There are a lot of questions associated with attending a wedding: What do you wear? How much is an acceptable gift expenditure when you’ve already sprung for airline tickets? Who is that groomsman, and is he single? He’s not? Well, is he happy?
But invariably, the most pressing conundrum is this: Exactly how loose can you let?
I feel particularly equipped to answer such questions because
I took cotillion in the eighth grade and am almost positive this was covered, and in 2012 my boyfriend and I attended what must be a record 11 weddings. We watched family, like-family and friends all tie the knot all over the country in various stages of excess.
Through it all, I’ve found that many questions of etiquette and expectation can be determined by your relationship to the couple.
Through it all, I’ve found that many questions of etiquette and expectation can be determined by your relationship to the couple. A close childhood friend, for example, has a little more leeway than say, an acquaintance from the office. But an old classmate might have less wiggle room than a long-suffering sibling who’s finally able to blow off the frustrations of 15 months of DIY wedding crafts.
What follows is a breakdown — from experience — of what’s acceptable wedding behavior based on the degrees of separation between you, the guest, and the adoring couple:
Wedding party: You helped plan the party, or at least execute it. You’ve devoted considerable hours and funds to toasting the happy couple, so you’re permitted to shed your shoes and your inhibitions. Just keep pace with the rest of the ‘maids and ‘men and don’t abuse the party bus.
Childhood friend: You’ve known the bride or groom since they thought kisses carried cooties. For you, this union likely causes mixed feelings of jubilation and loss, so err on the side of happy tears and steer clear of the hard stuff if you feel your ducts start to act up.
College or post-grad pal: For one night, you’re excused from acting your age. Former classmates are permitted full regression, while post-graduate additions get a rare peek into their friends’ youthful embarrassments thanks to tipsy toasts and the requisite slideshow. Put your (or your date’s) tie on your head and party like it’s graduation weekend.
Immediate family: Whether you’re the black sheep or the breast friend, you inhabit a special space as “The Family.” If you’re in the inner circle but got assigned guest book duty, you’re owed a sloshing for the slight. If you’re the best man/most honorable maiden, reimburse yourself for months of meltdowns and madness with liberal libations.
Date of no relation: In town? Show some restraint if you like your date, or at the least in case you run into a fellow guest on the street or, you know, in an interview. Out of town? All bets are off. Don’t break anything.
Colleague: If you’d identify yourself first as a colleague, then as a friend, find your happy place between the tipsy cousin and a tightly wound step-parent. Chicken dance shamelessly; avoid the stanky leg.
Ex-lover: Have as many drinks as it takes to charm the pants off of everyone from the grandparents to the officiant. (And remember — it’s only an expression.) Dance with the flower girl, dominate the photo booth and remember this religion-transcending commandment: thou shalt not get sloppy.
Some notable exceptions: Because what are rules, if not pliable?
It’s a cash bar: + 3 drinks
A serious ex is also in attendance with a new date: + 2 drinks
The wedding has a theme: + 2 drinks (+3 if it’s Disney Princess)
It’s a dry wedding: + 1 performance, either sung or danced, and 1 boozy brunch
You are outdoors in severe weather: + 2 drinks
Remember, the objective here is to enjoy yourself without losing sight of the real purpose: Celebrating the beginning of two people’s lives together and congratulating both sets of parents on finally offloading their children. Huzzah!