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October 24, 2002

I Do!—But Not to You

http://www.jewishjournal.com/singles/article/i_do_but_not_to_you_20021025

Ting, ting. A dinner spoon rapped on a glass at our table of single wedding guests.

"Let's go around the table," another guest said, "and let everyone say a bit about himself."

One by one, my seatmates at Table No. 3 delivered an awkward Who-Am-I.

Another wedding, where I'm an FOB -- Friend of the Bride -- and not the groom.

In "My Best Friend's Wedding," Cameron Diaz told Julia Roberts: "He's got you on a pedestal and me in his arms."

During my early to mid-30s, a dozen years ago, I played Julia to a bevy of Camerons. I dated or befriended a parade of wounded birds who had lost their trust in men and looked to me to restore it.

My effect was magnetic: I either attracted them toward some new sap or repelled them into the arms of an old flame.

In turn, each platonic paramour gushed over our easy intimacy. "I never knew I could feel this open and comfortable with a man who isn't gay!" Just what a stud would want to hear. Did I need a shot of testosterone? A swig of ginseng tea? One siren proposed I join her sometime for a nap. In her eyes and theirs, I was "sweet," or worse, "safe."

But I didn't want to be safe. Safe guys finish last. I had learned that by dating Beth.

Prelude to a Bris

I was waiting for a bris to begin when I first set eyes on Beth Orr -- forbidden fruit, a non-Jew. A voice whispered, "She may be the one; live dangerously."

It was her first bris and I offered to explain what was going on. After the ceremony I asked to see her again.

"But Paul, you can't marry a shiksa," she said. "You said so yourself." What was I thinking?

Damage control. "Beth, If there's a chance you'd adopt my way of life, call me." Her call never came.

One Saturday, I was shmoozing in my synagogue after the service when I ran into Beth. She was attending beginners' service and planning to convert. There is a God.

"That's great," I said nonchalantly. "Why don't we talk about it over dinner?"

"I'm afraid I can't," she said. "It could jeopardize my conversion."

Of course. "How long a wait are we talking about?"

"About seven months," she said.

I replied with the most romantic utterance I've ever spoken: "If Jacob could wait seven years for Rachel, I can wait seven months for you."

My honeyed words worked their devilish charm. Before long, Beth and I had shared two dinners and a movie. We could recite the names of each other's various exes, in sequence.

At the end of Date No. 3, Beth took my hand. "Remember Misha? The tempestuous architect I was with for three years? We're engaged. I guess you deserve the credit."

My Best Friends' Weddings

In quick succession, Beth begot Gina (met Mr. Right after our second date), who begot Leah (accepted her best friend's proposal after our third date), who begot Eleanor (became betrothed to her long-distance beau a week after we shared a private midnight swim), who begot Grace (who, six weeks into our "When Harry Met Sally" friendship, said "Yes" to her boyfriend of two years).

I made a career of attending my best friends' weddings: serving as their wedding photographer, writing and performing songs for the happy couple, helping the bride load leftover braised chicken into my car to deliver -- still warm -- to a homeless shelter. All in a nuptials' work.

Now, against all odds, it was Mimi's (aka Miriam) turn. Mimi, with whom I'd shared marathon long-distance colloquies that touched our deepest chords. Mimi, who upon meeting me "knew" I was her intended. Mimi, who six months later met him.

Which is why I now sat among my fellow leftovers at Table No. 3 on Chicago's North Side, staring down at a napkin to read, for the eighth time: "Wedding of Miriam B. and Levy S."

Ting, ting. The spoon woman was politely reminding me it was my turn to embarrass myself.

"I'm Paul Stregevsky. I'm a technical writer, I live in Atlanta and for two years I've been a friend of the bride."

A redhead quickly took her cigarette out of her mouth a stared. "Oh my God -- you're Paul! I've heard so much about you."

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