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When you’re chosen to be a bridesmaid, you’re likely an important person in the bride’s life, one whom she trusts when she’s in a crunch. A wedding, for all its pretty flowers, fancy dresses, and cupid shuffling, is a stressful occasion. Your friend, the bride, is mulling over a major life decision (“Is he the one?” “Forever? For ever ever? For ever ever?”) and likely shelling out wads of cash to make a memory of her and her beloved’s big day. Weddings also can be hotbeds for festering family feuds and unburied hatchets with friends. Now factor money, time, travel, dress fittings, and dinner options into a multi-event occasion (because there isn’t just the wedding; there’s the engagement party, bridal shower, bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, night-before functions and morning-of events), and your role becomes about more than holding her bouquet and handing her tissues when she starts to cry at the altar. The job starts the second you accept the bridesmaid assignment, and it may require that you are at once a counselor, a logistical coordinator, a make-up artist, bartender, speechwriter, public speaker, seamstress, time keeper, caterer, and a host of other positions you have to hop to at a moment’s notice.

“But she’s turned into a Brideszilla!”

I have a mild-mannered friend who morphed into a nervous wreck minutes before walking down the aisle. By 4:30 p.m. she was on the verge of tears, rambling a mix of “Make sure my veil doesn’t touch my face because I just got my makeup done” and “What time is it?” as she stood jittery posing for pictures. Mind you, the wedding invitations indicated a ceremony start time of 4:00 p.m., and the bridal party was still in a bridal suite a mile away. When she noticed that each of her bridesmaids was ready to hold her veil away from her face, but hadn’t told her what the time was, she scoffed at me. “Tell me what time it is!”

I paused, knowing that she would never scoff ordinarily and that she worried about being the bride whose wedding started late. (Because, of course, she’d be the only bride in the history of the world whose wedding did not start on time.) Given that the time had already passed, and that she, one of the stars of the show, didn’t need one more thing to fret over, I offered this: “Girl, we all left our phones over there. I think we’re good on time anyway.” I pointed to the room where we’d done our makeup and left our personal effects. We were in middle of taking pictures, so the likelihood that any of us could rush to grab our phones was low. “Besides, you’re the bride. They can’t start without you.” The bride calmed down, realizing that she was the bride, after all. What she didn’t know was that her bridesmaids had kept their eyes on the clock, with one in touch with the wedding planner who was at the church. The wedding planner was informed of what was happening and had a sense of the bridal party’s estimated time of arrival. Calming the bride’s nerves prevented a freak-out on the home front, and doing the back-end work of checking in with those at the church were a couple of the bridesmaids’ roles that day.

On the brink of a major life change, the bride’s nerves are likely frayed. Understand that her mess of emotions might lead to bouts of bossiness and snippety-snappity sensitivity. Offer a listening ear when she needs to vent, take some of the work load off by offering to stuff and stamp invitation envelopes, or simply take her out for lunch and choose not to talk about anything wedding related to relieve her mind of the stress for a little while.

If you feel like the bride’s gone off the deep end, quell the urge to snap back. The best way to avoid a tense argument is to stay calm, tell her you understand her position (“I know this is your dream wedding and I know you want everything to be just right.”), tell her that you’re happy to help (“I’m here for you and I’m glad to help you make this happen.”), then very gently let her know how her attitude/rude remark/over-the-top request made you feel (“I was a little hurt by the way you mentioned that I am gaining too much weight to be in your wedding.”). Again, remain calm and decide from there whether your role as bridesmaid will remain.

“But the dress is ugly!”

I stood in another wedding where a fellow bridesmaid flippantly mentioned how hideous our dresses were — to the bride. The bride, understandably upset, had tried to find a dress that was affordable, comfortable, and in a style that was flattering to the body types of her diverse cache of bridesmaids. The other bridesmaids were fine with what had been chosen, but as much as the bride had mulled over the decision of what her girls would wear, the offhand note that one member of the wedding party thought the dress was unsightly had the bride reeling for other options. This, ladies, is an example of when to just suck it up, and let it go. Yes, I know that you’re shelling out your own cash for a dress that you’ll never wear again and can’t return. Yes, I know you’ll be standing in front of a room of people and then be immortalized in photographs wearing a dress that you didn’t even choose yourself. But, as Echo Surina writes in “10 Rules Every Bridesmaid Should Follow”:

Accept [the bride’s] decision happily. If you love the dress, rave to the bride about her  superb fashion acumen. If you’re not so lucky, suck it up and be thankful you have to wear it only one day.

Surina notes that if the bride does ask for input, bridesmaids should keep the assessments “soft”:

Instead of saying you adore or despise a dress, without constructively explaining why, try framing your feedback in a way that’s based on objective factors: dress availability, affordability, how flattering it is to your figures, or whether the color [complements] everyone’s skin tone.

“But I Can’t Afford It!”

What if you can’t afford the dress? What if you can’t afford to travel for the wedding? Tell the bride up front and tell her immediately. Case in point: I once made the mistake of holding out on ordering a bridesmaid’s dress until six weeks before the big day. Ample timing in real life, a rush-job in the wedding world. Aside from having to field eye rolls and clenched jaws from the bridal shop employees, I caught an earful from the bride who was afraid I’d need alterations and wouldn’t have the dress in time for the big day. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d have to wait on buying the dress?” She’s right, I should have. Luckily, the dress they had in stock fit me perfectly, but what if it hadn’t? Keeping the bride in the loop on money matters minimizes that event of unpleasant surprises and gives her the option to front the cost of your dress and other items if necessary. But if she doesn’t know, she can’t help.

Can’t make it to a friend’s destination wedding? Consider throwing a small shindig for the bride and groom before they set off to get hitched. The costs may be considerably lower than jetting to Cancun for three days, but you still have the chance to properly wish your friend well. Again, the operative phrase is “up front and immediately.” If there are any known conflicts with your participation in the wedding, the more time you give the bride to make different arrangements, the better.

The bottom line:  The role of the bridesmaid is to lift the weight that can suck the magic and memory from what should be a very special time in the life of a bride. Though it might mean wearing fluffy taffeta or being in charge of the bride’s debaucherous final night of singledom, be mindful that more than anything, your friend needs your support.

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