Being a bridesmaid often feels more like a curse than an honour. So, asks newly engaged Rhiannon Evans, what do you do when the time comes to pick yours?
I was in the living room, straightening my hair, when I spotted my friend Carolyn eyeing me. In a few months I was going to be her bridesmaid and, staring at my brand new bob, she uttered the words we now laugh about (but didn’t seem funny at the time): ‘So, um, do you think you’ll grow your hair for the wedding?’
Virtually every woman has a nightmare bridesmaid story. We’ve all experienced one of our beloved, normally sane friends transforming into bridezilla before her big day, leaving us trying to cater to her every whim and keep her meltdowns in check. And it can be a uniquely thankless task, as one friend discovered when she ended up spending more than a £1,000 organising a hen night. Another was instructed, brutally, to lose weight.
And therein lies the bridesmaid conundrum – when you’ve seen your friends frazzled and furious with a bride they used to love, but no longer recognise, swearing they’ll never be a bridesmaid again, what do you do when, well, you want them to do it again…for you?
The question came to the fore recently, when I got engaged. Inevitably, I started considering which of my friends I’d like at my side at my wedding, celebrating with me and calming my nerves.
Then, a week later, Jennifer Lawrence made headlines with her views on the subject. ‘Weddings rock, but I will never be a bridesmaid again,’ the four-times bridesmaid said. ‘It’s horrendous. If anyone asks me again, I’m going to say, “No. That part of my life is over. I appreciate the ask.”’
Reading Jen’s comments, it felt as though everything I was already worrying and feeling guilty about had crystallised, and the universe was jabbing my shoulder, shouting: ‘Hey! Horrendous! She’s talking about you’. To add insult to injury, a slew of opinion pieces followed about how being a bridesmaid is the devil’s work.
Being a bridesmaid is a UNIQUELY thankless task - the monstrous BRIDEZILLA, friends bemoaning the COST of the HEN, endless emails
I started to worry about what I should do. Apart from the aforementioned hair chat, I’ve had good experiences the five times I’ve been a bridesmaid, but I know, from friends, that it can be horrific. Type ‘being a bridesmaid is’ into Google and the top two searches are ‘hell’ and ‘expensive’. Even if you think your friendship can stand the test, your bank balance might not. A recent survey found the average American bridesmaid spends around £1,066 carrying out her duties.
Although, of course, I would make a conscious effort not to be a nightmare, I know that nobody thinks they’ll be a bridezilla. Also, it’s not only having to deal with monstrous brides-to-be, but also the people around her - the friends moaning about how much they’re paying for the hen, or the endless email chains and date changes. How could I control that?
Like a lot of 30-something women, I have a lot of friends - and I love them deeply, yet anxiously. Seeing a friend has read a WhatsApp from me and not replied can cause a sleepless night. Picking a bridesmaid and opening myself up to potential fights and back-biting suddenly seemed nightmarish.
For a while, I decided to go with J-Law’s solution and forgo bridesmaids altogether. I couldn’t face the thought that I was suddenly going to be that topic of fury, that eye-roll. Lots of my friends have spawned angelic-looking children - surely they'd be great at smiling for photos and chucking rose petals in front of me? But then, who'd help organise my hen do? I’ve organised four, so it would be nice if someone returned the favour. I asked one friend (one I’ve heard bridesmaid-bitching) what she would do. ‘Just pick whoever you’d feel weird not having there on your wedding morning,’ she said. And then I pictured myself, sitting alone and sipping a Buck's fizz and felt instantly forlorn.
‘If your mates love you, they won’t need the title of “bridesmaid” to help out, or get ready with you on the day,’ another friend promised. Eureka! I’ll just make some friends help me without giving them the official role. But wait, isn’t that worse? All that labour and not even a free dress to show for it? Back to square one.
It was comforting to discover my anxiety isn't unique. In our twenties, marriage seemed a novelty and being a bridesmaid thrilling. But friends I spoke to who, like me, were reaching that milestone in their thirties felt similarly conflicted about the hell they were potentially putting their friends through. One limited herself to just two people from her originally long list - fewer people to worry about. Another friend took J-Law’s advice – she didn’t ask any of her friends, thinking they’d be relieved. Except on the next drunken night out they all tearily revealed how upset they were not to be asked. See? A minefield.
One friend told me her bridesmaids were so alarmed at how sexist the whole wedding structure is (a woman being given away, then spoken about in speeches made by men) that they spurned the idea of being 'maids' and called themselves best women instead. A small change, but she said it altered their whole outlook. They shared wedding tasks equally with the best men and didn't feel like they were in service - just standing by the side of their friend and supporting her.
If you were looking for a solution to the paradox, then I'm sorry to say I haven’t quite worked one out. I just keep returning to wanting certain people around me on a special day. And really, I should be glad I've got friends that I care enough about to worry. Even if they do like a good moan.
Being a bridesmaid: lovely or lousy? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org