Thought Catalog

The Pressure Of Being A Bridesmaid In A Culture Obsessed With Wedding Perfection

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MNStudio
MNStudio

When I am in a social situation with a group of women my age, the conversation almost always turns to weddings at some point. Not because women are vapid and two-dimensional and obsessed with getting married, but because weddings are a large part of our lives right now. We’re all going to bachelorette parties and bridal showers. We’re blocking out many of our weekends months in advance, so that we can schedule flights and get time off work and reserve hotel rooms. We’re going to weddings and we’re in them and some of us are having them. It’s just natural that we end up talking about it.

But one point of focus that comes up time and time again is the experience of being a bridesmaid: the excitement of being asked, the relationship to the bride, the details of the wedding, etc. But most of all, the discussion is about the absolute stress that comes with this honored position.

I’ve been in two weddings in my life – both times, I was an eight-year-old flower girl for two of my aunts who got married within a couple months of each other. I wore a dress that made me look like a cream puff, but overall, it was a gentle introduction into what it’s like to be in a wedding party. I obviously had zero responsibilities, so I spent both evenings slugging back Shirley Temples like I was the Head Bitch In Charge. As an adult, I haven’t yet experienced the role of ‘bridesmaid,’ but I have an endless amount of family members, friends, coworkers, and friends-of-a-friend who have no shortage of stories about the stresses of being in a wedding.

Am I in a position to write about this experience, then? Now is a better time than ever; the fact that I’ve not yet been a bridesmaid gives me the perspective of an outsider, one who can look at this phenomenon with curiosity and neutrality. But at the same time, it’s such a personal topic for me, because so many people I know have shared with me such specific and intimate details from their experiences. This isn’t a professional anthropologic study on the nature of being a bridesmaid. But it’s real. It’s a discussion about real stories from real women of all different ages, backgrounds, and experiences. Some that I know, some that I’ve never met before, some that I’ve been connected with through a friend of a friend. And they all have something to say about what it feels like to be a woman in the age of wedding grandiosity.

In their purest form, weddings are meant to be a celebration of love and commitment surrounded by family and friends. And the majority of the time, they are that way. Of the 15 or so women I spoke to for this piece, practically all of them said that their favorite part of being a bridesmaid was being able to witness – in such a close-up and personal way – all of the love, joy, and support floating amongst the couple and their family and friends. Even women like Elizabeth*, 27, who has been in 4 weddings and will be in another 4 this upcoming year – and who has been through her fair share of intense, demanding weddings – said it’s a special thing to witness. According to her, “No matter the circumstance of the wedding, I have always been able to feel palpable love at one point or another in the ceremony and/or reception. I am not a super sappy person, but I love seeing people I care about happy.”

The Cost of Being a Bridesmaid

Witnessing that joy and happiness up close, while special, often comes at a price – literally. When I asked about the least enjoyable thing about being a bridesmaid, nearly every woman mentioned the financial burden. When I asked each of them to give me an average of what they spent on each wedding, nearly everyone said between $1,000 and $1,500. The highest I heard was $2,500. The lowest I heard was actually nothing: Katherine, 27, was the only white woman in a wedding ceremony for an Indian bride and groom, and according to her, “It was in town so I did not have to travel. Purvi [the bride] and her mother took a trip to India right after she got engaged to buy all the clothing that would be needed for the wedding including the bridesmaid outfits since everything would be much cheaper in India. Her aunties found different outfits I could wear to all the events (three days of events) and had me fitted into clothes they already had.”

Funnily enough, of the rare answers I received that included low spending averages (or in Katherine’s case, none at all), they all contained explanations. Either the bride didn’t care about “specifics and shit” or the weddings that someone had been in “were all local, thankfully.” One woman said, “$500 would be a good estimate for the weddings I’ve been in lately and that’s modest.” Each of the women who gave low numbers seemed like they needed me to know why it was so low; like they thought they needed to give me specifics in order for the answer to be believable.

So why are things getting so expensive? Many women discussed the amount of tiny details involved in being a bridesmaid that just slowly start to add up: travel (possibly for both the wedding weekend and the bachelorette weekend), bridal shower gift, bachelorette party gift (plus dinner, alcohol, hotel rooms, etc.), a bridesmaid dress, alterations (which can run between $20 and $100). And those are just the staples. Depending on the bride’s preferences, you may also have to get your hair and makeup done (and of the women I talked to, “$75 for each beauty service” was an answer that came up frequently), purchase shoes that match everyone else’s, get a manicure and pedicure with the whole group, potentially participate in a lingerie party, etc.

