What I’ve Learned About the Weddings I Remembered

by Jen Doll

In April of 2012, Edith published an essay I’d written, “All the Weddings I Have Ever Been to, as I Remember Them,” about, well, precisely that, here on The Hairpin. I’d written the essay the previous fall as a kind of memory exercise related to the big moments in our lives, specifically, weddings — What did I wear? Who did I bring? What did I give? What happened? — and also as a structural way of thinking about the many weddings we inevitably go to in life and what they mean to us depending on our different life stages and circumstances. When I wrote it, I did have a foggy idea that it might be something bigger, maybe I could turn it into a book, even, and so I sat on it for months, worried that if I posted it someone might take the idea and do it before I did (because I am nothing if not a totally paranoid writer person). Finally, in April, I was tired of waiting — it felt antithetical to blogger doctrine to write something and do nothing with it! — and thought I should just put it out there and see what people thought.

If you look at that original post, it has more than 200 comments on it, not comments praising my writing or memory or story-telling ability (thank goodness); they’re comments in which everybody shares their own wedding story. This was awesome. Upon reading the stories of other brides and grooms and friendships and relationships, I thought, this is something that applies to all of us; we have all been here in our own ways. We have all gone to weddings. We have all had feelings. We have not always talked about it.

Following the publication of the essay here, an agent got in touch with me with regard to work I’d done at my job at The Atlantic Wire. “Do you have an agent? Do you want to write a book?” he asked. “Do you want to meet?” “No, yes, and yes!” I said, and we did, and that summer I worked on a proposal based on the wedding book idea (I called it “I Bought You a KitchenAid”) I’d had back in the fall of 2011. We sold the book right before Thanksgiving, I wrote it in the months that followed, edits and production ensued, and now Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest is out Thursday, May 1, which feels both like an incredibly long time from when we started and like nothing at all. That’s a bit how I feel, looking back at the weddings in my life, too.

Of course, with time, we change and our perspectives change. And there were things maybe I didn’t get right the first time, not just in wedding guesthood but also in wedding essayhood. I recently looked back at that April 2012 post to compare what I’d written then with what I’ve since learned from writing Save the Date. Did the weddings I had been to change, as I remembered them? Did the relationships change? Sometimes. And sometimes there are just good follow-up stories. My original essay is annotated with such, below.

All the Weddings I Have Ever Been to, as I Remember Them

There was the one when I was a little girl. It was the wedding of relatives, people I’m not sure I knew then and certainly don’t know now. [THEY WERE MY COUSINS OF MY FATHER, AND THEY HAVE, I’VE BEEN TOLD, SINCE DIVORCED. INTERESTINGLY, THEY’RE THE ONLY COUPLE WHOSE WEDDING I’VE ATTENDED WHO HAVE DIVORCED. I STLL DON’T KNOW THEM!] I wore a lavender dress with four tiers of ruffles and large, round glasses that my straight bangs rested directly on top of. [WRONG! I DIDN’T HAVE GLASSES YET; I’D GET THEM THE NEXT YEAR, IN FOURTH GRADE] I was more awkward than adorable. [TRUE] My brother, who is three years younger, wore a little khaki businessman suit and was adorable. [HIS SUIT WAS GRAY] We alternated between holding a stuffed monkey and dancing and taking pictures of people’s feet [MY MOM HAD TAKEN THE FILM OUT OF THE CAMERA] until my grandmother brought us to our hotel room and tucked us into bed. Later that night when my parents came in she told us her boyfriend Jim had asked to marry her, and I jumped on the bed and cheered. I was approximately nine years old [CLOSE: I WAS 8]. Gift: N/A.

There was the wedding I attended as an awkward teen. [TECHNICALLY I WASN’T INVITED] The daughter of my father’s college buddy was marrying the man who would eventually bear the dubious honor of having been her first husband. We were staying with my dad’s other college buddy, and my brother and I were toted to the reception by the boyfriend of his daughter, in a pickup truck. He was handsome in a rangy, slightly scary way, and I was 13 or so and tried to imagine what it would be like if he were my boyfriend. We arrived at the wedding spot, which was outdoors and covered in a large, white tent; the guests were wearing galoshes, as it had rained the entire day and mud was everywhere. My mom was a bit drunk, and I told her so, which she has never let me forget [THIS IS TRUE! ALSO, THIS SCENE, BEING NOT AN ENTIRE WEDDING, ONLY ENDS UP BRIEFLY MENTIONED IN MY BOOK. BUT I CAN REMEMBER THE WHITE TENTS IN THE BACKYARD LIKE IT WAS, WELL, MAYBE NOT YESTERDAY. I CAN REMEMBER THEM VIVIDLY!]. I might have been wearing jeans [I HAVE NO IDEA]. Gift: N/A.

There was that first wedding out of college, the couple who married early and are still very much together. [AND STILL ARE] It was at a resort in the Dominican Republic and the ride on the little plane that carried us there was very bumpy. One of the other wedding guests looked at me and said, soothingly, “Pretend it’s just a gravely road,” which I tell myself on turbulent flights to this day. [YES, SO TRUE, YES] We arrived safely and drove golf carts around and sat on the beach and danced at the discoteca for several beautiful days, and a man who was the friend of the groom fell in that we’re-at-a-destination-wedding-together kind of love with me, briefly, sweetly. At the end of the trip he presented me with his email address, which was an AOL account. [LATER, UPON RETURN TO OUR REAL LIVES, HE SENT ME FLOWERS FOR MY BIRTHDAY] I wore a pink dress with one sleeve and a floral pattern. Gift: Were there even registries back then? [I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I GAVE THEM. THIS WAS MY FIRST DESTINATION WEDDING AND THE BRIDE’S DAD PAID FOR SOME OF OUR LODGING AND I WISH I COULD GO BACK THERE RIGHT NOW.]

There was the high school friend who had her wedding in our high school town after we’d graduated from college. It was the first time I’d returned since my parents had moved away. It was at the country club, a place reminiscent of high school formals, dark and cool and full of the scent of cedar, and I flirted with a man who’d been my high school boyfriend’s good friend, who’d dated one of my friends, back when we were dating. I was staying with my best friend and her boyfriend (now husband) at her parents’ house, where we returned post-wedding to drink smoky, sweet-tasting things in glasses full of ice chips and talk of how grand it was that we didn’t live in that town anymore, and never had to again [I THINK WE DID THIS THE NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING]. I wore black, strapless [WRONG. I WORE A BLACK WRAP DRESS WITH A PAISLEY PRINT I’D BOUGHT AT A J.CREW OUTLET]. Gift: Can’t remember. [THE BRIDE TOLD ME IT WAS “FORMAL PASTA” FROM HER REGISTRY. I’M STILL NOT SURE WHAT THAT IS. ALSO! HERE’S WHY YOU KEEP A DIARY: BECAUSE OTHERWISE YOU WON’T REMEMBER THAT THIS IS THE WEDDING WHERE YOU’RE TOLD THAT YOUR HIGH SCHOOL BOYFRIEND HAS ELOPED WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND TO HAWAII, AND THAT IS THE SORT OF THING YOU REALLY NEED TO INCLUDE IN YOUR BOOK ABOUT GOING TO WEDDINGS.]

There was another college friend, who’d met her husband at med school. Their wedding was in Vermont, and we stayed at an old country inn, and everything was very green. There was a glassblowing factory nearby, and my boyfriend at the time went with me and we picked out some sort of gift from there, I think. We stayed at the inn and we did not have sex, partly because the walls were thin and you could hear everything, but also because we were falling out of love. Hot water was in short supply. [NICE METAPHOR, JEN] I wore the same blue strapless J.Crew dress that all the bridesmaids wore. On the night of the wedding the bride, who was violently allergic to peanuts, ate a piece of pie not knowing it had peanuts in the crust, and had to be rushed to the hospital. I cried, and everyone said, “Thank goodness they’re doctors!” [THIS IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE. AND THIS BRIDE AND GROOM NOW HAVE TWO GORGEOUS KIDS (WHO ARE NOT ALLERGIC TO PEANUTS).]

