With the onset of the June wedding season, the nation’s 86 million singles are sucking in their collective breath as they step up to place-card displays all over the country and learn that they have once again been seated at the Singles Table. As more betrothed couples pay for their weddings themselves, guest lists have gotten shorter, and even close friends are expected to come stag. Like a colorful bunch of unmatched socks, the single guests are shoved together and expected to pair off—and often they do, at least for the night. With unlimited alcohol, a common hotel, and a five-hour stretch in which the only things to do are talk and dance, the Singles Table is a breeding ground for hookups. But in the morning, those who have gotten lucky often freak out, realizing, as dawn floats through the country-inn window, that a wedding-night stand rarely leads to long-term love.
Dave Taylor, 35, a sales exec, has gone to ten weddings and gotten busy at nine of them. (At the one where he didn’t, he insists, “there were no single people.”) To make the most of each opportunity, he does advance research on his female tablemates: “I usually corner the bride and do a background check about the woman sitting next to me. Where does she work? Is she nice? Has she recently broken up? It’s a way to find out who’s single and who’s really looking.”
Once seated, the Table inhabitants must first get their bearings, by looking to their left and their right and determining that they are in fact at the Singles Table and not the Misfits Table—which is reserved for that one work friend, a widowed cousin, and the weird uncle with the wandering eye. Carey Earle, 37, a CEO who has been a bridesmaid ten times, has been seated at the Misfits Table and found it torturous, but says she’d prefer any alternative to being the one single person at a Marrieds Table. “When people complain about the Singles Table, I ask, ‘Would you rather be the only single at a table full of couples talking about their kids all night?’ You don’t want to be the mercy dance for some married guy whose wife says, ‘Go on, ask Carey to dance.’ I’d rather dance with the weird uncle.”
Once the tablemates establish that yes, this is in fact the Singles Table, they open with that old standby, “Friend of the bride or groom?” and begin to let down their guard. Polite chitchat devolves into tipsy flirting, which devolves into wild dancing, and then into skinny-dipping in the lake by the tent with some goateed hulk.
With the main entertainment a public affirmation of monogamy, it’s hard for singles to feel content with their status—especially women. Lillian Thakuria, 28, a writer-producer, doesn’t like going to weddings alone. “If you’re at the Singles Table and you’re a guy, people ask, ‘How’s work? Are you still at the same place?’ If you’re a girl, they just want to know about your love life. ‘Are you dating anyone special?’ ”
Moved by the ceremony and lubricated by Chardonnay, the women are in a vulnerable state. “A wedding is like the World Series for chicks,” says Earle. “You’re in the bleachers and you want to be down on the field. No matter how wealthy and accomplished you are, you feel like you’re not in the big game of romance and fantasy.”
“Women definitely go farther at weddings than they would after a first date,” says Taylor. “The biggest aphrodisiac is to spin a girl on a dance floor.” How did he learn to dance? “I took a class in ballroom dancing for the sole purpose of entertaining women at weddings.”
As the more aggressive singles begin to pair off, those remaining are left with nothing to do but complain. Not only aren’t they married; they couldn’t even get a mate for the night, which makes the wedding doubly agonizing. So they resort to gossiping about the lucky ones while watching them slow-dance to “Lady in Red.” “I went to a wedding in Montauk,” recalls Earle, “where one woman was able to score the prize guy of the night. We watched them disappear from the dance floor, and there was a level of cattiness among the women that was like sixth grade.”
The hookup rate at a wedding rises if it is a “destination wedding,” on a beach in Majorca or cliff in Tuscany. “There are so many destination weddings these days,” says Carley Roney, editor-in-chief of wedding site TheKnot.com. “Everybody’s from out of town, you’ve been forced into this situation, and you might as well make the best of it.”
Even if the two singles are from the same city, wedding-night stands may not lead to actual dating. Taylor tried several times—with little luck. “Usually the sex goes so far they feel guilty. They wake up in the morning and feel like it’s too rushed. I go to weddings looking for a girlfriend, but I’ve also learned to take what I can get.”
Earle, on the other hand, agreed to a first date with a Singles Table hookup only to find that the chemistry was circumstantial. “A lot of alcohol was consumed,” she says. “Then we went on the first date and thought, We don’t like each other at all.”
She admits that in recent years, the Singles Table has begun to lose its novelty. “Now that I’m getting closer to 40,” she says, “the people at the table tend to be older. You’ll meet someone who’s been divorced recently, and the desperation factor is higher.”
But for the time being, she’s willing to put up with it. “Even if you don’t wind up sitting next to the love of your life,” she says, “you might meet a cool person. People shouldn’t be ashamed to sit there,” she says, her voice rising. “I think we need to embrace the Singles Table. Let’s give the Singles Table a positive brand identity!”