“So, this is awkward,” said the email from my friend, the bride. “But I’ve decided to keep my bridesmaids to just really close friends.”
She had three bridesmaids. I was the third. Apparently, she only had two really close friends, and I was not one of them.
“Wait,” I wrote back. “Why?”
“I don’t really feel like I need to explain myself to you,” she replied.
I’d sensed some tension between us, but I wasn’t expecting this. I felt like maybe she’d want to explain herself with a little encouragement from me, but when I called her to try to talk about it, she didn’t want to. So I let it be.
Not being a bridesmaid was not the end of the world, right? We could work out our differences after the wedding. And also, I was secretly relieved not to have to wear one of the really long, pale yellow dresses she’d picked for us. I didn’t want to walk down the aisle with those funny, robotic steps that you’re supposed to take. “I. Am. Brides. Maid. Bot. I. Am. Designed. To. Carry. Flowers.” And, anyway, I have this feeling that I’d mess something up on my way down the aisle. I’d trip over the hem of the dress. I’d drop my bouquet. I’d grab onto the wrong frat brother’s arm. I’m almost positive I’d be making a weird face in the formal photos. And if I had to do a toast? I can’t even think about that. I’ve always hoped that my friends — when they did tie the knot — would have little outdoor weddings, or get married in jeans.
OK, so I didn’t really want to be a bridesmaid, which is not to say that I wasn’t hurt when the bride didn’t want me to be a bridesmaid either. Those were two separate things.
After some reflection, I felt uneasy about having missed the opportunity. I felt like I’d failed at something basic. Something that is supposed to play a big role in defining my mid-twenties stage of my life.
Maybe I didn’t want to be a bridesmaid, but I want brides to want me to be a bridesmaid. Being a bridesmaid is a rite of passage. It’s classic. There are countless movies and books about the conflict: always a bridesmaid, never a bride. There are a lot of jokes about it. There’s the cultural expectation. Of course you’ll be asked to be in a lot of weddings, and you’ll stand there, in some terrible hot pink pouf of a dress, with a big supportive smile on your face, doing your duty. Putting in your time before you meet a guy who’s worth inflicting hot pink poufs on your closest companions.
I’ll admit, I even felt slightly jealous of Katherine Heigl in “27 Dresses” … before she got with the hot dude. And not even because she looks like Katherine Heigl. But because she had so many friends who considered her one of their closest friends.
Just a movie, I reminded myself. Just a movie.
A slightly older friend of mine recently mentioned that she’s been a bridesmaid 10 times (not counting the times she’s been a Maid of Honor). Not just a movie. Real life. Another friend keeps having to dash over a couple states to be a bridesmaid for whichever of her college friends is getting married this weekend. Why are her bridesmaiding skills in such high demand?
I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Did I not make enough friends in college? (They weren’t my best years.) It’s always people’s college friends who are getting married and asking them to come serve their time on the arm of one of the groom’s former frat brothers. Do other girls think I’m not cool enough to wear their colors? Do I just not have the right bridesmaid look?
Maybe. Or maybe I’m asking the wrong questions.
For one thing, not many of my friends are getting married right now. They’re mid-twenties, living in New York City, dating on OKCupid, and busy with work. A steady boyfriend is a big deal. A husband is a distant goal. I’m tired of the movies and books that suggest that most young women are either spending a lot of time being a bride or being a bridesmaid. We’re not. I’m not. I don’t need wedding photos to prove that my friends like me. Friendship takes plenty of other forms that don’t include bouquets and matching dresses. There’s a chance that the whole being a bridesmaid thing is a little antiquated. A little stale. Or that might be the case for me.
But still, getting dumped hurts. And when my friend, the bride, broke off our little bridesmaiding arrangement, it really stung. Not just because she and I had a mysterious falling out, but because part of me would’ve liked to have had that one notch on my belt. Just to prove I could. To prove that I’m the kind of person who gets picked for the honor. Even though yellow isn’t my color. Even though yellow is hardly anyone’s color.