I've been a bridesmaid for my brother, my sister, and each of my parents' second weddings. When an ex-turned-close-friend married someone I didn't meet until the couple's shower, I was there with my bouquet and asymmetrical, royal-blue dress. My best friend and her husband had two ceremonies. I served as a witness in the first one, held in a nondescript London registry office. For the second, a much grander affair in Italy, I dutifully made confetti and read aloud Shakespeare's "Sonnet 116." My dress is still crumpled at the bottom of my laundry basket, steeped in sand and saltwater from a post-reception ocean swim. I loved it all. But I won't do it again. That revelation dawned on me during my brother's recent wedding in Cancún this past summer. Thanks to a knee dislocation that derailed my visits to the gym — and, okay, a handful of margaritas from the resort's swim-up bar — it had taken two bridesmaids to shoehorn me into my full-length, strapless gown. I was hungover from the rehearsal dinner, stressed about pulling off the wedding without a hitch, and cranky from wearing Spanx and a corset that dug into my waist. It was about five minutes into the ceremony when this all triggered a mini panic attack. The heat, the dress, the hangover: Suddenly, I felt like I might faint. I grabbed the arm of my sister, who happened to be the bridesmaid nearest me, and steadied myself. I eventually sat down for the rest of the ceremony, not wanting to do a face-plant during the vows. After the photos (so many photos!) were taken, I swigged down a glass of ice water, bent over, removed my beige Spanx shorties, and tossed them in the nearest trash can. I had a few minutes to recover and take some deep breaths before throwing shapes to "Turn Down for What" as the DJ officially introduced the wedding party. (Confession: I actually loved that part.) It ultimately ended up being a beautiful ceremony, and I'm honored to have been a part of it. I'm proud that the most important people in my life have wanted me to be involved in their special days. And now, I feel like I can hang up my bouquet and strappy, metallic heels and move on to simply being a guest. What's triggered this new aversion to being a bridesmaid? Part of it is my age. I just turned 38, so the whole matching dresses-and-big updo thing is starting to make me feel like I've showed up to prom 20 years too late. Also, at this point, most of those nearest and dearest to me have already tied the knot.
Now, I feel like I can hang up my bouquet and strappy, metallic heels and move on to simply being a guest.
Then, there's the cost. The dress. The shoes. The jewelry. The travel. The gifts. The spray tans and mani-pedis and makeup trials. Sometimes things are covered, but more often they're not. What remains is a graveyard of custom-dyed David's Bridal frocks I'll never wear again, a bank balance that makes me want to dry-heave, and a pair of breast cutlets purchased years ago, when I didn't have time to take my dress to be altered. Maybe I'd have spent all that money on a down payment for a house; maybe it would have gone to concert tickets or a vacation or, more likely, countless Uber rides and Seamless orders. But it would have been spent as I saw fit, not as I was told to see fit. A bigger concern is the pressure and responsibility that comes with being a bridesmaid. No bride, in my experience, has ever been anything less than wonderful, truly. And yet, there's that impulse to be the perfect friend, whether that means nailing a traditional Mexican wedding march performed by the wedding party during the reception, or having a meltdown because my dress is too tight. As a guest, you can dance or not dance. Nobody is forcing you to attend dance rehearsals the night before the wedding. And if your dress doesn't fit, you can wear something else. If you're a bridesmaid, you will dance, and you will wear the dress. So, yeah, I wore the dress. I twerked with my cousin to Lil Jon. I spent the next 48 hours picking bobby pins out of my hair. A month later, I went to a wedding in Italy, as "just" a guest. I split a hotel room with one of the bridesmaids, and while she left early in the morning to attend to her duties, I slept in, read, and had a beer with friends. After a week's worth of pasta and gelato, the dress I'd intended to wear no longer fit. I wore my backup dress, and nobody cared. I got to sit down during the ceremony. I didn't have to pose for pictures in the rain. I sipped my aperol spritz, helped myself to antipasti, and mingled with the other guests, each of us free from responsibility and constricting corsets. It was bliss.