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TL;DR – How do I tell a childhood friend (who has been spoiled her whole life) that both my parents and I most likely cannot afford to travel for her wedding (to which I am to be a bridesmaid) without making her angry/defensive?.


Background

Anne and I have been close friends since we were children, as our families are close (her mother is my sister's godmother, my dad is basically the father she never had, etc.). Despite our families closeness, we live ~ 900km apart, thus limiting time spent together to a week every summer when they would visit us. Enter Jack. Anne met Jack four years ago. They got engaged in 2016, the wedding is ‘planned’ for 2019. She asked me to be a bridesmaid shortly after they got engaged last year. They've just recently decided to have a destination wedding.

I moved to their Town 3 years ago for college (using student loans for tuition and rent), and graduated in 2016. After grad I lived with them briefly, for very generously discounted rent.

As Anne’s parents divorced when she was young and her father wasn’t around after that, her grandmother moved in with them and became the second parent to Anne and her sister. Sadly, Grandmother passed away last year, and they are still figuring out how to live without her. Apparently, Grandmother used to spoil them a bit – Anne+sister and Mother. Currently, Anne and Jack are living in Anne’s mother’s basement apartment for discounted rent (they consider the basement apt to be moved out).

Jack was extremely spoiled all his life (to the point where he didn’t know how to pack his own suitcase for a 2-week vacation – he’s 24). Anne has never really lived away from home.

After a few stressful months of living there, I finally found a job in my field just before Christmas (Excitement! :D) and almost immediately moved into a cheap boarding house.

Anne’s mother insinuated that she wanted me to stay at her house (she likes having someone around to chat since her kids have 'moved out'). Her argument was cheaper rent to counter the higher gas bill of driving 30 minutes to work (driving away from Town center and thus against morning traffic). As I have anxiety and had depression issues in the past, I couldn’t handle living there anymore (different lifestyles making my anxierty spiral) - or confrontation. I told her I needed to keep the mileage on my old car as low as possible as to not wear it out faster as my ‘excuse’ for moving.

Problem

Anne and Jack have decided that they’re getting married “down south” (a tropical resort somewhere like Cuba – they haven’t gotten more specific than that yet). Anne had asked me to be a bridesmaid before they chose this location.

As I am working an entry level help desk job and have four years of student debt, I doubt highly that this time next year I will have $2000~ to go down south. I only get 5 vacation days next year, and none for this year, therefore I would take unpaid days off. However, the money is the only thing I'm worrying about right now. My employer is really lenient, I'm almost positive we could work something out for time off. I don’t yet have any savings, and am basically still living paycheck to paycheck (have only been working 2 months). As a bridesmaid I would also be paying for my own dress/hair/makeup as well, though I'm not involved in planning the bachelorette party and such.

I’ve talked to my parents about it, and they don’t think they are going to be able to swing it either. From experience, if my parents tell Anne’s mother they can’t make it, she’ll probably get defensive and/or miffed.

Question

How do I tell my friend that both my parents and I probably won’t be able to afford traveling such a distance for her wedding, without her taking it personally and getting angry/defensive?

  • 10
    Gypsy, I was wondering how things turned out? Have you spoken to her yet? I hope you two can find a way to stay friends. – Marjeta Feb 9 '18 at 3:17
  • 3
    This may be a terrible idea, but is she financially comfortable enough, and close enough to you, that assisting you monetarily in making the trip might be an option? You say she’s been “spoiled her whole life,” which makes me wonder whether she might consider the amount of money you’d need to make the trip (or some portion thereof) to be trivial. Only you can know if hinting at this, or even bringing it up directly, would be within the boundaries of your relationship, but there are a few friends I’d feel comfortable making a similar request of. – Obie 2.0 Feb 12 '18 at 5:23
  • But (as some people seem to have hinted at) if your going to the wedding is extremely important to you and your friend, this might be a real possibility. – Obie 2.0 Feb 12 '18 at 5:27
  • 6
    @Marjeta I spoke to her yesterday. I could tell she was a bit miffed, pointing out other mutual friends that aren't financially stable yet and have said they will be going. I explained to her that it just wasn't feasible for me, but that I'd love to be part of any celebrations they had at home. So still friends. I think she's thinking hard on the destination wedding - she has yet to decide on a place, let alone book or reserve anything. I think she might be dragging her feet a bit on purpose, but I could be wrong. Thanks to everyone for the help!! Much appreciated :) – Gypsy Feb 12 '18 at 12:55
  • @Gypsy - what is her financial situation? Could she help you with expenses? – Marjeta Feb 20 '18 at 20:15
144

You need to say "no" to Anne while minimizing damage to the friendship. That's hard, but you can convey that you care, gently let her down, and look for alternatives. In this particular case it might even be a little easier, because you're probably not the only invitee who can't afford to make the trip. I recommend something like this:

Anne, I'm really excited for you and Jack, and I'm honored that you'd like me to be part of your celebration. I just can't attend a distant wedding, unfortunately; I don't have enough vacation days and I won't be able to save up that much money. I do want to be part of your celebration, though. Are you going to have a local reception too for the friends who can't attend the ceremony in Cuba? Could I be part of that?

