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Ask Meg: Why Is The Wedding Party So Fraught?

I was surfing through old emails, looking for inspiration, and came across an email from reader Katherine for a post talking about attendants. How do we choose them? How do we honor different people in our lives? Why is it so hard for me and so easy for everyone else? And I thought it was time to revisit the wedding party – that complicated, complicated being.

First, let’s talk about the myth of easy. Like everything else in the wedding world, we seem to not hear very much about the difficulties of figuring out the bridal party. All we hear is about cute dresses and girl-bonding and flowers. Maybe wedding parties are that way for some people (I really hope they are that way for some people!) But, like so many wedding myths, the story of wedding parties has a lot more to do with what marketers are selling us than what is really true.

When you think of it, what we’re being sold with the image of the perfectly arrayed bridesmaids and the perfectly matching groomsman, is the myth of perfect friendships. The bride has a collection of best friends – friends from childhood perhaps, or friends from each stage in her life. She knows who her best friends are, and that they will support her in everything she does. She picks beautiful outfits for them (which they all fit in and love) and they stand in a perfect row next to her on the happiest day of her life. The groom has his own group of best friends (ideally he has the same number of best friends as the bride does). They all look dashing in tuxes. They tease the groom, but not too much, and support him emotionally on his wedding day. And who doesn’t want that? Who doesn’t dream of that?

But we, over in indie-wedding-world, have made it even more complicated. Since the myth of matching dresses on matching size-two blond friends doesn’t work for all of us, we’ve created our own indie wedding party myth. We’ve looked at the outsides of other peoples blogg-y weddings, and come up with a story of what the inside of our wedding should feel like. We should all have friends in mismatched outfits that reflect their different, but equally hip personalities. We should have a band of quirky and arty friends, who know each other, and love us exactly the way we are. These friends should be talented (so they can help with the wedding) and generous (they are excited to help with the wedding).So we have this all set up in our heads – how the wedding party is going to be, and how warm and fuzzy and magic it’s going to be. And then real life hits. And things get complicated, and we don’t live up to those wedding myths we’ve set up for ourselves, and we get sad. We cry. We judge ourselves as less than. We wonder why it’s so hard for us and so easy for everyone else… and where the f*ck did they find time to buy all those perfectly mis-matched 1950’s prom dresses for their bridesmaids to wear anyway?

So, truth flash: I think most of us don’t live lives like that. We don’t have perfect best friends. We don’t have all graphic designer friends. We don’t have all size two friends that look good in eggshell blue. Maybe we don’t even HAVE piles of best friends. So what’s really going on is, we’re all running around trying to look like we live up, and trying to honor who we want to honor, in a wonderful thoughtful, even-handed way. And we’re all wondering why our d*mn friends don’t own cowboy boots and have super chic haircuts, and own impeccable vintage dresses.

Or is that just me?

Because let me tell you the honest truth – wedding parties are hard. They were, at least, hard for me. David and I have many people that are important to us, but we don’t have a wonderful band of life long best friends. We just don’t. David has one childhood best friend, and then we have lots and lots of people that we love very much. We don’t even have perfectly flawless best friend relationships with our siblings, for goodness sakes. We have… sibling like relationships with our siblings. As for talent? We have lots of talented friends, but we had to talk some of them into helping on our wedding day.

So what did we do? We did something really imperfect. We asked a bunch of people to perform honors. We asked them to read, or hold the huppah, or carry ritual objects. We gave the ones who we thought wanted flowers, flowers. We asked them to wear jewel toned dresses or suits (note: having people pick their own dresses is an enormous pain in the ass, because everyone wants you to pick for them). And even that wasn’t flawless. Because we gave honors to some people who would have rather just sat and watched. And we gave honors to other people who wanted a bigger honor. A whole lot of people decided that jewel tones equaled teal, so now we have some pictures that look like we had ‘wedding colors’ after all… and they were teal & purple. Ack. People were confused as to what they were part of, because our ‘wedding party’ wasn’t a ‘wedding party.’ And that was just the way it was.

Weddings have a way of bringing ‘the way we wish things were’ into conflict with ‘the way things are.’ But in the end, we charted our own wedding party course, and complicated as it was, I’m glad we did it our way. I’m grateful for the picture I have with old friends and new friends crowded around us grinning. But I wish I’d realized early on that imperfict friendships were normal, and that we should all just do what feels right, and chuck the rest. I’d wish I’d realized there were lots of ways to honor the people we loved and we didn’t even need a (vague semblance) of a bridal party to do it.

So tomorrow I’m bringing you two years of non-traditional wedding party inspiration, APW style. And hopefully the bravery and inspiration to do your thing. Or THANG. Whatever.

Picture: The wedding party that most closely reminds me of my own non-wedding party (God I love this picture…) by Max Wanger via 100 Layer Cake

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