A wedding day has many ceremonies and requires bit players – like bridesmaids – to support the central characters. What woman hasn’t been there? By the time we are in our late twenties, most of us have been a bridesmaid at least once. It’s a shared experience among American women, but in fact it’s an American custom. In her new book “The Bridesmaids” Eimear Lynch has set out to explore this peculiar institution. As Lynch puts it:
I enjoyed standing up for each bride, but at times I didn’t quite see the point of the role. Sure, I was a symbol of support, and, yes, it was great to get some actual face time with the brides, but I thought there must be more to being a bridesmaid . . .
Well, no. The wedding is one day in the lives that surround it, but being a bridesmaid doesn’t rise to the level of a rite of passage (despite the expense). It’s about friendship, good and bad.
Lynch’s surprisingly interesting book is a series of first-person narratives. Best friends, sisters, former girlfriends of the groom, gay men, straight men, and lesbians all tell their stories. Some, including a former nun recounting the wedding of another former nun, are quite moving. Others, like the straight man who has been a bridesmaid in not one but two weddings, are quite funny. (He offered to wear a dress. The bride said a tux would be fine.) One of the least expected and most emotional is a nun’s description of taking religious vows:
In both a wedding ceremony and a sister’s vow ceremony, you are participating in this very hopeful thing, and the shared hope is that you can live up to what you are promising to do. You see the promise of a future that is better than it would be without a commitment to this other person. In our case, that other person is God.
It’s a pretty good definition of marriage.
Almost every bridesmaid, Lynch reports, has learned something, often something unexpected. Here’s someone who was a bridesmaid to a woman who reconnected with a high school boyfriend at a shiva for the mother of a mutual friend Rebecca:
The whole thing made me realize that Adina and I were friends because of our history, not because we had anything in common. . . And she still does this thing when she sees Rebecca that is both awful and funny. She says, “Oh Rebecca, thank God for you. I wouldn’t have ended up with Levi without you.” Which is sort of like saying, “Thank God your mom died . . .”
Lynch describes a few bridezillas, and some of the stories are horrors. One about the bride who wanted to save money asked her wedding planner friend to be a bridesmaid. Then the bride let the friend do all the wedding planner work – and didn’t pay her. More often, there are stories about resilience. In one, the bride’s sister organized a group of people with smartphones to keep an eye on weather reports, since storms were predicted. The storms did materialize, along with a tornado. The power went out, and families with small children took shelter in an old barn. Everyone else?
I thought that when the power went out everyone would want to leave, but the bar was still there and there was room for dancing. . . The big stroke of luck was that [the bride] wanted the reception to be candlelit, so we had lots of lanterns and candles on the tables. People just hung out . . . the wedding was awesome. People still tell me it was the best party ever.
“The Bridesmaids” is “about the experience of being a bridesmaid,” that is, a friend of the bride who supports her through the big day. But it’s really about friendship, good and bad, and keeping your eye on what’s important. It’s an experience many of us will repeat: supporting a friend through an intense and challenging and important period of her life. The dress doesn’t matter. The friendship does.
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