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Ms. Opinionated: What Should I Do About My Friends' Wedding Costs?

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Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

I'd be interested to read a column about wedding etiquette, because it's ludicrous what couples expect their friends to shell out. As an example, I just found out my friend is doing three round trip flights to another state because she is in a bridal party—engagement party, shower, and the wedding itself—plus paying for hair, makeup, and nails, and dresses and gifts. My sister is a maid of honor and throwing a bridal shower. Suddenly, the mother of the groom wants to invite 30 of her own friends to the bridal shower—on the bride's dime. The couple, for the record, are doctors, and my sister is a teacher... slight income disparity

[Adapted from a comment on this post.]

I'm going to just admit up front that I have a lot of bias against the Wedding Industrial Complex, and the one-special-prince/ss-day mindset on which many weddings seem to be based right now. So understand that my ideas of wedding etiquette involve a lot of teeth-gritting and the application of standard systems of politeness rather than any adherence to a code that involves treating one of the people getting married (who could be a bride, or one of two brides, or two grooms, or a groom who wants the special prince party and a bride who doesn't) as though they are elevated above all others and therefore need not show empathy or politeness to others.

The fact of the matter is this: a wedding is essentially supposed to be a celebratory gathering where two people who love each other talk about that in front of family and friends as a way of situating a legal and/or religious union in a community context for the purpose of increasing its longevity. To do that does not require that every member of the couple's community be in attendance, it doesn't require thousands of dollars be spent on folderol and banquet food, it doesn't require a year of mini-celebrations leading up to that day and it doesn't demand the receipt of thousands of dollars worth of home goods the celebrants wouldn't otherwise buy for themselves.

Now, the people involved in that celebration may wish to demand or shell out for those things, and they may wish to demand that their friends and families contribute financially to them getting those things exactly in the way they want them, whether or not those friends and families want to give them or can afford them. Under normal circumstances, we would call that behavior selfish. When it comes to a wedding, we consider it both expected and within their rights.

The fact of the matter is that people need to both learn to say and learn to accept "no" when it comes to weddings. "No, I'm sorry, I can't afford to fly across the country three times for all the pre-wedding celebrations," is a totally reasonable and polite response. Or, "No, I'm sorry, I can't afford to feed 30 extra guests at a wedding shower I'm already stretching to pay for." Or, "No, I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable wearing a penis necklace and sexually harassing strangers in service of the idea that part of your life is ending on your wedding day." If you don't like, feel uncomfortable or cannot afford to do something in service of a wedding, the appropriate response is to apologize and then to say no.

There are, of course, two types of responses you might get. One is the totally polite and appropriate response like, "Oh, I totally understand, I'm really going to miss you but I look forward to seeing you at the wedding!" and the other is the totally impolite and inappropriate, "Why are you trying to ruininng my special day, don't you know this is required?"

If you get a version of the second response, you get to choose: is this person really your friend (remember! Friendship is a reciprocal relationship!) or is s/he demanding that you be little more than a background prop to a dramatic piece they are performing? And are you willing to spend money or time being a walk-on role for someone else's life event if s/he can't summon some empathy for your situation? Someone who assumes that everyone else's needs, priorities and budgets are automatically secondary or totally unimportant because it is his or her Big Special Day doesn't sound like the best friend ever.

And, to all the would-be brides and/or grooms reading this, let me offer some advice: your wedding is an important day to you, but it is not as important to almost anyone else who will be in attendance (and, if it is, you need to tell that parent, sibling or friend to let it go). The engagement parties and showers and bachelor/ette parties aren't actually things you're required to have, let alone try to force others to attend.

There is honestly no law that says you have to have attendants in matching outfits on any wedding-related occasion. There's also no law saying everyone in your party needs TV-appropriate make-up (which might look great on video but will look totally off to the people attending the event you're chronicling). You should choose what's important to you and plan accordingly. If having mass numbers of family and friends at your wedding is a top priority, don't pick a destination wedding. Think about what your wedding plans mean you'll be asking of people, acknowledge how much you're asking, be willing to understand if it's too much for some people, and consider compromising the external "perfections" of your day in exchange for what really should be important: the ability to be surrounded and supported in your decision by the people you love.

