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At a wedding last weekend, a girl was present whom my wife had not seen since high school and did not recognize at first. Apparently in high school she was rather plain and unremarkable, whereas now, at 26 or 27, she is all elegance and glamour. She is living in Boston as a shoe designer. She wore a black, backless dress with a low, V-shaped front. Her hair was no longer straight and brown but blond and wavy, and she wore it half-up. She had a tan without being too tan. She smiled and talked to her friends and drank a beer and danced often.

The next day, reviewing her old appearance in my wife's high school yearbook, I was surprised by her transformation, for in the old photo it was clearly the same face, and all that seemed to have changed was her hairstyle, her fashion, and her posture (which in the photo was slumped and unconfident). I had trouble deciding whether her high school plainness had masked a beautiful face, or her twenty-something glamour now masks a plain face. I tend to think the former, and if so, it makes me wonder how many other girls may be beautiful incognito.

Had my wife not told me this girl was not always so attractive, I might have guessed it from her demeanor. She acted like someone newly pretty. Girls who have always been pretty strut about like shining goddesses among mortals, aloof and scornful. Woe to the flirtatious male if he is not as gorgeous as she! Woe to any friend who aspires to be more than her mere attendant! The girl at the wedding was too unused to her looks to be arrogant. She evidently retains the fresh memory of her adolescent plainness and is still learning to believe in her new beauty, as if the mirror's reflection and men's attention compete in her self-esteem against the insecurities engrained over years. She hopes, rather than quite believes, in her beauty; her fledging faith craves additional proof. When men smile at her, her sincere and surprised smile seems to say, "then you do find me pretty?"

At weddings, when flutes and violins make women's cheeks wet, I often roll my eyes because crying at weddings seems mawkish and predictable, and I could never give in to such a routine. But if I call myself a thinker, I ought instead to envy their tears. While those mascaraed ladies meditate on youth and beauty, loneliness and love, time and till death do us part, I sit stiffly and self-consciously in my pew, thinking not of the human condition but of my own superiority. Nothing is shallower than pride.

If women cry more than men, as they are stereotyped, they are the deeper sex, plumbing life's magnificent sorrow while the sports-watching, business-traveling, engine-fixing men live practically, that is, practically don't live.

I enjoy going to wedding receptions more, the fewer people I know there. My own wedding, where I knew everyone, was such a blur of congratulations that, for all the planning I put into the evening, I scarcely got to see how it came off. But at a friend's wedding with whom I share few mutual friends, I can watch the night unfold from a well-chosen table, interrupted only by the waiter who comes occasionally to refill my wine glass. I would rather watch a conversation than listen to one; I prefer observing mirth and merriment to making them myself. A groomsman with too much to drink is flirting badly with a pretty bridesmaid; the sweating photographer is lumbering under his hundred gadgets through the crowd; the disc jockey is trying third-rate jokes on the captive audience. Chatting would interrupt this study of types. A good sociologist must be a recluse.