Why Calling a Woman ‘Bridezilla’ Makes You the Monster — Or How to Be the Best Wedding Guest You Can
Brace yourself, friends and family of the bride. This is gonna be a long one. If you love a woman who is getting married, you need to consider what might be wrong with you instead of assuming everything is wrong with her. Before you utter the b-word, any b-word, let’s take some time to consider the big picture.
It is not uncommon that when a couple announces their pending nuptials their friends and family fail to hear: “I found my person. We’re in love. We’re going to build a life together. Will you help us plan a day to celebrate that? We’d like to create something that feels like us and everything that makes us a couple.”
Instead, friends and family too often hear something open to interpretation like this: “I’m getting married. I have no idea what I want the wedding to look like or feel like. But I thought it would be a good blank canvas for you to paint with your vision and expectations.What do you think? Where should it be? When should we have it? What should I wear? How would you do your wedding differently? Would you like to use our wedding as an opportunity to recreate what worked well for yours and a chance to redo what didn’t?”
No one, of course, is doing this on purpose. But it is no less surprising and then frustrating for the newly betrothed. And no one bears the brunt of untangling all the miscommunication and erroneous assumptions more than the bride.
Enter the term bridezilla. Instead of supporting the ringleader of the circus so she can enjoy being engaged and the couple can feel calm, too many brides are being mocked. Bridezilla is a catch-all pejorative that squarely puts the entirety of the blame for organizing a juggernaut of an event on one person. No matter how simple a wedding a couple decides to have there are still a lot of irons in that one small fire. Date, location, invitations, guest list, playlist, menu, bridal party, tux, wedding gown and the budget and calendar to make it all happen.
Suddenly the woman, most of whom have been socialized to idealize this event as the best day of her life, is being maligned as a monster for trying to plan it. And when she doesn’t want to do *her* wedding *your* way she is, at best, “really stressed” or, at worst, bridezilla.
As I’ve observed this phenomenon over the years I’ve come to see how inaccurate and unfair it is. It is also inherently sexist as the vast majority of most wedding planning falls on the bride’s lap. If the groom were coordinating with you about everything, and you didn’t like the way he was planning or communicating, would Groomzilla become a known wedding trope?
Certainly there are some grown-ass women who regress to the 16-year-old debutante they wish they had been or perhaps were. And want to recreate the royal fairytale that puts them at the center of everyone’s attention and adulation. Their wedding will be the Sweet 16 they always deserved but never had. A taffeta-drenched cotillion or a charming converted barn just determines whether your chandeliers will be made from crystal or antlers. But no matter the theme, the bride reigns as queen.
I have heard of these women. And many of them got married young. Many of them were more excited about the wedding than the marriage. They shrieked over the ring without considering the daily grind. The bills. The arguments over which side of the family to spend holidays with. Parenting. Sex. Dishes. Adulting at full tilt. Because parties are more fun. And you get to wear your beautiful gown. And play your favorite music. And everyone makes speeches about you. And how amazing you are. And how grateful they are for you. It can be an act of extreme narcissism for those who aren’t celebrating it as the first day of the rest of their married lives.
We’ve heard of brides of all ages breathing fire in the faces of their loved ones when they didn’t get their way, American Psycho style over hair-splitting differences like bone vs. eggshell vs. pale nimbus.
That’s unfortunate. But not the norm. So here’s the thing that astounds me. As the bride functionally becomes the project manager/event planner she often seems to become the personal assistant to everyone who is supposed to be helping her.
This comes in the form of helping out-of-town guests find a place to stay, arranging childcare for parent friends if they decide it’s an adults-only event, counseling bridesmaids who don’t feel confident or comfortable in their shoes/dress/hair/wedding colors, mediating family feuds or friends’ exes, and finally, defender of their own vision for their own nuptials. Wow.
After observing this phenomenon of the bride and groom getting almost completely lost in the midst of what other people want for a wedding that is not their own, I’ve written the following guide to help friends and families check themselves and their behavior.
So with this lengthiest of preambles out of the way, if you’re ready to learn some tips that will help you be the best guest you can, let’s get started.
If the betrothed couple in your life decides to do a destination wedding they need to understand that not everyone can afford the combination of flights, hotels, time off work, child care, etc. Or they can’t leave town for the requisite amount of time. If you find yourself unable to attend because of time or money or both the couple needs to politely accept that, express their disappointment and thank you for letting them know. No guilt trips allowed from either you or the couple. No negotiating. No bargaining. Money is not an appropriate topic for discussion, let alone argument, in this situation.
