The promotion board ranked me high this year. If they had unlimited promotions then they'd promote everyone on the high-ranked list. They don't, so they have to cut off the list somewhere. I wasn't ranked high enough so I'm just a bridesmaid instead of the bride. They'll put a numbered ranking in my record so I should see how close I was to the cut line.
I was mid-ranked last year during my first promotion review so that's an improvement. Mid-ranked doesn't receive a numbered ranking. I was just one of the lumps in the middle not yet worthy of promotion.
Being a bridesmaid doesn't get me anything. Well, it's supposed to allow me to bid on an assignment as if I was promoted, but I already have my next assignment. It used to give us a Meritorious Step Increase (MSI) which would be a pay raise, but they split that program off to a separate process.
Bridesmaid is an appropriate term because it doesn't mean I'm any more likely to get promoted next year. There will be a different promotion board evaluating a changing group of promotables next year. You could remain always a bridesmaid and never the bride. This might be me down the road: