Five years ago, I spent almost $10k to be the Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding. It was all the money I had in the world at the time, and though her multi-destination events were memorable, I sorely missed the cash once they’d concluded.
Then, another good friend of mine got engaged. After the happy announcement, she took me aside and said, “I love you, but I’m going to let you sit this one out.” Immediately, I felt immense relief. If she had asked me to join her party, after all, I would have said "yes" despite ongoing financial limitations—as I had done a whopping nine times before.
Can it, I've wondered since, be just as sweet and loving to exclude someone from your bridal party as it is to include them?
When I pose the question to bridesmaid veteran Ashley N., her answer is an emphatic yes. “As someone who’s been a bridesmaid over 15 times, I have to say I would never have been hurt not to be asked,” she says. “It's a lot of stress.” According to wedding planner Kristin Banta, this is a common sentiment. “Often, the time and financial commitment associated with being a bridesmaid is more pressure than honor,” she posits. Ashley N., for example, likely spent upwards of $25,000 to participate in those 15 weddings, many of which, she says, involved brides with whom she was not even particularly close.
Former bride Stephanie K., meanwhile, shares the other side of the story; she eventually regretted inviting a friend with financial limitations to join her party. “I tried to insist there was no pressure [to be a bridesmaid], but ultimately she ended up paying for things she couldn't afford and then guilting me about the fact that she had paid to come to my bachelorette as her only vacation that year,” she says, adding that the experience caused an irreversible schism in the friendship.
Still, Stephanie K. acknowledges that it can be difficult to turn down an ask. She, like Ashley N., recounts saying "yes" to a college friend with whom she was no longer close. “Ultimately, the wedding day was pretty awkward as we had grown so far apart,” she says. “I think we both knew I shouldn't have been included in the wedding party, and I would have preferred to spend that time and money elsewhere.”
The whole issue poses a conundrum, and in some cases it seems like nobody wins. Outright omitting a friend, especially a close one, for financial or logistical reasons seems cruel. Asking them to join, however, may cause them to make unreasonable sacrifices out of obligation, FOMO, or some combination of the two which can in turn lead to resentment on both sides. How, then, can you best consider the feelings and financial (or time, or emotional) considerations of others while also prioritizing the wedding you want?
Newlywed Nicole D. proposes inviting such friends to all wedding events on an optional basis, without the bridesmaid title, and Banta supports this strategy. “When you are aware that a close friend is not able to step up to take on the role, the best approach is one of communication,” Banta says. “Share what is behind your decision and find another way in which your friend can be honored, like a toast or a reading, and make sure they are included with the others for important occasions like the bachelorette party, dress shopping, and getting ready day-of.”
Sometimes, however, you may just really want a certain somebody to stand beside you in your wedding, as I suspect was the case for my best friend. In this situation, Nicole D. advises being clear on your plans and expectations upfront. “Then, put the proposal in writing so they have time to think it through and craft a response,” she suggests.
Jen Glantz, founder of Bridesmaid for Hire and author of Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) further champions taking the initiative to reduce costs as much as possible in these scenarios, as bridesmaids can be wary of voicing concerns. "You should find a way to make your wedding affordable for the friend in question," she says. "Pick a less expensive dress or cut back on activities that you're asking your friends to pay for—no one should be excluded from being part of your bridal squad because they simply can't pay for it."
These types of compromises can work, offers Nicole D., who says that when she invited her London-based bestie, who lives overseas, to be in her wedding party, she made it clear that she did not expect her to attend ancillary events such as the bachelorette. “I also paid for her dress in exchange for her coming all the way to the wedding,” she adds.
To me, this balanced exchange sounds exceedingly healthy. If someone is truly a close enough friend that you want them to be in your wedding, you should be able to openly discuss whatever roadblocks exist to making that happen and devise workable solutions. Chances are, they very much want to be there and will spend all of their money to do so if you ask them to; however, if you care more about $450 dresses than you do your bestie's bank account, then it might be best to encourage her to participate in a less official capacity.
After all, you can't put a price tag on friendship...except, when you do. As someone who's gone into debt trying to pay for hers, I can safely say that sometimes, taking the initiative to opt someone out will do exactly what you think asking her to be your bridesmaid—no matter the circumstances—will accomplish: preserve the relationship.