Before I got married, I never really had a detailed fantasy of what my wedding would be like. I had no dream dress or colors in mind. But there was one thing I always knew I did not want…
Bridesmaids. No way.
Hear me out: In my mind, asking a friend to be your bridesmaid wasn’t an honor. It was asking them a huge, expensive favor. It was like saying, “Hey, do you wanna take on a second job for like a year, except there’s no pay and I’m your boss?! Benefits include: penis straws, credit-card debt and a dress you’ll never wear again!” I had already asked one of my best friends, Jon, to be our wedding officiant. Frankly, that role — which involved paperwork, notaries and writing a wedding ceremony — was a very big ask, but somehow, the bridal party seemed more fraught.
Of course, I knew that some folks found bridesmaid duty fun — myself included! But I also knew others hated it. And though I wasn’t interested in many of the “traditional” bridal party pastimes (see: Bridesmaids), I couldn’t stand the thought of laying additional stress on my closest friends. These were the people who had been there for me through everything: career low-points, family drama and the hideous anxiety I weathered during the early years of my relationship with my fiancé, Harry. It was their friendship that had gotten me through, and bolstered me with the strength and security to take this leap into marriage. I absolutely wanted them there with me on my wedding day. But when they’d given me so much already, it didn’t feel right to ask for more.
I soon realized I wasn’t the only one in the anti-bridesmaid camp. The (many, MANY) wedding message boards were filled with stories about family complications and friend-group politics:
“I really don’t want my sister to be a bridesmaid, but my mom will flip if she’s not.”
“My best friend is going to be eight months pregnant when I get married. I don’t want to pressure her to do all the bridesmaid stuff, but I also don’t want her to feel left out.”
“My college roommate made me one of her 12 bridesmaids, but my wedding is smaller. Do I have to make her one anyway? Also, she’s a NIGHTMARE.”
This is the funny thing about weddings: You want them to be pure joy and celebration, but so often you wind up navigating other people’s expectations and etiquette. It’s impossible to please everyone entirely, least of all yourself. Sometimes it seems easier to just opt out of certain traditions, lest you wind up in a passive-aggressive email thread with your mom or cropping your NIGHTMARE college roommate out of the wedding pictures.
These days, wedding sites are chock-full of “bridesmaid alternative” roles or ways that you can involve people without labeling them the b-word. A Practical Wedding (one of my go-to wedding resources) suggested considering a “Bridal Brigade” — a slightly less formal bunch of good friends (not necessarily all women), who’d be up for helping out on the big day. Maybe Anjali, a great public speaker, could do a reading. And Josh could keep an eye on the Polaroid and make sure no one wandered off with it. Nothing too stressful.
I also noticed people on the message boards talking about “non-bridesmaids.” Non-bridesmaids, it seemed, were friends who had the option of doing all the traditional bridesmaid tasks, but weren’t obligated. They could come dress shopping if they were free; and if they wanted to hang out and have Champagne while you got ready, great! But there was no formality and no need to pose for pictures. I really liked this concept in theory, but in practice, it kinda just seemed like non-bridesmaids were, y’know, friends.
About three months after getting engaged, I was sitting with my friend Debbie — who would be getting married six weeks before I did. I was her bridesmaid, of course, and I was enjoying every second. Taking a million pictures during her dress fittings, shopping for comfortable heels, planning her chill bachelorette weekend in Maine — it was a blast! As for me, it was different, I explained. Absolutely, I wanted her and other close friends to be with me on the big day. But I didn’t want to make them feel like “maids.” I just wanted them to know how important they were to me.
“Soooo, why am I not a bridesmaid then?” Debbie asked.
That’s when it clicked. I’d been so wrapped up in the idea that bridesmaid was a pain-in-the-ass role that nobody wanted, that it hadn’t occurred to me I could just not make it a pain in the ass. I could let them buy dresses they liked. I wasn’t legally obligated to have a movie-style meltdown the night before my wedding. I could just be myself. Fine, maybe the slightly more stressed and high-strung version of myself. They’d seen worse.
In the end, my three close girlfriends stood up with me, in lovely different-colored gowns. Changing my mind about bridesmaids was one of the best decisions I ever made. It made the months leading up to my wedding more enjoyable than I thought possible. We celebrated and planned and hung out just as we would have otherwise, but I felt good knowing they had a special place in my wedding. Sometimes, I realized, sticking with the tradition makes things easier than bucking it. And sometimes the tradition is just more fun.
I caved on the penis straws, too.
What’s YOUR take on bridesmaids, non-bridesmaids, Bridal Brigades, etc.? Are you into them? Do you like being in a bridal party yourself?
(Photos by Katie Osgood, courtesy of Kelsey Miller.)