Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: When Things Go Awry (Part I)

A host is like a general; it takes a mishap to reveal his genius.

Unforeseen events, in weddings as in war, can mar the best-laid plans. The ever-vigilant bridesmaid anticipates the unexpected and is always ready to spring to action. As a bridesmaid, you are a deputy hostess—a responsibility all the more urgent when the bride is suddenly indisposed or when things go awry. Brides have been known to faint when wedding tents collapse, rings are lost, or florists deliver the wrong flowers. This is your time to shine. The wedding disaster is an opportunity for the bridesmaid to show her mettle and prove she is more than just another pretty face. The old and young will gaze upon you in wonder and ask in awestruck tones, "Who is that bonneted maiden?" You will go down in family history as the spirited heroine who helped avert a crisis with her quick thinking and good humor. Or at least the bride will be really grateful. Of course, there are some instances when an extraordinary bridesmaid is the unsung heroine. With absolute discretion, she takes measures to ensure that no one ever finds out the nature of the calamity that she has forestalled.

You've heard the stories from friends and sisters who have returned from the field. Sometimes the bride has tantrums. She hurls her new china at the groom when he nonchalantly observes that his ex-wife registered for the same pattern. She isn't talking to her future in-laws because they want to serve whitefish at the rehearsal dinner. She's fired the priest because he won't refer to God as "She" during the service. Overnight/ a fun-loving single woman has transformed into the finicky future Mrs. Fuss, lamenting aloud when surrounded by well-intentioned friends that nothing is as perfect as she had imagined it would be. Reaching for an ever-changing vision, she tears more pages out of Bride magazine and runs to the bridal shop to select new bridesmaid gowns hours before the wedding, or she dictates that all bridesmaids must report to the beauty salon for lime-green manicures. Never mind that they are wearing elbow-length gloves! Yes, sometimes the bride goes mad, and you'd better expect it. Roll your eyes when she's not watching and cluck-sympathetically—but proceed, because it is your task to help turn the wheels of the great marriage machine.

Occasionally the bride's behavior is exemplary, and what goes wrong has nothing to do with her whatsoever. Of course, you could be the most capable, stalwart bridesmaid on earth, but a confluence of events—weather, roadblocks, bad hair—can conspire to make you look bad. Sometimes beyond etiquette, above manners, a bridesmaid needs ingenuity to help her cope. What to do when the mudpack hits the fan? Here are some stories about disasters major and minor that feature bridesmaids who either rescued the bride from years of psychoanalysis, or who, in retrospect, wish they'd been a little more alert. These heroic and cautionary tales will remind you to remain calm when confronted with any crisis on that red-letter day.

Case #1: The Broken Engagement
Teddy Simpson and Alexandra Albright were the perfect romantic couple and for seven years had been the envy of many of their friends. Continuing a great family tradition, they met during their junior year at Princeton, where Mr. and Mrs. Simpson had met and where Mr. Albright had first laid eyes on Mrs. Albright. Their parents were such major benefactors that the college president happily gave their children personal parking lots. For two years, Teddy's hunter-green Triumph sat cozily next to Alexan-dra's orange Karmann Ghia as Teddy and Alexandra strolled hand in hand along the paths of the idyllic campus.

When they graduated, Teddy gave Alexandra his grandmother's emerald-and-diamond ring. Their mothers began planning the wedding. Teddy went to Harvard for his MBA and Alexandra took an assistant's job at Sotheby's. Shortly after Teddy became an associate at Morgan Stanley, 350 family friends received the long-awaited wedding invitations. Ten of Alexandra's girlfriends were fitted for bridesmaid dresses at the Vera Wang Salon on Madison Avenue. Then, four days before the wedding, all the invited guests received Federal Express packages with an announcement that read, "Mr. and Mrs. Chase Albright announce that the marriage of their daughter Alexandra Wells Albright to Mr. Theodore Burke Simpson, by mutual agreement, will not take place."

Only the maid of honor, Siobhan O'Reilly, knew the details of the drama that had gone on behind oak-paneled doors. Shortly after Alexandra had moved to New York, she met an Arab importer who whisked her away on a magic-carpet ride of the world's glittering cities every weekend she didn't dutifully board Amtrak to visit Teddy in Cambridge. Teddy no longer seemed to offer the same excitement and, more infuriatingly, had developed a habit of patting her on the head and giving her a peck on the cheek before dozing off every night. When Alexandra confided to Siobhan that it had been six months since she and Teddy had done anything more strenuous in bed than pass sections of the Sunday paper to each other, Siobhan sat her down and poured some brandy into her tea. It didn't take Alexandra long to realize that she didn't want to go to every Princeton homecoming game for the next 30 years with Teddy, though he had been her first love. She gave Teddy his ring back and named her first child Siobhan al Hussein, after the friend who made her open her eyes. Teddy is happily married to a woman he never makes love to with the lights on. The Simpson parents still do not talk to the Albrights.

