Originally published by The Washington Post on May 31, 2017
When one of my best friends, Megan, asked me to be a bridesmaid, I was torn between delight and dread. Delight because I’d hoped to be part of this wedding ever since Megan and Blake started dating, when we were all in college together — and because I’d always wanted to be a bridesmaid. They always seemed to have more fun than the groomsmen. And dread because, let’s be honest, being a bridesmaid isn’t cheap. While every cent I spent was more than worth it, it took some time to recover financially.
It all started when Megan, who was also my roommate at the time, texted me a picture of her ring — she got engaged while on a trip to Italy! — I was alone in our apartment. So I did what any self-respecting person in my situation would have done: I drove directly to the nearest Taco Bell, ordered everything off the value menu, and inhaled it in six-and-a-half glorious minutes of celebration and self-pity.
Somewhere between my second spicy potato soft taco and impending indigestion, I learned my first lesson …
Lesson #1: None of this is about me. While a self-indulgent pity party felt cathartic at the time, I realized that it would be ludicrous for me to be anything less than ecstatic for the person who’d been there with me for every major life milestone from age 18 to 25: coming out; buying my first legal drink; college graduation; and sharing our first adult apartment. Sure, I was as single as I’d ever been — and it had been a while since I’d even had sex with someone — but I realized right then and there, illuminated by the fluorescent light of the Taco Bell drive-thru, that celebrating my friend’s love is worth more than a Tinder match could ever be.
Lesson #2: This is (most likely) the bride’s first and only wedding, so treat it as such. This was a lesson I learned from the maid of honor. She was a real-life incarnation of Katherine Heigl in “27 Dresses,” and as our fearless seasoned leader, she knew exactly the steps to take, still managing to make it new and fresh for a much-deserving bride.
Lesson #3: Show up for dress shopping. The members of the bridal party were mostly in our mid-20s, and we had dispersed all around the country. But no one regretted showing up to help Megan shop for her wedding dress. First, we got some priceless candid moments as we reacted to dresses that didn’t make the cut. And two, the moment the bride actually found the dress… let’s just say there were some “This Is Us“-level tears.
Lesson #4: Carry snacks at all times. A fellow bridesmaid pulled out a sleeve of macarons, two granola bars and a bottle of water from the tiniest purse I’ve ever seen and saved the day while dress shopping. As it turns out, planning the most magical evening of your life works up quite the appetite, so whoever is carrying snacks is immediately the bridal party’s hero.
Lesson #5: Actually, start carrying everything with you at all times. Chapstick, mints, gum, water, tissues, spare sunglasses. I’ve learned that if I have room for it, I’m bringing it. Being part of a bridal party is like participating in a matrimonial version of “Troop Beverly Hills,” and earning the bridesmaid badge requires a lot of prepared-for-anything foresight.
Lesson #6: Ask not what your bride can do for you, but what you can do for your bride. The night before the bachelorette party in North Carolina, our flights out of Washington, D.C., were canceled due to a little storm called Hurricane Hermine. Did that stop us? Absolutely not. We rented a car and left before the sun was up, iced coffees in hand. Was it risky? A little, but hey, YOGMO (You Only Get Married Once)!
Lesson #7: Take time to tell the bride all of the wonderful things she may already know, but doesn’t always hear. One of the most beautiful parts of the entire experience was sitting around at the bachelorette party while the women (and myself) — who had known the bride at different points in her life, and in her relationship with Blake — told our favorite memories. Sure, shortly after we took a few shots and danced the night away, but that dinner was a great reminder as to why each of us was around the table. No one was thinking about whether or not they would look good in their dress, or which groomsmen would be walking them down the aisle. The only think we were thinking about was how lucky we were to know Megan and how excited we were to see her get married.
Lesson #8: Have fun with the groomsmen, too. A little inside joke goes a long way. At some point we decided to simultaneously comment “peppercorn” on all of the pictures posted of the bachelor party, without context. Five months post-wedding, everyone still has a good laugh at the mention of the word.
Lesson #9: The most powerful phrase in the English language is: “It’s for the bride.” I wouldn’t abuse this power if I were you, but don’t be afraid to use it when necessary. For example, when the event manager at the rehearsal dinner said that there was no coffee on sight, I simply said: “Oh, okay, thank you. I was just asking because everyone is a little tired. It’s for the bride.” Moments later four mugs and a fresh pot of coffee were waiting behind the bar. It’s amazing what those four words can do.
Lesson #10: Sometimes don’t ask, just do. From watching Megan, I realized that a room full of people whose only concern is making you happy can actually be exceptionally stressful. More than once, she turned to me and said: “I don’t care what we do, just pick for me.” So, rather than presenting 12 different options for a group dinner, I’ve found that picking the best one and trusting that I know the bride well enough to make her happy is all the confirmation I needed.
Lesson #11: If you don’t know the bride, do not assume a bachelorette party wants you around. During Megan’s bachelorette party, I was shocked to see how entitled other (presumably straight) men felt approaching and attempting to be physical with members of the bridal party. Once while at a vineyard and once out while we were dancing, I had to put myself in between another guy and one of the other bridesmaids in order to communicate: Thank you so much, no one here is interested, go away.
Lesson #12: If you’re single, buckle up, because it just might be the best night of your life, too. Millennial cynicism is my one of my favorite aesthetics, but as it turns out that watching two people give their lives to each other and say their “I dos” can destroy you in the most wonderful way. I never doubted that being in this wedding would be lovely, but I could have never imagined exactly how exceptional it would be to watch two people so destined for each other finally make that commitment. So, if you’re like me, I’d get comfortable next to the open bar and keep a spare tissue up your sleeve.