Modern Rebel & Co. is an alternative event planning company that gives back to local New York City non-profits. We interviewed the owner, Amy, about how to celebrate friendships at your wedding without making your friends begin to slowly resent you.
Liz: Hi Amy! Thanks for joining me today to talk about how to celebrate your friendships at your wedding.
Amy: Thank YOU. Always love chatting with you and the Catalyst team.
Liz: I think this is such a great topic. Can you tell me why this was something you've been thinking about lately?
Amy: I think, for me, as a wedding planner and even before, I hear so many women vent about their friends’ weddings. Especially when they're a bridesmaid. And I'm partly fascinated and partly frustrated by the idea that an event, which is supposed to be a moment to come together with all your favorite people, can end up turning so many people off—even people involved most intimately.
Liz: That's so true. Have you personally experienced being a "bridesmaid" in a wedding?
Amy: I've actually only ever been a bridesmaid once, some years ago. I remember feeling strange wearing the same dress as five other women. It felt so presentational, which weddings often do. Why? I wasn't even in the wedding world yet, and I was beginning to ask this question.
Liz: Based on your experience and what you've observed with your clients, what are some of the typical industry expectations that lead to this "bizarre" feeling?
Amy: I think first and foremost, we as women are supposed to feel incredibly honored and grateful to just be included in the wedding. Which, of course, it is a super sweet honor. But the reality that your voice and opinion goes out the window because "the bride wants it this way" is so absurd. It entertains the "bridezilla" culture, which assumes the wedding is the most important day of a woman's life, so she can demand whatever she wants. I don't believe ranking your friends and making them stand in uncomfortable shoes in an awkward dress empowers women. I think it's sort of a false sense of empowerment that the wedding culture has co-opted in the name of "pretty" and ultimately, makes a lot of money.
Liz: Yes, so expecting friends to buy a certain dress and shoes can definitely lead to icky feelings, and so can ranking friends—even inadvertently. What do you think of bridal showers and bachelorette parties and the expectations for women in those traditions?
Amy: I'm really encouraged that I'm seeing more wedding showers versus just "bridal showers." Plus, I'd say most of my couples are so over the traditional bachelor and bachelorette parties. I've heard of couples doing a hiking/mountain weekend together, volunteering together for their bachelor(ette) party, etc. So, I'd say I'm encouraged right now. But when I look at the expectations in the wedding planner groups I follow, I feel so depressed. I am not sure it's evolved so much in every part of the country or world. These bridal showers and bachelorette parties still center themselves around the idea that "becoming a wife" is the most important identity in a woman's life.
And that's the reason we don't throw showers for women when they get their PHds! Plus, there probably isn't enough money in it...and that's the root of a lot of these issues for me. The industry profits off a culture that is obsessed with brides.
Liz: Totally. And what, in a sentence, is "bride culture"?
Amy: It's a culture that tells women: here's what you should aspire to be. Above all else, we're MOST excited when you've been proposed to...and then the industry makes a lot of money off of it. Does that make sense? It's basically a patriarchal society, which values women for their marital status above all else.
Liz: Totally. So what do you think the first step is to changing cultural expectations around what it means to be a bride, and consequently, a bridesmaid?
Amy: I think being a bridesmaid needs to mean so much more than wearing the same dress, shoes, and spending a bunch of money helping the bride feel and look "perfect."
Liz: Well said. What should being a bridesmaid mean?
Amy: For both men and women, I'd like to see a more thoughtful approach to the ceremony. At the heart of it, bridesmaids and groomsmen should be the ones that you lean on in trying times throughout your marriage. So, it'd be so amazing to see your friends taking a vow with you in ceremonies to also be alongside you throughout the marital journey—for them to feel invested, not just financially in a dress or shoes, but in the relationship. It takes a village—and I think we've forgotten that along the way.
Liz: I love that suggestion. Can you share other alternatives that you have seen or thought of that you really think uplift the role of the bridesmaid and groomsman and give it real meaning?
Amy: I've loved the knot tying ceremonies I've seen. They feel a little goofy and then always add this super sentimental feeling of togetherness once it's all done. It feels less presentational and more real since the wedding party has to do something together and isn't just being "talked at" while they stand in front the entire time.
Liz: Oh, I haven't heard of this. What is a knot tying ceremony?
