Bring on the Bridesmaids!

Demanding diva or just downright difficult, here's how to handle attendants with attitude.

Bridesmaids come in all shapes and sizes—and temperaments. And that means you need to consider your choices carefully. If you're concerned about a potential maid's ability to live up to her obligations, think twice before asking her, and save yourself trouble later on, says Kate Chynoweth, author of the Bridesmaid Guide: Etiquette, Parties and Being Fabulous (Chronicle Books). "If you want good bridesmaids, always choose good friends," she adds. "You know they really care about you and they're naturally going to be thrilled about your upcoming wedding and happy to be helping you plan it." That's the best-case scenario, of course, but here's what to do when reality doesn't quite live up to the ideal.

The Bridesmaid-zilla

If ignoring bad behavior doesn't work, you may have to initiate a heart-to-heart talk. Be kind but firm, so that your bridesmaid feels that you're genuinely interested in making things better. This gives her a chance to open up—and acknowledge—some of her feelings, which is a good way to get her to change her ways.It happens to the best of us: A dear friend or relative develops a bad attitude. Jill Notkin of Boston, Massachusetts, had a pal who complained about everything from the color of the dresses Jill selected to the dates for the shower and bachelorette party to the wedding-day schedule. This kind of behavior sometimes means that a friend is jealous of the attention you're getting, or even jealous that you're getting married. "She may be trying to burst your bubble," says Sharon Naylor, author of The Bridesmaid Handbook (Sourcebooks). "Don't take the bait," she advises. "Too many brides focus on the troublemaker and don't absorb all the happiness and goodness from the people who care about them and are doing everything right." Notkin decided to concentrate on the positive. "After this girl's third or fourth complaint, I made a conscious decision not to let her ruin the pleasure I was taking in planning my wedding. Once I stopped paying attention to her, she stopped complaining about everything."

The Reluctant Bridesmaid

It is altogether reasonable to have certain expectations of your bridesmaids, as long as you remain flexible and keep in mind that all of them have demanding lives. But when one of your bridesmaids just can't get around to ordering her dress, isn't participating in planning your shower or bachelorette party or is generally unresponsive to your requests, you may start wondering what's really going on. Give her a friendly phone call. Say that you've noticed that she hasn't been part of things, and ask if she's been having a tough time at work or at home. If she apologizes and promises to get on the stick, that's fine—she may have just needed your attention. If your questions elicit a huffy and defensive response, she may be conveying to you that she resents the demands on her time. If you pick up on strong negative feelings, you should consider other options. "You might graciously offer her an out by saying something like, ‘I know you're swamped and I understand if the extra commitments are simply too much for you right now,'" says Chynoweth. At that point she'll need to either step up or step down.

The Deadbeat Bridesmaid

"The first step to take with all your attendants is to make sure they understand the deadline-driven nature of weddings and the pressure on brides to finalize their plans," says Chynoweth. They may not realize just how stressful the process is, so be clear about it from the start. Otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with a clueless person who will stress you out even more. If a member of your bridal party just can't seem to get with the program—say, she keeps putting off helping your maid of honor set up the shower—it's your job to talk to her. Does she know what's expected? Can she handle it? "If it's just a lack of awareness of what the job entails, a short conversation may be all it takes to jolt this bridesmaid into action, claims Chynoweth.

Linda Blair of Chicago, Illinois, was puzzled by one friend's lax behavior. "She was never around and didn't return calls for days," she says, "and I thought she didn't want to be part of things or that she was just lazy or disorganized. My feelings were hurt, and I was ready to tell her to forget it. Then I decided to talk to her and explain my concerns. Once I spelled it out for her, things got better. The night of the rehearsal dinner she took me aside and said how genuinely happy she was to be part of my wedding. We've actually gotten to be better friends since then."

The Budget-Challenged Bridesmaid

You love her and want her to be in the bridal party, but you know she's making much less money than your other pals. What to do? Always try to be considerate when selecting items you expect them to pay for. "Show your attendants that you're looking out for them, and not just thinking of your own needs," urges Naylor. "For some people, a $400 dress is no big deal. But for the budget-crunched person, that's going to hurt. If you don't have your heart set on a particular dress, then give your bridesmaids some fashion freedom. It will definitely be worth it." Chynoweth adds, "You might pick a color and let them choose their own dress style in that shade."

Should you help out by kicking in some money? If you have allowed for enough room in your wedding budget, then certainly make the gesture. Naylor says, "It's not required, and many may not be able to afford it themselves, but some brides do hold it as a top priority to have certain bridesmaids there on the day. So they'll go ahead and pay for at least part of the expenses." In lieu of a gift, some brides may even choose to spring for the bridesmaid's dress—it's up to you.

The Obligatory Bridesmaid

Do you really have to ask your fiance's stepsister or your long-lost cousin to join the bridal party? This can be a tricky situation. Generally, if you're concerned that a family relationship may be jeopardized by not including someone, then you should ask her. Let's say you happen to know that the stepsister would love to be a bridesmaid. Then it makes sense to ask her—but be sure that you make her feel just as welcome and special as your other attendants. It's excellent diplomacy to bring in a member of your spouse's family who wants that honor, says Chynoweth. And you can congratulate yourself for doing your part in establishing good relations with your in-laws.

You may face other kinds of obligatory situations that can be dealt with differently. By the time Lisa Coviello of Montreal, Canada, got married, she had grown distant from many of the friends in whose weddings she'd been in years past. "I found that I didn't feel comfortable asking a few of these women to join my bridal party, so I decided if I hadn't been in touch with them for more than two years, I would not include them," says Coviello. "I worried a little, but it all worked out fine."

Of course most of your bridesmaids will turn out to be perfect gems. They'll be there for you when you feel overwhelmed, they'll wear the gown you choose without a single complaint, they'll do anything and everything for you to make sure your big day goes exactly the way you want it to. And this is the way it should be for every bride. Just don't forget to thank them when it's over, not just with a gift, but with some big hugs and genuine appreciation. And pat yourself on the back for having earned the love and support of such wonderful friends.