Key points:

  • Start on a positive note: you're happy for her!
  • You have difficulties. Avoid any language like "because you're doing this in Cuba"; you don't have the vacation, you can't afford it, but you're not judging her or her choices. (Optionally, you could say something like "you know how it is, just getting started after school", if you think she does and this would help.)
  • Propose another way to be involved. By moving directly to this, you (with luck) forestall a discussion of your finances. The last words out of your mouth will probably be the first ones she responds to, so this is your chance to control the direction of the conversation.

I haven't had that particular difficult conversation with a friend, but I've had others where I had to gently say no to something that was really important to the other person. This answer is based on that experience.

  • 12
    +1 Keep in mind though that some people will take the proposal for a local reception as you trying to change arrangements for yourself. These people will find a reason to complain either way, though, so a bit of a moot point. – DonFusili Feb 7 '18 at 8:56
  • 13
    @Marjeta um, ok, I was summarizing the problem in the post, not making an assertion. She asked how to say no, not how to get it paid for. (See the title and the last paragraph.) – Monica Cellio Feb 8 '18 at 1:35
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    @Marjeta I never said she doesn't want to go. The question says she's not going and is asking how to say that without damaging the relationship. – Monica Cellio Feb 8 '18 at 2:20
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    "The last words out of your mouth will probably be the first ones she responds to, so this is your chance to control the direction of the conversation." This is a golden piece of general advice. Very true. – Wildcard Feb 9 '18 at 1:44
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    I think this sidesteps an important point. Gypsy should acknowledge that she made a mistake by agreeing to be a bridesmaid without knowing the details. "Anne, I'm really excited for you and Jack. I was truly honored that you asked me to be a bridesmaid. However I made a mistake in assuming that the wedding would be local. I just started working and unfortunately I just can't afford to go to a destination wedding." – MaxW Feb 9 '18 at 17:22
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I would be straight-forward and direct about it. Simply state the facts:

I am very happy for you and I am honored that you've asked me to be a bridesmaid, but I don't have the financial resources nor the vacation days available to allow me to attend. Please accept my regrets.

NOTE: in the world of manners, you do not owe your friend anything for missing the wedding. Deciding to have a "destination wedding" or to require extravagant expenses for a wedding is deciding that some will not be able to attend.

Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that your friend will like your answer. Many people in her situation assert that if you really wanted to be there you'd find a way, and while it's true that if your life depended on it you could probably finagle your way there, inviting someone to spend thousands of dollars and use all of their foreseeable vacation days to come celebrate your wedding isn't remotely polite.

EDIT: as @mickburkejnr points out, it is very important to be prompt in letting her know. Presumably, she will have to select a new bridesmaid, so it will make things easier on her to know earlier. Also, giving her quick feedback may help her understand that attending is simply impossible and not triggered by you deciding to do something else.

  • 3
    This happened to my wife and I when we married in Ireland (we live in the UK). We knew some couldn't come, and if they did come we made it as cheap as possible for them to come over (I negotiated room rents etc). But we understood that some people couldn't afford the plane trip, so when they said no we were fine with it. Just tell her sooner rather than later though! – mickburkejnr Feb 7 '18 at 9:58
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    I'm a huge fan of straightforward and direct, but while I think the substance of this is correct, that's a very curt way to put it, and doesn't really address the question of trying to maintain the friendship. – Chris Sunami Feb 7 '18 at 15:40
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    @ChrisSunami I'm trying to call attention to the reality of the situation: this friend is likely at least peripherally aware of OP's financial situation and probably was when she decided to do a destination wedding. OP appears to want to go and appears to be very worried about talking about it, but there's nothing for it except to explain the situation. – dbeer Feb 7 '18 at 16:28
  • 2
    You may also suggest something in your hometown like a "hometown reception". I remember when my cousin got married in Boston, they held a reception for those who couldn't attend back here in California. Nothing extravagant, just a small party to celebrate for those who couldn't attend the actual wedding! – Anoplexian Feb 7 '18 at 17:44
  • 2
    This is a great answer. You might want to ask her if she has any plans to stream the wedding or otherwise have it "connected", so you can at least watch her happiest moment since your current work/life situation prevents you from attending in person. This may make her feel less like you're trying to bail on her. @Pere in comments on the question, OP stated "She asked me to be a bridesmaid shortly after they got engaged last year. They've just recently decided to have a destination wedding", so that's not an option. – Doktor J Feb 7 '18 at 18:40
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If she is your friend and you tell her the truth, she will attempt to help you be there for her. She will develop a solution instead of blaming you or holding it against you. If not, then she is not a true friend or you are simply her emotional crutch.

