Getting asked to be a bridesmaid in your friend's wedding is super exciting. Someone you love is getting married, and you get to be a part of the fun. And when it comes time to plan a wedding of your own, you’ll have to make the same decision and decide who to include in your wedding party. If you were a bridesmaid for someone else, do you have to return the favor and make her one of your bridesmaids as well?
Choosing your wedding party can be fun, exciting... and hard. How do you choose between family and friends from all of those different stages of your life? Do you have to include your fiancé’s sister? What about your brother’s girlfriend or your favorite cousin? And will all of those people even get along? It can definitely feel like decision overload. Then throw in the married gals who have asked you to be bridesmaids at their weddings in the past, and the list of bridesmaid options might seem never-ending. But don’t freak out—here’s how to narrow it down.
We consulted experts Amy Nichols and Amanda Hudes for some tips on how to break the news to your friends that won’t be bridesmaids at your wedding.
Meet the Expert
• Amy Nichols is a full-service wedding planner based in Santa Barbara, California planning weddings around the world.
• Amanda Hudes is an event planner, life coach, and author of Smiling Through the Chaos of Wedding Planning.
Make a Final Decision
Decide How Big Your Wedding Party Will Be
If you would much rather have a smaller bridal party (especially if you’re having a more intimate guest list), no one will be offended if your sister and sister-in-law get the nod, but your friends don’t. However, if you’re planning to go all out and have a massive bridal party with a dozen people in matching dresses (and tuxedo-wearing groomsmen to match), it might be worth it to add one more person to the list to avoid hurt feelings.
First, sit down with your partner and decide how big you want your wedding party to be. Your sides of the altar don’t need to be completely even, but it might look awkward to have four people on one side and 10 on the other, so decide on a size you’ll both stick to.
Pick Your VIPs
With size in mind, pick your VIPs. These are the women (and perhaps men) who you have always known would be your bridesmaids (or bridesmen), whether it’s your sister, your lifelong best friend, or a coworker who you instantly clicked with. The no-brainer, “Yes, she should be a bridesmaid!” women are easy to identify, and there’s no question about whether you’ll include them.
Think About The Weddings You've Been In
Finally, move on to the people who asked you to be bridesmaids when they walked down the aisle and consider when they were married, as well as your current relationship with each of them. If the wedding was fairly recent (we’re talking three years or less), it’s polite to ask her to be a bridesmaid in your wedding too. If the wedding was more than a few years ago, you’re not obligated to reciprocate unless you want to. However, if you’re still friends after all those years, you should still invite her to attend your wedding as a guest. And just how close are the two of you, anyway? If your friendship has flourished and thrived over the years (even if she tied the knot right after college and now you’re pushing 30), she’s probably already on that VIP list you just made. But what if you have grown apart significantly or had a falling out? Even if she got married last summer, no one will force you to include her—and she’ll probably understand why she didn’t make the cut.
Remember There Are Non-Negotiables
One situation where you should 100 percent return the favor and have your friend be a bridesmaid at your wedding? If she is married to one of your siblings, is your partner’s sister, or is your own sister. She’s family, so if she included you in her bridal party, you should include her in yours too.
How to Tell Someone They’re Not a Bridesmaid
While nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news (especially when it's one of your closest friends), honesty is the best policy. "This is tough—especially if the friend assumes that they're a bridesmaid. If a friend is hinting or asking for details about dresses and next steps, it is best to be upfront and let them know gently that they aren't a part of your wedding party," says wedding planner, Amy Nichols. "This is a great opportunity to also ask them if they'd like to do a reading during your ceremony, sing or play an instrument if they're musically talented," she says.
While you may be tempted not to bring it up at all, you don't want to run the risk of creating a potentially awkward situation, or worse, ruining a friendship. "If you feel like there might be an elephant in the room if you don't bring it up, have a private conversation with them about how you care deeply for them and decided to keep the bridal party smaller," says creative event and wedding planner, Amanda Hudes,
Let Them Know How Much You Value Them
No matter how you approach the situation, there's no easy way to break the news to a friend. Not only will the conversation likely bring up a range of emotions, but it's hard for both parties involved—no bride wants to be the villain here! Nichols suggests having an open and heartfelt conversation with the person to ensure that there's no drama or bad blood. During this time, be sure to communicate how much you value their friendship and how your wedding day wouldn't be the same without them.
Include Them In Other Parts of Your Event
There are plenty of ways to include your friends in the events and activities leading up to your big day. "If you only have a maid of honor, you could ask your friend to prepare a speech during your rehearsal dinner, or be by your side while you're getting ready," Nichols says. Hudes also echoes this sentiment. "Ask them to hand out programs or read something at the ceremony if you still want them to be a part of your special day in a bigger way than just as a guest," she says. Alternatively, wedding-related events such as your bridal shower and bachelorette party can be a blast to attend without the added stress that comes along with being a bridesmaid.
How do you include friends who are not bridesmaids?
At the very least, you will want to extend an invitation to your wedding. If you have several close friends who are not serving as bridesmaids, you could invite them along with your bridesmaids to a private celebration, like a bridal luncheon, before the wedding. This will help you acknowledge them as close friends, but not as official members of your bridal party.
Do you have to make your friend a bridesmaid if she made you one in her wedding?
No, you don’t have to make them a bridesmaid. Ultimately, it will be your decision whether or not to ask them to be a bridesmaid. It depends on how close you two are, and how long ago you served as her bridesmaid.
How do you decide to cut a friend from your bridal party?
Making selections and cuts to your bridal party list is a difficult decision. You really need to take some time to write out everyone you are considering, from close friends to family members. This may take significant time to resolve, but it’s one of the bigger decisions to make as you plan your wedding.