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This is what it’s like to be a wedding guest these days.

Despite the number of weddings you have to attend, you figure that if you were invited, then you must be important to the couple. You clear your schedule, check your bank account, and save the date.

You do all this despite knowing that a part of you doesn’t really want to go.

Sometimes, it’s because you just can’t afford it. But more often than you’d like to admit, you simply don’t want to fork out the money.

While a wedding is supposed to be all fun and games, a joyous celebration, nothing makes us reevaluate our relationships with people like a wedding invite.

This tends to happen with people who fall into the ‘friendship grey area’, people like John and Ming from your university clique, whose lives you were never really part of, even though you guys still catch up about twice every year at gatherings with so many people that the conversation never moves beyond the superficial.

They regularly wish you happy birthday in some group chat, but never initiate personal conversations. They invite you because they invited everyone else in your clique.

This is also Sheryl, the cheerful ex-colleague who always greets you with a hug that never fails to feel impersonal most of the time.

You haven’t spoken in more than six months, but you still remember when you would text her outside of work to seek advice on long-distance relationships. This friendship meant something at a very specific point in time, and every meet-up now involves reminiscing your shared history. Your friendship has grown stagnant, but you will worry about that another day.

Then there is that person of the opposite sex who was the right person at the wrong time. Back in school, you behaved like a couple, and you didn’t bother correcting anyone who thought so either. Somehow you convinced yourself you’d be better off as good friends.

Now they’re getting married to someone who looks suspiciously like you. You’re happy for them and say, “Yes, I’ll be there!” a little too eagerly when asked.

You brush aside the dull ache in your heart.

You wonder if the couple knows that some guests would rather be elsewhere tonight.

All these are people you wouldn’t quite want at something as personal as your wedding, yet you’d probably feel the need to invite them anyway.

To them, you are probably this guest as well: that person who’s easier to invite than to not-invite.

After all, there is no instruction guide on how to let a friend down graciously. On your end, rather than risk conflict, you choose to unwillingly attend the ‘most important day of their lives’, telling yourself you’d get your money’s worth by making the most of the free flow beer and wine.

Because what’s the alternative? Short of saying you’ll be overseas, there are few excuses that stand up to an occasion you’re given a six-month notice for.

And so invitations to weddings have turned into obligations. This is something we come to understand, after seeing the same patterns and experiencing the same emotions one too many times.

Towards the end of every such occasion, you notice just how well-planned everything was. The toasts were rehearsed, the champagne was selected over a few weeks of tastings, and even the confetti was colour coordinated to match the bride’s dress.

Everyone obligingly tolerates the photo montage.

As the newly wedded couple looks across a sea of relatives, acquaintances, and not-quite friends, you notice the smiles on their faces start to wane as the night gets longer. You wonder if they know that some guests would rather be elsewhere tonight.

10 years from now, they might look back on this day and wish they’d invited only the people they genuinely liked. Even if that means only having 20 guests show up.

But I get it. The trickiest part of a wedding is planning the guestlist. It’s challenging to navigate the tension that bubbles beneath the surface of complicated friendships or the obligation to include those who don’t really mean anything to us (anymore).

We don’t know if perhaps our friend had agonised over whether to invite us, only to settle for the easy way out.

Still, no one should have to play pretend for their guests on their big day.

In the hours following the end of the wedding dinner, no couple should have to talk about how bored and uncomfortable their guests looked, only to realise that not everyone truly wanted to be there.

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