July 7, 2005
Here Come The Bridesmaids!
You've honored your closest friends and most cherished relatives with a special place in your wedding party. As bridesmaids, they'll throw you a shower, plan a bachelorette bash and attend other pre-wedding event, which means you'll be spending a good deal of time with them in the coming months. But weddings have a way of bringing out people's true colors. And, like an ugly bridesmaid dress, those colors aren't always flattering. So what do you do about an attendant who's out to steal your spotlight? Or the one who complains all the time? Easy! Just use our baffling bridesmaid behavior decoder and follow our keep-the-peace guide.
This bridesmaid manages to make your wedding all about her. She insists on planning the shower her way and around her schedule, and on the big day spends more time primping for the camera than you do. Watch out: The Diva is trying to steal your thunder!
Kim Thomas (*not her real name), of Santa Barbara, regrets having asked her friend Pia to be in the wedding party.
"She was impossible throughout the whole thing," Thomas said. "First, she offered to have the bridal shower at her house, but said she would limit it to 25 people -- even though she knows I have a huge family. Fortunately, a lot of my relatives live far away and couldn't make it, so we came in under the limit. Then, she complained about the bridesmaid dress I picked, saying it was too short -- but that's because she's really tall."
"On the day of the wedding, she called me and said she wasn't feeling well, although it was clear she was fine," Thomas continued. "And then she wouldn't stop whining about a little chip in her nail polish!"
How to Deal: If The Diva is trying to steal the show, there are a few likely reasons, says Sheryl Paul Nissinen, a Los Angeles counselor and author of "The Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner" (New Harbinger Publications, 2003). "If she's not married, it's possible that she's jealous," said Nissinen, especially if she's older than the bride. Another common reason for all types of behavior are subconscious feelings of sadness over "losing" a sister or best friend, she added.
Handle The Diva's behavior with a heart-to-heart. You might say, "Hey, I've noticed that you've turned up your nose at every suggestion I've had. It seems like there's something else going on. What's up?"
"It sounds so simple, but sometimes just putting it out there and validating her feelings is the best way," Nissinen said.
This is the first time she's ever been asked to be a bridesmaid. She doesn't know she's expected to help pick out dresses, plan the shower and show up at events leading up to the big day. It may be because she's single, or doesn't have sisters to explain the bridesmaids' role to her. Whatever the reason, you're frustrated about picking up her slack -- and perhaps feeling hurt that she's not a more involved attendant. Such was the case for Felicia Lo, from St. Augustine, Fla., who asked her sister, Dorothy, to be her maid of honor -- her first gig as one. Dorothy didn't help the other bridesmaids plan any of the pre-wedding festivities.
"My best friend ended up hosting my bridal shower," Lo said. "And my sister didn't even come to the bachelorette party."
How to Deal: Don't take her cluelessness personally. Before you got engaged, you'd never heard of a wishing well, either! The Rookie simply needs a crash course in Being a Bridesmaid 101. Maybe you can ask one of your more experienced pals to fill her in, or buy her one of the many humorous books on the topic, such as "The Bridesmaid's Survival Guide" (Viking Penguin, 2000) by Mary Kay McDermott.
Because she recently got married herself, she's full of advice -- usually unsolicited. If she says, "I wish I'd gotten married in my hometown," or "You should write your own vows," that's an indication that she has regrets about her own wedding, Nissinen said. You don't want to hurt her feelings -- after all, the tip about giving the DJ a "do not play" list was a great idea -- but this bridesmaid is getting on your nerves!
How to Deal: "This often comes out at the bridal shower," McDermott said. "She critiques every gift you open, saying, 'Oh, you're totally going to love that, you need that.'"
While it's great to have an expert around, don't let The Critic turn your wedding into "take-two" of her own. Thank her for her suggestions, but stand firm -- "I know you would choose white roses, but I've had my heart set on freesia since I was 5."
If you're at the breaking point, "Say, 'Gosh, your wedding was so great, but I want to do this my own way,'" McDermott suggested.
