How to spot good friends who will make poor attendants
"I've got four days to break up a wedding, steal the bride's fella, and I haven't one clue how to do it."-Julia Roberts, maid of honor, in My Best Friend's Wedding.
The bridesmaid running off with the groom is something that (hopefully!) only happens in Hollywood. Nearly every bride, however, has got horror stories of the ways in which her closest friends threatened to spoil her show. It begs a compelling question: How well do you really know the people you ask to be in your wedding's inner circle?
Once you've got the ring, most brides pick their attendants as a reflex action. Luba Fischer, MFCC, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Westwood, CA, says this can be a mistake. "Picking a bridesmaid should be a practical decision, not a romantic one. To avoid stressful situations, be brutally honest about the personality traits of friends and family. A drama queen in everyday life is not going to stop being a drama queen for your wedding." So before you call your oldest pal for her measurements, read on. If she's like any of these types of bridesmaids, you may think twice before picking up the phone.
The Love Machine
Forget about love. This potential bridesmaid is looking for sex—and plans to add another notch to her bridesmaid's dress at your reception. When a bridesmaid acts out, sexually or otherwise, try not to take things personally. "It's helpful to view the people in your wedding party observationally— almost like watching a play," Dr. Fischer says. "Detach yourself and concentrate on the positive aspects of the relationship." But you can also protect yourself by setting boundaries before potential mishaps occur. If the thought of a bridesmaid getting busy in the banquet hall's bathroom makes you cringe, rigid requests, like a 12-hour vow of celibacy on the big day, are perfectly legal.
The Fashion Faux Pas
Mia*, a 31-year-old Los Angeles writer who was getting married at the end of April, invited a European friend to be a bridesmaid. Never having been in an American wedding, the woman wouldn't buy matching shoes and hinted that she might show up with funky, dyed hair. There's always one bridesmaid who sees the backless sheath you've selected as an excuse to get a new tattoo. Be cognizant of friends who march to the beat of their own drummer. In this case, Dr. Fischer urges the bride to let go of control issues and have a little faith. Few brides make it through a wedding without having a "laugh/cringe at your bridesmaid" moment. In the stress of it all, you may even appreciate the comic relief.
A Fork in the Road
You're getting married. She's not. In addition to being thrilled, your friend may also feel jealous, lonely, and betrayed at the prospect of your new life. When you first feel the tension, both of you should lay your cards on the table. "Acknowledging the transitions you are both going through is the way to keep the lines of communication open," says Dr. Fischer. "Working through these feelings when they are small will keep the friendship from suffering larger traumas."
My college roommate, Sue*, never fit in with the rest of my bridesmaids—who found her to be a love machine, a fashion faux pas, and a fork in the road all rolled into one. I had turned a deaf ear for years as they begged me to end the friendship—and paid the price with a lot of stress before the wedding. In addition to other annoyances, Sue called me an hour before the ceremony to see if I could give her a ride. Since she was 45 minutes away, I told her she'd have to leave the bride out of it. She was cold to me during the reception, then ran off to Atlantic City with an usher. The moral of the story? If all your other friends don't like someone, listen to them. There is a reason.
You've dreamt of your wedding day your entire life. To execute your vision in a supportive atmosphere, Lara Webb Carrigan, author of The Best Friend's Guide to Planning a Wedding (Regan Books, 2000), suggests picking a practical bridesmaid, a funny bridesmaid, a calm bridesmaid, and a responsible bridesmaid. These will be friends and family who are empathetic to your needs—the type of people who have tissues (and chocolate) on hand without your having to ask. And Dr. Fischer offers some controversial advice to brides as well: "Be courageous. If a third of the way through it's not working out, let one of your bridesmaids go. This won't be easy, but long after the wedding's over, you may find your friendship intact."
* Names have been changed.