I was recently asked to be a bridesmaid for the third time. Although I was thrilled to accept, many friends and relatives received my news with a pained look. They asked about the dress in concerned tones; they offered sympathy for the costs I may incur; they expressed annoyance on my behalf. None dared utter what perhaps they were all thinking: "Always a bridesmaid; never a bride." It’s a lament, not a cheer. The role of bridesmaid is commonly understood as pitiable and tragic, a highlighting of one’s not-bride status. In film, bridesmaids are resentful ( Rachel Getting Married ), desperate ( Wedding Crashers ), fat ( Made of Honor ), pathetic ( 27 Dresses ), and even sociopathic (as in France’s 2006 The Bridesmaid ).
No such tropes follow groomsmen down the aisle. They get to revel in debaucherous bachelor parties and possibly score with some loose cousin (see every wedding movie ever made). But other than the obviously outmoded ideas about every girl dreaming of her own perfect wedding, why do we assume that bridesmaids have it so bad? My two tours of duty were both filled with joy and merriment. I’m looking forward to another round.
It’s time to reclaim the bridesmaid title (also, maybe update it: bridesadvisor, anyone?). I truly LIKE being a bridesmaid. And here are five reasons why:
1. Free Stuff
Sure, you have to pay for travel expenses and a dress and a gift, but so do all of the other guests. Bachelorette parties can be pricey, but again, they do not weigh solely upon bridesmaids. On the upside, as a MOWP (member of the wedding party), one is often treated to a complimentary hotel room, grooming perks like free manicures or hair styling, and even gifts. My mom still wears the watch given to her by a bride (her college roommate) decades ago. One friend got an iPod from her bride-not too shabby.
Here’s the thing about the dresses: They make one recognizably important to everyone at the wedding. Bartenders will make yours strong, caterers will grant you favors, women will pay you compliments, and men will flirt with you. Guests have an easy conversation starter when approaching you, but you also have an easy conversation ender when things get awkward: "I have to go help the bride!" Weddings can be big and intimidating events, but when you are a MOWP, you may glide through your surroundings with ease.
3. Bonding with Fellow Bridesmaids
Beyond the traditional commiserating over brutish photographers, passive-aggressive party planners, and smarmy uncles, bridesmaids get to participate in lots of female bonding. Last summer, I shared my duties with three of my closest high school friends. The four of us live in different cities, and opportunities for reunions are scarce. Spending three days in the English countryside together was a gift, and not just because we got to catch up, but because we got to create new experiences together. There were foibles and follies, and we’re still sending each other e-mails with references to the wedding one year later.
Alternately, this summer’s turn involved one old friend and several old acquaintances. The bride and I were college roommates, and I’d known her other friends for years, but the wedding and bachelorette party brought us much closer. We shared memories of the bride, we rode a mechanical bull, we argued over cocktail recipes, we assessed the groomsmen, we conspired in gift-giving, and we danced, danced, danced. One of them lives in New York, and we’ve spent time together post-wedding. The cementing of both new and old friendships is an undeniable plus to MOWP-ship.
4. Bonding with the Bride
Have you ever accompanied your friend into a bathroom stall and helped to lift her dress? Have you manhandled her boobs into ideal position? Have you been responsible for insuring that she literally eats and drinks something ? Have you shouted at other people to leave her alone? Have you stood by family quarrels and helped remind her that it’s a happy occasion? Bridesmaids do all that and more. Being a good one is a testament to your love, which is why ...
5. It’s Truly an Honor
It’s not often one gets official plaudits for successful friendship. Success in school is met with good grades and awards; success at work often leads to promotions and raises; romantic successes may result in marriages and vows; and parenting successes are once again measured with all of the above, only by proxy. But do we have any official measures of a successful friendship? Maybe if your friend publishes a book or wins an Oscar, you will merit a public thank you. Unfortunately, not all of us are blessed with talented friends. Thus, the invitation to be a bridesmaid is a rare thing. It demonstrates a platonic bond, a sisterhood, and a wish to include another in one’s happiness. It’s flattering. For this reason, more than the others, I’m hoping I work my way up to 27 dresses (but please, no ruffles).
Photograph of Liz Stevenson by Holland Photo Arts .