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Ask Team Practical: Bridesmaids

Oh, hi. So it’s Friday, which means it’s Ask Team Practical with Alyssa. Except this week was about bridesmaids (something I have an opinion or two about), so it turned into a bit of a collaboration. You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. So today it’s Ask Team Practical with Alyssa (& Meg). Which is a fancy way of saying, blame all the tough love stuff you don’t want to hear on me, and all the kill ’em with kindness on our own favorite Texan, Alyssa. So without further ado, bridesmaids, non-bridesmaids, ladies around the bride.

Last week we talked about being a lonely bride. Knowing that it would garner a lot of comments about bridesmaids, having them and being one, we decided to follow that up with a post on that tricky, tricky position of honor. We’ve received more than a few emails since we started Ask Team Practical regarding bridesmaids- both on being one and having them.

Bridesmaids As a Bride:

Anonymous says:

I got married a few weeks ago and my one bridesmaid was great; my other bridesmaid didn’t do much at all besides show up.

On the surface, I tried to not let this bother me, as I had told her I didn’t necessarily expect a lot of fuss or financial obligation, but her lack of interest was disappointing. She did attend the bridal shower, but she didn’t offer to help, sulked the whole time and left early, and  she missed the bachelorette dinner. I tried not to let this bother me. I asked for her assistance on a couple of things, and she avoided communication until I would later respond I had derived another solution. I was more upset with her attitude than anything, but I let it go because I didn’t want to seem like a Demanding Bride.

However, it came to a head three days before the wedding. She informed me, after an exhaustive back-and-forth, that her boyfriend wasn’t attending after all because “something big came up.” I later found out that he just didn’t really want to come, and instead chose to go out-of-town for a football game. She then decided she wanted to go to, and left my reception an hour early. My husband is downright furious with her. Me? I’m just very disappointed. I know that no one cares as much about your wedding as you do, but I was deeply hurt that she was so careless.

I got an email from her a few days later “apologizing.” Sort of. Part of me thinks I should say something, but the other part of me is worried that I will come off as this b*tch for telling my best friend that she really let me down when it counted the most. How do I handle this?

So here is the rub – one, your husband is kind of right on this one, and two, you really do have to be honest with your former attendant. You need to set aside the fact that “you were a bride, so if you act like you care you’re silly.” This was a huge life event, and she wasn’t there for you (or she was, but in a super half-*ss way). That was painful. You need to talk. Now. This is like any other problem with a friend; if you don’t deal with it head-on, it’s going to continue to drive a wedge between the two of you until there’s not much left of your friendship.

But keep this in mind: Some people are crap at weddings, but brillant at other things. And then some people are fun to get manicures with, and crap at anything that really matters.You may need to figure out which is which with this lady of yours. One of the things about weddings is they have a way telling you which friends there for you in a pinch and which ones are not, and sometimes you really wish you never found out.

Brides as a Bridesmaid:

On the flip side, we have this this question.

I’m splitting duties as maid of honor with a matron of honor. However, the matron will have no part in it unless she does it all herself. It seems she wants to relive her bridal shower and bachelorette party through her best friend’s. I was wondering if you had any advice?

What do you do here? Keep your eyes on the bride (and the Matron of Honor in your peripheral vision at all times). Talk to the bride and see what you can do in to keep things close to her plans as possible. The last thing the bride needs is a fight among her attendants, but she might need someone to fight for her. Because here is the thing: the real job of bridesmaids is not to lift things, or even to go to dress fittings. It’s to listen to the bride-to-be while she b*tches, and it’s to run interference between the bride and people acting a fool.

So gently but firmly tell the matron of honor there will be no penis parties. And then nudge her to be there for the bride as much as possible (and listen to the bride b*tch if that doesn’t pan out).

Bridesmaids – The Avoiding Problems Before It Starts Edition:

For anyone else still planning their wedding, let’s talk about trying to avoid this problem in the first place. (And I will be saying, “bridesmaid” a lot. That’s because it’s easier than being gender neutral in this instance. If you call me sexist, I will have my man of honor come and beat you up.)

Here’s the thing. Miss Manners says that, “The original point of having bridesmaids was that the bride would wish, at this momentous occasion in her life, to be surrounded by her closest friends.”

That’s it.

No, seriously, that’s really it. Everything else is cake.

They are there on the day of your wedding to support you, listen to you b*tch if you need to b*tch, look hawt, help you if asked and tell you your bra strap is showing. Most bridesmaid duties – shower planning, bachelorette parties, the help with wedding-related projects – those are all optional and completely voluntary. I know y’all know this, but you need to really KNOW it. It’s amazing if it happens without asking and just as good if you ask them for help and they deliver, but it shouldn’t be expected. And if it is expected, you really need to let them know ahead of time.

