For all the social change that has occurred over the past hundred years, the today’s typical wedding is still steeped heavily in tradition. Even offbeat brides and grooms follow many of the same customs as their ancestors. Whether the ceremony takes place in a church, on a beach, aboard an airplane, or any number of creative venues, most couples comply with the social expectation of a bridal party, including a maid of honour and best man.
There are variations to this tradition, sure. I once attended a wedding where the bride selected a ‘man of honour’ in lieu of a female friend. But the point remains – it’s a decisive declaration of who is most important to the bride and groom.
Nowhere else is it acceptable to rank and label one’s own closes friends and family, let alone so publicly!
It’s no surprise that bridal party selection can lead to rifts in the relationship between once-close friends and family members. You can’t make everyone a bridesmaid or groomsman (or bridesman/groomsmaid, if you’re a bit of a radical), because that would defeat the purpose. But nor can most people choose their select few without hurting a few feelings.
There are other clear social signals that come to play in planning a wedding. Where people are seated in the ceremony is one. Those with a front-row seat are clearly favoured in one way or another, be it by blood or by friendship. Seating at the reception is also significant. The greater the distance between the guest and bride and groom, the less perceived closeness.
No one likes to feel left out. But this process can also be tough on the couple, especially the bride, who is the one left to make these decisions.
Perhaps the easiest way to head off this conflict is to do away with the practice of selecting a bridal party altogether. However, it’s clear the tradition is still important to most couples (or at least to their families). It’s not going anywhere fast.
To make sure your friendship survives the wedding planning process, be proactive about acknowledging anyone who may feel hurt by their exclusion from the bridal party:
- Once you’ve decided who will join, make a point of sending a note to those who didn’t make the cut. You don’t have to explain why.
- Reaffirm their relationship to you. Emphasize that their attendance at the wedding is important to you.
- Consider giving them an opportunity to be a part of the process in another way. The bridal party doesn’t have to handle everything. For example, you could ask them to help you research vendors, select music, or find a DJ. If you’re adding a bit of DIY flair to the wedding, perhaps they could help out.