To all the people who've invited me to events with those two fateful words, "And Guest," I apologize. I'm sorry you have to look through your wedding or shower or Bar Mitzvah photos and say, "Who's that?" when looking at my date.
"What was his name?" said my aunt, squinting at the uncomfortable-looking guy standing next to me in a wedding photo.
It's a familiar question for me. In my defense, I'd like to say that at the time, it always seems that Mr. And Guest is The One, soon to be a permanent fixture in my life and in my family. Is it my fault I'm either exceedingly optimistic or hopelessly misguided?
It's not like I've intended to burden the world with my endless stream of McBoyfriends. I didn't mean to squeeze that extra platter of mass-produced salmon out of you. I never wanted to give you another mouth to feed, one you don't know or care to know.
It's just that it's no fun going solo. Case in point: a recent wedding in Catalina. Sure, there were a couple possibilities in the And Guest pool, but none seemed close enough to bring. I couldn't handle the guilt, the photo review session, the "Who was that guy?"
I spent the weekend alone, a lone star in a galaxy of couples. All that beauty -- the postcard blue ocean, the sailboats -- seemed to mock me all weekend long.
"Look at me," said the sunset. "I'm beautiful, you're not. Otherwise, you'd have an And Guest, you loser. Goodbye."
I woke up one morning that weekend with an early-morning inner vortex of need, that stomach-twisting, I-need-my-mother-or-a-good-cup-of-coffee feeling. I went and sat on the sidewalk with my cell phone and called home.
"Just bring a date next time," my mom said. Right. How obvious.
But those magic words "And Guest" have begun to disappear from my invitations. Throwing a big party is expensive, and who wants to foot the bill for someone's disposable guest? I totally understand. According to Internet-based etiquette specialists The Wedding Women, unless you're married, engaged or living with a boyfriend, it's not wrong or rude to make you go it alone.
"Sure, everyone has a better time when they're invited with a date, but many couples limit the number of guests by inviting cohabitating partners only," they advise.
Let's face it, budgetary constraints aside, those wild card "And Guests" can add color to any affair. Sometimes they're weird computer programmers, scantily clad new girlfriends or other gossip-worthy types that give everyone something to talk about. And Guests can really break up the monotony of socializing with the usual suspects, even if they are only begrudgingly welcome.
I have to be clear about one thing; it's not so bad to be single. I embrace it. I choose it. I'm not complaining. For now, that's just the way it is for many of us 20-somethings who are taking our time before cohabitating or marrying.
Still, think of us when you're debating whether or not to invite with guest. Picture us driving to Calabasas, Ventura or some other hinterland all alone. Imagine us clutching a hard little dinner roll and scanning the room with a look of calm and confidence artificially etched on our faces. Picture us dancing with your 6-year-old nephew, because it's that or trade "how do you know the groom" stories with an accountant and his wife from Ohio.
Ultimately, it's just as rude to thrust some unwanted guest on a party-giver as it is to dispense with the feelings of us single guests. Trust us, I say. Give us the option of And Guest or And Escort and let us use our discretion to decide what would be appropriate. Sometimes, we'll mess up. Trust me, we'll feel guilty about it. Mostly, though, we'll be able to enjoy your celebration more with someone in our corner.
Again, my apologies to anyone I've imposed upon. But the more I think about it, the less bad I feel. I think my favorite etiquette advice was from an article in Town & Country magazine. "While changing times have raised new questions about propriety, the very questions that will help you answer them -- thoughtful-ness, sensitivity, maturity -- are the same ones upon which strong marriages are built." The article continues: "In the end, good old-fashioned manners, and kind hearts, can be the most reliable compass for navigating all questions of etiquette."
Isn't that well put? I thought so.