THE LONG ROAD TO EMBRACING THE PLUS NONE
There I was just this past June on the dance floor, swaying in a slow circle with my favorite partner—an icy long neck bottle that was growing warmer under my clutch. My beer lets me lead and there’s no danger of it crushing the toes that have been laid out vulnerable after my heels were ditched back at table 16 around the time the entrée was served. Yes Dear Readers, because you’re smart like that, I know you’ve guessed it before I even mention the bedazzled white dress gliding around the center of the floor…. I am at a wedding. Again. Basically an adult prom you have to bring a gift to so you feel a tad less guilty of taking full advantage of the open bar. The couple I’m third wheeling it with are dancing on my left as my beer and I get nice and cozy. It may have taken me over 20 years of being an attendant and/or guest at weddings but I finally figured out that worrying about the Plus One is a total waste of my time. I mean, sure, who doesn’t want a built in designated driver for an open bar, a man contractually obligated to oblige that third …. or fourth …. or fifth (a-hem) glass of wine because he knows he’s likely getting lucky later from the heady mix of free Merlot and schmaltzy sentiment?
But! If you have a few friends like the ones currently canoodling on my left in the dim light of the last song it’s not so much an issue to con them into “carpooling”. You know “since my house is on the way and all”. Plus, I don’t feel like I have to slip another $40 in the card to cover the cost of my Plus One’s Chicken Cordon Bleu.
So, how did I get here to this laissez faire attitude towards gatherings that are meant to be the epitome of romance and declarations of “Love. True Love.”? By trial and error my friends. By trying several incarnations of the Plus One, the Sans Plus One, and the Pick-up Plus One Groomsman By the Time the Cake is Cut. I should preface this by informing new readers and reminding loyal ones that I am not a sentimental by nature. I am not a gusher. I don’t bring tissues for the ceremony and I never was the little girl that had tulle fueled fantasies of my own white wedding. It’s that hard crunchy shell of mine. If (and let’s capitalize that IF … and put it in bold …. IF) I ever get married it will very much be a Justice of the Peace affair. I am of the mind that the bridal business of the modern wedding is a big ol’ racket. HOWEVER. I appreciate a good party. And it’s nice to see young kids in love (or old kids… I have attended the recent nuptials of my grandfather. Another story. Another time). The gooey center way deep in my core likes tradition and a fancy place setting. The pragmatist knows I don’t need a partner for the Cha-Cha slide.
I have been a bridesmaid three times and Maid of Honor three times. I have lost track of how many weddings I’ve blown bubbles at (you know, because rice makes the birds stomachs explode and all). I was 12 the first time I was a bridesmaid. The sleeves were puffy, the dress was peach and there was a giant bow on my ass. Not much need for a Plus One at that shindig. The next time I was 18 standing up for my cousin and it was the only time I was actually in a relationship for a wedding. It’s such a moot point though to bring a Plus One when you are in the bridal party. They sit at the ceremony alone while you curse the long winded pastor for keeping you standing in those heels the bride picked out (or priest, non-denominational clergy, legal representative, or perhaps sea captain of your choice, whatever makes the couple happy). But at least the Plus One is there for the Michael Bolton slow jam slow dance. Ohhhh yeeeahhhhh. Incidentally, it was that same cousin I did my first tour of duty as Maid of Honor for 7 years later for her second wedding. Incidentally.
Then in my early to mid-20’s all the friends started dropping, their eyes blazing ivory with dress fittings and save the dates and floral arrangement meltdowns. I found myself playing bridesmaid to a roommate I no longer lived with and paired with a groomsman with whom I’d had a very brief fling that I ended months before the super classy fete at the shooting range ( I mean Sportsman’s Association—- happens every time). For anyone not aware of rural life, Sportsman’s Associations are clubs at which members pay dues to and go to shoot guns. Many guns. And sometimes they have dances. Side note: On a Saturday you don’t ask paying members to stop target practice. Nothing says loving like an outdoor ceremony punctuated by gunfire. Yes. Yes, that was the Pick-up Plus One Groomsman By the Time the Cake was Cut. We did date for 7 months more after that so I guess score one for the redneck reception.
Once I got into my late 20’s it was more co-worker invitations than anything as the first round of married friends were working on first babies. Or first divorces. I tried the “bring a girlfriend” tactic at exactly one of those. It’s not a bad idea but when employing this strategy one has to make sure it’s a friend that likes to dance and doesn’t make you drive. It negates the whole “my Plus One is my DD” angle. If you’re going to have to drive anyway it’s better to just reign it in at the open bar, go by yourself and be the responsible adult you often pretend to be. It was in this era that I also tried bringing a first date to a co-worker’s wedding. Please spare me the groan – I’m already doing it for you. I KNOW. I wouldn’t even attempt such a maneuver for a friend or family affair but the outsider work table? Why not? It wasn’t a dude I picked up that morning at least. We had been speaking via that fancy interweb for a bit. He had beautiful blue eyes but stepped out to smoke every 10 minutes so his tongue tasted like a filled ashtray. A name I can barely remember but forever cemented in a former co-worker’s guest book.
