Saturday, August 31, 2013

Catch you later

There was a story in the New York Times ago that struck me as very interesting, and touching on an "issue" that I've never seen discussed in a newspaper. That is to say - it was about a certain wedding tradition.

If you are over 30 and you've been to a wedding in your life, you know that often the bride takes her bouquet of flowers and flings them at a collected mass of unmarried female guests. Supposedly the person who catches the bouquet will be the next to marry.

But the story said that the tradition is dying out for the best possible reason in our more liberated times. The stigma of being unmarried has pretty much disappeared. That means no one is particularly anxious to grab on to some ancient ritual that is said to change that status. Good.

I've got to give my sister a ton of credit on this particular issue for being ahead of her time. When she got married a few years back (ahem), there was no flower-tossing. She sent the flowers to be placed on the grave of our beloved grandmother in Massachusetts. That sort of gesture has become quite popular in one form or another.

But the article didn't get into the flip side of that tradition, one that isn't romanticized as much. Welcome to the garter toss.

In this particular tradition, a garter is taken off the leg of the bride by the groom, and then flung into a crowd of unmarried men. Yes, the one who catches it will be the next to be married.

I can state with categorical certainty that for shy guys, this was a form of torture. I've never heard it better expressed than a high school friend spoke up about this tradition. Neither of us had dates at this wedding, which was pretty much the case for practically every other social event on our calendars.

"I feel a little stupid showing up at a wedding without a date, but there's not much I can do about that," he explained. "And what do they do? Drag me out into the middle of the reception floor with a bunch of other single guys who are perceived to be a little pathetic, leaving me hoping that the garter doesn't land in my lap and call more attention to me."

And where was this conversation? In the men's room. That's where some single shy guys headed when it was time for a garter toss. Ladies, you'd never believe how crowded it was in there. I always wondered if it was that crowded in the female counterpart at the appropriate time, but never found the nerve to bring it up.

Let me emphasize that neither of us had anything against marriage. Both of us are now happily married and have been for decades. We just didn't like wearing the equivalent of a scarlet letter at that point in our lives.

I can only think of one memorable toss in my career as a single wedding guest. For some reason the groom limited the backwards flip to members of the wedding party, none of whom were close to getting married at that point. The garter was heading right into the middle of the circle, and nobody moved. At the last instant, one of the group reached down and made a shoestring catch. At some level I realized it was just a silly little tradition, but it all sure made me feel uncomfortable.

On behalf of people of both sexes who are happy with their lots in life, let's hope the story is right and the trend continues. Shy people have their rights too.

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