(iStock/Washington Post photo illustration)

Welcome to Wedding Guest Wednesday, an occasional 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. 

I’m almost embarrassed by how many weddings I’ve been to. It’s in the dozens. I do love a good excuse to travel. And I love my friends. In 2009 alone, I attended nine weddings in nine states. (Eight years later, I’m still paying off that credit card!)

For years, I went to every wedding I was invited to. Mostly out of love, but partly out of obligation.

It never occurred to me that I could just not go. Until recently, when I realized other people do this all the time — they RSVP “sorry!” and send a gift. I always thought that was being a bad friend.

I’ve since realized it’s not. In fact, sometimes going to a wedding is actually being a bad friend.

My big sister had tried to warn me about being a single woman at weddings. “Trust me. Weddings just aren’t fun after 30.” Pfff. Maybe for her. I, however, loved being single. Marriage wasn’t something I’d ever taken seriously, especially because I’ve never wanted kids.

Besides, I was already “committed” to my life of adventure — being a raft guide, ski instructor, Outward Bound instructor all over the United States, teaching English in Chile, farming in Argentina, decorating film sets in New York City. Boundless freedom was my thing. There wasn’t room for a husband in my life. I didn’t even date someone long-term until I was 36.

So weddings meant nothing to me personally. I went only because they seemed to mean a lot to everyone else, and I thought going is what good friends did.

Until, at 32, when I found myself at a wedding in Montana where I was the only one among my college friends who wasn’t beach-ball pregnant, married or dating someone. I’ve never felt so out of place. Three times that day, my buddy pulled me aside to ask: “Sure you’re okay, Mel?” (You know you’ve got problems when the groom is worried about you.) I spent a good portion of the night hiding in my truck, silent-crying, and I felt like such a jerk.

Since then, I’ve cried in public restrooms or my truck at pretty much every wedding I’ve attended in the past seven years. Weddings quickly went from being overpriced keg parties to tear fests that made me hate myself, even though I was super happy about my life any other day of the year. The only wedding I’ve had fun at since Montana was my sister’s — and that’s because I slept with her husband’s hot friend in the parking lot of my parents’ hotel.

By my mid-30s, wedding invites tapered off, probably because my peers started getting divorced. But then my former New York roommate invited me to her wedding last summer in Vermont. At that moment in my life, I was a 39-year-old starving artist serving barbecue in Los Angeles. (But there are always credit cards!) I was still recovering from an abusive relationship I’d left two years earlier. But for some reason, I thought going to a wedding was a great idea.

I lasted an hour.

Watching my friend’s dad walk her down the aisle devastated me. I was finally open to the idea of marriage, and I hated that it was too late for my dad, who had Alzheimer’s disease, to “give me away.” (Almost as much as I hated that phrase.)

During the cocktail hour, I hid in my rental car and scrolled through Facebook. When the dinner bell rang, I ran to the barn and unfolded the origami bird with my seat assignment: “The Weitzmans + Mel.”

I crumpled up the bird and looked for my table, hoping maybe the Weitzmans included a hot single uncle. But what I found were some teenagers, their parents, grandma — and me.

I turned around, walked out of the barn and started bawling as soon as I got to my car. I called my best friend and asked if I was being a jerk by leaving. “No, girl, get outta there!” she said.

So I did. I drove five hours that night back to New York to stay with her. I’ve never felt so grown up in my life.

Here’s what I realized: Being an adult is about taking care of myself, not doing things out of fear of people being mad at me. That’s what children do.

When I explained to my friend later about my dad and not being able to hold it together, she totally got it. “I mean, of course I loved that you came. But, honestly, I was pretty shocked you flew all the way out from L.A. to be there,” she said. “No one does that.”

It took me until I was almost 40 to realize I don’t ever have to go to a wedding again. I’m not saying I won’t, but there are conditions now. It has to be one of my best friends; I have to know a lot of people there; I need to have the money to go; I need to be invited with a plus-one; and I must to be in a good enough emotional place to be able to enjoy the event.

In other words, my RSVP from now on is probably going to be “sorry!” and a gift.

READ MORE:

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