Kelsey: Bridesmaiding

Lessons learned in the trenches

This summer, in addition to getting married myself, I also get to be a bridesmaid; once at the end of the summer and once this week. I’m thrilled—I’ve never actually been asked to be a bridesmaid before. I’ve done a lot of day-of coordinating. I’ve been a florist. We’ve baked a wedding cake. Once, some friends and I self-appointed ourselves “bridal attendants” at a spur-of-the-moment “welding” ceremony in Oakland, but this is my first time serving in the official matching dress brigade. So far? I’ve learned that there’s much more to it than developing bustling skills and getting to go to an increased number of champagne happy hours. Just like so many other things wedding-related, bridesmaiding involves much more than the plans and expectations of two people getting married; or in this case the plans and expectations of two friends.

One of my friends, E, asked me if I’d be a bridesmaid months before she was actually engaged, while feeling sentimental during one of our wine-fueled game nights. She had it all planned out: her two childhood friends (plus me) would stand by her side after suitable amounts of pre-wedding debauchery. But when the time came and E got engaged, other people started to weigh in with opinions about this wedding she had lovingly created in her mind. One of those people was the groom. He had strong feelings pertaining to having equal numbers on each side of the bridal party. (He had also had his groomsmen identified long before he was engaged—all five of them.) E realized this was a great opportunity to add to an experience she was already gleefully anticipating, selected another two gals for her side of the aisle, and never looked back.

My other friend, K, is one of my oldest friends. We grew up together, and we remain close friends with the other three girls in our childhood group. As the members of our clan have gotten married off one by one, we have had numerous discussions about being, or not being, each other’s bridesmaids. Quantity has always been the limiting factor here—since there are five of us, and no one wants to leave anyone out, if you want to include this group of friends, plus any family members, and, perhaps, any other friends you’ve made in the last twenty years, you have the potential for quite a bevy of bridesmaids. When K got engaged, she wanted an all-friend bridal brigade. When she announced this intention, she was immediately pressured by various family members to cut her numbers. Such a large group of bridesmaids would be… tacky. So, she gave in, because she wanted everyone to be happy, and because someone else always knows how things are supposed to be, and because everyone knows we must avoid tacky at all costs when planning a wedding. But she couldn’t quite get past the feeling that what was right for her was to have all of her closest friends by her side. Then she remembered that before she was a bride, she was first a badass, and she didn’t really care about what it’s supposed to look like. K reclaimed her original ideal wedding party, and asked a second round of friends to be her attendants.

One of the things making my inaugural bridesmaid experience so interesting is that both of these weddings are so different from my own. E is getting married in Boulder at a country club, K’s wedding will be at swanky beachfront venue in California. I helped to plan E’s local bachelorette party, complete with coordinating outfits, bachelorette scavenger hunt, and hot pink Hummer limo. Those particular traditions don’t work for our wedding, or for me as a bride—but I love participating in them for E’s sake. Sadly, I’ll miss K’s Las Vegas-based bachelorette extravaganza, just like I’ll miss her shower. I feel terrible about missing out on her events, and even mentioned this to her when she asked me to be a bridesmaid. I told her I just didn’t think I’d be a very good one. “All I want is for you to be standing next to me when I get married,” she said. “That’s all that matters to me.”

It’s been a tough season for some of the people we love. Tough enough that planning a wedding and handling the logistics that are a necessary part of the event can sometimes seem trivial. We’ve also started to get back RSVP’s and our first smattering of “celebrating from afar” responses. Jules and I have started to have the tiny, insistent thought in the backs of our minds that maybe our wedding is indeed an imposition—taking people’s time and money, causing inconvenience. I am grateful for the opportunity to do some bridesmaiding for K and E this summer, because I’m very clear on how I feel about both of those weddings. I did buy two dresses, and the shoes. Participating in these weddings will cost me time as well, which is not particularly convenient for me at the moment. But getting to be a bridesmaid is much much better than convenience. It’s a joy to celebrate, an honor to have been included, a delight for me to give my time and resources to these friends in this way. And a relief that rather than asking others to give their time to me, I get to give mine instead.

I stood very still in a woman’s crowded living room one afternoon last week, admiring her collection of Jesus themed decorative wall plates as she folded and pinned the bust on first one royal blue dress, and then another in a slightly different shade. “It’s a good color on you,” she said.  I agreed. “You’re lucky!” she said, pinning me with glee, while I cringed and thanked God that I’m not better endowed. “I am very lucky.” I replied.

