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How to survive a wedding sans date.

We all love a good wedding. You get to wear a fancy dress, indulge in an open bar and do a variety of choreographed group dance moves that involve waving your arms over your head to form letters. But weddings can also be stressful. Stressful for the bride, the groom and their families, sure, but also for the guests — us single guests in particular.

Despite the stories/urban legends you hear about couples meeting and falling in love at weddings or the wild tales of drunken wedding night debaucheries, I think we can all agree no one wants to attend a formal event of any sort alone. Who wants to shell out a few hundred bucks for their own hotel room? Or relive high-school-dance awkwardness every time the band plays a slow song? Is that Rod Stewart? What a coincidence. I’ve suddenly realized that my bladder is full/glass is empty/I’ve taken up smoking. What’s that? I just missed the bouquet toss? How could I have missed such a fun and not-at-all humiliating opportunity to display the fact that I am alone?

Given budgets and venue constraints, the bride and groom sometimes have to make difficult and unpopular decisions surrounding their guest list, specifically regarding who is and who is not permitted a plus one. On a day when every detail is meticulously planned the presence — or absence — of those two words, “and guest,” on your invitation was no accident.

So what do you do when the ivory envelope arrives addressed solely to you, plus none? Or you just can’t find a date to fill that guest spot? 

FAMILY AFFAIR

If you’re attending the wedding of a family member alone, accept the fact that you will be interrogated about the current status of your love life. If you’re fresh out of a break-up, you might be granted a reprieve, but in lieu of questioning, you’ll probably be given several love life pep talks. If you’re engaged, the topic of conversation will be your impending nuptials. If you’re married, they’ll ask when you plan on popping out babies. And if you have kids, you’ll be chasing them around trying not to get spit-up on your dress. As you can see, no one gets off easy at family parties, so relax and have a second piece of cake.

WORK WEDDING

If you’re attending a colleague’s wedding, regardless of whether or not you have a date, you can assume you’ll be seated at the “work table” — the table designated for the cubicle cohorts you already spend 40-plus hours a week with. “Work table” sounds boring, like a spreadsheet, so I really hope you enjoy the company of your coworkers (even without the ability to send each other links to cat videos on YouTube). Since it’s generally unacceptable to get super drunk at a work-related function and/or make-out with a coworker, it’s OK to leave this type of wedding early. Eat dinner, say your congrats, have a drink and then get out of there.

FRIENDLY NUPTIALS

This is a broader and more challenging category. 

If you’re attending the wedding of a close friend with whom you share several mutual friends and you can’t bring/can’t find a date, you’re in luck. You most likely know the people you’ll be seated with, you won’t have to worry about introducing yourself to the point of exhaustion and you probably won’t need to splurge on a king-sized room for one. Have a few cocktails, dance like a fool and let your hair down for you are among friends.

On the other hand, if it’s a peripheral friend with whom you share no mutual friends, you seriously need to assess how much you like this person. I was invited to my old roommate’s wedding last November and asked myself: Do I really need to fly across the country, spend close to a $1,000 on hotels and airfare and face the potential awkwardness of not knowing anyone other than the bride and groom? Although I was invited to bring a guest (god bless the woman who doesn’t expect me to come to Houston alone), I decided to go solo.

I was single, but I wasn’t stupid. First, I did some research to find out if I knew anyone else who was attending the wedding and then I made contact with them via email/Facebook. Then I asked for a clarification on the dress code. What do you wear to a casual BBQ second reception? Then I sought advice on where to stay. Yes, there were suggestions on the website but I wanted to stay where the other people my age (aka “the cool crowd”) would be staying. Last, but certainly not least, I got my hair and makeup done professionally. Being single at a wedding can be tough and you deserve to look fantastic. This just might be the best $100 you ever spent. You won’t regret it, I promise.

