Etiquette experts agree you can say 'no' to being part of a wedding party. Here's how to handle the delicate situation. (Photo: DAMIEN MEYER, AFP/Getty Images)

Weddings are an exciting time for people getting married. If those people are your friends, they might ask you to share their joy by being part of the wedding party.

But what if you don’t want to?

Maybe you’re too busy or live too far away. Maybe you can’t afford it. Maybe you’re just not comfortable being part of a wedding party. 

Where do you go from there? Can you say no to the person who just asked you to celebrate what’s probably one of the most important days of their lives? And, if so, how do you decline so you don’t ruin your friendship?

We talked to etiquette experts Lizzie Post of The Emily Post Institute and Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, to help you navigate this delicate situation with ease and class.

Ask for some time to decide 

In the hustle and bustle of wedding excitement, you may immediately be inclined to say yes. It’s OK to ask for some time to think about the request as being a part of a wedding party is a big commitment, both time-wise and financially.

Post says the request to be part of a wedding party should always be posed in a way to give the person a way out, but more often than not, that doesn’t happen. If you get a request via mail, you may have more time to think about it before responding than if you were to get a phone call or be asked in person. 

Post recommends saying something like, “I’m so excited for you and I can’t wait to celebrate with you, but I’d like to take a look at my calendar and finances to see if I can fully commit to this, so you get the (wedding) party that’s going to support you the best.”

How to say ‘No’

Although it might be uncomfortable, you can most certainly say “No.” While you technically don’t need an excuse, this is one of the times where you should provide one to be polite. 

“Having some kind of an explanation is good just so the other person can understand your perspective,” Post says. “You don’t have to give a million reasons and you don’t have to give a reason that’s incredibly serious either. ‘I’m really not able to commit to this’ should be enough.”

Swann says one of the main reasons people decline to join a wedding party is because of financial obligations that come along with participating. While there aren’t set guidelines on how to say no, just make sure that you’re clear and polite. She recommends saying, “Thank you for the invitation to serve (in your wedding). It would be my honor, however, I’m going to have to decline the offer because…”

What happens if they get upset?

Whether you have understanding friends or not, sometimes the engaged person may be disappointed you declined. Is your friendship over? Hopefully not.

Post says the outcome of your choice is something you’re going to have to deal with within your friendships. 

“I suggest being patient and saying ‘I understand this is a disappointment but unfortunately, I can’t make the financial or time commitment, but these are the ways I could support,'” says Post. “Keep it honest but I think that’s a really, really tough one.”

Swann says, realistically, the engaged couple may be upset as they had a certain vision for their wedding with you in it and now that has to change. 

“It’s important for you to recognize that you cannot take on their hurt or pain, the only thing you can do is offer to be there for them as a friend,” Swann says. “One thing you can do is to take away the sting of not participating by offering to be involved with the wedding some other way.”

Swann suggests offering to do a special reading at the ceremony, handle the guestbook or help out as a host. 

Tips for the engaged couple

If you’re expecting people to participate in your wedding party, make sure to be considerate of their financial situations and lifestyle.

Post suggests asking people to participate in your wedding in a way that doesn’t make it sound like they have no other choice but to say yes. It’s also important to understand, as a couple, that as much as people do want to support you, sometimes there are realities that keep them from doing so.

Sometimes folks are struggling financially or are new parents or may have just started a new career, all of which make it difficult to participate.

“From an etiquette standpoint we have to give people the space,” Post says. “When you start demanding commitment, it’s not very considerate of other people.”

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