When it comes to weddings, Jen Doll has seen it all. She’s been a guest or a bridesmaid at every imaginable type of wedding, and she shares the details in her new anecdotal memoir “Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest.”
In some ways, “Save the Date” is a anthropological study of current wedding practices. She went to her first wedding at age eight, and “couldn’t wait for the next one.” She knew that “Someday, I’d meet a boy, too.”
Doll’s been there for friends who had destination weddings in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. She was a bridesmaid for a childhood friend’s down home wedding in Decatur, Alabama. She was there to witness her friends’ vows at City Hall in Manhattan. She RSVP’d “Yes” to weddings that took her from Connecticut to Washington State, from New Jersey to Vermont. The only wedding she has yet to take part in is her own.
What most of these weddings share for Doll is an abundance of alcohol. So, many of these musings are filtered through the lens of an endlessly refilled glass of wine, bourbon, or signature cocktails.
For twenty-somethings, those first weddings are a license to party. And Doll does know how to have a great time, tossing strappy dresses, sandals, and bathing suits into a bag to head to exotic destinations where nightcaps and umbrella drinks take their toll with late night vomiting episodes. By the time Doll is well into her thirties, she should know better. But doesn’t. In one particularly unhappy chapter, her friends strong arm a totally tanked Doll out of a Connecticut bar where she was foisting herself on a stranger and tossing her $450 platform heels at her friends. Vomiting most likely ensued. At this point, it’s a wonder this same tight-knit group of friends keeps inviting her to their weddings as she has clearly become a guestzilla and liability.
Doll is a talented writer, with a brightly humorous confessional voice. The book is arranged in short chapters — each devoted to a wedding, as well as to a look at her own parents’ long-lasting marriage — “Marriage is a process.It’s the journey, not the destination,” her father says — and her own musings on what marriage means. Many of her friends get it right, though she loses her friend Ginny when Ginny does not take her advice to leave the husband Doll never liked. Ginny sticks with it and seems to work out her marital problems. Doll, despite all her efforts — or perhaps of some of her drunken rants at weddings where they are both guests — is left mourning a lost friendship.
She is clear-eyed, though, about what weddings should be:
The wedding isn’t the thing: it’s what comes after that’s truly important, yet the wedding is our focus, the vehicle chosen to represent a couple’s love and the guests’ love for that couple. It’s an established, functional transaction, but it’s also a performance with only a certain level of truth to it, everyone well dressed and on their best behavior — or at least that’s the idea. It’s supposed to mean more than it does, to be more than a party or a day. With all the implications and expectations riding on this single event, it should be no surprise that things occasionally go off course.
Weddings are fun — and it’s fun to read about them. As Doll puts it:
There’s fun even before you get to the chapel or the reception hall or the rented suite of the fancy hotel or the country club or your best friend’s parents’ backyard. The weeks and months preceding each wedding will inevitably involve secondary parties — bachelorettes and bachelors and showers and engagement celebrations and whatever else is deemed necessary to get the crowd pumped for the headliner. Do not be fooled by these seemingly casual additions: They are the octopus tentacles of the ultimate party, stretching farther in all directions, part and parcel of an event that in most cases, when all is said and done, guests will have shelled out rather a lot of time and energy and cash to attend.
Doll attends these celebrations alone and with dates. She hooks up with old friends and new acquaintances. She is, at times, even set up with someone at a wedding. She is never jaded:
I felt a little nervous, that pre-wedding anxiety that comes before the first glass of Champagne when you contemplate what will happen in the hours to come. The moments before a wedding can feel like anticipating a spaceship launch, and then, if all goes well, the evening is steeped in the euphoria of We have liftoff. The opposite is too terrible to contemplate. It will be great, I reassured myself. I was over the wedding ridiculousness of immature times past, puking and fighting and crying.
This is a mostly fun tour of 21st-century weddings, which aren’t, in the end so different from any others. “They are fraught with emotion. They can be powder kegs. They are full of love, but they are tinged with anger, resentment, insecurity, doubt, and all the baggage we come with as adult humans.”
So here’s to Jen Doll: she’s learned her limits: “If you’re me, it’s important to try to stop somewhere around the sixth glass of wine. Or, fine, the seventh. Hey, it’s a wedding.” And, underneath it all, she remains the optimistic eight-year-old girl who is still hoping that someday will come when she meets a boy, too. Readers will hope so, too.