Always a Bridesmaid

I love love but I hate weddings, and in our culture, that is not an okay thing to say or feel.  It’s like saying you don’t like dogs (not liking cats is okay) or saying you don’t like kids (not liking teenagers is okay).  It is legit taboo.  People might think you are angry or bitter or resentful and that would be soooooo bad. For the longest time, I thought hating weddings and all-wedding related preparations made me an asshole. Hating weddings was like getting your period two years before all your friends; a dirty but inevitable secret.

Don’t get me wrong, in addition to loving love, I love my friends and I love to see them happy.  This is an easy one for the most part, and it is at the heart of how and why I have tolerated so many weddings.  Even though I can’t quite fathom the desire to have a wedding, it has always given me great joy to see their joy, to see the look on their face once the dancing has begun and everything that could have gone awry has essentially gone smoothly.  I can see in these moments that my friends are basking in the love of a large group of people and I’m glad for them.

From the outset I should be clear, going to a wedding as a guest is far less objectionable-often it is even enjoyable!–than being a bridesmaid.  Being a bridesmaid is a totally different beast.  It means intimate involvement with the many facets of event organization, entitlement, bad moods, bad behaviour, anxious family members, speech writing etc.  As they say, when you are a bridesmaid, you get to see how the sausage is made, and in my estimation, it isn’t pretty.  

Firstly, weddings are by their nature an exclusive experience.  It begins with choosing a bridesmaid.  I have seen brides make these decisions based on the way bridesmaids look, as well as on their ability to afford expensive bridesmaid dresses and bridal party celebrations/trips, as well as on their party planning skills.  Shouldn’t a bridesmaid, if they have to exist at all, be chosen based on intimacy and intimacy alone?  If this is in fact, the most important moment of your life, shouldn’t these people be selected to match the spiritual tenor of the moment?  Too often I have heard conversations about bridesmaid selection that revolves around who will take their duty most seriously.   But will they take their job seriously?  How good are they at planning parties, showers, stagettes, post-wedding gift opening parties? Are they organized, dependable?  It can sound more like the hiring of an administrative assistant than the selection of a bridesmaid. And after the wedding, how many countless brides have I heard decrying their bridesmaid’s performance.  They didn’t take it seriously enough.  They didn’t care.  They weren’t there when I need them.  I feel like they didn’t really appreciate being a bridesmaid. Sigh.

Choosing a bridesmaid is only the beginning of people feeling left out.  Choosing five people is stressful, I concede.  But then there is also the opposite problem.  Not having enough people to make up the traditional six person bridal party.  I have observed that this is often more difficult for men, but it can be difficult for many women too.  How many amongst us can say we have six very very close friends?  We should be so lucky! For many of us this is a painful reminder of how difficult it is to connect with other people in the world

Next there are the financial implications.  I’ve been a bridesmaid in six weddings, and I could afford exactly none of them.  Being a bridesmaid will usually run you, at a minimum, $1500-$2000.  When you take into account bridesmaid dresses, stagettes (often out of town or country), engagement gifts, wedding gifts, wedding hair and make up, and all the unexpected incidentals (nipples covers, breast petals, heels inserts, strapless bras, spray tans, hair colouring, taking time off work etc), it’s really nuts.  I’ve had to borrow money from family members to participate in these weddings and sometimes once it came time to buy a wedding gift, my strangled bank account was so dry that I couldn’t even afford a card.  This is not an exaggeration. In these cases, the wedding table was conspicuously bereft of my present and this truly brought me shame.  Some couples asked for cash and I had to tell them I had forgotten my card. I’m not proud of this.   I think back to the Friends episode where Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe feel slighted by Ross, Monica, and Chandler’s failure to consider their income when planning dinners, parties, and activities.  In a perfect world we would all be on an equal playing field, but this is simple not the case.  I would have liked to have been able to lavish my friends with expensive gifts, but as it was, the financial part of the wedding felt slightly like holding in your pee on a long car trip.  Uncomfortable, foreboding, and pregnant with the knowledge that there would be repercussions and consequences.

And then there is the feeling of being an unmarried bridesmaid.  You spend your late adolescence and early twenties watching movies about how hard it is to always be at the singles table, to be always the bridesmaid, never the bride, but it isn’t until your late twenties that you start to realize that these movies were actually been based on a very specific reality.  I can actually remember the first pitying look I received about being unmarried.  It was at a wedding and it came from a very kind, very lovely, very well-intentioned person who asked me if I was married?  was I seeing someone? The perplexed look on their face, the tilting of their head to one side, the searching of their mental database and my physical exterior for some reason to explain this anomaly.   But you are so nice.  And so pretty,  the person said.  You’d never imagine that having someone tell you that you are nice and pretty would make you feel so bad, but it does.  

