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Always a Bridesmaid, Never the Bride June 15, 2009

Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, single and happy.
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This past weekend, I was a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding in St. Louis. This is the fourth time I’ve been a bridesmaid over the last eight years or so, and doing it made me think about the popular (American?) expression, “Always a bridesmaid, never the bride.” For those of our readers unfamiliar with it, the expression carries a highly negative connotation, suggesting that the woman (or person) in question hasn’t (or cannot/will not) fulfill her ultimate ambition in life — being a bride (for info on the origin of the expression, check out this link).

I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you, copious readers, how heteronormative and sexist the expression is, suggesting that a woman’s most impressive achievement will be her wedding day (!!). But I have started to think a lot about what it means to be a bridesmaid, especially as one of the co-writers of this blog. Of the four weddings I’ve been in, I have only felt positive/confident about the pairing once, and that was the first wedding, when I was much younger and much less critical about the value of marriage (to their credit, the bride and I have remained friends, and the couple is still together and seems very happy). Two of the other brides were once close friends, but in both cases, our lives and relationships changed considerably, and I now only rarely speak to one of them and feel frustrated by my friendship with the other (which has left me feeling sour and wondering what my presence in all those posed photos really signifies).

As for this most recent wedding, I am still not quite sure why I was invited to be a bridesmaid, since I wouldn’t count this bride among my closest friends (although I like her very much). When she asked me to be in her wedding, I said yes because I simply couldn’t imagine saying no.

But that was before Christina and I started Onely. And before one of my closest friends (one of the other brides mentioned above) began to treat me much differently (read: rudely) after her engagement to her future husband, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. I said “yes” to this most recent one even though I felt somewhat disingenuous agreeing to be a part of the party when I didn’t feel like we were close friends. Even though I knew it would require time, energy, and – of course – a great deal of money, I said yes.

And now that it’s over — now that I’ve done my duty and given my toast in honor of this fourth happy couple, I have decided that in the future, I will say no.

Why? Not because I am not in favor of the match (although this may be true, it is none of my business). And not because I don’t care for or support my friends’ decisions to get married.

But because I have realized — since starting Onely and pursuing my Ph.D., both of which have challenged me to think critically about those things I previously assumed were “normal” or “natural” — I have realized that it is dishonest to stand next to a couple at an alter and participate in a ceremony that I simply don’t believe in anymore.

For some reason, making this decision feels surprisingly radical to me. Like I’ve committed some kind of sacrilege…. Thoughts?

— Lisa


1. Onely - November 27, 2009

Thanks Singlutionary, for the respectful, articulate response.

2. Single and happy? Five single bloggers that make solo living fun | green LA girl - September 21, 2010

[…] smart without being shrill, sensitive without being mushy. I especially loved Lisa’s post on why she’ll decline future requests to serve as a bridesmaid. To be clear, Onely isn’t against couples. As the about page declares: We are not against […]

3. Just Curious - November 8, 2010

Do you also not believe in gay marriage? Would you refuse to attend a wedding between two gays? Just curious to know if you would do the politically correct flip flop on this issue.

Onely - November 9, 2010

Hi Just Curious —

Excellent question. I’d like to emphasize that I am not saying I will refuse to attend wedding ceremonies in the future — I am happy to attend them! I will just refuse to “stand” in them as a bridesmaid. And yes, I would refuse this even if it were my gay best friend getting married.

A common misconception is that we at Onely are against marriage, but we are not. Rather, we are against the privileges accorded by the law and society/public culture to married people (and the institution of marriage) over and above single people.

Thanks for your question!

— Lisa

4. Lila - April 26, 2011

What’s different about attending vs participating, such that one is ok with your beliefs but the other isn’t?

5. Always a bridesmaid? « Every picture tells one - February 6, 2012

[…] Here is an interesting perspective on being a bridesmaid. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. › ‹ […]

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