How to Say No to Being in a Wedding
Of course, it’s an honor to be asked. But accepting a role in a wedding also comes with great responsibility. And it’s only fair to be up front with the bride if you have any hesitations about saying “I do” to bridesmaid duties or other jobs. After all, it’s only normal to have reservations: participating in the big event can mean fulfilling equally intense demands.
“[Being in someone’s wedding] is a lot of responsibility to take on, and it takes a lot of time throughout six or 12 months,” says event and wedding planner Yifat Oren. “In the end, not everyone can take that time and some of these expenses on.”
“Personally, I think it’s okay to decline being a part of someone’s wedding as long as you have a real-life, legitimate excuse,” says Moda Operandi’s communications director Hayley Bloomingdale, who’s been in such delicate situations herself. “If you genuinely can’t make it to the actual nuptials, then obviously, the bride will understand. If you can’t afford to be a bridesmaid because of umpteen bridal showers and bachelorettes and engagement parties and lingerie showers, then speak up, send one really thoughtful gift, and then politely decline attendance to all the other events.”
Still, it’s tough to be in the position of turning down a hopeful bride. And, what if you’re approached to take on a role that falls outside of those typically relegated to friends or family members, such as officiant or DJ? Here, wedding experts offer tips on backing out with grace.
For Would-Be Bridesmaids
If opening a sparkly “Will You Be My Bridesmaid?” card only makes you cringe, don’t ignore that impulse. “These days, depending on who the bride is, the expectations [on bridesmaids] can be really high,” says Oren. “If you look at what some of these brides are doing, they’re going away on very fancy vacations for showers and bachelorette parties. Even if they’re not traveling, the expectations are really high with the very posh showers that are taking place. I think it’s very important to be honest with yourself.”
Oren equates declining a bridesmaid role to backing out of a potential relationship after a few dates. In essence, the would-be bridesmaid should find a gentle variation on the “it’s not you, it’s me” line.
Oren suggests being up front about the situation that prevents you from taking on the bridesmaid role, and letting the bride know that by declining the invitation, you’re looking out for her, too. “Whether you have a new baby or your job is so demanding that it’s just not possible for you take any time off from work that year, tell the bride that you just don’t feel like you can be good enough for her,” Oren says. “Tell the bride you’d be happy to be there to support her [throughout the planning process], and take a supporting role. You just can’t take the lead.”
For Would-Be Maids of Honor
Speaking of taking the lead, serving as the maid of honor is a time-consuming role that’s not to be taken lightly. And if you’re in the unenviable position of having to decline the position, don’t waste any time telling the bride.
“You should tell her right away, as soon as possible,” says event and wedding planner Mindy Weiss, adding that the conversation should take place in person when possible, and over the phone if not. The key is to have it as soon as you can.
“The longer you wait, the more difficult it is on yourself and the bride. So as soon as you have an inkling that you may not be able to make the commitment, you should let her know. Don’t leave her in a bind; don’t put shock value on it. The sooner the better,” she says.
Also, watch the impulse to feel defensive—even if the invite puts you on the spot or makes you feel uncomfortable. “Don't be angry,” Weiss says. “Just be gentle, be honest, and talk about it. There could be financial reasons you can’t participate, or it could be that you don’t have enough time to do it and you don’t want to disappoint. Explain that gently, and the bride will understand.”
Weiss has worked with clients to find lower-maintenance roles for guests who can’t be bridesmaids of maids of honor. “You could offer to be a reader in the wedding, or to give a great toast, or to man the guest book,” Weiss suggests.
For Would-Be Officiants
A bride may also call on a friend or family member to take on a more visible—and, some could say, higher-stakes—role than bridesmaid or maid of honor. Weiss says that the trend with her clients has been to choose someone they know, rather than a more traditional religious or civic figure, to officiate the ceremony. But the job is not for everyone. “It’s not that officiating a wedding is so time-consuming,” Weiss says. “It’s just that not everyone is comfortable with that kind of role. It’s really intimate, to be the one to marry a couple.”
Even professionals have to beg off leading a ceremony from time to time. Wedding officiant Sonia Beverley has, on a couple of occasions, had reservations about working with couples she’s met. “In that case, I quote high!” she jokes. But she also has a system in place that lets her, as well as the couple, see if there’s a mutual fit.
Beverley offers complimentary hour-long consultations to soon-to-be newlyweds, and is up front about the way she works as an officiant. If there’s not a natural chemistry between her and the couple, she says, it’s apparent on both sides—and Beverley underlines that it’s important for the couple to have this information up front.
“A wedding is an important and special time for the couple, and there’s nothing worse than feeling obligated to go through with [officiating] a wedding, or for [a couple to work] with someone that they don’t feel good about or feel connected with,” she says.
The lesson here: An officiant role shouldn’t be taken without a good deal of consideration, and it’s important to ask the couple’s expectations before leaping at the chance to marry them. Whether you’re wary about the public speaking or unsure you really know a couple well enough, those are concerns worth raising, and the couple should appreciate your candor.
For Would-Be DJs
There are also times when a bride may call on a friend to lend certain skills, such as prowess at the turntable, to her reception. This can be tricky, as it starts to blur the line between who’s a guest at the wedding and who’s working it.
“I’ve had clients whose friends are DJs and may not want to work the wedding. Not only is it not fun for them, but if they’re a guest they need to eat,” Weiss says. “At some point, they’re going to leave their post and go have dinner. It’s hard to balance all that. Are they a guest and good friend? Or are they the DJ? I always say let [your guests] have a good time.”
And for professional DJs who have to decline spinning at a wedding, politeness is the best tack. “There’s no benefit to being rude,” says in-demand DJ Sam French, whose schedule won’t allow him to accept all job offers. “If the terms aren’t going to work out for you—whether it’s financial, creative, or otherwise—that’s fine. There’s a professional way to relay that information. Just be forthright and courteous. If, for whatever reason, I’m unable to DJ an event, I try to help out in whatever capacity I can. And, if appropriate, I’ll suggest another DJ I trust or think might be better suited for the job.”