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  • Katriel

    Oh man, good thing my husband was ok with not coordinating wedding party numbers. He picked 12 (!!!) groomsmen. I told him that there was no way there were 12 women in this world that were close enough to me to be my bridesmaids. I chose 6 bridesmaids and three sets of groomsmen had to process in male-male pairs. :-P

    • Lauren from NH

      My mister is used to very traditional weddings complete with the bridesmaids and groomsmen acting like adorable hetero couples arm in arm as they process in (…vomit). So my insistance for having my brother on my side has thrown him for a loop. If he thinks they have to act all couply then we are definitely pairing up my brother (5’4) with his college roomate (6’2) because they will think it’s hilarious and giggle like Peter Griffin all the way down the isle and make sexual inuendos all through the reception. Upending tradition FTW!

      • jashshea

        That first line cracks me up, because I’m also from New England and have NEVER been to a wedding where the g’men and b’maids process arm in arm. The G’men are usually at the front already and the maids walk in alone. Gotta love what some folks call traditional, right?

        • Lauren from NH

          Ya, it just makes me picture a scene from the Nutcracker or Jane Austen (no offense, love you Austen) where they are doing coordinated segregated man/woman dancing. There are gloves and matching mokey suits in my mind too. Not that coordinating cannot look very nice, I am just a very casual and familiar type person

          • Bethany

            I’m not from New England, but I’ve been a bridesmaid more times than I’d like to admit. I guess it is a little weird for Bridesmaids and Groomsmen process together, since usually they’re not couples and it definitely looks like they are. But I actually prefer that way. Not for looks, but just so I can have someone to hang onto in case I feel like I’m going to trip! Haha! The last wedding I was in, we had to walk down a small flight of stairs and I was sooooo relieved to know we’d be walking in pairs. I told my partner it was his job to make sure I didn’t fall! (Spoiler alert – I didn’t. Thank goodness.)

      • jashshea

        And you simply HAVE to have your bro walk in with the tall guy. Hilarious.

      • Mezza

        Ha, this reminds me of trying to organize our “bridesmates” (we each had 2 girls and a guy) at the rehearsal dinner. I was trying to match up guys and girls to process in and it wasn’t working logistically, and my (straight male) bridesmate was like “uhhhh this is a same-sex wedding, why are we being heteronormative here?” So they walked in as 2 pairs of girls and a pair of guys. :)

        • JDrives

          I love the term “bridesmates”!

      • JDrives

        I got a bit of side-eye from my honey when I insisted that my brother would be my bridesdude. I asked him to show me the rulebook for where all the boys have to be on the boy side and the girls on the girl side. He conceded the point. So, fist bump for bridesbros! And thanks APW for the confidence and freedom from “traditions” that make zero sense!

    • Sara

      My college roommate called me in a panic before her wedding because her soon-to-be husband had asked another guy to be in the wedding so she was up to seven groomsmen to her six bridesmaids. “It was hard enough to find six people! I don’t think I know a seventh to even ask!” she said as she freaked out. We brainstormed to find another girl, because she insisted they needed to be even, but I just remember having to calm her down a lot. Though I guess, as MOH, that was what I was there for :)

    • Fiona

      I’m so glad that matching up doesn’t matter. There are like 6 potential groomsmen, but no guarantee they’ll be able to make it, and only three bridesmaids, and they will definitely will be there, so we’re blissfully not caring (though my older sister, who is one of my maids of honor, is insistent that she be the one to walk with my fiance’s best man because between them, they’ll have two PhDs–though this is only because he has two).

    • laddibugg

      The thing with us is that two of the guys would be ‘our’ men, and three of the women would be ‘ours’ as well. So I hate to call them ‘bridesmaids’ and ‘groomsmen’ because then it’s assumed that each of us picked the members of the wedding party according to our sex.

      That being said I want equal numbers of men and women because I have a weird thing about symmetry.

    • Kayjayoh

      Same here. I had one, he had 7. But we had them process in one by one, instead of in pairs, and they just stood were there was room, rather than directly in lines behind us, so it looked fine.

      (Most of the people besides my sister who I would have considered were doing things like officiating and stage managing.)

    • GA

      My husband had an issue with numerical asymmetry. (Not in general, just when it came to the wedding party.) I had five, he had three. I asked my five without really confirming it with him, and when I told him all five had gleefully accepted, he said, “Wait, wait, wait. I only have three guys I’m close enough to, though. So I have to go find two more guys.” He’s always had more girl friends than guy friends, but he was worried it would read to our “audience” as though he didn’t have “enough friends.” (I should note here that a lot of his family is incredibly judgmental and tends to approach weddings with a sense of entitlement. They made it clear that they were showing up to judge the “value” of our wedding, even without saying as much, so in fact “audience” is an apt term here.)

      He had similar objections when I suggested having a couple of his closest girl friends stand up there with him, so eventually he just accepted the fact that it would be uneven. Such is life.

      I’m sure several of his most ridiculous family members remarked on it, but do I care? No, but I never did. The more important thing is that he doesn’t care either. We’re married and happy to be so, the rest is just details. And if his family is rude about something, it’s par for the course, sadly.

      • A.

