I was a junior in college in my third year of playing volleyball for Stevenson U. Every year, the coach assigned older members of the team with younger members of the team so “bigs” could show the “littles” the ropes and make them feel welcome. That’s how I met Shelly. She was a sophomore, and we were paired together. Not that me being a year older than her meant I had any more relevant life experience, impressive knowledge to pass along or was in any way qualified to lead another person younger than me. She was even better at volleyball than I was.

A friendship blossomed with each college party, away-game bus ride, boyfriend, professor and coach. We hit volleyballs at each other (mostly on purpose), got drunk, evaded law enforcement officials (don’t ask), gave boys a run for their money, helped each other through internships, hangovers, outfits, papers and classes (here’s lookin’ at you, Chip) and gave blood, sweat and tears to a sport we loved and coaches we didn’t. We did late-nights, early mornings, long weekends and managed to push each other through every step of the way. Typical college stuff if you’re a full-time NCAA varsity student-athlete.

But none of that prepared me for being Shelly’s bridesmaid.

It was my first time being in a wedding party and upon the first “bridesmaid planning party” it was pointed out I was the oldest in the group at 28, but my “spirit felt more like 25.” (Can I put that on my resume, Kate?)

Apparently the difference between 28 and 25 is about 50 group text messages per hour. My texting thumbs are mere amateurs compared to those other finger-tapping gurus. Since some of the girls were cross-country, I immediately assigned emoticons to each of their contacts so I could start to make some sense of the group messaging chaos that is planning a bridal shower with six fast-texting women in the 21st century.

When I accepted Shelly’s invitation to be a bridesmaid, I was overwhelmed with honor. I wanted to do nothing but make her proud and do whatever I could to further confirm her good choice in bridesmaids. Clearly, Shelly had excellent decision-making skills since she selected me as one of them. But, when I met the other women I would stand next to on Shelly’s big day, I wondered what made her choose them. And, the more I got to know each of them, the clearer it was, and it wasn’t hard to see.

From the beginning, I thought surely I loved Shelly the most. Certainly no one could match me in regards to adoration of her (I might be a little competitive). However day-by-day, I learned they loved Shelly, too. They loved her just as much as I did. And even though we were mostly strangers to each other, we had that in common.

I came into the wedding party with one friend, and left with five more. A wolf pack, if you will, from which my 25-year old spirit animal learned to text faster, drink harder, sing louder (in group karaoke, of course), style better and love more than ever.

The wedding is now over, our bridesmaids duties fulfilled. And now I take delight in following each of my new friends in their own very different life paths from child-rearing to new homes to new jobs and new travels and beyond.

My heart actually aches for the bridesmaid pursuing the golden unicorn of academia even though it means being away from the love of her life for a year (a pretty stellar dude, if you ask me). I literally squealed out loud in excitement when I spotted photos of the other bridesmaid’s new perfectly designed southern home, and even stole ideas from her fantastic interior design. I cried laughing at the photos one bridesmaid posted of her student’s spelling test promptly displaying “penis” by accident. I absolutely adore (and maybe worship) the presence of another bridesmaid and her beautiful infant daughter (I’m a little obsessed with her little girl, which is really just an extension my love for this bridesmaid). And another bridesmaid confirms/denies almost every fashion decision I make on a daily basis via text message.

These girls never became my friends. They became my family.

So if you ever find yourself a bridesmaid, here are my tips, in summary of course: first, assign specific emoticons to each of the other bridesmaids in the group text (you might go crazy otherwise) and second, don’t befriend the bridal party. Because weddings aren’t about making friends. They’re about making family.

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