Moral: Be an intuitive bridesmaid. All brides have last-minute jitters, but some have grave second thoughts that need to be aired. Listen sympathetically and tell the bride she'll have your support no matter what. If she wants to back out, there will be some hell to pay, but nothing so terrible as what she would go through in a divorce. A canceled wedding is an awkward and sad time, even if some of the major players are terribly relieved. Whether you hear firsthand, by letter, or by phone, don't ask a lot of impertinent questions that will compound somebody's humiliation and never, ever let on that you were there when it happened.

Case #2: The Lost Groom
The morning of Josh and Laura's wedding, Josh disappeared. His parents were distressed, but hesitant to call Laura and give her what could only be upsetting news. They roused a stuporous Jamie, his brother and best man, who confessed he could not recall anything about the bachelor party the night before. Fortunately their sister, Amy, had overheard Jamie's plans for the night's activities. She retrieved an unconscious Josh from the floor of a downtown topless bar and dropped him off at home before driving to Laura's house to join the other bridesmaids. Amy never mentioned the pathetic but harmless incident to Laura and received a round-trip ticket to Aruba from her appreciative brother.

Moral: If the couple really loves each other, don't let them see each other in a negative light in the hectic days leading up to the event that will forever join their fates.

Case #3: The Broken Arm
Bonnie was a very athletic, outdoorsy kind of girl. When she got engaged, her friends thought it would fun to throw her a ski shower, even though it was April and they all lived in San Francisco. Everyone brought a ski-related gift—long underwear instead of lingerie, new ski poles, certificates for lift tickets, and so on. One bridesmaid bought her roller blades. Bonnie eagerly bounded down the stairs and laced them up. Off she zoomed down the hill, blond hair flying. Twenty endless minutes ticked by on the hallway clock before the bridesmaids began exchanging glances. They found her two miles away, clutching her elbow and receiving affectionate licks from the basset hound that had gotten in her way. Her white cast matched her wedding dress, but she and the groom had to make alternate honeymoon plans, as their ski vacation in Peru was out of the question.
Moral: Don't let the bride use her shower gifts until after she is married.

Case #4: The Couple on the Lam
Thomas's parents, blue-collar Long Island Catholics, were upset that his wedding to Ruth was not going to be held in their church. Her parents, Orthodox Jewish psychiatrists, had insisted on a synagogue miles away in New Jersey. Thomas and Ruth heard nothing but dire warnings from their parents about what a mismatched pair they were and endured months of grilling about how they would raise their as-yet-unborn children. Finally, in exasperation, Thomas and Ruth enlisted the help of their attendants to plan their elopement. Sans parents, Ruth and Thomas, along with the maid of honor and best man, flew to Las Vegas to be married. The attendants remaining in New Jersey made up excuses for the couple's absence until the deed was done.
Moral: Sometimes attendants may be called upon to perform in absentia. The most celebratory wedding doesn't have to be the wedding that happened the way it was planned.

Case #5: The Bride and the Best Man
The music was already playing, but the bride, Linda, hadn't reappeared after exclaiming that she'd left her blue garter in her bedroom and running back to her parents' house. Nancy, the maid of honor, couldn't find Linda in her room, and slowly walked back downstairs. Pausing by the library doors, she heard Linda's voice Relieved, she swung open the door, only to stop herself short from entering. Linda, in her wedding dress, was on the leather sofa? nibbling the best man's earlobe! Aghast, a blushing Linda tried to explain herself to Nancy as the best man adjusted himself with st-rakish grin. Nancy held out a firm hand and shook her head "Linda, don't give me any bullshit. You're stressed and you've1 momentarily lost your mind. Fix your lipstick and get your derrière outside." Linda ran past Nancy, who in one motion took a-bold step forward and slapped the out-of-town best man across, his too-handsome face. "This never happened and you're.on the-next flight out of here." She turned on her peach peau de soie heel and made it back to the processional line without a hair infer chignon out of place. Moral: See the Moral for Case #2. Keep a level head and be prepared for all kinds of hijinks. Don't let the bride's behavior faze you.

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