I’m supposed to be a bridesmaid, but COVID-19 and sheer expense make me want to bail on this destination wedding

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I’m supposed to be a bridesmaid this summer in a college friend’s wedding out of state. The wedding was originally planned for summer 2020 and it was supposed to take place here in Alaska. It was delayed due to COVID.

My friend has rescheduled for this summer. Now it’s a smaller event with more of a “destination wedding” feel. When she shared this, my first thought was how great it would be to get out of here — finally! — and travel somewhere warm. Now I’m wondering if I should go at all.

Everything is costing way more than it should. I have to have transportation there — the venue is kind of off on its own — and there are literally zero rental cars available. I tried going through an app where you rent cars directly from people, and those were hundreds of dollars a day. On top of that, with all the mask mandate changes, I’m feeling more uneasy about the travel itself. In fact, one good friend’s 10-year-old just got a bad case of COVID, and they believe she got it while flying.

My friend has been very critical of people who are “afraid” to go to her wedding, saying how grateful she was to all of us who will be there for her. I know postponing the original wedding was hard on her. How can I tell her I can’t go without upsetting her and damaging our friendship?

Wanda says:

COVID or no COVID, destination weddings are expensive to pull off for the marrying couple and guests alike and involve an amplified investment of both time and money by all parties. Momentarily placing your friend’s feelings and interests aside, it is perfectly understandable that with the circumstances and logistics of the wedding changed so dramatically from its first iteration, you would reevaluate your participation and perhaps decide not to attend.

According to the preeminent wedding website The Knot, while a typical wedding sees an RSVP decline rate of about 15%, destination weddings see anywhere from 20% to 30% of guests decline to attend. Your friend must know that despite her hopes and dreams for her big day, she’d see a few friends slide off the guest list with her new, pricier, more complex plan.

The best thing you can do is let her know as soon as your mind is made up — and it sounds like it is. Wedding planning is stressful and logistical hurdles seem to pop up at every bend of the track, so in one sense, the sooner you tell her, the sooner she can hear it, process it, and accept it, and move on to tackling the next barrier. If she’s a true friend, after dealing with her own dismay and disappointment, she’ll understand that while your decision didn’t come easy, it is the right decision for you.

Wayne says:

Well, I don’t think you can tell her that you aren’t going to attend her wedding without hurting her feelings and probably damaging the friendship to some extent. That’s reality. Even if she’s the most understanding, forgiving and easygoing friend you’ve got, she’s still going to be really bummed, if not downright disappointed, that you aren’t going to be there for her big day. You’re one of her bridesmaids. Your presence is clearly very important to her.

That said, you agreed to the bridesmaid assignment and local wedding attendance one very long and extremely life-changing pandemic ago. So if you are truly set in your decision to not deal with all of the potential health hurdles and the financial free-for-all involved in being there, then you are perfectly within your right to not go. And she’s perfectly within her right to be upset. But I’m guessing she’s going to be pretty upset with a lot of her friends: you can’t be the only one on the guest list who isn’t excited about the sudden wedding remix and the prospects of heavy spending for attending.

But really, this isn’t a decision that’s going to haunt her. This is about making the right decision for you, and ultimately you living with that decision. There’s no fence-straddling on this one. If you decide to go, do it because you really want to be there and you’ll put up with all the added stress and mess to do it. If you choose not to go, do it with full certainty and commitment or else you’ll feel guilty and question yourself forever. Heck, you already are. And beating yourself up is a much worse punishment than anything your possibly-jilted bride friend will dole out.

[My best friend wants an extravagant, out-of-town bachelorette party. How do I convince her that’s a terrible idea?]