You know that book How to Win Friends and Influence People? I had to read that at work a few years ago, along with a book written by the author's son, and while the title is most definitely a meme, it's also reached the point of total domination in my subconscious. I'll look at the guy on the train in the middle of the morning rush hour with his knees approximately fourteen miles apart, effectively blocking the seat beside him and the aisle ahead of him and think to myself "how to air out your nuts and annoy everyone." The woman with a stroller and a small dog on a retractable leash? "How to scar your child and kill your dog." Coworker who accidentally put six bottles of sparkling cider in the freezer at work, trashing $200 worth of food when they all exploded? "How to be a jerk and forget basic physics." It's a problem, but I don't particularly care enough to fix it.
Last year, when one of my coworkers (not the sparkling cider bandit) began telling me about a wedding that she was a bridesmaid for, my immediate instinct a was to say "How to lose friends and ruin everything for everyone: Bride Edition."
My coworker (we'll call her Tanya*) is in her mid twenties. She's a lovely, funny woman and I totally understand why she gets asked to be a bridesmaid regularly: she's supportive, organized, good at thinking outside the box, and motivated to make sure everyone around her is having a good time. The ideal bridesmaid. So Tanya tells me that she and the other members of the bridal party are organizing everything over Facebook chat, they're talking about dresses and venues, doing their best to help the bride. Totally normal, sounds like they're making progress. I ask what the timeline is. This brings us to...
Lesson 1: You can't have fast, cheap, and good. Pick two.
This is when I learned that the wedding was in five months. That's pretty tight, in my circle of friends. I know a bunch of people with year plus engagements, and even a few people that got married and then had a wedding when they could afford the one that they wanted, years later. Tanya's group of friends, though, is mostly the type that won't cohabitate let alone copulate until they're married, so engagements tend to be pretty short. Five months? Doable, but you have to accept that things won't be perfect and you will have to make decisions quickly.
Lesson 2: Make the decision yourself and do it in a timely manner.
The bride had two maids of honor. Technically, one maid of honor and one matron of honor that seemed hellbent on getting the bride to have the wedding she really wanted herself. (This was later confirmed when Tanya shared some Facebook pictures with me. The weddings were nearly identical, down to dresses and venues. If I'd seen any of the pictures of the two of them out of context, I would have assumed they were the ones getting married to each other.) We had a dance mom situation here, and it got ugly fast. The matron of honor bullied the bride about the dress, the bridal shower, the bachelorette party...the list could go on. I honestly don't even think I'd have the chance to write about this hilarity if the matron of honor hadn't been involved. When the entire bridal party says "bad idea" and the bride starts to agree, the matron of honor's job is NOT to contradict everyone and throw a fit if she doesn't get her way. Just in case that isn't clear.
Lesson 3: Passive aggressive demands couched as requests aren't cute.
Especially when they all come via text message or Facebook chat. If someone can't get your crap together enough to make an honest request or even a demand of their bridal party (as is their right as the bride), I have no faith in their ability to be adult enough to get married. If they can't even send the text themself but you need the matron of honor to communicate with the rest of the bridal party en masse on their behalf, I think they need to sit down and examine their life choices.
Lesson 4: All the rules that apply to your wedding also apply to your bachelorette party.
In particular, the fast/cheap/good/pick two lesson but with the important addition of "you aren't paying for it, stop being a jerk." The entire bridal party lives in the suburbs surrounding a major city. The bride expressed interest in having a weekend in the city with her girlfriends as her bachelorette party. As you can probably guess, arranging for an entire weekend of activity and a place to stay for seven or more grown women can get expensive, even more so in a large city with the extra special sauce of about two weeks' notice on what she wanted. Someone had the genuinely bright idea of renting a condo for the weekend, since it would be cheaper than even just two hotel rooms. Watching the look on Tanya's face when she realized just where the condo was located was a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion: I knew what was going to happen, I felt profoundly uncomfortable on her behalf, but I still couldn't look away. The condo wasn't that far from where I lived for three years, maybe a mile, but it was on the other side of a major highway and in a neighborhood that, while gentrifying pretty quickly, is not the sort of place where I would send a gaggle of drunk young women who have never lived in a major metropolitan area. It's the neighborhood where my lovably naive, corn fed ex got his phone stolen when someone asked to borrow it to "call their mom." I told her to make sure they took a cab after 10 pm because selfishly I didn't want to be the one getting a panicked phone call from a precinct asking if I could come help them out since they all got mugged. Watching Tanya's Facebook updates that weekend gave me a strange sense of relief and sympathy. (There has to be a German loanword for that, right? Facebooken-freude?)
Lesson 5: Respect your wedding party. They are your troops in this battle, give them suitable armor.
Bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. From the only wedding I stood up in as an adult, one of the biggest struggles was finding something everyone was comfortable wearing (and I will admit I worry I may have added to the drama in that situation). But my cousin provided her bridesmaids and matron of honor with suitable armor: a beautiful black strapless summer weight dress that I still have and have worn since. Tanya and the other five members of this bridal party wore a mostly see-through, peach colored dress that looked more like lingerie than clothing. At least one concerned mother asked if it was a nightie; the dress was so short that one of the bridesmaids had to buy two and get several inches of one tacked on to the bottom of the other so she wouldn't risk flashing the guests.
Rather than purchasing the matching jewelry she wanted all of the bridal party to wear as their gift, the bride bought everyone thin cotton floral robes to wear the day of the wedding while they all got their hair done, etc. The robes were longer than the dresses by several inches, giving the impression that a group of young, dolled up women were walking around naked under flimsy robes in public while they got their Starbucks and waited for everyone to finish up.
Even the groomsmen weren't immune from this treatment. They were told to purchase their custom ties from an Etsy store. (Does this make anyone else want to learn how to make ties? Because that seems like it would be fun.) When it was discovered at the rehearsal dinner that there'd been a miscommunication and one of the groomsmen hadn't gotten his (he'd been under the impression the best man was ordering them all and he would get paid back, which actually makes a lot of sense) the drama exploded. And then promptly imploded when someone found a nearly perfectly matching tie at a local mall. The fact that this totally negates the "need" for a more expensive custom tie was apparently lost on everyone but me as far as I can tell.
Lesson 6: Your wedding party is not slave labor.
This one should be easy: when trying to save money (see lesson 1) it is reasonable to ask the wedding party for help! Does the venue charge a big clean up fee that you hope to avoid? Ask for help. But despite the moniker "bridesMAID," the members of modern wedding parties are not intended to act as hired help. Do not tell your wedding party that they are required to stick around after the reception to help you clean up the venue. Do not tell the wedding party they are expected to stick around and help wash the dozens (hundreds?) of mason jars that were borrowed from friends and family for all of the guests to drink out of, followed by a proclamation that they must keep them the jars organized so the right ones go back to the right lenders. To quote Napoleon, a guy that the bride seems to have something in common with**, "If you want a thing done well, do it yourself."
Especially do not demand any of this from the members of the wedding party that missed another close friend's wedding to be at yours.
Extra especially since none of the wedding party members got a plus one unless they were married and you're making them pay for their own booze.
Weddings without at least a limited open bar are like the drunk handsy aunt: no one wants them, but feels obligated to include them.
Lesson 7: Your wedding party is also not entertainment for the evening. No, they aren't strippers, either.
The bride and her matron of honor colluded to choreograph a dance that the bridal party was to perform at the reception. Keep in mind this is not a 16th birthday party or a bat mitzvah. This is a wedding for a full grown adult woman with a job.
So the bridal party has to learn a dance. Ok. Deep breath. The bride wants everyone wearing hats. Yup. Hats. Flat billed baseball hats. That the bridesmaids are told to buy themselves. The bride wants them to be sparkly! So she's going to bedazzle them. She asks the bridesmaids if they'd rather it say "bridesmaid" or their names...being sensible young women, they all opt to have it say their name, so at least they can wear it later. The bride decides later that's not going to happen, everybody just gets "bridesmaid."
Did I mention where the groom will be while these seven young ladies (yes, the bride is dancing, too) will be dancing in their almost see-through nightie dresses?
In a chair. Watching them. Because they are dancing for him. While wearing bedazzled bridesmaids hats that they paid for themselves. But at least they'll all have a lovely reminder of the time they did a harem dance for her husband of less than an hour!
Lesson 8: Your wedding is over. Stop making everything about your wedding.
We've established that no one should rely on their bridal party for labor. Good, taking baby steps. But what happens after the wedding is over? That's the cue to let everyone move on with their lives.
The thing that actually ended up frosting my ass about Tanya's whole experience was when I discovered that the bride and groom had "asked" the entire bridal party (after washing all the mason jars and cleaning up the venue and missing the other wedding) to accompany them to a nearby bar to hang out with them while they waited for their early morning flight to their honeymoon. Because staying up all night to wait for you to go on a cool vacation totally sounds like a great time. I would have gotten over the ridiculous clothing choices, I would have forgotten the passive aggressive Facebook drama. It's a wedding, after all. Weddings are drama by definition. I would have even forgiven the harem dance, because I understand that not everyone sees the patriarchy the way I do. But insisting on an afterparty strikes me as a desperate attempt to not be alone together, particularly when you could be heading back home for a few hours to finally consummate your relationship instead of hanging out at a country bar near the airport.
Several months after the wedding, I hear Tanya sigh and audibly roll her eyes.*** Standing up too look over the cubicle wall between us and raising an eyebrow in the universal "Huh?" gesture, I watched her expression shift from frustration to biting back laughter a few times.
"The bride is texting me." My inner sadist rejoiced. "She's having a complete breakdown because she thinks the groom hooked up with someone else at a wedding." SHOCKED, I tell you. "Before they even started dating." Wait a minute… That's right. A grown woman was fighting with her husband and frantically texting all their mutual friends in the middle of a workday because she heard that he might have done something untoward with another woman before they even started dating. To say I wasn't surprised would be an understatement so criminal it might require jail time. Even as other people in their group of friends get engaged, announce pregnancies, have children, the demand for attention (both for herself and her relationship with her husband) seemed near constant. It was then I realized her tactic all along had been to have the wedding that never ended, and I have to respect her success.
I hope we've all learned some important lessons today. Thank you for taking this journey into ridiculousness with me.**** Class dismissed, unless you want to share your own horror stories in the comments in which case let me get some popcorn.
*All names have been changed.
***You know this is possible, shut up.
****To be absolutely clear: I am judging this woman for her choices, but I absolutely support her right to make those choices herself. I just also support her friends if they all decide to stop being friends with her because she went off the deep end. I truly hope her marriage is a strong and happy one, and that she is achieving everything she wants. I also truly hope she starts to realize that the center of the universe doesn't really exist as such in space/time, so it's impossible for it to be her.