by Chris Chafin
My friend Stephen planned his wedding very carefully. He picked Howe Caverns, in upstate New York, for the ceremony because it was a favorite weird-but-cool destination of himself and his then-finance. He roped in a mutual friend of ours to perform the ceremony; he timed the whole thing to coincide with the annual Perseids meteor shower. I wasn’t invited.
Stephen told me later that only the immediate families were there. He didn’t want to deal with having a big event, he said — “fretting over orders of centerpieces or picking hydrangeas versus birds of paradise” — or the logistics of wrangling friends to leave the city. “Plus, we knew we’d be having a nice big party here in the city,” he said with a nervous laugh. “You weren’t invited to that, either.”
In fact, none of my adult friends have ever invited me to their weddings. Not Stephen or Tom and Kim or Mary and James or Annabel and Nick or anyone else. When I bring this up, people laugh, and they almost always say, “No! Really?”
It’s not, as it turns out, very easy to ask why you haven’t been invited to someone’s wedding, even if they’ve agreed to talk to you about it ahead of time as part of a totally judgment-free piece that’s really just an exploration and definitely not some bitter, crazy exercise in blame. When the crucial moment comes, they shy away; the conversation sort of steers itself in other directions: Have you run into so-and-so lately? How many kids is it you have these days? It’s like running into a burning building, again and again and again.
The first person I asked was my friend Tom. We first met in 2004 when I moved to New York. He knew many of my college friends, but somehow we never met at school. We hung out furiously for several years; we watched all of Firefly together and went to see Revenge of the Sith with a big group. Eventually, we stopped hanging out regularly (according to Facebook, the last time I’d contacted him was on December 8th, 2007), but we’d still run into each other at parties or concerts and catch up. He married someone else from our social circle last October, and I was not invited. When I messaged him to ask why, Tom told me that he was leaving town for Europe and wouldn’t be able to speak with me. I was a little relieved to escape talking with him. I’d avoided even reading his reply to my message for several days because I had convinced myself that it would be full of angry recriminations — “Why would you ask me this?” We ran into each other at a party a few weeks later, and neither of us brought it up.
Stephen had immediately agreed to talk with me (and, for good measure, sent me an invitation to his baby shower). Though we’ve never really hung out one-on-one, we’ve known each other for about twelve years, since working at the same college radio station; we were part of a crew of several dozen that moved to New York, though only eight of us are still here. When I described our relationship to him as “a long-term-acquaintanceship,” he took exception.
“I’d call you a friend!” he responded quickly. “If you were hit by a car, I’d come visit you in the hospital. I’d watch your cat.”
I was touched. “Would you really watch my cat?” I asked him.
There was a pause. “Wait, do you actually have one?”
I’ve had the same cat since 2003.
Stephen had several theories about why we’re still technically friends, even though we’ve never been close. “Because we’ve never been like super super close,” he offered, “we’ve never had the opportunity to have a falling out.” He also suggested that, after knowing each other for so many years, we have a kind of “common-law friendship.” These were comforting ideas. But it’s hard to deny that some kind of gulf had formed between us over the years: Until our phone call, I hadn’t realized he’d planned his entire wedding in the wake of his father’s death. If I didn’t even know that, why would I have possibly been at his wedding?
Another friend of mine, Mary, got married in May in the barn at Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece outside Pittsburgh, where she grew up. She was more blunt. “I never thought of you at all!” she told me, laughing. “Oh, God. Sorry!”
I asked Mary if her husband was originally from that area, too. “They’re from here,” she said. “I’m actually from Maryland.” Oh, Christ; I was sure she was from Pennsylvania. Maybe she went to college in Pennsylvania? I don’t know. I had to look up the name of her husband on Facebook.
While speaking, we figured out that it had been at least five years since we saw each other, and those times mostly revolved around Mad Men viewing parties. Still, three of my best friends are also her best friends. Doesn’t this give me some kind of halo effect, a friendship-by-proxy?
“I know you didn’t think — you didn’t really think that you were going to be invited to my wedding,” she said at one point. It would have been insane to invite me. But that doesn’t mean that secretly, somewhere, I didn’t want an invitation to show up in the mail.
The only non-related adult person who has ever invited me to celebrate a marriage was Marie, my very first New York City boss at my very first New York City job. I was extremely young and she much older and wiser; I was 24, and she was 26.
Her ceremony was at a country club-ish place near the water in Massapequa, Long Island, during a hurricane. I was the only person there from work; I remember looking around at dinner and suddenly realizing how thoroughly I did not know anyone else in the room; I had never even met her fiancé before. After the ceremony, it was impossible to find a cab, and so my then-girlfriend and I and rode to the LIRR in a limo with some strangers. I drank too much at the open bar and watched the water smash against the dock outside. Marie was incredibly gracious. We danced together, I think. Maybe? It was a good night.
How did I end up at that wedding and not the others? I realized that in the weeks leading up to the wedding, Marie had been talking about it constantly (as people tend to do) and one day I semi-jokingly said that I was still waiting on my invitation. Ha ha ha. She looked away before saying, “Oh. Ah, yes. Of course.”
That was the only reason I was invited, she told me over the phone. In fact, that’s how many of the other guests were invited. “It’s one of those things like when you’re creating invitations and someone’s like, oh, that would be fun, and you’re like, oh shit, was I supposed to invite them?” she told me. “That happened to me a few times. I assumed if people asked, I was like, okay, sure! I didn’t really know any better.”
I guess I always imagined I’d established some kind of permanent place in the hearts and minds of the people I’d met in my life and that “not talking to someone” was a temporary condition. Maybe it is. But the more births and deaths and weddings and pregnancies you miss, the more you move from “needing to catch up” to hardly knowing someone at all.
We want to believe that there’s order and purpose in the universe, and that things happen for a reason, which we can then understand. The bleak outcome of this process was the discovery that there wasn’t a reason that I had been left out. I didn’t do anything that made anyone angry; I didn’t say anything rude; I didn’t offend anyone by missing a party. It’s just no one thought of me. When they thought of everyone they know who lives nearby and who might want to celebrate a marriage with them, I simply did not cross their mind.
Chris Chafin is a writer living in New York City who finds people endlessly weird and interesting.