        I’ve actually been struggling with this from the same perspective as your husband’s—irrationally worrying that everyone will think I’m weird for not having “enough” friends, since 2 of my 4 bridesmaids are my FSILs. My fiance has 6 groomspeople and I’ve been really grappling with whether I should ask two more friends to stand up with me, even though I’m a very private person who is already overwhelmed by the number of people who will be in the bridal suite with me in the morning (mothers, grandmothers, cousins, aunts, four bridesmaids, etc.)

        The way that helps me is to think of it as just an example of how my future husband and I approach relationships — I’ve always loved that he is so open and wants to include everyone, and he’s always appreciated how seriously I take my friendships and how much effort I put into cultivating the ones that are closest to me. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, even though society certainly favors his, especially when it comes to weddings. But it’s a good exercise for how we’ll approach community in the future. At least, I have to hope so, otherwise I’ll just drive myself crazy with feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I don’t have the typical gaggle of girlfriends—or that I don’t even really want that. Just as there’s nothing wrong with him immediately extending groomspeople invites to people he hasn’t seen in 5 years, just because he loves them. It’s a balance between us and so far, a successful one. Our wedding just makes it micro! :)

        • Lauren from NH

          I think a lot of people go through this. Actually you and your FH’s appraoch to relationships sound just my guy and me. BM/GM feels like it gives the relationships the “bestie” stamp of approval and that has never been how I approach friendship. I see friendships/relationships as more fluid not fitting in neat picture perfect boxes. And so I’m like “who do I awkwardly stuff into this role?” Which is why I find it so helpful to toss the traditional narative around brdesmaid/groomsmen and just think about who you want to honor or stand by you. That’s much easier for me.
          Also the idea of attendants is super weird to me. I can dress myself, do my own hair and make up and though on the odd occasion I want input, when I have planned my outfit for months in advance (Hello! it’s my wedding!) I think I am good. Just throwing out there if the idea of all the fussing and fluttering over you sounds overwhelming, you could always get ready with your future spouse (like you do everyday and will continue to do, swoon! romatic in my boat) or on your own (quiet time can be nice before so much excitement) and check in with family and friends briefly before you walk down the isle.

    • macaroni

      I feel your pain! My FH would have had 10 groomsmen, but I told him there was no way I was having that many bridesmaids. We eventually settled on 7 each (because he did/does have an issue with symmetry in ALL things), which thankfully I could do. I’m also thankful that we live in the South, where wedding parties of 8-15 attendants each is fairly common, so we don’t get the “tacky” comments.

  • Fiona

    I love this because bridesmaiding IS an honor, even if you have to wear a tacky dress (which luckily, I’ve not had to yet). BEING a bridesmaid certainly makes me approach HAVING them differently…

    • totally agree. i cheesily cannot wait for the day to be one!!

  • Maddy

    *sigh* I’m in bridesmaid hell, where i’ve stopped referring to my MOH as maid of honour, split the speech between the two bridesmaids and feel very sad about it. My (ex??) MOH has been my oldest friend, but over the last few months just seemed to completely disconnect from everything un-related to a friend she’s reconnected with, and we can’t even have a conversation about anything (wedding included) without me having a full run down on this other friend. Pls help, when is the fun supposed to arrive?

    • Amanda

      Oh my gosh, I had almost this exact same experience (just got married June 1) and I’m so sorry you’re going through this. My bridesmaid was never able to pull herself together. Her antics really culminated the night before my wedding when she came back to my hotel room and started sobbing because she was so upset I was getting married because she was afraid we weren’t going to be able to be friends in the same way anymore (major eye roll..we’re both 30, she’s getting married next year and despite living 500 miles apart for the past 10 years we’ve remained close friends and our husbands/fiances have become great friends) and she was sad she missed all of the fun of being part of my wedding because she was so upset. And now, just over a month later, she asked me to be MOH in her wedding. I’m having a tremendously hard time sucking it up and saying yes.

      Anyways, I’m SO sorry you’re going through this. Try to the best of your ability to remember just how amazing everyone else around you is and use that to remind yourself how wonderful your friends are and how lucky you are to have them. GOOD LUCK!!

  • Eh

    I am pretty excited and honoured to be bridesmaid for my sister in a month (one month today yay!). She was our MOH last fall (we only had an MOH).

  • “Then she remembered that before she was a bride, she was first a badass, and she didn’t really care about what it’s supposed to look like.”
    This is so awesome. I’m trying to retain my rebel self while pleasing everyone, too. It’s a struggle.