THE EX FACTOR

In a most dreaded of the single-at-a-wedding scenarios, what if your ex is attending? With his new girlfriend. Oh, and he’s officiating. A close friend found herself in this situation this past September. After much back and forth, she ultimately decided not to attend. It was sad and we missed her dearly but it was the right decision for her. Whether you stubbornly forge ahead or regretfully decline the invitation,  both choices are brave and both are OK. There are times we grin and bear it for our friends and times we honor ourselves, make the dreaded phone call and send a nice gift.

What I’ve learned about it from romantic comedies anyway…

Getting through the Holidays is rough. It’s cold outside (which is bad enough), but add the stress of gifts and “quality family time” and I’m pretty much a shell of a human by January — emotionally exhausted and physically bloated from the festive treats and copious amounts of alcohol.

Once it’s over, though, and the darkest part of winter has set in, I can shamelessly plant myself on my couch with no regrets. Well, no regrets aside from the fact that I do this alone. Being single isn’t the end of the world, but during the winter months it’s really nice to have another warm body to cuddle up to. So I’ve decided to start studying other people’s relationships to see if I can decode just WTF I’m doing wrong. Am I oblivious to some signals? Drinking too much at parties? Being too charming?  

And what better way to start decoding the mystery of love than by watching romantic comedies? 

To be honest, I’m not even that big of a fan of romantic comedies, but I find myself watching them and, more times than not, analyzing their characters and the relationships they create. Perhaps this is because we, as women, grew up watching rom coms as instructional videos for how to handle love in the real world. Either with our friends (or alone with bottles of wine), we watch because the films touch on a basic human experience we all need: to feel wanted. 

This would explain why I frequently find myself confused, head tilted with a furrowed brow trying to understand the characters’ decisions and reactions. There has to be something I’m missing. No matter what happens — time, space, death, ex-boyfriends, jobs as prostitutes — they always end up happy and together. And, somehow, despite my lack of complications and cinematic drama, I’m still solo. 

So I spent a weekend doing some research watching films like Sleepless in Seattle and Sabrina to see if I could figure out the secrets of “happily for the time being ever after.” 

This is what I’ve learned: 

  1. Women are crazy — but it’s OK because men love these crazy quirks we have. For example, Meg Ryan and her ability to peel an entire apple in one uninterrupted knife swoop in Sleepless in Seattle, Natalie Portman’s ability to tap dance in Garden State, Julia Roberts’ preoccupation with flossing her teeth in Pretty Woman, etc. These character traits are apparently what make us interesting. Almost everything a woman does in a rom com is a plus. Say, the really embarrassing time you ran into the parking meter because you were looking at your phone? You know what? That only adds to adorable quirkiness of your personality. It was endearing, not embarrassing. The quirkier the better. These films applaud the idiosyncrasies of their characters, and, ultimately, it’s what draws the men closer to the women. In fact, the ditzier and more in a bubble of your own thoughts you are, the more attractive you seem to be to the Tom Hankses and Hugh Grants of the world.
  2. Love at first sight (with your soulmate no less!is totally real and pretty much the only way to find lasting happiness. All rom coms are guilty. It’s fate! Destiny! Generally one of the main characters is involved in a prior/present relationship, but it’s missing that firework that should have apparently gone off upon first glance. It’s stable, but boring. Then the main character is out at the coffee shop or grocery store or walking their dog or descending a staircase and meet so-and-so and BOOM, they realize that’s who they’re supposed to be with forever. The only time that seems to happen in real life — albeit one-sided — is when someone cat calls you on the street.
  3. Love always wins. It may take forever (up to two-and-a-half hours), but ultimately characters find each other and/or realize they were meant for each other. Despite years, miles or emotions apart, in the end all problems are resolved. Star-crossed lovers reunite and former friends (or enemies) discover the love that’s been there all along. Just think about Harry and Sally in When Harry Met Sally, Hubbell and Katie in The Way We Were and Linus (and David) and Sabrina in Sabrina. This is a different approach than the love-at-first-sight rom com — this ever-lasting love comes later. The bottle rocket goes off, but that does not always mean immediate interaction, acceptance or the ability to be together because of pesky things like the fact that the characters are different species (e.g. SplashTwilight). So, ladies, you may have already met your man — heck, he could have been the one that said, “Damn, you’re beautiful girl” by the bananas at Whole Foods Market the other day. Just give it some time. 

