I'm going to a wedding in Delaware in a few weeks, because aren't we all. I was very excited about this adventure when I thought Delaware was in the South—I've never been to the South—but it turns out Delaware's just off to the right of Maryland. So now I'm merely regular excited, because even though the wedding will be in the boring old lower-North like every other damn thing, I still get to drink on the beach (Delaware turns out to be coastal) and celebrate the blessed union of Katey and I think some dude I used to work with.
I like weddings and I bet you do too, because you're no monster. Sure, you might complain about all the time and money they soak up, and we all know how dispiriting it is to wear zipper-pants during baseball season. But in the final accounting, all decent folk, lovers of love, and enthusiastic open bar-stormers admit that weddings are a good time. And if you're just some basic civilian without any extra wedding responsibilities beyond throwing a dart at the Pottery Barn website, showing up on time, and keeping your hands to yourself, it's easy to be a good wedding guest. Just follow these rules for conducting yourself with the barest minimum of dignity and restraint concerning the booze and you should be fine.
1. Drink plenty of water. It works! But you're not going to, are you? And telling you to stay hydrated makes me feel like I'm hosting the No-Shit Health Tips Show on the Elevator News Network. But maybe you could manage an extra swig of Gatorade the morning of the wedding. Then you could pretend you tried, which is, after all, none of the battle.
2. Eat early, but not often. Get some solid matter in you before the hollering starts and then leave the food alone after your fourth drink. There's no point eating once you're already shitfaced. Throwing a midnight cupcake on top of a dozen beers is like taking the morning-after pill when your kid's 9. However, this doesn't mean you should mount every hors d'oeuvre in the joint as soon as the doors open. You're at a wedding reception, not Target the day after Thanksgiving; don't treat the ham-wrapped breadsticks like $17 Bangladesh-made MP3 players. But go ahead and take a couple things off a couple trays and give yourself a fighting chance.
3. Don't hose the bartender or the host. If it's a cash bar, then tip like a normal person. If it's an open bar, drop $20 in the bucket on your first trip. The bartender's probably already getting cut in for 20 percent of the inflated tab, but screw it—it's a wedding and you're an adult.
And speaking of inflated wedding tabs, I don't like to be all scummy and transactional about it, but the fact is that the only thing more expensive than attending a wedding is throwing one. So if you should have the good fortune to stumble upon an open bar (and you probably will, because we drunks have done a good job of shaming wedding hosts into considering open bars nearly mandatory), have some mercy on the credit card behind the curtain. There's certainly no need to bypass your usual Sierra Nevada in favor of Schlitz, but if you're an Old Crow man, don't treat the biggest bar tab of someone else's life as your chance to shoot your way through the Johnnie Walker rainbow.
4. Make your first drink a good one. Whenever you have access to varying qualities of booze you should start at the top and then work your way back down into the gutter whence you came. The last wedding I went to had all sorts of deluxe local Marylandish beers, so I enjoyed a few of them before switching over to my standard after-dinner drink of whatever's closest.
5. Drink for the person you are, not the person you're dressed as. Please don't drink brown liquor or red wine just because you're wearing shiny shoes. If that's your usual stuff, then by all means have at it, but you shouldn't drink outside your comfort zone.
6. Easy on the Champagne. Especially since it's really Trader Joe's prosecco. Again, if you're a big bubble-guzzler, then don't let me get in the way. But there's no need to fire down three quick flutes just because it's the first alcohol you see. There's beer back there, somewhere. Go find it.
7. You probably shouldn't make a toast. There are trained professionals—or at least obligated family members—for that sort of thing. It's unlikely that your input is needed. Don't be bullied into bad action by men's magazine lists of Life Skills You Must Master Including But Not Limited To Changing A Tire, Making Risotto, And Giving A Kickass Wedding Toast. If you're pressed into action and drunken public speaking is not a core strength of yours, just stick with a quick "Good luck, Jeff and Tina." And don't call them "you crazy kids." Don't know why, but that bugs the shit out of me.
8. Your two necktie options are A) all the way on and B) all the way off. Don't loosen the damn thing. I don't care how much your neck sweats. You're a distinguished guest, not a poorly divorced DUI lawyer who can't afford to condition the office air.
9. Leave the bridesmaids alone. The half-dozen cheery ladies with ugly dresses and pretty fingernails weren't purchased from a bridesmaid rancher who bred them explicitly for horniness and amiability. They're mostly other guests' wives and sisters, and furthermore, they're really busy. And even if none of the above is true, what are the odds they're interested in you? Be reasonable.
10. Don't be the drunkest one in the room. I got plenty blotto at that Maryland affair, but one of my friends had the good sense to start a fight, another one vomited on our boss, and a third concussed my date. I'm not saying you should surround yourself with assholes or encourage bad behavior, but both are handy ways of keeping the spotlight off your own slurred words and mustard stains.
And there you have it. No part of this plan is beyond your meager means, is it? It's not as if anyone's asking you to stay sober, cure cancer, or be an engaging conversationalist. The social-acceptability bar is set deceptively low at most weddings. You just need to keep things under control so you have a good time and annoy as few people as possible. Following these 10 steps will improve your shoddy odds of avoiding illness, injury, and arrest.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states if you don't count Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. His last post for Deadspin was a ranking of crappy American beers.
Image by Sam Woolley.