The Endless Requirements for an Honored Position

According to Elizabeth, “I just hit 5 years out of college, and brides are starting to ask for separate bachelorette weekends, whereas the weddings I was in right out of college did not have an extra weekend trip built in — these have been a lot more expensive, whether I am the Maid of Honor or not.”

Lisa*, 27, who has been in 5 weddings and will be in another this fall, said something similar. “The bachelorette party is always a struggle because it has to be a weekend away now, not just a night, and coordinating schedules with all the bridesmaids gets really frustrating.” She’s had some particularly challenging experiences with this new expectation, after being the Maid of Honor for a bride who said multiple times, regarding all aspects of the wedding, that “if it’s not perfect, it’s a failure.” During an extremely stressful bachelorette party, the bride “started yelling at everyone at the end” because it “wasn’t as scandalous as she thought it was going to be. She had wanted to go to strip clubs and I [Lisa] didn’t realize that this way extremely important to her.” Lisa had planned the party around all of the bride’s other specifications and ‘strip club’ was the one thing that was left out. “Apparently that was unacceptable,” Lisa said.

Lisa was then forced to plan the bridal shower alone, as the bride had alienated almost all the other bridesmaids.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had that much acne in my adult life than I did planning that shit alone and cooking all the food. [The bride] loved it, so that one worked out, but the month leading up to it just about killed me.”

As Alex*, 24, was in the middle of a 12 hour drive to New York for a bachelorette party, the friend who was planning the weekend “said everyone had to pony up a couple hundred dollars for a TWO night bachelorette party. I was furious; expenses are not a big deal when you give people enough time to plan for them, but telling me that as I’m literally on my way up? It’s this lack of sensitivity that drives me insane from brides and weddings.”

Many think that the pressure of being in weddings is just continually increasing. Casey*, 27, who has been in seven weddings and has another two coming up, said, “I think unfortunately, it is only getting worse. Comparison comes into everything and it almost seems like people’s engagement year carries the same hype as their birthday, but it’s extended over several months or even a year!”

She lamented that “everyone’s finances are different, but you are forced to prove your loyalty to your friend by participating the most, buying the cutest lingerie, etc.”

In one of the weddings she was in, the bridesmaid dresses cost nearly $400 a piece, along with “the expectation that hair and makeup need[ed] to be done as well.”

Obviously, not every bride is asking her bridesmaids to buy dresses that are several hundred dollars, along with everything else they have to shell out money for. But even the most economical of choices can sometimes be a couple months’ worth of, say, utility bills. As one bridesmaid casually put it, “I spent $175 on my bridesmaid dress… which was on discount.” It takes a lot of financial planning, whether the bride is extremely particular about her choices or if she is the most relaxed person on the planet.

When I asked if any of these women have ever been able to reuse any of their dresses [or accessories] for other occasions, here are some of the answers I got back:

  • “The dresses have never been re-worn. The biggest issue is the colors….royal blue (2 were royal blue), champagne, baby pink, fuchsia…they’re just colors that scream bridesmaid.”
  • “No.”
  • “Nope! Or at least not yet. The wedding I was in in the spring has a beautiful dress I could wear to other more formal events, and I made sure to buy shoes that I loved.”
  • “I’ve worn 3 bridesmaid dresses from three different weddings, all in the same color. And none were ‘suitable’ to shorten and wear again.”
  • “I am going to re-wear a pair of shoes I had to buy for one wedding in a different wedding. Does that count?”

Out of curiosity, I asked my Aunt Meggie what she generally spent on weddings as a bridesmaid when she was in weddings throughout the late 80’s into the early 2000’s. Her answer matched many of the other women I interviewed: “between $1,000 and $1,200.” She did tell me that “back then everyone traveled to the salon together but paid separately. Most people then applied their own makeup.” Maybe it was simpler several years ago; it seems that it was less common for everyone to (be required to) get professional hair, makeup, manicures, pedicures, etc. Though, to be fair, being a bridesmaid in the 80’s did come with problems of its own. “My hair was so hair sprayed that my fingers were getting stuck in the Aqua Net.”

The Complicated Recipe For Wedding Bliss 

Apparently it’s not just the finances that are stressing bridesmaids out lately. It’s the overall expectation that comes with the one (sometimes one-and-a-half) year commitment. Besides the amount of money you’re spending, being a bridesmaid also involves clearing your schedule for a large number of events, taking days off work, having a lot to do the weekend and/or morning of the wedding, etc.

