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How Do I Tell a Friend She’s Not One of My Bridesmaids?

Q: My fiancé and I have decided to each have five attendants at the wedding. We both agreed that we didn’t want a huge wedding party and he really only has five people who he feels comfortable asking—his two brothers, my brother and his two best friends from college. The thing is, it was really hard for me to choose just five people and there are two girls who I am close friends with who I’m not going to be able to ask to be bridesmaids. How can I break the news that they aren’t in the wedding party without hurting their feelings?


A: This is a very tough situation, but also a pretty common one. It’s very likely that most couples don’t have perfectly matching numbers of close friends to create symmetrical bridal parties. Beyond that, we always have to draw the line somewhere—you can’t ask every single friend to be your bridesmaid or you’d end up like this crazy woman. You’re already through the first hard step: deciding who you have to leave out. That was a tough decision in the first place and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. You had to make a choice and you did. Good job.

I think a piece of advice that should be more widely circulated is that no one should assume they are going to be invited to a wedding or asked to be a bridesmaid. We could all save ourselves a lot of hurt feelings if we make it a rule to assume the bride and groom are going to elope and then are just pleasantly surprised if we receive an invite or a request to be in the wedding party. There are so many considerations that go into these decisions and most of them have nothing to do with your friendship. Brides have to think about the cost of each guest and the spacial constraints of the venue. Parents and relatives can lay on additional pressures, so a bride may be forced to choose a cousin as her bridesmaid over one of her close friends. If a bride envisions a small service, she may not want to have any attendants at all and might only invite her immediate family to the event!

So how do you tell your friends that you can’t ask them to be a bridesmaid? Think about what you want to say before you bring up the topic. Don’t try to explain why she didn’t “make the cut.” Instead, focus on affirming your friendship. Make sure she knows that she’s invited to the wedding and the pre-wedding festivities, like the bachelorette. It might be a nice touch to ask if she can be involved in some small way that directly plays to her strengths. For example, you could say “you have such great taste in music, I would love your recommendations for our wedding playlist” or “you are so my most fashionable friend, so I’d love to run some dress ideas by you.” Don’t ask for anything too large—after all, she’s not a bridesmaid so she shouldn’t have to do the work of one—but asking for her opinion or advice is a simple way to include her that won’t burden her as well. Let her know that just because she’s not an official part of the wedding doesn’t mean that your friendship is going on hold. Try to leave the conversation with plans to do something together, maybe that doesn’t involve your wedding.

You could also think about adopting the Southern tradition of a “house party.” Basically, the house party is composed of women who are close to the bride, but are not her bridesmaids. The house party attends all the showers and the bachelorette party and sometimes participates in the ceremony in some small way, either by doing a reading, manning the guest book, or helping to direct guests to different activities, like a photo booth or dessert bar. This role is also sometimes called the “host” if only one or two girls are doing it. House party members can sit in the second row during the wedding (behind immediate family) and sometimes wear dresses that are the same color as the bridesmaids (but not the exact same dress).

The other thing to think about, and I know this is revolutionary, but maybe you don’t need to have the same number of attendants as your fiancé. I’ve actually given this a good bit of thought and other than perfectly balancing wedding party photographs and giving each lady a gentleman’s arm to process out on, I just can’t see why two people can’t have a slightly different number of attendants. Wedding “rules” have loosened up a lot. Head tables, formal introductions, and receiving lines are starting to be rarities rather than certainties, and the traditional setup of the wedding is in flux. Lots of brides are choosing to have more casual weddings and are playing by their own rules. So, just give it a think.

Photo courtesy LanierStar Photography.

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