How To Survive (And Thrive At) A Wedding Stone-Cold Sober
Illustration by Mr Calum Heath
’Tis the wedding season, and weddings mean only one thing: lots of alcohol. Well, love and alcohol, perhaps. But what if you’re facing wedding season for the first time as a non-drinker? Well, I have seen behind the curtain. After a year booze-free, last month I went to my first wedding on the wagon, and let me tell you, I experienced things you would not believe. So, if you’re feeling a little nervous, I am here to help. I, now an actual expert, can reveal the secret, scientific formula for attending a big do and having a jolly nice time without so much as sniffing a glass of wine. “Tom, it can’t be done,” you say. Oh, but it can. And here’s how.
Be charming (and dress to impress)
It is highly likely that, according to a few fellow wedding guests, your personality for the evening will simply become The Man Who Is Not Drinking. Much like a Victorian curiosity, The Man Who Is Not Drinking can instil great fear and fascination in even the most broadminded of folk. Expect treatment that can range from name calling (deep-seated fear about personal drinking habits masquerading as banter) to repeated questions about your sorry, weird predicament of happy, clear-headed sobriety (deep-seated fear about personal drinking habits masquerading as interest or concern).
Obviously, all you need to do is smile and be polite. If you want minimum inquest and maximum awkwardness, a good response to “Why?” is, solemnly, “Because I’m an alcoholic and there is not enough booze in this building”. Otherwise, something more fun like, “I’ve got something better in my car,” might suit.
Whatever you do, do not prove the piss-takers right. A core belief of some people who drink is that booze = good + fun and if you don’t drink, you are neither good nor fun. So, don’t be a crap wedding guest. Join in. Be witty and make interesting conversation. And make sure you’re better dressed than anyone else while you’re at it. This will instil confidence and draw compliments. Try a bright double-breasted linen suit, perhaps, with a pop of colour from your socks or a jazzy tie.
Make yourself useful
All fears about, say, a work meeting, or the birthday party of someone you vaguely dislike, are based in what you might or might not get out of the thing in question. These are self-centred thoughts. So, to rid yourself of anxiety (and be helpful), stop thinking about yourself and start considering others.
Being of service is a great ego dissolver. Think about it. You are the only person at the most important occasion of your mate’s life who can operate heavy machinery – so make yourself useful.
Can you top up people’s wine? Can you thank waiting staff in lieu of your mates who are now play fighting? Is there a relatively simple bit of maths relating to an issue with the bar tab that only someone who hasn’t been drinking four different colours of drinks over the course of eight hours can solve?
Obviously, don’t overdo it. You are not here to work (or operate heavy machinery). But a little care and consideration for your fellow guests can help the evening along and evaporate any worries you may have about how you, the only sober person in the world, are coming across.
Dance with the mother of the groom
After decades of tearing up dance floors across various continents, newly sober people often realise they groove like a defunct office chair. But as a non-drinker at a wedding, you absolutely must force yourself to dance, even if only for a few moments. This is your chance, sober man, to shine.
Worried? Don’t be. Remember: everyone has lost their minds. They’re all dancing like idiots to the Village People. Just ensure you pick the right partner. The mother of the groom is a perfect candidate. She is a main character, so your endeavours will be noticed. She is also an easy target. All people over the age of 66 are thrilled to be asked to dance by anyone “young” (under 50) – especially if they are drunk.
The mother of the groom also presents an extremely safe dancing partner, technically speaking (because: arthritis). Extra points will be awarded for comically extravagant twirls, which make her feel and look younger, or if you get a kiss on the cheek at the end.
Leave at the right time
Free food and drink, clear time and location boundaries, and a shared, unspoken responsibility to have a lovely time for the sake of the bride and groom make weddings a failsafe Good Vibe event. So, have a great time. But remember that part of your enjoyment is knowing when to make yourself scarce.
There are many signs for the non-drinker to utilise. You should obviously stay for the speeches and dinner, however inebriated everyone is. But afterwards, when the DJ starts, things inevitably begin to untangle a little. People will repeat themselves or become obsessively focused on singular, minor details. A man called Alex with whom you have exchanged nothing more than a nod will come up to you, slurring and bleary-eyed, tie missing, and claim, for about half an hour, that he “really respects what you’re doing” and sees the benefits of not drinking.
Conversation of any kind will become increasingly difficult. Tolerance of your drunk friends will probably expire at around midnight, aka drink six or seven. Unless your energy levels are still good and you are having a nice time – if so, crack on! – this is your cue to go home and put the kettle on.
(And don’t tell anyone)
I have some news for you. You are at the centre of very few people’s lives. If you are, unless it is a life partner or a child, it is fleeting. And this wedding is no different.
This is not a reflection of your character; I am sure you are a fantastic person. Nor is it depressing – it is the nature of existence and relationships, and it is OK. Leaving the party at a reasonable time will not have a substantially negative impact on anyone’s life, and even if it does, it is not your problem. Throw into the mix a day’s worth of ethanol and things become even less important.
You are literally in a tent/hotel/castle (delete venues according to how anxious the bride and groom are about their relationship) with 93 neurologically impaired people. If you announced that you were going to set fire to yourself, no one would bat an eye lid.
However, there is always one incredibly insecure person who cannot handle someone doing something different and, if you tell them you are heading off, they will move heaven and earth to stop you. Even just for their benefit, leave without saying a word.
An Irish goodbye, a French exit – whatever you want to call it, just say you’re going to the toilet and slip off into the night. It’s a thrilling, liberating feeling. And absolutely no one will notice.