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The 20-Something Bridesmaid: What to expect when you’re expecting a wedding

Posted by Alex Pearlman  April 19, 2012 09:09 AM

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bridesmaids.jpgBy Bethany O'Meara

After graduating, getting a job, and moving into a new apartment -- not to mention paying off student loans and other bills -- it’s a pretty safe bet that you can call yourself an adult. Still, it’s easy to continue feeling youthful and carefree in a city like Boston -- that is, until one of your friends gets engaged. That’s when adulthood really gets real.

Suddenly, you’re of the age when people get married. Your friends are moving in together and taking care of pets. Soon they’ll be buying houses in the suburbs and having babies! And these people aren’t high school classmates you casually stalk on Facebook; they’re your childhood BFFs, your college roommates, your lunch dates, and your drinking buddies.

What’s a girl to do when a close friend decides to tie the knot? If she’s lucky, she’ll get to stand nearby while her friends say their vows…in addition to offering all the support she can muster during the engagement. Depending on what the engaged couple has in mind or how much help the bride needs, a bridesmaid’s duties will vary. Bridesmaids may be in charge of planning the bridal shower and bachelorette party, they might spend long nights crafting centerpieces, or they may simply be told to put on a dress and hold some flowers. Whatever the case, pop culture has nicely summarized some of the important basics of the bridesmaid experience.

Keep your friendship afloat. In the movie Bridesmaids, Annie worries that she won’t be sharing wine-and-magazine nights with bride-to-be Lillian for much longer. You, too, may be afraid that your relationship with your friend is going to change, but keep in mind that she’s the same person she’s always been, only she’s dealing with new -- and, thankfully, temporary -- stresses.

When you consider all of the wedding industry spam emails, family matters, financial strains, and mental and emotional aspects of preparing for a marriage, plus holding down a job and having time to, eat, sleep, and possibly relax occasionally, it’s not surprising that some brides don’t seem like their usual selves while they’re planning their wedding. So if you and your engaged friend once gawked at the outlandish price and pageantry of Kim Kardashian’s wedding, yet she now finds some of the style inspirational, just try to shrug it off.

Be extra supportive. Offering emotional support will be your primary bridesmaid responsibility, and the easiest way to do so is to carry on with your friendship as usual (new Kardashian-mania and all). If you normally enjoy cocktail hours or TV marathons with the bride-to-be, continue your traditions. Wedding talk will creep into discussions that once centered around other interests, but that’s OK.

“Nothing in [my] relationship [with the bride-to-be] has changed since the engagement,” said Meredith Blake, a first-time bridesmaid who will be part of her friends’/roommates’ August wedding. If anything, she and fellow bridesmaid Diana Kim said that they’ve found that the wedding-planning activities have helped strengthen that bond. “Diana had us go out to brunch a couple months ago so we could look at this notebook she has that's filled with ideas and plans for the wedding,” Blake said.

Speak up when it matters, and play it cool when it doesn’t. Just like you did before, you should give your friend your honest opinion -- but be mindful of all the stress she’s under. When the bride-to-be is searching for her dream dress, don’t be a snarky entourage from TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress just because the style isn’t what you’d pick for her. But if she’s dead-set on a venue that’s way out of her budget, by all means, step in and offer some money-saving alternatives. Above all else, remember that her planning process is not the time to plan your wedding, so don’t force your ideas down her throat.

“I definitely wanted to help out because I knew [the bride-to-be] was busy with work, and I have wedding websites bookmarked,” said Kim, a second-time bridesmaid with a professed love for wedding photography and styling. “I would come across some little thing that might be cute and would pin it on Pinterest for her to see. I'm trying not to overstep my boundaries by not bombarding her [with too much information].”

Consider your own budget carefully. When your personal finances are involved, however, it’s definitely OK to voice your opinion. If, like Annie in Bridesmaids, you can’t afford to go to Las Vegas for a bachelorette party, just say so. If buying a designer bridesmaid dress cuts into your grocery budget for a few months, choose food. A true friend will understand that you can’t use your life savings on her big day. (Making sure the other bridesmaids are on the same page is another story.)

Weddings are not a democracy -- but you still have to be diplomatic. Whether there are two bridesmaids or 10, you’re going to have to socialize and plan with people who have different personalities, opinions, and budgets. Whether the other “ladies-in-waiting” are close friends of yours or complete strangers, tread carefully.

“On TV and in movies, there's always an overbearing maid of honor and this group of friends who are falling all over each other with differing opinions and agendas,” said Blake. “[The bridesmaids I'm with] are so far away from any of the stereotypes purported by the media that it makes me second guess myself sometimes.”

You may feel that one woman is usurping your role as BFF, as Annie felt about Helen. But the Helen-like, take-charge bridesmaid in the group may just think she's following her party-planner instincts. Everyone butts heads from time to time, but you’re all adults now, remember? Keep in mind the advice of actress Shiri Appleby: “Together, you are the team that is responsible for setting the tone of your bride's experience. Deep down, you all want your best friend to have the best wedding day ever, so do what you can to get along and give the bride one less thing to worry about.”

If you’ve been in a wedding party, what advice would you give to bridesmaids?

Check back to TNGG Boston each month as ‘The 20-Something Bridesmaid’ shares everything you’ll need to know to be the best bridesmaid you can be.

Photo by Anna Strumillo (Fotopedia)

About Bethany -- I graduated from Northeastern not too long ago and decided to stick around Boston, but I'd like to continue traveling the world. In the meantime, I'll be checking out local bars, markets, and festivals. My expertise lies in Trader Joe's products and MBTA survival skills, among other things. Plaid catches my eye, French catches my ear, and videos of baby animals capture my heart. Twitter: @bethopolis

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