This Is What I Learned from Going to Seven Weddings Alone


Why do we think single women at weddings are a sign of the apocalypse?

by Maggie MK Hess

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In some parallel universe, we all take perfect plus ones to every wedding. You may not be dating them, but your date for the night is definitely good-looking, funny, kind, generous, sweet to old ladies, a great dancer, and fun to flirt with for an evening. (Why aren’t you dating them and can I have their number?)

Last summer, I went to seven weddings between May and October. I didn’t take a plus one to a single one.

I also didn’t meet anyone so—according to Hollywood—I’m either dead or Daria.

As much as you—single person extraordinaire that you are!—may love living alone, dining alone, going to movies alone, and traveling alone, going to a wedding alone can feel like the final frontier. For some reason, weddings have a permission setting on them that allows every other guest to come up to you and ask, “So where’s your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/partner?” Followed up by, “So why don’t you have a significant other/oat-topped love muffin/main squeeze/happy honey/sweet gazelle?”

Or my personal favorite: “Oh, don’t worry. You have plenty of time. Wait… how old are you?”

This year, I took to responding, “I also have plenty of boyfriends.” Ba-dum-dumpsh.

So, through trial and tribulation, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it takes to have a fun time at a wedding when you’re flying solo. Here’s what’s key:

1. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM. Remember when you were in kindergarten and you had to hold someone’s hand whenever you went anywhere? Bring it back!

Take the idea that weddings are a great place to “meet someone” literally. That someone doesn’t have to be a romantic someone. When I interviewed Maddie for an article on the topic this summer, she told me, “I’ve been to weddings where I made a best friend for a night. I don’t remember their names. But for one evening, we were soul mates.”

2. Don’t feel tied to your table. Out of the seven weddings I went to, I was seated at a singles table once. I blame my mother. She told the mother of the bride, one of her close personal friends, that she really wanted me to “have a good time at the wedding.” This, of course, was interpreted to mean that I should be seated at the singles table rather than with my sister who was alone at another table since her husband was a groomsmen in another wedding, or even with my parents where I could at least zone out. In rebellion, I talked to a girl I already knew the entire time about her experiences dating on Tinder. There may have been single men at the table, but I honestly don’t remember.

The fact of the matter is, the sit-down dinner is generally a small portion of the wedding. If you’re feeling antsy, go hang out at the bar. Go to the bathroom repeatedly to check your makeup (and your phone…). Wander outside to admire the sunset. Go to your car to change into your flats. Find out where the kiddos are hiding and hang with them. Which brings us to my next tip…

3. Bridge outside of your age group. This is one of my favorite party tips of all time. Every party I go to, I make friends with the toddlers. They’re cool. They like to dance, they know all the best hiding and napping spots, and they’re frequently served dinner first. You can avoid a lot of adult conversations by playing peek-a-boo with a baby or hide-and-go-seek with a rowdy gang of six-year-olds.

According to Maddie:

Some of the most fun I’ve ever had on the dance floor was with couples in their seventies who were more than happy to adopt a twenty-something for a few hours and show her how it’s done.

Just after college, I went to my friend Clara’s wedding. I was the only person in our age range there who wasn’t in her sorority or her new husband’s fraternity. Which is to say that everyone knew each other, I knew no one (except the bride, who was a smidge busy), and it felt like middle school all over again.

I talked to the moms, dads, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. I also pretended I was Audrey Hepburn and practiced wandering around with a slight and inscrutable smile on my face. You know, just a mysterious girl floating by in the background of a party that was the opening scene of a movie. A girl who would be revealed in the very next scene to be the plucky and charming heroine.

4. Clear the dance floor for the slow songs.
Look, I don’t care how confident you are or how good you feel about being single. When a slow song comes on, slide off the dance floor to watch, get another drink, get a third piece of cake, take the chance to rest your feet.

Because otherwise… Say, hypothetically, that it’s your sister’s wedding. And you’ve been smiling so hard all day that your face hurts. You’ve also been herding family for pictures, telling your aunts that their hair looks great (no, really!), and insisting that another bar be opened now, because your sister doesn’t care if guests see the dining tables early but she does care if guests have to wait in an hour long line for a drink.

Your sister and her husband take the dance floor for the first dance and everyone gathers to watch. She dances with your father to the song he picked—“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”—a fast number that makes everyone laugh and cheer. The groom dances with his mother. Then the band plays “Can I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life?”

It’s a romantic song, being played at the request of your mother and father, but meant to kick off the dance party. Your parents take the dance floor. The band invites everyone to join them. The crowd doesn’t move. You’re so embedded in your role of helpful wrangler (you’re basically a cowpoke at this point) that you step out onto the dance floor and gesture for people to join.

