Devan Sipher’s Single File

Published April 5, 2012

ABOVE: DEVAN SIPHER

Weddings can be wonderful ceremonies filled with lovely tears. They can also be lonely reminders for single guests of their solitary status—especially if the guest in question is a wedding reporter who constantly attends commitment ceremonies while remaining perennially single himself. In Devan Sipher’s comic novel The Wedding Beat (New American Library), protagonist Gavin Greene is just such an attendee. Gavin reports on weddings for New York’s newspaper of record, yet though he elevates other people’s romance in his write-ups, he cannot seem to find love himself. Sipher writes lonesome with empathy and hilarity, by turns blushingly embarrassing, heartbreakingly true, and fabulously funny. Perhaps because he shares some experiences with his main character: Sipher has been writing about weddings for The New York Times‘ “Vows” column for five years and remains a single scribe, focusing on words, while he attends nuptial after nuptial. Yet, despite being single, with his novel Sipher demonstrates he is a true romantic, who has learned much about the inner workings of the human heart. We spoke with Sipher about why being lonely in a crowd is a true cliché, PDA, taking risks, grand romantic gestures, and his secret history with weddings which made him vow never to attend another.

ROYAL YOUNG: There’s this cliché idea I think is so true of feeling lonely in a crowd. Why is that?

DEVAN SIPHER: Absolutely. I think you’re more conscious of being alone in a crowd because you see other people together. Especially if that crowd is a wedding. When you’re on your own, of course you feel lonely, but you can do things to actively distract yourself: go online, read a book, watch TV. But if you’re out and about, there’s nowhere to go, you’re just staring in the face of all these people who always seem to have the perfect relationship.

YOUNG: So you’re implying they don’t always. But when you’re alone, it’s more difficult to see that.

SIPHER: All you see is the surface. You don’t know if those people you see doing heavy PDA at a restaurant will be together in a week. In New York, there are so many singles and so many ways to meet them, there are that many ways to feel badly about not meeting the right person. There are all these people out there, so why aren’t you?

YOUNG: I sometimes feel like in New York, there’s this sense, not only in terms of romance, but there’s so much going on around you, you always feel like you’re missing out on something.

SIPHER: Yes, you couldn’t even do all the things you wanted to. I’m constantly saving articles online of things I’ll never end up doing. Oh, that sounds like a great photography exhibit, band, restaurant. And then when I finally get around to trying the restaurant, it’s been closed for months.

YOUNG: Do you feel like one of the things that stops you from doing these things is that you don’t have someone to do them with?

SIPHER: Sometimes. There are certain things I think you just want to do as a couple. But I think not being part of a couple is a better reason to go do it. A photography exhibit is a perfect place to meet somebody who potentially has a similar interest. There’s more entropy when you’re alone, because there’s not someone else you’re trying to make happy. When I date, I tend to be better organized, clean more, probably be a better person when there’s someone else I feel responsible for.

YOUNG: I’m the same way, which I think is interesting because I feel like you hear a lot that when you’re with someone, you can relax. But I find when I’m in a relationship, I work harder to be a better person for them. When I’m alone I feel like I can let go, eat whatever I want and be dirty.

SIPHER: [laughs] Well, that’s a different kind of letting go. The sign of a good relationship is that you can be yourself. That’s the one thing I hear over and over at weddings, “I can be totally myself with them. I don’t have to pretend to be someone else.” But not leaving your clothes in a pile on the floor is not so much about not being somebody else. Trying hard to be something for the other person increases pressure.

YOUNG: Though the character in your book is perennially single, I feel like both he and you have so much insight into love and how it works. How does that play out in your personal life?

SIPHER: I think it can sometimes work to my disadvantage. The similarity between me and my character is that we’re both single, Jewish guys writing about weddings. The difference is that he gets the girl in the end and I’m still working towards that. Being aware means you’re conscious about when something is right and when it’s not. When you see things too clearly, it can get in your way. Sometimes you need to go with what you feel, not what you think.

YOUNG: There’s this misconception with guys that we’re just in it for sex and it doesn’t matter who we’re fucking. But I think there’s a deeper emotional core there, and if sometimes if men sense it isn’t there, they won’t pursue a relationship.

SIPHER: Men and women have different ways of pursuing sex. But in terms of pursuing committed relationships, I hear the same things from men and women, the same hopes, fears and insecurities. The difference for guys is we don’t talk about it as much. But men have romantic impulses, whether it be sweeping a woman away for a weekend in Italy or simply getting down on their knees and proposing.

YOUNG: Do you think risk plays a big part in love?

SIPHER: Absolutely. If you don’t risk anything, you don’t get anything. Being a big romantic, I always thought love would be obvious when it hit, I would just know, I would hear music and see fireworks. But the part that’s magic is a very small part, it’s what you do with that. Personally having worked at so many weddings, even as a kid—

YOUNG: Wait. What do you mean? I want to hear about that.

SIPHER: [laughs] My dad had a company called Memories and Videos, where we videotaped weddings, bar mitzvahs and sweet sixteens. So in high school I would work at parties on the weekends, work at the popular kids’ parties. I vowed I would never work at a party or wedding again as long as I lived. That didn’t work out too well. But I do love every wedding I go to now. If I didn’t get choked up when they were walking down the aisle, I wouldn’t be doing my job.

THE WEDDING BEAT IS OUT NOW.