Or you could reject the essential heteronormativity of weddings (elope!) and marriage entirely, pay a lawyer a couple hundred bucks to draw up some power of attorney shit and just live your life.

Yeah, ok, that was silly. Please just try to be nice to the people you love and want at your wedding. The end.

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Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com

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Comments

16 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I was just commenting to a

I was just commenting to a friend about how ridiculous the expectations of weddings have become. Recently I was in a friend's wedding, and over the course of their engagement I: helped pay for the engagement party, bought an engagement party gift, helped pay for the bridal shower, bought a bridal shower gift, helped pay for the bachelorette party, bought a bachelorette party gift, had to buy a new dress for the rehearsal dinner, bought a small rehearsal dinner gift, bought the dress, the shoes, paid for professional hair, nails, and make up, and bought a gift for the wedding day. The fact that someone needs to budget to be *in* someone's wedding shows how ridiculous expectations have gotten (and all the other bridesmaids were spending the exact same amount, it was what was expected of us).

I should specify that I don't

I should specify that I don't mind being involved, but if you are relying on the same people to throw you an engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelorette party, especially in a region where it is expected to give a gift at all of these events as well as the rehearsal, you are asking too much of your friends. At the very least, specify "no gifts" at some of the events or opt not to have them/have them in conjunction with each other (shower in the afternoon/bachelorette party in the evening) to make it easier on the people who are footing the bill for all of these events. I think a good rule is never saying "You have to throw me an engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelorette party!"

The porcelain figurine on top in modern weddings...

The best part is when all of this is expected of the attendants and close friends/family, and the couple have been living together for half a decade already. You're making a life together. That's awesome. How does my dropping a few grand help you to be more committed than you were before?

Yes. I'm down with throwing

Yes. I'm down with throwing a party, but I don't get how a really committed couple that's already been living together is justified in asking for all new homewares. Or, in the case of some recent weddings I've seen, asking their friends to donate for a honeymoon or a down payment on a house. When did it become acceptable to plan an event you can't afford? Your guests are not financial backers, they shouldn't have to have financial conversations when they get invited to an event with such lovely meaning.

As an aside, whether you have the legal right to marry or not (which I wish more hetero couples were sensitive to anyway, as someone whose office is massively full of wedding talk all the time), many of us just choose not to. So these massive, expensive celebrations can make unmarried people feel so, so shitty. Between the tax breaks and the insurance benefits and the fact that every wedding I've been to so far was for a couple that had already been living together and had all the necessities covered, the weddingstravanganza just feels like so much overkill.

I genuinely WANT to do something thoughtful for my loved ones when they marry, but even just getting invited can feel like getting an invoice.

>> I'm down with throwing a

>> I'm down with throwing a party, but I don't get how a really committed couple that's already been living together is justified in asking for all new homewares.

Registry items have traditionally been a list of extravagances gift givers may choose from if they wish and can afford to treat the couple. When couples start demanding gifts, there's a problem. I'm making sure to include items with a wide price range, so guests who wish to give us a physical item as a wedding gift can find suggestions at many price levels. My fiance and I have lived together for over three years. If someone does not wish to give us a wedding gift because we've lived together, that's their business. I'm not inviting people to our wedding just so they will give us gifts.

I also had a bad experience as a bridesmaid, having to shell out a bunch of money because the bride was family. I'm keeping my bridesmaid list down to the essential ladies and am making sure our budget includes a stipend for some of their expenses.

That's terrible that your

That's terrible that your have to pay out money to be a bridesmaid, iIn the UK the bride pays for everything for her bridesmaids. If a bridesmaid buys her own dress which is rare, then it's generally accepted that the style is her choice and she buys something she can wear again. It's also traditional to buy your bridesmaids gifts to say thank you, I've been a bridesmaid 3 times and it hasn't cost me a penny.

prioritizing = happiness

I love planning sites like Offbeat Bride, Indiebride, etc., that help cut through the How To Have The Perfect Everything mantra that's come to take over so much of wedding planning. I totally credit IB for making our commitment ceremony less crazy-making, since there was an emphasis on prioritizing and consciously stepping away from the parts of your event that aren't as important to you.

