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How I Rediscovered the Joy of Being a Bridesmaid

If you feel like your life could have been used as the basis for ‘27 Dresses,’ this is for you.

When my best friend got married in June 2014, it marked my sixth go at being a bridesmaid. By that point, I had gone from adoring being a bridesmaid to barely tolerating it.

In the beginning, I loved helping the bride in any way I could, and I especially loved feeling valued enough to be asked to be involved in such a special day. The first three times brides popped the question to me, I excitedly said, “Yes, yes! A thousand times, yes!” while giddily hopping around. Back then, being asked to be a bridesmaid meant that I got to be up close to the magic of weddings and that the bride cared for and trusted me.

As a result, the effort I threw into those first three weddings was probably the most selfless work I have ever done. It was all about doing whatever I could to make things easier for the bride and groom. I would block out all of my weekends to run errands with the bride.

Most of the brides were very hands-on and Pinterest-obsessed, so we would spend weekend after weekend visiting every corner of Seattle to find the best possible deals without sacrificing the “dream wedding.” This meant that the bridesmaids became mini wedding planners. We would take a weekend to haggle at Pike Place with the flower vendors for our bouquets and boutonnieres. The following weekend, we would travel all over the many districts within Seattle looking for the perfect venue. My favorite weekend was the dress one; we’d city hop, visiting every bridal salon and boutique. The mileage on my car and the balance of my bank account reflected all the driving and gas I went through on these excursions, but I did not care. For the six-month engagement periods of those weddings, my life revolved around nothing else.

I knew that being a bridesmaid was so much more than looking pretty for pictures, getting to hold bouquets, and photo montage–worthy trips to bridal stores. I knew it meant hours on the phone consoling the bride and quietly offering my agreement as she complained about her fiancé, her family, the caterers, and the universe for making it their personal vendetta to ruin the wedding. It meant canceling my own plans to go on countless trips to bridal shops, venues, wedding conventions, and craft stores. It meant shamelessly haggling with caterers, florists, and bakers until they agreed to bring down their exorbitant prices.

This brings me back to my best friend’s wedding this past June. That morning, I woke up at 5 a.m., knowing that despite the early rising time, I would still run behind. As I stared in the mirror at the rat’s nest on top of my head and the dried-up drool on my chin, I couldn’t help but feel equally excited and exhausted. The two conflicting feelings fought for control over my emotions. The day had barely started, but just thinking about what was in store made my head hurt and my feet ache. The other bridesmaids and I would have to turn our sleep-deprived selves (and the flower girls) into photo-worthy visions, pick up coffee and breakfast for the bride and groom, confirm the hors d’oeuvres for the pre-ceremony luncheon, finish wrapping the bouquets, and assemble the centerpieces by 7 a.m.—all without waking the bride in the process.

Despite my many experiences as a bridesmaid, I’ve never woken up early enough to finish everything in time for the ceremony or the reception. It’s always ended up that the other bridesmaids and I run around perilously in our heels, carrying out last-minute errands and doing damage control, all while keeping smiles on our faces for the cameras and making sure the bride and groom have nothing to worry about. The days pass frenetically, but because each wedding runs at about fourteen hours, they also seem to stretch into eternity.

 I can barely remember what happens at which wedding. My memories of each event are choppy, comprised of what I remember and what has been immortalized in pictures and videos. Each of my memories could easily be the title of an episode of Friends. There’s “The One Where I Pulled an All-Nighter and Fell Asleep Walking Up the Aisle” and “The One Where the Bathroom Flooded.” My personal favorite is “The One Where I Pulled My Achilles Tendon While Trying to Dance.”

These memories are ones in which I was the main character, which probably has a lot to do with why, by weddings four and five, being a bridesmaid was more of a dreaded chore than an anticipated party. At that point, I was tired of everything wedding-related. Instead of saying, “Yes, yes! A thousand times, yes!” my response to these brides was more of a resigned “Oh . . . sure.” I had already spent hundreds of dollars on bridesmaid dresses, shoes, accessories, and other items that currently live in a box in my attic (although, I did wear one of the dresses to another event). I was fed up with planning my summer vacations around weddings and having to cancel my plans to accommodate the bride and groom.

What was really disheartening was the discouragement the bride and groom would feel the closer the wedding got. The pressure they felt from both sides of their families would become too much. The frustration they felt to make everyone happy meant that they had to give up on things they really wanted to include in their weddings. Every one of the brides began to see her wedding as a chore that she just wanted to get out of the way. Seeing this made me extremely cynical and upset for the bride and groom, but more selfishly, it made me feel like all the work I was putting in was not even worth it.

This selfishness turned out to be the main reason I was having bridesmaid’s cold feet. I had started treating these weddings like nuisances because I was doing them for the personal glory. Despite my inclination for keeping to myself, I liked feeling the importance that came with walking down the aisle and standing by the bride at the altar. Those fourth and fifth turns as a bridesmaid had been terrible because I was no longer doing it for selfless reasons. I had loved my first three bridesmaid experiences because I had found happiness in the joy of the brides—all of the errands were done with a smile because I put their needs before my own.

On the morning of the sixth wedding, I was incredibly happy for my best friend and determined not to make this wedding another “bad” one in my memory. So, when it came time for the ceremony, instead of looking out at the crowd from my place at the altar, I looked at the bride and groom. That was the first time I ever cried at a wedding. Witnessing the two exchange their vows and seeing my best friend so happy despite all of the turmoil that had led up to that moment made all the difference. I finally began to see weddings for what they really are: celebrations of love, not just between a bride and groom but among everyone who is present for the couple.

At that sixth wedding, I was able to get past the long hours, the poorly smoked salmon, and the pinching of my heels by looking at my best friend as often as I could. Every time I did so, she was smiling or laughing, as if her promise to run away with her fiancé to Vegas had never happened. Seeing her made all the negative feelings I had toward being a bridesmaid melt away. When that wedding ended many hours later, I was still smiling. I had managed to once again find joy in being a bridesmaid.

This summer, I will walk down the aisle for the seventh time as a bridesmaid. It will be my first time as the maid of honor, so the pressure (but thankfully not the heels) will be even higher, but I welcome that challenge. Although my toes curl whenever I hear “Love Shack,” and my gag reflex goes off every time I see crab rolls, I have mostly worked through my cynicism toward weddings. I will probably never again answer, “Yes, yes! A thousand times yes!” to a bride’s proposal to me, but I know that if I do not let my selfish reasons get in the way, I will not say, “Oh . . . sure” either.