According to the rom com, things look pretty good. All this alone time is when I’m supposed to develop these quirks, then I’m going to run into Mr. RightNow at an airport and we’ll be happy together (maybe not forever, but at least long enough to get through a future winter — fingers crossed). Until then, I will unabashedly stay under the covers on my sofa covered in crumbs doing my best Meg Ryan scrunched-nose-and-pouty-lip face after a few glasses of wine. No regrets.

Going on dates is actually not enjoyable.

Coming to the realization halfway through a date that you’re not interested is awkward.  

When I returned to my seat on at the Tellers patio in Hyde Park with my second Stella, I realized there wasn’t anything else my date and I had to talk about … and I didn’t actually care what he had to say anyway.  

The adult thing to do would be to politely leave the situation and not return any future calls or texts. I think. I’m not an adult so I just switched my drink from beer to liquor until I was interested again. That way there was no confrontation to deal with, and also the possibility that we might both get to have a little fun at the end of the evening. (At this point in my dating life, I’ll take what I can get and deal with the guilt/embarrassment/shame in the morning.) 

I’m not claiming to be proud of this. Certainly not making a recommendation. I’m just saying that in dating I sometimes find it easier to not think of the “big picture,” and just get what you can in the moment because, honestly, none of us know when it’s going to happen again.  

I’m relatively new to dating and insanely terrible at it. If I like a guy I’ll either just position myself somewhere in the room he’s in and never look at or speak to him, or, my signature, get belligerently drunk and make him feel incredibly awkward. Neither is effective. I once tried the “be nice and smile a lot” technique, and I got a lot of numbers. The bad thing is I get too anxious to take the next step, so that’s all I got: numerals.  

Since I’m not an overly nice person, that method is a sham, really. I’m self absorbed, like most people in their twenties, but I also don’t like going to bed alone, so I’ve got to find some kind of happy medium between sweet, bubbly girl and Lindsay Lohan’s desperate friend.

Additionally, I need to work on the actual date part. I can’t eat under pressure. I also don’t find food consumption to be particularly sexy. So going out to eat on a date seems asinine in my opinion. And going to see a movie just seems like a way to invite someone into your room with the lights out without necessarily being a creep. But apparently I’m against the norm because “dinner and a movie” is the dating standard.  

Going on dates, however, is how you develop any kind of relationship, so it must be done. And despite how this date was turning out, the build-up had been pretty epic and stressful. I have discovered that dating as an adult is as maddening as dating was during puberty, only now, with functioning ovaries, we can make much worse mistakes.  

Liking someone is still the most annoyed you can be with yourself. It’s unbelievably time consuming. And as girls, no matter how jaded we are or what age we are, we all end up analyzing EVERYTHING. Why did he LIKE my picture on Facebook? He must totally be into me. But then he won’t call/text and we go back to thinking he’s not interested. It’s a constant up and down of excitement and self-loathing.  

When He’s Just Not That Into You came out, I was relieved at first. I had a quantifiable “into me” gauge to go by! I now knew when to drop it! Ha. Nope. Now I just say, “That’s not it. It’s not that he’s not into me, he’s just shy/busy/dumb/awkward/etc.” Girls will like who they like until they find a reason to get over him or hate him.  

But I didn’t like this guy. No connection was made. And that’s how I ended up on the patio with a Stella in my hand — liquid courage — trying to figure out the next move to make in this dating hunger games.

Meeting Mr. Right on his own turf.

Recently, it occurred to me that maybe I’m not running into Mr. Right because Mr. Right doesn’t shop for lipstick at Sephora or hang out on my couch watching The Bachelorette. I need to figure out where he spends his time.

