When you think 'wedding', what springs to mind? A happy bride and groom? Love, flowers and vows? What about stress, drama and disasters? Most of the time, they're all true.
One person who knows this all too well is Jen Glantz, a 34-year-old professional bridesmaid and founder of the company Bridesmaid for Hire.
Jen was in this position herself in her early twenties when she was asked to be a bridesmaid almost a dozen times. When what she described as 'distant friends' asked her to step up to the role, she began venting to her roommate about always being lumped with the responsibility.
Her roommate replied: "Duh, Jen! That’s because you’re good at it. You’re like a professional bridesmaid or something.”
That's when the lightbulb clicked on.
"We’re the best friend you always wished you had when you needed that friend the most. Consider us your secret weapon, your undercover bridesmaid, your judgment-free and unbiased professional pal," Jen told TYLA.
When the big day rolls around, they're in charge of making sure everyone is stress free - all while acting like they've not been hired to do exactly that.
Jen booked her first client after putting an advert on Craigslist, and over the last eight years has attended hundreds of weddings for clients across the US.
In the role, she's had to help end an engagement, walk a dog down the aisle, find a missing groom, kick out wedding crashers, distract a mother of the bride and even use her bare hands to scoop up animal poo from the makeshift aisle at an outdoor wedding.
She told TYLA there's 'always something fresh, new, and challenging that happens' at each wedding, and one perfect example of that is the time Jen had to help a bride call off a wedding just minutes before she was due to walk down the aisle.
The arrangements had been made, the groom was ready and Jen was in place ready to handle any issues that came her way. It was at that point that the bride realised she 'didn't want to get married'.
Rather than just disappearing without a word, the bride recruited Jen to break the news, asking her to speak to her fiancé and explain that she wouldn't be meeting him at the alter, after all.
That's not the only engagement Jen has had to help break off while on the job - in fact that was once the exact reason she was hired.
Jen explained: "I had someone hire me to end their engagement because they had nobody else to be honest with or seek help from. She told me she fell out of love with the person so I helped her create a plan that included getting a therapist, finding a new place to live, and deciding how to share the news with her fiancé."
As she takes on many duties of a best friend or family member, Jen's job involves her adopting a background which can help explain her presence at the wedding.
Many clients don't want other guests to know Jen is being paid to be there, so in the past she's pretended to be 'a friend from yoga class, grad school, high school, study abroad, a neighbour, [or] even just someone they met through a friend of a friend'.
She was once even able to pretend to be a cousin, but only because there were no other family members there to catch her out.
Her undercover status means she has to avoid the truth when people tell her she looks familiar, and she's adopted a convincing response by asking the person if they might know each other from somewhere local.
Thankfully, though, Jen has managed to go eight years without getting caught. It helps that she's able to keep her distance by staying so busy throughout the day, when she's 'running around and handling emotions, drama, and problems'.
Jen, who has also written a book about her work, explained: "I rarely find myself in deep conversations with people. If a conversation goes longer than a few minutes, I'll say: it was so great meeting you, I'm going to go to the bathroom / or get a drink / or see if the bride needs anything."
Having an undercover bridesmaid doesn't come cheap, and Jen's packages start at $2,500 (£2,000), with prices varying depending on whether clients just want to hire a bridesmaid for the day, or for every event running up to the wedding.
But Jen insists the price is worth it, as her team is 'there for everything', saying: "If we’re there for your big day, our number one goal is to make sure you, and your guests, are stress-free. Hand us over your to-do list and your worries. We’re ready for it all!"
Among the cheaper services Jen offers is a $375 (£300) Maid of Honour speech package, which asks the designated Maid of Honour to fill out a questionnaire about the bride so Jen can write their speech for the big day.
Her staff go through a training course and are prepared for situations they might run in to at weddings, but largely Jen looks for employees who have 'great social and people skills, who can handle challenges, think quickly, and handle different types of personalities'.
After all, if you're helping someone escape a wedding, you definitely can't fall apart under pressure.
Following the success of her business so far, Jen is hopeful to run the company for the rest of her life, while also releasing 'more books, products, and services that help support people in the way they need it the most'.
If it's between hiring an undercover best mate to take away your stress, and being dubbed a 'Bridezilla', I know which I'd go for!
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