There was the one in Boston. It was the wedding of a high school friend and another high school friend went with me. We waited for our bus at the appointed spot on the Upper East Side, but it got later and later and it never came. It was very hot. Finally we called and the bus company said, “Not coming!” and we very nearly gave in but instead rushed to Amtrak and arrived at the wedding just barely in time. Our hotel room was a smoking room and the air conditioner didn’t work. We slept for a few hours after the wedding and then left very early, our hair smelling of Marlboros and mildew, to return to New York. Or maybe we left right after the wedding. I have no memory of the gift I gave, or what I wore, but the table settings were very white, the bride very thin, and I sat next to the mother of the girl who’d dated my high school boyfriend’s best friend. [THIS WEDDING DIDN’T GET INCLUDED IN MY BOOK. NOT BECAUSE IT WASN’T GREAT, BUT BECAUSE IT DIDN’T SERVE A UNIQUE FUNCTION IN TERMS OF A BROADER NARRATIVE, AND THE BOOK COULD ONLY BE SO LONG. P.S.: UPON REFLECTION, I SHOULD HAVE JUST BOOKED A TRAIN IN THE FIRST PLACE.]

There was the one I just couldn’t bring myself to believe in, having counseled this friend through a number of, shall we say, “red flags” on the part of the man who would be her husband (now they have two kids and, to their credit, seem very happy). I put on my best face at the wedding, which took place on the beach at precisely the moment tide started to rise, and to which an ex (a friend of the groom) had brought a date in a tacky neon green Marilyn Monroe-type dress. Ocean water submerged our feet, but we smiled and laughed and moved our folding chairs to higher ground, and later we went to the country club and the single women were forced into a line for the ritualistic bouquet toss. When the flowers — hydrangeas, I think — plunked down in front of my feet, I did not pick them up. Attire: White sundress with floral embroidery and a lavender belt. Gift: KitchenAid? [THIS, AND THE SERIES OF WEDDINGS THAT INVOLVE THIS FRIEND, WERE THE HARDEST TO WRITE ABOUT (NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED). I REGRET SO MUCH OF WHAT I DID, AND THAT I LOST THIS FRIEND. BUT ALMOST ALL OF US HAVE HAD A FRIEND BREAKUP OF SOME KIND OR ANOTHER, OFTEN RELATED TO A WEDDING, AND I FELT THIS WAS A REALLY IMPORTANT THING TO INCLUDE IN THE BOOK.]

There was the one in New Orleans, to which I wore a silky purple dress and a large black belt, topped with a black jacket with a fur collar. We sat at a rotating bar and drank adult Shirley Temples before the wedding, which took place at the St. Louis Cathedral. After the ceremony we second-lined to the Board of Trade, where, to everyone’s great dismay, a number of the wedding gifts were stolen. I got very drunk and had words with the husband (still unforgiven for red flags) of the friend who’d had the beach wedding, and one of the groom’s friends took me back to my hotel room where he may have held my hair back as I vomited, and cried [THIS KIND GUY IS NOW MARRIED TO A SEEMINGLY LOVELY WOMAN]. The friends I was sharing the hotel room returned and took pictures of me, which they thought were pretty hilarious, though I did not agree [AND STILL DON’T! DON’T PHOTOGRAPH YOUR DRUNK FRIENDS, EVEN IF THEY ARE BEHAVING LIKE JERKS. LUCKILY INSTAGRAM DID NOT YET EXIST]. Gift: Something that had to do with cooking.

There was the longest-sustaining best friend, a girl I’d met in seventh grade, who was married in Nashville. I brought a date, my boyfriend of going-on two years, a man with whom I was finally working up the courage to break up. He was miserable the entire time. At the rehearsal dinner I gave a toast, and the bride and I wept joyful tears, and then I did Jack Daniels shots with her father, who counseled me that I should dump the mopey boyfriend, who was hiding in the corner. We got on the bus that drove us back to the hotel, and I yelled something jokey about the bride being a bitch, and most people laughed, but my boyfriend shushed me and looked mortified. That night he put a trashcan next to my side of the bed in case I needed to puke, but I didn’t. To the wedding I wore a brown strapless dress from David’s Bridal, because I was a bridesmaid and, I am proud to say, the maid of honor. Gift: Le Creuset Dutch oven. [MY FRIEND HAS SINCE CLARIFIED THAT WE BOUGHT HER THE DUTCH OVEN FOR HER SHOWER, AND FOR THE WEDDING I GAVE HER A BOWL WITH THE WORD “HAPPILY” AND A LITTLE COUPLE ILLUSTRATING THE BOTTOM. ALSO, I RECENTLY HAD A DRINK WITH THIS EX TO WARN HIM ABOUT THIS BOOK; HE IS MARRIED WITH A KID AND A DOG.]

