke O’Neil and Dave Holmes promise to electric slide right to the bottom of this issue, with a little help from Certified Millennial™ and (hey ladies!) outstanding catch Ben Boskovich?
Guys, last weekend I attended what might be the last of my contemporaries’ weddings. Most of my friends are in their 40s, and the ones who were going to do it have, by now, pretty much done it. And it’s been quite a ride, looking back. I endured the early 20s wave of college friends rushing to the altar with their sweethearts. I spent most of my 30s at the steady rate of one wedding every six weeks.
Most recently I’ve survived the post-Obergefell tsunami of same-sex destination ceremonies, and seen my savings account wash back out to sea with it. And last year, my own niece married her college sweetheart, marking the beginning of my career shift to Old Relative On The Dance Floor. My role as a wedding guest is evolving quickly, but I still feel like that bright-eyed young thing in his graduation suit throwing down heat to Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.”
Gentlemen, describe for me your relationship with weddings at this stage in your life.
I had my own. It was very nice! I cried. We held it in our favourite restaurant and invited only people we wanted to be there, and, most importantly, 1) the bar was open immediately, and 2) there was no dancing. Not that I don’t enjoy dancing, I very much do, but that gets to one of my biggest gripes with weddings in general: the forced fun of it all. Weddings are such a mix of generations and taste demographics, it is impossible to please every guest, and yet we still try to shoehorn everyone into a one-size-fits-all party. The end result is a cheeseball DJ/aerobics instructor hectoring your nana into dancing to “Get Low” while you’re trying not to strafe the entire room with beef Wellington farts. No one wants this.
I think that’s something I’ve started to see change in my own journey across the decades as a wedding guest—similar to yours, Dave. People are realizing they can do whatever the fuck they want, whether that means marrying the person of their choosing, without any religious traditions, or picking and choosing from many of them, like browsing a Midtown steam tray salad bar. And it’s made each wedding experience, or most of them anyway, less predictable, less cookie-cutter, and, regrettably for me, harder to complain about.
I still remember my first family wedding. I was 18 or 19 and one of my 16 cousins on my dad’s side got married. I think over the next few years we had one cousin wedding every summer. Anyway, that first one, holy shit. My night ended with asking the bartender what he had left (Dewar’s) and what I could mix it with (“Uh, Coke?” he answered, probably just then realizing he’d overserved a child), and then ordering a turkey club from room service as my father shook his head in disappointment in the next bed over. That stretch of three or four summers in a row was awesome. I’d show off my college-earned drinking abilities in front of my older cousins, introduce them to my new girlfriend, see my family, and witness love. To this day I cry at every ceremony, even those where I am just a plus one.
"THE END RESULT IS A CHEESEBALL DJ/AEROBICS INSTRUCTOR HECTORING YOUR NANA INTO DANCING TO “GET LOW” WHILE YOU’RE TRYING NOT TO STRAFE THE ENTIRE ROOM WITH BEEF WELLINGTON FARTS." — LUKE
This summer, I went to a handful of weddings (the number I cannot remember because I think I blacked out from anxiety after three), and the last one I went to was the first I didn’t cry at since the aforementioned Dewar's and Coke mishap of 2008. I’m at that point where every person I know is getting engaged, and I’m extremely happy for most of them. But when you’re someone who’s not quite close to that chapter in life, it can be bittersweet. I’m not encouraging anyone not to get married. But I do, very strongly, feel that the expectations surrounding marriage and weddings and how they relate to partnership need to be re-evaluated. It might not happen until our parents’ generation is long gone, though, because that's where most of the pressure seems to comes from. That, and literally every single one of your closest friends deciding to shack up simultaneously.
We have a bunch of save-the-date magnets on our fridge. I think 3/7 of them are people who have since divorced. I look at them most days, and it doesn’t really make me sad anymore. It’s more like: “Yup. That’s how it is.”
Ben, does it lessen the sting to know that at least one of those friends will be sleeping on your couch sometime in the next 10 years?
No! I’m the single guy who needs the couch. They all have “living rooms” and “marital beds” now. I’m the guy visiting.
