I have the honor of being the best man at my buddy’s wedding soon. I’ve never been a best man before, and I want to do it right. What are my duties and responsibilities?
Rooting For Vegas
Miss Manners has a long, insightful list of things the best man is expected to do. That list, like all wedding literature, is written for girls, and bears no real relationship to the actual responsibilities of a best man. Here’s the real list:
1) You are the goddamn GOLD STANDARD for groomsmen. Your boy is marrying a woman. He doesn’t need any shit from the guys. You are the enforcer. You should be the first one measured for your tux, and make sure the others get it done in a timely fashion. You should have your reply card turned around in the blink of an eye, and make sure the others get it done in a timely fashion. You are responsible for keeping their asses in line when it comes to things like tuxedo pickup, church arrival, and generally making sure they are seeing what needs doing before anybody else does.
This is not the time to make friends, General, this is the time to kick ass and keep the unit running right. If they have had your role before, they will understand. If they haven’t, and they don’t, they will, and they will.
2) You are responsible for the bachelor party. This means, first and foremost, that it is your job to figure out what the groom really wants for the blowout. Not what he says he wants, because he has to have plausible deniability, bride-wise. The normal rules don’t apply to bachelor parties, either. Your pal might normally be afraid to talk to a woman wearing shorts, but still want Cristal and Vixen to walk into the party wearing big gift bows. He might be a guy who runs ten miles a day and eats nothing but wheatgrass juice and granola bars; don’t assume he’ll be annoyed when you show up with a box of Cohibas. The normal rules don’t apply to bachelor parties. Everything is on the table.
3) On the big day, you are responsible for transporting the groom around. Contrary to popular belief, it is not your responsibility to “get him to the church on time” unless he has repeatedly stated that that is where he wants to go. If he turns to you in the limo on the way to the ceremony and says “Get me the fuck out of here, man”, he’s going to have the same clarity of thought as a bolted rabbit. This is your moment, and this is why you’re here. Your personal feelings are TOTALLY FUCKING IRRELEVANT. I don’t care if he’s marrying your GODDAMN BELOVED BABY SISTER, he chose you as his second for this exact moment, and you are his eyes, brain, and hands right here and now. He put his future in your hands. That’s a sacred trust. Don’t let him down. If he doesn’t mean it, if he’s just got the heebie-jeebies, talk him down — but if he does mean it, you better have cash in your wallet and an escape route in your head, because you’re running his life for the next few hours while his brain wraps itself around reality, and the hunt for him is gonna be intense.
4) If he does go through with it, you have some simple but crucial duties surrounding the ceremony:
a) You need to have a flask with *his* drop in it on your person. He’s gonna need it before you take The Walk.
b) Make the man laugh before the Show, so’s he doesn’t look like Rodney Dangerfield in all the pictures.
c) It’s important to break the tension. You have two choices when the ring is called for: You can do the Oh-My-God Pocket Pat, or you can do the Dime Drop and Roll. Either one should be carried out just long enough to make him think you’re not joking. (And fun is fun, but if there’s a ring-bearer, you goddamn better have a second ring on your person lest the rugrat lose it. Have a blade to cut it free of the pillow, too, just in case.)
d) The person who starts the clapping after the new Mr. & Mrs. are introduced is you. The longer you wait, the more chance there is for the following uncomfortable silence or one-clap ovation to become legend.
e) Be ready to catch him. The less said about this, the better, but be ready.
f) And, unlikely as it is, have an idea of what the fuck you’re gonna do if the bride bugs out beforehand.
5) If the ball never goes up, and y’all make it to the reception, you are going to be making a toast. There are three simple rules to doing this right:
One: You may not give a ‘traditional’ toast, except as part of a larger toast you have written yourself.
Two: You must have completed a written version of your toast at least two days in advance.
Three: You may not have more than one drink per hour at the reception until after you speak.
Follow those and you’ll be fine.
If I had to reduce all the advice to one bit, it is this: Have a plan. If the groom gets food poisoning at the rehearsal dinner, have a plan. If the reader faints during the Psalm, have a plan. If a fucking ASTEROID hits the reception hall during dinner, HAVE A PLAN. For forty-eight hours, he is Kermit, and you are Jim Henson. You are going to be too busy thinking for him to think for yourself — so think of everything in advance.
And once he and the bride are away, post-reception, settle back with a cold beverage and a hot bridesmaid. You earned ‘em, General.
What about groomsmen? You make us sound like jerks. What’s our role?
