Better & Worse

I wound up in Normandy the same way my mother wound up in North Carolina: you meet a guy, relinquish a tiny bit of control, and the next thing you know, you're eating a different part of the pig. -David Sedaris

When a guy begins a conversation with, "Sam Shepard? Yeah, he was pretty good in Steel Magnolias... " you pretty much know he's on the verge of getting married.

When he says it in front of a half dozen of his closest male friends, in a busy Mexican restaurant, on a Friday night, with only two women in attendance, you really believe that this particular marriage is probably destined for success.

He didn't even bother to profess any embarrassment when his buddies mercilessly ridicule him about other titles they might all watch later (like Fried Green Tomatoes and Terms of Endearment).

It's not that I enjoy chick flicks. In truth, I've dominated every conversation for the past six months with a scene-by-scene analysis of how I think the movie Black Hawk Down might measure up to the book. (Sorry, I don't think it's compelling drama when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan email each other.)

Still, I always think it's a little touching when grown men freely embarrass themselves in the name of love- whatever the manifestations might be.

It takes a man who's very secure in his masculinity to let you have your way on every single thing that will ever matter to either one of you, for the entirety of a relationship.

But, I make room for the possibility that I go overboard in this belief because I've watched one too many female friends do entire identity makeovers on behalf of some guy. It's one thing to be a little open to new things (good), it's another to develop multiple personality disorder overnight (generally agreed: bad).

I figure that's a slippery slope.

One minute, he's ordering my dinner - the next thing you know I've somehow agreed to a religious conversion, relocation, 2.5 kids, a name change, and cats instead of dogs.

In truth, it's probably ok to cave on the little stuff ("what wine? Oh, you pick," I might be tempted to suggest...), but then the next thing you know, I am -as they say-eatin' a different part of the pig.

With a mindset like this, I'm not exactly at the top of everybody's wedding guest list. Because most wedding parties justifiably want to be surrounded by people as dewy-eyed as they are.

That's why the name of my fake husband comes engraved on all the invites, above mine. He's a romantic and an optimist, whereas in my world, Vera Wang is not a patron saint because she mostly works in white, and I'm unqualified to wear that on ethical, aesthetic, and fashion grounds. Still, I'm delighted to celebrate other people's relationships, just not my own.

Up until this year, I never even believed in bringing somebody to a wedding.

It's so redundant. As one of my buddies says (later this issue, in fact), taking a date to a wedding is like bringing beer to a keg party.

But the older I get, the less I look on social occasions as sources for brief, meaningless (possibly unseemly) encounters with people I don't know very well.

Mainly because, the older I get, the more that crowd dwindles.

For the wedding we went to on New Year's Eve, for example, I knew nearly every single groomsman and male guest in attendance... not biblically... but enough to rule out any unanticipated hookups.

Besides, it was also dictated-by the bride-last summer, who our dates would be.

We were told long before Labor Day that the guest list was not changing, and we'd better select a partner with some longevity potential.

Commitment-phobe that I am, I told her she could just tell me who to bring (one less decision for me to make), and she quickly defaulted to the old ball and chain.

I was volume dating at the time, and-as she accurately predicted-the prospect that any of those guys would still be speaking to me past Thanksgiving was admittedly slim.

Plus, I force the pseudo-spouse to accompany to so many dull things, it doesn't seem fair to leave him out of festivities he might enjoy (i.e., open bars). Sure, he had to wear a tux (which, he complained, made him feel like he was slowly sawing his own head off), but other than that, he agreed it was pretty much an affair to remember.

And for me, it was a significant commitment to sign up for a platonic date-in August-that would guarantee the most chaste New Year's Eve of my adult life.

Harder still (so to speak), I met one or two promising New Year's Eve contenders in the intervening months, but once it was all in ink, I'd never better-deal him.

During a recent mini-drama, in fact, I asked with righteous indignation, "when have I EVER chosen a date or a boyfriend over you?"

To which he responded, matter-of-factly, "Oh you don't chooooose anybody. You just invite all of us and hope nobody gets their ass kicked."

Which is not true at all.

In fact, I wouldn't mind if somebody got their ass kicked, because most social occasions would be enlivened by a good brawl... Just not weddings.

Which is why I dutifully limited myself to one date, and stuck with him for every related event (all 27 of them).

Post-wedding, in yet another typical gender-reversal for us, I remained sanguine, happy for the new couple, and still unmoved from my basic embrace of the non-marital life. He, on the other hand spent the rest of the week contemplating his own potential nuptial scenarios, eventually deciding, "I think the most I'd hope for at my wedding is not to embarrass myself... Like I wouldn't want people saying for the next ten years, 'they wore sandals.'" (Apparently, he went to one too many weddings in the 70s.)