Authors: Siri Agrell
Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty).
To Gillian, for letting me be bad.
And Dave, for helping me be good.
I can’t believe it. You make someone a
bridesmaid and they shit all over you.
all it a Bridesmaid Blindside.
It was late June, almost exactly one year since my friend had popped the question, asking me to be a member of her bridal party.
To be honest, I had never really considered myself bridesmaid material. I declined to play wedding dress-up as a child, and never hummed myself down an imaginary aisle with a pillowcase dangling from my head. I didn’t take it upon myself to learn how to bustle a dress or clasp my hands properly around the stems of a bouquet. During most weddings, I pass the time fidgeting and taking pictures of my chest with the disposable cameras given to
each tabic. In lieu of any useful advice or skills to offer as a bridesmaid, I spent our year of bridal preparations contributing in the only way I knew how: following people around, doing what I was told, and making a sarcastic comment whenever the opportunity presented itself.
When it was time for the bride and groom to register for gifts, I suggested the liquor store—an idea I personally believed to be genius—imagining nights spent sampling from the bottomless bar provided courtesy of their many wedding guests. When the couple instead chose to register at a traditional retailer, I asked them to sign up for an espresso maker, which I could then purchase from them at a discounted price—another brilliant scheme for all involved. They didn’t go for it.
Still, I found the whole process bizarrely entertaining, even though I was occasionally overwhelmed by the expense, excess, and drama of the bridal circus. I thought it was funny how much time, energy, and fifty-dollar-per-yard fabric could be employed in an event that would last a maximum of eight hours.
Little did I know I was about to become the punch line in my own yearlong joke.
Twelve months of my life were filled with engagement celebrations, fittings, bachelorette parties, color consultations, band bookings, photographer selections, and premarital meltdowns. Like thousands of other women who are bridesmaids each year, I had bought gifts of racy lingerie and made an emotional speech. I had taken a cab to an undesirable part of town to have my hips measured at 8:00 a.m. by a Portuguese seamstress with little sympathy for my hangover or winter weight gain. I’d spent a hundred dollars on canapés to feed women who earn more than
twice my salary, and spent a night lying on the cool tiles of my kitchen floor praying for death after drinking too much sangria at the shower.
All of these obligations were performed dutifully (if drunk-enly) as I attempted to honor my close friend, who wanted her wedding tasteful and the lead-up textbook.
But a month before the wedding, I made a big mistake.
No, I did not sleep with the groom or let my ass spread beyond the contours accommodated by raw silk. I did not slap the soon-to-be mother-in-law or refuse to pony up for a hundred-dollar blow-dry. I simply asked why the bridesmaid’s participation in all this pomp and circumstance was necessary—and I did it publicly.
In an article for a national newspaper, I admitted to being a Bad Bridesmaid, a woman who—while thrilled that her friend was engaged—could not get excited about the fine print. I had suggested the piece as part of a special section on weddings, and thought of it as a funny insider’s look at being a bridal attendant. The job had evolved beyond ugly dresses and a solemn processional, I wrote, and into a commitment that bordered on cultish.
I had been asked to be a bridesmaid by two friends that summer, and was surprised at just how much was really involved. When I started researching the bridesmaid institution, its origins and obligations, I was equally stunned by the advice given by wedding planners, etiquette experts, and seasoned attendants. Almost all of them acknowledged that being a bridesmaid is sometimes not a whole lot of fun, but the only response, they warned, is to shut up and take it.
“You might even be a hundred percent justified in wanting to have a scowl on your face for whatever it is you’ve been asked
to do,” said Joanna Dreifus, a woman who has served in so many weddings she founded the Web site Bridesmaid Aid (www.bridesmaidaid.com) with her friend Ellen Horowitz. “But a good bridesmaid will take the high road, let the bride have her day, and just complain about it behind her back.”
Ridiculous, I thought. My friends are honest with one another, and that’s why we remain so close. We have always been able to laugh at one another’s bad habits, from our at times questionable taste in men to our unflagging commitment to overpriced clothes. My friends are not the kind of women who shy away from calling one another’s bluff or pointing out when one member of our group is being silly or unreasonable. And we almost always see eye to eye, agreeing on everything from vodka over gin to Owen Wilson over Luke. And so, when the first of our group became engaged, I like to think she selected the rest of us as bridesmaids because of who we are: women of independent means and a mean sense of independence.
