6 Things I Learned From Attending 6 Weddings in a Row

No. 1: Please, please, PLEASE write down your wedding toast.

The first save-the-date came in March. I pinned the postcard to the middle of my fridge with a magnet.

They didn’t stop until the end of June. By then, I had six, plus four bridal shower invitations and three bachelorette parties.

That’s 13 wedding-related events in one summer.

Every time I told someone about this, the conversation went the same way.

“How old are you?” they’d ask.

“Twenty-five,” I’d say.

“Oh yeah,” they’d respond. “That’s when it starts.”

I forgive them for how ominous that sounds.

I live in Minnesota, where the average age for first marriage is 27.4 for women, and 29.4 for men. So anecdotally, they’re probably right. I’m likely destined to attend a few weddings each year until my early 30s, at least.

I don’t take that lightly at all. I’m lucky I have friends who like me enough to invite me to one of the most important (and let’s face it — most expensive) days of their lives.

Weddings are personal. But attend enough weddings, and showers, and bachelorette parties, back-to-back-to-back, and you’re likely to see patterns. I learned a bunch of lessons from each of the 13 wedding-related events I attended. I’ve narrowed it down to six important ones:

1. Please, please, PLEASE write down your wedding toast

At nearly every wedding I attended, it was common for at least one of the speakers — I hate to say it, but usually the best man or the father of the groom — to stand up, immediately announce they hadn’t prepared anything, stumble through a short, generic anecdote before raising their glass for a toast.

A group of friends poses with the bride at a wedding. Rewire PBS Love WeddingsCredit: Gretchen Brown
Gretchen and friends at wedding No. 6 of the year.

It’s not that it’s bad to give a short speech (studies suggest the human attention span is anywhere from five seconds to five minutes).

It’s more that, if you have something sentimental you really want to say, the alcohol and the public speaking nerves will almost guarantee you won’t say it unless you have it written down ahead of time.

Instead, you might be tempted to try to be funny (even if you’re not) or make jokes at the expense of the groom and/or bride (which might not come off well).

Writing for The New York Times, Bruce Feiler recommended leaving out any talk about exes, sex or obscure childhood memories.

It’s not tacky to read off of notecards. In retrospect, it’ll make your speech seem more organized and heartfelt than if you had just winged it.

2. Something is guaranteed to go wrong (and that’s OK)

This happened at every wedding, whether I noticed it or not. One wedding was 90 degrees and the building’s A/C wasn’t working. A single fan cooled off the dance floor— which we all danced around and made light of.

At another wedding, rain poured down minutes before the outdoor ceremony was supposed to begin. Everyone huddled inside a building, getting drinks from the open bar and eating the cocktail hour snacks. The rain stopped soon enough and we were rushed to our seats — for a beautiful ceremony.

At another, the pre-ceremony wedding party photos began dangerously late. But the photographer caught up quickly, and the ceremony only started a few minutes late.

As a guest, I wasn’t even privy to all of the hiccups. But even the things I did notice weren’t something to stress about. At each wedding, guests stayed calm. As long as there were snacks and drinks to tide us over, it wasn’t a big deal.

3. Make it about the people getting married

I was in the bridal party for two weddings, and invited to the bachelorette party for three. There was always some sort of pre-wedding drama among the bridesmaids. Always.

Sometimes, it even happened during the wedding.

I’m the kind of person who likes to have some sort of control over a situation. But when it comes to a wedding, or even a bachelorette party, it’s a good time to let go and do whatever the bride wants.

A bride and her friend at a wedding. REWIRE PBS Love Wedding
Gretchen (left) at wedding No. 5.

If you’ve got problems with other folks in the bridal party, this isn’t the day to focus on that. It’s time to be cordial.

That also goes for things like your hair, or your makeup, or what your dress looks like on you. Yeah, you might have spent a lot of money on it all, but it’s not something to obsess over or complain about that day.

No one’s going to be looking at you. They’ll be looking at the folks getting married.

4. You don’t need a plus-one to have fun

I went to all six weddings without a plus-one (gasp!). Most I wasn’t given one, anyway, but that didn’t matter. I never felt like I needed a date.

Each person who got married was a friend or family member. So I always knew at least one person to hang out and hit the dance floor with.

Weddings are, by design, very coupled-up events, so this can seem sort of nerve-wracking if you know you’ll be the odd one out. At one wedding, I was the only person in the entire wedding party without a date.

But a good wedding planner (even if that’s the folks getting married) is going to seat you at a table by folks you know (not at some awkward “singles table”).

You might have to use the slow dances as a chance to grab some water or run to the restroom, but you’ll be glad you didn’t use going dateless as an excuse to skip out on your friend’s special day.

5. The DJ makes a difference

I’ve never been to a wedding with a live band, so I’ll admit off the bat that my experience here is limited. In our digital era, I used to undervalue the DJ gig — I mean, come on, they’re just pushing play, right?

Wrong. The right DJ knows to play the perfect mix of high energy and slow jams, of modern and classics. They take requests (but not too many!). They customize their set for the bride and/or groom, but still make it appealing to everyone on the floor.

The best DJ of the season didn’t stay behind the turntable, but joined us on the dance floor to teach us some moves — like the line dances the Wobble, the Dougie and the Git Up.

That brought even more people on the dance floor, no longer afraid they didn’t know the moves. It was full the entire night.

That’s in contrast to the DJ who played polka music for the first full hour, which might have pleased a few family members, but turned off most of the guests.

6. Don’t stress about the gift

Every year it’s like I completely forget how to buy a wedding gift. I survey all my friends to see how much they’re spending, I call my parents, the whole shebang.

I’m definitely among the folks who believe you should bring a gift if you attend a wedding, and spend enough to cover your plate.

But it’s sort of hard to know how much that is, since costs vary so much from wedding to wedding.

Gretchen (far right) as a maid of honor at wedding No. 3.

According to a SurveyMonkey Audience poll, folks spend more on immediate family than close friends, and more on close friends than lower-tier friends.

But there’s a lot of conflicting advice on whether you need to spend more if you have a date, whether the gift needs to be for both people getting married, and how much you have to spend if you’re also buying gifts for the shower and the bachelorette or bachelor party.

But by the end of six weddings, I realized that the gift was hardly the most important part of the whole thing. I spent what I was comfortable with, and while that added up, I didn’t feel the need to overspend just to get them something flashy.

That meant that at the last wedding, I literally bought the couple rugs to go under their toilets. Hey, they were on the registry!

Pre-2019 wedding season me would never have done that. Post-2019 wedding season me knows there are more important things to worry about.

Gretchen Brown

Gretchen has reported on the criminal justice system in rural Minnesota and covered everything from politics to millennial truck drivers for Wisconsin Public Radio. She is passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.