Weddings can be taxing to any bride’s friendships. The ceremony and all the planning that leads up to it mark the beginning of an emotionally challenging life transition, and brides-to-be are often placed in the uncomfortable position of having to make choices that can hurt people’s feelings, including that of their closest friends. What are some ways to improve communication, to reduce tension, and to keep things in perspective?
These issues can be so volatile that they can make friendships implode. So I couldn’t think of a better person to talk to about them than my colleague, wedding expert Sharon Naylor). Sharon is the author of over 35 wedding books, including The Bride’s Survival Guide, and has been featured on Good Morning America, Lifetime, ABC News, The Morning Show With Mike & Juliet, and in InStyle Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, Modern Bride, Southern Bride and many additional magazines. She is the iVillage Weddings expert and Planning in Peace blogger, as well as a top columnist for Bridal Guide.
This is the first in a two-part dialogue with Sharon about friendship and marriage.
What are some of the ways that planning and executing a wedding challenge female friendships?
When a bride invites her female friends to be in the bridal party, it’s a huge honor (“I’m one of the chosen ones!” thinks the bridesmaid, activating old memories of wanting to ‘fit in’ and be accepted as part of a group in junior high school). It’s a big validation both emotionally and publicly, since this bridesmaid will walk in an all-eyes-on-you processional as a Near-and-Dear friend.
Make no mistake. No matter how mature a bridesmaid is, there’s still the thrill of being chosen. But here’s where it gets tricky. Being in a bridal party has a service element to it. It changes the whole dynamic of the bride-bridesmaid relationship because there is now a list of responsibilities included in the title. And expenses. And a personality change in the bride, who – to some degree or other – may want more in the way of support from and control over said friend.
In many ways, the friendship takes on a Boss and Subordinate dynamic, depending on how power-hungry the bride gets. Some brides who have felt powerless in their lives before they get engaged take advantage of the All About Me nature of wedding-planning, and their bridesmaids feel the brunt of her neediness. And all Bridezilla behavior is just neediness. Bridesmaids entwined in a circle around a needy, pushy, controlling bride find that the friendship is tested because the bride is a different person while she’s in this role.
Many bridesmaids who have to deal with drama queen or bossy brides say, “If this was the person I met in high school/college, etc., would I have chosen to be friends with her?” When the bride is texting fifty times a day, yelling at friends, complaining about her groom, being disrespectful to her mother and other heinous actions, bridesmaids are often shocked and offended. Where did THIS person come from? It often makes enough of an impression that the bridesmaid not only questions the friendship but distances herself from it. And then the bride gets angrier, feeling entitled to behave any way she pleases, and a nice big wedge is inserted in the friendship.
You’ve addressed some of the ways that brides can become pathological over their great day, what can happen to bridesmaids?
To be fair, there are plenty of bridesmaids who get power-hungry and controlling in the circle of other bridesmaids, having a persona of being the Alpha Female or Queen Bee who immediately divides the bridal party into her In Group and the Out Group, causing all kinds of drama and hurt feelings, not to mention pressure on the bride. Some women just don’t grow out of a juvenile mindset, no matter what their chronological age. They’re troublemakers, and the bride knew it. But she felt she HAD to name her bully sister or best friend to a bridesmaid or maid of honor role, out of a sense of friendship or familial obligation.
A stressed-out bride often blames herself for being ‘a wimp’ and naming that steamroller friend to the bridal party when she wavered over doing so. It can become quite a mess when anyone from the bride to the maid of honor to the bridesmaids do not operate under the Golden Rule, when the circle of honored ladies turns into a rugby scrum for domination. It might be full warfare and social snubbing, or it might be a specific issue such as a power struggle over bridal shower plans.
How does money factor in---particularly in an economy like this one?
Another element of the friendship strain between brides and bridesmaids is the fact that money is now involved. Lots of money. It’s expensive to be a bridesmaid, especially if the bride has pricey tastes in potential gowns or is planning a destination wedding that requires airfare and lodging the couple isn’t covering. The honor of being in a bridal party can put quite a squeeze on your wallet. Especially now.
We’ve all read enough magazines to know that money is a loaded issue, the cause of many fights in relationships. The same is true for female friendships in wedding world. “But you should be willing to spend $300 on the dress I chose for your wedding!” says the bride, feeling entitled to anything she wants or in a misinterpreted comment because a $300 dress is actually on the lowest budget end for formal gowns at a place where alterations are included and accessories are half-priced. See how miscommunication can occur? When a bride requires a bridesmaid to spend hard-earned cash, there’s conflict afoot. With weddings, expenses mount up. It’s not just the bridal shower, the dress, the shoes, and the travel…there are gifts and additional expenses, such as a new dress to wear to the rehearsal dinner. When each unforeseen expense pops up, that bridesmaid may be simmering a fresh dose of resentment toward the bride and groom.
How can a bride minimize these problems (e.g. involving your friends in planning, choosing a maid-of-honor and bridesmaids, asking friends to pay for things they can't afford)?
The most important step a bride can take to minimize ALL of these problems is to remember who she is in her friendships, and be the same person. Realize that being the bride is not a Free Pass to be demanding or to get people to jump when you say so. That said, many brides don’t realize they’re being bossy or demanding. They have a ton of things to do, they’re stressed, they’re experiencing conflict with their parents or their in-laws…being a bride is very taxing, and even the most centered bride can lose focus out of sheer exhaustion.
So all of the bossy behaviors might spring from the fact that the bride is running on fumes, not intentionally treating anyone badly at all. So I suggest that the bride find a way to keep her stress in check, and nurture her friendships by planning regular girls’ get-togethers during which there will be NO wedding talk. If the bride and her friends have always gotten together for Friday post-work happy hour, keep that going as often as humanly possible. Make a note to e-mail your friends on a regular basis, just to say hello and ask what’s going on in their world. This simple step will comfort the bridesmaids, letting them know they haven’t ‘lost you,’ that you’re still in there, and that you care about them as friends, not just for what they can do for you as bridesmaids. The human element is ultra-important when you’re in wedding season with your bridesmaids.
Throughout the plans, make sure you’re taking every opportunity to keep your bridesmaids’ expenses low, searching for sales, letting them know about great outlet stores or craft stores you love. Give them plenty of time to get their tasks done, and when it comes to deadline tasks such as paying their gown deposits, set earlier-than-needed deadlines to allow stragglers to deliver without stressing everyone out.
At the same time, realize that there are some things you can’t control, such as a bridesmaid’s envy or bad behavior. So don’t add fuel to the fire by trying to change her. Just work around her. Communicate with her in the way you always have throughout your friendship, since you know how to handle her personality quirks. This might include saying directly to her, “I’d rather you didn’t criticize the other bridesmaids’ ideas. They don’t know you as well as I do, they don’t understand your sense of humor, and I’d hate for them to get the wrong idea about you. So please just rein it in a little bit when you’re planning with them, okay?”
Always focus on *your* preferences, avoiding saying ‘everyone’s hurt’ or ‘everyone’s mad at you.’ Keep the focus off of the group dynamic or her Outsider Status and just present what you do want from her. And do it as quickly as possible. To the others who may have a problem with her, just say “I’d rather you didn’t focus so much on (bridesmaid’s) attitude. I know she can be a bit blunt, but she’s a very good friend to me – as are you – and I’d love it if you can all just get along for this brief time that you’re working together.”
The bottom line: In all aspects of the wedding plans, think back to what YOU didn’t like about being someone’s bridesmaid, and vow to make the experience better for your friends.