Choosing a bridal party is one of the most exciting steps in planning a wedding, giving brides-to-be a chance to honor and acknowledge their core support system. But narrowing it down to a reasonably sized group can sometimes feel impossible.
“Weddings can bring such joy. They can also be anxiety inducing,” Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, told HuffPost. “As for one’s bridesmaids, there is often someone who wants and or wishes to be included who is not.”
This situation often brings out feelings of disappointment and rejection, so it’s tempting to avoid addressing it altogether.
“There is a lot of work ― and angst ― in planning a wedding,” said Glenda Shaw, author of “Better You, Better Friends.” “The bride is often balancing many different pressures from her own family ― the folks who are often paying for the celebration ― and her about-to-be in-laws. Still, it’s important for the bride to keep her friends in the loop about her decisions.”
Whatever your reason for not choosing a particular friend or group of friends, there are better and worse ways to handle the situation. Below, Shaw, Smith and other friendship and etiquette experts share their advice.
Arrange a time to tell them in person.
“If you need to tell someone that they are not a bridesmaid, it suggests that your friend would have had that expectation, so it’s better to say something than say nothing and increase the risk of hurt feelings,” said Irene Levine, a psychologist, friendship expert and producer of The Friendship Blog. “If you have the time, as uncomfortable as it may feel, try to do it in person. If not, do it over the phone. Not a text.”
Make a plan to share your decision one-on-one at a neutral location like a café, rather than one of your homes.
“If possible, schedule a time to be together for coffee, a lunch, or a walk,” Smith suggested. “While hoping this person will figure things out on their own is an option, it is not recommended. Better to address the situation. It is cruel to wait for them to ask if they are included only to tell them ‘no.’”
Do it early.
It’s important to be preemptive about this conversation.
“Rip the Band-Aid off at the earliest opportunity,” said Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and co-host of the “Were You Raised by Wolves?” podcast. “This won’t get easier or better the longer you wait.”
Of course, if it’s a person you wouldn’t have considered, there’s no need to explicitly share your decision, but if you know they were expecting to potentially be part of the wedding party, you need to talk about it.
And in addition to your own discomfort, there are practical reasons to address the issue sooner rather than later to avoid further hurt feelings.
“In terms of timing, don’t wait too long after you invite others,” Levine emphasized. “You don’t want her to hear it through the grapevine.”
Be direct, honest and warm.
“Be as direct as possible,” advised Danielle Bayard Jackson, a friendship coach and host of the “Friend Forward” podcast. “If you have to rehearse it first in the mirror or with somebody you trust, do that, so when you do say it, you’re not tripping over your words or doing things like diluting your message by overly apologizing or looking unsure yourself. You want to be confident and clear but warm.”
Speak from the heart and be honest. Acknowledge how important this person is to you, how close you feel to her and how much you treasure your friendship ― but that you were limited in your number of bridesmaids and hope she understands.
“Try to avoid ‘my mom wants me to do this,’ or ‘I didn’t think you’d want to pay that much for the dress,’” Shaw advised. “Take responsibility for your decision.”
If you’re feeling uncomfortable or worried about the situation, say that. Being open and communicative about your emotions can actually bring you closer to that person and make them feel included in other ways, rather than pushed aside.
“Whatever makes you most nervous about her not being a bridesmaid, if you fear she’s going to withdraw from you or be upset, then call it out,” Jackson suggested. “Say ‘the last thing I would want is for us to feel different or for this to strain our friendship in any way.’ Hopefully, you’re dealing with reasonable people who love you and while possibly disappointed, they will understand.”
End by emphasizing how excited you are for that person to be at your wedding and celebrate with you. If you have a shared favorite song, maybe mention that you can’t wait to dance to it together at the reception.
Don’t go into too much detail.
When sharing your bridal party decision, try to strike a balance between being honest and not going into too much detail.
“You can say something like, ‘I had to keep the wedding party down to a minimum, so I selected the bridesmaids and sadly it was a difficult decision but I could not include you,’” said Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “You can even give a little details such as I had to pick only four and two of them are my family and two are my future husband’s. More than that, it’s not important to go into a lot of detail because the more you say the worse it gets.”
“Let her vent. Remember she probably feels rejected, and that rejection hurts ― a lot.”
You might explain how challenging it has been to plan your wedding and how much their support means to you during this time.
“If you feel close and would have liked to have made them a bridesmaid, say that,” Levine recommended. “If it’s a tenuous relationship that’s really not reciprocal and you’re ‘just not into her,’ it may be time to let go of a demanding relationship. Tell her that you are glad she will be there as a guest to share the day with you.”
Consider other special ways to include them.
“If there is any other way to give your friend some significant role in your wedding festivities, do so,” Levine advised. “One idea would be to give her a prime seat at the event or to ask the photographer to take a picture of the two of you at the wedding.”
Other options include doing a reading, escorting a relative, passing out programs, lighting a candle during the ceremony or leading the guests in standing to clap at the end. Invite her to your bachelorette party as well.
“It is important to keep them as an integral part of your celebration by asking if they would be a part of the planning [in] other types of ways,” Gottsman said. “Perhaps doing the wine tastings or food tastings or asking for help with caterer suggestions. You don’t want it to feel as if you are ‘working them’ but more like keeping them involved.”
Jackson emphasized presenting the alternate role in a positive way.
“Don’t make it apologetic like, ‘I’m so sorry you can’t be a bridesmaid, but you can read the poem at the beginning!’ Because then it sounds like you’re giving her a consolation prize. Say, ’You know I have to have my girls in front, so I definitely want you starting things off by reading a poem. Do you mind doing that for me? That way it’s more like an honor than a consolation.”
Let her vent.
Understand that this situation could bring up strong emotions for your friend and might be unexpected. Once you’ve said your piece, the next step is listening. So don’t blurt out the news at the end of your time together and leave.
“Listen to what she has to say,” Shaw said. “Let her vent. Remember she probably feels rejected, and that rejection hurts ― a lot. Once you’ve heard her side, tell her how important it would be for her to be there with you. Ask if she would consider helping in another way. After that, respect her decision.”
Similarly, don’t let the venting session affect your choice or devolve into another kind of discussion. Be sympathetic to her feelings, but don’t jump into apologizing.
“If this is your decision and you’re comfortable with it, then stick to it,” Leighton said. “This isn’t a negotiation.”
Keep reaching out.
Assuming the friendship is important to you, you should take the initiative and make plans together in the ensuing months, even if you’re very busy.
“Explain that your time isn’t your own as you are juggling planning for the wedding but you want to get together, certainly afterward,” Levine suggested. “Keep your word and reach out to her.”
Things might be uncomfortable for a time, but Shaw encouraged pushing through the awkwardness.
“Trust that your friend wants the best for you, and that, after the sting of rejection has gone, she will fully support you in celebrating this very important life transition,” she advised. ”This is one of the friend challenges that has the potential to build a stronger, more resilient bond ― one that says, we’re in this for the long haul.”