It was a warm spring evening back in 1997 and I was all dolled up for my rival high school’s Soph Hop: hair blown out, full face of makeup, lilac silk halter dress I had begged Mom to buy, and strappy sandals a tad too high for my petite 15-year-old frame.
I felt all grown up. I felt pretty. I felt confident.
It’s not always an easy job, whether you’re at a tenth grade dance or a best friend’s wedding.
A girlfriend of mine asked me to be her best guy friend’s plus one to the dance, and of course I said yes. I won’t name him here, but not for lack of remembering. No, I will never forget him, that night, or how he made me feel.
As we sipped parent-supervised punch between songs, a group of his friends approached us. When he finally decided to introduce me, he gestured in my direction, saying, “This is my date… uhhh… uhhh… What’s your name again?” I jumped in with a smile, though I’m sure my cringing red face told a more accurate story. “Jamie. Hi. My name’s Jamie.”
I felt humiliated. I felt mortified. I wanted to cry.
But I soldiered on. I smiled and danced and continued to play my role for the evening: the plus one.
It’s not always an easy job, whether you’re at a tenth grade dance or a best friend’s wedding. There are the awkward introductions, the small talk with people you barely know, and the waiting while your date takes photos with old friends. But if done correctly, it can be fun and even help ignite a relationship.
BEFORE THE EVENT
Remember: You are the plus one. This is about her. The first thing you must do is compliment how she looks. If she’s a bridesmaid—wearing a dress that she didn’t pick, in a color she would never wear—it's especially important that she know how beautiful she looks.
Then it’s time to prepare for danger zones. There are going to be old friends, new friends, friends of their friends, family, and friends of family. There are old boyfriends, old roommates, and that guy she had that weird one night thing with. You need to know who the main players are, and what you should and shouldn’t say to them. Is her best friend pregnant? Did her other friend just break off an engagement? These are details you must know so you don’t mistakenly say the wrong thing.
It’s also helpful to have some secret signals in place. I brought the guy I’m dating to a close friend’s wedding a few weeks ago and told him in advance that if I didn’t know the person’s name I’m introducing him to, I would say his name first. That way he could jump and make sure to get the person’s name.
DURING THE EVENT
Smile, say hi, and firmly shake the hand of every person you meet. Be social, be upbeat and friendly, but remember not to talk about yourself too much unless someone asks. This is a great chance to get to know her friends and family, so ask questions about them and your date. It’s also not a bad time to mention how much you’re into her, or how beautiful you think she looks. If you don't know what to say, try: “I'm a lucky guy." (But only if you mean it, please.)
Be patient with your date as she talks to people about inside jokes or shared memories, and when she wants to dance, you dance. I don’t care whether you love or hate the Electric Slide, you will take it to the left, take it to the right, then boogie woogie woogie. If you don’t know how to dance, watch the movie Hitch before the event and follow Will Smith’s character’s advice about “where you live” on the dance floor. (Hint: It’s a pretty small space.)
Make sure her drink is always full but also make sure—subtly, without seeming like her Dad—to make her aware, when the time comes, that she's had enough. You don’t want her blaming you for that dumb thing she said or did. Likewise, while you should enjoy a cocktail or two, be careful not to get sloppy or make a scene. It's also worth noting the cardinal plus-one rule: hitting on other women is an absolute no.
AFTER THE EVENT
It’s not only nice to follow up with the people you met, either by email, text or social media, it’s also an opportunity to keep those relationships going to improve the likelihood that you’ll be invited again.
But let’s not forget the most important person. Make sure to thank the woman who brought you, and tell her how much you’d love to accompany her the next time she needs a date.
Play your cards right and perhaps one day instead of saying “and guest” the invitation will have your name alongside hers.
That is, if they remember it.
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