To be fair, it’s not all necessarily negative. A lot of the women I spoke to said the strain of being a bridesmaid has a lot to do with wanting the day to be wonderful for the bride. As Ruqayyah, 27, said, “I love making the bride feel like a queen while [I feel] like a princess. It literally feels like you’re royalty – you have a special role at all the wedding activities, you get special treatment at the wedding/reception itself, and you get to be (almost) as beautiful as the bride.”

Alex told me she loves the quiet, unexpected wedding moments she gets to share with the special women in her life. Right before the wedding ceremony started for her best friend, the bride pulled her aside and said, “I have to pee, if I try and walk down the aisle I will pee myself!” Alex had to check that the coast was clear, and then “we picked up her dress and ran down the hallway to the bathroom. Of course this is in the opposite way of the ceremony, so we did startle a few guests thinking that the bride was running away from the wedding. Little silly moments like that with your closest friends, you remember forever.”

Grace*, 25, who was recently a bridesmaid in her brother’s wedding, said she loved “seeing the bride have an incredible sense of calm, after freaking out for months, on the actual day of the wedding. It was kind of amazing to see the way she finally let loose.”

But it seems that the (hopefully) perfect 24 to 48 hours of a wedding weekend often involves a lot of pressure and anxiety in the months leading up to it. As Lisa bluntly phrased it, “There’s something really nice about knowing all the bullshit is behind you and everything you have stressed over is passed and this is the ‘why’ for all of the stress.” Elizabeth said of one of her experiences that the bride “was someone I saw on at least a weekly basis and whose marriage I felt I was very much a part of/very supportive of. We have remained very close since the wedding, though I would be lying if I didn’t say there were times during the planning process where I was more than a bit stressed out because of wedding-related things.”

Emotional Resonance vs. Overwhelming Duty

The majority of these women had no issues with the idea of being there to support the bride on her big day, and to do as much as they could to make her feel calm and happy. What many of them seemingly struggled with were the moments in which the bride lost sight of what the emotional resonance of having bridesmaids is really about. Lisa told me that when one of her friends got married, the bride didn’t want the mother-in-law involved at all, which was especially awkward, as the mother-in-law (who only has sons) really, really wanted to be involved as much as possible. “I actually had to pull her aside the day of the wedding and tell her to stay away from [the bride] until the reception because [the bride] didn’t want her in the bridal room with her.”

Nicole*, 25, had a very hard time with this when she was in a wedding for a close friend last summer. Prior to the wedding, she was asked to pick up one of the other bridesmaids from the airport, and she had no problem saying yes. However, when a list-minute family issue came up, Nicole asked the bride if she knew of anyone else that could pick up the other bridesmaid. But the bride “expressed to me that she thought I was being ‘selfish and rude’ to even ‘bother her with this.’  (It was still about a week before the wedding).  She later told me that after discussing the situation with her fiancé, they decided they ‘wouldn’t continue to be disappointed in me’ as long as I paid for that girl’s taxi.  None of the other bridesmaids were reprimanded for not offering to help, or asked to pay for taxi money. I suppose the thing that bothered me most was that I was essentially being punished for offering to do someone a favor.”

Elizabeth, along with Nicole and many others, has also felt the frustrations from this sort of behavior. “One bride had someone step on her dress and cause a tiny smudge before the ceremony while we were taking pictures. She started crying and cried all of her professional make up off, and we had to re-apply it for her.” Alex faced a similar situation when the bridal party was taking pictures in the main hallway leading to the ceremony. The bride “started to freak out and get really upset because people were stopping to look and it was before the ceremony. So we had to rush her back upstairs, and calm her down so she wouldn’t ruin her makeup.”

Grace told me that one of the hardest things about her brother’s wedding, as a gay woman, was watching her sister-in-law-to-be stress out for months over such small, insignificant aspects of the wedding, especially when Grace herself couldn’t even get married yet (the wedding occurred before the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage). The bride’s stress underscored how many engaged people take for granted the special meaning of committing yourself to another person. “I understand wanting to have a beautiful, wonderful wedding that will create amazing photos, but all I really want is to wear a comfortable dress and marry my wife.”

