Cousins' weddings never come at a good time. They are never at a convenient location. You don't want to buy something new to wear. You would rather not have your picture taken until you lose that weight or grow out that haircut. You have unpleasant memories of having to sit with the cousin at the children's table when he or she was young and annoying or when you were. The menu does not include whatever your special diet requires. Everyone there will ask you when you are getting married or, if you are married, when you are having children, or, if you have children, when they are going to be potty-trained/learn some manners/get into an Ivy League school/find a job/get married/have children of their own. You'll be seated with a bunch of people you don't know. Or you'll be seated with a bunch of people you do know but do not want to talk to. And while we're at it, the bridal couple and/or their parents are acting like diva control freaks.
None of that matters. You still have to go to your cousin's wedding. Here is why.
- You may think you do not look the way you want to, but I can promise you this. You will never, ever be this young again, and years from now you will look back on these photographs and think you looked fine.
- Your family will never be this young again either, and every moment you spend with them, even the awkward questions and unavoidable dysfunctions, will be a sweet memory some day. I still cherish a photograph of my wonderful grandfather dancing with me at my cousin's wedding when I was 12. I was too young to appreciate the look in his eyes as he watched me then, but I can see it now and I am so glad we were there together.
- Unlike Thanksgiving, Christmas and family holiday gatherings, you are not responsible for any hosting, clean-up, or other duties and you can enjoy being a guest. The food is likely to be excellent and if it is not vegan or gluten-free or whatever you need, grab a bite ahead of time and eat the salad. There is also likely to be some very fine champagne and some music to dance to.
- You will strengthen your bonds with your relatives and learn more about your family's history and culture. Keep in mind that most often they only ask those awful questions and make those painful jokes because they don't know you well enough for anything better. Sometimes they do it to head off questions about something they would rather not discuss. You can get past all of that. Start by telling them you're glad to see them and then ask them what's on their iPod, what their favorite team is up to, what your parents were like when they were young, who's got grandma's legendary recipe for sticky rolls, or what crazy things they've seen at other weddings. You will find out how much fun your family can be.
- One of the great things about family weddings is that you don't know at least half of the people who will be there. It is a great chance to meet people you might never get to talk to under any other circumstances, and who knows? One of them might be a great contact for a cool new job, have some advice about a trip or project you're planning, or even be a possible new friend or romance.
- At a wedding, you are absolutely, positively guaranteed to get some memorable stories. If everything goes well, you've got great ones. If something goes wrong, you've got great ones, too. (It's fine to laugh at your family as long as it is kind-hearted. No snark allowed.) We've been lucky enough to go to a wedding at a firehouse with a country-and-western band and one on a mountaintop in Tuscany, conducted by the communist mayor wearing a ceremonial sash. We went to one where the groomsmen wore kilts and yarmulkes and one where the groomsmen did a Chippendales-style dance at the reception. I would not have missed any of that for the world. (Remember that you don't want to feature in too many of the other guests' stories, though -- stick with just one glass of that delicious champagne.)
- The most important reason to go to your cousin's wedding is this: If you don't reach for happy times, they will pass you by. And then when you need those memories and connections, you will miss them.
Life does not give you a choice about the sad and the scary. They seek you out and track you down. Happy occasions hide behind the illusion that there will be a better time and another chance. But there will never be another moment to share this experience with these people. The joyful moments will not be there unless you grab them. Get past the inconvenience and frustration and cheer on the two people who want their families around them as they take this step. Wish them well. Make some memories. Meet new people and see the ones you thought you knew in a different light. And remember, when it's your turn, invite your cousins. It will mean a lot to them to be there.
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