The root of all these problems is expectation. Just as you have had to battle your expectation of how you should have to behave as a bride, you have to battle our expectations on how your bridesmaids *should* behave. (I’m SERIOUSLY starting to hate that word.)  Not only that, but bridesmaids have to battle their own expectations. We all know weddings do weird things to people. And one of those things is that, occasionally, your friends will go from being friends to being Your Bridesmaid. The same friend that will listen to your problems and respond with sage advice will say, “But you’re getting MARRIED!! You should be HAPPY all of the TIME!!!” when you go to her with a wedding-related issue. Or the girl that you could always count on will suddenly not be there for you when a bridal crisis occurs.

Being an attendant can be overwhelming, whether you’re married or not. As a single bridesmaid, they probably have no idea what’s going on. Participating in wedding planning is very different than reading about it on Martha Stewart Weddings. (I am not the only one who did that while single, DO NOT EVEN LIE…)  It’s like being in a kitchen and watching someone rush around planning and cooking a meal. They’re standing there, ready to help, but have no real idea of what’s being made. They keep offering to do something, ANYTHING, and then suddenly they’re handed a bowl and are supposed to know what the hell to do with it.

And if you have a married bridesmaid, they may not be able to help themselves from projecting their own experience onto the whole process, whether they voice it or not.

Either way, people aren’t always really sure how to be your bridesmaid without guidance. Some friends behave in the way they think they should, even if it’s not how they’d behave as a friend. Or they shut down, become resentful because they have their own issues to deal with and now they have this major event to help with and it’s adding more stress.

The key is to make sure your girls/guys know what they can do to help and what’s expected of them. And to also keep those things in mind when you choose your bridal party. And keep in mind what life altering changes they may have in the works during your wedding planning. Their life changes need to be celebrated just as much as your wedding does. Just because you’re planning a wedding doesn’t mean you stop being a friend.

And just so you don’t think I’m talkin’ out the side of my neck, this issue is near to my heart. I had a really rough time during my wedding planning when a friend I’d asked to be a bridesmaid eventually backed out. It hurt. I mean, HURT. But she explained that she just wasn’t into wedding planning, even her own. And it was true, she wasn’t. She listened to me during the process, but she didn’t help with the planning and she just wasn’t at my side during the ceremony. And even though it hurt, it eventually was fine. Because this woman had been there for me through bad break-up’s, cross-country moves, family crisis and just when I needed a good margarita and some chicken enchiladas. Her not being up there with me didn’t erase all those years of friendship, nor did it eliminate any future friendship. (And seriously, her chicken enchiladas will make you give up state secrets.)  And if she had been my bridesmaid, but been absent or unenthusiastic during the process, that would have been much more hurtful in the end.

If someone isn’t able to do your shower, for whatever reason, it’s not because they don’t love you. If they are unable to attend, for whatever reason (and even if you think it’s a lame reason), they are still your friend. Your friendship is not defined by their participation in your wedding. It is defined by the years you’ve known them, the adventures you have taken together, the laughs you’ve shared. It is utterly disappointing when a friend does not live up to your expectations. But if they have been there for you in other instances, then why hold this one against them? And if they haven’t been there for you before…well, honestly, you should have known better. There is a big difference between a crappy bridesmaid and just a plain ol’ crappy friend.

A wedding can and will transform your relationship with your partner. It will not transform your friendship with your bridesmaids*. Meg said it best when she said, “Weddings have a way of bringing ‘the way we wish things were’ into conflict with ‘the way things are.’”

And still, this isn’t to let bad bridesmaids off the hook. If you’re up front about what you need and they are falling down on the job, let them know. This is an important event and if they can contribute that’s amazing. But you’re counting on them and if they bail on you or become controlling, call them out on it. And it doesn’t have to be a come-to-Jesus meeting, just a gentle reminder that they’re being a douche and you’d like them to go back to being your friend, thank you very much.

And as SO many people said last week, people will surprise you. It may not be your bridesmaids, it may be someone else that will step up and say, “Here, honey. You look like you could use some help. What do you need?” And often, that turns out to be what you really needed all along.

*Oh, it may. I’m sure someone will comment with a story on how a crappy friendship turned into BFF’s because of their participation in a wedding. And that’s really awesome. But it’s not typical. And it should NEVER be a factor in your choice of wedding party.

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