It was late afternoon one day in January of 2010 when I got the call from my recently-engaged friend Marie*. I was sitting on my couch, probably in my pajamas, because I had just launched a freelance career so why wear pants?
I answered the phone and settled in for a nice chat. And a nice chat it was, for the first ten minutes or so. We caught up, filled one another in on mutual friends, made a plan or two.
But then, out of left field, Marie got her serious voice on:
“I wanted to ask,” she said, “if you would be a bridesmaid in my wedding.”
I hadn’t seen it coming. Marie and I were what I would call close acquaintances; we probably got together once every other month, and talked on the phone about as frequently. Besides, it wasn’t the first time I had been blindsided by a bridesmaid request; at the age of 30, I had stood up for friends no fewer than four times. I was kind of over it.
My face morphed from a real smile to a pained grimace. But I might have gone with it, things might have turned out differently, if Marie had not followed up her otherwise lovely request with this:
“I just need another person.”
I just need another person.
Just so we’re all on the same page here, what she meant was that in order to have an even number of people on the bride’s side and the groom’s side during the ceremony, she needed another warm body.
I had to give her credit for not bullshitting me by saying something like, “I’ve always considered you such a good friend,” or “All I want is for my closest friends to stand up with me on this, the most special day of my life, and I can’t imagine doing that without you,” but at the same time, it seemed like maybe she owed me some bullshit, given that she was essentially asking me to drop upward of $1,000 so that photos on her future mantle would be symmetrical.
Now, you might be asking yourself at this juncture why I didn’t just say no right away. I asked myself that very same question for many weeks. But whenever I get asked to be a bridesmaid, the same thing always happens: The wedding industry, which has apparently burrowed its way deep into my psyche, rears its white taffeta head.
First of all, I think to myself, women are supposed to love weddings. We’re supposed to love planning bridal showers and bachelorette parties and catching bouquets.
Not only that, but being asked to be a bridesmaid is supposed to be an honor. We’re supposed to want to help our friend, to be there as she hands her maidenhood over, knowing that one day – if we’re lucky! – the favor will be returned.
So whenever bridesmaidery comes up, and I immediately think “Dear God, not again,” I also immediately wonder why I’m not better at being a woman. “A good woman would do this!” I reprimand myself. “A good woman would be excited!” Or at the very least: “A good friend would feel nothing but honor and joy to stand up there with her friend, on this, the day of her wedding, no matter in how shitty a manner the question was posed.”
And so with all that guilt in my mind, I said yes.
It would be a lie to say that I felt anything short of immediate regret. First of all, as previously noted, I had just embarked on a freelance writing career, so I was legit broke. I also didn’t know if, come her wedding, I’d be in school or working or curled up in the fetal position on my parent’s couch. Second of all, I didn’t know Marie’s other friends that well, but what I did know was that they drank a lot, clubbed a lot, and spent a lot of time at a local beach bar that catered to ex-frat boys and the hairdressers that loved them. I wasn’t necessarily keen on spending my evenings and weekends with them selecting gowns and penis straws.
For the next two weeks, I obsessed about my quandary. I talked to anyone who would listen about the couth-ness or lack thereof of saying no to being a bridesmaid. And I got a variety of responses.
The first girlfriend that I asked was deeply offended that I would even consider saying no. “I’ve never been asked to be a bridesmaid,” she said. “You should be happy that she wants you in the wedding.”
Still more determined that the manner in which I was asked gave me the green light to bail.
But mostly, what I heard was this: “Are you prepared to sacrifice the friendship?”
Truth be told, I was not prepared to sacrifice the friendship. But not sacrificing the friendship had led me to walk down the aisle in a cupcake gown plenty of other times, when I would have preferred to stay in the audience.
At the end of the day, this is what I decided: If Marie was going to be so blunt with me as to reveal the real reason that she wanted me in her wedding, I would be blunt back with her and tell her I didn’t want to do it. I even held out hope that we had entered into some sort of higher plane of consciousness as it pertains to the bride/bridesmaid relationship, in which conversations trade in honesty rather than guilt, in reality rather than unicorns and happily-ever-after fantasies.
And once I told her, I believed for a brief period that I was right.
I put it as simply and straightforwardly as I could. Given the uncertainty of my work situation, it wasn’t the greatest time for me to make such a big commitment. I was so flattered that she had asked me, and I was sorry to say it, but I would have to decline.
She was fine with it. She didn’t sound hurt at all. In fact, what she said was: “It’s OK. I have someone else I can ask.”
We were being so brutally honest!!! We were going to be the two women who proved the you-can’t-be-friends-again myth wrong. We were such fucking grown-ups.
Except for that’s not what happened. Instead, what happened was this: I went to her bridal shower, and her bachelorette party, assuming that everything was cool. As we got closer and closer to her wedding date, she spent more and more time at wedding-related functions talking exclusively to her wedding party. I was on the outside.
And to get sentimental here for a moment, it kind of sucked. From the outside, it seems awfully cozy to be part of the wedding in-crowd. Suddenly it seemed that I had always been so focused on my ugly dress and the demands on my time that I took for granted the warm fuzzies of being in a bridal party. Phony, temporary friendships are forged, and during that forgery, sometimes you have moments where it all seems real.
Anyway, by the time the wedding rolled around, Marie and I barely talked to each other, and that was two years ago. I haven’t seen her since. I heard via Facebook that she got knocked up, and got an invite to the baby shower that I declined due to time constraints.
Would it have been different if I had been in her wedding party? I think it might have.
At this point, I’ll probably never know.
*Name has been changed