My sister sometimes describes being single in such situations, as being like an animal in the zoo.  Married people gather around you and probe you with well-meaning questions, and suggestions for set-ups, and nonplussed expressions.  Oh!  I have a friend I can set you up with!  He’s a thirty-year-old meathead who spends all his time working out at the gym and loves hunting and posts pictures of himself with tigers on chains in Thailand.  Oh, and he’s a republican.  But he’s single!  He’s just perfect for you!

I know some of you may be thinking, but why should I allow other people’s emotions to ruin MY day?  The day I am entitled to.  Nothing is going to ruin my day.  I think it is this sense of entitlement that bothers me the most.  I will admit that I have grown up in a family that has taught me to value the feelings of others above my own in a way that is truly pathological.  This overarching concern about taking care of others has been hugely problematic for me..  We want to teach our children, and particularly our little girls, to assert themselves and to reach for what they want, and I’m still trying to balance my upbringing with my belief in self-care  But still, I find myself brought full circle to the question of whether or not we are really entitled to this day? Says who?  And why?  I think we are all entitled to things like safety, dignity, equal treatment, freedom from violence, and misogyny, and the dominion of white supremacy, but are we each really entitled to a wedding?  And to this point, are we really entitled to a wedding, regardless of the financial and emotional toll it might take on others?

As I write this, I worry that I will be perceived as angry or bitter or resentful.  In our culture, being angry is tantamount to being bitter, but this is not really true.  Note the difference carefully please.  I am not bitter at all.  I don’t begrudge people their happiness.  Not one single bit.  But maybe I am a bit angry and maybe it is right to be angry about a custom or tradition, that when carried out without self-awareness and deep consideration for others, leaves people feeling excluded, emotionally bereft, socially ostracized, in debt.  I’ve heard many brides make the following statement:  It’s my wedding day, and I’m going to be a bitch because it’s my wedding day.   And us bridesmaids nod knowingly and give out hugs like candy.  We reinforce this behaviour because we too have bought into the myth of entitlement.  Also, we are scared as being marked as bad bridesmaids. 

A couple years ago I reposted an article on Facebook about how difficult it is to be single with married friends.  I was in fact married and I was posting this article as an act of solidarity  with my single friends, who I felt didn’t always need to be set up, or hear you have to be happy with yourself and then you will find ‘the one’, or  put it out into the universe or live in the moment and enjoy your single life or the moment you stop wanting it, it will find you, or whatever variation thereof.  I thought that what I really want to say, to these friends, and what I thought the article said well, was that sometimes it really sucks to take the road less travelled and sometimes that road less travelled is really fucking lonely and shitty.  After reposting this article, I received a host of private messages from well-meaning friends-and even distant acquaintances-inquiring into my marriage and romantic life with concern.  Was everything okay?  They were sorry I was going through a hard time etc.  But I wasn’t going through a hard time!  And I wasn’t angry per se, but maybe I was a little angry, like I am as I write this.  Or maybe angry isn’t the word.  Maybe the word is indignant, which means feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.  Meaning there is real justification for being angry when people are made to feel bad or excluded.  This is not an overly emotional or bitter reaction, this a hyper rational reaction to an unfair system.  

When I got married, I did not have a wedding, but at my lovely friends’ insistence I held a casual dinner with six of my closest friends.  No less than two friends broke down into tears that night.  I knew they were happy for me, but were also feeling all the various aforementioned stresses that accompany a marriage/a wedding. Not to mention the fact that there is a degree of loss we experience when a close friend gets married. I am worried about coming across self-righteous and so I really want to clarify, so there is no misunderstanding; many of the reasons I chose not to have a wedding are just as selfish as the reasons people choose to have enormous weddings, and I will tell you about all these reasons sometime, but in those moments that evening with tearful friends, I felt glad about my choice.  Sometimes family members and friends still talk about having a wedding or a ‘party’ to celebrate my marriage two years after the fact.  I think those who love me don’t want me to feel I missed out on something I am owed, that is my right, that I deserve.  But it’s all this talk about deserving that makes me hate weddings most.  I don’t feel I missed out.  I feel I escaped.  I feel I was spared.  And also, I don’t see my married friends as any more deserving of being loved and showered with affection and appreciation than my unmarried friends.  And yet, this is the way things are set up. I want to question this set up.  Now I realize that hating weddings doesn’t mean I hate love, or hate my friends, or even hate celebrations-but rather I hate the way they reproduce so many social and economic inequities that are painful, that we live with every day, without questioning them.  It would be nice to find another way to celebrate brides and grooms  and union and it would also be nice to find a ritualized way to celebrate those who aren’t brides or grooms at all