Should I Refuse To Be A Bridesmaid?

I indulged my best pal’s request. But I don’t think I should ever do this again.
Publish date:
November 22, 2011
best friends, bridesmaids, wedding industrial complex

I don’t remember how the conversation began. I also don’t remember when it even happened. At some point between her engagement last Christmas and her wedding this fall, my best friend asked me to be her maid of honor.

Not a big deal, right?

Thing is, I’ve never been to -- let alone in -- a wedding as an adult. Honestly (and not unlike other ladies here), I think weddings are weird.

First things first. I’m married, but I didn’t exactly have a traditional wedding. My partner isn’t a U.S. citizen, which forces even some of the most staunchly anti-marriage straight couples down the aisle if they want to live in the same country for an extended period of time.

Between living in the shadow of my parents’ obnoxious divorce and some anti-consumerist feminist values, I’d never had any desire to have a big wedding or even get married. I love my man, not the institution of marriage.

More importantly, in our social circle -- mostly queer and/or international couples, all politically left-leaning -- there’s little if any emphasis on weddings and marriages. Our friends are all happily coupled, and those who are married are rather apathetic about the legal aspect.

Some didn’t have the money to spend, and most simply didn’t care about throwing a big party to commemorate one more day of our lives together. We’re into long-term commitment, not ceremony.

I sometimes ask, “Don’t you want to know how we stay together?” when an acquaintance asks me how Andreas and I met. I’m not interested in discussing only the first chapter; I want to talk about the whole book-length story.

As such, it’s become a long-running joke among some friends about how little planning was involved and how few people attended any of our shotgun weddings. Andreas and I had a total of five other people at our five-minute ceremony.

Our pals Josh and Bobby won the wedding indifference contest with just an evening’s worth of planning and two lawful witnesses present.

Basically, I’m not socially primed for weddings. If anything, I revel in being divorced from this aspect of our religio-capitalist culture.

That didn’t initially mean much when my friend Angela* called. We’ve been besties for 10 years, and in that time, our lives have radically diverged.

We first met in the gap between high school and college and bonded over obscure bands. These days, she’s a suburban home-owning lawyer planning to have babies. I’m a childfree freelance writer with a partner and a cat in a tiny urban rental. But I love my friend like no other living person.

Clichés aside, she really, truly is the sister I never had. I knew her wedding day would mean a lot to her, and I immediately began rearranging my already chaotic autumn around her big day.

Even though I don’t understand the emphasis people place on weddings, I did what I thought she’d do for me -- or at least what I thought would mean a lot under the circumstances.

After diligently Googling “bridesmaid duties,” I wrote a toast that made me sob repeatedly over the course of the many months it took me to draft it. (It made a lot of people cry when I gave it, too.)

A few days before the ceremony and even though she told me she didn’t care, I borrowed my guy’s beard trimmer and wacked off the hair on my legs and under my arms. After seeing my Angela’s airbrushed makeup at the salon, I even ponied up the $85 to get my own done.

I wanted to look nice -- hell, I wanted to fit in -- for the pictures, despite my absolute hatred of posed photography and animal-tested synthetic cosmetics that are dispensed from spray guns.

Instead of judging my occasional dumb question or making me feel like the ultimate weirdo at the Midwestern country club wedding, Angela did what she’s always done when our lives have become incomprehensibly different. She went above and beyond to make being her attendant a painless experience for me.

Knowing I’d recently had a lot of major expenses, she paid for my bridesmaid dress and the alterations. She also paid for our joint hair appointment and pedicures for two, which was mostly just because she’s nice and had nothing to do with our shoe-enclosed feet.

Throughout the days leading up to and including the ceremony, she repeatedly told me, “I’m so glad you’re here,” and I know she meant it.

She asked how I was holding up as we traipsed outside for photos in the windy autumn evening in only our gauzy halter dresses. She didn’t mind when I cut out of the reception early.

And here’s the thing (and bless her heart if she reads this): I didn’t like being in the wedding. I know it’s not about me. I. Know. It’s. Not. But that doesn’t make the discomfort of the exercise or the sheer boredom of watching someone else get their hair done go away.

It doesn’t make it any easier to pretend to like her future in-laws when they’d make snide comments about poor people. It doesn’t make it easier to smile for group photos, feeling more unlike yourself than you ever have before.

It goes without saying that any time my girl needs me to hold up a giant dress while she pees, I’m there. But that isn’t about weddings. It’s about us.

Tradition forces people to do stuff they might not otherwise do. I hated that my friend felt she needed to buy me (and the other bridesmaids) tote bags full of trashy magazines, hand lotion and gum. I hated the makeup artist who wanted to talk about using my eyelashes to get what I want. (What does that even mean?!) I hated the meaningless chatter with strangers at the reception who enthused about the couple, “Now their life together begins.” Um, didn’t it begin the day they met?

Mostly I hated that I didn’t -- and that I don’t -- understand. If everyone my age is doing this, how am I so insulated? Am I the total weirdo for not wanting to talk about gift registries and serving dinner to 130 of my parents’ friends?

I felt like I did my best to conform, and in the end, I still felt like a total outsider.

Maybe I shouldn’t hate the generously stocked handbags or friendly chitchat. Maybe I should hate myself for thinking that I could fake it, even under the best of circumstances. Maybe I should hate myself for being a skeptical sourpuss on my very best pal’s beautiful wedding day.

Last month, one of my girliest girlfriends got engaged.

“Be sure to ask for a photo of the ring,” my partner reminded me since I don’t know any better.

After properly freaking out over the ring (it really is lovely), I realized I might make another the bridal party shortlist and wondered how to handle it if I do.

“You should do whatever feels right,” Andreas said.

But am I really cut out for all the hoopla? Shouldn’t I offer to take photos or be slumped in the back row, waiting for the free cake? I don’t need to risk screwing up a friendship because I can’t get excited about place cards and tulle.

Angela called last week, back from her honeymoon in Cancun, raving about my toast and passing on compliments. I breathed a sigh of relief as she prattled on about how much fun everyone had.

In my heart, I knew she wouldn’t call to berate me; that isn’t how our relationship works. But I couldn’t help but feel absolved of ruining her day with my grumpy attitude. She either hadn’t noticed, or she’d chosen to move on. Either way, I shouldn’t have felt so relieved.

Another one of the bridesmaids had me figured out and asked at one point, “So if this was anyone else besides Angela, you wouldn’t be here, right?” And I think my answer then should be my answer going forward. Fuck no.

*Name has been changed to protect my perfectly wonderful, happily married friend who lovingly puts up with my writerly oversharing tendencies.