  • Sara

    Yesterday I found out that 3 of my bridesmaids have been planning a surprise second bachelorette party for me… because they don’t feel like my little sister is doing a good enough job planning the official one. She really is doing fine — she’s young and doesn’t have a ton of money, but that never mattered to me. I’d be fine just sitting on the couch with my ladies and a few bottles of wine. More than fine, actually. And she is SO excited to have this responsibility. But these 3 friends are better off than the others, and started planning this elaborate, all-day event for me. They had absolutely the best of intentions and nothing but love in their hearts, but I had to put the kibosh on it. I told them that I’d be glad to join them for all the activities, pay my share and enjoy a 4 person hang-out day, but I can’t let them treat me. This sucks. I feel like I’m sure to sound ungrateful. They only wanted to be the best bridesmaids ever.

    • Lauren from NH

      Any way to put their positive intentions and larger budgets together with your sister’s plan? It could be tricky to not make your sister feel like they are taking over or upstaging her, which I imagine is why you killed the 2nd party plan. But on the other hand maybe it would help your sister to pull off her vision for your bachlorette party to have the financial support? Just a thought, to get teamwork going, though a low-key bachlorette party sounds wonderful to me.

  • River

    Kelsey, thank you for this! I’m having a very similar year. My two best friends (one from high school, one from college) are getting married/have just gotten married this year. On top of that, my fiance is standing up as a groomsman in his cousin’s wedding. It really has been such an honor to be a part of their celebrations, and seeing how different and how wonderful they are has helped allay some of my anxieties about our own wedding plans. Plus, knowing how much I care about and am enjoying being a bridesmaid for them has made me worry less about my wedding being an imposition. So even though yes, good god, being a bridesmaid has been expensive and it is inconvenient that this expense is being incurred while we are planning for and paying for the single largest expense we’ve jointly incurred yet…it is so so WORTH IT.

  • Sara

    A couple summers ago, three of my favorite people got married. One for each summer month – June, July, August. Those three weddings couldn’t have been more different, and neither could the bachelorette parties or showers.
    The girl who was married in August knew I was already spending money to fly out of town for the other two weddings and almost didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid. She told me that she felt bad asking me to spend more money and she understood if I would say no. I told her that in theory, you only get married once, and I was thrilled to stand up for her if she wanted me to. I wasn’t going to miss it just because I was broke. I think it actually strengthened our friendship even more, we weren’t super close prior to the wedding (she said she asked me because she knew we were going to be better friends down the road and she would never regret asking) and she’s now one of my closest friends.
    (It helped that I’m a crazy person that loves planning and accidentally took over planning the joint bachelor/bachelorette party trip to Medieval Times she was trying to plan herself. She was already so stressed out! It was easy to plan. Plus I got points on my credit card to help with the flights for the other weddings. win/win)

  • jashshea

    Only been a maid twice, ages ago. It wasn’t my favorite job, but the one thing I did like about it was that you are literally standing up and supporting your friend(s) at a critical time in their life. I found that really meaningful at the time and still do now 10 years later.

    That said, I hated everything else about being a bm so much that I didn’t have any at our wedding.

  • macrain

    It can be really hard to juggle wedding related events (and the weddings themselves) when there are so many happening at once. I think another thing that happens is that people experience “wedding fatigue”- there tends to be a lot of enthusiasm and effort for the first of your friends that get married, and if you wait a little the enthusiasm wanes a bit. Also, life happens and people have kids and there’s a lot going on- for me I have experienced this in fewer people being able to attend the wedding and wedding related events then I would have hoped, not in a lack of interest in the events themselves (for those that did make it), thankfully. I loved my shower and I know I will love my bachelorette party too.
    I try to remind myself that I’m an introvert and I prefer smaller groups anyways, so it will work out just fine. Still, I do find myself feeling hurt that certain friends didn’t make more of an effort, especially if I made it for them when they got married. It’s a bit of a roller coaster having people accept or decline their invitations (for the wedding and other events). I was not expecting that.

    • Anon

      This is interesting because I experienced the opposite of what you describe. Earlier this summer I became pretty much the last of my girlfriends to get married (including high school, college, grad school, and work friends). I found that my bridesmaids and other close girlfriends were super-enthusiastic for our wedding festivities – and chalked it up to it being the last time they’ll really whoop it up at a bachelorette party, the last time they’ll likely stand up as a bridesmaid, the last time one of their closest friends marries, etc. I was overwhelmed by their support, especially given the reasons you describe (kids, work, life in general), and all-the-more grateful for those relationships.

  • Erin

    Thanks for writing this! With all the anti-bridesmaid pieces coming out from non-APW sources lately, it’s a relief to see a positive take on the bridesmaid experience. I hope this is how my friends are feeling as we get closer to my wedding.

  • Jacky Speck

    Hanging out with my bridesmaids was one of the most fun parts of planning my wedding. One of my best friends is getting married next and I’m going to be a bridesmaid for her, along with many of the bridesmaids from my wedding (we share a lot of friends). So I can’t WAIT to do all that bridesmaid crap for her: doing the same fun stuff from my wedding and with most of the same people, but minus the pressure of being The Bride.