Lisa Bonos is a writer and editor for The Washington Post’s Features department. Next month, she’s launching Solo-ish, a blog about unmarried life.
It’s three weeks before her wedding day, and Bryn Haffey has some important decisions to make: Should she go with fake eyelashes or extensions? What should she do about the hideous burlap birds her mother has purchased as decorations for the hipster-chic wedding in Queens? What documents does she need to secure a marriage license, what’s going in the wedding welcome bags, and when will the family rehearse walking down the aisle?
Jen Glantz, a 27-year-old who markets herself as a “professional bridesmaid,” is marching Haffey briskly through her to-do list at a Starbucks in the West Village on a rainy Saturday afternoon. For now, Haffey seems most concerned about makeup and Mom, and Glantz quickly mollifies her.
“You have perfect eyelashes as is,” Glantz tells Haffey, 32. (A reporter present concurs.) “Don’t experiment with anything between now and April 4th.”
“Thank you for boosting my ego,” Haffey responds with a smile.
And those burlap birds? “Tell her to bring them,” Glantz says, “and then, day-of, say no.” She also suggests that Haffey and her mother pick a time once or twice a week to discuss wedding-related details, rather than flood Haffey’s inbox on a daily basis. Glantz even offers to help shoulder the load: “I love moms — send her to me,” she says matter-of-factly.
Glantz is far more than a bridesmaid, but she’s not exactly a wedding planner, either: She does the logistical duties of the latter while providing the emotional support of the former. She’s an unlicensed therapist who’s also your very organized bestie for a few months. The brides who hire don’t lack for friends, she says; they just don’t have anyone nearby with the time or energy to do the stuff a sister, mother or confidante might.
The work rarely involves accompanying a bride down the aisle or planning a bachelorette party (though she can do those things for an additional fee, of course). It’s about finding the most acute sources of anxiety — weddings can be monumentally complex endeavors, with dozens of vendors, hundreds of guests and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses — and neutralizing them. It’s an insurance policy against the emergence of Bridezilla. Glantz says plenty of grooms hire her just so their brides can talk to someone (anyone!) else about wedding minutiae. Phone sessions plus showing up on the big day can run about $1,000 to $2,000. “A wedding planner focuses on the things,” Glantz tells me. “I focus on the people.”
“The professional bridesmaid” tells me she got her nickname after being asked to be a bridesmaid twice in two days in 2014, when she was still technically an amateur. A few days later, Glantz put up a Craigslist ad offering her services for free. The ad went viral, attracting interest not just from brides but also from women who wanted to work for her. For now, it’s just Glantz, though she gets business advice from her older brother, Jay, in Miami and an 82-year-old she found through an organization that offers free business tutoring. Her tutor worries that being immersed in the details of other people’s weddings will make Glantz lonely.
But loneliness isn’t a problem. As Glantz and Haffey finish up the to-do list, they laugh over the story of how Haffey found her fiance, Markus Meuller. (They met at a 2009 wedding; connected on Facebook, where Haffey is a self-described “over-sharer”; and bonded on a first date, during which Meuller had to stop himself from referencing things he already knew about her from social media.) They look like any pair of friends catching up over a Saturday afternoon coffee.
Bridesmaiding has become serious business, even for women who don’t market themselves as professionals. There’s a bachelorette party to plan; a shower to attend; a dress, shoes and gifts to buy; plus all the travel. It gets expensive quickly. According to a 2011 estimate by the personal-finance site Mint.com, the average cost of being a bridesmaid was $1,695. “My reluctance to commit to being a bridesmaid stems from one simple reason: I can’t afford it any more,” Carey Purcell wrote in an essay last year titled “Being a bridesmaid is driving me into bankruptcy.”
Managing a gaggle of lady friends is a lot of work for brides, too. “Having bridesmaids — and worrying about their feelings — can be more trouble than it’s worth,” says Eimear Lynch, who interviewed about 100 bridesmaids for her 2014 book, “The Bridesmaids: True Tales of Love, Envy, Loyalty . . . and Terrible Dresses.” At Lynch’s own wedding this weekend, her only attendant will be her sister, as maid of honor.