That said, it felt a lot easier to scale down during our shindig than it is to resist some of the opulence around friends' celebrations. I'm working on reframing things so that I can see sticking to my budget as being a part of honoring the true essence of friendship and community, rather than feeling guilty about whether I'm 'covering my plate' at their super-fancy venue after paying for plane+hotel, but it's not easy.

Also, the idea of 'rehearsal dinner gifts' blows my mind.

it's so ingrained

It's amazing to me how ingrained these expectations are even among guests! When we got married (in a ceremony/process that seemed plenty extravagant to me) we didn't have any kind of showers or engagement parties or anything like that. Apparently some of my more traditional relatives were so horrified that my wife wasn't going to get a bridal shower that they unsolicited sent us a box full of party hats, poems they had written and of course all kinds of kitchen crap. It was really sweet, of course, and we do use maybe a third of the stuff they sent, but really, why? It just kind of blew my mind that the fact that we weren't doing a shower blew their minds.

What Should You Do? Run!!!

I agree totally, I can't believe people expect the whole world to stop because they're getting married. I recently had to just say "sorry but no i can't be your bridesmaid anymore, it's too stressful and expensive",, naturally my friend was upset and told me not to come to the wedding and exactly, the whole "im so disappointed you can't do this for me and you're ruining the most important day of my life" crap, That let me know I made the right decision, I'm so disappointed that Bridezillas exist, I thought that was a kind of joke, but you do see perfectly sane, seemingly non-materialistic people turn into self-absorbed greedy princesses. The saddest part of all is that all I can think now is "you're probably gonna get divorced soon" because it's like 50% end in divorce at least and also if you really feel the need to go to such great expensive lengths to prove to everybody how great and in love you are, then there's something wrong with it all to begin with! All my friends, even not in that friend group, think I have done the unthinkable and no matter what the cost or stress that I should have gone through with it regardless, but I don't care, I feel so much better, the bride-to-be was freaking out at the 6 month before mark!!?? To me, it truly feels like there is no love involved whasoever and I vowed I will never be a bridesmaid for anyone ever unless i state clearly i am not paying any money - why is it a honour to me if i have to spend all the money, why is it ok for them to spend thousands on centrepieces, flowers,cake and then not pay for the supposedly "most dearest" things to them - friends???!!! I always had a feeling I would elope but after this recent debacle - definitely I will spend the wedding money on flying out just me and my guys immediate family or elope somewhere on a beach somewhere, it doesnt matter anything about any details - if you really love the person, you don't need any of that superficial crap! If you really don't care about the gifts, state clearly "no gifts", i had one set of friends who only wanted donations to be made to charity if you really felt like getting them a present or don't worry - that is real love. Oh yeah, the same friend I backed out as bridesmaid was one of those gifts of donations to our honeymoon... seriously? If you can afford all of this to put on a show for your wedding, you can afford it, how cheeky-begging like people on the street, I would be so incredibly ashamed to do this, if I ever get asked to do this at a wedding, I am definitely gonna buy them some cheap crap toaster/kettle as punishment for being such demanding, greedy pigs! Yes, you can definitely see after this recent incident - I HATE WEDDINGS!! Even though my ex-friend hates me for not being her bridesmaid, she doesn't realise I would have ended up hating her and never speaking to her again after the wedding as I did not realise there was that ugly side to her, What do the men think of this behaviour of weddings, or are they just as greedy too? My mother said in her day it was easy, she was continually shocked with all my "bridemaid responsbilities", I literally was crying, stressing over the whole thing and that was at the 6 month mark, I think if I had of stayed in the bridal party - I would have had a nervous breakdown!! Good luck to any other bridemaids out there, you deserve some kind of award, but who are these close "friends" who we can't even speak reasonably to anymore just because it's their wedding?! That's the first time I got everything off my chest about my feelings on weddings - sorry to rant but I know there are others who agree!

Couples usually feel some

Couples usually feel some level of obligation to offer a big party, because some people really do care. If you're not one of them, and you're not a close member of a family that does lots of family obligations, you should not feel obligated to participate. For many families, and some old groups of friends, weddings are like funerals and big holidays. It's simply hard to get everyone together without a big occasion. I've noticed that my family treats big events like this. Even at the parties that were theoretically celebrating something one of us did, we only had to be the center of attention for long enough to provide a little conversational fodder. If we went long enough without a big event, people would invent a holiday bbq, family vacation, reunion, or make a big deal out of a birthday.

