Book review: Becoming a professional bridesmaid

By: Rabbi Rachel Esserman

While I’ve considered many different occupations throughout the years, it never crossed my mind to become a professional bridesmaid. Not that I have anything against bridesmaids – I was one twice – but it seems an odd occupation. Jen Glantz didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming one either. In fact, if her professional or personal life had been going well, she might never have considered the option. However, almost of her friends were married or getting married, and her current job barely paid enough to cover her part of the rent. After being a bridesmaid for too many weddings and being asked to stand up for two more friends, Glantz had had enough. So late one Friday night when she wasn’t thinking clearly, Glantz placed an ad on Craigslist.com advertising her services as a professional bridesmaid – and the ad went viral. If you think this is the plot of a chick-lit novel, you’re wrong: “Always a Bridesmaid [For Hire]: Stories on Growing, Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers” (Atria Books) is a memoir.
As with how she seems to have approached most of her life, Glantz started a business without a clue to what that meant. This fits what occurred after she graduated from college: after four years of school, she had no job and no real idea of what she wanted to do next. This lack of planning is the reason she found herself living in her childhood bedroom in Florida – that is, until she finally saved enough money to move to New York. At least her roommate works out, although it was still very difficult for her to find a job. When Glantz does, the pay is so awful it’s a good thing she loves cheap pizza: she practically lives on it. At the time, though, she enjoys partying with her friends until all hours of the morning and is in no hurry to settle down. Unfortunately, her friends not only find significant others and marry, they begin to have children. In the meantime, her love life is going nowhere. As a help, her Jewish mother sends her information about dating sites and, at one point, looks at her JDate profile in order to suggest men Glantz should contact.
While this might make “Always a Bridemaid” sound depressing and Glantz pathetic, the opposite is actually true. It takes courage – and a boatload of naiveté – to start a business because you feel you can make money from your expertise as a bridesmaid. What does that expertise consist of? One very important piece of knowledge is how to hold a bride’s elaborate wedding gown so she can pee without damaging said dress. Knowing how to handle a crisis is another skill. In fact, at one wedding, Glantz had to find limos (the mother of the bride booked them for the wrong week), discover the location of a missing bridesmaid dress and deal with two groomsmen who were suffering so badly from hangovers they weren’t going to be able to walk down the aisle. All of this was successfully handled without the bride ever learning there was anything to worry about.
Glantz did her work undercover: she disguised her identity and would pretend to be a longtime friend of the bride. Some bridesmaids were suspicious of this very good friend whom they’d never heard of, even if she knew all about the bride. Others wanted to friend Glantz on Facebook, a request she couldn’t accept because she used a fake last name. Keeping each bride’s name and story straight was also difficult, and sometimes Glantz would have a meltdown, as she did when traveling to her second wedding in one weekend and her flight was cancelled.
The author keeps her story light and humorous. She also offers a satirical look at different parts of her experience, for example, a list of what you can do with bridesmaids’ gowns in a chapter called “Oh, You Can Totally Wear It Again.” My favorites included “10. Mail the dress to someone random. Everyone loves getting stuff in the mail! Box up the dress and add a note saying, ‘One single girl’s trash is another single girl’s treasure.’ Google Map a random location and let FedEx do the rest.” and “13. Wear it to a book club.” In addition, she lists “Thirty Wedding Songs I Never Want to Dance to Again” in a chapter of the same name.
What is interesting about “Always a Bridesmaid [For Hire]” is that it has no traditional happy ending. None of the dates Glantz writes about turn into long-term relationships. In fact, some barely make it through the first meeting. The author doesn’t seem despondent about this because she notes that she still barely feels like an adult, let alone someone mature enough to settle down with one person and have a family. Not that she doesn’t want to get married at some point, but her experience as a bridesmaid for hire teaches her about the many different forms that love can take and offers her an unusual perspective on what love really means.
This odd, quirky memoir was easy and fun to read. It’s also clear that publishing this book gave Glantz great satisfaction. In her acknowledgments, she writes, “This book wouldn’t exist if not for all the people who told me it never would... I can’t thank you enough for telling me I wasn’t good enough. That kept my fingers dancing on the keyboard and my mind racing with ways to make this happen, when it almost didn’t.” While being a bridesmaid for hire may not have always been a joy, it seems like writing about the experience was.