By Doni Joszef
’Tis the season to get married . . .
Yep, it’s wedding season, so in the spirit of holy matrimony, let’s continue our catalog of predictable personalities and the games they often play at the social circus that is a Jewish wedding.
The Overprotective Best Man. Technically speaking, he’s not a Secret Service agent, but weddings bring out a side of him that reflects an inner wish to be one rather than the insurance broker that he is. He considers it his duty to protect the groom at all costs, escorting him from place to place. He gets a strange high from being the groom’s right-hand man—even if his assistance comes entirely unsolicited. He’ll keep the groom hydrated by summoning others to quickly deliver bottles of Gatorade or water. He resembles a boxing coach, forcing the groom to sit in a chair for others to entertain him while he regains his breath, regretting the countless failed attempts to exercise in preparation for this very occasion.
The Limelight Lover. He sees the chuppah as his stage and the guests as his audience. He will wow them with his sagely wisdom, his passionate blessing, or his delightfully disfigured vocal cords. His voice seeks the effect of an operatic production, though he fails to acknowledge the difference between a catering hall and Carnegie Hall. He milks the limelight for all it’s worth. He patiently waits to be pulled into the sacred space we call “the middle” for a dance with the groom and, once he’s there, seems to have a hard time letting go of this honor. That’s when Mr. Best Man steps in, reminding the Limelight Lover that his time is up and his show is over. He looks around, suppressing the urge to take a bow, and awaits his standing ovation.
The Sneaky Seat Saver. She’s at the chuppah before her friends can even finish making a monetary assessment of the smorgasbord floral arrangements, secretly saving three rows of chairs by placing a napkin, a keychain, or a semi-used toothpick on every chair within a four-foot radius of her shrewdly selected seat (she always takes the third-row—close enough to see the subtle family drama unfold behind the scenes, but far enough to binge on her BlackBerry without getting caught on camera). She sees her seating arrangements as more of a social service than a passive-aggressive quest for control. Don’t even dare sitting in one of her 35 saved seats, lest you boil in the wrath of her disapproving stare. She may be a middle-aged Jewish mom, but if you know anything about middle-aged Jewish moms, you know they can play some serious hardball. Don’t mess with her.
The Circle Crasher. He seems to be missing an important social skill which deciphers the difference between where we belong and where we don’t. When the cousins are sharing a sentimental moment in the middle, the Circle Crasher inserts himself there. When members of the high-school class of ’98 are squeezing into their now undersized hockey jerseys, reenacting the pregame huddle with a touch of nostalgia, our Circle Crasher jumps into the huddle. When the groom and his newly acquired father-in-law share the obligatory hug-dance, the Circle Crasher slips himself into the hug. Aside, perhaps, for the last case, he’s usually an unwelcome tagger-on who forgets the fact that gestures of inclusion come with an unspoken—but assumed to be understood—gesture of exclusion. But nobody is heartless enough to burst his bubble, so the Circle Crasher ends up in pretty much every wedding photo despite the fact that he was number 937 on the guest list.
The Sideline Spectator. His body language says “I’m too cool for dancing” but his heart says “I’m too awkward for dancing.” To compensate, he claps in sync with the snare drum, bobs his head like a club bouncer, and when nobody’s looking he twirls like a butterfly under the false assumption that butterflies twirl and the even falser assumption that nobody’s looking. But, for the most part, he spectates, watching the action like a ringleader surveying a circus. Which is what I do when I’m not selfless enough to break a sweat or move my hips like I’m a careless and carefree little bar mitzvah boy. (Shame on me, I know.)
The Dead Fish Dancer. While the Sideline Spectator knows he’s awkward but pretends he’s not, the Dead Fish Dancer has no clue. He’s basking in the bliss of his own rhythmic ignorance, with clammy hands, offbeat body movements, and shameless toe-stepping. His legs are moving, but you wonder if there’s even a heartbeat beneath the deflated layers of skin and bones. To overcompensate, you tighten your grasp of his hand, hoping to dear G‑d that his arm remains in its socket and that his legs don’t trip over yours.
The Single Sibling. Whether she’s 14 or 40, people can’t help but wish her the obligatory “You’re next!”—which often sounds more like a coercive command than a hopeful guarantee or generous blessing. These nice nuggets of reassurance are neither nice nor reassuring. They serve no productive purpose other than to make the single sibling feel like more of a single and less of a sibling. But we can’t help ourselves. It’s as though a “kick me” sign stamps itself onto the forehead of every single sibling, and kick we most certainly do. “G‑d willing by you!”—or some Judaic permutation of that phrase—jolts out of our mouths before we even get the chance to realize how clichéd we sound.
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Yes, indeed, Jewish weddings provide fertile ground for such games (and many others) to unfold.
The theatrics of social transactions never cease to materialize, and if we add a bit of self-awareness into the mix of our own mingling, we’ll find ourselves playing some games of our own. As I’ve been writing throughout this series, games are harmful only if we refuse to see ourselves as the players we are. So long as we acknowledge our own roles in the social sitcom, we’ll be more accepting and less detesting of our communal costars.
Lights. Camera. Action . . . v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice and presents innovative workshops on a variety of psychosocial topics. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.