Being a Woman of Color in a Predominantly White Wedding

No matter how much you love the bride, no matter how happy you are to participate in this day, there can be a lot of situations that cause women to feel helpless and uncomfortable, especially when you’re in a wedding in which you’re one of the only minorities. When she was a bridesmaid for her friend’s wedding in Texas, Ruqayyah “was the only bridesmaid of color (and pretty much the only person of color at the wedding).” On the day of the ceremony, she said that the hairstylists “styled my hair like Oprah and put a choker on my head like a crown – completely different from everyone else’s style, and totally distracting for a bridesmaid to wear. I had a great friend in the bride though – she took one look at my hair before the ceremony, and without me having to a say a thing she rushed me over to the hairdressers and asked why my hair was different from every other bridesmaid. When they couldn’t give her an answer, she demanded they fix it and let them know she was not happy. It was the sweetest ‘Bridezilla’ moment I’ve ever experienced.” I found it a really touching story as well, that even in the middle of the chaos, this bride was looking out for all her close friends. But it also shows that even with the best bride in the world, things can get uncomfortable.

Alex, who is Latina and African-American, said that for the most part “I tend not to give much thought to being the only woman of color in my friends’ weddings, because I of course love my friends and it’s never been that big of a deal.” But she also pointed out that “with non-white weddings, usually there isn’t any awkwardness from family members about your skin tone. A great example is that one of the weddings I was in, all the sister of the groom could talk about was how I was ‘black’ and didn’t understand how I would fit in the wedding party.” In another wedding in which the bride asked everyone to wear pantyhose, “a bridesmaid asked if they even make pantyhouse for black people.”

She also attended a recent bachelorette party where everyone was given a shirt to wear displaying a Disney princess. The planner assured everyone that she picked each woman’s shirt based on her personality. “Being one of the only women of color at the celebration, which princess do you think I got to be?” She spent the night wearing a shirt displaying Princess Tiana, even though, “based on our personalities, anyone would know that Tiana and I are not kindred spirits.” And somehow, it got worse. “There was another girl in the group who was not white… just guess what princess she got to be?”

Alex and this other woman were the only two women at the party who had the same shirt. Everyone else had their own (white) princess.

“It made me feel pretty awful. Because of my skin tone I got put into this little box and wasn’t allowed to be anything else.”

Straight vs. Gay Weddings: How Does the Experience Differ for a Bridesmaid?

Clearly women are experiencing tension in all different types of situations. But what about weddings between two women – are they twice as stressful for everyone involved, or significantly less pressure-filled because they’re more of a break from traditional ceremonies? Mo, 25, was the Maid of Honor in her sister Meg’s wedding to longtime girlfriend Robyn this past summer. She told me “nothing seemed ‘different’ [about their wedding] and nothing seemed to surprise me. They planned their wedding the way I think everyone should. They didn’t have to follow any ‘rules’ or try to follow tradition – they did exactly what they wanted.”

There were some obvious fun differences, though: “For their bachelorette party I got their celebrity crushes made into life-size cardboard cut-outs. Beyonce and Jessica Chastain made it to their party and wedding. Also, when else would you be able to play with boob balloons at the bar and kind of get away with it?”

The wedding itself “was so refreshing. The ceremony wasn’t stuffy at all, and you didn’t feel like a robot. As in: it’s time to go to the ceremony, now it’s time to get herded into the cocktail hour, now you must eat your 3 course meal and fill yourself up, now you can dance and drink (finally).”

Maybe some of the ease was due to the fact that they did stay away from some traditional practices? “Meg and Robyn have a lot of the same friends, so making a big bridal party would be too complicated.  They each had one maid of honor; I stood up with Meg, and Robyn’s sister, Dana, stood up with her.  There were no groomsmen at the wedding.  The brothers of the brides walked the mothers up the aisle and the dads walked up Meg and Robyn at the same time.  It was beautiful and a goosebumps kind of moment for everyone.”

Mo does think that in terms of the overall straining of planning, “It was somewhat easier since there were two brides, but holy cow it takes a ton of planning and pressure no matter what. Meg and Robyn did have a bit of nervous belly, but they got each other through it. They play off each other’s strengths so Meg had ALL the excel documents and schedule down to the last minute while Robyn would focus on other wedding details. They both wanted a stress-free wedding, and act like they were just throwing one big party.”

She’s aware that her bridesmaid situation isn’t super common, though. “I think I’m going to need a reality-check the next wedding that I’m in because not every wedding is going to be that perfect (ok, I’m biased). I had several people tell me at the wedding ‘YOU SUCK’ because I got to pick out my own bridesmaid dress, hair, shoes, and jewelry. Meg and Robyn didn’t give me any hard rules or things I had to wear…. they honestly just wanted me to show up. We always joked about who would be bridezilla, but they never got crazy or really stressed about the small things.”

