This weekend two very dear friends are getting married hereabouts, in a Tridentine nuptial mass at an historic 18th century church. This will be followed with a reception at one of the city’s legendary old hotels. I was fortunate enough to have been there at the public beginning of their relationship, having accompanied them on what was more or less a double date when they first started seeing each other. So now, it is great to see that these two good people will be receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony and I will be there to celebrate with them.
Unfortunately, there is no young lady in the picture at the moment, meaning I will be one of those awkward-but-charming, “Still single, are you?” wedding guests who is never quite sure what to do at one of these occasions, and whom the event planners never know quite what to do with either. Rather than give in to the temptation to shoe-gaze, I view this as an opportunity to not only have fun, but to do some reflection. Before we can get to that, however, we have to look at some of the realities of both attending a wedding and the single life.
Of course when you are single and not in a relationship, and your friends are making out the guest list, they are naturally faced with a rather awkward question. Do they invite you alone, or do they invite you to bring a guest, in the well-intended hope that you will be able to find a date or at least bring a friend/relation to keep you company? The single guest usually hopes not to be asked to bring a companion, since asking a friend may create more problems than it solves, and no one enjoys bringing a sibling as one’s date.
I find the expression of one’s “still” being single to be an unpleasant – if understandable – mixture of a continued hope in God’s Grace and Providence, and a bitterness that same seems to be taking its sweet time to arrive. Weighing trust in God versus the question of whether we are being too picky and impatient is never a pleasant activity, though weddings are one of the occasions when we are forced to do so. We cannot help but think of St. Paul’s perhaps not hugely helpful statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that “it is better to marry than to burn,” even though with all due respect to the Apostle to the Gentiles I cannot see my way to wedding someone I am not actually attracted to.
Thoughts about one’s single state intensify as more and more of one’s friends get married. Wednesday evening for example, I had a discussion with a friend a few months younger than I whom I greatly respect, about still being single into one’s late 30’s. He recently started seeing a charming young lady, after years of not having been on a date. “It is better to wait for the right person,” he commented, “than settle for the wrong person.” Similarly, last evening I was catching up with another, accomplished friend of the same age whom I had not seen in awhile, and who is still single despite nearly getting married at one point. “I’m glad she and I ended before we got married,” he admitted, “because I still don’t believe in divorce.” For those of us very conscious of our continued single status, the occasion of a wedding must needs put our single status out on public display in a way which the anonymity of daily life does not.
Wedding reception seating charts usually put all the single guests together, since it is assumed that these people will have more common with each other than with the rest of the guests at the event. It is also assumed that the singles will not want to hear the nostalgia of married couples recalling the details of their respective weddings. A collective couples’ stroll down memory lane inevitably occurs at wedding receptions, and rightly so.
However this tendency, if the reader will pardon the expression, to separate the married sheep from the single goats at wedding receptions, while well-intentioned, is one lacking in foresight. For if matrimony is the inescapable topic of the day, as well it must be, it might be better to distribute the singles around to tables with long-married couples. The exchange between the married and the unmarried, often in a “comfortable stranger” sort of situation where there is little chance of future communication, can prove a source of frank discussion, encouragement, and wisdom, as questions are asked and answered and experiences are shared.
More importantly, the occasion of another’s reception of one of the sacraments of the Church can be a tremendous blessing for those in attendance, not just those receiving the sacrament. It can provide us with both encouragement and an impetus to try to discern and follow God’s Will in our own lives. Attending the baptism of an infant for example, may cause the guest to reflect on the gift of life, both in physical birth and spiritual re-birth. Funerals may cause the guest to reflect not only on the life of the individual being remembered, but also on their own mortality.
With weddings, married guests may have time to think about their own marriage, or that of members of their family. For the single wedding guest, on the other hand, a wedding ought to cause him not only to think about the couple being married, but also to reflect on the calling to the married life – if he is so called – and exactly what he is doing about it. It is, after all, one thing to submit to God’s Will, but another to lie back and wait for it to arrive like presents on Christmas morning.
Thus, even as I toast the bride and groom and see numerous friends, I will be doing some active thinking. If I am lucky, I will also get to engage in some thoughtful discussion with others of like mind, inbetween rounds on the dance floor. And this more active combination of both celebration and reflection is something I intend to make full use of.