There was the one at a resort in Virginia, the wedding of the friend I’d met when I lived in Boston for a year, who was marrying a dentist. I had to show ID to get a drink, and there was a boy there who I’d kissed before on Cape Cod, but he had a date and told me he’d wished he’d come alone. There was another boy there, a blonde guy who lived in Providence who wanted to hang out after the after party. He didn’t have any coke, so I told him I’d go back to my room to get Red Bulls and vodka and meet him at an appointed bench in 15 minutes, but instead I went back to the room and fell asleep. It was not to be. I wore a flowered Tracey Reese halter dress. Gift: No idea.[I REALLY DO WONDER WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT GUY. I HOPE HE’S OK. ALSO! THIS GETS CUT TO A BRIEF SCENE IN MY BOOK, FOR REASONS EXPOUNDED UPON ABOVE.]

There was the wedding in Jamaica, where I went for a week despite being unemployed. My father said, “You’re going to go despite not having a job?” And I said, “What better time is there?” I sat by the pool by day with the bride and groom, and then I went to the bar, where there was wireless, and I wrote blog posts and leaked information about my former employer to a media gossip website and drank refreshing, weird concoctions out of coconuts. One of the male guests had defeated me in a debate competition in high school, so I made it my point to seduce him as a way of “getting back at him.” On the night of the wedding I wore a silky turquoise halter dress with a string of large beads that tied at the neck. There was a tequila bar, and after my second shot I puked on the cliffs that overlooked the ocean (neatly, elegantly) and later went back to the straw-hutted villa of my onetime debate competitor, who handed me a toothbrush and toothpaste. Gift: Plates? [MAYBE IT’S THE WEATHER/HANGOVER FROM THIS WINTER BUT I REALLY WOULD LIKE TO GO TO JAMAICA RIGHT NOW. ALSO, THIS DEBATE GUY, WHO IS NAMED “BOYD” IN MY BOOK, IS NOW MARRIED. NOT TO ME. WE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A GOOD MATCH. I STILL DO TEQUILA SHOTS.]

There was the one on the Jersey Shore, in early May, when it was still cold and rainy. I had been involved with someone who’d decided to move to another state and therefore dump me [UGH], so I went to the wedding — which was of a former roommate of mine, who’d met her British vegetarian husband in New Orleans — alone. I proceeded to make out with two different men in three nights: one on the first night, the second the following two. The first was married and I felt terrible about it, even though I hadn’t known he was married at the time and we didn’t sleep together, we didn’t. [TRUE, TRUE, ALSO, IT STILL BLOWS MY MIND THAT THIS EVEN HAPPENED] The second is now married, which I know from Facebook [AND HAS A KID! AND MIGHT HAVE DEFRIENDED ME?]. I wore a magenta-colored silk wrap dress, and vintage earrings, which I lost, I believe in the hotel room of the second man. Gift: A bowl.

There was the one in L.A., the wedding of a girl I’d gone to college with and her on-again/off-again boyfriend, now husband. It was at the top of a building downtown and we were almost late, being fairly clueless about L.A. traffic. There was a cute bartender who kept refilling my wineglass, and we all danced madly in the out of doors to amazing views [THIS REALLY WAS THE COOLEST ART DECO VENUE]. I wore a black wool minidress with buttons down the back and felt very chic. I was with a group of girls from college, and all was well until the after party, when I said something I shouldn’t have in the elevator of the Standard Hotel to one of them, which led to a fight, and the entire evening went downhill after that, ending in tears. The next day, feeling bleak, I got up early and went to the airport and flew back to New York, never really speaking to the girl I’d argued with again, except for polite hellos and goodbyes when we meet out of necessity. [SAD, TRUE.] Gift: Something we all went in on together. [THE COUPLE STILL LIVES IN L.A., HAS TWO KIDS, AND ARE VERY HAPPY.]

There was the wedding of the couple that met after she and I helped paint a school for charity. We’d gone to a bar after our charitable work (of course), and then another one, where he happened to be, and after they bonded over Thailand and running, she gave him her number. Later, when he called, she thought he might be short and Asian (he was neither). They had a wedding on the Lower East Side [AT THE ANGEL ORENSANZ CENTER, RECENTLY SHUT DOWN DUE TO UNSTABLE BEAMS!], and I brought a date who did not own a suit and instead wore black jeans, which I was somewhat embarrassed about, even though what I should have been embarrassed about was the PDA we exposed everyone to at the table. (I am sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry!) I wore a Diane Von Furstenberg dress, and we left before the after-party. Gift: Unknown. [THE COUPLE LIVES IN A BIG HOUSE IN WESTCHESTER AND HAS A THIRD CHILD ON THE WAY; I HAVE NOT HAD CONTACT WITH THE BLACK JEANS GUY IN YEARS.]