But as lovely as Mo felt this wedding was, she doesn’t think her sister and her sister-in-law were completely free of issues during the process. “I think the thing that stressed them out the most was pressure from the family and coordinating everything to the last minute.  They made a promise to each other that they wanted to actually spend time together at their reception, because most brides/grooms always say they didn’t spend any time together at their own wedding.” Apparently even in the smoothest of processes, bringing everything together is no easy task.

Sloane*, 26, was also a bridesmaid in a wedding between two brides – two of her best friends. There were bridesmaids on both sides: Bethany’s* bridesmaids wore green and dubbed themselves “Team Elephant” while Andrea’s* bridesmaids wore blue and dubbed themselves “Team Lion.” Bridesmaids from each side were paired together as they walked down the aisle. She said that having two brides “was not more stressful, but that’s also because these two women are very low maintenance and their wedding was very DIY. I can totally see how it could be way more stressful with two brides who are less earthy and easy going.”

There were definitely some things the brides had to deal with that straight couples do not: “I HATED when the wedding planner asked Andrea if they wanted the officiant to pronounce them ‘wife and wife’ or ‘husband and wife.’ Andrea is a woman – there is no denying it. Yes, she wore a suit, and yes, her bridesmaids were referred to as the bridegroom’s mates at times, but she is not lacking in femininity nor has she/or will she ever express a desire to be anything but herself – a woman who on her wedding day, and at most formal events, prefers and feels more comfortable in pants than a dress.”

When I asked her how she felt her experience was in comparison to her friends who have been bridesmaids in straight weddings, she thought hers was “better. Slightly more stressful in that I had a lot of responsibilities beyond the typical bridesmaid duties given the DIY nature of the wedding. But also way more special – every wedding picture I ever see of Bethany and Andrea, I will know that I arranged the bouquet. It’s cheesy, but an honor to be able to have that much influence on your friends’ special day.”

In terms of the pressure women feel to have a beautiful wedding, whether it’s a bride and groom or two brides, Mo said that “Many women are wired to compare/compete with each other in every way. I have felt the pressure at times, but being so close to Meg and Robyn and seeing their ‘I don’t give a crap what people think’ attitude inspired me. It’s one day and you should not care if your great aunt doesn’t like the food or you cousin hated the music the band is playing. It’s your day!”

A Non-Western Wedding Perspective

Is all this stress and chaos – particularly, for bridesmaids – exclusive to traditional western weddings alone? Taj*, 25, said, “As an Indian girl who has more experience with Indian weddings, being asked to be a bridesmaid has no meaning to me. In Indian culture, getting married/the wedding is one of the most important parts of a person’s life. As a bride’s sister or close female cousin, you have specific responsibilities to like hang out with the girl all week but that’s about it. There’s no obligation to do…anything.”

Taj told me that Indian weddings don’t traditionally have bridesmaids, but her friend’s Indian/western blended ceremony did. “The bride ‘walked down an aisle’ to the ceremonial area, and the bridesmaids entered before her (this is a western thing). I really liked being part of a joint ceremony like that. I was ‘in’ my sister’s wedding too… which was mostly Indian (Muslim), partly Iranian (also Muslim). I didn’t really find either situation particularly overwhelming.”

But Taj has also had experiences as a bridesmaid in traditional western weddings of some of her friends. And when it came to comparing the two, she said, “I think there’s a lot more fun involved by being an Indian ‘bridesmaid.’ In Indian weddings, it’s tradition for the bride’s sisters/cousins [or in her friend’s case, the bridesmaids] to steal the groom’s shoes and only give them back after getting money. No cool stuff like that in American weddings.”

In a Muslim wedding ceremony, the Imam (the person performing the ceremony) will come to the bride and groom separately to read the marital contract and have them sign it. During her sister’s nikkah (the formal title for this ritual), Taj’s entire extended family sat in the living room together. “I did nothing. But exist. Whereas in western-style weddings, we walk down the aisle before the bride and stand there awkwardly during vows and shit. I have no intention of having a bridal shower or bachelorette party whenever I get married. I think it’s excessive and it holds no meaning to me as an Indian person. I’m not going to have bridesmaids. My sisters and best friends will be physically with me throughout everything, they’ll steal my man’s shoes and demand money in return, and that’s that.”

