It’s the price one pays for having friends. This year I got weddinged.
It happens to many people: you hit that age when all of your friends are getting married and suddenly your calendar is filled with nothing but ceremonies and receptions. This year I attended five weddings in four different countries, and had to turn down two more.
My family assumed that such circumstances would cause me to reflect on my own station, pondering such things as settling down, and if I’m taking life seriously enough. Instead I asked myself this: Am I vest man? I have always thought that wearing a brown leather vest would have a unique appeal, and I wondered if I was a person who could pull it off. I picked out my vest on Amazon, reviewed my best dance moves, and braced myself for The Year of the Weddings.
Gent, Belgium (April)
Dieter, my Belgian socialist friend (doesn’t everyone have one?) married his German girlfriend Susa in the style of a Polterabend. A German tradition, the central feature for the Polterabend is breaking porcelain. Outside the banquet hall we heaved dishes, plates, figurines and eventually a toilet. Dieter and Susa had to clean up the mess as their first act as a married couple, ensuring that they will be able to work together in the years to come.
The invitation had read “casual chic.” A few months before the Polterabend I called to inquire if a brown leather vest fit into that requirement. He said that it did, and during the formal introductions during the reception, introduced me as the “man in the stylish vest.” Being the first wedding of the year I wanted to give it all I had, so I danced like a man who meant it. I through my body around the floor—to the beat, against the beat—until I was I wringed in sweat and doing things I didn’t know I could. Dieter’s friends, already kind and welcoming, embraced the performance. One girl gave me something I’ll never stop quoting by saying this: “Man, you LIVE dance.”
Dublin, Ireland (May)
Weddings can be fun…but zoos are always fun. It would take zany people like Rik and Jessica to combine them. Rik (a Belgian, but not sure of his political leaning) and Jessica (college friend from Ireland) took their pictures in front of the Asian elephants and dolphin tank. The ceremony was at the Dublin zoo and included free entrance. I was hoping that everyone would get a monkey as a keepsake.
It was in Dublin that I became conscious of the pressing conundrum of weddings: What do you say to the bride and groom? You tell the bride that she’s beautiful, the groom that he’s handsome, and that everything is very nice—and if you’re an uncle or a distant cousin, that’s enough. But what about if you’re a peer and a friend? What are you supposed to talk about in that situation? It was a small personal victory that I refrained from jokes about throwing their lives away, but could come up with nothing else when they approached me. “Jessica, you’re beautiful,” I said, and then walked away. I later apologized for being awkward at their wedding, when Jessica gave me something else to quote: “Don’t worry, Ryan. You’re always awkward.”
Oranmore, Ireland (July)
Anything can happen in a pub in Ireland, including a wedding invitation. My girlfriend and I stopped into my favorite bar for a quick pint when we ran into Stephen, a friend from former days on the island. He was marrying his longtime girlfriend Chiara in a few weeks, and so naturally I kept the conversation going with wedding questions. Fatefully, this included the unabashed inquiry of how much they expected guests to put in their wedding cards. The answer shook me: 150-200 euros (about $180-$250). I spit out my drink, but my girlfriend assured me this was nothing compared to southern Italy, in which guests generally dish out 400-500 euros.
The rest is predictable: we went from pub to pub, and by the end of the night we were invited to the wedding. And as far as wedding cards, the price of knowledge was very specific.
The wedding was Catholic, and perhaps by extension elaborate, elegant and formal. Here are two facts: 1). I was the only guy not in a full suit, and 2). I danced the hardest. In my head I could imagine the people at the weddings saying “Who’s that guy in a leather vest?”, but at the reception shouting “Who’s THAT guy in a leather vest?” I met Stephen a month after the wedding, where he gave me the news: I had been voted best dancer and most inappropriately dressed.
Reykjavík, Iceland (August)
Icelanders usually don’t marry (nor date—hanging around together leads to kids and living together—but it works), making Bryndis and Hordur’s wedding even more of an honor to attend. The usual time when Icelanders get together to formally celebrate (Þorrablót) they eat singed sheep heads, pickled stomach stuffed with blood and oatmeal, horse, and fermented shark. Fortunately, there was none of that at the buffet table, but instead exquisite dishes such as bacon wrapped over dates and a variety of meats and fishes in sweet sauces.
A week before the wedding I frantically asked another Icelandic friend how much was expected to be put in the card.
“5,000 to 10,000” she said.
“I’m afraid to ask…but dollars or krónur?”
Luckily it was the latter, equating to about $50.
The Icelandic are reserved themselves, but a British group from Hordur’s Masters introduced a game where you had to pick up a box with your mouth without your hands or knees touching the ground. Each round the box got smaller, until only a nimble Finnish girl could pick it up. Most Icelanders didn’t dance…except for Gretar, who was a professional and travelled the world learning new steps. His moves were slick, creative and something out of a music video. I would not be the best dancer that night.
Painted Post, NY, USA (August)
Ben and Carlie’s wedding was the last of the year and a chance to visit with some of the 4-H and Jr. Holstein friends I had grown up with. People I hadn’t seen for a long time commented that it seemed like I was doing well, and while my girlfriend thought it was because she was standing next to me, I knew it was because of the vest. The tables included pictures of Ben and Carlie that corresponded the table’s number with their age in the photographs. Many included pictures of showing cattle or going to 4-H meetings, and it brought back memories of the childhood we shared.
The best man’s speech was given by Ben’s brother, Micky, and did what a good best man’s speech does: make the older people blush and the younger people howl with laughter. It included the anecdote of Ben handcuffed at the county fair and hidden from the cops, and gave a shout-out to The Milk House for including the story in a past column.
As Ben and Carlie’s wedding wound down, so did The Year of the Weddings. The vest now hangs in the closet, retired after its good work. After being Weddinged, I’m now a man depleted of resources for travel and energy to dance any longer. To friends recently married, I thank them for the invitations and wish them many happy years together.
And to friends thinking about getting married, I ask them to break-up or consider common-law arrangements.
This article is part of The Milk House column series, published in print across three countries and two languages. It can also be found at themilkhouse.org.