Three of my closest friends and former “bridesbabes” have been single or casually dating for much of our twenties. I feel really lucky to be their friend because while I’ve been sharing one Nalgene with the same man this entire decade, they’re living their best lives: traveling, building careers, and getting advanced degrees—Rosie the Riveter style. They’ve also been in a lot of weddings. This summer, my friend Claire drove great distances for bachelorette weekends, attended weddings as a “plus one,” gave a reading at a wedding, attended a “stock the bar party” for a newly engaged couple, was asked to give another reading at a wedding, and, of course, served duties as a bridesmaid.
And I’m over here like, let me get this straight: you pay all of your bills and regularly swipe your card at David’s Bridal? I’m just not on her level.
Because Claire is single, she dedicates a ton of time and energy to her friends. A recent study affirmed what we all know: that single people have “a greater tendency to offer help to friends, family and their communities.” But I started thinking: are we marrieds really taking advantage of our single friends when we lose our minds and plan weddings? I decided to ask Claire and two other besties, Sophie and Jo, this very question.
First of all, I was like, tell me something kooky someone asked you to do for a wedding. Jo tells me that part of her bridesmaid duties once included applying the bride’s makeup, spontaneously DJ’ing, and cutting the wedding cake before serving it to 100 people. She also mentions that she once said “yes” to a bridesmaid inquiry that came from an old high school friend who happened to be her server at the hometown Olive Garden. Sophie gently mentions that my DIY enthusiasm during my wedding was, well, oppressive.
“I felt like I was being told how to creatively celebrate you two instead of it coming from a genuine place or from my own mind. Basically I wasn't actually giving gifts, I was just fulfilling tasks.” She’s right, but don’t tell my family-and-friends wedding quilt.
Claire mentions that she always finds it ironic when she is asked to write marriage advice on a popsicle stick during a bridal shower. She says, “Let me tell you how qualified I am to give marriage advice: “I am 29 years old. I have sustained one three-year relationship. I read one of my best friend's articles in BRIDES each week. I have met and dated lots of men. They are all the same, so I know exactly what your partner is like and what they need. Did I mention I'm single?”
Okay, let’s get into it. Literally, have any of you married gals asked your friends how annoying you were while getting married? Hurts so good. I’m nervous, but exhilarated, and I want to know what part of the wedding process they find the most obnoxious or unnecessary. Jo laughs: “Dry weddings.” She says she is only kind of kidding, but then she gets dead serious when talking about the bouquet toss. “Like what is this tradition about, really? Instead of catching a bouquet, why doesn't the bride throw a vibrator?
Or something else that is equally useful for single women—like a wad of cash or something.”
At this point I think I am the Jane Goodall of the single person’s experience at a wedding, captivated by a species that is so closely related to us human mash-ups and yet, operates with a set of cultural norms and behaviors that are all its own. Claire translates what a wedding reception is like for singles versus couples: “Single people check their seating assignment, hoping there is at least one person they know at their table and also at least one other single person at their table. Single people are most interested in having fun at the reception.
Meanwhile, couples sit with each other, not having to worry at all about making conversation with the bride's strange cousin at their table.”
Sophie jumps in: “Single people have the potential to be more fun. It is fun to walk into a room and look for people you could dance with, as opposed to walking into a room with your boyfriend and being like, ‘Here we are. In another room.’’’ However, with greater fun potential comes greater potential for disappointment. Sophie says, “I was the only single person in the bridal party once, and that was a damn shame.”
But weddings are more than real life dating apps for single women; they represent a fundamental shift in friendship dynamics. Claire explains, “Being a bridesmaid when you're single is unsettling because you're a little unsure of what is going to come of your friendship with the bride. When you're single, you rely very heavily on your friendships, and you wonder, what will happen when one of my best gal pals has an official new #1?” Sophie adds, “As a single bridesmaid you don't really have that confidence that this is your friend's time and later it will be your time.
It feels like you could actually just spend your twenties celebrating people’s relationships and never really have the opportunity to have everyone you love in the same place. I think weddings used to have the implication that everyone would take turns celebrating each other, but not everyone gets married now.” Claire agrees: “All those questions and thoughts you often suppress as a single person come right up when you're involved in a wedding.”
Furthermore, it can be difficult to see one’s friend at less-than-her-best. Claire says, “Being a bridesmaid can be disturbing because you sometimes see your best friend, who you think is beautiful and perfect, behaving as a terrible version of herself, as the bride. You know she is better than that, but you start to believe that marriage is ugly because it is making your friend ugly.” Sophie adds, “Weddings are often set up on expectations instead of gratitude. It’s like, you spend a ton of money, energy, and time for this couple, but they sort of frame it as the least you could do to make their day perfect.”
In a culture where weddings are treated as the pinnacle of achievement, especially for women, they sure have a way of sapping joy out of what is meant to be a great celebration. After all, there’s a hair appointment, makeup, nails, and first look photos—all to be squeezed in before the biggest and likely most expensive party you’ve ever planned! The morning of my wedding, I recall being jittery, anxious, and exhausted—a far cry from my best self. But our friends are not paid actors, nor are they accessories to our marriages, and they should not be treated as such.
Keeping gratitude and joy at the forefront of the wedding experience is paramount to ensuring beautiful memories and healthy friendships with those involved.
All three of my friends conclude that despite the minor irritations that come up, weddings often provide great memories and means to connect with friends. Sophie says, “Of course weddings are not transactional at all. As I get older, I appreciate that weddings are perfect for getting old friends together again. They are also a fun way to debut your current boyfriend to your college friends!” Jo laughs, “I think weddings are great. Who doesn't love free alcohol and a party to celebrate?”