Nithya, 25, was in a traditional western wedding for her high school best friend but has also been to multiple traditional Indian weddings for family and friends. Like many bridesmaids, the frustrating issue for her was the cost. “We had to get JCrew bridesmaid dresses which are about $250 each dress.” Although she has not yet been a ‘bridesmaid’ in an Indian wedding, she does think the desire to have a perfect wedding is making some, but not all, brides crazy – and causing them to focus less on the joy of being around loved ones.

“Most of the recent Indian weddings that I’ve been to are starting to resemble Bollywood movie weddings. Brides seem to lose focus on the big picture of a wedding and instead spend hours obsessing over the minute details.”

And while it’s not really common to have bridesmaids in an Indian wedding, she said “it’s been happening a lot more lately because of western influence and Indian people getting married in the US.” But she’s hopeful about how her experience will turn out: “I think the pressure is less for me. Since I want to have an Indian wedding, my American friends don’t know what’s it’s supposed to be like. I feel like I have a little bit more leeway when it comes to planning my event.”

What’s the Root Cause of This Insanity?

Five years ago, when I was 20 and didn’t know anyone getting married except “older people,” I would have said that these situations only happen when you’re in a wedding with a selfish, attention-crazed bridezilla. It’s just easier that way – to make everything black and white, to say that there are good brides and bad brides. But now my mindset is completely different. Tons of these crazy stories are about brides who are incredible women. Kind women. Smart women. Wonderful friends. I know an endless amount of people that have been in weddings for people whom they absolutely love and cherish, but who caused them more stress, frustration, and financial burden than they would have ever expected.

So is this all a problem because every single bride is now greedy, shallow, and self-involved? Or is it a product of the larger, more dangerous beast that is the wedding industrial complex?

I think some brides, regardless of the situation, are always going to be out of control, greedy, and self-involved. But that has nothing to do with weddings, or women; that’s just how some people are, male or female, in everything that they do.

So the problem, at least as far as I can tell after talking to multiple women (both in interviews for this piece and in real life conversations), is that an impending wedding often causes brides to inflict both self-imposed and societally-imposed pressure on themselves. This in turn causes them to temporarily lose sight of themselves, of their friends and family, and of reality. They’re overwhelmed by expectations from others, and expectations of themselves. They want to look perfect. And they feel like the whole world is watching, because every second of this moment in their life can now be documented and shared. And that fear, panic, and utter fixation takes a hard toll on the bridesmaids.

It’s not that things weren’t documented in the age before social media. But the photographs and videos were so much personal before The Internet. My aunt said back when she and her friends were getting married, “you had a viewing party to watch the wedding when you got it back on VHS. It was the best – it was our Facebook moments flashed in 7 hours.” You still had photographs and videos being taken throughout your wedding; but instead of posting them online for a limitless amount of people to see, you were literally selecting, one by one, the people who you shared these memories with.

But now, in comparison to 20 years ago, there is “definitely more pressure on the bride. There are so many options now and everything is posted on some type of social media: photos, destinations, choreographed dance songs. It’s cray cray for young girls.” (My aunt is very hip.)

The Pressures of Being a Bride and the Toll It Takes on Her Bridesmaids

The obsession with perfection isn’t a surprise. We live in a world where Bulging Brides is a show. WHY? I’m sure some find it entertaining, but I think it also gives off the sense that any bride who feels subconscious about the way she’s going to look on her big day is BULGING. This is just one more example of how there’s a message behind even the tiniest action: if something about your wedding is not perfect, FIX IT. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. But I think it’s important we talk about what’s going on, because something that is supposed to be so special and lovely is causing too many brides and bridesmaids to be needlessly panicked and utterly exhausted.

It’s easy to think if the bride would just relax and not take everything so seriously, the bridesmaids wouldn’t be having these problems. But it’s not that simple. Lucy, who is getting married in the fall, pointed out, “Everyone says that it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, its your day. But the entire reason people have weddings and don’t just elope is to show it off to their friends and family. You can’t make everyone happy, but trying to make sure your friends have a great time while not offending your relatives but still staying true to yourself and your fiancé is a nearly impossible task.”

Stevie, 25, felt the pressures first-hand, before it even reached her bridesmaids. She got engaged as a senior in college at the age of 22. But after moving in with her then-fiancé after graduation and picking out her wedding dress, she decided to call off the engagement. Her gut was telling her it wasn’t the right decision. The hardest part was letting down her family. “My mom is a super crafty lady with impeccable taste and had been planning, making decorations and was COMPLETELY stoked for the day.” When she moved back in with her parents after ending the engagement, she said that “watching [her mom] take each of the boxes of decorations from our dining room, out of sight into the basement and move my wedding dress from my closet to hers so I wouldn’t have to see it every day was one of the most tormenting things I’ve ever had to witness. I felt like I let everyone down.”