Then you realize what you should have known all along: it’s a slow song and you have no one to dance with. You gracefully slide, or stumble like a prodded cow, to the edge. Faux pas! Your brain screams. Everyone saw! Sirens go off. The earth trembles. People snicker and point. Toilet paper appears magically on your shoe and you get your period. The other bridesmaid wraps an arm around you while you stand there, wiping your eyes but not your mascara. The photographer, renowned for capturing the small moments, takes your picture.

Once you start crying, the day overwhelms you, and you just can’t stop. You weep quietly between bites of wedding cake.

But don’t worry. Even if that does happen to you, you’ll get a great photo out of it. Everyone’s supposed to cry at weddings! In the picture, it looks like a super sweet and sentimental moment. Only you and the whole Internet will know the truth.

5.dance your ass off. The dance floor at a wedding is a free for all. Get in there and shake it.

From the Greek Orthodox/Air Force wedding that kicked the season off to the backyard San Juan Island wedding to the four-day Seattle blowout with the Harvard football team to the half-Mexican wedding at the Indian Cultural Center that closed out the season—I showed up without a date and I went home alone. I did dance, though. I danced hard.

I danced to the “Electric Slide,” and the “Cupid Shuffle.” I did “El Caballo Dorado” until I couldn’t keep up anymore. I got down on the floor for “Shout.” I danced to “Footloose” and “Party in the USA” and “Firework” and “Thriller” and “Dancing Queen.”

6. Eat as much cake as you want.
 Wedding cakes always have leftovers. This is a shame. Do something about this.

7. Buy, borrow, beg, or steal a new outfit. By wedding six last summer, I had exhausted most of my closet. I was going without a date to a wedding where I was just about the only person who had not previously made out with another guest—everyone else was coupled or had, um, gotten to know each other over the years.

It was a party wedding. Ninety percent of the guests were friends of the bride and groom’s (as opposed to weddings where family and friends vie equally for the guest list). Four days of activities, the third song of the night was “Turn Down for What,” and the open bar poured shots all night.

I bought a killer new dress.

8. Don’t buy a new dress. Look, sometimes you’ve been to many weddings and bought many, many gifts, and trying is just going to feel like effort without reward. Recognize those times. Honor them.

Change out of your sweatpants. But yes, go ahead and put on that dress in the back of your closet that lets you wear a regular bra and underwear, and wear flats if you feel like it. Because no one’s paying attention to you.

9. Remember that it’s not about you. Despite how many people are going to come up to you asking where your date is (a million, otherwise known as one or two), absolutely no one is paying attention to you. They’re all watching the couple.

You are not the star of this narrative. There’s freedom in that. Be polite when people are giving toasts, don’t use your phone during the ceremony, and don’t take your shirt off. Other than that, show up, celebrate, hug random people, flirt with the bartenders, hide in the bathroom, eat second servings of the mac ’n’ cheese off the kids’ buffet. Revel.

Maggie MK Hess

Maggie MK Hess lives in Seattle. Her writing has appeared on Salon and The Washington Post, among other places. She chronicles her dating experiences on her blog, Dear Mr. Postman.

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  • CJ

    Wow, I feel like this is great advice for confidence and grace in life in general, not just as a single person at weddings. I love this!

  • Lisa

    This person writes really well.;). I hope she makes movies.

  • Riot

    Long-time lone wedding guest here. I laughed so much at no.4 that I cried. Then I read it to my partner, also a veteran lone wedding guest, and he laughed just as much.

    • goldushapple

      “partner”

      Ah, modernism. Might as well call yourself “it.”

      • Riot

        More like New Zealandese.

      • Riot

        More like New Zealandese.

        • goldushapple

          Miss my point. Try again.

  • Eenie

    Kind of related question: Is it better to give all our guests the option to bring a plus one? Or does that make them feel pressure to find a date to bring? Most friends are travelling (plane ride) for the wedding and about 10 are not currently coupled. I know people are adults and can make their own choices…

    • K.

      If you can offer it, I would. We offered plus-ones to all of our guests and I can’t tell you how many people told us how much they appreciated the option, even if they didn’t end up bringing anyone. It’s not always financially feasible or something everyone wants for, say, an intimate wedding, but I can’t imagine someone being upset about the option. It comes across as thoughtful and inclusive.

    • Theoretically speaking, a plus one doesn’t have to be a date. If you’re inviting someone who isn’t going to know or fit in with anyone, than just let them bring a friend (if you can swing it)

      • Eenie

        Yes! This is what I would love for my guests to do. I didn’t know if “and guest” implied that they could bring someone to just hangout with not necessarily a “date”.

