Dear Uncommon Courtesy,
Can you turn down being a bridesmaid and still be friends with the person? I still love her and want to go to the wedding but don’t know how to turn her down. It’s far away from my hometown so it’d be too expensive for me, plus I don’t know her fiance or anyone else in the wedding party that well, and I’m prone to social anxiety in these sorts of situations.
Not The Best Bridesmaid
Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette suggests you take great care in choosing attendants. “Participating in someone else’s wedding is both a pleasure and a responsibility,” and you should consider if this person is reliable, considerate, courteous and fun. The book also brings up “the number of prewedding events requiring a financial contribution or gift seems to be on the rise,” and that “people in their twenties and thirties may find themselves invited to attend or participate in several weddings in the same year,” so to keep that in mind when asking people to participate in yours. However, there is no explicit advice on how to say no to that request.
Jaya: This is a great question, because as much as we’re like “turn down being a bridesmaid if you can’t do it!” we haven’t actually spoken about how to do that, or what the likely ramifications are.
Victoria: It’s a hard thing, and it definitely depends on the reason.
Jaya: To me there are two categories of reasons: circumstantial and, I guess, non-circumstantial. Some people would want to be a bridesmaid, but it’s too expensive, or they don’t have the time, or something like that. And some people, if they had all the money and time and freedom in the world, would just not want to be a bridesmaid. Here it seems like a little of both.
Victoria: If she does want to be a bridesmaid but there are these obstacles, sometimes they can be worked around. So let’s go on the assumption that in her gut she just doesn’t want to do it. I always assume that brides and grooms will be reasonable about this stuff, but that is not true.
Jaya: A lot of people see their wedding party as the ultimate expression of friendship, even though being a good friend and being a good bridesmaid are very different skill sets! And even within being a bridesmaid, there’s a difference between being good at helping plan a wedding and being able to afford to attend four different parties.
Victoria: I mean, I think you should stay away from making excuses like “it’s too far away” or “too expensive,” unless those are the only hurdles. Because you run the risk of the bride negotiating with you about that stuff.
Jaya: Right. I mean, if that’s your only hurdle, fine. But if you really don’t want to be a bridesmaid and you try to get out of it by saying “I can’t afford it” and the bride offers to pay for all your flights, then you’re stuck with having to say “well actually, it’s just that I don’t want to do it.” And that’s part of what you have to figure out yourself.
Victoria: I think you need to have a heart to heart with the bride, say you love her and want to support her, but being a bridesmaid is not something you think you can do, and that you’d better support her as a guest.
Jaya: Yes, and perhaps offering something in return, like helping to craft stuff. I think the best outcome is not you turning it down, but having a talk and you coming to a mutual agreement that this isn’t the best job for you. But again, easier said than done.
Victoria: If pressed maybe you can bring up the money and anxieties, but maybe just say something like “You know me so well, and we’re close enough that you’d ask me to be a bridesmaid, but since we’re so close you know that this kind of thing just isn’t my thing, and I don’t want to be the kind of bridesmaid that disappoints you.” And if they take it the wrong way and can’t understand that, maybe it’s not a great friendship.
Jaya: That’s great, though I imagine a lot of people would press for further details. Just like, “I don’t want to be a bridesmaid” quickly followed by “Why not?” A lot of people just won’t take “it’s not my thing” for an answer. Because the other side of this is thinking about the compromises you make for friendship. Given the choice, no, on most days I do not get up at 7am to get my makeup done and put on a dress I spent $200 on, even though when I’ve been a bridesmaid I had a blast most of the time. You do it because you want to support your friend. Like anything there are parts that are a hassle and parts that are fun, and it’s a balance of what you know you can do that’ll make them (and sometimes you) happy, and what’s too much.
Victoria: If people are just ambivalent about it, I’d encourage them to suck it up and do it. But if you’re dead set against it, you should bow out instead of participating and just being a downer the whole time. And you can even try to negotiate yourself. Maybe say, like, “I want to support you but in this time in my life, the only thing I can do is stand up with you on the day, and if that is fine with you, I’d be happy to accept.”
Jaya: I think there are three stages to this, possibly. The initial rejection, the minor explanation, and then the firm no. Like, “I’m sorry, I love you but I don’t think being a bridesmaid is the right job for me, but I’m so happy for you and can’t wait to celebrate with you on the day.” Which can possibly be followed by “why don’t you think you’d be good as a bridesmaid?” To which you’d have to explain…something. And this depends on whether you just flat out don’t want to be a bridesmaid, or if you would were it not for money/travel/time.
Victoria: Or if you admit that you have crippling social anxiety and this would just not be good for you.
Jaya: Yeah, and ideally that’ll end the conversation, but of course some people won’t take no for an answer, which is where we move into the firm no/possible friendship strain.
Victoria: At that point, you probably just keep repeating that it’s not possible for you to be a bridesmaid, and that’s your final answer.
Jaya: Yes, and realize that no matter how careful you are and how much you make it about your issues, not theirs, there are people who will see this as a major blow.
Victoria: Which is why you shouldn’t do it lightly.
Jaya: And you know your friends best, you know who would possibly take it well and who wouldn’t.
Victoria: And if they take it really badly, maybe they’re not a great friend. I mean, I would feel terrible if I put a friend through a huge financial and emotional burden just for the sake of them standing next to me on this day.
Jaya: I guess it just comes back to our standard advice that both sides should be reasonable. If you’re a bride, try to understanding and not ask too much, or understanding if what you consider normal is “too much” for someone else. And if you’re a potential bridesmaid, understand that you’re going to take on some extra stuff in your life for the sake of a good friend, and weigh what you can handle and what you can’t.