Overlooked and Peevish
Groomsmen* are the executive officers, the grizzled sergeants, and the ground-pounding grunts to the Best Man’s general. They raise objections to existing plans, propose alternatives, and brainstorm new ideas — until the decision is made by the Best Man. Then the groomsmen are obliged to put a sock in it and execute.
True groomsmen** fit into one of two categories: Nuke or Crash.
Nukes have not previously assumed full duties involved in Standing Up in a wedding. They are apt to be eager to please, fired up to participate, and enthusiastic about the rituals involved. Pros: They are honored to be handed small duties, they are eager to please, and their excitement is infectious. Cons: They can get overexcited, some of them are too young to drink lawfully, and they draw a sharp contrast to the older, fatter groomsmen. Nukes are a critical part of the team, but they require guidance.
A Crash has been a best man, and has the scarred wisdom to prove it. The Crash does not view being a groomsman as a demotion, but as an opportunity to teach. It is his obligation to pass on what he knows not only by word, but by example. He buys the first round, reminds the kids that you have to tip if you sit at the rail, and teaches them the art of greasing a bouncer/hostess/cop. Pros: They’ve been here before, and are good at anticipating need. Cons: They tend to have more in the way of obligations and distractions than Nukes. First time Best Men should lean on these veterans the way a fresh-faced lieutenant leans on his sergeant: One is unquestionably in charge, but a quiet suggestion from the subordinate should not be lightly disregarded.
And when in doubt, apply the groomsman’s maxim: “I am the Best Man’s Best Man.”
Anybody else have questions?
* Despite the terminology used, “groomsmen” do not need to be male. Team Groom should be chosen on merit. Period.
** There is a third category, Faux-groomsmen, composed of either groomsmen of the family-obligated, Class C cousin sort, or those groomsmen too young to fulfill their duties but too important to give a lesser role. (For the latter, a Crash may serve as a regent for the non-ceremonial portions of the role.)
Al is an unemployed shiftless layabout with a laptop. He occasionally contributes to the Keys Network, which is linked somewhere nearby. He divides his pointlessness between Chicago and Key West. He is tall. And a mammal. He is also typing this late at night after a cocktail or two, so he is not exactly swimming in appropriate details about himself right now. But he does love to write about himself in the third person.
ABOUT AL BROUILETTE
more about al brouilette
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.13.05 @ 2:57p
"One: You may not give a ‘traditional’ toast, except as part of a larger toast you have written yourself.
Two: You must have completed a written version of your toast at least two days in advance.
Three: You may not have more than one drink per hour at the reception until after you speak."
Man, that's genius. Genius! The simplest guidelines are the best.
12.14.05 @ 3:30p
For forty-eight hours, he is Kermit, and you are Jim Henson.
That HAS to be the most creative description of a groom I've ever heard.
1.14.06 @ 9:07p
Am I the only one to get the origin of the quote Al used as his title? Interesting choice.
1.15.06 @ 11:26a
I think you might be, Lisa. I know it's a movie quote, but damned if I know WHAT movie.
1.15.06 @ 2:22p
It's from Full Metal Jacket---one of Sergeant Hartman's favorite phrases. I can see where Al thought it was appropriate for a column on best men.
1.15.06 @ 10:54p
(Juli advised me that the original title, "Grabastic Pieces of Amphibian Shit", wasn't a reasonable title for a first piece.)
1.16.06 @ 11:12a
1.17.06 @ 3:14a
Only women responded to this column and I know why. You omitted one valid role, however testerone-fueled, which is the highest obligation of any true best man, and is, indeed, the true measure of success.:
A proper best man has no ethics of his own, and must be prepared to balance some questionable behavior for the greater good. To wit, he must shamelessly, but cleverly and relentlessly, hit on the bride on one hand, while steadfastly attempting to talk the groom out of it. He must do this for at least a week or so leading up to the big day.
A true best man can't bless, much less toast a good buddy's marriage, unless one is sure his buddy's gal won't jump his bones just for the sheer wild hell of it. Likewise, you have to be sure the groom won't jilt her just to cycle to Vegas with your sorry ass one last time, play some cards and run with 19-year-old hookers like back in the day.
I mean, it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it. Think about it: Hit on the bride, you know she puts out. Talk the guy out of it, you know he wants to run. Your failure in both cases is their success.
Sincerely, Dan Gonzalez
Marriage preservation/Divorce mitigation specialist.