        • It doesn’t (in my opinion). I would clarify. I actually called my (female, hetero) best friend who was single at the time of the wedding and suggested that she bring another one of her best girlfriends so that she’d be more comfortable. That’s exactly what she ended up doing.

          • Eenie

            Perfect. We’ll do that.

          • K.

            For a different perspective, my experience was actually the opposite – everyone seemed to understand that “and guest” meant literally any guest they chose. Several of our guests brought platonic guests as their plus-one, with no clarification from us. One of our friends brought her mom! I think it’s a “know-your-people” thing. :)

          • Amy March

            That’s exactly what and guest means. I don’t think you need to clarify.

    • Amy March

      Much much better to give them the option if you can.

    • Sarah

      Good advice below. If you have a bunch of singletons/people who happen to be coming solo for whatever reason and they don’t know each other maybe you can do a big group email intro? Sounds kinda dorky, but shows them you care and they will have some “people” there.

      • kate

        yes – maybe dorky, but can be so appreciated! and/or you can use any pre-wedding events that people will be in town for to give some pointed introductions.

        we went to a friend’s wedding last summer and were the ONLY college friends in attendance, so we were sort of the odd ducks, but she very gracefully made a point of introducing us to a couple of specific people at her rehearsal party/dinner who we ended up having a great time with and they were able to sort of be our in into the larger friend groups from other parts of her life. we had so much more fun and felt extra welcome because she did that for us right away, it was very appreciated.

  • Jen

    #4 and #6 were amazing. We really should be doing something about all the left over wedding cake!

  • Meg

    The good part about having so many friends, is very likely they don’t know each other and there is zero wedding guest overlap so you can TOTALLY wear the same dress :)

    Also finding a wedding Best Buddy for the night is such a good tip. I’ve definitely done that before.

  • MC

    This is amazing. I’m married, but I went to a friend’s wedding sans husband earlier this summer and had SO MUCH FUN, mostly because I danced my ass off and ate a third, of fourth, or maybe even fifth cupcake :)

  • Sara

    I have a weird ability to make best friends for events I go to alone. Weddings, travel, conferences, tours – I show up alone and just chat up other people until I find one that wants a buddy. I’m not super outgoing so it really confuses my friends when they see pictures later

    • pajamafishadventures

      I have a similar “skill” which shocks people because my favorite hobby is “being alone and not talking to people!” It comes in quite handy though and contributes to my ability to enjoy riding solo

      • Lisa

        I wonder if you all self-describe as introverts, too. I know I am one, and I also am typically able to find a best friend at events I attend alone. I attribute my ability to form quick, close bonds to my dislike for and inability to make small talk; as soon as I start talking with someone, we’re going to delve into detail about our lives and histories. By the end of an evening (heck, an hour!), we feel like we’ve known one another forever!

        • Sara

          I think that’s it. Besides the magic ability to make a event friend, I also end up having a lot deeper conversations with people. People tend to tell me things, I think its because I ask follow up questions or pinpoint specific questions about things instead of engaging in small talk.

          I was literally telling a friend yesterday about my new personal trainer who told me that he broke up with his girlfriend because she didn’t want kids, and she was like “why would he tell you that?”. No clue. I just have that kind of face I guess.

          • Lisa

            Ha, that’s like how I ended up in a conversation with a flight attendant during a work trip about how she works for Delta even though her mom works at Southwest because SW wouldn’t give her an interview but she was happier with Delta because they have more international destinations.

            My coworkers still make fun of me for that one.

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  • Rebekah

    “So why don’t you have a significant other/oat-topped love muffin/main squeeze/happy honey/sweet gazelle?”

    Thank you for the new nicknames. I call dibs on oat-topped love muffin.

  • Sparkles

    This is so good. I went to my first solo wedding two years ago even though I’m an introvert and married to an extrovert who carries the conversation during these social things so I can just stand around and look pretty. It was fun! Stepping out of my comfort zone, practicing my small talk and friend-making skills. Lonely at parts, for sure, but still fun. And I didn’t feel bad about leaving at 11 after food and cake and a little bit of fun.

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  • Sloopy

    I’m single and I love going alone to weddings! I’ve gone to a few a year for about ten years now, and I’ve only brought a date once. Honestly, I just don’t think it would be fun to be someone else’s plus one at a wedding. If I care enough about someone to put in the effort of going to their wedding, I want to engage with their friends and family I’ll probably never have a chance to meet again, not spend the whole night dancing with someone I can see any time I want.

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