Sure, attending a destination wedding can cost a pretty penny, but once the logistics are down, it’s basically just a mini-vacay (with your besties and an open bar). But when you’re asked to actually be in a wedding, it’s a whole other level of commitment. Being a bridesmaid doesn’t just mean finding a bridemaid dress in the right cut and color. You can easily find yourself suddenly roped into throwing a bridal shower, jetting to a destination bachelorette party and dealing with hundreds of frantic emails and texts.
If you’re not feeling up for bridesmaid duty this time around, it’s okay to opt out. We asked relationship and etiquette expert April Masini, author of four relationship advice books and the popular Ask April advice column, for tips on how to politely decline the bridesmaid invitation, for any reason.
B+C: Being a bridesmaid can be a huge financial hardship. What’s a delicate way to let the bride know that you can’t participate because of the expense?
AM: It’s really easy to get money confused with love. You can care about someone without spending money and you can spend money on someone you don’t care about. In other words, if you can’t afford the job of bridesmaid, then be upfront about it. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your friend (or sister). It just means you can’t afford the job!
Tell the bride you love her and you wish you could be in her wedding, but you can’t afford to and that’s the only reason you’re saying no to the honor. When you don’t do this, you create confusion by making her guess about your hesitance and your failure to show up to bridesmaid duties. So be honest — even if it’s difficult — as soon as possible. And if you can’t say it face to face, then write it down and give her the message that way. But do it sooner rather than later. Your bride friend will have all sorts of emotional reactions, but by telling her as soon as you can, you give her the chance to choose someone else.
B+C: How would you advise declining a bridesmaid invitation if you’re too busy for all of the responsibilities that come with the role? Or is there a polite way to establish boundaries with the bride so that if you do accept, it doesn’t take over your life?
AM: I think this is the most common reason that people turn down the bridesmaid honor — they don’t have the time to be there in the way that a bridesmaid should. Sometimes this is because of work deadlines, college or simply having kids who are demanding. Whatever the reason, be upfront and gracious. Don’t back your bride into a corner by saying something like, “I don’t how you thought I was going to have time to do this…,” because if that’s what comes out, it’s because your way of coping is to blame the bride — not to take a neutral tone.
Again, tell the bride you love her and wish you could do this, but because of your obligations to (fill in the blank here with whatever is keeping you from accepting), you’re humbly declining the offer. And don’t forget to tell her how happy you’ll be to be at the wedding for her big day.
B+C: What should you do if you’re asked to be a bridesmaid by acquaintances/co-workers you aren’t close to and want to decline?
AM: Always decline graciously and gracefully — even if the invitation seems out of place, given your relationship with the bride. Don’t be curt. Even though you’re surprised that someone you feel you barely know has invited you to be part of their wedding party, they have a reason that you don’t know about or understand.
Respect their feelings. And besides, it costs you nothing to be nice. Thank them for the honor and tell them you’re very happy for their good fortune, and then let them down gently by saying something like, “I’m not able to be a bridesmaid at this time. I’ve got family obligations that are keeping me from doing so.” And then end with an upbeat, “I know it’s going to be a beautiful wedding, and I’m very happy for you.” And if you intend to send a gift, ask where they’re registered.
B+C: Can you advise on a good way to turn down the bridesmaid invitation if you (this is awful) don’t like the bride? Like if you were asked as a friend/family member of the groom, but she’s really not a pal of yours.
AM: There are lots of awkward wedding party invitations, and if you don’t want to be part of that inner circle, then gracefully, swiftly and briefly decline. “Thank you so much for the honor. I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to do it. Where are you registered? I’d love to get you something special for your wedding.” End of story. Keep it light and on the surface so you don’t dredge up more reasons not to like the person!
If you don’t want to be a bridesmaid because the bride or her family did something to you that you can’t forgive, like accidentally ran over your dog last year or dated your brother and broke his heart by going off with this guy who’s now the groom — keep your “no” short and simple. And if you have to distance yourself from the person so you don’t fly into a rage, write an email or a snail mail letter simply thanking them for the honor and declining. Don’t give a reason — it will open up a can of worms. Just say thank you and good luck.
B+C: What do you think is the most polite and appropriate form of communication for telling someone you can’t be in their wedding? Phone call, text, email, in-person? Something else?
AM: The best way to tell someone you can’t be in their wedding is face to face. It’s really the most respectful way to do this. In fact, it’s a little like a mini break-up. So the closer you can get to doing this in-person, the better.
However, time is also of the essence. You want to let them know you’re not going to be able to take the job before a few weeks pass and you get an assignment and plans have been made. At that point you’ve got two problems: 1) telling the bride you’re not going to be a bridesmaid and 2) apologizing for being tardy and screwing up her plans that have been made since she asked you and you tacitly accepted. So if you can’t get to her within days of her asking, then pick up the telephone and call her — and don’t leave the message on her voicemail. Tell her on the phone, not the answering machine.
Third choice is an email, but there has to be a very good reason for emailing instead of doing this in-person or on the phone because the email is distancing, and that distance plus the rejection is going to leave her hurt. And face it, you shouldn’t want to hurt her — you just want to thank her for the honor and then reject the offer.
Have you ever declined an invite to be a bridesmaid? Tell us how you did it and tweet your tips @BritandCo!