Weddings: Small Talk

The awkward art of communicating to others at these events

We attended a wedding this past weekend.  (Who is this we?  My wife and I)  As to be expected, the bride and groom did an excellent job with planning everything.  Having gone through the same thing myself a couple years ago, I was familiar with the difficult task of arranging a seat for each guest.  The seating list is vital, because that is where everyone will be for probably about half of the event and you need to make sure everyone will schmooze and interface well.  Interface?  This isn’t a conference.  But before we get to the seating, let’s discuss the typical structure.  You show up and experience the ceremony, then usually proceed to a cocktail hour.  After pleasantries are exchanged with people you inevitably bump into at the crowded line to the bar, you’re forced to interact with them and hopefully well.  When you finally go to your seat, if you end up seeing the same people at your table then you can avoid having to reintroduce yourself, but you’ll still need to meet the others.  You have food, share a toast with the speakers and hosts, laugh and cry.  Watch the cake cutting, have dessert, and for those of us that still have it in us, we will see you on the dance floor!

To say that there are many different types of people would be an understatement, and yet, it seems perfectly acceptable to group the world into two overarching types, or archetypes if you will, the extroverted and the introverted.   However, I think this distinction will become the crux of this post here in a bit.

If you attend a wedding with a SO, a date, or even an insignificant other (IO), you at least have someone there that you now know.  At least one of you know the bride (or groom) and groom (or bride), but the happy couple will be busy doing their thing.  You have a couple options, you can cling to whomever you are in attendance with like the proverbial lifeline while shying away from others, you can only talk to people you know, or you put yourself out there and meet new people.  If you happen to know others at the party too, that’s great!  You can form an exclusive circle among yourselves, just don’t also exclude the wedding party (or other guests).  But there will also, most inevitably, be people there that do not know anyone.  God forbid you show up to a wedding without a date – especially if you weren’t invited – and are severely introverted.  Social anxiety is tough and I hope folks with it have coping mechanisms.  As a [self-proclaimed] extrovert, I try to help others fit in, but sometimes others don’t want to be included.  That’s fair.

No, it’s not really fair.  A conversation can stagnate or devolve into a series of long, painful pauses where you rotate looking at the table, decorations, other people at other tables, etc.  Bagh!  Here’s what happened at our table…

We were the first to our table.  We had found the seating list coming into the venue and sat at our designated table.  Soon after, we proceeded to meet 2 other couples.  Just by the way they were walking around, it was clear to me that they did not see the seating list.  How rude of them to not see the list.  Do I make the effort to let them know?  Interesting times were on their way.  (For those of you planning a wedding, please make a seating arrangement for your guests.  It requires cunning and familiarity of your guests, but even if you lack those things, please still make a list.  Otherwise, your dinner will be a circus of musical-chairs as people try to snatch a chair.)  Because I am a human and sometimes [self-proclaimed] kind and courteous, I did let them know of the seating arrangement, otherwise the others would have to.  These two couples were significantly older than us anyway, and it’s not that I wouldn’t or couldn’t strike a conversation with them, it’s that I wouldn’t and couldn’t want to.  Which is a little [a lot] hypocritical of the message I’ll be trying to convey, but in my defense, it can be difficult and strenuous when a generation gap causes a gap in conversation.  I call that a degeneration gap.

The others soon made it all to the table.  I saw two couples, our age, approach the table at the same time, talking and laughing naturally.  That meant that not only where they already acquainted, but that they were more than friends…they would be their own cohort within our seating ranks.  There was one last couple that joined us too, they looked nice and approachable.  So there were 8 of us, so the saga begins.  Since she was leading him to the table,  I assumed she was the one initially acquainted with the bride and groom.  I realize that’s a pretty big assumption and that it is entirely baseless; I assume many things, presumably, a lot of the time.  But just to play it safe, I introduced myself and my wife to the others, and the first question most people ask is “so how do you know the bride (or groom) and groom (or bride)?”  Because it’s the question most people ask first, I ended up asking something else.

“Nice weather we’re having?” I asked that statement with the appropriate intonation, AND THEN after everyone agreed, I asked, “so how do you know the bride and groom?”  My assumption was correct about the girl knowing the groom – they had apparently grown up next door and had even gotten married on her parents’ lawn when they were five…which, after some internal consideration and open deliberation, it seemed perfectly fair to assume that that was the reason for our table being the furthest from the married couple (bride jealously? BRIDE JEALOUSY!).

In all seriosity though.  The other two couples were family friends (groom’s side) and confirmed that they were also close friends amongst each other, but only after I had pried that information out of them.  I would have to be wary of them or else they’d just exclude us.  We continued to exchange the commonplace niceties that you’d expect: wedding venue, how beautiful (but not as beautiful as our wedding, right?) the wedding was.  I made the mistake of saying my wedding, then my wife gave me a glare.  “Our wedding, our wedding, our wedding”.  I chanted three times, for a total of 9 “our wedding”s (the first three times were out-loud, then the remaining six times in my head).  Not sure if that made sense.  I did get a couple chuckles.  Point for me.

It also became apparent that all couples at the table were married.  Which was probably the bride’s intention when arranging our particular table: young and married.  Three of four couples had kids.  But then my fears were realized as I watched the two couples continue to engage in conversation, their bodies slightly turned as to keep us out.  The remaining couple was only engaged in conversation when questions were asked.  Fantastic, now we were interrogators.


Yes, this kind of interroGATOR

Fortunately for me my wife is a saint and extremely patient.  But c’mon!  These people were so awkward to have dinner with.  At least food can fill your mouth.  After dinner, there were speeches made by both fathers.  Then cake cutting, first dance, daughter-father dance, son-mother dance, then everyone-everyone dance.  I am happy to say that the quiet couple never made it on the dance floor…they would have taken up too much space with their silencio and stagnation.  The other two couples made their obligatory appearances on the floor, but otherwise spent time with themselves.  As for us, we danced with the whole party and most importantly, with the bride and groom, to help them celebrate and herald in the happy times.

There’s something primeval and tribal about dancing that keeps you sane and connects you with others.  All I’m saying is go out on a limb, talk to some new people, move around on the dance floor.  At no point have I ever looked at someone else dancing and judged them…but then again, I certainly felt judged (and envied) by the others that stand along the wall.  We’re that couple.