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The Dating Dad’s Wedding Season Survival Guide

Wedding Season

Summer is here. The days are longer, the kids are out of school, and everybody you know is getting married.

Yes, summer means wedding season, and if you’re newly divorced, or in the process, or just haven’t found your way back to the idea that marriage is a good idea for anyone, helping friends and family celebrate their nuptials can be an exercise in self-control. It’s time to sublimate your cynicism, put on your game face, and be the supporting, loving person you’ve always been.

But it isn’t easy.

I remember going to my cousin’s wedding just a few months after my own divorce was finalized. I’m not sure my cousin understood what she was asking when she requested that I hold a corner of the chuppah – the canopy in a Jewish wedding. I’m sure she felt like it was a demonstration of how close we’ve always been. But considering I was still reeling from the recent upheaval in my life, and the same rabbi who’d officiated at my wedding was doing hers, I could only dread the experience.

And it wasn’t easy to stand there while my cousin and the groom looked lovingly into each other’s eyes, the rabbi talking about a forever commitment. It wasn’t easy to suspend disbelief on their behalf, to smile and lend encouragement when marriage seemed to me a sham and a lie and a false promise people make to each other. It wasn’t easy to stand at the front of the room, before my family members in the front rows. And it really wasn’t easy when the rabbi turned to me at a quiet moment, put her hand on my arm, and whispered, “You’re doing great.”

In the years since my divorce, I’ve been to many weddings, and have been in the wedding party of several of them. In none of them have I felt so deeply out-of-place as that first one. I felt like an imposter.

So the good news is that it will get better. But that first round of weddings is a bitch. You just kind of have to suck it up, not take yourself too seriously, and know that you’re not always going to feel this way.

Here are select tips to help the newly divorced (or divorcing) survive wedding season.

1. Prepare yourself.

Whether it’s a family or friend occasion, you can probably get a good idea of the guest list before you go. Will you have compatriots there who have your back? It’s the bride and groom’s day, so don’t count on either of them to be attentive to your experience. But if you have a cousin or a close friend who knows what you’re dealing with, it wouldn’t hurt to reach out before the big day and have a chat about it. Talk about any discomfort, and make a plan for what to do if things start to feel iffy for you, whether it’s to make sure you have plenty of bubbly (or bourbon) to soften the sharp edges, or a place to which you can retreat, or an escape plan.

2. Wear something that makes you feel awesome.

Make the effort to look your best — it’s better to be a little overdressed than a little underdressed. You’ll feel more confident, and it’ll show. So take the time to find the clothes that fit the occasion and also fit you well.

3. Pack a couple hankies.

As a man, I always carry a handkerchief in my pocket, but I’ve learned to carry an extra at weddings, just in case the waterworks start near me. But if you’re in the early days of being single again, you may need them both for yourself. It’s okay to cry, even if it’s out of self-pity. Weddings are an in-your-face occasion, and they can bring a lot of crappy stuff to the surface.

4. Be a snob.

If you can make a wedding fun for yourself, it’ll go by faster and be much more enjoyable. For me, I have this weird compressed conflict of thinking, “Damn, I’m not sure I could do all of this process and fanfare again,” combined with “But if I did, I’d never include a song by Bob Dylan in the ceremony.” And then I think of all the ways my next wedding would be superior to the one I’m attending. Which allows me to drift into the fantasyland of the proposal and the wedding and the honeymoon with some as yet unknown woman. But not the marriage afterward—yikes! It’s absurd, of course. But it’s a fun game, and it allows me to daydream myself away from the present while still being in the moment.

5. Be brazen.

The more you act like you belong there, the more you’ll believe it. And the fewer maddening expressions of concern you’ll have to deal with. For me, it was the looks and the questions that I hated most. The last thing I wanted to talk about was my feelings and heartache at a joyous occasion. Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

6. Drink enough to lighten the mood, but don’t get sloppy.

Of course drinking yourself into oblivion would be an easy way to stay numb through the whole event. But you already know the many reasons why that would be a bad idea. Still, if a nip or a sip will settle your nerves, and you can keep the urge to binge drink in check, I say go for it. If cannabis is more your thing, the same rule applies—go easy. You don’t want to be the sloppy drunk or zoned out stoner who becomes the cautionary tale that everyone remembers.

7. Flirt (or be flirted with).

You may or may not be in the mood for love, but you can still surf the wave of built-in romance that always comes with a wedding, and see where it takes you. Maybe it’ll lead to a date, a tryst, a new friendship, or just a magical, stolen makeout session in a deserted hallway. Just make sure that doesn’t happen with the bride and/or groom.

8. You don’t have to stay for the whole thing.

If you’ve powered through the ceremony and the beginning of the reception, and you’re just not feeling it, make a quiet exit and feel good that you lasted as long as you did. You don’t have to stay for the cake ceremony. And you certainly don’t have to dance if you don’t want to. But…

9. You can dance if you want to.

Go for it. Be you. Smile, shake your hips, surrender. You have this.

Obviously, these are just shallow, surface-level tactics to help you power through the 3-6 hours (or, egads, entire weekend) of unbridled optimism and fraught emotions wrapped up in a wedding event. Whatever you do, don’t choose that time to sift through your own sentiments about marriage or dig into why you’re feeling the way you are. Save that for another time, and a safe space — like with your therapist, or best friend, or with a box of tissues and a binge-watching of Scrubs.

Eric Elkins has been divorced for 13 years, and writing his Dating Dad blog about the joys and humiliations of being a single father for more than a decade. He owns a social media consulting agency in Denver, writes books on the side, and travels often with his 16-year-old geek goddess daughter. You can find him on Twitter as @datingdad, on Instagram as @ericelkins, and Snapchat as @sazereric. Read more at datingdad.com.

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