By no means is she bitter about weddings or the general industry. When I asked if she thinks she wants to get married down the line, she said “heck yes.” But she is now much more aware of how overwhelming it can be, and how easy it is to lose yourself in the process.

“You’ve thought about this day all your life. How hard is it NOT to just go for broke and have everything you’ve ever wanted?”

When I thanked her for being willing to talk about her past engagement, she said “I know that it’s no noble cause, but if someone reads the article and it helps them even an ounce in dealing with the high pressure world we live in, I’ll count this as completely worth it.”

As Alex summed it up, “Women are taught to want the fairy tale, to be the princess of the evening. Brides will want this big, expensive, ridiculous wedding when they really can’t afford it and it puts negative pressure on the wedding, and guests notice.”

The Long-Term Effects 

My intention here is in no way to chastise weddings or make them out to be events rooted in negativity. As many of these women have said, there can be a lot of really sweet parts of being a bridesmaid. Although she’s had some frustrating experiences, Alex said, “Most of the brides that I dealt with were not stressed and very kind to the wedding party.” As Ruqayyah put it, “I might be the exception to that rule that women hate being bridesmaids – I love weddings, I love to help out, and every time someone asks me to be a part of their big day I feel honored. Maybe I’ll get sick of it after a few more though – ask me again in 3 years, I’ll probably be on my 9th wedding by then.”

Lisa appreciates the fact that being a bridesmaid – while stressful – made some of her friendships even stronger. In one of her experiences, a friend from college asked her to be in her wedding, even though they weren’t particularly close with one another. “Over the course of planning her wedding, we got to be super close and I would consider her one of my closest friends now. But at the time, not really.” And as for the if-it’s-not-perfect-it’s-a-failure bride? “The year and a half of planning that [wedding] was a huge challenge to our friendship, but we are closer than ever and she’s family.” And did Nicole’s friendship suffer with her cab-fare-demanding friend? “Yes, but it was fleeting. Until this interview I didn’t think of it much.” Elizabeth shared a similar sentiment on her friendships being challenged: “Luckily not really – in most instances we get closer again after the wedding.”

When you put it this way, when you think about (most) brides as normal women, good friends, and caring people who simply get caught up in the wedding whirlwind – as opposed to thinking of them as the perfection-crazed characters of the bottomless wedding reality shows on TLC and Oxygen – it’s easier to understand why things happen the way they do. It’s easier to understand that when your friends or sisters (or even you) are talking about the insane bridal parties they’ve been a part of, they’re usually not bashing the bride they’ve always known and loved. They’re just airing out their frustrations over the person she can temporarily become when the pressure of the supposed “most important day of her life” is upon her.

Do Men Have It Easier?

We do have some other things to think about, though. Because after sitting through and participating in dozens of these conversations over the last few years, there was almost never a guy participating. It has always been women swapping stories of what they’ve been through, what they spent, how the bride behaved, the stress it cost them, etc. If there ever was a guy present, he spent most of the time looking flabbergasted and asking a lot of questions. So finances aside, when I asked these various women if groomsmen have it easier overall, here are some of the responses I received:

  • “They FOR SURE have an easier time. My brothers lounged around all morning until about an hour before the wedding, when they got dressed to take pictures.”
  • “Absolutely. Their outfits are typically the same no matter where they go. You don’t have to worry about having as many styles, cuts, or the issue of ‘will my boobs fly out?’ happen. Also, they can rent their attire! We typically have to buy. Totally bogus. Not to mention the costs of hair, nails, make up. Also, the groom typically has a more laid back role in the planning and execution of the wedding. I feel like they just show up.”
  • “The groomsmen definitely have it easier. The grooms are typically easy going, have no expectation, and they don’t need all the extras. They don’t have to worry about celebrating the groom throughout the entire year, where the bride has this assumption.”
  • “Yes absolutely they have it easier. ‘Tradition’ demands a bridal shower and all this primp and prep the day before and day-of the wedding. Groomsmen get to throw a suit on the day-of and roll up for pictures about 30 minutes in advance. “
  • “Yes. At the very least, men have an easier time getting their attire, and an easier time getting around at the wedding (see any wedding shoe ever).”
  • “Yes, the boys have it a million times easier. The same expenses are not expected of the men, they get away with renting a tux, and having to go to just one party and that’s the bachelor party. I also notice the groomsmen just don’t participate in as much of the demands with decorating, making favors, arranging flowers, and all that other crap. Those requests are usually specific for the bridesmaids. Plus its not like they have to buy their tux, and pay for expensive alterations.”
  • Even my aunt, who experienced this all 20 years ago, said that “Groomsmen totally had it easier… The brides plan everything and the men don’t have to do a thing! Pick up a tux and plan the bachelor party!”

