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.