Not to bum you out Bosko, but I can’t pass up an opportunity to plug a great emo song you may not have heard but that will definitely resonate. Hell, it still gets me, and I’m well beyond the demo. It’s from the Wonder Years. “Jesus Christ, I’m 26. All the people I graduated with all have kids, all have wives, all have people who care if they come home at night. Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?”
P.S. COME TO EMO NIGHT
The couple whose wedding I went to last weekend served up the best, smartest, most merciful twist of all: They didn’t invite any of us to the actual wedding. Instead, they just went to the courthouse on Friday morning with their parents, hosted a rehearsal dinner where nothing was rehearsed, and then we all dove right into the reception on Saturday afternoon. Minimal speeches, no readings, zero sermons from a priest nobody knows all that well. It was heaven.
And I think that’s a thing that happens: The older you get, the more you tailor your wedding to your own personality. In your youth, you feel the weight of family tradition. You feel the need to do things The Way They Have Been Done. But once you’ve been on your own for a few years or a couple of decades, the less you need to please your judgy uncle. The older you get, and presumably the more of the bill you and your spouse are footing, the freer you feel. This is a good thing for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that one of your friends might DJ the thing and spare you and Nana from Flo Rida.
I guess my hypothesis is that as you age, your outlook on the whole tradition changes. When you marry young, the day is all about Exciting Beginnings and Building a Life and The Transformative Power of Love. When you marry older, it’s not that you’re less hopeful or more cynical, it just becomes more like: “Hey, we love each other and we love you, now let’s shut up about it and eat some sliders.” I see the value of both!
"WHEN YOU MARRY OLDER, IT’S NOT THAT YOU’RE LESS HOPEFUL OR MORE CYNICAL, IT JUST BECOMES MORE LIKE: 'HEY, WE LOVE EACH OTHER AND WE LOVE YOU, NOW LET’S SHUT UP ABOUT IT AND EAT SOME SLIDERS.'” —DAVE
The Way They Have Been Done thing is what irks me. I’ve had conversations about my future wedding with people, mainly my parents, and mainly amidst long-term relationships that seemed to be headed that way. And when it comes to things like reciprocating invites they got 15 years ago and the Pittsburgh Cookie Table tradition that I have no interest in doing, I get responses like, “What? What do you mean?” as if I'd just revealed that I’d never seen Jaws (I haven’t).
I’m only 28, but hearing stories like the one you just told, Dave, and having been with someone who told me they had no interest in getting married at all, and having to digest that three years into a relationship and think about how I wanted to move forward, I’ve really started to embrace the idea of not following suit. It might have less to do with age and more to do with the world changing. The only value I see—other than it being an excuse to get everyone you love together for a party—is the idea of a wedding being representative of commitment. I think I’d love if someone were willing to go through all of that just to say, “I’m in, no take backs.”
Bristling at The Way They Have Been Done has always been, and continues to be, at 40, the eternal struggle of my life, and without a doubt will ultimately prove to be my Tragic Flaw. When we were planning our wedding, six years ago (?), I was adamant about not doing this and not doing that, specifically because I did not want to do things how people do them just to do them. I definitely lost a few of those arguments, which is a good lesson for preparing a man for marriage! I had an argument the other day about not delivering the rent check on the first of the month. I was so annoyed by that. Only a cop cares about paying on the first of the month, I told my wife. I did not, uh, "win" that one either. The point is, there are conventions that should be followed because they’re conventions, and ones that are meaningless. You just gotta pick which are hills worth dying on.
One of the great things about being gay is that your parents will never pressure you to get married, much less insist you hire a swing band or whatever.
What about destination weddings? Those seem to be happening more frequently. It’s almost a blessing in a way, because it’s like the couple is saying, "Look, we don’t necessarily need you to be here, but if you’re that into it, you can schlep down to Aruba and join us."
There’s a certain feeling of guilt you get when you’re invited to the wedding of someone you care about and know you aren’t going to go. It’s not a destination, but I’ve skipped weddings back in my hometown of Pittsburgh just because the juice wasn’t worth the financial squeeze and felt kind of bad about it. But it’s not about me, so whether it’s Pittsburgh or Paris, just go for it. All things considered, if you’re cool with a small crowd, and saying your vows on a tropical island makes you happy, why would you do anything else? One’s wedding is perhaps one’s greatest opportunity to be selfish in one’s lifetime.
