It’s the person nobody wants to talk about: that bridesmaid in the wedding party portrait hanging on a family’s wall that their child points to and says, “Mommy, who’s that lady?” And yet, there’s probably a version of That Stranger in the Tangerine Tulle in many of our futures. For some, the fact that you’re no longer in the couple’s life may be caused from naturally drifting apart over years, for others there may be a harsh and sudden break. But for many? Well, it’s because you had no business being in that wedding in the first place.
Wanting to say “no” to being a bridesmaid is far more common an experience than the movies would have you believe. As with many things around weddings, being a bridesmaid is sold as nothing but the highest honour, a labour of love for your bestie—not to mention unadulterated, giddy fun with the girls. But a quick poll of friends revealed that most women who’d been in a wedding party (or several) could name at least one time when they were a surprised or reluctant participant. There were many reasons they cited for not wanting to be a bridesmaid (they didn’t feel like the friendship was close enough, or they just didn’t want the financial burden) but regardless of the grounds, no one felt like they could say no, thanks.
But…what if you could? I’ll be honest: That this was even an option didn’t occur to me until I was chatting with another friend of mine who breezily said she’d turned down offers multiple times—and yes, that included a time she was asked to be the maid of honour. “I just didn’t feel like I was the right person for the job,” she said nonchalantly. “I told her we just hadn’t known each other long enough and I would feel awkward playing such an important role.” She basically it’s-not-you-it’s-me’d her way out of a very tricky situation, and the best part? She’s still friends with the bride…unlike, say, this, uh, friend-of-a-friend who was once in a wedding where the ask came as a surprise because the bride was barely more than an acquaintance, and then felt like an interloper the entire process. This friend-of-a-friend also may or may not have literally not spoken to that bride since the wedding.
So, in the spirit of releasing ourselves from what we feel like we *should* do (and like, sparing people’s children from wondering who that miserable-looking woman in their parents’ wedding was), we tapped the experts for their advice on how to say no to being a bridesmaid. Dramatic friendship break-up not required.
Make your decision
Whether you can say no to being a bridesmaid is actually one of the most common questions that comes up in the online community forum run by therapist Miriam Kirmayer. If you’re someone who’s ambivalent but feeling pressure to say “yes,” Kirmayer recommends approaching it as a decision you’re making, not an obligation you have no way to decline. If your initial inclination is toward “no,” she says you’re wise to stall and take a beat to think about it—as long as you do it considerately. “Validate how meaningful it is be asked,” she advises, “express how grateful you are for your friendship, [and then] let them know that you need some time to think about it. Make sure you give them a reason so they’re not left personalizing the experience as rejection.”
…and stick to it
Saying yes because you feel pressured and then changing your mind is definitely bad form, says etiquette expert Louise Fox. She agrees that it’s better to delay your response rather than committing when you really have no intention of following through. If you’re asked in a high-pressure group setting—which is becoming more and more popular with brides pulling elaborate pop-the-question proposals—Fox suggests joining in the celebratory fun but avoiding confirming your answer in the moment: “Leave your response for another time. If you’re singled out for your decision, just say: ‘I’m thrilled to be asked but let’s meet for coffee next week to go over the details.’”
Be honest about your reasons
If your intention is to preserve the friendship, honesty will go a long way. “Be specific. Let them know your decision has little to do with your friendship, and more to do with external factors, says Kirmayer. “Highlight that you still want to be involved, and find another way to celebrate with them, like planning the bachelorette, helping curate a Pinterest board or going dress shopping with them.”
“A good friendship should not be ruined by someone’s honesty in acknowledging their inability to do the job expected,” says Fox. She reiterates that it’s OK to turn down being a bridesmaid for just about any reason, ranging from being unwilling to take on the financial burden to not having the time for it.
But be kind
Sometimes your reason for saying no to being a bridesmaid might have to do with the bride herself, whether it’s a cousin you can’t stand or a friend you no longer feel close to. In those cases, it’s better not to be brutally honest. “If your reason for declining has to do with your friend, avoid blaming them,” says Kirmayer.
“It is not necessary to go into lengthy explanations,” says Fox. And, in fact, she argues that the bride-to-be should respect that: “It’s rude to insist on [a reason],” she says.