Q: My husband was a groomsman for his friend Sebastian, after one of Sebastian’s original groomsmen had to pull out. My husband was not upset at being a back-up—he was more flattered and surprised to be asked under any circumstances. He didn’t ask Sebastian to be one of his groomsmen, though. At the rehearsal dinner of another mutual friend Lars (for whom my husband was a groomsman and Sebastian was not), Sebastian’s wife asked me who my husband’s groomsmen were. I was taken aback, and knew it was about to get awkward, but started listing the names. She listened for a minute, then interrupted me with, “And Sebastian, right?” All I could come up with was, “I think he’s an usher.” Then, of course, I had to run to my husband and tell him Sebastian was now an usher, and we had an emergency discussion about who else we needed to find a similar role in the wedding as a result. We added another usher and a reader, both of whom were there with us that weekend so we just played it off as if we’d been planning to ask them in person all along.
But it still bugs the crap out of me. What would you have recommended doing in that situation? Since Sebastian’s best man, Ethan, has privately said that, should he get married, he’s not sure Sebastian would make his list of groomsmen, the information might even come in handy in the future.
—I Thought Middle School Was Over
A:I decided to answer this question even though the moment has passed because you’re absolutely right—it is a really hard question to answer in the moment, and I think it comes up fairly often.
A few background points. First, I’m so glad your husband is a generous open-hearted person, but for those of us following along at home, it’s totally fine to be insulted by (or just decide to pass on) being asked to be a back-up groomsman. The wedding party is a way to honor special people in your lives, not a list of roles that must be filled.
Wedding parties do not have to be reciprocal. Yes, ordinarily you all choose your closest people, but I think we all know situations where a friendship was more important to one person than the other, or the other person just has a shit ton of siblings or childhood friends, or is just having a tiny wedding party, and not everyone makes the list. There’s often some time between weddings. My list of bridesmaids (obvi I have one—you never know when you’ll suddenly need to plan a wedding in six days) tends to change every few years as friendships become more or less important. Long story short, there are excellent reasons why someone would not be included in a wedding party. That doesn’t make answering these questions any less awkward, but it sure does make asking them a bad idea.
So let’s get to the meat of it all. If you’re faced with one of these sudden, bad idea questions, what do you say?!? It can be hard to just say “not you” in the heat of the moment. Buy yourself some time. “Oh, we haven’t decided yet.” “I’m not sure what my fiancé is thinking.” Or, if you’re on top of it, just no. “No, you’re not a bridesmaid. I’m just trying to keep things small.” Having nine bridesmaids? “I’m so looking forward to celebrating with you, but with all my sisters/childhood friends/college friends/a cappella group members, I just couldn’t fit everyone on the list.” I think you really owe people a clear answer. It helps no one to have to have this conversation multiple times because you were so nice they didn’t get the message. But a clear answer can totally include a nice white lie to keep everyone’s feelings intact. In fact, that’s what’s known as manners.
Misspeak? I won’t sentence you to be stuck with someone you really didn’t want just because you flubbed it in the spur of the moment. You can, if you need to, call the person back, as soon as possible, and say, “I’m so sorry, I got carried away yesterday in all the excitement. I so appreciate your willingness to be a groomsman but I’m keeping it smaller. I can’t wait to celebrate with you as a guest.” Awkward? Oh yes. Potentially hurtful? Yup. I’m not saying this is the best choice, but it is an option if you really need to.
Finally, let’s take a moment for Sebastian here. He wasn’t a groomsman for your husband, not for Lars, and he won’t be for Ethan. That’s rough. I don’t think anyone has to solve that problem for Sebastian, but I’d encourage everyone who comes across a similar situation to consider the Sebastians of the world with compassion. No one wants to be in the position of being told they won’t be a member of the wedding party (anyone’s wedding party) any more than you want to be in the position of delivering the news.
PS: Want to know if you’re a member of a wedding party? Wait to be asked!!!