If you do want to be a part of everything, you shouldn't have to make a big purchase to provide a thoughtful gift. Helping to keep event costs down in the first place is usually more welcome. If it's more convenient to give a gift than to help out, a well thought out handmade gift may be better loved. If you are just going to buy a gift, it seems pretty reasonable for it to be about the amount that you'd have spent on a nice night out at a restaurant serving about the same food. For comparison, if it was an ordinary dinner party, the expectation would be that you'd return the favor by hosting one yourself, and in the meantime, you'd bring a nice wine or dessert. The level of expectation for wedding guests is usually lower than dinner party guests.

I find showers a little odd. They can be very helpful for couples who are coming out of the college years, and then they're fun. I'm happy to pitch in toward getting the first good set of pots and pans. I remember the shock and joy of getting a real mixer, and it's neat to help other people get a functional kitchen going. Besides, once the shower is out of the way, they are usually equipped to start hosting house guests well. I guess I find a shower to be pretty equivalent to having a graduation or housewarming party. It's a chance for family and friends to provide a basic dowry, to get you started in life. I've noticed that people who are pretty well established tend to skip them (particularly older couples, and those on second marriages).

Bachelor/Bachelorette events seem like a manufactured event to me. The money spent doesn't benefit anyone. Unless it's incredibly fun, or you're part of a crowd that normally parties like that, it's unsatisfying. More than half the people I know skip them, and the ones that have something, usually change them to something that's more like the normal way they spend time with their friends.

In fairness to those who cannot get married, I think we need to treat any commitment ceremony equally, and push like heck for equality.

In fairness to those that never plan to marry, I encourage you to have other big parties. A graduation, housewarming, big birthday, or something, allows us to shower you with the things you need, and the attention. Briefly. Everyone knows, in the end, no matter what the party is, it's for your guests.

I'm an unapologetic bitch

I'm going to a wedding in one hour. It's a destination wedding. My husband & I have only spent time w these people 4x. And during those 4x I really didn't enjoy their company all that much. That said, the groom asked my husband to be a groomsman, because a lot of his out of town close friends couldn't make it. (Red flag) He said 'yes' without consulting me first. He'll never do that again. ;) we've had to take time off from work, drive 3 hours to the middle of nowhere, stay in an expensive hotel for 2 nights and rent a tux--all for a couple who I don't really know well enough to know if I want to pursue a friendship.

We are not getting them a gift. Our presence has been quite enough. And I'm pretty sure this is the nail in the coffin for any budding friendship we might have had.

Sad to see all the

Sad to see all the "Bridezilla" talk on a website that's supposed to be feminist! :(

It's more sad to see people

It's more sad to see people treat their friends like ATMs and servants. And in the original response, as you can see, Ms. Opinionated made her advice as gender-neutral as possible.

'Begging'

For wedding gifts me and my fiancé are asking people to help contribute to the honey moon. We already live together and have everything that we need. We're planning a big family wedding, because like other people have said its these sorts of occasions when big families can get together, and we are also paying for some of our friends to come to the wedding and putting them up because we desperately want them to come but know they will not be able to afford it.
Our honey moon is to the Ice Hotel and there is just so much to do and we know that we will probably never go back and so don't want to miss out on anything. On the other hand we have just paid for our wedding and everything that goes with it and trying to make it a special day, sorry ladies I have the princess mentality. It will be my only wedding and I would like to feel special.
I don't expect people to pay out of their price range. I'm only having a hen night because I know the bridesmaids want to plan one. We're going to pay for all the bridesmaids dresses etc. and have an open bar. I don't feel like this is begging but asking people, who when you go to wedding want to get people something, to contribute (as much or as little as they want) on something that will actually be appreciated.

To do that does not require

To do that does not require that every member of the couple's community be in attendance, it doesn't require thousands of dollars be spent on folderol and banquet food, it doesn't require a year of mini-celebrations leading up to that day and it doesn't demand the receipt of thousands of dollars worth of home goods the celebrants wouldn't otherwise buy for themselves. Figurines

Someone who assumes that

Someone who assumes that everyone else's needs, priorities and budgets are automatically secondary or totally unimportant because it is his or her Big Special Day doesn't sound like the best friend ever. sound of harmony