Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My friend is getting married, I’m her bridesmaid, and it’s getting strained between us. We’ve been friends since high school so when she asked me to be one of her eight bridesmaids, I was overjoyed. But now we’re a month away from the date and all I want to do is quit the wedding and block the bride’s number.
She’s needy and demanding, but can’t take any kind of constructive criticism at all. I’ve already spent so much money but every time I turn around she’s asking us to spend more. She’s even telling us what kind of pantyhose to wear under our dresses and no one is going to see the panty hose, plus she’s trying to make everyone attend a pre-rehearsal rehearsal. I’m trying to be cool and go with it but my resentment is piling up and I’m afraid it’s going to boil over and ruin our friendship. How do I let my friend know that she’s on thin ice and needs to get a hold of herself?
Being a bridesmaid can be a thankless job. It’s nice to be picked to be part of a bridal party, the pre-wedding parties can be fun, getting dressed up the day of the wedding can be enjoyable, and the wedding itself can make its way into your sweetest of memories. But that’s only if you manage to forget all of the bullshit that comes with being a bridesmaid. Asking someone to be your bridesmaid is essentially asking them to spend hundreds or, for bigger weddings, thousands of dollars and dozens of hours celebrating your life choices. I’ve heard of brides and bridesmaids falling out over dress color, bachelorette party location, and even over the bride refusing to “allow” a bridesmaid to dye her hair red before the wedding day.
Being a bridal attendant doesn’t mean that you are now owned by the bride, and you do, as a grown woman, retain the right to refuse any ridiculous task that is assigned to you. But before we can parse through what you’re being asked to do, we first need to step back and admit that weddings are weird.
Weddings are not just kind of weird, weddings are really fucking weird. They’re weird to plan, weird to be in, and weird to attend. A wedding is an enormous celebration thrown by people who usually have zero experience planning huge celebrations, who are then responsible for not only ensuring that the day goes perfectly and everyone has a great time, but also that they experience what we demand must be the best day of their lives. Weddings are logistical nightmares where novices are in charge and everyone is looking. And, as with most social conventions that require hundreds of hours of unpaid labor, the responsibility for doing the actual work of the whole thing usually falls to a woman.
I’ve been a bridesmaid, and I’ve been a bride. When I was a bridesmaid I tried to be helpful, and patient, and keep my personal feelings about how the wedding planning was going to my damn self. When I look back at it I think that I really wasn’t that great of a bridesmaid—I was nice, and accessible, but I had no idea what it was like to be the one in the white dress five feet to my right. I had no idea how much it can really, really suck.
I’m going to make a few assumptions about you: You’re young, you haven’t been married yet yourself, this is one of the first weddings you’ve been in, your friend is planning this wedding almost completely by herself, her fiancé “doesn’t care” about the details, there are a couple hundred people attending, and as the date gets closer your friend becomes less and less like the reasonable, charming woman you love and is becoming more and more like the cliche bridezilla that we all roll our eyes at so derisively.
You know how you freak out a little bit when you have friends coming over to your house for dinner? Like, you know that they don’t care if your house is perfect but then it’s an hour before they’re supposed to show up and you’re losing it because and you’re trying to make sure that your toilet doesn’t stink and you can’t find the cilantro for the guacamole and you were going to curl your hair but now there’s no time and that dress you were going to wear has a stain on it so you have to find something else so you look nice enough that no will be able to tell what a wreck throwing this simple little party is making you? Putting on a wedding is like that, times a million.
It seems like it should be so simple—rent a hall, hire a DJ, pick out a dress, send out the invitations, show up. But, like all things in our culture that involve money, there’s an entire industry built around convincing couples that their wedding should be more, should have more, should involve more, because more is special and don’t you deserve to be special? You can try to claim that a wedding is just a nice ceremony followed by a party, but that’s a lie. A wedding is a big ball of feelings and we all think that the bride is responsible for our feelings.
I tried really hard not to be a bridezilla. I planned my wedding in four months because I wanted to keep it easy and light. I hired a wedding planner to help run the event the day-of so I wouldn’t be stressed out. I really didn’t care about most of the details so I tried to relax and have fun. That worked for maybe two weeks. You can try so hard to not let it get to you, but planning a wedding is going to get to you. It’s not that I care how long the bar is open at the reception, but someone has to pick. Someone has to say when the bar opens and when it closes and what kind of alcohol it has and will you have a signature drink what’s in your signature drink shouldn’t you have a non-alcoholic version too for those who don’t drink but the signature drink you picked doesn’t work as a non-alcoholic drink maybe you should rethink your signature drink by the way the bar can’t open at the time you said because they need time to set it up and also don’t you want to upgrade your package to the top shelf liquor for only $3,000 more? I mean, aren’t your guests worth it?
Planning a wedding is a series of questions that never go away. Answer a question and you get another question. And maybe because I’m more adept at planning, or maybe because I’m female, but I planned our wedding. I did the answers the questions and fielded the emails and texts and resolved the problems and made the decisions until I couldn’t sleep because my mind wouldn’t stop racing and when I did sleep I woke up having torn the sheets off of my bed in my sleep. I’m sure some people have fun planning their weddings—I wasn’t one of them.
Here’s shit you already know: Your friend is, right now, not herself. You friend is, right now, kind of insane. And you could take her aside and let her know how ridiculous she’s being, but I really really really don’t think that you should do that. Because right now your friend is doing her best and the last thing you want to do is become another problem she has to solve. Her requests are stupid, sure, but they aren’t impossible. Buy the fucking pantyhose. If you’re available to meet her demands the week before the wedding, do it. If you aren’t, just say so. I’ve been a bridesmaid numerous times and I’ve never been in a wedding where the bride and/or the groom didn’t completely lose it. At some point the pressure of the day builds up and explodes, usually all over someone who doesn’t deserve it. Putting up with your friend during this short burst of wedding mania is the tax you pay for loving her. It’s a small price, really.
Being a bridesmaid is a job, and you should shut up and do your job. Your friend is being unreasonable and too much and you may need a nice long break from her after the wedding is over, which is fine. But for now, do your job. Cut her some slack. Cut her more slack than you want to. Cut her as much slack as you’d like her to cut you when you’re about to get married and you’re already over budget and the photographer just cancelled and your brother is saying it would just be so much fun to get one of those photo booths and your mother-in-law is insisting that you change your bridesmaid dresses because she has already bought a dress that looks just like the bridesmaid dresses you like and you have to rebook your honeymoon because your fiancé can’t get the time off work after all and then your bridesmaid texts and says, “Do I really have to get my makeup done for the wedding? Can’t I just do it myself?” and in a fit of blind rage you text back “HOW COULD YOU ASK ME THAT” and the poop emojii.
Your friend is being awful right now because she’s planning a wedding, which is a wholly awful task. It’s not OK that she’s awful, but it is OK to let it go. Show up for her, ask her how she’s doing, ask what you can do to lighten her load. Do your job. And then, a few months from now, if you still find yourself fuming, go ahead and approach her. I’m sure she’ll hardly remember this time when she was so stressed out that she thought that a pre-rehearsal rehearsal was a thing, and she’ll be mortified, and she’ll apologize, and you’ll realize that it really was a blip, temporary insanity brought by a woman trying to meet the ridiculous standards we have for brides and weddings and wedding days. We all lose ourselves sometimes, and we rely on our friends to help us through, keep us calm, not contribute to the bullshit, and then, when we’re through it, happy and safe on the other side, roast us for ever giving a single shit about pantyhose.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.