A Gentleman’s Guide to Best Man-hood

Notes on nuptials.
June 12 2013 7:30 AM

How to Be a Better Best Man

Flirt with the mother of the bride, but don’t grind with her.

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

I had a hunch my best friend of 15 years would ask me to be his best man. The day has come, and I have swiftly become aware of how little I know of what's expected of me. While other friends assure me that I only need to worry about the bachelor party, some websites insist I should be doing everything from arranging engraved gifts to booking honeymoon hotels. For a modern couple, what is a relatively thoughtful best friend and man and gentleman to do?

Yours truly,

Best Man To Be

Thank you for the question.

As this magazine’s earlier treatment of the topic indicates, it is indeed your duty to organize a bachelor party that’s impossible to forget and traumatic to remember. In this and all other best-manly matters, carry yourself as if you are the sheriff of the good times and the other groomsmen are your deputies. Delegate tasks to responsible (and to proficiently irresponsible) individuals as warranted by events (which may include an actual sheriff’s service of warrants). Heed a wise man’s words regarding the cloud that should cross the groom’s mind in the course of the party: “If I do not get married, I will die within the next year.” 

Between the bachelor party and the wedding weekend, your responsibilities are almost nonexistent. But if the groom is dressing in formalwear for the ceremony, you should assist with matters related to renting a tuxedo, such as convincing him to buy one instead. A tailored evening suit is more physically and mentally comfortable than a rental tux that has serially endured the stresses of prom-night frottage.

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At the rehearsal, the bride and groom will merely be practicing their wedding-day roles, but you are debuting your award-winning performance as a local celebrity, a host of honor, and a troubleshooter of all trades. If the wedding is at a vineyard, and if in the vineyard there are snakes, then you will drive out the snakes as discreetly as possible. Flirt with the mother of the bride and any other mother who wants to be flirted with. Build a rapport with the wedding planner. And always and forever OBEY THE BRIDE.

As the rehearsal shades into the rehearsal dinner, leap to address hassles as they arise, like giving directions to the groom’s Nebraskan cousins, who know neither where they are nor how to use Google Maps. Your job is to take some weight off the groom’s shoulders—weight, and dandruff. Stand ready to serve as a valet, a body man, and a personal groomer; the most complete best man tool kit would include a lint brush, a hotel sewing kit, a wine key, a black pen for signing the wedding certificate, backup copies of any original vows or unoriginal Pablo Neruda readings, and a pill case stocked with Altoids and beta blockers.

During and after the rehearsal dinner, begin to scout a suitable venue for the post-reception after-party, be it a sports bar with outdoor seating or a hotel room shared by young colleagues of the groom, provided they demonstrated great talent for rocking out at the bachelor party.

On the day of the wedding, get the groom to the venue on time. Curry favor with the DJ or the band during setup. Deal with the boutonnières. Escort the maid of honor down the aisle. Stand up straight. Grin and bear it through the photo sessions and then deliver to the newlyweds a plate of hors d’oeuvres or at least a stiff drink as they suffer a more protracted ordeal in front of the wedding photographer, who is hard at work stealing the souls that the officiant has so lovingly joined together.

At the reception, deliver a succinct, family-friendly toast and raise a glass to the bride. Do not raise your glass too frequently for a while thereafter: You need a clear head to achieve your dual purpose of ensuring that the bride and groom have the happiest time possible and raising the general level of the party. Your duties may involve delivering checks to vendors, organizing groomsmen to waylay belligerent uncles, and stopping the Electric Slide before it starts. If you see the bride trying to lift a case of wine or anything else heavier than her bouquet, respond by saying, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, nooooo.” Make small talk with everyone who seems interesting and when they start being uninteresting, exit the conversation by making a vague reference to your special obligations.