Photo by Dina Douglass of Andrena Photography
Photo by Dina Douglass of Andrena Photography
My bridesmaids are totally flaky and unreliable!

The only reason I even want bridesmaids is so I can have people to help me out and support me before and during the wedding.

If they aren't even going to be able to help me, should I just avoid having them at all?

-Anonyjane

Oh, bridesmaids. There seems to be a lot of drama surrounding bridesmaid selection and relations, which I suppose shouldn't be a shock to anyone who's done much thinking about the nuances of female friendships. (A short glance at research on female friendships includes titles like Female Friendship in Literature: Bonding and Betrayal and Managing Face Concerns in Criticism Integrating Nonverbal Behaviors as a Dimension of Politeness in Female Friendship Dyads.)

So yes: we can all agree that female friendships are complex beasts. When you put these friendships under the pressure of wedding planning, and then add the weight of various expectations and personal foibles … yes, you're going to run into some challenges.

That said, there are a few simple truths to address when considering whether you need bridesmaids, and how you should be relating to them. Hold my hand as we walk through this thorny garden together.

First truth: You need help with the wedding — you do not necessarily need bridesmaids

If you need help with your wedding, find people to help you with your wedding. Don't go looking for bridesmaids when you need laborers.

[related-post align=”right”]I didn't have a wedding party, but I had great conversations with my closest friends, asking them if they wanted to gift us with their assistance with the wedding. Most of them were excited to get involved, but there was no trade of status (“Bridesmaid”) for assistance (“decor help”) so there was no opportunity for bad exchanges. If a friend couldn't help, I gave them a big hug, thanked them so much for letting me know, and found someone else. There was no drama of “Well, now I want to demote them and take away their dress because they're not doing their end of the bargain…”

If you don't have friends and family who are excited or well-suited to help, look into hiring a wedding planner or day-of coordinator.

Second truth: if you do have bridesmaids, your best strategy is to select bridesmaids based on who you love and wish to publicly honor

Shift your paradigm around picking bridesmaids. It's not about getting help, rather it's about you honoring the people in your life. I realize this may contradict how some people view their wedding parties, but I'm just going to put it out there: If you choose to have bridesmaids, they should be selected on the basis of being beloved friends & family you wish to honor. The end. Full stop.

Third truth: Make ZERO assumptions about what bridesmaids will do for you, and you will never be disappointed.

Many bridesmaid issues seem to stem from a disconnect between what the bride expects and what her attendants deliver. One way to deal with this is to have long talks with your bridesmaids before you ask them to be in your wedding party. Really long talks. If you can't talk comfortably about this stuff before you get into the thick of wedding planning madness, then how the hell are you going to be able to do it later on?

I'm not saying there are specific bridesmaids requests that are unreasonable — it's totally dependent on the ‘maid and your relationship. Crafty friends will love helping with the invitations. Glamour girls will be totally into growing their hair out for matching up-dos. Friends who are finishing their PhDs while raising two children and moving cross-country are going to be willing to commit to showing up, and that's it. The moral of the story here is that ANY expectations you might have need to be addressed right up front — before anyone agrees to anything. If you don't know what you want want from your bridesmaids, then slow down and figure it out before you go asking people.

Unless you've had these very explicit conversations, don't expect that your bridesmaid will help in the ways you want. When you don't make any assumptions, you leave room to be surprised when someone helps in the way that only they can. For instance, one bridesmaid may hate crafts — but then the day of the wedding she shows up with pizza as y'all are getting your hair done, just as you were starving and about to eat your own arm.

As in all things, communication and reduced expectations are key. There's no quicker road to drama than a bunch of assumptions crossed with silence.

Comments on Bridesmaids: honored friends or henchwomen?

  1. Also important that, if you’ll have more than one attendant, that they understand what the OTHER attendants are or are not responsible for. That’s where we ran into trouble with ours: conflicts among them rather than with me and my groom.

  2. I totally agree with everything you said in this article. I am having four bridesmaids, and they are all good friends of mine. I’ve made it very clear that while I may ask for help at times, the only thing I really expect from them is to show up, look pretty and walk down the aisle. Any extra help I get from them is simply just a bonus and I won’t be upset if they can’t help with other things for one reason or another. All of them are more like sisters to me and have always been there for me, and I want to honor them, not go bridezilla on their butts.

  3. “If you need help with your wedding, find people to help you with your wedding. Don’t go looking for bridesmaids when you need laborers.”

    AMEN SISTER!!!!

  4. the word bridesmaid holds the ability to make break out in hives and boils. i was asked by my best [or so i thought] friend to be her bridesm– *that* word.. i said yes initially, but then i got ill. by that time, my lovely and loving friend had grown her 2nd head and made the transition from pupae to fully formed bridezilla. so when the time came to tell her i was too sick to be her bridesmaid, she didn’t take it well. over the next few months she gradually ignored me more and more, never once asked how my recovery was coming along, until eventually she dis-invited us to the wedding. it makes me sick to my stomach that we lost our friendship because she got so blindsighted by bridezillaness, but i have to just accept that her wedding was more important to her than my feelings, health, and our friendship. c’est la vie. made our decision to elope all the more easier though – no bridesmaid dramas when there’s just the 2 of us in vegas, baby!!! 🙂

  5. I preemptively told my best friends, who will be bridemaids for my yet-unplanned wedding, that my daughter was going to be my maid of honor and I only expect them to contribute what they want, and if they want assigned “duties” they’re to split them evenly.

  6. I really agree with separating your bridesmaid dubbing with your wedding help… I also elected to not have bridesmaid as I’m pushing 40 and so are most of my friends and to ask them to do the dress dance and the implied laboring etc etc just didn’t seem right. I think that if for a bride the maids are to be her primary help, in this day and age, that needs to be stated at the invitation.

  7. I count myself strangely lucky that I picked bridesmaids from a position of ignorance. Having never been in a wedding before all I knew was they wore a special outfit and walked down the aisle with the bride so that’s all I expected from them.

    As it turns out they’re all helping with the wedding in other ways too, but I still look on that as a seperate thing. My sister is helping me pick jewellery because she knows a lot about it, my friend is helping design decorations because she’s great at art and crafts, rather than because their bridesmaids.

  8. Seriously. In my humble opinion…..

    No one is your “maid,” despite the term. No one is obligated to help you “plan” your wedding. It is you and your fiance’s responsibility Alone.

    As the article states, if you want to ask someone “hey you’re so good at decorating, would you mind helping me hang lights at my wedding?…” or etc., then by all means. But expecting “maids” to do things for you in exchange for the ~honored~ title of “bridesmaid” = no.

    If everyone thought like this, weddings would have SO less drama…

    • maid never used to mean anything servile – it used to just mean girl. That’s an Americanism. I think it took on that usage because people with ‘servants’ wanted a word that didn’t sound so harsh 😉

  9. I had two bridesmaids. My oldest friend (a known flake) and my sister (a teenager living a state away). There was never any question that they had to be my bridesmaids if I was having any. The two girls who helped me the most (decorating flower pots, dying my crinoline, etc) got small presents of thanks at the wedding from me, but no special titles. Neither seemed to mind and both seemed grateful for the gifts.

    • I like that Anie knows her friend is a flake – that’s more than half the battle. It helps to delegate tasks (if you’re going that route) when you know your ‘maids strengths and weaknesses. My advice is don’t expect anyone to change for your wedding.

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