If you’re feeling guilty, remember also that depending on what kind of events the couple has planned you might have already incurred expenses and travel related to attending and getting gifts for their engagement dinner, bachelor/ette parties, and bridal shower before the wedding itself even arrived. Attend what you can and express with prompt regret what you can’t.
Ask if they will have a live feed. This is extremely easy and free. If they choose to offer this to loved ones who can’t physically attend, see if you can’t commit to actually watching it. It will mean a lot to the couple.
No sooner did my sister get engaged did I suddenly find myself googling “steampunk” and “maid of honor steampunk costumes”. In order to counter potential backlash from guests they were telling the “older” folks that it was an “Edwardian garden party” wedding but it took everyone a while to understand what the aesthetic was actually supposed to look like.
The night of the wedding itself, our oldest childhood friend explained it perfectly to our parents: It’s the way people in the Edwardian era imagined the future would have looked like if steam had become the dominant power instead of electricity.
But trying to convince a very shy and traditional mother of the bride to wear brass goggles and a tiny top hat was not going to happen. My mother was afraid it wasn’t going to “look like a wedding”. Which is exactly what my sister and brother-in-law wanted — non-traditional, offbeat and fun. They love costumes.
I do too. If they’re handed to me ready to wear. I didn’t want to scour secondhand stores and boutiques for months and I certainly didn’t want to be a seamstress every night when I got home exhausted from work. But by 2am the night before the wedding, when my sister asked me to help her write her vows, I was stitching the last hems of a makeshift bustle, gluing the last feathers and pulling straps through the last grommets. It was more work than I ever would’ve done for myself. But when it all came together I was pleased I did it for them. Truthfully, I now wish I’d done even more.
So whether the betrothed in your life want a Willy Wonka wedding or Alice in Wonderland, dress your part and keep any complaints to yourself. If a costume is encouraged and you can afford it, do your best to knock it out of the park.
The Wedding Party
Whomever the bride chooses as maid of honor, know that she did so with the best of intentions and reasons that are unique and personal. Know for certain that you wouldn’t be friends with anyone who would use a “rank” like maid/matron of honor to hurt someone else’s feelings or to be divisive. If you are friends with a bride like this then a rambling post on etiquette probably won’t help you.
But if you are asked to join the bride and groom in the wedding party, just say yes to whatever they ask. Literally no one cares what you look like. It is not about you, the neckline, the height of the heel, the hair, the manicure, or the colors. It is only about being a supportive piece of someone else’s puzzle. If you look terrible in purple, so be it. If you don’t usually wear heels, start practicing.
Beware the Momzillas
I had no idea that “Mother Of The Bride” is a role that some mothers aspire to attain — like CFO or Grandmother. The marriage of their daughters is apparently a milestone in their lives too. That’s fine. I suppose. As long as they act like everyone else — there to help the bride and groom. But Mother Of The Bride isn’t a rank, per se. You are a loved and cherished guest. So if this “rank” or “long-awaited role” is a critical part of your self-identity or you perceive it to be your daughter’s opportunity to repay you for her childhood, please read on with as open a mind as possible.
I might lose some of you on this point. But that’s ok. Here goes. I don’t care who’s paying for what. If you are paying for 110% of your daughter’s wedding it is still … your daughter’s wedding. Let’s look at the grammar of that phrase, class — “your” is a possessive pronoun; the apostrophe in “daughter’s” is possessive of the wedding. She will always be your daughter. But the wedding is hers.
A wedding is NOT “a shared journey of emotional growth and discovery; a chance to really reconnect, shed old patterns, and begin a more adult relationship.” Well it is. But between the bride and groom. That I have to specify this confounds me. Truly. But in uncanny valley, this mother, whose fascism was published in a bridal magazine as though it were a useful resource for loving (and not at all delusional) mothers. And it absolutely is. If you’re a totalitarian who plans weddings as opportunities for others to express their adoration and gratitude to you. If you can stomach it and want to make your own head spin, read her article and say a prayer for the groom she saw as an “outsider” — “you may be taken aback by this intrusion,” she says.
Even if you are paying for all of it, ask yourself, if this is a gift to her and her beloved or are you purchasing the right to be an event planner and make top-down decisions?
Do you see the wedding as a rite of passage for your dependent child who is now becoming a woman? If so, maybe you should have gotten that out of your system at her sweet sixteen or her high school graduation. Hell, even college. Yes, your families are now joined too. But a wedding is about the transition of two single people creating a union together and becoming an entity of their design. The wedding and the marriage have nothing to do with you except that you love them and they love you. So celebrate with them!
If you want to do the right thing, communicate clearly about the budget and then let the bride and groom strategize how best to use that money to make their big day what they want it to be. Congratulate them on all their planning progress, be available for questions but do not assert opinions unless you are asked. If you are asked, share generously.
