When you go to SEVEN weddings in one year you pick up a thing or two about what makes a couple's big day truly sublime, says Lizzie Williams (and helpfully shares her observations)
Weddings – they're a fact of life and part of growing up. And as I near my thirties, I've accepted (sort of) that holidays, weekends dancing around supping vin and indulging me time are things of the past.
My male friends are helplessly dropping like flies on to their knees prompting screams of YES from my pals. And so, the moleskin is packed. If it's not a hen do, it's a wedding - seven in the last year and counting.
But forgetting the mortgage you have to take out to afford the hen dos (once a last night of freedom, now a two week jaunt to the Maldives), dresses, shoes and gifts that are part of your friends getting hitched, there's no knees up quite like a wedding.
I've seen friends tie the knot in churches, registry offices and fields. Marriage ceremonies conducted by crazy vicars, pagans, even long-lost aunts.
Yes, there is a loose formula that makes every big day recognisable, but the wondrous thing about weddings is the unexpected, the left of field, the special details so carefully crafted.
And the bride-to-be needn't send herself mad to achieve something truly special. From a hay bale to perch upon while sipping a cool Pimms, to a basket full of ballet pumps for that moment when the pain from your prettiest pair of shoes gets too much – it's a cliché - but the little details are what guests remember.
However, you must remember that as the happy couple's friends, you have a duty to make the big day memorable and successful too. So here's some advice for the happy couple AND the guests. Together you can have the best day EVER.
You know the schedule? Take it seriously
An attempt to arrive on time to wedding number one of last summer failed miserably when we made a lunchtime date at the local pub. Being so late that your beautiful bride friend has to stall her grand entrance down the aisle provokes staring and tutting and shaking of fascinator-clad heads. It ain't pretty.
Just because she's single and he's single doesn't mean...
The reception leads to an inevitable rush for the table plan. Who are you sitting with? Is the next hour-and-a-half going to be filled with awkward, stilted small talk? Have I, as one of the "single friends", been placed ever so obviously next to one of the "eligible single males"?
I've had good experiences and bad of the table plan lottery. My advice to brides – go with who they know. While I have loved chatting to new people and found myself engrossed in fascinating chit chat, I have also ended up being put on a drinking ban by my pals after accidentally seeking solace in wine as my ears bled listening to desperate strangers try to compile a plan of attack for convincing their weary-looking other halves to propose. Yawn.
There is nothing sadder than an empty dance floor
Another one for you guests - dance. It is simple; you have been invited to share your pals' special day. They have inevitably spent a ridiculous amount of money feeding and treating you to the bubbly stuff, so the least you can do is have a bloody good time.
At wedding number six last year, having enjoyed a sumptuous English tea and initiating the standard speeches sweepstake, my friend leapt up to the bar to get the first Jaeger bomb order of the night in...at 5pm. Too early I hear you cry. It was, but bizarrely it paid off.
Head-to-toe in Jaeger (Jaeger gives you confidence at a wedding, no I don't have an explanation) we danced like lunatics to Eighties classics and were the last ones standing. But we were alone on the dancefloor, save for the bride and groom.
The morning after announced itself with a savage headache and more than a hint of embarrassment. But when the bride phoned soon after gushing her thanks at us for having such a great time AND showing it, the hangover guilts subsided.
"I do" jolliness probably shouldn't lead to gymnastics
Wedding number four saw the hens' human pyramid raise a cheer – the subsequent serious injuring of a bridesmaid as it collapsed, er, not so much.
One dress is good, two is better
I learnt a valuable lesson at wedding number five. Always take a spare. Outfit that is.
While it may not be economical, it will pay off for there is no worse feeling as a guest than that jaw-dropping moment when you spot another guest wearing THE VERY SAME dress as you.
Cries of "you totes look better" from your friends don't help. In a crisis like this, it is action - not words - that will save the day. Teetering on the brink of melt-down, I was rescued as a cool-headed friend swept in with a pretty jade number from Whistles.
It's YOUR day
But for all the wedding guesting I have done, there is one thing that unites every wedding in terms of their success. The best weddings are undoubtedly always the ones where your bride and groom pals have indulged in their favourite things and are having the time of THEIR lives.
...bring on wedding number eight – my spare dress is pressed and I'm ready to dance.