Why it’s time to say ‘I don’t’ to toxic wedding culture

Staring at my phone, I was flabbergasted. My normal afternoon at work had turned into a nightmare. 

‘If you’re going to be like this, then don’t bother being my bridesmaid,’ my phone pinged.

My friend’s wedding was 18 months away but I’d been receiving frenzied updates for weeks. 

There would be two hen do’s – one in London, and one abroad. Demands from the bride were coming thick and fast: could I also fly from Birmingham, instead of my home in London, so I could get a limo to the airport with everyone?

Although we’d agreed I would choose – and pay for – my own bridesmaid’s dress, I was now being bombarded with dress options via WhatsApp.  

I’m a busty woman with wide hips, and I knew the dresses she’d chosen wouldn’t fit me. When I politely responded with alternatives, she flipped. I was one of the many people apparently interfering and dictating their own needs onto her special day.

A four-year friendship unceremoniously flushed down the pan within days over a Boohoo maxi dress. I tried to be supportive and reason with my friend, but almost overnight I was disinvited, de-friended by other members of the bridal party on social media and all contact between us ceased. 

I can laugh about it today, but as the years have passed – and despite the fact we’re recovering from a pandemic – why is wedding culture still tearing us apart, when it’s supposed to bring us together?

As Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted for weddings and civil partnerships in England, it’s a time to celebrate, but also one to reflect on just how toxic weddings can be, and what we can do to change this.

Maybe a single woman who was dumped during lockdown shouldn’t be lecturing people on wedding etiquette. However, I’m still a romantic and I firmly believe that weddings shouldn’t cause any unnecessary guilt, expense or obligation.  

Pre-pandemic, the average cost of attending a UK wedding was £391. I’ve received three wedding invitations per year since 2015, and fortunately I’ve had time to save money, recycle my outfits and split the costs with friends.  

After my disastrous bridesmaid experience, I was understandably nervous to say ‘no’ again in case I was perceived as being difficult or ungrateful, but other friends have been incredibly considerate and sensitive.

When a few of us couldn’t afford a hens trip to Liverpool in 2019, the bride didn’t mind that we organised a smaller, ‘hens day out’ in London.

Meanwhile, another close friend emphasised that she wanted her hen weekend to be stress-free and affordable. We were all consulted at the planning stage and there was no judgement if we said ‘no’ to something. A spa day was discussed for the Sunday and I politely declined as it wasn’t in my budget.

You would think that after the heartache of the pandemic, and the impact on mental health, couples would be saying ‘life’s too short’ and scaling back… if only that were the case.  

Just 4% of postponing couples have pushed their weddings back to 2022. It’s understandable that people are desperate to get married and don’t want to lose money. Not to mention the wedding industry has suffered a £430million loss, with thousands of people out of work.

I’ve already been to one wedding since ‘Freedom Day’, with another in the calendar for this year. Then there’s three next year, including two postponements and hen and stag parties.

It’s lovely to be included, but as we face a tsunami of weddings and accompanying fanfare, there needs to be a level of compromise and increased sensitivity from those whose expectations still haven’t changed.

It’s hard for people to admit they’re feeling anxious and stressed. But I know many people who are giving up countless weekends at the last minute to attend wedding ceremonies and hen and stag dos – sometimes knowing no-one other than the bride and groom. I even know someone who’s been given a lengthy ‘dress code’ for a single hen weekend.  

If the bride is one of your best friends – and this is something you’re happy to do – then fine. But what if you’re not? What if you’re forking out for accommodation and travel by yourself and have been furloughed – or worse, you’re bearing the brunt of losing your job due to Covid?

I’m sure every bride imagines a bit of pizzazz for their hen do, but wouldn’t a boozy brunch and some cocktails also fit the bill? There’s nothing wrong with having a smaller celebration – thousands of couples have done this during the pandemic.  

As well as the money, and the pressure to socialise after months of isolation, it’s the assumption that everything is obligatory. Are you sure that everyone wants to do that Beyonce dance class, jump in a kayak or make a tea cosy in a mandated crafts session?  

During the pandemic, we’ve learnt to respect each other’s boundaries. So why are weddings still an excuse to pressure our friends into doing something they may not want to do, or can’t afford? 

‘Destination weddings’ (and hen and stag parties abroad) are the worst – a concept that post-pandemic seems even more objectively selfish. Some couples may have family ties abroad, but others are choosing destination weddings for no reason other than vanity.  

Coming out of the pandemic, we all deserve a holiday of our own choosing. Why should your friends cough up cash – and potentially put their own life plans on hold to save for houses and holidays – so they can watch a butler in the buff grind on you in Benidorm?  

I would never expect my friends and family to give up their time and money (plus quarantine and potentially put themselves at risk of Covid), just to hear me say ‘I do’. 

I’m lucky that my best friends and I appear to be on the same page where our potential future weddings are concerned. I’m an anxious person and a planner, but I never want anyone I love to feel put out, and I won’t allow one day of my life to ruin a treasured friendship.  

I’ve had some amazing experiences at weddings but it’s time for a dose of reality. I worry how this post-pandemic wedding ‘boom’ will affect people unless we show some flexibility and understanding.

Please talk to people before you book something. Take into account that people are dealing with their own issues, and we’re grieving as we try to understand this ‘new normal’. 

Just because you love to do something, your friends may not. Are you unwittingly heaping pressure onto someone you care about, or taking offence when you shouldn’t, and will this damage your friendship in the long-term? 

Remember that no wedding will ever be perfect, and no-one is obliged to attend anything. I’ve seen what can happen when someone starts to feel entitled and lashes out, irretrievably damaging a friendship. The change starts with being honest, and to respect saying ‘I don’t’ sometimes, instead of ‘I do’.

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