And for the love of all that’s holy, if for some reason you are still struggling with your “role” in all of this, “if you just aren’t ready to process this huge — but inevitable and healthy — swing in loyalty,” remind yourself that a bride and groom planning their wedding does not mean that your daughter does not love you. It means she now also loves her husband-to-be. Her world got bigger and that is exactly what we’re celebrating.
Would You Act This Way at a Funeral?
I don’t know if there’s something about a joyful occasion versus a sad one that makes people feel like they have a say in how a wedding is planned. But I have seen friends and families act and react in ways they themselves would find abhorrent if the event being planned was a funeral. But is is no less tacky to deluge bride and groom with unsolicited suggestions and ideas. It is just as reprehensible and burdensome.
Nowhere in the history of decent people has anyone suggested that the grieving loved one(s) planning a funeral choose a different flower arrangement, reception location, music or officiant. Good people only ask one question — how can I help? And then whatever the answer is, they do that thing. Be available to pick up flowers or hors d’oeuvres. Be available to help design a program or decorate for the event.
If you are asked to help scout locations or get quotes from photographers or prices from caterers, conduct yourself as though you were doing it for a memorial or a celebration of life. The ad nauseum mantra here is only offer what’s been asked. Whether that’s tasks or advice, don’t do anything unsolicited.
Don’t Use the Word ‘Just’
If you find yourself going to ask for ‘just’ one thing or ‘just’ make a quick suggestion or you were ‘just’ wondering, double-check with yourself first. Ask yourself, am I being an inconsiderate asshole? Am I negotiating in an attempt to get my way on someone else’s day? Before you ask the bride or groom questions ask yourself if it’s already been answered on the group page, in a group email, on a print-out or in any text or conversation that has already taken place.
The happy couple are juggling countless logistics. And you are not the only one not paying attention. Check your messages or the event page or their The Knot site before asking about dress code, day, time, location, where they’re registered (and don’t get gifts not on their registry), etc.
Actors Don’t Direct
Just because you’re in this movie doesn’t mean it’s yours. You don’t get to script dialogue, design sets or choose costumes. Just rehearse your lines. Do not be that preening actor needing more face time and dialogue.
Show up on time, be in character and nail your lines. When it’s not your turn to speak sit in supportive silence.
It saddens me that so many people need to be reminded that a wedding is about the bride, the groom and their marriage. The rest of us are ONLY there to help them bring their vision to fruition. That includes you, family members and “high-ranking” friends.
If the invitation or the couple says that this is an adults-only event, please do not attempt to negotiate with them for your precious little angel. Know that the couple probably already agonized about this decision and ultimately did what was best for their event.
Do not offer to feed your child(ren) before the reception so that it doesn’t actually affect the cost of catering. Please do not offer to have your child sit on your lap so as not to affect the headcount. Nickel-and-diming the details is awkward and burdensome and does not change the fact that the couple decided kid-free was the way to go for their event. Whether it’s because of the cost, the headcount, the liability, the noise or the NC17 kind of event they’re envisioning they didn’t make this decision lightly and they certainly didn’t make it to inconvenience or exclude you.
Know that as much as you love your precious gift from God, a.) the couple might not want to be responsible for children, b.) your angel might not be as perfect as you think, c.) and if they let the fruit of your loins attend they have to let everyone’s or they look like dicks.
Trust that your friends have done the math on wanting everyone to be able to attend without having to pay for babysitters versus parents who would rejoice in a child-free night.
Now if you can’t afford a babysitter and you have no viable options for childcare your friends are absolutely not allowed to make you feel guilty for not attending. This is the same as friends/family who can’t afford to travel for a wedding. No guilt allowed either direction.
This final section is simple. Keep your speech about the couple. I know many people are terrified of public speaking and want to stay in their comfort zones. That often means talking about themselves or their relationship to the bride or groom. And that is a great introduction to your speech, provided that you keep it brief and it doesn’t amount to more than about 10% of the total speech.
If you want to include hilarious anecdotes, clear them with the bride and groom first to make sure they’re appropriate for the whole crowd. “This one time Brandon slipped and fell in his own puke in Vegas …” is actually part of a toast I overheard from my open hotel window in Sayulita. So of course I got up to spy on the rooftop reception I didn’t need binoculars to assess. Everyone appeared to be about the same age. Everyone appeared to think that story was hilarious.
You know your audience. And the bride and groom know them even better. Ask them about length and tone and then pour your heart into it. Describe them, praise their love and call for everyone to celebrate the life they are building together.