Friendship is based on trust. Being able to tell each other the truth is a test of that trust. You're not being harsh or uncaring for expecting that trust.

I would simply be honest with her. "I want to be there for you but I cannot afford it and I feel terrible about it. How can WE fix this?". If she is a true friend, she will not get upset with you. She may get upset at the situation. However, she should then try to find a solution that works instead of just being angry. Anything else is just emotionally irrational.

  • 1
    "If she is a true friend, she will not get upset with you." I don't know about this. I can imagine great friends thinking, "If we were in the reverse situation, I'd borrow money or do whatever I can to make this happen.", and they might get upset that you're not willing to try as hard for them as they would for you. Not saying anything about whether it's justified, but I think it's wrong to assume great friends won't get upset at you over this. – Mehrdad Feb 8 '18 at 5:15
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    I think that is the difference between a real friend and not. – CipherBytes Feb 8 '18 at 14:18
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    @mehrdad - I can imagine a good friend thinking "If we were in the reverse situation, I'd borrow money and sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag or do whatever I can to get there". But if the "making it happen" includes buying expensive dress that will only be worn once, buying expensive jewelry and spending $100 on a hairstyle, I wouldn't say that person still qualifies as a good friend. – Marjeta Feb 8 '18 at 21:59
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Anne, I understand you would like to go to an exotic place, but I'm not sure I'll be able to afford the travel. I would be really sad if you do not wed in your dream place because of me, as I would be really sad too if I missed your wedding. I don't know what to do and I need to talk to you about it, our friendship is immensely important to me

edit: I sure can. I just assumed that shorter was better ;)

Let's dive in the details:

Anne, I understand you would like to go to an exotic place,

You need to acknowledge her wish: having the wedding of her dreams. If she gets to give it up, she needs to know that you're fully aware of her initial intention. She needs to know that you know that it's a dream for her.

but I'm not sure I'll be able to afford the travel

Because you need to tell her the truth

I would be really sad if you do not wed in your dream place because of me

Which is true, otherwise you would have just asked her to change her plans, but you don't want to because it would make you sad. You don't feel entitled to even ask her to change her plans.

as I would be really sad too if I missed your wedding.

I think that's pretty obvious

I don't know what to do

Currently, you think you know what to do and that implies telling her you simply can't go. There are other options, but all of which imply her participation, which you assume is probably not an option, reasons that would be interesting to dig.

and I need to talk to you about it

Because she has to be involved in the decision. You're suffering and she's your friend. You're asking her for help, genuinely.

our friendship is immensely important to me

You need to make sure she knows how important her friendship is to you. Even if you were to miss her wedding, you would never want this loss to be used as an excuse to diminish the strength of your friendship ("she didn't come to my wedding anyway"). This is mandatory to make her realize that simply saying "oh, too bad, I'm so sorry you can't come" is not an option.

You can then insert your parents in the discussion later. When the discussion is engaged, this part will be easy.


What will happen is the following: maybe she didn't realize how costly it would be for others. She will change her wedding location to suit you and your parent needs, then do a party or a second wedding on her exotic location.

If she persist in wedding at an expensive location, maybe she does not want you that much (unlikely according to your initial post).

If she really needs you and the exotic island, she would be able to financially help you, because that's what friends do.

Hope it gave a little bit more context to this initially short answer :)

4

You probably know your friend way better than any of us do, so this is really hard to answer for you. However, I liked the answers suggesting that you should be open to your friend about everything. It is not a shame to have debts, especially not in today's economy, and many of us have huge student debts. So, if your friend is truly your friend then your financial situation should be important to her. If her luck will be the cause of your suffering in the future, should this not concern her?

As far as your problem goes, probably a good approach would be for you to open up, is to bring up some memories and express the closeness of the two of you. Once you get her attention then slowly introduce your problem the same way you expressed it in this post, i.e. you cannot afford the trip or cost for the dress, also mention your student loan, etc. Tell her that this would strain you in every possible way, and had situation been different for you than you would never hesitate to say yes.

Wait for her reaction, and even if she reacts in a negative way tell her that you care about your friendship, but that you cannot be part of her current plans, as they are not working out for you.

On the other hand, what do you know, if you open up to her and her family maybe your friend, and her family, would be able to come up with some sort of solution that could help reduce the costs for you and your family and maybe that would be acceptable?