Amy: It was last June that I had a couple do it with their wedding party. For my couple, they tied a fisherman's knot, one of the "strongest knots of all." So, they had their wedding party pass the chord all the way down so that it was long enough for all the wedding party to hold as the bride and groom tied the knot. So, it symbolizes that while they make this decision and afterwards, they have their friends holding tightly onto their union—offering their hands of support throughout.
I also love the Jewish tradition of the blessings—allowing the wedding party and close family and friends to offer a blessing or even a word of support is so meaningful.
Liz: That's sweet. I like that. Can you say more about the Jewish tradition of blessings?
Amy: Yes, the "seven blessings" is a common tradition in Jewish weddings. The couple chooses seven of their family and friends to read these blessings, and they are more/less traditional depending the route you take. The couple I worked with were this awesome feminist Jewish couple who decided to change the pronoun of God to a gender-neutral pronoun and allowed their guests to add in their own blessings on top of the traditional ones. It was so sweet and personal. I love moments like that. They take you out of the super-structure of a ceremony and give real room for authenticity.
Liz: That sounds lovely.
Amy: I MAY have teared up.
Liz: Do you think wedding parties should continue to exist? Is there room to make them something meaningful, or do you think they are inherently icky?
Amy: I don't think they're inherently icky, but I do think it takes a proactive approach to make them feel genuine. I like calling weddings love parties because I think it better encompasses the event itself. It's an event that brings together all your favorite people to celebrate not just your new union, but all the love and support that has been with you before this romantic love—and these people very well may carry you in the valleys of your marriage, too. I say to my best friend, Sofie, all the time: YOU are my soulmate. Don't get me wrong, I'm in love with my boyfriend. He is my partner and I can't imagine my life without him, but Sofie is the one that nursed all my broken hearts before him—and on my wedding day someday, I'll be celebrating our love just as much as my partner's and my love.
So, bridesmaids, groomsmen, groomsquads, bridesmen, etc.—I'm all for it. But it's gotta dig deeper than pretty outfits and fake smiles.
Liz: I love that. Do you have any other bridesmaid advice, tips, or trends you're tired of before I let you go?
Amy: I'm really sick of the bouquet toss. Can that go away?
Liz: Is that still happening? (laughs)
Amy: Almost none of my brides do it, but it has happened once or twice...I'm just like, women are not DYING to get married already. Get over it. But #masculinitysofragile so...
Liz: Yeah, that one's rough. Especially coupled with the garter bizarre-ness.
Amy: Ew. Ew. I have never seen that at one of my weddings. THANK GOD.
Liz: Well, that is encouraging!
Amy: Ha. It's the little things, Liz. Also last thing: I do think as a culture, we (as brides) and we (as women friends of brides) need to relax on this issue A LOT. I hear it on either end and A) you do not need to rank your friends. If it's feeling that way, don't do the bridesmaid thing! You will feel SO much better. And then B) if you're hurt that your friend didn't ask you to be a bridemaid, get over it. There are SO many different expectations, be it familial or cultural, when a bride makes those decisions, and don't let your ego be bruised in the process.
Amy: Basically, we need to give less of a shit about weddings in general. This is coming from a wedding planner who loves a good freakin' love party, so you know there's NO BS behind that statement.
Liz: Yeah, it is tough. I've had a friend tell me she regrets not asking me to be in her bridal party because years after her wedding we are now closer than she is to some of her bridesmaids. That made me realize that guilt can hold over from the bridesmaid stuff, and that's really a shame.
Amy: Yeah, it's powerful stuff! It's like one decision you made in a sea of decisions in a stressful season of your life (as wedding planning often is) gets lorded over you forever. Women have enough guilt we hold onto. I try to encourage my brides to let go as much as possible.
Liz: And I realized I also feel strange about the fact that I had a bridal party and demanded quite a lot from my friends, not as much financially, but definitely emotionally. If I were getting married today, I would do it all differently. Thank you for having this conversation, Amy.
Amy: Thank you for chatting with me! It's not an easy topic. It really isn't. So, I appreciate Catalyst, as always, diving into these messy topics.
Liz: Yes, weddings are endlessly ripe with really real conversations about all of the relationships in our lives. I'm happy to know wedding professionals like you who are working to de-toxify the wedding industry from the inside. You are the change makers!
Amy: Aw, shucks. Just doing my best and lucky to have the best vendors and organizations fighting the good fight right along with me.
Liz: Awesome. Thank you so much!