Why Couldn't I Just Tell My Friend I Couldn't Afford Her Hen Do?
The Debrief: Because coming clean about money when you've just been picked as a bridesmaid isn't without it's complications
There are two rules I have. Firstly, I will never insist my friends come to a birthday celebration meal and make them all split the bill – we will pay for what we’ve eaten. Secondly, I will never organise a hen do that costs upwards of £200. (Alright, I have more rules, but those are the most relevant right now) 'Oh, but it’s your special day!' I hear everyone cry, through a cloud of lilies, fairylight-decorated marquees and old copies Bride Weekly. You should do whatever you want! Have it in Spain! Demand everyone wear only monochromatic or gold outfits! Provide a gift list from Selfridges!
Great if you’re pissing money – but what about your mates working as waitresses unable to scrape their own rent together?
A few years ago, when I was a waitress and an unpaid writer for blogs nobody had heard of, my best mate from home got engaged. We’d grown apart, as is expected when one of you moves to a northern town to become a doctor and the other migrates south to live on canned kidney beans (someone told me they had antioxidants in them or whatever) – but she still made me her only bridesmaid. When I found out, I heard my bank account do one of those sobbing on the in-breath noises. 'Quiet, bank account,' I said firmly. 'It’s a wedding, not a Topshop lock-in. And what are you supposed to do? Say you can’t afford it? Come on. It’s her wedding, for God’s sake.'
It got more complicated, though. There were lots of ruffled feathers, as the girls back home presumed she hadn’t picked anyone. When it got out that I, who lives in London and never comes back home or sees anyone, had been made the bridesmaid, the ruffled feathers pretty much flew off and tried to strangle my mate. She told me on the phone she was getting some 'serious shit' – one of the girls had burst into tears and left the room and another had refused to speak to her for a week. 'I think they’re a bit confused as to why I picked you, but I figured you’d just be the easiest and least bitchy, and I’m sort of being proved right,' she said one night.
Her banker best man had projected £140 for the hen and I was overdrawn by a grand and sleeping on the kitchen floor under a table while waitressing
So imagine everyone’s total unadulterated, feathery joy when her best man (he was in charge of organising it), announced that her surprise hen do would be white water rafting in Scotland, and I had to say I couldn’t afford to come. He (a banker) had projected £140 before we’d factored in drinks and train tickets and, at that point, I was overdrawn by a grand and sleeping on the kitchen floor under a table in North London while waitressing till 2am every other night. I sent him a long email including the direct quote, 'I don't think [insert my wedded friends name] realised this when she made me her bridesmaid and, believe me, I feel so guilty about the whole thing. I really wish she'd picked someone with a secure job, or at least someone who'd be able to stump up £200 for a once-in-a-lifetime weekend. I’m so sorry.'
There was no reply. No 'Hey that’s alright' – and that was when I figured there was going to be a problem.
If you’ve ever tried to explain to a friend who picked you as her only bridesmaid – and is getting 'serious shit' for it – that you can’t afford to go to any of her wedding celebrations bar the actual wedding, then you’ll know what happens. If you could let me know too, that’d be great – I decided to deal with it like a mature 24-year-old adult and get my mum to call her mum. What?! It worked. Sort of.
'Oh my God, don’t worry, you’re all the way down in London and I totally understand,' she said, calling me while I was on shift and after her mum had obviously passed on the news. I explained why I hadn’t been able to tell her myself – because I was so worked up and frustrated about the whole thing – and she was lovely about it. 'But you will be coming to the dinner, though, right? Oh. That’s a... shame.' There was a frosty silence on the other end of the phone for five seconds which, as we all know, equates to roughly 17 phone years.
'I’m sorry, I’m so embarrassed.' I said, obviously so pathetically that she took pity and it was never mentioned again. By her. A few weeks later, when it got out, I received a charming message from one of her friends – a girl we both went to school with – saying how she had 'no idea why I’d been picked as a bridesmaid if I couldn’t be fucked going to the hen do' and that my friend deserved better. She also said it was probably a good idea I didn't 'show my face' at the meal. I was too ashamed to admit it was for financial reasons – they all owned houses and had dogs and drinks cabinets by that point – so I didn’t reply. I just re-read it whenever I began to feel positive about anything, to really gain a sense of perspective.
In the run-up to the wedding, we’d been told not to provide presents, but a donation towards the honeymoon. Instead, I’d written up all the memories I could think of that me and her shared and put that in the envelope as my gift, apologising for not being able to afford anything more but hoping it’d be worth more than money. We’d grown up together, gone to the same schools, so there were quite a few funny anecdotes and I figured that was the next best thing I could do.
The wedding was beautiful and loads of fun, apart from when I got her veil a bit tangled, and everyone jumped to sort it, as proof that they’d be WAY better at this bridesmaid stuff
When I drunkenly ran this by one of our mutual friends at the wedding – which was beautiful and loads of fun, apart from when I got her veil a bit tangled, and everyone jumped to sort it, as proof that they’d be WAY better at this bridesmaid stuff – she frowned and said, 'Jesus, you couldn’t even give her money for travelling? Couldn’t you have saved something? You’re her fucking bridesmaid.' I left the party early. It was fairly exhausting – the topic of my inability to untangle her veil was the only thing anybody said to me, aside from how fun the hen do was and asking why I couldn’t go. Later, I found out from my one ally there (and probably my only remaining friend I grew up with) that everyone knew it was because I couldn’t afford it. They just either didn’t find that acceptable or were so blinded by bridesmaid-jealousy that they couldn’t think straight.
My now-married friend never mentioned any of it. This would be fine, but we haven’t been in touch since the wedding. In fact, and this probably says more about me and my pauper complex, I’m too embarrassed to speak to any of my old friends any more because of that wedding. And it was nearly two years ago.
I would never blame my friend, but I would definitely blame everyone else who made me feel less than human just because I didn’t have the ability to drop hundreds of pounds on a hen do. And, in retrospect, if I had just said something early on, the moment my bank balance had done the sobbing on the in-breath, it would have saved a lot of disappointment, nastiness and a fair few friendships.
Picture: Beth Hoeckel
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating