When you graduate high school in Indianapolis, the done thing is to have an open house. You get some meat trays and a sheet cake from Marsh, put up some awkward photos of yourself growing up, and invite everyone you know to visit your parents’ house between the hours of two and five on a Saturday afternoon. Your guests will slot you in between a number of other, nearly identical, open houses, flitting in like gift-bearing fairies to say congratulations, good luck, and oops gotta go.
But what if you planned an open house and no one came? To my seventeen-year-old brain, that was the ultimate social snub. That’s why, when my parents insisted that we have an open house, I didn’t tell any of my friends. If no one showed up I couldn’t feel bad because, well, I didn’t invite them in the first place. In the end, most everyone who was invited stopped by. I mingled with my parents’ friends and a handful of family members for three tolerable hours. The cake was demolished and the only traces of the party were a few mangy celery sticks and a weird shrine to my adolescence in the living room. Maybe my friends would have come, but we’ll never know.
Unlike my graduation open house, I’ve actively invited friends and family to our wedding, which feels like a total crapshoot. As our guest list grew, Jared and I had moments where we counted up the numbers and looked at each other: when had our intimate wedding of forty or fifty expanded to sixty, seventy, seventy-five? Not everyone will come, we said. Then, But what if they do? I’m still ashamed at how quickly people—and not just any people, but the ones who are most important to us—lost their identities and morphed into little more than numbers.
Once the save-the-dates went out, my mentality shifted. I realized that Hawaii is a big trip for a lot of people, especially in the wake of new jobs, new houses, new babies, and new engagements of their own. Seventy-five guests seemed unlikely, but suddenly, so did fifty. I counted up the number of people I definitely knew were coming and came up with twenty. Insecurity seeped in. Are twenty people even enough to justify a tent and a dance floor? Maybe we should have gone with our second choice, a run-down rental house that allowed backyard weddings.
Wedding planning called up the same sorts of fears that taunted me fifteen years ago. This time they hover in the back of my mind, not quite articulated, a lingering reminder of the teenager I once was. What if nobody comes? What if they think it’s stupid? What if they only come to be polite? These thoughts get shoved into a mental box, tamped down, and locked away, because they do not reflect the woman I identify as, the one who doesn’t stop to worry about what people will think before she makes decisions. But they keep worming their way out of the box and infiltrating my brain just the same.
And then, after I’d thought myself into a cloud of self-pity, I actually tried to picture our wedding. And those twenty faceless numbers transformed back into the people they represented. It wasn’t a cluster of seven anonymous people playing lawn games during cocktail hour, but my sisters, college roommates, and Jared’s cousins. It wasn’t a series of numbers taking up space on chairs at our ceremony, but people I knew and loved. Maybe it wouldn’t be all of them, but it was some of them, and that mattered. Where had I gotten so derailed that I defined twenty of the most important people in our lives as “nobody”?
I honestly don’t know where I got the idea that people wouldn’t want to come to my high school open house as a teenager, nor why I thought they might not want to come to my wedding. A wedding is not a popularity contest, and I know from personal experience that you can have a dance party all by yourself if the right song is playing. Of course you can have a wedding with twenty, or forty, or seventy-five people; all you really need are two. But numbers aren’t the point. What counts are the people who have been there for us before the wedding and those who will be with us after—whether or not they are able to celebrate with us under the tent, on the dance floor.