Authors: Siri Agrell
My emotions ricocheted back and forth between feeling guilty for upsetting The Bride and being amazed that she would reject my defense completely out of hand. I didn’t know if she still wanted to be my friend, or if I still wanted to be hers. How could an eight-year friendship come to an end because I had made fun of bridesmaid dresses and the content of today’s wedding registries? I felt like getting kicked out of a wedding had made me a social outcast or pariah, a woman who had scorned the wedding complex and felt its wrath in return.
Soon my thoughts turned to the wedding itself, knowing I would still have to attend in two weeks’ time, and I imagined walking into the ceremony marked with a scarlet B: for Bad, for Booted, for Bitch. It was too much to bear.
At first I told the other bridesmaids that I wasn’t going, but eventually I swallowed my pride and fought off the sneaking suspicion that my friend had kicked me out of the wedding because I do not photograph well. I wondered how her cousin would feel seeing me in the audience, knowing that she was just a ringer and that she would have to shell out $250 for a dress designed for me.
On the Big Day, I forced myself to get dolled up and wrap the couples wedding gift. I timed my day against theirs. As the bridal party was getting their hair done, I was eating bacon and reading the paper. As they left for the venue, I was sneaking an afternoon drink. While they helped the bride get dressed, I was convincing myself to change out of sweatpants. I was scared, sad, and uncontrollably sweaty.
At last the time came to drive to the wedding, which was being held at a beautiful lakefront hunting club and golf course. My
date and I pulled into the property, navigating slowly down the winding road surrounded by trees and immaculately manicured shrubbery. As we eased around a bend, an estate slowly came into view, as did—to my horror—the entire wedding party, who were standing on the driveway posing for photographs.
Clearly, wed taken a wrong turn.
The only way back was to circle the roundabout in front of the club, a single lane now occupied by the bride, the groom, their parents, three of my best friends, and the pinch-hitting cousin, all dressed in identical green frocks and smiling happily—until we crashed the scene. Had I been behind the wheel, I would have slammed on the brakes, thrown the car into reverse, and accelerated backward across the eighteenth hole, through the surrounding forest, and all the way back to my apartment, where I would have lain in the bathtub with the shower on, drinking vodka out of the bottle and attempting to suppress the nightmare I had just experienced.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t driving. My boyfriend, a far less dramatic individual who was merely amused by my personal torment, simply waited for the bridal parry to step back onto the lawn and eased slowly past them as they stared at our bright red car. Like a bridesmaid version of
Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
I imagined them storming the vehicle as we drove by, a group of crazed wedding zombies beating the hood with their bouquets and stomping on the roof with their gold high heels, pointing at me and emitting a single blood-curdling scream that communicated to their alien wedding planner overlords, “She is not one of us.”
In reality, the bridal party simply stood still and waited for us to go by. I resisted the urge to duck.
When we pulled into the parking lot at the other end of the proper driveway, I forced myself to get out of the passenger seat. I had been convinced that attending would not be so bad, that I was a big enough person to walk in to the wedding with my head held high. With just half an hour left until the ceremony, though, I wasn’t sure if I could go through with it. Being a Bad Bridesmaid had made me feel like a lesser person, and an uninvited guest.
During the ceremony, the cousin who’d replaced me in the bridesmaid lineup kept looking my way, and I was sure she was taunting me, shoving my sins in my face with each glance in my direction. I fantasized about screaming that she was only in the wedding because I had screwed up, knocking my chair over, tackling her to the floor, and ripping the bouquet from her hands. Then I realized that her boyfriend was sitting directly in front of me. It turns out she was smiling at him.
In the end, no one really seemed to notice me at all. The vast majority of the guests obviously had no idea they were looking at a Pinch-Bridesmaid, brought in during the late innings to relieve a player gone Bad. They danced the night away, blissfully unaware of my shame and enjoying just another beautiful exchange of vows.
And a few hours later, it was all over. … Or so I thought.
During the weeks and months that followed, a steady stream of mail arrived in my inbox and my hands.
“I loved your article, I lived your article,” wrote one woman.
“Thank you for finally coming clean about what being a bridesmaid means,” read another e-mail. “Bridesmaids of the world unite!”
Soon, dozens more women had shared with me their tales of bridesmaid woe.
They e-mailed me about the dresses they were forced to wear that made them look like rejects from an eighties prom. I heard about women corralled into expensive last-minute spray-on tan sessions and doused with entire bottles of hair spray, with no regard for fire hazards or ozone depletion. I met bridesmaids who were bedazzled with glue-on jewels or asked to drive out of state to pick up the bride’s dry cleaning while she relaxed on her honeymoon.
It became clear to me that bridesmaids had become collateral damage in the female quest for the perfect wedding.
My own wretched experience took on new life as an anecdote. I found myself encouraged to tell the story at parties, and listened to it being told for me at work. Every time I invoked my expulsion from the wedding party, someone else had an even better example of Bad Bridesmaid behavior. There was the girl who swore loudly during the ceremony, her blasphemy noticed by the priest and captured for posterity by the wedding videogra-pher; and the two women who were kicked out of the same wedding after a last-minute makeup-related brawl, their hair already sculpted into place and with just hours remaining until the organ music accompanied the bridal party down the aisle.
There were women asked to stand up for virtual strangers or pissed off by flesh and blood. And in almost every closet there was still a three-hundred-dollar floor-length, puffy-sleeved dress with an empire waistline and panels of flame-retardant fabric that some poor girl had been forced to wear.
I was not alone.
Bad Bridesmaids are everywhere. We are getting our hair twisted in unflattering updos with wispy ringlets framing our faces, and pulling on control-top pantyhose in thirty-degree heat. We are trying to rent stretch Hummers in towns so small they don’t even have a Starbucks, and taking calligraphy classes so we can help the bride personally pen 250 invitations. Some of us are wondering why we haven’t been asked to stand up for our best friends, or are contemplating stepping down altogether. Others will soon hit the dance floor in strapless dresses, praying that their breasts will be restrained as they hop their way through another embarrassing rendition of the Chicken Dance. And somewhere, for the very first time, a woman is seeing the glint of a diamond reflected in her best friend’s eyes and wondering what exactly she has gotten herself into.
In the name of making another woman’s dream day come true, bridesmaids swallow a lot along with their free champagne. We risk losing our dignity, our credit ratings, our natural waistlines, and—sadly—even our friends.
And in return, we don’t get a ring, a honeymoon, or even a china pattern to call our own. But there is something every bridesmaid does have: a story.
It is the tales of bachelorette brawls and taffeta tantrums that unite us in our shared experience and make the months of wedding work almost worthwhile. The bride may have months to orchestrate her wedding, but bridesmaids get the rest of their lives to dine out on stories of how it all went down.
So let her toss the bouquet. It’s time for us to dish the dirt.
You should select bridesmaids who are reliable, flexible, and available to help with the details and planning of your wedding.
It also helps if your chosen bridesmaids are happy for you, instead of having feelings of jealousy that may be revealed in a passive aggressive manner.
A Perfect Celebration!
y friend had just returned from France with a large princess-cut diamond and a tentative July wedding date a year away when she announced the lineup of her bridal attendants. Along with her older brother—who would be her suit-wearing Maid of Honor—there were to be four of us bridesmaids, close friends who had been in one another’s lives for almost a decade. Like refugees from
Sex and the City,
we were a mixed bag of personalities linked by our recent history, common interests, and
frequent bouts of hysterical laughter. For us, being asked to be in The Bride’s wedding party was as natural as deciding to go for dinner or skip out early from work to meet for a drink (which we did to celebrate her engagement), and we slid easily into roles befitting the peculiarities of our characters.
There was Kind Bridesmaid, a woman who cries even during sitcom weddings; Super Bridesmaid, capable of whipping up a four-course gourmet meal with the ease most women reserve for breathing; and Experienced Bridesmaid, who had stood up for so many of her friends that she could outfit a small rainbow-colored army with her collection of floor-length formal wear.
I liked to think of myself as Comic Relief Bridesmaid. I don’t tear up during toasts, but I mix a mean martini and can find an inappropriate joke where others see only harmony and bliss. I had never been a bridesmaid before and wasn’t banking on being asked, my personal strengths being more conducive to ending marriages than helping them prosper. When the time came, however, I found myself reverting to the logic of playground philosophy: crossing my fingers and hoping to be picked.
In this way, the bridesmaid draft occurs in fits and starts throughout the year. Upon the gushing news of each engagement, relatives and girlfriends hold their collective breath until the chosen ones are named. And just like it is when kids select their grade-school dodgeball teams, the selection process isn’t always fair.
Sarah G. met Michelle on the beach. Both women were on vacation with their respective boyfriends, spending a week relaxing
at a tropical resort. Their whirlwind friendship began when the two couples realized that they came from the same city, a happy coincidence in a faraway land. They struck up a conversation and soon were meeting for dinner, hanging out on the sand, and sipping cocktails together poolside—double-dating vacation-style. When the holiday was over, the couples promised to stay in touch, and Michelle called Sarah within weeks to make plans to meet for coffee.
“A few months later she called again,” Sarah said.
This time, Michelle announced that she was engaged and she informed Sarah that she would be a bridesmaid at the wedding. “I didn’t even have a chance to say anything; it was just done,” the stunned recruit remembered. “All I was thinking was, ‘You don’teven know me.’”
They’d spent only a handful of days together, but Sarah and her boyfriend were both included in the couple’s wedding party. For the next year, Sarah attended multiple showers where she knew no one but The Bride. She bought a two-hundred-dollar dress that she hated and literally threw in the garbage the night after the wedding. And for a brief period, Sarah allowed the groom-to-be to camp out in the house she and her boyfriend had just bought. The engaged couple’s own home was under renovation, so while his fiancee moved back in with her parents, the groom persuaded his new friends to clear off their couch. What was supposed to be a brief sleepover turned into weeks of house-guest horror, and while the bride and groom lived for free, Sarah and her boyfriend shelled out for engagement gifts, a Vegas bachelor party, and wedding presents, even as they struggled to make their own mortgage payments.
When the day of the wedding finally arrived, Sarah and her boyfriend looked around at a room filled with strangers. They were seated at a head table where no one knew their names and spent the majority of the evening picking fights with one another so they would have an excuse to lash out. The rubbery meal and token gifts they received did little to offset their investments or their moods.
“We were both like, ‘What are we doing here?’” Sarah remembered. Their one-week vacation in paradise had turned into a thousand-dollar year from hell.
A bride selects, on average, five women to stand at her side during her wedding ceremony, meaning that there are about 8.6 million attendants recruited each year—six hundred thousand in Canada alone. This is enough women to tip the balance in a presidential election or to invade and conquer a midsize nation with one hand tied behind their Pilates-toned backs.
Few brides-to-be have five women in their family, though, so this army of attendants is drafted from the ranks of cousins, friends, co-workers, and sometimes even casual acquaintances.