On the rare occasion I tune into Say Yes to the Dress or Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids, I find myself scratching my head. I know reality TV isn’t real, but there is a small detail on these shows that I actually find more odd than anything else: the pushy mothers-in-law and the picky bridesmaids. I’m confused by them—and not by their behavior, but their very presence. Every time I see one of these shows, I find myself thinking, “Who are these women who have all of their bridesmaids and their mothers in the same place at the same time?! And how do all their friends know each other so well!?!”
The Myth of the Montage
The idea that our friends and family will be with us through the planning process is an accepted part of the cultural narrative of weddings. In movies or on TV, you see brides surrounded by bridesmaids, mothers, and mothers-in-law at dress fittings, cake tastings, appointments with the florist, showers, and bachelorette parties. (The sort-of-but-actually-not-all-that-funny joke is that they are more involved than the groom.) For me, the traditional wedding exists mainly as a montage (one that typically includes really over-the-top hair). In reality, wedding planning unfolds across a longer time period, and, for many of us, across a much longer distance.
Eric and I live in Houston. My family is in Michigan and his family is in Kansas. We’re getting married in Austin. I have two bridesmaids in Chicago, one in DC, and a bridesman in LA. None of them know each other. While I wish we lived closer to all the people we care about, I know there’s no way to really make that happen and I’ve accepted it. And since I don’t buy wedding planning as THE HAPPIEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE™ I didn’t think being alone while wedding planning would be different than being alone any other time. But…it is different.
The Wedding Dress Selfie
When I started thinking about wedding dresses, I wasn’t sure if my grandma would make my dress, or if I’d buy something. At the very least, I wanted to get some ideas of what I liked and what looked good on me sooner rather than later, but I didn’t have anyone to go with me. My friend (and bridesmaid) Julia was going through the same thing on the East Coast. We shared our feelings of, “Um, should I be embarrassed about this?” over IM one day, and together made the decision that we should each just go alone.
My whole experience shopping for a dress was very business-like, particularly after I stopped fucking around in ball gowns and went to try on the one dress I was seriously considering buying. There were no tears or champagne or even much excitement; my whole reaction was just…”Yep.” As in, “Yep, that’s the dress I wanted to try on,” and, “Yep, I like it as much as I thought I would. Yep—it’s for me. Yep, that’s all I needed, I’ll be in touch when I’m ready to order.” I took a coworker I’m close to (his wife is a costume designer so he knows and appreciates fashion) and we had lunch afterward. It was a perfectly nice, “Yep, we just ran an errand and now I’m hungry for lunch,” but not the, “Eeee we just went and looked at wedding dresses!” kind of lunch I would have had if any of my bridal party or family members could have been there. I don’t mind shopping alone, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the one time when you aren’t supposed to go shopping alone.
When it came time to start thinking about dresses for my bridesmaids, I realized that the idea of getting any of them together—hell, the idea of even being in the presence of one of them—in the next year was a long shot. And it’s not like we’re all BFFs so we could all arrange a trip together; my friends are friendly enough but don’t know each other. (This is another WHO ARE THESE WOMEN AND HOW DID THEY STAY A FOURSOME FOR SO LONG?! HOW DID NO ONE MOVE AWAY?! moment I have when I see female friendships on TV. I’m so perplexed, and envious.) So I did what any independent, modern woman would do: I found things I liked on the Web, and then went and tried them on by myself. I figured I could report back to my friends on the ones I liked best, and then maybe they could try them on themselves at bridal salons in their respective cities. In the dressing rooms, I evaded the saleswomen’s questions about my bridal party and wedding while surreptitiously taking photos of myself with my iPhone. (Note to all bridal salons who ban taking pictures of the dresses: I know you’re trying to protect your bottom line, but if a bride’s friends and family live hundreds of miles away and you won’t let her take pictures, you’re going to lose the sale anyway.)
The World Wide Wed
All three of my bridesmaids happen to be engaged too. Julia lives in DC and is planning a Michigan wedding; Beth and Jacki live in Chicago and Jacki is currently planning a Chicago wedding. (Beth hasn’t started planning yet.) We are all relying heavily on technology for communication as both brides and bridesmaids. But while we’ve been doing our best to keep in touch, I was still bummed that I couldn’t hang out with them on a Friday night in yoga pants, sipping wine, and going through bridal magazines and blogs, or that we couldn’t spend a Saturday afternoon filling up on macarons together at a bridal expo. I tried not to get too sentimental about it, but the whole high-tech wedding process felt a little weird and inhuman to me.
