THE NEW WAY TO CHOOSE YOUR BRIDESMAIDS
The questions to ask before you make your choice
Twelve years ago, when my school friend Kathryn got engaged, picking bridesmaids was easy – so easy, in fact, that she never actually asked me. One day, we simply met inside Debenhams, instead of our usual meeting place outside it, and headed to the Coast concession. There, she excitedly thrust a dress my way. Given that it was pale pink, had a bow and wasn’t from Jane Norman (it was 2005), I presumed it wasn’t meant for going to the local All Bar One. And so, along with the bride’s two sisters and two close university friends, we became such an obvious bridal quintet that no bookie would have given any odds otherwise.
Fast-forward to last year when I got married, and my bridal party choices were anyone’s guess. I don’t have any sisters, and I don’t even live on the same continent as my university roommate. Kathryn and I were leading different lives. In short, I felt trapped between my rock and a hard (friendship) place.
“In a perfect world, we’d have a friend who has been with us forever, is close to us now, and whom we believe we’ll still be close to in the future – but few of us have that friend in one person,” says Shasta Nelson, CEO of the online women’s friendship network Girlfriendcircles.com, and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. “Research shows that we replace half of our close friends every seven years, so chances are high that, if we pick ÀYH EULGHVPDLGV WZR RI WKHP ZRQ·W EH WKH SHRSOH ZH IHHO absolutely closest to seven years down the road.”
OUT WITH THE OLD?
8QWLO QRZ WKH VXUH ÀUH UXOH RI SLFNLQJ D EULGDO SDUW\ ZDV to look to the past. These days, new friendships are playing increasingly pivotal roles in our weddings. Thanks to social media, our twice-weekly barre class, and intense careers where we even call our colleagues ‘work wives’, there are simply more opportunities to cement new bonds. “These friends might understand the bride’s current interests better than an old friend she bonded with in the playground,” believes wedding planner Liesl Lamare (lamarelondon.com).
“A few years ago, I didn’t really understand it when people said they ‘met’ on Facebook or Instagram,” admits Danielle, 32. “But now I use three Facebook groups to make friends – one for work, one for new mums and one for my local town – and I have a Twitter friend who I private-message and email weekly. Soon, we’re meeting IRU WKH ÀUVW WLPH DW KHU ZHGGLQJ μ
The status of the new BF is on the ULVH IURP LQYLWHH WR IXOO\ ÁHGJHG EULGDO party member. “My long-term friends were confused when I chose a work friend I’d only known for two years to be a bridesmaid,” reveals Emma, 33. “But we saw each other every day. I still talk to her every day, even though I’ve moved away. I also chose my best friend of 14 years, and we hardly speak now.”
In fact, the only time Shasta warns against incorporating a new friend is if the friendship is too new – for example, if you worry that asking would be awkward and overstepping an unwritten boundary. “If you haven’t already done a lot together outside work, or whatever commonality brought you together, such as the gym, an evening class, or social media, then your wedding might be too soon,” she suggests. “Think of your wedding as the place to celebrate friendships you’ve developed. It’s not necessarily the place to start them or take them to the next level.”
THE GUILT COMPLEX
Arguably, the biggest hurdle is tradition – the old knuckle-slapper of convention, expectation, and the fact that your mothers still have coffee together.
Caroline, 31, is recently engaged and caught in this emotional friendship trap. “I have a school friend and we’re in a wider, very tight group, who all assume she’ll be my maid of honour,” she says. “But we’ve drifted apart in the last couple of years. A few years ago, I found being her bridesmaid a tricky affair, and the dynamics have changed. However, it’s a change only perceptible to us. I worry how our mutual friends would interpret it if I didn’t choose her, but equally, I don’t think I actually want her in the bridal party.”
It’s this internal wrangling (or, rather, guilt) over friendship issues that’s making many brides take a family-only stance. “I’m noticing a move away from inviting old friends and uni mates into the bridal party,” says planner Laura Celiz (rockthedaystyling.co.uk). “A recent bride only had her nephew and niece walk her down the aisle.”
“One bride had her brother as her best man in place of a maid of honour – and why not?” asks planner Louise Hughes (onestylishday.com). “He is the person she trusts implicitly, who keeps her calm, knows her inside out and with whom she has an irreplaceable bond. It was perfect.”
If family isn’t an option (or desirable), Shasta boils down the question of who you should ask to three key traits in your friendship: consistency, positivity and vulnerability. “Our closest friends should be in our lives regularly (consistency), make us feel good (positivity), and see or hear our needs (vulnerability),” she advises. “A friendship with a lack of consistency can leave you feeling like they don’t know you. Lack of positivity can leave you feeling like they’re catty. And a lack of vulnerability can leave you feeling like they’re just people from your social life.”
As for the guilt of not reciprocating an offer of being a bridesmaid, Natalie Lovett, director of The Whitewed Directory (whitewed.directory), is quick to shut it down. “If you think, ‘Why do I want her as my bridesmaid?’ and the overriding answer is, ‘Because I was hers’ or ‘because she expects it’, she is the wrong choice,” she says. It’s tough love, but Natalie is right.
BREAK TRADITION (BUT STAY FRIENDS)
You’ve made the call not to include an old friend, so what now? Tinderstyle ‘ghosting’ – suddenly dropping off the planet – isn’t advisable, even if you’re dreading the conversation.
“If you want the friendship to stay healthy, always err on the side of taking any opportunity to assure the person that you love them,” says 6KDVWD 6KH UHFRPPHQGV \RX DIÀUP the friendship, explain why you chose who you did, express gratitude for your friendship, and offer what you can – a private lunch, an invitation to read at the wedding, even an expressed willingness to meet up soon.
Shasta advises a conversation that begins along the lines of, “I wanted to make sure I shared with you how I chose my bridesmaids, because it certainly wasn’t about who I loved the most. I adore you, and I so hope you can come to the wedding. I ended up feeling like I wanted only a couple of girls with me who I feel know [your partner] the best. My friendship with you means so much. You remember me when we were kissing boys in the playground, and if anything, this just reminds me that I want to do a better job of staying in touch with you.”
A year after my own wedding (my instinct was to choose my cousin and my partner-in-crime from my single years), I’m still surprised by friendships – by how much joy I’d feel seeing the photo where I bearhugged a friend I’d known less than a year; by how little I’d see some of my oldest friends afterwards; that I’m soon going on a girls’ mini-break with four friends I didn’t even know when I got married. It seems that how we make and break friendships no longer follows any rules.