There was the one in Connecticut that my friend and I arrived at, through a torrential downpour, in a red Mini. This was stressful. In response I got drunk and kissed, one at a time: the bartender, a wedding guest, and a stranger at the local bar where the after party took place. I was wearing a purple dress with ruffles down the front that I’d bought in Paris. The bride’s mother tried to separate me from the last guy, and I became irate and threw my high-heeled shoes down the road, where they had to be collected by someone … the bride’s brother? I was driven back to my hotel room by a male friend, and when I threw my shoes at the window of his rented town car, the limo drivers in the hotel parking lot, who thought I was a paying customer, flocked to him to commiserate about his “Bitch Fare.” Later I convinced him to come to my room, where I got in bed with him and cried, violently, on his shoulder. [MY MOST RECENT TEXT FROM HIM READS, “I HAVE PREORDER FROM AMAZON MONTHS AGO.”] Days later I found a Missed Connection posted by my final liaison at the bar, who compared me, perhaps not unfairly, to Amy Winehouse. This is not something I am proud of. Gift: Did it have a rooster on it? [IN SAVE THE DATE I CALL THIS MY ROCK-BOTTOM WEDDING. I HOPE TO NEVER HAVE ONE LIKE THIS AGAIN.]

There was the one I worked, when Mayor Bloomberg officiated the ceremony of two of his (male) staffers at Gracie Mansion. It took place on the first Sunday that gay marriage had been legalized in New York City. It had rained that day, but the sky was clear by the time the guests began to arrive, at which point I was still waiting between two bored journalists in a press line that ran through the Mansion’s gardens. The grooms had two little girls, each dressed in white lacy dresses and gold ballet flats. I confess I got a bit weepy when they all hugged after their two fathers were pronounced married. Matthew Broderick was there, too, in khakis. I wore a sleeveless blue dress with darker blue horizontal stripes, and I carried a phone and a notepad and tweeted incessantly. [ON MY BLACKBERRY! I HAVE SINCE GOTTEN AN IPHONE, ACTUALLY, MORE THAN ONE, AS I TEND TO LOSE THEM AFTER A YEAR] I was kicked out before the reception began, with the rest of the press, and so never got to partake of the ice cream truck, though I ended the evening at an Italian restaurant with a cold glass of wine. My gift, I suppose, was the post that ran about the ceremony the next day. [GOODBYE BLOOMBERG, HELLOOOOO, DI BLASIO’S NEW YORK!]

There was the one in Brooklyn, at a restaurant with views of the Brooklyn Bridge. I wore a steely purple dress with cutouts at the shoulders that my dry cleaner has since ruined [ARGH, IT’S STILL MESSED UP, THE SKIRT WON’T LIE FLAT!] and shiny patent leather Mary Janes. There was one single man there, and I was seated next to him (purposely, says the bride), even though she had told me beforehand that I would fight incessantly with him. I immediately lied about my name even though it was right there on the card in front of me; I claimed I’d snuck in through the side door and was a wedding-crasher. Later he gave me some of his steak and I gave him my chicken, and we went around pretending to be each other’s dates, his arm around my shoulders, protectively. We haven’t spoken since. [AND STILL HAVEN’T] Gift: I have a year, right? [OH GOD DID I NEVER GET THEM ANYTHING? NOTE: THIS IS NOT, IN FACT, THE LAST WEDDING IN MY BOOK. THERE ARE OTHERS. AND THERE WILL BE MORE. BECAUSE YOU NEVER STOP GOING TO WEDDINGS. MY NEXT ONE? MY BROTHER’S, IN SEPTEMBER.]

If you like what you read here, maybe you’ll like the book, too. Either way, I remain keen to hear your wedding stories, so share them in the comments, along with any and all pressing wedding advice questions for an upcoming column on this very website.

Jen Doll is a regular contributor to The Hairpin, and she welcomes all New York-area people to come celebrate with her on May 1 at Housing Works and May 2 at BookCourt. Photo via.