Welcome to Wedding Guest Wednesday, a feature in which Solo-ish explores the joys and woes of attending other people’s weddings. Because it’s not all about the happy couple — it’s a big day for guests as well. 

When my friend asked me to do a reading at her wedding, I was honored but mostly relieved. Relieved because it wasn’t that typical Corinthians nonsense I’d heard at nearly every church wedding I’d attended. No, this selection from Song of Solomon had lines like “My beloved is like a gazelle” — far more poetic than love being patient and kind.

I didn’t memorize the reading, but for two weeks I practiced it out loud once a day while looking in the mirror. Changing inflections, I stayed mindful of speed and enunciation. I carried a copy of it in my purse at all times.

My extensive experience as a wedding guest has taught me that every bride prays her day is perfect. So I wanted to make sure that my small part in that day be as polished as possible.

At the rehearsal, I was called up to do my reading first. Looking at my friend beaming while sitting with her fiancé made me feel overwhelmed with pride that she had asked me to be part of her day. I read aloud, pausing occasionally to smile at the two of them. After I finished, I caught a disapproving look from the priest.

“Were you just given this today?” he asked.

“Nooo,” I answered slowly, confused by the question. “I’ve had it for two weeks.”

He shook his head.

“Well it’s like you’ve never seen it before. This is about love, the love of these two people. Do you get that? Do you even know what that is? Do you not have it in your own life?”

The church went silent, and I could feel my face turn bright red. I tried to make eye contact with my friend, the bride, but she avoided my gaze. Her soon-to-be husband looked embarrassed and slightly apologetic.

“Perhaps you thought I read it too quickly,” I offered, hoping to diffuse the situation. “I’ll read it at a slower pace tomorrow.”

The priest shook his head at me.

“Read it again,” he demanded. “Now.”

I waited for someone — anyone — to speak up and say how ridiculous it was that this man of God was treating me like a child. No one said a word. I wanted to run out of the church, but instead I dutifully read it again, my eyes barely holding back tears.

The priest shook his head again and said: “You have a lot of work left to do on this.”

While I walked back to the pews, he subjected the next female reader to similar criticism. But when the third reader, a young man, read his at top speed while mumbling, the priest said only “very good.”

For hours afterward, I couldn’t get the priest’s words — “Do you not have it in your own life?” — out of my head. Was it because I wasn’t sporting a diamond ring on my left hand that he would make such a false and hurtful statement? What had I done wrong?

I sat quietly at the rehearsal dinner, feeling a little too humiliated to socialize with out-of-town strangers or worse — people who had known me all my life yet said nothing to refute a stranger who judged my life.

One of the family matriarchs rushed over to me with what I thought would be an apology. All she said was: “That was unfortunate, but it’s not like we could say anything. What if he then decided to not perform the ceremony tomorrow? I’m sure he meant well.”

I smiled and nodded, pretending to be a good sport. That’s what we single people are supposed to do at weddings, after all. Be a good sport.

We let you happy couples introduce us to your other single friends even though we’re wildly mismatched. We tolerate your misogynist single cousin who follows us around all night and your creepy divorced (or possibly married) uncle who comments how he “likes ‘em young.” We don’t tell you about your stepfather who gets outrageously drunk and cops a feel on the dance floor.

We smile while your relatives ask the same tired question, “well well well, little lady — when are we going to see you walk down the aisle?” We imagine saying “as your pallbearer, darling” but instead pretend that they’re amusing instead of insulting. We spend money on your showers, your bachelorette parties, your gifts, and we do it because we love you.

Because we do — I do — have love in my life. It’s called our friendships. It doesn’t have to be in the form of an engagement or a marriage. That’s not the ultimate test for love. If that’s what you believe, or you willingly stay silent while others proclaim it, then I am confident that it is you, not me, who has a lot of work left to do on this.