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A savvy guest's guide to navigating wedding season while keeping your sanity 

click to enlarge CALEB WALSH ILLUSTRATION
  • Caleb Walsh illustration

Brace yourselves: It's wedding season. For some, weddings are a delightful excuse to dress up, dance and toast to a dear one's future. For others, wedding season is filled with dread: how to afford the expense, what to wear, how to respond to invasive questions about one's life choices. ("Still working for nonprofits, eh?")

As weddings go, I consider myself an unlikely expert. In the last decade, I've attended over 40 weddings, serving as an attendant in 15 of them and officiating two. (To be clear, I'm defining "expert" in the same way that announcing a lot of baseball games earns the designation even if the announcer has never picked up a bat.) In service of weddings, I've done things I would never otherwise do: purchased $200 bridesmaid shoes (which my dog promptly chewed); visited a tanning booth (once, never again); participated in a conga line (bullied once, never again); along with many other unmentionables.

Just as running Bloomsday without training is no longer feasible, wedding attendees should be prepared for all scenarios. Consider these tips akin to advice dispensed by the grizzled guy at the bar everyone is afraid to sit near: You may not agree with his jaded mutterings, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

FIRST: ALWAYS HAVE AN ESCAPE ROUTE

Your mental map of the wedding venue should have the same level of detail as if you spent a year casing a museum plotting to steal a Rembrandt. You need to know the location of every restroom, powder room, sitting area, outdoor patio and more. A few situations where an escape may be necessary:

The Extremely Drunk Relative: Weddings are a chance for extended family to shine, if by shine you mean drink enough booze to kill a small horse, give meandering speeches and tell wildly inappropriate jokes. Extract yourself by making up an item the couple desperately needs you to fetch: ChapStick, a slice of cake, the ceremonial machete — they'll believe anything.

The Trump Voter: A friend recently attended a wedding in Florida where one of the groom's family members asked where she was from. "Spo-kayne? I bet they speak a lot of Islam out there." What? How would one even formulate how to scold this drunk stranger in a tuxedo who's probably packing a concealed-carry? Nope. Hit the eject button and remain as far away as possible.

The Bouquet Toss: Somehow this shaming ritual has stood the test of time, led by a pushy DJ who orders unmarrieds onto the dance floor, where they're expected to fake smiles and pretend to jockey for a bundle of wilted flowers intended to signify future luck at finding a mate, which would rescue them from horrifying years of being single, independent and traveling to Portugal whenever they feel like it.

SECOND: PACK THE ESSENTIALS

Sunglasses are a crucial piece of armor, indoors and out, designed to prevent others from knowing whether you're secretly listening to a baseball game or weeping sentimental tears. Sunglasses also allow you — while listening to particularly lame toasts or certain verses from the Bible — to embrace your inner Liz Lemon and let your eyes roll so far back into your head they might get stuck.

The right shoes. One of my friends buys a brand new pair of Chuck Taylors for the first wedding he attends every season, which is both adorable and wise. If you're a person who wears heels, do yourself a favor and bring flats as backup; you'll never regret it.

Hydration is key. Whether the wedding is indoors or outdoors, whether you drink alcohol or not, double your usual water intake. You need to be ready for anything: dancing, weeping, sex — you name it. Those aged 25 and under are exempt from this rule; they still have the ability to drink, dance for hours, sleep six hours and manage to arrive at yoga the next morning looking fresh and dewy.

Many people will be guests at weddings this year, but some starry-eyed couples are in the midst of planning their own. To those lovable fools I say: Save your sanity! Go to the courthouse, then take yourself out for the fanciest meal you've ever had and travel abroad for your honeymoon. I've watched brilliant, capable friends flounder in the maelstrom of cultural and family expectations around weddings. Planning a wedding is like trying to build a house using 13 different contractors on a plot of land riddled with emotional and logistical landmines, while your entire extended family stands around sipping coffee and asking why it's being done this way, not that. It's a dangerous business.

That being said, if you do choose to have a wedding, I'd love to help celebrate the big day. My refrigerator awaits your Save the Date. ♦

The original print version of this article was headlined "Is This Bliss?"

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