book cover-175In the last ten years, I have been a bridesmaid five times. I wore periwinkle organza in New Hampshire, purple taffeta in Washington DC, navy cotton in Mexico, navy silk at a yacht club outside New York City, and magenta chiffon on a farm in upstate New York. I have planned showers and bachelorette parties, delivered some eloquent toasts, and some not-so-eloquent ones, packed emergency bridal kits, stood in receiving lines, helped to make flower arrangements, and herded wedding guests, Pied Piper style, to cocktail hour by playing a kazoo. I have been an emotional bridesmaid, a take-charge bridesmaid, an embarrassingly drunken bridesmaid, and a stone sober pregnant bridesmaid. I suspect that my stint last summer, as my younger sister’s maid of honor, was my last run as a bridesmaid. Going into the summer wedding season, I was therefore excited to read The Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty…and Terrible Dresses by Eimear Lynch (Picador, April 29) and to reflect on my own career as a bridesmaid.

Lynch and I, it seems, have much in common. As she worked on her book, she was embarking on her own fifth tour of duty, also as the maid of honor to her younger sister. As she wrote the book, which profiles more than fifty bridesmaids (and a few Bridesmen), she set out to explore the purpose behind this long-standing tradition. Interviewing some of the many people who have filled this role, Lynch concluded that more than planning parties or calming over-anxious brides, being a bridesmaid is about “be[ing] able to spoil sisters or dear friends who mean a lot to you.”

bridezilla-200Whether you’ve only been a bridesmaid once, or are an old hand at the job like Lynch and myself, you’re sure to find a story or two to identify with in the profiles she presents. Though none of the women I was a bridesmaid for were bridezillas, I sympathized with “T,” whose horror stories of her friend Lara would be hilarious if they weren’t true. Lara married a man who she cheated on consistently for four out of the five years they were together. Her bridal shower invitations necessitated dozens of emails and ended up being five pages long. She cancelled her bachelorette party and threw a fit because none of her bridesmaids could afford to go to Acapulco. If the thought of being a bridesmaid invokes fear in your heart, it’s likely because of stories like T’s.

wedding_gift_bag-200If you need to read a feel good story after T’s account, check out “B,” a 29-year-old (straight) man who found himself in the role of Maid of Honor for his sister. B went to dress fittings; he planned the engagement party, and both the bachelor and bachelorette parties; he made all the gift bags that included golf balls with the bride’s and groom’s faces on them; he picked up the wedding dress and kept it in his apartment (scaring away a potential date of his own who saw it on his living room floor), and then hand carried the dress in its huge box on a flight to Mexico for the wedding. B explained, “I’m happy my sister and her husband can look back on their wedding and know that I was able to help them start their new life together.”

This is, ultimately, the point of being a bridesmaid (or bridesman). Amidst all the planning stress and often unrealistic expectations, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the wedding is in fact just one day, at the start of a (hopefully) life-long partnership. To stand up and witness two people making this commitment, and to say with your presence there that you will support them in their lives as a married couple, is a huge honor. I am deeply grateful to have been given that honor by five different people, but am also happy to know that my time as a bridesmaid is likely done. Because it’s fun to just be a guest at a wedding, too.

After you check out the book, let us know: which of the bridesmaids profiled did you most identify with?