The most important thing is to gather the people who love you. Once you do that, the details will iron themselves out. —Meg, in the book
Unlike a lot of people, I never had to worry about having to cut down on my guest list; I was more concerned about expanding it. I have far more friends than I or my parents would ever have expected in my years as a nerdy shut-in (I don’t remember anyone from my primary school, but I sure remember all the books I read then). But socially speaking, I’m still more of a spider—spinning my little web of friends and sticking to it—than a butterfly. Also, living in a country other than your country of origin means you have a lot of friends elsewhere, no matter where you are.
I sent a lot of invitations to people who, if they lived in the same country, would definitely attend my wedding, as I would theirs. But some of them have visa issues that mean they have to stay just where they are, and some of them can’t manage the amount of leave it would require, and some of them just plain can’t afford it. This didn’t bother me with the English wedding, but I was a little worried about the Malaysian wedding, which in its very structure is set up for a raucousness that demands large groups. A tea ceremony is a bit naff if there’s nobody to serve tea to.
Fortunately the Malaysian wedding guest list turned out not to be a problem. At first it was! My mother sent me anxious emails asking me to scrounge up more friends, because, “It’ll be nice to have more people of your age group around.” It was my sad but necessary task to explain that her daughter had no other friends, and really she should be pleased at my progress considering there was a time when a Simpsons hand would have had three fingers too many if we were gonna use it to count my friends. (Or, to be grammatically accurate: friend. And now Maid of Honour. Thanks for saving my adolescence from total loserdom, BFF!)
Then, when I called and explained that I’d been trying my best but it appeared my friends’ various siblings and cousins didn’t seem that keen on coming to the wedding of someone they didn’t know to someone else they didn’t know, but good news, all was not over as we could ask my sister to ask all her numerous friends—my mother said: “Don’t invite any more people! We sat down and counted everyone we’ve invited and now we’re going to ask the restaurant if they can fit a hundred more people. Dad asked his business contacts and take-up has been very good!”
Pleased (though it is always an odd experience to hear your wedding described in similar terms to a business conference), I left her to get on with it. But without the presence of my parents’ business contacts and half-forgotten cousins, we’ve ended up having a relatively small wedding in England—we just about made the minimum number for our venue.
This small guest list is partly my own fault, to be honest, and not just because I have no friends. I was picky about the people I invited. If I wasn’t completely sure I’d enjoy spending a Saturday afternoon with them alone—the kind of meandering afternoon that ends with you having green tea ice cream at a random restaurant just because you don’t feel ready to go home yet—then I didn’t invite them. There are lots of people I like, but not as many I like that much. I had the occasional wobble about people who were on the line, but overall I felt I’d made the right decision.
It didn’t really have to do with money—it was just a matter of honesty, and perhaps the vague idea that a wedding is a community-building event, and so I wanted to build in only the people I was sure I wanted to be part of my community. (Relatives were excluded from the strict criterion of membership of the green tea ice cream fellowship. Relatives are inbuilt into the community and so they don’t have to be kindred spirits, though ideally they should be non-awful.)
But if the guest list was a bit tricky, the seating plan was a whole ‘nother level of difficulty. The way we did it was we drew some tables on a piece of paper, wrote down a list of names, and then tore our hair out for a few hours. It was like playing a particularly evil variant of Sudoku.
Should I seat my friends who were all from one school but who had scattered across the globe at one table, because they’d want to see each other after so many years? But there were just a few too many to all sit at the same table, and if the two or three left over were sat somewhere else, they’d be looking over wistfully at the fun table all night.
I’d break up the group and mix them with Cephas’s friends. After all, it was only for dinner—they’d have the whole rest of the day to clique it up. But how to mix them with Cephas’s friends? I wanted to avoid gender disparity at any of the tables; I wanted to avoid, as well, having one table of mostly white people and one table of mostly not.
But at the same time I wanted to have people together who would get along—who would have synergies, to be all business-speak about it. So I probably wasn’t going to sit the avid slash fanfic reader with the evangelical Christian who talks about God a lot. They might well get on like a house on fire, but if not, I wasn’t about to be the one responsible for pinning them to a table for an evening.
When I started seeing the synergies it became kind of enjoyable, like when you finally start knocking out those rows in Sudoku. I would put the two really fancy girls I knew at school together, they’d get along and wouldn’t have seen each other in a while—ooh, and her boyfriend is in a rock band and has also played in an orchestra, and here are all Cephas’s friends who are professional musicians! And she’s doing a PhD, and so are these two other people, and one of them is from Manchester, as is rock band guy….
You do end up relying on stereotypes a bit; I don’t know if my classifying people by interests and origin and yes, religion will prevent the blossoming of some beautiful serendipitous bit of chemistry. But eh! The chemistry can wait for the silent disco.