I read Save the Date, mostly on my front porch, in a hammock. It was summer, and my roommate was getting married, as well as many other people I knew, in a short period of time. It seemed fitting to read a book of essays about going to weddings, and having a whole spectrum of feelings about them.
Wedding season is upon us again, and I thought it was time to revisit this book. I caught up with author Jen Doll to talk about love, relationships, and being single at weddings.
Tell me a little about your book and where the idea for it came from?
It’s a book about almost all of the weddings that I’ve been to, from the very first wedding of distant relatives that I attended at the age of 8, with my fairy tale conception of a wedding (and that clearly it would happen to me because it happens to all of us), through one of the last weddings I went to right before the book was published. It’s about how you go to weddings in all of these different iterations of life, from childhood to adulthood, single, with people, possibly engaged, after a breakup, after you lost a job. Having dealt with all of these things that happen to a person, because we all live lives that include a lot of this stuff, and what does that mean to go to weddings in all of these different iterations?
Several years before [the book was published] I had just sketched out all the weddings that I’ve been to. What did I wear at them? What gifts did I give? Can I even remember that? And what was the essential thing that happened, aside from the couple getting married? Every wedding contains not only that primary drama [the couple getting married], within that there are all of these other different stories that are happening. I love that idea that a wedding contains so many different stories. Especially as you start to realize, as you get older, that the wedding isn’t necessarily the most important thing. Maybe it’s not going to happen to you, and maybe you don’t want it to. Maybe you haven’t found the right person and you’re doing your own thing. So [the book is] from the lens of a very childlike fascination for weddings to a grown-up woman’s cynicism, doubt, and hope for love.
I wanted it to be a book, but I wanted to get some feedback, so I submitted that little essay to The Hairpin and they ran it and there were hundreds and hundreds of comments and people sharing what they’d experienced at weddings. That gave me a push to go forward with the project because it felt like it really resonated with people.
As a single person, what do you love most about weddings, and what do you find most challenging about them?
It’s funny because you might think, looking at the book, or reading certain sections of it, that I don’t like weddings. The thing is, I really love weddings. I think they are wonderful parties, generally, but also I’m a pretty hardcore romantic and I love the idea of two people proclaiming their commitment to each other and that they bring their families and friends around to celebrate that.
I think that first step you take into a wedding, especially if maybe you only really know the bride, and she’s extremely busy. Showing up to a party on your own can always be a little nerve-wracking. You don’t know who to talk to, you don’t want to be the creep hanging out alone in the corner looking at your phone. I’ve done it kind of a lot. It gets easier. There is something really fun about going to a wedding by yourself because most people at a wedding are very open and generous and happy to be there and you’re all there and connected for the same reason, essentially.
I guess also I think there’s a certain aspect of seeing other people in love and it’s hard not to think ‘Why do they have that and I don’t?’ or ‘What did they do right and I didn’t?’ All those feelings that we throw back at ourselves. But someone else finding love doesn’t mean that you have less of an opportunity to find it. In fact, it simply means that it’s out there. I think I’ve gone from an earlier point in my life feeling kind of wistful and like ‘Oh I want that too and why don’t I have it?’ to just really celebratory about it because every time that happens it’s so great.
The essays in your book are on a continuum from hilarious and delightful, to emotional and challenging. You never know what you’re going to get at a wedding. What advice would you give to those embarking on wedding season?
I would give the same advice that I give about life in general, which is: you never know what you’re going to get anywhere. We try so hard to make what we expect come true, and there’s nothing wrong with that to an extent, but being open to possibility is such a lovely freeing way to live in the world.
This wedding you’re going to: anything could happen at it. That’s the best thing about life. Maybe you’re going to meet the man of your dreams, maybe you’re going to make a new friend, maybe you’ll have a hilarious conversation with someone you never even thought you’d talk to. It’s like opening a door and walking through and thinking: ‘What am I going to find here?’ as opposed to thinking ‘Ugh, I have to do this again. I’m spending so much money. I’m going to all these stupid weddings. I don’t have anyone to go with.’ It can get really overwhelming.
Also, don’t feel like you have to go to every single wedding that you get invited to. But for close friends and people you love, go to the weddings and just open yourself up to the possibility of what they could bring you. And, weddings are kind of a great place to meet people.
You’ve attended so many weddings and watched your share of friends divorce, as well, do you still believe in true love?
Most of the couples in my book are actually still together, including my parents. But especially as I get older, there are more and more divorces. I’m in that age group, people’s first marriages are ending and maybe people are having second marriages, in some cases, so that’s an interesting place to be. Perhaps I’ll get invited to some of those weddings.
Short answer: yes I believe in it.
What is true love? I guess it depends on a definition. Is true love the love that you have with one person who you marry and then you are simply with them forever, for the rest of your life? Or is true love the magical moments that we have with people when we have true connections and intimacy? True love maybe doesn’t always last forever, which sounds crazy. But I think that going to so many weddings, and seeing so many couples, and having all of these experiences, and also getting older, makes me realize that the form of true love may not look the way that I thought it did in the beginning, that it’s much more fluid and flexible and it could take many different shapes. I think you can be truly in love with someone and then it doesn’t work anymore and then you can find someone else who is a true love.
As you wrote this book and sent it into the world, what were your hopes for your readers?
I wanted people to tell me stories. The book is about me, and my experience, but we all have those experiences. We all have weddings that we’ve been to in all of these different iterations of life. We all have felt sadness, and happiness, and joy, and pain in these crazy orchestrated love moments, where it’s like half play, half some kind of really deep and amazing romance. So I hoped that my readers would feel empowered to tell their own stories and to look at a wedding as not merely two people walking down the aisle and you watching that, but that we’re all participating in this event and have our right to it. We all share in it.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook or at www.carastrickland.com.