I’m not into the ubiquitious man pastime of reading magazines on the toilet, so I decided to join a flag football team instead, shaking off the memory of a pre-teen me plucking dandelions in the softball outfield. Now, I’m a grown woman — I have the fixings for martinis in my pantry, and a mortgage! — and flag football is just a game … like Scrabble.

I show up for the game, decked out in long sweats to protect against skinned knees. My teammate Jared playfully hurls a football toward me. I crouch into tornado safety position and shield my head with my hands. Jared tells me I need to tuck in my T-shirt so I can Velcro this unattractive flag contraption around my waist. I try to explain that if I tuck in my T-shirt, my waistline will look thick and rumply, defeating the reason I’m here. “It’s a rule,” he says.

“I’ll be the quarterback,” I joke in the team huddle. No one smiles, because this is serious business. One guy seems kind of cute — cropped hair, big muscles, five o’clock shadow. “I’m Jennifer,” she grunts when I introduce myself.

The rest of my team includes a nondescript selection of guys with square-jawed faces whose obvious goal is to — yawn — play football, and two Pamela Anderson types with tanned legs sticking out of short shorts and T-shirts tied into cute knots revealing pert abs. Hey, isn’t that against the rules? Anyway, betcha these girls cry the first time the ball sails their way.

Team captain Matt scratches “X”s and “O”s in the dirt with a stick, like in the movies. I wonder which “X” I am … or are we the “O”s? I take my place alongside my teammates on the field. “We’re going the other way!” Matt snaps at me.

“Block that woman over there.” He points to a horse-like creature snorting at me from the other side of the field. The ball snaps, and I run toward the Horse. She tramples all over me and gallops off into the darkness. Ouch. This is only a game, I remind myself … like Pictionary. I wonder how soon halftime will arrive so I can buy red licorice at the concession stand.

“Run that way and try to catch the ball,” Matt orders. Before I can explain the multiple reasons why this is not a good idea, the ball hurtles toward my delicate facial bones. I put my hands out, not to catch the ball, but to prevent it from inflicting permanent damage. It smacks my middle finger in a direction nature did not intend. OUCH! But I will not cry. I will NOT cry

The score skyrockets to 13-0. We’re the zeroes. Blonde twin Krissy skips onto the field to replace me. I get to work braiding blades of grass on the sidelines. Krissy turns out to be a speed demon in waif’s clothing. The Horse tries to trample her, but Krissy darts away, managing to look adorable in the process.

Halftime. Sweet halftime. Is it only halftime? As Matt swipes his “X”s and “O”s, he directs his comments at me as I’m munching on my red licorice. “LA-dies, this brown object is a FOOTBALL.” I’m a grown woman with the fixings for martinis in my pantry and a mortgage. And it’s only a game … like Monopoly. And I will NOT cry.

Jennifer is ejected from the game for kicking the Horse in the hoof. Krissy leaves the game because she has a date. “Next play is a required woman’s play,” Matt tells us. Collective groan from the guys. “Kandy’s injured.” Kandy cradles her fingernail, chipped on the last play. “Which leaves … Amy.” Another collective groan from the team. “When the ball snaps,” he instructs me, “run to the right and look for this BROWN OBJECT.”

That’s it. My finger may be broken, my waistline rumply, but I’ll show them. The ball snaps. I run to the right. Which is when Matt swoops in, literally picks me up and carries me around the field, planting me where the ball is headed. I’m so stunned the ball sails over my head. The Horse whinnies. Matt curses. The Zeroes remain zeroes.

That night I curl up with an ice pack on my finger and Icy Hot slathered on my wounded pride. What was I thinking, trying to meet Mr. Right in his own habitat? Boys will be boys. And in some ways, I’ll always be that pre-teen plucking dandelions in the outfield.

Say … I wonder if Mr. Right plays board games?

… From my single mother.