Haffey and Meuller also kept the inner circle tight for their wedding: Haffey’s sister was her matron of honor; a friend of Meuller’s was his best man. Haffey’s friends weren’t disappointed not to be bridesmaids, she says: “I’m in my 30s — I feel like no one wants to be a bridesmaid.” Most of her friends, she says, are married and have moved out of the city, so there wasn’t a large circle of people to spend an afternoon shopping for gift-bag candy or trying on lipstick.
With her parents in Detroit and her sister, who had her second child seven weeks before the wedding, in Chicago, Haffey didn’t have a huge support system nearby. Her mother, she says, was “very adamant” that she hire a day-of coordinator, but “they were extremely expensive” — about twice what she paid Glantz. And they didn’t seem as personable, either. “The day-of coordinators were just like, ‘I’m just there the day of,’ ” Haffey recalls. But Glantz was something else entirely. “The way she pitched herself was: ‘You can reach out to me whenever you have anxiety.’ ”
Glantz — who balances her early-morning, nighttime and weekend consults with a full-time job at a Manhattan start-up — steps into this emotionally fraught nuptial universe with some brilliant marketing: Pay her to help manage the stressful logistics and do the stuff your friends or relatives don’t have time for or interest in. A former sorority sister who worked for Alpha Epsilon Phi after college, Glantz says she’s used to parachuting into close groups, quickly diffusing tension and bonding with just about anyone.
Haffey and Glantz hit it off over the things that fast friendships are made of: work, food, TV and music. They both work at male-dominated tech companies. They’re vegetarians. They share a love for “The Bachelor” and Taylor Swift. (So much so that Haffey wrote Swift a five-page letter inviting her to the wedding.) “I feel like we’re friends,” Haffey tells me a few weeks before the wedding, “not someone I hired.”
Glantz’s amity is not just part of the transaction. “When it’s over,” she says, “you kind of feel a little bit of a gap. I’ve been working with Bryn for eight months, and I’m like: I’m going to miss you.”
Seven weeks after the wedding, they’re still in touch. The two of them even have plans to get dinner next week in honor of Haffey’s recent birthday.
“Jen, are you rocking a fanny pack?” Haffey asks. It’s April 4, the big day is here, and Haffey is getting her hair and makeup done — along with her sister, mother and soon-to-be mother-in-law — in a hotel room with a view of the Queens skyline.
“Does that embarrass you?” Glantz banters back.
“I love it,” Haffey says.
In that trusty fanny pack, Glantz has stuffed everything she or the bride might need to survive the 13-hour day: peanut M&Ms for a quick shot of sugar and protein; a baby toothbrush; hair spray; mints; Shout Wipe & Go, for stains; perfume; nail glue; Band-Aids; a Square credit card reader (in case Haffey needs to pay someone); and, of course, a small pack of tissues.
Glantz stands in the middle of the room, double-fisting her cellphone and Haffey’s, ducking out when one of them rings (“Hi, this is Jen. I’m working with Bryn today . . .”).
The lipstick choices have been narrowed to four, and Haffey’s sister, Shannon, picks the shade of red that Glantz suggested. “Make sure you give me the color, and I’ll hold it,” Glantz says. Off it goes into her fanny pack.
Around noon, the women head to the Metropolitan Building, where the ceremony and reception will take place. In a small back room, bride, mother and matron of honor settle in. “Go to the bathroom, drink some water, please,” Glantz says, the first of many reminders to stay hydrated.
When Haffey’s mother helps her into her dress, a slim-fitting, beaded gown with feathers gracing the bottom, Glantz is there to clean up, snipping the temporary straps out of the way.
“You look like a supermodel,” Glantz gushes.
“Now I know why I hired you,” Haffey says.
There’s still the ceremony area to set up, place cards to untangle, a rehearsal to run through and a few vendors to direct. Taylor Swift doesn’t show, leaving a blank space at Table 9.
“Pretty much Jen has been doing my job,” Shannon Haffey, Bryn’s sister and matron of honor, tells me during a break in the set-up. “She’s doing a really good job being pulled in a lot of directions and not getting flustered.”
Soon, Shannon — who hadn’t met or talked to Jen before the wedding day — is taking selfies with her and Bryn.
As the band warms up, Shannon’s 2
Glantz preempted adult tantrums, too. When she spotted the box with those infamous burlap birds, she quietly shoved it under a table.