For editing purposes, I dubbed this column "weddingbeat" in the St. Petersburg Times computer system.
All reporters have beats, meaning their stories cover one subject, such as the courthouse or crime or high school football. But lately I feel as if my primary function in life has been to attend weddings.
I recently returned from blessed occasion No. 4 of 7.
That's this year alone.
That's right, seven weddings in 12 months. Four as a guest, two as a bridesmaid and one as a reader.
I turned 26 in December, and I suspect all these numbers are connected in a way that could be mapped on a chart to explain this sudden burst of nuptials among my friends.
One wedding took me all the way to Connecticut. An upcoming one in October is literally walking distance from my house in Tampa. I've sat through Catholic Masses in grand cathedrals and watched a minister of the Alliance of Divine Love marry two people behind a home overlooking a golf course.
Professional wedding attendance is fun, it's sentimental, it's a great excuse to get dressed up. And it costs a small fortune.
I don't dare tally the year's total dollars spent on weddings. The money I've hemorrhaged in the last week hurts enough.
Three days after flying home from wedding No. 4, I had to get fitted for the next bridesmaid ensemble, to be worn at wedding No. 7 in November. That's another $150 charged to Uncle Visa, right after I spent $217 on the flight to the last wedding, $80 on a hotel room, untold amounts on "miscellaneous," plus $25 on the gift.
(The gift is low-end, I realize. But the groom was an ex-boyfriend. I believe I'm excused from buying the $100-plus Lenox china. He will accept the wind chime, and he will like it.)
I nearly scored the rare victory of reusing a bridesmaid dress. I had a floor-length orange satin gown hemmed at the knee and was all set to squeeze another use out of those $230 as a guest at another wedding. But ultimately, I lacked the boldness to show up in that color. Too conspicuous. I imagined conversations among guests the week after:
"Did you meet Molly?"
"Not sure. Which one was she?"
"The one in orange."
"Oh, right. How could I miss her? Trying to steal the spotlight, was she?"
I went with a lovely, cream cocktail dress borrowed from my roommate, who herself just wore it in a wedding. This bridesmaid business is a tangled web.
So midway through the Year of Weddings, I have reached a few conclusions. Not that I'm an expert - I still play singles tennis - and I'd never presume to tell anyone how to plan their big day.
But here are a few nuggets of knowledge I picked up:
One. Backyard weddings are about as good as it gets. Watching a bride stride past childhood pictures on her journey down the aisle is priceless. Who needs country clubs?
Two. Witnessing an ex-boyfriend get hitched is at once gratifying, amusing and liberating. Gratifying because if you're there, you must have found a way to be friends, and it's good to see friends find happiness. Amusing because you're tickled pink that it's not you up there in white. Liberating because, again, not you.
Three. Being a bridesmaid can be a pain in the taffeta-covered rear, but it's well worth it. In May, a friend I've known since we were 5 got married. We made our First Communion together. Twenty years later, I was in her wedding. Those are among life's great treasures.
Four. An open-bar is an absolute must. Oh wait, I said I wouldn't dictate wedding plans. Well, forget it. You gotta have booze.
Five. I should have started saving for my 26th year long ago.
(This has me thinking, how could I ever pay for my own? I hear $1,000 is "average" for a wedding gown. Better hang on to that orange number.)