The year I turned 30 I found myself playing Maid of Honor (or MOH as the racketeering bridal industry refers to it to make you feel all on the inside) for a second time. This time I didn’t even pretend I would be bringing a Plus One. I knew the day would be filled with elaborate bustling duties, speechifying and hours of picture posing where I would inevitably be looking the wrong direction just as the lens snapped. As MOH I obediently showed up for the bouquet toss as requested …. but then instinct kicked in when that thing came flying at me like a tomahawk missile and I let it drop right to the ground. Apparently this is bad luck so I begrudgingly picked it up. Superstitious fools should not blame me for that couple’s divorce 4 years later. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed the more elaborate the wedding tends to get the less successful the marriage. Not backed up by hard fact, just the pseudoscience of my thinking “Why the F@*% are you so worked up about a tablecloth color?”
The hardest and most bittersweet Sans the Plus One came just 3 years ago when my gold star –more than just friends they’re family—friends had a destination wedding in Jamaica. Of course I wouldn’t miss it. And of course I’m not flying to another country only for a few days just to play MOH again (see how “inside” the acronym makes you feel, its all part of how they get ya’). This was a serious vacation opportunity. So I third-wheeled the wedding and honeymoon but tried not to be too third-wheely about it. Being a super smart, super independent woman I booked my own room on the other side of the resort overlooking the nude beach so I’d have entertainment all day long. I went to artsy activities by myself. I luxuriated in the giant spa tub. I partook of the nude beach because why not? I totally recommend swimming naked in the Caribbean at least once. I had a massage in a cabana ocean side. I watched my best friends in the world say “I Do” beside a glistening blue sea and rode horses with them on a beach. It was amazing.
But beneath it all I was staying at a resort previously known as Couples (now Breezes! Presumably to seem more inclusionary of the non-partnered amongst us). It very much catered to the getting married, the newly married, and the celebrating our anniversary of being married. The loneliness was magnified near the Equator at this paradise for lovers to the point it was almost palpable. I was trying to give them space to have a honeymoon so I found myself dining alone at the fake Italian restaurant on the resort, trying in vain not to catch the eye of the seemingly only other single gal in the place (probably also there for someone’s wedding or she had a really misinformed travel agent). I cried myself to sleep that night, sobs racking my body until my lids grew heavy. Maybe baking in the Caribbean sun all day cracked the crunchy shell. Actually, the next morning I discovered that in a rum punch haze 24 hours previously I had inadvertently stepped on a sea urchin whose spikes were still embedded in my foot … sooooo … perhaps I can write off the emotional breakdown as foreign toxins spreading up to my tear ducts. Who can say for sure? I didn’t shed a tear when the Jamaican resort doctor lidocained the sole of my foot and plucked out the spikes. And being the super strong, super independent me I pretend to be I sure didn’t let on how much panic I felt that I might have to go to an ER in a foreign country alone. I played it off, cracked a joke about how the islands are cheaper during hurricane season for a reason. Master deflection at work. I refused to admit I knew I might have had a serious, serious reaction and not had anyone check on me for days. My friends thought I’d found a native to make like Stella and get my groove back while in reality I had my bandaged foot propped up on the couch in my room. Not that I didn’t have chances to pick-up a Plus One Jamaican. If I’d been 22 instead of 32 I absolutely would have danced with the beautiful island man that asked me if I’d ever been with a black man (oh hey, I’m so pale white I’m almost translucent. SPF 1500 was packed on that trip). Ten years earlier and I would have taken him back to my room. But time makes us wary for better or worse. So while I often say why not? sometimes I do stop and think “oh, perhaps this would result in the theft of my passport and subsequent kidnapping to the jungle”. My groove can be found stateside. But I wouldn’t trade that experience. For each lonely night in my room there was a fresh coconut sliced open with a machete or a night swim with the dinoflagellates that glow green in the water when you swim through them. For every Red Stripe drunk alone there was snorkeling with clownfish darting around me and haggling with the Jamaican woman trying to overcharge for beading my hair.
The destination wedding adventure was definitely a tipping point. If I can go sans the Plus One to ANOTHER COUNTRY for two weeks what is the big deal to go it alone for a few hours in some decked out reception hall here at home? The script remains the same. There will be some awwwing over the flower girl. Then some ohhhhing over the bride’s walk down the aisle. Vows. Rings. Yay for cocktail hour! There will be twisting and shouting and the heels will inevitably be shorn shortly after the best man’s speech. The hard, crunchy shell of mine now refuses to even indulge the tossing of the bouquet. I’ll stick to the table sipping my wine and having some more coconut shrimp I hoarded from cocktail hour for that part, thanks so much. But the gooey center will forever feel a physical pang deep in my gut when Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight comes on. It is one of the few songs to which I have a physical reaction every single time I hear it and at weddings it’s like a Death Star implosion in my core. The difference now that I’ve embraced life without worrying about the Plus One is that I refuse to clear the floor for couples only, to slink back to the table to a half-eaten piece of cake. So, when Clapton’s guitar implores and he sings:
It’s late in the evening; she’s wondering what clothes to wear.
She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair.
And then she asks me, “Do I look all right?”
And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight.”
I’ll be out there drawing slow circles on the floor, slow dancing with my beer.