One of my warmest childhood memories is of a sleepover in third grade. As I lay curled up, I listened to my friend describe her future wedding in impressive detail: trained doves, navy and white outfits worn by the wedding party and the guests, her cool dog as the ring-bearer, hamburgers for all.
I, meanwhile, did not care about a single aspect of my wedding, except choosing my bridesmaids. I feel the same way now. Whenever I see wedding photos, I look first at the batches of bridesmaids and groomsmen: The wreath of fawning faces has always been more fascinating to me than the central couple itself.
To note: I am not engaged. I have no plans of being engaged. I’m not even certain that I want to get married. I can’t really think about my romantic future in that way or my brain gets overheated, the way it does when I think about how the universe is infinite, but without any of the trippy cosmic payoff. And yet: bridesmaids! My mind is constantly reworking the coterie. I imagine asking them to join the party — all casual like, Wanna be my bridesmaid? and then we will giggle in smiley, love-y glee, because I have anointed them as a forever friend.
Thinking about my bridesmaids list will bubble up at the buddings of new friendships — at some late weekend hour of energetic conversation, or while arms are linked walking to the next location, or in happy, sunny silence on the beach. I will think: Could this be a candidate! The inverse decision — someone leaving the happy, imagined girl-cluster — is much worse.
When else can you declare such friend commitment to your best and closest? Besides the wedding, there are a bazillion instances of declarative commitment to romantic partners, and yet there are comparatively few for friendships. Sometimes, peer recommendations are required for joining co-ops or applying to colleges and fellowships. You can pick a friend as your emergency contact, and you can pick a friend to keep your spare keys — declarations that should not be marked by convivial joy but, at least in my experience, come across that way.
Some of the best recent pop culture explorations of adult friendship focus on the dynamics of the wedding party: Bridesmaids, I Love You, Man, Bachelorette, even Wedding Crashers to some extent. In these movies, the marrying couple is usually negligible — but the politics of the bridal parties pose serious questions about friendship: Do people change? How are we shaped by those around us? What do we do when friendships falter? How, essentially, do you pick your people? All difficult questions we ask about our partners — presumably pre-engagement — are questions worth asking about friends too.
My bridesmaids friendship metric might seem like a fixation on labels, but I don’t believe that’s the case. I’m not a label-centric person — I use the term “best friend” fairly liberally. In the words of Mindy Kaling, a “best friend is not a person, it’s a tier.” A bridesmaid-level best friend is someone important, someone big; they’re more than a “three-hour brunch friend,” as Greta Gerwig’s character says in Frances Ha. Three-hour brunch friends are lovely, but a bridesmaid-level friend is the next step. It’s a designation that transcend labels; a way to sort out the significance and trajectory of individual friendships, to acknowledge certain friend qualities like longevity, reliability, consistent affection, and fun.
Ultimately, weddings allow you to publicly declare your people: You gather up those you like and love the most, and position them in a little line. Perhaps you mark them with matching taffeta. (A final aside: Dearest friends, I would never put you in matching taffeta. You guys know you’re going to have to figure out your own outfits, right?) Maybe that’s why bridesmaids’ dresses are famously heinous: True love blinds you.