The outfit was chosen, the hotel paid for and the train booked; I had everything in place. I was so excited to take the man I was dating to my friend Lisa’s wedding in Birmingham. After years of always being the single girl at the wedding, I was finally going to have someone to slow dance with and make eyes at during the speeches.
Or so I thought, until my plus one texted me three days before the wedding, ending things, and leaving me desperately scrambling to find a date. As expected, no one could change their plans at such short notice so I had two choices: either let my friend down or face it alone. Although I’ve been to A LOT of weddings without a plus one, I had never been to one where I knew absolutely no one except the bride.
Despite having been friends for a year, I’d never met Lisa’s work friends or schoolmates. I didn’t know her mum or dad or even who her bridesmaids were. If I had known I was going to end up without a date, I would have made an effort to meet some of Lisa’s friends before her big day, as regular solo wedding attender Alex, 36, advised: "Always try and go to the hen do, then you can make bonds and know people when you arrive."
"But if you can’t do that," Alex continued, "just remember how freeing it is to be by yourself. You only have to worry about enjoying yourself and not making sure anyone else is having a good time. Remember you are not a failure if you are on your own – you can dance, drink and flirt outrageously and no one is going to stop you!"
I knew it was important to Lisa for me to go to her wedding and I really wanted to see her tie the knot. Plus, this was a Scottish/Indian wedding with over 280 people; surely there’d be other guests flying solo, I thought – maybe we could form a group.
I stood awkwardly nursing my champagne, praying that someone would recognise me from a Facebook picture or at least take pity on me and strike up a conversation.
I am not ashamed to admit there were some tears on the train as I questioned why I hadn’t managed to find a husband of my own or at least a boyfriend who wouldn’t constantly let me down. And when I arrived at the pre-drinks and looked into the sea of faces, none of which I recognised, I wanted to run straight back to the train station and home to London.
I stood awkwardly nursing my champagne, praying that someone would recognise me from a Facebook picture or at least take pity on me and strike up a conversation, but everyone was caught up in their own day. I watched enviously as men in kilts joked around while girls posed for endless snaps.
There was an hour until the ceremony and I was conscious that getting completely wasted wasn’t the best idea. I opted instead to sit in the toilet and text everyone I know, telling them how awkward I felt. My best friend encouraged me to go back in: "Imagine if you meet your husband there. It will make a great story."
Karen, 36, who has been solo at weddings quite a few times, agrees that drinking too much isn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself.
"I used to get straight on the alcohol but it didn’t make me feel great and I just became the unaccompanied drunk girl. I’ve perfected it now, though. I’ve started driving to those weddings and booking a night in a really nice hotel away from the party. I stay as long as I feel comfortable and as long as I’m having fun, but as soon as it gets awkward or people get romantic with their partners, I slip off and enjoy having a mini break by myself."
When we were called to take our seats in the church, I sat on an empty chair at the end of the aisle thinking, 'Surely someone will make conversation with me now'. And I was in luck; one of the bridesmaids' mums started chatting and said she would introduce me to her friends and daughter.
My friend made a beautiful bride and I was really moved when I saw her walk up the aisle. And true to her word, my seat buddy started introducing me to all her friends while the bride and groom were whisked off for pictures. They might have all been old enough to be my parents but I was grateful for them and they really entertained me and made me feel welcome.
By this stage the bride had found me and dragged me over to meet her work friends, bigging me up as her showbiz journalist pal who knows all the celebrity gossip that can never be printed. We hit it off and they helpfully pointed out all the men who were single.
Weddings can indeed be a great place to meet partners, Sian, 48, confirmed: "I was standing on my own at a wedding, trying to be approachable while being ignored by waiters. My friend, who was the groom, dragged me over to some other singles. I made awkward small talk with one of the men. We ended up getting drunk and we’ve just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. My friend and his wife still can’t believe we got together at their wedding but who knows what might happen when you take a chance!"
The man sitting beside me exclaimed: 'Oh, it’s the mysterious blue dress girl. We were convinced you had crashed the wedding.'
As I cast my eye over the table plan, I hoped that at least one of my new friends would be near me but there were no names I recognised, and I felt a punch in the chest when I saw my ex’s name still on the plan beside mine.
When I finally took my seat, the man sitting beside me exclaimed: "Oh, it’s the mysterious blue dress girl. We were convinced you had crashed the wedding." It turned out he had spotted me in the church and asked who I was but no one had any idea.
The night really improved after that and my table ended up doing more Jägerbombs together than I care to remember. Everyone else had gone to university with the groom and they all knew each other extremely well. I certainly felt like the novelty as I answered questions and they told me hilarious stories about the bride and groom. We ended up dancing the night away and to my surprise, I had a really good time.
I was lucky with my table because often it's when the dancing starts that solo guests feel uncomfortable. Charlotte, 28, explained: "I found it really hard at an old friend’s wedding because there was a ceilidh and I was the only one without a dance partner. I put on a brave face on the day but cried when I got home. I got married a few years later and I was much more considerate of having a couple of singles so no one was left out."
There's no point pretending. Attending a wedding solo can be hard. After all, on a day focused on love and becoming a couple forever, it's natural to feel a bit lost. But I surprised myself, not only having fun but coming away from it feeling good about myself too.
What's more self-affirming than facing a tricky situation head-on and not just getting through it, but having a bloody good time in the process?