Writer Jen Doll Went To 30 Weddings. Here’s What She Learned…

In the fall of 2011, I sat down at my laptop with a mission: I wanted to compile a list of all the weddings I remembered attending, and the basics of what happened at each of them: What I wore, what gift I gave, who got married and what led them to that, what side-plots and adventures and possible mishaps occurred on the big day. I’d been thinking a lot about the weddings we go to in life, particularly as single women in our twenties and thirties, and how they are not just about the couple getting married, but about us, too. We all bring our stories and whatever we’re feeling at the time to them, and those emotions and backgrounds impel us to act in certain ways — sometimes in ways we (or I, I can only speak for myself) have regretted.

There’s also that looming question with regard to weddings, particularly as we keep attending them: When will it happen to me? I’d been a guest for years and years, and yet, I hadn’t had my own, and didn’t know if I ever would, or if that was something that was really important to me. Love, a good and healthy relationship, is, but a wedding? I wasn’t sure how much I needed that, even as I saw friends walk down the aisle and felt moved and happy for them.

Weddings, of course, are also incredibly cinematic, ornate, orchestrated productions held in a matter of hours that often involve months of planning, and a range of varied players. They may not be “perfect days,” but they are perfect for analysis, as they contain multitudes. They are some of the only times in adult life we get to dress up and go out and be photographed (like celebrities!) and reunite with friends and family and meet exciting new people, too, dance and eat cake and specially prepared foods served to our tables by men and women in fancy coats.

They’re like prom for grownups wrapped in family reunions wrapped in a profound ceremony of love and meaning, and because love and meaning is at the base of it all, emotions are high. Then there’s the drinking. Things tend to happen, good and bad. Weddings are all different, and they cause us to feel, often many different things, sometimes all at the same time. Anything that makes you feel that much is worth exploring.

I wrote an initial essay I’d set out to compose and kept thinking about it, wondering what it meant and if I should do anything with it. (I kept it stashed in a file on my desktop for months.) Eventually, I submitted it to The Hairpin, where it quickly got hundreds of comments, people sharing their own wedding-going experiences and stories. To me, that was an added push for an idea I’d been considering before the essay ran — maybe it could be something bigger, a book, to allow me to explore the threads of friendship and romance, autonomy and self-fulfillment, and the varied ways one can be a modern adult, that I was seeing over and over again through the lens of other people’s ceremonies.

Major things have happened to me at the weddings I’ve been to in my life, which now number around 30 and counting, but major things have happened to all of us, I think, at weddings, and as “mere” guests, regardless of whether we have walked down the aisle ourselves or not. There have been realizations that the dates we’ve come with may not be for us after all. There have been new romances forged. Some of us, maybe, have lost dear friends when they’ve chosen to marry someone we couldn’t figure out how to accept.

We’ve gone as little girls, enthralled by the big party, and as new singles, dealing with the pressure that can come with that. And maybe we’ve been the drunken mess, the one who had to regretfully apologize afterward, and who vowed never to make the same mistakes again. Through it all, though, we learn and we try again, and we keep going to weddings.

The working title of the book I eventually wrote was “I Bought You a KitchenAid,” because that gift, to me, the one a bunch of friends typically go in on together because hardly anyone can afford a KitchenAid themselves (particularly in early wedding-going life), represented a certain quid-pro-quo element I’d understood about weddings. An invite means a gift in return, and at some point down the road, the reverse will play out, too — you’ll be the one sending the invite, getting the gift. But what if it doesn’t work that way, exactly? It doesn’t have to end in marriage for us to feel happy with whatever we choose. That’s why I wrote Save the Date. You’re not just saving the date for a friend who’s chosen to get married. You’re saving it for yourself, too.