4

I'd like to jump in and explicitly address the less concrete part of your question. The answers here for how you tell her are spot on, and at their heart, you:

  1. pretend you neither know nor care about your perception of her as spoiled,
  2. remember that you love her and are genuinely happy for her, and
  3. tell her as honestly as you can, focusing on your logistical issues and not her decisions.

The other part, though, is "without making her angry/defensive." You can't control her reaction. It's neither feasible for you nor fair for her. If she takes those feelings out on you, you can say,

I'm sorry we can't manage the trip. I don't want to be talked to like that, so let's talk about it another time. I want to be able to share your happiness, not argue.

I hope the conversation goes better than you fear.

2

A complement to the good answers already here:

Don't put this off. You really, really want to have this conversation sooner rather than later.

They're still choosing the place. If enough of their close friends and family won't make it, they might still change their minds and do a local wedding. Obviously, don't ask for it, that would be very rude. It's their prerogative to marry where they wish regardless of who can come. But it may happen if they get enough feedback, early enough.

If they're sufficiently spoiled, it might not even have occurred to them yet that many guests will not be able to attend.

After they signed a contract with a venue, put money down, and buy tickets for themselves, though, it's pretty much set in stone. So, timing matters.

If it doesn't happen, it'll still be better if she has plenty of time to invite another bridesmaid, and another still if the next one also can't come.

1

You may be screwed either way. Some people just don't understand these things. We lost a good friendship when we weren't able to travel many hundreds of miles to attend a wedding.

We tried to be nice about it, but it didn't matter. Unfortunately, that's how it goes sometimes.

Just ensure she knows that you would really like to go and that it's not because you want something else more. You will want her not to think that you have the money and that you choose to spend it on something else.

0

I'd say:

Anne, have you decided on the location yet? I really want to be there for you, but I'm worried that I might not be able to afford it.

If you know destination:

Cuba sounds awesome. But I don't think I could afford going there. I feel so terrible because I really want to be there for you.

Are you sure it will be ~$2000? I just googled "travel to cuba" and it seems tickets are $200-$400, depending on where you are flying from. Can you afford $400 for the flight?

Think about it and decide on the budget. Then take 50-75% of that amount and tell her that's how much you can afford. For example, if you think you could afford $600, tell her your budget is $400.

Knowing the destination and the cost of the flight I might say:

The money is tight, but I guess I could pay for the flight. But I have no idea how to come up with the money for the hotel and any other expenses I might have there.


UPDATE:

Why do you suggest telling her your budget is smaller than it actually is?

Two reasons:

  1. the friend might try to stretch it
  2. there can always be unexpected expenses, so it's always a good idea to leave some wiggle room. The tighter the money situation, the more wiggle room you need.

Also, being a bridesmaid is more than just flight + hotel, it usually involves paying for a fancy dress, shoes, makeup, hair, jewelry, gifts - this may be a factor in why the estimate is so much higher

I aware of that there is more than flight and hotel, however:

  • based on my understanding of the question, there was no financial problem before the idea of destination wedding came up
  • and in my answer I suggested saying:

...I could pay for the flight. But I have no idea how to come up with the money for the hotel and any other expenses...

When I got married, I told all my overseas guests that they shouldn't bring any gifts. Considering the cost of the flight, their presence was the present. Also, I turned my house to a make-shift hotel for them. We didn't force any clothing choice on anyone in attendance. And we had an awesome party.

I was a bridesmaid twice, and both times I was free to pick my clothing (I think the color was suggested).

I feel that people spend way too much money on weddings. And those expensive bridesmaid dresses that can never be worn again? I just don't get it.

If that person wants to have a destination wedding, she shouldn't expect people to spend as much money for outfit and gifts as for a local wedding.

  • Why do you suggest telling her your budget is smaller than it actually is? (Also, being a bridesmaid is more than just flight + hotel, it usually involves paying for a fancy dress, shoes, makeup, hair, jewelry, gifts - this may be a factor in why the estimate is so much higher.) – Em C Feb 8 '18 at 14:51
  • @EmC - thanks for the edits. I'm so used to computer-related questions that I forgot about the "quote" vs "code" tags. – Marjeta Feb 8 '18 at 21:47
  • @EmC - I have updated my answer to address your comment. Do you still feel my answer is bad? – Marjeta Feb 8 '18 at 21:50
  • I see, that addresses my confusion about the "50-75%". I'm not sure that the part about what you did for your wedding is really relevant here, since OP isn't the one deciding what the bridesmaid role involves (she mentioned in a comment that she would have to pay for hair, dress, and makeup). I really meant that parenthetical as an aside anyways :) – Em C Feb 8 '18 at 22:17

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