By MARINA WATERS

It can be nerve-wracking walking into a room full of strangers knowing you won’t recognize one person. But it’s even more nerve-wracking when you have a secret you hope no one figures out that night — that you weren’t actually invited to this gathering.

You’re actually a wedding crasher.

It was a random weekend in May and I had driven to Knoxville to spend some time with my best friend, Jill. We had no official plans.

Well, I didn’t have plans. Jill, however, most certainly did — for the both of us.

Jill’s undying wish was to crash a wedding. I wasn’t so wild about the idea of potentially getting caught, but for some reason my friend was convinced it’d be thrilling, we’d get to dance and we could look back fondly on the night we decided to become wedding crashers.

After a lot of convincing from my seemingly fearless friend, I reluctantly agreed.

But how does one know all that vital wedding information like the time, location and the names of the bride and groom?

Nowadays it’s easier than ever before.

So for anyone considering crashing a wedding, here’s tip no. 1: Gather all your information beforehand. That task has been made easy thanks to social media and websites such as tietheknot.com.

We googled “Knoxville, Tennessee wedding” and the date and, before we knew it, we had a buffet of wedding opportunities before us. Did we want to go to a wedding in West Knoxville? That was a little too far away. What about one in Knox County? We didn’t want to run the risk of getting totally lost out there (which Jill and I had a tendency to do in Knox County). So we opted for a close by, downtown wedding in a cool, new wedding venue.

Believe it or not, the time and location wasn’t the most vital piece of information. We needed to know the bride and groom, where they were from and any details actual guests would know.

The bride was more than giving when it came to the “about us” section on her page, so we did our wedding crashing homework and made our way to that wedding we were never supposed to attend.

Jill and I slid through the doors behind an unsuspecting couple and sheepishly grabbed a glass of champagne (which, due to my nervousness, I never actually drank). Then we looked around for the most inconspicuous table to stake out.

There was an out-of-the-way loft with two tables that didn’t seem like the type of place the bride and groom would want to seat the bridal party or family members. Plus, it would give us a good view of the room, making it easier to dodge the bride and groom.

We realized we’d have to share our large, round table with others, but we couldn’t have guessed who we’d be sitting with…

Out of a large group that came up to our tucked away balcony, a man and woman proceeded to step out and sit down with Jill and I. As any good wedding crasher would, we made sure to ask them who they were there for before they had the chance to ask us. (Which brings me to tip no. 2: Ask people before they ask you who they are there for, the bride or groom. And when they respond, always say the opposite.)

When we asked the man and woman who they were there for, the man said, “Oh, we’re wedding crashers.”

That’s when I imagine Jill’s spirit left her body and some part of me had the good sense to nervously laugh in a way I could probably never mimic again.

I thought we were done for.

Before Jill and I could come up with whatever words might have spilled out of our mouths, the woman said, “Oh, no. He’s joking. We’re the bride’s family.”

Somehow we had found a table with possibly the most important people at the entire wedding. Jill and I, the most unimportant people there, were sitting with the bride’s brother and sister-in-law.

I think Jill was still trying to regain consciousness at this point.

We made very little small talk (we figured we should quit while we were ahead) until the bride and groom had their first dance.

To make matters worse, as we all gathered at the balcony to watch, Jill said to the sister-in-law that she can have her spot to be able to see better, to which the sister-in-law replied, “Oh, it’s okay. We’re all here for the same reason.”

Jill had no words in reply, along with a huge pile of guilt growing by the second.

Later, as everyone headed down to the main floor to get in line for food, I suddenly noticed the line passed right by the bride and groom’s table, ensuring that each guest would get a chance to visit with the couple as they stood in line. Of course, this would have been no problem if you happen to know the bride and groom.

At that moment, there was all but a Marina-shaped hole through the front doors.

I grabbed Jill and explained our new predicament, as if sitting with the bride’s family, lying to them about having known the groom through Jill’s husband who “grew up with him” and withstanding the wedding crasher joke wasn’t enough. (And here’s tip no. 3: Make sure you have a story ready for how you know the bride and how you know the groom, just in case you need both stories for a guest from the opposite party.)

We exited to the restroom (probably to do some deep breathing exercises) and decided Jill wouldn’t get to dance in the big ballroom like she wanted to after all. We had to get out before the whole thing unraveled.

We both agreed we needed to take some time to unwind from the most white-knuckled wedding either of us had ever been to (including Jill’s own wedding last March). We opted to change at her apartment, go through Cookout like we used to during our college days and relive what had happened that night.

Part of me thinks wedding crashing is really more scary than thrilling. Part of me wouldn’t do it again. And part of me is totally convinced I would do it again but this time we’d stick it out and stay for the dancing.

Then there’s the part of me that will always wonder if the bride’s brother was onto us when he said “we’re wedding crashers”. Were they convinced of it when they got back to see their table guests had vanished?

I guess we’ll never really know.