And what about finances for groomsmen? I talked to a couple different men who have each been in several wedding parties, and both had some interesting things to say. Brendan*, who’s been in 4 weddings, told me he spends around $1500 on each wedding, similar to the amount many women have given me. However, when he broke it down, a lot of it came down to travel (~$400 for airfare and $200 for a hotel). And he shared that $600 of that overall number went to the bachelor party for the “flight + hotel or house + booze and being dumb.” The leftover amount went to renting a suit or tux ($200) and a wedding gift ($100). Obviously, no dress, alterations, shoes, makeup, hair, mani/pedi, lingerie gift, bachelorette party gift, bridal shower gift, etc. When I asked him how much he thought bridesmaids spend on average, however, he did guess around “$1,000 to $1500.”

Connor*, who has been a groomsman in 4 weddings and a best man in 2, said that he usually spends around $400 or $500. He guessed that bridesmaids spend around the same amount, but “maybe more.”

While I talked to these two men about their specific experiences, I also did a broader, more general survey on Facebook, asking anyone that had ever been a groomsmen to share with me the average amount of money he spent on weddings. Through comments, private messages, and texts, the average rounded out to $820. But this was partially affected by two higher responses of $1500, as the rest of the answers generally fell between $300 and $700.

When I asked Brendan what it was like to watch the bridesmaids from a groomsman’s perspective, he said this: “They seem to have a lot more stuff to do than the guys… spend all day doing make up and getting ready. Seems like we have way more fun than them leading up to the wedding.  They have to handle a lot of the details and want everything to be perfect.” His experiences as a groomsman on the day of each wedding, compared to most of the bridesmaids I spoke to, was also seemingly a lot smoother: “Wake up and hang out, have brunch, start getting dressed early afternoon, hang out with the groomsmen and drink a little, snap pictures, wedding, rage.” Connor felt a little differently. “It really depends on the group of people. I’ve seen bridal parties stressed out like crazy, but I’ve also seen them relaxed or even half drunk. The personalities involved obviously make a huge difference in how things shape up.”

The Cycle That Won’t Stop

I don’t think any of this (“this” meaning pressure, stress, frustration, fights, financial burdens, tension, expectations, obsession with perfection) is going to stop anytime soon. It’s a never-ending cycle. It’s everywhere. I’m not even engaged (sorry, Mom), but sometimes when I’m on social media and I see wedding pictures, I catch myself thinking, “Oh, that’s pretty. Eh, I don’t like that. Oh, that would be cool to have in my wedding someday.” I can’t imagine actually trying to plan a wedding right now – trying to include everything you want, making sure everyone you love has a great time without putting too much of a burden on your friends and family, staying under budget, etc.

Talking to these women has really forced me to think about how I want to treat my bridesmaids when I’m a bride someday. But it’s also shown me, in extreme detail, that nothing about planning a wedding is black and white. I’m sure everyone likes to think of themselves as the calm, carefree bride who just wants to have a nice day and enjoy the company of her loved ones. But when there’s a thousand little things to think about, in a situation where it feels like a million people are watching you, it’s not far-fetched for any of us to imagine ourselves going off the deep end and having a bridezilla moment.

Many of us have had the idea hammered into our heads – since we were children – that a woman’s wedding day is “the most important day of her life.” That it’s the day each of us is supposed to “feel like a princess” and the day that “all of our dreams come true.” And many of us have also heard over and over again about what an honor, privilege, and distinction it is to be a bridesmaid in the weddings of our closest friends. Obviously, there are a lot of very sweet and special parts involved in these two experiences. But at this point, I don’t think either one sounds like a fairytale. TC mark

*Name has been changed

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I asked women to tell the story behind one of their Instagram photos 📸

“This is me on the roof of my building forcing myself to laugh. Every time I make my best friend take photos of me I remember that I’ve been single for 5 years and don’t have anyone to be in the photo with me. I’m just alone. My hair looks good though.”

This is the reality of Instagram...

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