As the people (physically) closer to my friends started planning their pre-wedding events, I knew I couldn’t realistically organize, host, or even attend most (or any) of these events. And… I wanted to. Meanwhile, everywhere I clicked on the web, I could read an article wherein the author or commenters bitched about having to fly across the country to friends’ weddings and buy them a gift, and how resentful and pissed they were about it, and I just kept thinking, ”Yes, this sucks, but why are you so mad at your friends?”
But then I’d realize there really isn’t anyone or anything to rage against, and that for most people it’s much easier to just get mad at the couple than acknowledge that a combination of goals, hardships, amazing opportunities, and personal choices are the reason that so many of us are planning pseudo-destination weddings. Gone are the days of your mom helping you plan your wedding because you still lived in her house. Gone are the core group of best friends from middle school who will take turns standing by each other as they all get married, one right after another. Logically, I know that gone, too, are the laws that say I can’t marry Eric because of our different racial backgrounds, but it’s hard not to idealize this misty myth of weddings past.
Going the Distance
Though it seemed impractical, I was secretly hoping that I could afford to attend one pre-wedding event for each of my friends; a few months ago, when Jacki told me that her mom was throwing her a bridal shower in our hometown in Michigan, I started looking at flights. (At the same time, I was agonizing over the fact that I couldn’t attend her bachelorette party too.) Then I remembered that Julia mentioned she was going home to Michigan around Memorial Day. It seemed too good to be true! Maybe I could ask Beth to come up from Chicago that weekend too and we could actually pull off a Say Yes to the Dress type of thing with three of my bridesmaids and my family!
Turns out, it was slightly too good to be true; Jacki’s mom had to change the shower date by a week so there wouldn’t be any overlap in the trips. But now I had the idea of seeing my people and doing wedding things in my head and couldn’t get it out. I decided plan a ten-day trip to Michigan at the end of May, my first trip home in eighteen months. I could be there for Jacki’s shower and for the beginning of Julia’s trip. Then Julia rescheduled her trip so she’d be in town for longer—and found out the bridal salon where she ended up finding her dress during her last trip home was able to schedule her first dress fitting for this trip, which meant I could go with her and her mom to the appointment. I’d also be able to hang out with my family and work with my grandma on my wedding dress. She’s currently making a version of it in cheap muslin for me to try on when I get home so I can decide if I like how the pattern actually looks on me, and so she can get an idea of how it will fit. I felt a little guilty about being away from the office for that long, but we’ve since begun working remotely so I can actually work through most of the trip and won’t really be missed. And that’s what has me the most excited: for once, I won’t be the one who is missed. I’ll be the one who is there.
While I hate how spread out everyone is, I appreciate that it forces us to become intentional with our time, our money, and our bandwidth. When my friends asked me to be their weddings, I had to think about the logistical concerns and whether I really wanted to commit the resources I value to their weddings. In the case of both Jacki and Julia, the answer was a clear, resounding yes. Yes, you are worth the overtime I will work to pay for it. Yes, you are worth the vacation time. Yes, if I don’t have a wedding shower but I do get to FaceTime chat with you at some point, that’s okay. (And if the answer was, ”Yes, you are worth whatever it takes, but I just can’t make it work,” I know they would have understood that sometimes distance is simply not a surmountable hurdle, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the state of a friendship.) A lot of us acknowledge that love is a choice while forgetting that friendship is too. And though whether or not I attend someone’s wedding is not the marker of how close we are, there’s something about looking at flights and agreeing to bear witness to someone’s huge life event that makes me think about these things.
And you know? At the end of this process, Jacki, Julia, and I will each have our own montage of lovely wedding planning moments. It may include some bridal salon selfies, but on the whole, I don’t know that it will look all that different from what we were expecting. So maybe the only thing that has really changed is the technology. And (thank goodness) the hair.
Photos from Rachel’s personal collection