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. 

In September 2015, my husband and I were on a three-night, once-in-a-lifetime trip in Aspen, Colo., for the wedding of his closest childhood friend. Our surroundings were absurdly romantic — the autumn air was crisp and invigorating, the aspens had just reached their golden peak — and our lodging, provided by the bride and groom, was more luxurious than anything we would have been able to afford on our own.

On the first night, Zach and I set off after dinner to barhop around town, just the two of us, and we had an amazing time. If our vacation were a romantic comedy, that night would have been the shenanigan-filled, Earth, Wind & Fire-backed musical montage in which the out-of-town newlyweds charm free drinks off the locals and eventually stumble home hand in hand, hearts aflutter.

On the second night, the eve of the Big Day, we attended the rehearsal dinner and an after-party, then headed back downtown to hang with some of the other guests. We all dispersed around closing time, and Zach and I found ourselves alone together once again, on the sidewalk under the stars. This time, we were screaming at each other.

In his opinion, I’d overreacted to something he said. In my opinion, he’d overreacted to my initial “overreaction.” Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship has slogged through an argument like this one — abstract, provoked by miscommunication, relatively easy to squash under ordinary circumstances. But there’s nothing ordinary about weddings. That night we spiraled down into a maelstrom of petty insults and pent-up irritability.

Weddings are hard. I’ve attended many over the years and have hosted one of my own. In each instance, at least one set of guests came to verbal blows.

It makes sense. Weddings — especially the destination variety — are hotbeds of emotional instability, and not just for the bride and groom. You travel. You get jet-lagged. You spend more than you’d like to. You relinquish your personal space to dozens of strangers, and you smile politely through it until your cheeks hurt.

Thankfully, Zach and I reached a truce the next morning. And during the gorgeous ceremony that afternoon, I even chuckled at the sharp edges of our emotions. We’d stumbled foolishly into the too-common trap of wedding bickering, and looking back, I realized our missteps.

To avoid arguing at such an event, here are some tips:

Remember your partner is probably on edge, too. Throughout the second day, Zach and I mentioned multiple times that the other had been “acting weird.” This should have been an early indication of storm clouds on the horizon. Of course we were acting weird. Aside from being shaky and dehydrated from the previous night’s high-jinks, we were also 2,000 miles from home. We both should have been on high alert for a potential conflict.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wedding. Paige Brown, a Nashville-based wedding planner and the owner of Paige Brown Designs, advises guests against comparing others’ weddings to their own. “Comparison really is the thief of joy,” she explains. “I hear a lot of subtle comments like: ‘Why didn’t we have this for our wedding?’ or ‘Why didn’t we have those types of chairs?’ These aren’t innocent conversations. There’s animosity and tension, and I’ve seen that lead to arguments.” To unmarried couples, Brown cautions: Don’t pressure your date. Don’t get upset if your boyfriend doesn’t want to catch the garter. Don’t say you wish he (or she) would just propose already so you can have a wedding of your own. “If you’re a guest and your main talking point is to compare your relationship to someone else’s, that’s bound to be an unsuccessful conversation. Just be genuinely happy for the people whose wedding you’re attending.”

Talk to strangers. Even if you don’t seem to have anything in common. Learn their names and occupations. Ask them to tell you stories about the bride or groom. At worst you’ll have to endure some vanilla small talk; at best, you’ll be shoeless and dancing together by end of the night. At best, you’ll make a new friend. And at the very least, you won’t be reliant on your date for company — and you won’t feel deserted later when they get caught up settling a dispute between cousins or pulled away to the bathroom to hold up the bride’s gown while she does a discreet number two.

RSVP “yes” only if you really want to go. You might attend a wedding not because you know the bride or groom, but to lend support while your significant other serves as a member of the wedding party. This is a potentially uncomfortable scenario, especially considering how much time you’ll spend alone while your date tends to their responsibilities. (As an unofficial extension of the wedding party, you might be called upon to help with last-minute tasks such as pinning boutonnieres or doing something crafty with burlap.) Before agreeing to attend, make sure you really want to go. If you know you’ll end up having a terrible time, it might be better for everyone if you decline. 

Monitor your alcohol intake. Responsible people might say “don’t get drunk.” While that’s probably helpful advice for some, it’s also moot for a lot of others (myself included!). Instead, a more realistic suggestion might be: If you do overindulge, stick to “the usual.” If you enjoy light beer at home, don’t suddenly decide to be adventurous and order six different stouts or a pitcher of Singapore Slings. For example, neither Zach nor I can name what we were drinking after the rehearsal in Aspen — we downed whatever concoctions were handed to us — and that was probably part of the reason we got so inebriated.

Compliment your partner while others are around. Yes, this is a mission to collect Brownie points. People like to joke about weddings being romantic for the attendees, but if you expect to benefit from any of that romanticism, you’ll need to be an active participant. So when you and your sweetie are at the bar or dinner table recounting, for the 11th time, the story of how you met, don’t hesitate to throw in some brazen flattery. His eyes remind you of Norwegian glacier pools, and he makes the tastiest omelets in town. She’s got the voice and heart of an angel. With this, you’ll help to put the kibosh on any insecurities that may be brewing.

Pick your battles. It’s possible your date will do something actually worth arguing about — and in that moment, practice restraint. Ask yourself: Is the offense technically forgivable? Do you want to close this night out with as few mascara streaks as possible? Or would you rather be That Couple, arguing on the sidewalk while everyone else is inside singing the wrong words to the song from “Dirty Dancing,” having the time of their lives?

Trust me, you don’t.

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