Being a bridesmaid has its perks (first dibs on any cute groomsmen, for example). But sometimes you just can’t fulfill the good friend duty when asked and have to (politely) decline.
“People consider asking someone to be a bridesmaid a tremendous honor,” says Andrea Eppolito of Andrea Eppolito Weddings & Events. For that reason alone, turning down the request has to be done delicately. It’s not the kind of message you hastily send via text. “Do it over lunch or over cocktails,” suggests Eppolito. “At the very least, it should be a phone call and a conversation. You want to give it the respect it deserves. It’s too easy to confuse things over text and e-mail.”
Whether your reason is a woefully empty wallet, a scheduling conflict, or another more personal reason, saying “no” to a pal’s request is tough stuff. Here are some tips for delivering the rough news, depending on your justification for bowing out.
Your Financial Situation Is Suffering
If you can’t stomach shelling out so much cash, you should be upfront about it. But rather than focusing on what you can’t afford, focus on what you can, says psychologist and friendship expert Irene S. Levine, Ph.D. If it’s a destination wedding, say that you can be there as a guest rather than a member of the bridal party. If you can’t fly out of town to the wedding, you might be able to make the local bachelorette party and bridal shower on a shoestring. In some cases, the bride may take you by surprise by saying that she was planning to buy all the bridesmaid dresses or pay for everyone’s hair and makeup, says Eppolito.
You’re Having a Calendar Crisis
Sometimes two really important events fall on the same day and you have to make a difficult decision. Just make sure the plan that takes precedent is something you can’t get out of, like a grandmother’s 90th birthday party or a business trip that would be a career breaker to miss, says Jan Yager, Ph.D., a sociologist, friendship coach, and author of When Friendship Hurts. For the bride whose wedding you skip, be sure to send her an amazing gift, and offer to plan her shower or a viewing party of her wedding photos when they arrive so you’re still involved and showing interest.
If two of your friends’ or family members’ weddings fall on the same day and you get asked to be a bridesmaid in both of them, you should consider these questions when you decide which wedding takes precedent, says Levine: Did one of the brides ask you first? Was one of them in your wedding party? Does one really need you? Have you known one since you were a child? Did one recently experience a loss that would make you want to be by her side? “It’s a hard decision with no cookie-cutter answer,” says Levine. “It depends on your relationship with the bride. What you say should be based on how you made the decision.”
“Sometimes, you may be an A-list friend to someone you consider a B-list friend,” says Levine. “It’s better to say ‘no’ than to do something you’ll regret or feel resentful about.” If you simply aren’t close enough to the bride, or if you have qualms about her soon-to-be husband and don’t feel like you should be part of the wedding, then honesty isn’t the best policy, according to Eppolito. Instead, tell your friend that you’re not in a place where you can give her the time and attention that a bride deserves. Say that you’d rather do something else special for her than be a disappointing bridesmaid.
Once you have your reason ready, plan out the conversation ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard or searching for the right words. Yager says to start with the positive, letting your friend know how much you care about her and your relationship. And Levine advises strongly against procrastination. Tell the bride well before wedding-related events begin, and don’t be wishy-washy about it. Make sure the message is clear.
The bride is probably going to be upset and hurt that you’ve turned her down, and that’s something you have to be prepared to deal with. Levine says to give her time to cool down. Don’t overcompensate and annoy her. Just be as supportive as you can before and after the big day.