I have never had very many friends. I’ve always been a quality over quantity girl, whether due to natural shyness or the fact that my family moved dramatic distances every four years, I’ve never had more than a handful of close girlfriends, and they usually lived a few hundred (or more) miles away from me.
So, imagine my surprise when, upon sitting down to hot-glue two hundred fake flowers onto brooch clasps for my wedding, I found myself in the company of two of my oldest, dearest friends. I’d seen them through awkward puberty, various boyfriends, heartbreak, happiness, joy, and ridiculous shenanigans. Perhaps you know them too? Lorelai and Rory Gilmore? Ah, yes, as I hunkered down on the couch with my laptop and my sea of fake-florals, I sat down right in the middle of a whole pile of self-pity, too.
I had never bought into the WIC ideas about bridal beauty (I didn’t want to wear eye makeup? I wasn’t going to wear eye makeup!), traditions (no bouquet toss or sit-down dinner for me!), or the “necessary” expense of jewelry (free family engagement rings for the win!), but I had deeply, sincerely bitten down into the idea that I was supposed to be surrounded by a group of (at minimum) three sassy girlfriends who would drink too much wine, help me hot glue things, roll their eyes at each other about my bridal freak-outs and be willing to stay up late on the phone hashing out the details (details I didn’t care too much about anyway). They were supposed to be there! To help me! To pay attention to me! To make the wedding planning process fun, and to fulfill my expectations.
I consoled myself, knowing that my wedding was finally the excuse I needed to entice all my far-flung friends to come see me. Entice, hell, they HAD to come! It was my wedding.
And then two of my bridesmaids, two of my far-flung friends, couldn’t come. Each had their reasons, financial and personal, and each wasn’t able to tell me until less than a month before the wedding. My friends hadn’t been able to be there throughout my planning process, and now they wouldn’t even be there for my wedding. I was miserable.
When the relationships that I had counted on to fill the expected spots in my wedding couldn’t, I found myself questioning what those spaces meant, and challenging myself to recover mindfully, to fill the empty spots in my bridal party not just with the first two people I could think of (Lorelai and Rory!?), but with two people who would stand up with me for my marriage, who would bare witness not just now but into the future. I considered asking no one else; I considered scrapping both wedding parties; I thought and thought and thoroughly pitied my poor self.
And then I somehow had a stroke of genius. Other people had their sisters stand up with them, why not my two brothers with me? Two of my best friends, my two absolute oldest friends, with me through every move across the country and every embarrassment and every joy. Two who I knew would be with me throughout the rest of my life, and who would promise to stand beside me throughout the course of my marriage.
They were excited, but apprehensive in some areas (would I make them wear dresses?) and we spent at least a week emailing daily about their outfits. And did I mention they were coming from across the world? My oldest brother had just finished a year living abroad in England, and planned his trip home around my wedding. My middle brother was (and still is) living and working in South Korea and finagled time out of his job to be there. They were what I hadn’t known I wanted in a bridesmaid—they knew me better than anyone else, they knew my history and we could talk with all the context of our lives. They wanted to participate, but they didn’t care about arranging flowers or getting me a garter (neither did I!), and they jumped at the chance to get to know my husband better—this man who they barely knew had their sister’s heart, and therefore their respect and admiration.
The memory I come back to most now is standing in the alley outside the dive-bar we went to after the rehearsal dinner. My brother pulled one of those, “Hey, what’s on your shirt? Oh I got your nose!” tricks and I fell for it. A typical big brother thing to do. And I had a very atypical reaction (well, I hadn’t reacted this way since we were five): I immediately started to cry. Everything sort of stopped. I tried to pull myself together, but when he hugged me I started blubbering. All I could think in that moment was how much I missed him, how much I wished he were closer all the time, and how much I loved him for coming all the way across the world to stand up with me.
Even after the wedding is over, sometimes I am haunted by the experiences I felt I was entitled to that I didn’t get to have. I have avoided talking about my wedding with the friends who couldn’t be there. I don’t want them to feel bad, but also, I do. To prove somehow that I am justified in feeling let down by expectations they didn’t even know I had. And then I reconsider. If they had been able to come, I still wouldn’t have had those WIC-inspired “bridal party” experiences. It would still have been real life, gritty and honest and different from the expectations I had. And if they had come I would never have had my two brothers—my “bridesmen”—host my surprise wedding shower complete with improv games, buy me too many beers at that dive bar, tease me throughout the primping the morning of, and stand beside me as I married this man I love so dearly. What I got was so much better than what I could have expected.