You’ve surely heard of the saying “always the bridesmaid, never the bride”. I always used to think of myself as ‘always the best friend, never the boyfriend’. It’s something I call the “Bridesmaid Syndrome”. And while it may just seem like a self-absorbed imaginary mental disorder adopted by whiney middle-aged women that can’t hold on to a man because they’d rather fester in their own loneliness – it’s something that runs much deeper than that…
So where does Bridesmaid Syndrome come from? Where most issues come from; childhood.
I guess mine started when I was quite young. I was never anybody’s first choice; not for anything. I was a fat kid with braces, so why would I be? I remember being about ten, and at summer camp, Ellie – the prettiest girl a gay kid in denial had ever seen – chose my best friend Freddy over me. She knew we both liked her, and she knew she could have whichever one she wanted; she chose him. Obviously the fact I made her laugh more meant nothing because Freddy was tanned and naturally athletic, while I was quite clearly neither.
I was never picked first for sports because I was overweight. The girls never fancied me because I wasn’t attractive. The boys made comments because I wasn’t like them. And when enough people give you the impression that you’re not good enough – intentionally or not – it’s something that you start to believe. Every time that you fall short of perfection, it chips away at your self-esteem. It can make you compulsive, obsessive and determined to reach unattainable goals in a number of aspects of life, because you feel that you have something to prove; to demonstrate that you’re just as attractive as Freddy, just as cool as the other kids, and far more successful than your bullies. And in some cases, that desire to win can consume you.
But there’s a number of issues and childhood fuck-ups that lend people to the Bridesmaid Syndrome; abuse, bullying, broken homes and neglect, to name just a few… Because what we experience as children frames how we view ourselves as adults later in life.
When you’re starved of the attention and love that human nature craves, you can become desperate to find it in whichever way possible, no matter how unhealthy or illogical. Many people turn to some form of self-harm, punishing themselves for not living up to other people’s – and their own – expectations. But we tend to keep that pretty quiet. Because nobody wants to be an attention seeker. But hold on, attention seeker? What does that mean? We’re all seeking attention. Attention is human. Which questions whether when we don’t receive attention, do we become inhuman? Is it really that twisted, that we’ve become robots that are simply searching and fighting for a human entity again? It’s not malicious, facetious, or even deliberate – but rather just a natural reaction we have to being broken.
My destruction of choice, was an eating disorder. I was missing the affection and praise of a mother I’d lost at eight, and definitely wasn’t getting it from any of my peers. But being skinny was something I was good at, and each time someone commented on my weight loss, the praise I felt was like finally being the best at something. So I put two fingers
down my throat up to everyone that ever called me fat, and really committed myself. The compliments continued to roll in, and – unlike my dinner – I ate it up. Hunger pains, exhaustion, stomach cramps, and harbouring a shameful secret were nothing compared to the high of being noticed. But as it started to ruin my life, I had to give up on the one thing that was filling my lack of self-worth.
After numerous counselling sessions I got over it, but you think that because you stop making yourself throw-up every day that you’ve flushed your issues away too. But I’d only addressed a problem that was caused by a much deeper issue. I was still missing the attention I always deserved, but never got because cancer robbed me of a mother. I didn’t have that one person that tells you you’re beautiful every day no matter what. And when you have a void that deep, it affects the way you see other people too.
So naturally, you go for all the wrong guys; the one’s that don’t deserve you – because you need some kind of validation – and the ones that don’t value you, because deep down you don’t really value yourself. You’re one of the good ones, but hey, “nice guys always finish last”. And of courses they do, because nobody wants nice guy… not even you.
The feeling can be overwhelming, and forces a lot of people into bouts of depression. While other people go in the opposite direction, and listen to that little niggling voice that tells them that if they can achieve perfection, this feeling will dissipate. I’m the latter; so I workout six days a week in the hopes of being desired. I dream of success so I can prove I’m not as worthless as I feel inside. And I crave fame so that when others appreciate me, I won’t feel as lonely as I do some days.
But for some reason, no matter what you do, the boy you like will always pick the slut with slightly better genes. Thus the soul-destroying feeling returns. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got ropey losers I slept with four years ago banging my door down because I look better than I did, but now they want me, I only seek the affection of someone else that doesn’t. And that rejection still hurts far more than it ever should. And you end up right back where you were, picking yourself apart again.
The thing with Bridesmaids Syndrome is that it’s a very complex concept; deep down you kinda know it’s there, but you don’t actually realise that it’s something that isn’t going to get better until you address it. It’s something that just smacked me in the face one night at 3am after copious amounts of alcohol. I’m sure that recognising it within oneself is an important step, but where do you go next?
Honestly, I don’t know… Perhaps it’s something you’re saddled with and just have to accept. Perhaps one day we’ll realise that it just doesn’t matter as much as we always thought it did. Or perhaps one day we won’t care about who loves us, because we’ll love ourselves enough.
What I do know, is that I currently have no desire to stop chasing the ideal physique and definitely no chance of settling for minor success. I know that while deep down I’m never good enough for myself, or anyone else, that sometimes they’re never good enough for me either. Because one crippling affect of the Bridesmaid Syndrome is that while you believe you’re searching for happiness, you’re actually searching for perfection, in yourself, and others. Constantly looking outward for a fulfilment that you’ll never find until you correct what’s buried inside first.
So for now, I’ll strive to be somebody that’s the furthest cry from who I used to be; with the amazing body, the glamorous lifestyle, the unnecessary fame, because then, maybe one day, I’ll be perfect enough to be someone’s first choice.