Your sole grade-school pal or gym buddy can feel like a third wheel amid a sea of sorority sisters. After Tina Stroup of Towson, Md., asked a friend from work to be her bridesmaid, along with three childhood friends, she had second thoughts.
"She wasn't interested in doing anything -- looking at dresses, talking about the wedding," Stroup said.
Having a bridesmaid who doesn't fit in is awkward for everyone.
How to Deal: You and your other attendants might make an extra effort to help The Loner feel included -- host a bridesmaid movie night, copy her on group e-mails and keep the inside jokes to a minimum.
If that doesn't work, talk it out. Well before the big day, Stroup sat her friend down and said, "I get the feeling you're not as excited about this as the other girls, so I want to give you the opportunity to bow out of the wedding party if you want."
Turns out her coworker was relieved to be let off the hook and happy to attend as a guest.
She's too busy to go gown shopping. Planning a shower is such a pain. Why did this wedding-party-pooper agree to be a bridesmaid in the first place? For Cara Cormier of Richmond, R.I., finding a flattering bridesmaid dress was especially tough, since her matron of honor would be eight months pregnant at the wedding.
"I picked out four different maternity dresses for her," Cormier said. "When she finally got around to looking at them, she called me with 101 reasons why she hated all four -- the color wasn't right for her, the material was too heavy, they made her look like a tent, etc."
Cormier was hurt by her longtime friend's behavior.
"I thought that since it was my wedding, she'd be a little more cooperative since I bent over backwards for her wedding," she said.
After an unpleasant argument, the two hung up on each other and haven't spoken since.
"I highly doubt that I will ever talk to her again," Cormier said. "It isn't worth the effort to me."
How to Deal: First, let's get one thing straight: "It's never about the dress," Nissinen said. In Cormier's situation -- which, unfortunately, is not unique -- The Whiner's complaints about the dress seemed to be about getting her own way in spite of the fact that it was her friend's big day.
"It's sad, all too common and completely avoidable that friendships end because of a wedding," Nissinen said.
So what can you do to avoid a blow-up? Take a few minutes and say, "Let's sit down and talk."
If you're a nonconfrontational person, writing a letter is a great way express your feelings and invite the other person to express hers, Nissinen said. This approach to dealing with The Whiner (or The Diva or The Loner, etc.) can actually bring you closer together if you're willing to take the risk and say, "I don't want this to come between us and end the friendship," she added.
Of course, there are some cases when a split is inevitable, and weddings are often the catalyst. A seemingly silly argument could simply be the final straw for a friendship you've outgrown -- and that's OK.
"Friendships do grow apart," Nissinen said.
Even though you don't want your long-lost cousin/fiancé's stepsister/insert-random-family-member-here in your wedding party, you feel obligated to ask her. But giving in to pressure from other people can cause resentment on both sides.
How to Deal: Jackie Lisek, a Stewartstown, Pa., bridesmaid who suspects she was a Had-to-Ask-Her, has a tip for brides in this tricky position: "If you think it's an obligation to ask someone, it probably is. And that person probably knows it. Personally, I'd rather not be in the wedding in that case."
However, if you know that being a bridesmaid is really important to your future sister-in-law, for example, "then you have to do it," Nissinen said.
Chalk it up to keeping the peace with your new in-laws.
She's thrilled for you and wants to help in any way she can. If pink's not her thing, she'll tell you, but she'll wear it with a smile if that's what you want. She's there with a hug, a shoulder to cry on or a glass of wine when you're overwhelmed by all the planning. On the big day, she makes sure you've eaten, helps you go to the bathroom and even dances with dorky Cousin Eddie.
How to Deal: Give this maid a medal! Tell her how much you appreciate her friendship and support. She's a real pal who knows the true meaning of the word "bridesmaid." And don't forget about yourself, too -- you obviously did something to deserve a true-blue friend like her.
Abigail Green is a freelance writer and editor based in Baltimore.