Deciding on who is in your bridal party is just one of the many decisions to be made about upcoming nuptials — and yet, oftentimes, it can be among the most stressful. It’s a rare occasion when you have to formally declare which friends are a part of your inner circle — and which ones, well, are not.
Emma (her real name), who works at a salvage yard, was one such person who felt slighted by her friend’s choice of bridesmaids. She and her friend Dana (not her real name) were college roommates who “became more sisters than friends.” When Dana set the date for her wedding, Emma was "so excited" and "looking forward" to what she felt was an inevitable bridesmaid role.
"I noticed my best friend wasn't saying anything about the wedding with me which was very unusual and each time I brought the topic up, she stylishly changed the topic," she explains. "I was hurt and confused, I wondered what was going on but I just decided not to jump to a conclusion. I gave excuses for her actions and I decided to just watch and see how things would play out.”
Ultimately, Emma wasn’t chosen to be a bridesmaid.
“The day came and it is one of my saddest memories ever,” she says. “I dressed normally like every other person and I sat in the back seat crying my eyes out. I watched my best friend walk down the aisle with someone I didn't know as her chief bridesmaid. I was upset, confused and hurt. Where did I go wrong?”
Madison (her real name), who owns a supplement store, felt similarly when she was left out of a friend’s bridal party, especially considering they had always "talked about being in each other's wedding."
“I was annoyed about it and frustrated with the whole situation," she says. "As I talked to her, I didn’t mention the fact that she didn’t ask me to be in her wedding, I just wanted to support her and help her out any way that I could. One day we were talking to each other, and she told me she had something to ask me. She said that her maid of honor couldn’t make the wedding and asked me to be her maid of honor instead. Nothing like a second choice…”
Brittney (not her real name), 26, had the opposite experience. She was asked to be a bridesmaid for a wedding by someone she didn’t consider a friend — leaving her feeling “awkward” and “confused.”
“I actually didn't even have her number saved in my phone when she texted me asking to be her bridesmaid,” she admits.
Jessica (her real name), meanwhile, felt pressured to say yes to being a bridesmaid for a work colleague after she asked her in front of her relatives at her bridal shower.
“I didn't really know what to think about it in the moment because I'm such a people pleaser, but in hindsight, I wish I had declined,” she recalls. “She had also asked me to be a bridesmaid a year in advance. I ended up getting out of the wedding due to a family reunion out of town, but I still felt really bad that I had said yes, and then told her no. In the end, it was for the best that I wasn't a part of the wedding because I would've felt odd being so intimately involved with people I wasn't close to at all.”
Why is there so much awkwardness around selecting a bridesmaid? Laura Sniderman, founder of the upcoming friendship app Kinnd, explains that tensions tend to arise in these scenarios when one person feels closer to another.
“I think there are many reasons why some people feel as though they ‘should’ be bridesmaids in a wedding, even when they aren’t asked. One main reason is likely a misalignment on how close one person in the friendship feels versus the other,” she notes. “One person might consider the other to be a ‘best friend’ while that other person considers that individual just one of many friends. This misalignment in closeness is likely due to a plethora of things, some of those being a difference in overall number of close friends, varying definitions of ‘closeness’ and priorities placed on the history of the friendship versus the connection you have now.”
This gap is something that friendship coach Danielle Jackson, host of the Friend Forward podcast, speaks about a lot with clients. In fact, she says that often women will come to her with scripts in mind of how to handle the awkward conversation of telling someone that they didn’t make the cut.
“It’s tricky because it’s one of the only times where you’re putting your friend rankings on display,” Jackson notes. “We know that’s not what it is, but culturally that’s what it’s perceived as: Who are you asking and who are you asking to be the top maid of honor. We’re looking for confirmation.”
It’s understandable: If you feel like someone is your closest friend, but you don’t get chosen as one of their “top five” people in their life, it’s easy to reevaluate your place.
“For some people it is a reflection of where I fit in your life, which is why it can be such a big deal in female friendships,” Jackson says. “I’ve had countless sessions with women about not being chosen as a bridesmaid, and oftentimes, they’re often apologetic, like ‘I know it’s petty, but…’ For some, though, it’s hard to look at this woman the same way: ‘How do we move forward in friendship when it’s clear you don’t look at me the way I see you?’”
So how do you handle telling a friend she won’t be your bridesmaid — or deal with the bad feelings that come from not being chosen?
Sniderman says honesty is the best policy — even when it’s hard. Assuming the issue isn’t financial or logistical (maybe you wanted to include all four of your sisters in your bridal party, leaving no room for even your closest friends) Sniderman says it’s best to get real about the personal reasons you didn’t include them, which means a “deeper conversation about your relationship at large.”
“I encourage you to begin this conversation by asking them how they feel about the friendship,” she says. “If their response indicates that they have expectations about the friendship that you cannot meet, you can say something like, ‘I consider you a very good friend, but based on what you shared, I feel that you are looking for something from me that I do not have the capacity to provide. I really care about you and our friendship, but I also don’t want you to feel as though your needs are not being met.’ You can then share what you do have to offer, and allow your friend to respond from this place of clarity. They may still want more from you that you can offer, but at least you are being honest.”
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