"THE ONLY VALUE I SEE IS THE IDEA OF A WEDDING BEING REPRESENTATIVE OF COMMITMENT. I THINK I’D LOVE IF SOMEONE WERE WILLING TO GO THROUGH ALL OF THAT JUST TO SAY, 'I’M IN, NO TAKE BACKS.'” —BEN
Very true. But also spoken like a guy without any in-laws. (Mine are great by the way.)
You will reach an age, though, when every wedding becomes a destination wedding. It’s all well and good (and affordable) when you graduate college and all get jobs in roughly the same geographic area. It’s great when a high school friend gets hitched and you can kill two birds with one airline ticket by visiting your folks the same weekend. But lives change and careers evolve, and soon your group of friends is scattered to the four winds. Soon you’re pricing flights so you can see your best friend get married in, like, Omaha.
How do you feel about friends doing the ceremonies? I myself have married three couples—great times, all three, and good friends of mine, all six—but I’ve recently hung up my collar (“collar” defined here as “thing I printed out from the internet”). It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s that it becomes sort of stressful: You find yourself fighting between the urge to lay it on thick and the need for speed. I leaned in each case toward the latter, perhaps too strongly. But my overall feeling is that if the couple asks a friend to handle the ceremony, that means: “Let’s get everyone to cocktail hour with a minimum of pomp.”
Have you done it? Would you?
I have not done it, but I certainly would if someone wanted me to. I’ve always found it kind of cool.
That’s another thing weddings seem to do more of now, involve the close friends in all sorts of ways. My brother-in-law and oldest friend did our ceremony, and I sang a song at his and my two other good friends’ weddings. I think that sort of thing is a cool touch that lets the second- and third-tier wedding guests get a better look at the couples’ actual life, rather than Father McSully reading off a list of things he just learned about them yesterday. Oh man, I just realized we didn’t even get to the topic of speeches yet. Have you guys seen any trends in speeches lately?
Crying during your best man/MOH speech is a classic. I participated in that this summer. I have a follow-up question: What’s the most disastrous wedding speech you’ve ever witnessed?
I cried giving one to the aforesaid brother-in-law. I saw one that went on for like a half hour a few years ago. Just rambling, and just when you thought it was over…nope. Still going. The key is: a) be brief, b) be heartfelt, and c) don’t try to be funny if you’re not usually funny. Oh, and don’t make any jokes about any old girlfriends the groom might have had or how much of a scumbag he is.
At the wedding of a couple of comedy people in Los Angeles a few years back, the maid of honor got up after several trips to the open bar, opened with, “So listen, we all know L.A. is full of shit,” and then rambled about her own personal relationship problems for a good 10 minutes. It was fascinating, and then it was horrifying, and then everyone kind of checked out. But we listened for the verbal uptick that marks the end of a speech, and when we heard it, we all applauded, BUT SHE WAS NOT FINISHED. She then began talking about the bride and groom, who by then were making the hand-across-the-neck FINISH THIS signal real big. Two groomsmen got on either side of her, and gently led her back to her table, but then she broke free and ran back to the microphone, like James Brown used to do. It was riveting, and I suspect that somewhere in the world, that speech is still going on. The bride and groom were divorced within the year.
Also, at Jimmy Kimmel’s wedding, his now-wife Molly sent all her bridesmaids down the aisle, and then the Wedding March began, and the crowd turned around, and down the aisle in a wedding gown, all the way up to the altar, came Gabourey Sidibe. I don’t expect to see such a thing at a wedding again. Thank you for indulging my name-dropping.
I’ve never witnessed any catastrophes, but my mom did tell me she was at a wedding once and it was the bride’s second marriage, so her son gave the speech. Apparently it started off with, “I’ll never forget when I walked in on my mom cheating on my dad with another man,” and you can imagine that it just went downhill from there.
Ben, that reminds me of another emo song I want to make you listen to, it’s by Panic! At the Disco… Sorry, sorry, I’ll stop.