“Oh. I guess we’re at the Unmarried Cousins Table.”
And we were. I’ve also been at the Single Women Table, the College Friends Table, and the We Don’t Know What To Do with You Table.
Sometimes it’s hilarious to figure out your table’s theme, but sometimes it just feels a little sad. It can make you feel like part of a pack, true, but it can also make that pack feel excluded. I’ve been at a wedding where the Chicago Friends Table realized sadly that, to the family and hometown friends, we were the Out-of-Town Friends We Don’t Trust and Won’t Be Talking To Table.
As a bride, the one surefire solution to the problem of theme tables is not to have them. I know: You’re already tearing your hair out over seating. Putting people in little teams where you know they have things to chat about seems both easy and kind. But in the long run, it isn’t. You want your tribes to mingle, and dinner is the best time for them to start getting to know and like each other. If you keep them in the teams they’ve already got, you’re risking hostile little oil-and-water clots on the dance floor later.
You don’t need to have place cards and specific seating assignments, but you should definitely have table assignments. Otherwise, your friends and relatives will separate into the same teams they’ve always had and they’ll be forced into nomadic hunter-gathering at the start of the reception. It’s not terribly festive to be part of a group that keeps almost sitting down, only to be told that the High School Friends have already staked a claim over here, and this table is “kind of reserved” for Civil War Reenactment Buddies.
So it’s time for some bridal tough love: You are going to force your guests to mix now so that they can have more fun later. Don’t worry about them being able to talk to their pals – they’ll get up and chat later. That’s what people do at receptions. And don’t worry about them having something to talk about. After all, they can always start with how they know you. They’ll be OK.
Start off with a couple of flagship tables. Yes, you’ll want one for the wedding party, and perhaps a couple for exalted kin groupings. And, yes, couples do get to sit together. After that, it’s all up to you and your groom.
If you know there are guests who will definitely argue with or shock each other, tentpole them at separate tables far away from each other. You just have to encourage your guests to get to know each other, not reconcile the Hatfields and the McCoys.
After that, look for people who you really think might hit it off. Go ahead and have fun with it. Do Uncle Dick and your groom’s sophomore year roommate have the same sense of humor? Have you always wanted your best friend and your cousin Roxanne to meet? Can your husband’s buddy the Truffaut scholar be sat near your friend who won’t stop talking about her trip to France 15 years ago? Stay positive and playful. You are a benevolent goddess who is creating new friendships.
Matchmaking should be done very carefully and very subtly, if at all. There is no surer way to give Venus the heebie-jeebies than to seat Jan and Dan – Who would be perfect for each other! – as the only young singles at a table full of long-established couples. They’ll notice. And probably will stay at opposite ends of the room for the rest of the night as a result.
After that, sprinkle in the rest of your guests with a good mix in mind – blend sides of the family, friends from different parts of your lives, and generations. Try not to strand any one couple as the only old folks at the table of rowdy college students or the only work friends at a table of tight-knit relatives, but you don’t have to mollycoddle them. They can make polite conversation for one meal, and they might even make friends.
Once dinner is over, presto! Everyone has a new team, their Our Table team. They now have reasons to chat and dance with each other, and reasons to introduce each other around to members of their other teams. Your guests have a jump-start on mingling, and are that much closer to being part of the all-encompassing Your Wedding Team.
And if Jan and Dan end up making out in the coat closet, let them think it was their own idea. You and Venus will know the truth.