'If only I had said no to bridesmaid slavery'

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'If only I had said no to bridesmaid slavery'

In the middle of wedding season, love columnist Emilia Millicent shares why even mild-tempered bridezillas can be b*'**es, and why she wishes she'd told one particular bride to buzz off when asked to be bridesmaid.


I wish I'd said no. There were two incidents, and a general sense of foreboding, that put me ill at ease about this particular wedding. The first incident happened to unearth something I’d never known about myself – I’m partially colour blind. I can’t tell the difference between certain purples and brown. Unfortunately, this seemingly mild eyesight problem was nowhere near a "mild problem" with the bride-to-be.

We were somewhere near Pigalle, having visited the Musée de la Vie Romantique (oh, the irony), when I told the Bride that I liked my bridesmaid dress, that it was a lovely deep purple.


I must credit her for not being overly mean, but I could see her idea of a perfect wedding crumble before her eyes. It was like all the little details she planned for months were flashing before her eyes, like the last moment alive in perfect-wedding-life, that my purple dress was obliterating, wiping off the face of the planet. I was the wedding annihilator.

"Purple! It's supposed to be brown, it's an autumn wedding!"

Being ever accommodating (I need to stop, but more on that later), I didn’t get angry when she said I must have read her bridesmaid dress instructions wrong in her email. I instead dutifully called my dad back home in Scotland and asked him to check the cupboard by the stairs where I’d hung up the frilly monstrosity of a halter-neck dress (viscose!).

"Oh what a lovely chocolate brown," my father said down the phone.

Crisis averted.

I was spending the summer in Paris on an internship, so once Lynne had flown home after a hen weekend she seemed to endure rather than enjoy, I went back to my life, living with a Franco-Ontarien astrophysicist, and mixing late night curries with visits to swingers clubs. My life obviously had nothing to do with Lynne’s cozy domestic existence with Stephen.

Claude and I had just finished a rather complicated set of acrobatics on the sofa when I checked my email. "I’m trying not to be a bridezilla," the first line read… and to be truthful, Lynne wasn't being a bridezilla, she was just showing proof of the same kind of insensitivity she’d sometimes excel at when we lived together at uni. Especially as she is American, and just like many Americans who grew up in a patriot bubble, not very good at understanding that American culture is not universal.

"Emilia, the maid of honour has visa problems and can’t come to the wedding, the second bridesmaid’s mother has cancer, which means you have to be maid of honour."

Claude rolled his eyes. I wrote that it would be an honour…. For the past seven years, I have regretted those words. I wish I had written:

"While I appreciate the dilemma, I am unused to this American tradition of weddings, and while I am pleased to be a bridesmaid despite the costs it entails in terms of the dress, travel and accommodation when I am still a student and short of cash, I do not feel comfortable being maid of honour when you have made clear that I am your third-choice default."

But I didn’t write that. Some might say I was just being dutiful, and that’s true, I was being dutiful. But I also feared Lynne’s cultural ignorance, and her at times mercurial moods. So I shut up, even though I was quite hurt.

The general sense of foreboding that I mentioned before about the wedding in general had its root in Lynne's past. She was marrying the first guy who was nice to her after she found out her long-term boyfriend was an adulterous coke fiend. And while my general sense of foreboding – I felt I was taking out a mortgage on a condemned house with the dress/flight/hotel – has thankfully been proven to be wrong, as they are still seven years later happily married with two children, I do still at times wish I had said no – frankly to being bridesmaid all together.

And because nowadays, when I have become better at standing up to Lynne and she has become less of an angry person, we are as close as sisters, I choose to put that episode seven years ago in the past, where it belongs.

It all came back to the surface, however, when a Spanish friend in Stockholm laid bare her frustrations over a friend’s wedding. The list was long. 1) The bridesmaid dress was ugly, 2) Having to be toast mistress and take part in the photo shoot at the same time ("Should I clone myself?!"), 3) The bride trying to get the bridesmaids to share her horse-drawn carriage to the ceremony to cut costs.

"I am not going to wash my hair and I am taking public transport," Annalisa said, furious, as we shared a fag at work.

"I did that," I reminisced. "Lynne tried to get me to have my hair done in the salon, but I said I’d do it myself."

But then the other things from the wedding resurfaced – that I never got a thank you card, neither for my participation or for my wedding gift , or for calming her down when her equally mercurial father snapped at her on the way to the church.

And I realized, as all this resurfaced, that being a bridesmaid is basically being violated. It’s like being culturally raped by the hysteria surrounding weddings. You’re the bride’s bitch.

I often think of that scene from Sex and the City when prude soon-to-be-married Charlotte tells slutty Samantha "It’s my week". And Samantha snaps back "You get one day, it’s your day, you don’t get a week."

Hear, hear to that.

And any brides out there. It’s not really your god damn day either, it’s your friends' and your family's day as much as it is yours. Chill the you-know-what out.

Emilia Millicent works in finance in Stockholm and has lived in Sweden for the past two and a half years.


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