It’s supposed to be a major milestone in your friendship, but what happens when your ride-or-die goes rogue before you walk up the aisle?
When Hannah* asked one of her oldest friends, Maria, to be her bridesmaid, she imagined them bonding – not breaking up their friendship. ‘I didn’t ask her to do anything in the lead-up and I tried to be accommodating. She didn’t want to wear the blue dress I’d picked for her, she hadn’t been able to fly up for our engagement party as she lived in a different city, she had issues with the ballet flats I’d chosen making her calves look fat – I was okay with all that,’ Hannah remembers. ‘The only thing that mattered to me was spending a few days with her before the wedding, when she’d promised to be my right-hand woman in setting up our DIY-heavy reception. I was really looking forward to spending time with her! Which was why I was so disappointed when she told me she’d only be able to fly in on the day of the wedding – missing rehearsals and prep – due to a work event. When I asked her if she’d told her work that she had a commitment in a wedding, she admitted she hadn’t.
By this time, I was really annoyed – I felt like she wanted to swan in on the day of the wedding, have her hair and make-up done, pop on a dress in her approved colour and shoes with the flattering toe she preferred – all paid for by me – and not lift a finger, which didn’t feel like the deal. She didn’t even know where to stand on the day. Before I could get really mad, though, she called and told me she’d managed to get out of the event, making sure I knew just how put out she was – and how much it had cost her to change her flight. I was still rattled, but I let it go. But then I told her, three weeks before the wedding, that instead of going out for dinner with a big group of friends the night before the ceremony, I thought it would all be too much and I’d rather spend the night in with her, my maid of honour, my mum and aunt. And she freaked out – she said she felt bad that she would be leaving her new boyfriend alone for the evening and the day of the wedding. I couldn’t believe her priorities – worrying about leaving a 32-year-old man alone for a few hours so she could spend the only time we had together? If she couldn’t tear herself from his side to spend one evening with me, the only one we would have together, I didn’t want her by my side on the day. I told her I thought it would be easier for her to enjoy the day as a guest, and not have to worry about being a bridesmaid. There were tears, and I felt like a horrible person. But I knew that it was better than to be hating her on the day.’
‘I told her I thought it would be easier for her to enjoy the day as a guest, and not have to worry about being a bridesmaid. There were tears, and I felt like a horrible person.’
This is not an unusual story, says psychologist Jocelyn Brewer (jocelynbrewer.com). ‘There is a huge amount of pressure placed on the big day, for everyone, and that emotional weight can become like a pressure cooker if you don’t communicate really clearly about visions, expectations and invest the time to get on – and stay on – the same page,’ she points out. ‘From the bridesmaid’s perspective,
it can feel like the end of an era for the friendship as the bride’s single days come to a close. Sometimes you’re just at different stages of personal growth, or there might be a sense of really proving the value of the friendship and an amplification of the need to really “help” and be the best in the role.’
It started out like that for Claire, whose bridesmaid – a friend she’d known since preschool – was only too happy to help out with all the usual duties. ‘I felt she was the one person I could count on, and she was great at the start,’ Claire recalls. ‘Halfway through my three-year engagement, though, she exploded about something unrelated during a night out and, while I tried to patch things up, our friendship never really recovered. In the end, she stepped down from being a bridesmaid, and didn’t even RSVP to my hen’s. I told her she was still welcome to come to the wedding, but I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I wish I hadn’t. I was sick with worry on the day of the wedding and during the ceremony I caught her eye – and she gave me the nastiest look before turning away. I was so upset I started tearing up right then and there! Every time I saw her, she looked like she was at a funeral. She didn’t acknowledge me or my husband throughout the reception, and I was later told that she cried during dinner and told everyone around her that she should have been a bridesmaid. When the dancing began, she disappeared – and I haven’t heard from her since.’
‘I was sick with worry on the day of the wedding and during the ceremony I caught her eye – and she gave me the nastiest look before turning away.’
It’s great to try and patch things up when they go bad, says Brewer, but the key groundwork needs to happen as soon as you ask your chosen friend to be your bridesmaid. ‘Set expectations, visions and ideas out from the start. Communicate clearly and try and keep on track with the actions and activities. As you go on, check in with her about how she is feeling about it all, and if the commitments are sitting right,’ she says. And if she does start going rogue? ‘You need to have tough conversations which get to the heart of the issue, set deadlines or new ground rules and give her the opportunity to shape up, if she wants it. It’s fine to replace someone if you don’t feel like they’re being who or what you need, but having a conversation to flag it, and then finish it, is important.’
With the benefit of hindsight, both Claire and Hannah say they let obligation dictate who they chose as their bridesmaids. ‘The best advice I could give is to follow your gut,’ says Claire. ‘Just because you’ve known someone for most of your life doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the role.’
This article originally appeared on marie claire.