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How to Be a Perfect Bridesmaid

A single girl's guide to bridesmaiding.

Will you be my maid of honor?” I was surprised by how much I ached to hear those words. But it had been months since my best friend, Monica, announced her engagement and still she hadn’t popped the question. As weeks rolled on with chatter about gowns and flowers and wedding bands, I began to worry that she wasn’t giving me much time to prepare for my big day. And then it struck me: What if she didn’t want me to be her maid of honor? Maybe I’d be assigned to some lesser bridesmaiding post. Or relegated to ghastly Kahlil Gibran–poem reader. What would she be saying about our friendship? Or worse, about me?

When Monica finally, sweetly offered me the gig, naturally I was relieved. But before I could respond, her fiancé, Austin, cautioned, “It’s a lot of responsibility, you know.” (This from a guy who’d only recently begun to pay taxes.) Clearly, they’d been wrestling with my qualifications. And the truth was, they were right to worry. Who was I to minister to a bride? I’d never been married. I’d never been to a shower, much less thrown one. The very idea of dyed-to-match pumps insulted me. Dear God, I thought, I’m doomed and I’m going to take the whole wedding down with me.

In a frenzy, I bought as many bridal how-to books and magazines as I could carry home. I tried to master the alien language of weddings: nosegay, buttercream, tea-length, marcel wave. Mimicking Monica’s to-do lists, I carried around a notebook and called her other bridesmaids daily. I ran interference with her soon-to-be in-laws and chatted with her mom about seating plans. I stuffed little sticks of chocolate into lacy bags for reception guests and even got into planning the shower: a vegetarian brunch at the groom’s parent’s house.

But I also fumbled. A lot. I got the directions wrong to the shower. I wrinkled my nose at every strapless bridesmaid dress Monica spent hours scouring the Web for. I got drunk at a dinner with her conservative relatives and was hungover while shopping for her gown the next day. But despite my many blunders, Monica never fired me. And the wedding?

It turned out to be as sweet and light as the triple-tiered raspberry angel-food cake I should have helped her pick out.

Would I do it again? You bet. Would I do it differently?

Let me count the ways:

Lesson One: Her Wedding is Not About You.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, but I wish I'd forced it down my gullet from day one. Your bride is juggling 8,000 niggling details. She doesn't need to add your aversion to Empire waists to the list. Think she's not spending enough on "you time"? The bride's schedule regards no one but its mistress. Better learn its fickle rhythms right up front. She'll get back to you in a few months. You're her best friend, right? Suck it up.

Lesson Two: Don't Panic.
Regardless of whether you're out of your depth, your role is to be an island of cool, a beacon of rationality, a sounding board for all your bride's fears and anxieties. For example, if your bride is about to crack under her mother's constant grinding to have the ceremony 2,000 miles away, offer alternatives to smothering Mom in her sleep, like a nice engagement brunch in her hometown instead.

From the Fall 2005 New York Wedding Guide