I'm not a natural public speaker, so when a close friend asked me to be his best man at his wedding, I accepted the invite with some hesitation. I managed to pull off the typical wedding party duties without a problem, but kept putting off the speech, which I decided I could wing at the last moment.
Well, after a nerve-racking wedding day, I still hadn't put anything on paper and got into the drinks with a little more enthusiasm than might have been appropriate for the situation. By the time it was my turn to speak, I was pretty hammered, had no idea what I was going to say and ended up slurring my way through a pointless speech that made the audience totally uncomfortable. My ill-timed jokes, as it turns out, were considered offensive, and the audience and wedding party were mortified. Is there any way to make amends for being the booze-fuelled buffoon? I feel like I ruined what could have been a beautiful wedding day.
I have three rules for wedding speeches, or any speech for that matter, and, unfortunately, you broke all three of them:
Don't try to wing it.
Don't get drunk first.
Never, ever, do both.
I've seen toe-curlers, face-grabbers and head-shakers. I've seen whole reputations, carefully cultivated over a lifetime, swirl down the toilet like a struggling spider in a matter of minutes when otherwise sensible people broke these cardinal rules.
I remember one wedding where the father of the bride, a high-ranking government official, assumed the stage, grabbed the microphone and, drunk and winging it, began his speech: "My daughter was never the most attractive or intelligent of my offspring ..." And his speech actually managed to go downhill from there. (Come to think of it, I may have to add a fourth rule: If you do wind up drunk and winging it, don't try to be funny.) We squirmed. We cringed.
We groaned and put our faces in our hands. Finally, he was shouted off the stage. And no one who was there has ever thought of him the same way since.
For you, the first thing to do is learn from your mistake. Next time (if there is one), have the good sense to have some remarks prepared in advance and cool it on the cocktails. You can fill your boots after the speechifying is done - though, to tell you the truth, I don't advise that, either. Getting really, truly drunk is only for those occasions when you're with a few close friends; three or four tops. At a large social gathering, it's unseemly to sport anything more than a light, festive buzz.
Second, apologize to everyone, preferably in person. Why in person? Because they need to see you squirm, the way you made them squirm. Let them look at you with pity and superiority in their eyes, thinking: "That poor bastard, there but for the grace of God," and so on. Let them enjoy their schadenfreude. It truly is an underrated component of forgiveness.
As to "ruining" the wedding, I wouldn't lose too much sleep over that. The truth is a few festive drunken shenanigans are all part of the fun and games, and a wedding without them is a bit of a letdown. However, the best man should not be the one supplying these entertainments. As a best man, you have a solemn duty: You're the groom's lieutenant, you're supposed to have his back so he can relax. You're supposed to be the guy he dispatches when someone else gets out of control. You let him down badly in this role, it seems to me. So apologize particularly to him and take some time in the next few months to show him you're a man he can trust.
This is all presuming, of course, there is no larger, more serious issue here. If there is, obviously seek counselling and all the rest of it. Since you don't mention any of that, I'll just go ahead and assume you have a more middle of the road, slightly problematic drinking problem, like the rest of us. Be moderate, so you don't have to quit some day. You don't want to wind up one of those guys in their 50s standing around parties with a cranberry juice because you overdid it in your youth and it bit you in the ass. You have to manage your vices, so you can continue to enjoy them through a long and fruitful lifetime.
But back to your immediate problem: Okay, so maybe you weren't the best best man ever. You can still be a good friend. In the next little while, take whatever opportunities you can to do nice things for your friend (and his wife - she may be more pissed at you than anyone): help him out, invite him over, take him out, do him favours. Whatever it takes. Actions speak louder than words, right? Show him through your actions that though you may have fallen down on the job a bit at his wedding, you're still a stand-up guy.
David Eddie is an author and screenwriter. He has published two books, Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
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