Who is that, drunkenly regaling the bride’s young cousin with stories at that last table all the way in the back of the reception hall? That’s right. It’s you: the friend from high school. Oh, it’s your first time at one of these things? Judging by how many gin and tonics you’ve had, your groping of the maid of honor (also the bride’s sister), and your loud proclamation that the hour and a half Catholic Mass ceremony was “super boring” … let’s just say, I had a hunch. Have no fear, my nuptial novice, as I am from a small town, I went to like 30 of these things before I turned 25. Here are five rules of thumb that you might already be too drunk to heed:
Be Flexible. This wedding is not about you. This is a fact you will keenly observe as you sit at the “misfit table” at the reception, next to friends from work and divorced uncles, shoved up against the ever-swinging kitchen doors. Perhaps you were expecting to be a groomsman? Sorry dude, the bride has too many brothers. You were told you were going to read some Psalms? You were, until the bride’s father’s golfing buddy postponed the business trip to Des Moines to be here. Maybe you can hand out the programs? Here’s the thing. The bride has the cutest 8-year-old second cousin. Be prepared to get bumped. Don’t worry, in the drunken revelry of the middle-shelf liquor soaked reception, the groom will sidle up to you and whisper sweatily into your ear, “you would have been up there with me man, if only…” But, yeah, that’s the limit of your consolation.
Learn Who’s Who. Your first task: figure out the family trees of the happy couple and avoid hitting on any of the branches. I was at a wedding where the best man hooked up with the groom’s step-sister and it made for an… intriguing morning-after brunch. One-night stand etiquette aside, the totem pole of relationships in your bud’s life has changed significantly since you guys sang Weezer songs as you burned out of the high school parking lot; suffice it to say, you are much closer to the bottom. Figure out who all these people are above you and show some respect to the people that have come in to your boy’s life. Of course, there is the bride-to-be, but there are also the groom’s new friends. Your memories of snow days and musical tryouts pale in comparison to the college friends that struggled to help him find himself and the post-collegiate friends who he endured actual struggles with.
Stay Under the Radar. We all violate this one at least once, but that is why it bears mentioning. At the wedding, your job is to get out of the way. Don’t embarrass anyone. Don’t be a nuisance. Don’t be a bother. Don’t be drunker than the bride’s drunkest uncle. Be where you are told to be. Be on time. Be wearing the right thing. Everyone else has so much at stake. Your greatest worry is chicken or steak… or which bridesmaid to hit on.
Respect the Other Side. You know that deep abiding man-love you feel for your friend? Yeah, go ahead and double-down on that, and you’ll understand what the bridesmaids are feeling for the blushing bride. So, please, politely grin and bear the shrieks of joy, the sharing of anecdotes, the betting on who will get married next, the crying. Put a handkerchief in your back pocket, not just for the ceremony, but even for the ride to and from the ceremony. And damn it, if they want to sing along to “Call Me Maybe” on repeat all the way from the church to the reception hall, you need to deal. And wait until the reception, post-bouquet toss, to hit on them.
Be There. No matter how much evidence you have seen to the contrary, your role here is vital. It is your job to draw penises on the groom’s car in shaving cream, a prologue to the next chapter of his life. It is your job to giggle knowingly at the best man’s speech, no matter how awful it may be. It is your job to dance with the oldest lady in the room, after which, she will shout in your ear, “what a nice young man!” It is your job to drink a dirty thirty of Budweiser at the hotel pool after the reception, with those remaining friends who do not yet have wives and those who somehow stepped away from their adult responsibilities of business trips and children to recall glory days gone by. It is your job to keep burning the flame of an era that has come to a close, even if for just one more night, under the fluorescent glow of the hotel swimming pool.
And when the groom sneaks away from his duties, just for that one moment, to look for you, he’ll give you a big hug and he’ll say, “Thanks, man.” And as he walks away, you’ll wonder if you’ll ever see him again. The fact is, you might not. At least not until your wedding.