Why, then, should being a bridesmaid have changed how I behaved around my friends?
My article hit newsstands while all of us were in the country for the bachelorette weekend. The bridal party had spent three blissful days drinking, eating, swimming, and lounging in a hot tub. We visited an antiques sale and danced in our bikinis when night fell, blasting the same JLo song over and over, a collection of deranged pseudo-strippers drunk on wine spritzers and our own supreme level of comfort among best friends. We debated the death penalty with the same vigor that we debated the pages of
and whether celebrities were, in fact, just like us—returning to the city exhausted, tanned, happy, and viciously hungover.
Little did I know that that weekend would be the last one I would spend as an honored member of the bridal party.
The next morning, I got an e-mail from The Bride. One of her co-workers had read my article and forwarded it to her electronically along with the message “I hope this isn’t about you.” She wanted to talk.
A week later, we both found time in our schedules, and I answered the Bridal Summons on a patio filled with first dates and apr$eGs-work cocktailers. The air was redolent with lilac and smoke, and our rendezvous began as a rational conversation between two friends.
I was expecting her to tell me why she was upset about the article, which had mentioned a few scenarios lifted from her wedding preparation, each meant to highlight the importance of having a sense of humor when dealing with such a stressful event. I was fully prepared to defend my words and assure her that the article was in no way a personal attack.
As we sipped cocktails amid amorous couples, I explained that outing myself as a Bad Bridesmaid was a means to offer insight into a cultural phenomenon: the pressure that wedding attendants face while helping turn another woman’s fantasy into reality. I told her that just because weddings were not my thing, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to be a part of hers.
And then it happened.
“I just can’t have any negative energy around my wedding,” she said.
I was fired.
For a moment, it felt like a joke, as though I were being
or filmed for an episode of
There was no way
someone would axe a bridesmaid for pointing out that her role was expensive and filled with stress. That would be like getting kicked out of Weight Watchers for admitting you were fat. For a moment, I thought she was just trying to make a point—presenting the worst possible punishment so we could reach a compromise, where I would grovel and she would reclaim her Bridal Dominance. The worst-case scenario in my mind was having to shell out for an extra-nice wedding gift to make up for the perceived slight. Basically, I convinced myself that this could not possibly be happening.
“Don’t make any decisions now,” I begged her, promising that I would make amends, explain my position to her fiance and family, and apologize to anyone else who’d thought I was poking fun at her rather than at the overhyped ordeal of modern marriage ceremonies.
“You can do that if you want,” she said, “but my cousin is wearing your dress.”
My mind reeled. The Bride was someone I had always respected for the force of her convictions. She was the kind of woman who did not back down from a position once she had taken it, and I could tell by the tone of her voice that my expulsion from her wedding had never been an empty threat.
I flashed back to a phone call I’d made days earlier to reschedule a final dress fitting. Instead of suggesting an alternate date, the seamstress had stammered and stalled and finally suggested that I speak with The Bride, hanging up without offering me another appointment.
I realized then, sitting across the table from my friend as she sipped her drink and stared at me evenly, that a surly Portuguese
grandmother had known I was eliminated from the bridal party before I did. Adding insult to injury, she had already pinned my dress onto my replacement’s frame.
The Bride explained that her decision was not about our friendship, but about her wedding. She was calm and steely in her resolve. I spilled a drink and cried loudly. She said we could still be friends. I wondered if we ever really had been.
And with that, I was no longer a bridesmaid. I was a Former Bridesmaid. A Bad Bridesmaid. An ousted bridesmaid left pondering the remains of her friendship, her dignity, the past twelve months of her life, and approximately one thousand dollars of her recent earnings.
I walked the block back to my house in a state of shock. My boyfriend was on our patio with a group of male friends, enjoying nonconfrontational drinks.
“I’m out,” I told them. “I’m out of the wedding.”
They laughed hysterically and opened a bottle of wine. This was not a situation they would ever have to face. Men would never agree to wear matching lime green outfits in public—except possibly for hazing purposes.
Unlike them, however, I could not yet see the humor in my fall from grace. For weeks I would struggle with the implications of this incident for my friendship with The Bride and the other bridesmaids, and worry how it would affect the wedding and The Bride’s mother, whom I adored and dreaded causing any further headaches. I felt terrible that an article intended to be funny had backfired so completely, and stung from the irony that I had rejected all the expert advice about biting my tongue, thinking such measures would not apply to my seemingly strong friendship.