I'm honored to be a bridesmaid in my dear friend's wedding later this summer. The only problem is that being a bridesmaid costs approximately one million dollars and I'm a starving grad student.
My friend isn't a wedding-crazy bridezilla who expects us to pony up for hair extensions and matching "bridesmaid" bikinis for pre-wedding pool time (that's totally a thing---I saw it on television). She's been so thoughtful that she's even arranged for family members to host us in her hometown since she knows we all have to pay for plane tickets to get there. The expenses that go along with traditional weddings just add up -- for everyone involved.
At this point I've adequately scrimped to get the dress, the shoes, the plane tickets, and the wedding gift. Unfortunately, her bachelorette party is coming up in a couple weeks and it's a weekend trip to her family's vacation house. Between the plane tickets, the dinners out, etc, I don't see how I can swing it. This is one of my very best friends and I hate the thought of not being there for a big event in her life though. How do I handle this?
The Penniless Pal
Dear Penny P,
It appears to be a trend that, instead of a night out of debauchery, bachelorette parties are now days-long events. Should we blame The Hangover? Perhaps not---in general, it is pretty great that women are asking themselves, "How do I really want to usher in this new phase in my life?" and what they are coming up with is having their closest friends around them for a weekend, soaking up support and relaxation before all the bustle of the wedding begins. It's sort of a last hurrah before joint couple vacations happen.
But that's what this is: a vacation. You stated you are sad not to be there for a big event in your friend's life, but the event is the wedding. This is a vacation, that your friend has invited you on, that will be totally centered on her. I hope I can adequately explain that I have zero judgment about this practice. I have been invited on many such weekends in the past few years, as ladies getting hitched have decided they'd prefer a fun time away with their friends rather than a sure-to-be-slightly-embarrassing "bachelorette party".
Many of us cannot afford vacation, however. We simply don't take them. A "weekend away" is not a reality for us, or if it is, it is rare and hard-won. People from income brackets and lifestyles that give them actual time to take vacations and the funds to do so take week (or month) long vacations, and then consider these little weekends away to be just something you do with your Saturdays and Sundays.
Which must be nice. But those of us without that kind of life spend our weekends at the laundromat, planning meticulous weekly meals that fit our tiny budget and shopping for them, and, often, working our second job. Most of the time, it feels okay to do this. This is the life we either chose because we believed in it, or are willing to accept, at least for now. However, it goes from feeling fine to feeling like shite when all your friends are on a weekend vacation while you are wondering if you have enough pennies to splurge on the tiny box of fabric softener this week.
So, where does that leave you? You have two choices. The first one is: you stay home, sit with your disappointment, and work hard at not turning it into resentment. Perhaps you can offer a special night later in the month with your friend that is just the two of you---you can cook her dinner at your place, present her with a thoughtful homemade gift, and talk about the coming changes for both of you as she embarks on marriage.
You'll have to work together on managing the fact that you can't show up for your friend in the way that you want to, because of your different lifestyles. This is going to keep happening. We always want to give more to our friends than we can, and often it is because it is impossible to be at the same place at the same time in our lives every step of the way. She sounds very thoughtful and understanding, so forgiving yourself for not going on the weekend will be tantamount.
The second choice is you ask for help. If this is just too important to miss, you must lay it all out for your friend. You tell her you can't afford the dinners out, so can you all cook dinner at the place where you are staying? Ask her if she has some frequent flyer miles you can use to get out there. Let her know how much you want to be there, but you simply can't do it on your own at this time in your life. If she can help you, I'm sure she will, and it will bring you closer to work on raising the funds together.
Either way, you have to be really vulnerable and truthful with your friend about your financial situation, and your desire to be there for her. I really believe she is going to be understanding either way, so the hard realities will be all your own. Your love for your friend is non-monetized. This is only one weekend, and it sounds like you are a friend who will be with her in the grander sense, for much longer than that.
In Broke Solidarity,