I was out shopping when I got the text. “Charlotte wants to ask you something,” a message from my brother about his new fiancee read. “Go on…” I replied. Then he popped the question: “She’s going to ask you to be a bridesmaid. She’s going to call you later.” I should have been thrilled, flattered even. But I felt drained. I was already a maid to two friends that summer and was set to be one at another wedding a few week’s before my brother’s. I didn’t know if I could handle more hen planning, dress fittings or the nerves of another procession down the aisle for the foreseeable.
You see, I’m not exactly what you’d call a natural bridesmaid. Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating with friends and I’ll toast to pretty much any occasion. But I’m not a planner, timekeeping has never been my forte and I’m practically allergic to any outfit in the pastel family. Don’t even get me started on penis paraphernalia. So as I approached the big 3-0 and an onslaught proposals inevitably hit, becoming a bridesmaid to some of my most beloved friends hadn’t come entirely easily.
I’d been touched and welled up when asked by friends, honoured to be one of the people they wanted by their side during one of the biggest days of their lives, and knowing it would help forge an even stronger bond between us. It was a bonus that I knew they’d never put me in a champagne coloured shift dress. I’d organised hen holidays with gusto, making emoji-littered Facebook invites, asked boyfriends to film Mr and Mrs answers about their favourite sexual positions (the answers can never been unseen), and travelled to far corners of London to seamstresses for second and third outfit fittings when I was so hungover I could barely move. But this request kind of felt like one too many. And I felt really bad for feeling that way.
My brother’s girlfriend and I hadn’t exactly become inseparable just yet. We’d spent a few birthdays, family gatherings and Christmases together, and I loved how quick she was to top up my glass if I ran empty and that she always remembered friend’s names. But we’d never really gotten deep. This, I guess, was her way of showing me she’d like to get closer. But the amount of energy and time required, which I didn’t have to give, weighed on my mind.
When I left the changing room I pulled one of the other maids aside. “Charlotte wants me to be a bridesmaid,” I told her. “Oh sweet,” was all she said. “When’s the weddi-”
“I was thinking of saying no?” I interjected and immediately felt the weight of the word. N-O. I didn’t want to reject her, but it just wasn’t a responsibility I had time to justice to. It might bring us closer, but on the other hand it might just mean I was lousier bridesmaid than someone else might of been. So I decided that even though saying yes would be easier in the short-term, saying no was definitely the right decision long-term.
When she rang later and broached the question after a few pleasantries, I explained that I was honoured, but that my wedding/hen/travel schedule prior to her wedding meant I’d struggle to make all the appointments she might need me for. But that I’d love to come and support her where I could in the lead up. It was awkward - her pause was long, her voice faltered as she tried to reassure me she understood and we fumbled through a catch up after, both clearly keen to end the conversation.
I didn't see her for a few weeks until a family birthday party and I was seriously nervous at the thought of broaching the topic when I saw her. But everything clicked back to normal as soon as I bought up the wedding. Her face lit up when I asked about her dress, and I realised that I was looking forward to the big day too now, knowing the pressure was off. In fact I think our relationship has been stronger since, knowing that we can be honest and open with each other.
When I told more friends after they were shocked, but mostly supportive. “Brave move,” one said. “You can’t say ‘no’, can you?” asked another who’d just agreed to her second bridesmaid post in as many months. Though one friend put it in perspective: “I was basically dragging myself down the aisle at my childhood friend’s wedding. I wish I’d said no. We’re not even close any more - it felt fake. Like a last-ditch attempt to repair a friendship we’d lost years ago.” Because, surely no one wants a blasé bridesmaid?
I don't regret my decision at all. It's better to say no when you don’t have time to do a role justice. And I think more of us should see it as a question with two potential outcomes.
I guess I was lucky in the fact that I had time to prepare my response and really think about how to say it tactfully, so in the case of anyone who’s put on the spot, it might not be so easy. But relationship coach Krystal Woodbridge agrees with me, that you can say no and keep your relationship intact. It’s all about how you pitch it and how you follow up.
Here’s her three-point guide on how to say no to being a bridesmaid:
1. Make it a case of "It’s not you, it’s me"
Ideally, says Krystal, you should tell the person in person and to make it about you not them. “The way to structure the response is first give acknowledgement and appreciation and make clear that you would take it really seriously,” she suggests. “Though if you’ve assessed and decided you don’t have the time for the role make it about you and be authentic so it doesn’t feel personal. Give them something to hold onto, though avoid too much detail.”
2. Master mirroring
If your decision is met with a negative reaction, Krystal recommends something called a couple’s dialogue process. “This is something I use with couples all the time. It involves letting them speak and express all of their disappointment and then mirroring back what they’ve said. This way you are validating what they’re saying and showing them you’ve heard and empathise. You don’t need to keep justifying your reasons, just give space for their reaction.
3. Give her space
Afterwards, the decision may need time to sink in so give the bride space, “especially if the reaction was negative,” says Krystal. Though after a few days, she recommends resuming your relationship as it was before. “Make sure you follow up on any offer you made to help and be there ahead of the wedding,” she adds. “Then by the time it gets to the day you’ve already moved past this and can relax and enjoy yourself.”