It’s easy to go into “Oh, no, am I a bad friend?!” personal crisis mode when you can’t be there for your pal’s big life milestones: Their graduation from med school, for instance, or their big dirty 30 blowout party. Depending on the circumstances, you might not even be able to make it to their wedding.
Skipping the last one might be the most anxiety-inducing of all, for good reason; a recent Bankrate survey found that 30 percent of those who declined a wedding invitation because they couldn’t afford to go said their relationship with the couple was negatively affected.
Money aside, there are plenty of other reasons you might have to bail on a bride or groom on their big day: Maybe you just started a new job and can’t take time off for a destination wedding. Or maybe you’re dealing with a family or personal crisis that demands your attention.
Whatever the reason, you’d like to think your absence wouldn’t make or break your friendship. Unfortunately, sometimes it does, said Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.”
“Some engaged people tend to become self-absorbed as their wedding day approaches, which isn’t a surprise given that a wedding tends to be one of the most significant days in a person’s life,” she told HuffPost.
“When a close friend declines an invitation to the wedding, it is easy to feel hurt, rejected and take it personally,” she added. “The bride or groom may feel that the friend doesn’t feel the same closeness as they do.”
Is there a way to forgo that invitation without ruining your friend’s big day ― and your hitherto close friendship? Absolutely, Levine said, but both parties need to be grown-ups about it. Below, she and other friendship and wedding experts share six tips for saying “no can do” to your friend’s big day.
1. Let them know as soon as possible.
Time is of the essence here. If you’re close friends, chances are you’re on your pal’s first-tier guest list. (Oh, you fancy, huh?) Let them know ASAP if you can’t make it ― ideally, as soon as you get the save the date ― so they can invite someone else, said Tracie Domino, founder and creative director at Tracie Domino Events in Tampa, Florida.
“They’ll appreciate this, especially if they have a ‘B list’ of guests they plan to invite if other guests decline,” she said. “Be honest with your reason for declining the invite and remind them that you’re still excited about their big day.”
2. Don’t over-explain why you can’t go.
If you have a solid reason for opting out (sorry, something like, “I want to see Childish Gambino at Outside Lands before he possibly retires!” isn’t going to cut it), feel confident that your friend will understand. Give them a brief explanation in person or over the phone and then make your peace with your decision, said etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. No need to get into an overly complicated explanation of all the regret you feel and how crappy a friend you are for missing out.
“Quickly let them know you are disappointed not to go, then thank them for their understanding,” she said.
Once you’ve talked, don’t peace out of their life and effectively ghost them because you feel guilty. Be an adult about it and check in with them throughout the wedding planning process to show your support and enthusiasm for the big day.
“Often people want to disappear because they feel uncomfortable when the exact opposite should happen,” Gottsman said.
3. Celebrate with the couple before or after the wedding.
Figure out some other way to celebrate with your pal and their fiancé beforehand or afterward. They’d probably love to be treated to a dinner out or a stress-free home-cooked meal at your place, Levine said.
“If you can, I’d also try to [attend] other wedding-related events you can participate in, like the bridal shower,” she said. “Offer to help in any way you can if the bride or her family need an extra set of hands.”
4. Remember: Your friend is probably trying to narrow down the guest list. This might not be the worst news they could receive.
Don’t feel too guilty about checking that “regretfully declines” box; chances are, your friend and their betrothed are freaking out over how they’re going to pay for this whole thing and they’ll relish any and all “regrets” they get, said Lori Stephenson, the owner of LOLA Events in Chicago.
“I would say honestly that the dirty little secret of every wedding is that the couple secretly wants you to not to come,” she said, only half-joking. “Everyone has trouble culling their guest list and most of the time it’s the largest indicator of your wedding expenses, so no one is ever sad to get regrets vs. attends on their RSVP cards!”
5. If your friend takes it hard, don’t take it personally.
If the bride or groom gets upset, recognize that wedding planning can turn even the most chill person into an emotionally triggered, absolutely no chill, financially drained beast. The good news is, wedding planning doesn’t last forever, and your friend’s resentment will likely pass, Levine said.
“Give your pal time to get used to the idea that you’ve declined the invitation, even if that doesn’t happen until after the event takes place,” she said. “If the two of you can’t work this through together, it may suggest some fundamental problem with the friendship that has only now surfaced.”
6. Yes, you still have to buy a gift.
Sorry, yes, you still have to pay your pal’s wedding registry site a visit.
“Don’t forget to send a gift,” Gottsman said. “Locate the gift registry and make sure your gift is sent in a timely fashion. This will show you are excited for the couple and want to extend your goodwill.”
Consider that candy-colored appliance or espresso maker the ultimate olive branch. Friendship saved!