7 Tips for Not Reciprocating A Bridesmaid Offer

These etiquette tips will help you ensure you're on the same page
Valerie Nikolas
by Valerie Nikolas
Updated Jan 25, 2023

At the start of your wedding planning journey, you may have thought your toughest decisions would be choosing your venue, attire or food options. As most engaged couples quickly learn, that is not the case. Weddings come with a whole host of social expectations that can sometimes make for sticky situations, from choosing who attends the wedding to who is given a role of honor. One of the trickiest situations is not reciprocating a bridesmaid offer—when you've served in someone's wedding party (whether a long time ago or recently), but can't or don't want to include them in yours.

Modern times have shed the rigidity of social etiquette, but there are still some guidelines to remember. We talked with etiquette expert Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute, author of Emily Post's Etiquette: The Centennial Edition and great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, for guidance.

Do You Have To Reciprocate a Bridesmaid Offer?

Let's get the most important thing out of the way: "Bridesmaid requests do not have to be reciprocal," says Post. "There are a multitude of reasons why you could ask someone who didn't ask you, or why you might not ask someone who asked you."

These reasons may include having different size wedding parties, more or fewer family members who take priority over others or simply friends growing apart between weddings. "There is a cutoff point, and unfortunately, sometimes that point is closer to our hearts than expected," says Post.

How to Choose Bridesmaids Without Hurting Feelings

Choose who you feel closest to.

When choosing your bridesmaids (or bridesmen), the most important thing to consider is how this person will support you on your wedding day. Post puts it simply: "Choose those who you feel closest to as you're planning your wedding." Bridesmaids are generally there for emotional and logistical support, above all else. It's important to choose people you will feel comfortable enough leaning on during the inevitable stressful moments before and during your wedding.

Consider the logistics.

Another important consideration is whether this person can devote the time to spend on your wedding. In addition to the actual wedding and rehearsal, bridesmaids typically attend pre-wedding events like the bridal shower and bachelorette party. Consider how involved you expect your wedding party to be, especially when choosing friends or family who may live far away or who are going through significant life changes, such as pregnancy and the birth of a child.

How to Tell Someone They Are Not a Bridesmaid

Decide if it actually needs to be addressed.

According to Post, there are a few ways to address not reciprocating a bridesmaid offer. And the first is to not address it. "It's your wedding, and you don't necessarily owe anyone an explanation for the choices you make." In many situations, like when a bride has a lot of female family members, it will be clear when someone will not be asked to be a bridesmaid.

Have a respectful conversation.

However, she recognizes there are situations that call for having a conversation, "especially if it's really unexpected." In those cases, ask your friend or family member if they would like to talk. "Create a space for feelings to be had," Post advises. You can start by asking if they are feeling awkward, or tell them if you are. Recognize that there may be hurt feelings or confusion, and give them space to express themselves." A genuine recognition of their feelings goes a long way," Post says.

Don't assume their feelings.

And remember, "Don't pre-manage or presume someone's feelings on this." It may be hard to see through those pre-wedding blinders, but not everyone will feel actually hurt to not be asked; in fact, some may be relieved. Standing up in a wedding is a big commitment, and your friend may have other life events going on that they recognize will make it hard to be involved.

How to Include Friends That Aren't Bridesmaids in Your Wedding

Include them in nontraditional ways.

Modern weddings are breaking from the traditional mold, which is great news if you're trying to incorporate special friends in nontraditional ways. "Readings, toasts and speeches are honored duties that can help friends and family feel special and included in your day," says Post. If there are several people who you can't include in the wedding party, you might opt to have a house party. There's even a fun growing trend to include adult flower girls and guys in processionals.

Include them unofficially.

Even if there isn't room for an official spot for special people in your ceremony or reception, there are other ways to make them feel included. "Spending special time with them can go a long way, whether that's including them in pre-wedding events like a bachelorette party, or even just consulting them about your plans," says Post. A little goes a long way when it comes to feeling included, and your friends and family will likely recognize the authenticity and positive intent.

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