“Spring is coming and it’s like a mass explosion of men chasing after me,” my 70-year-old mother cried me a river over the phone recently. On the other end of the line I rolled my eyes and flipped through my own datebook, blank page after blank page. 

Dad left us quietly five summers ago, despite my mother’s stern orders — while hitting his legs with a pillow — to stick around. After my initial shock of losing a parent muted, the next traumatic realization struck me nearly as hard: My mother is now single. Single like me. 

Only not like me, as it turns out. It seems that single in the retirement years is a different animal than single in life’s prime. Let us count the ways my mother’s newfound singlehood differs dramatically from mine:

Mr. Right. My personal ad: SWF seeks healthy sperm count in the form of fit, ambitious, financially responsible male willing to share the household chores. Mom’s personal ad: SWF seeks fun-loving companion to share conversation and laughs and road trips to visit grandchildren.

Dating tactics. Last weekend, Mom went on a four-wheeling date with “The Rancher.” She was too “scared” to ride the four-wheeler by herself (wink, wink) so she climbed behind “The Rancher” and shared his four-wheeler. That same day, I hiked with my own date and grew secretly irritated when he couldn’t keep up with me, then downright annoyed when he tried to pass me on the trail. What is this, a competition? 

Sex. Still a firm believer in the stork, no matter how old I get, I will forever refuse to acknowledge my parents as sexual beings. Mom, on the other hand, loves to corner her daughters on the topic of sex when she’s not dwelling on her other favorite topic: How to dispose of her body when she dies. Thus the unbearable afternoon a week after Christmas in stand-still traffic in the mall parking garage, when she got on the topic of, er, self-love. See, I can’t even say it. I’m blushing. Let’s move on to the next category. 

Internet dating. From what I understand, there’s this magical place for the 50-and-over-only crowd called SeniorPeopleMeet.com. One of Mom’s winning strategies is to email the men her age seeking women 20 years their junior and call them on it. “You old crony, who do you think you are?” They love this, and she gets all kinds of dates this way. Meanwhile, I’m over on blasé Match.com, resorting uncreatively to the electronic “wink.” 

Communicating. Texting. Skyping. Instant messaging. Not me — I’m referring to Mom and the many modern ways she communicates with her dates. She reports that “The Cowboy” (not to be confused with “The Rancher”) Skypes her each morning at 6 a.m. Never mind the state of my hair at this hour, but who has the time? I need to get ready for work. Anyway, what would you even find to talk about at 6 a.m.? Oooohhh … never mind. It was the stork, I said, the stork! Next category, please! 

Self-image. I honestly worry about things like the first time he’ll feel my bare tummy and detect in it the slight curve evidencing the cupcake stop I made yesterday before hitting the gym. Mom lets him know upfront that her body’s not perfect, but that she makes a mean pan of dumplings and sauerkraut. 

The endgame. Maybe it’s because I’ve never found him — or maybe because I’m still in search of a baby daddy — but I devote ridiculous amounts of energy to finding “The One.” So, maybe because she’s already had “The One,” my mother’s goals are entirely different: companionship, simple as that. “The Rancher” and “The Cowboy” and “The Electrician” and “The Beekeeper” weave in and out of her life in a flurry of first dates and giddy phone calls and Skype break-ups. Reminiscent of love at age 16, when marriage and babies were still the stuff of teenage dreams and prom was the end game. The lack of pressure must be nice. 

Funny how my mother always seems to know best. If ever we daughters had any qualms about going downhill from here, my mother is living proof that loving only gets better as we age. When we stop taking ourselves so seriously, when we have more time for people, when beauty by force of nature becomes less about our skin and more about our souls … maybe that’s when we really learn to love.

DID YOU KNOW: The University Of Cincinnati Communiversity Offers A Summer Class On How To Write Your Internet Dating Profile. Along With Other Tips, This Boot Camp Will Give You “Ten Ideas Designed To Increase Your Chances Of Meeting Your Ideal Date Online.”