Courtney Duffy made national news over the summer when she begged JetBlue to help her cancel a cross-country flight to be in a friend's wedding, telling the world the bride had asked her to "relinquish" her bridesmaid duties.
A screenshot of the bride's passive-aggressive email, in which she indicated "the whirlwind nature of what your travel has become just won't work with the duties as a party member," went viral and sparked a conversation: In this day and age, what are those duties?
Wedding planners and those who have studied the wedding industrial complex say the duties and expectations have reached epic proportions. Gone are the days when a night out on the town was sufficient for a bachelorette party — instead, brides want four-day trips to Nashville, and some grooms think hiking in Colombia is a good way to celebrate their impending nuptials.
There are more events leading up to the Big Day, like elaborate proposals, engagement parties, multiple bridal showers, destination bachelorette parties, and dress-shopping outings, and they're often longer than they used to be. Businesses are capitalizing on the changes, too, meaning there's more to pay for, from custom bridal shower Snapchat filters to matching bachelorette weekend T-shirts with phrases like "Wife of the Party" and "On Cloud Wine" in sparkly script.
"The pre-wedding stuff has just gotten so spectacular and so expensive," said Laurie Essig, a professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Middlebury College. "It's so brilliant, because it's just more and more stuff to sell, and more and more stuff to buy. That's the marriage of capitalism and romance."
There were always costs associated with being a part of a family member's or close friend's wedding, but those obligations have only increased, particularly as Americans are waiting longer to get married. The median age of a first marriage for women is 27 and for men, 29, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1960, it was 20 for women and 22 for men. That means the betrothed and the attendants have more money — and higher expectations.
Alyssa Longobucco, an editor at wedding planning website the Knot, said that according to a survey the site conducted in the last year, the typical member of a wedding party spent $1,430 on the entire experience, a figure that includes travel and accommodations for each event, gifts, attire, and accessories. When you have three close friends getting married in the same year, you're well on your way to spending the equivalent of a down payment on a car.
"It's a pretty steep number, and it is a little jarring," she said, "[but] the whole millennial outlook is paying for experiences, and we're finding a lot of people don't mind. The thought process is: She will do it for me."
Or maybe they do mind. More than a dozen people who were recently in extravagant weddings declined to be interviewed for this article — they didn't want to publicly shame their close friends.
Plenty of people, though, are willing to call them out on Facebook in what have been dubbed "wedding shaming groups." The pages gained mainstream traction in August after a story from one of the groups — about a bride who canceled her wedding after her guests refused to fund it — went viral.
Members of wedding parties frequently use the groups to post about their unnamed friends' expectations.
"Is it me, am I showing my age, or are bridesmaids being expected to pay way too much?" one woman posted recently in a private group. "A coworker, who I know makes way less than I do, had to pay a total of $1,200 as a member of a wedding party … In addition to paying for the dress, required tanning sessions, nails, makeup, the bridal party was told they had to pay for a wine tasting 'bridal shower,' which cost $600 per bridesmaid for wines selected by the mother of the bride."
The post drew hundreds of comments, including: "I spent $5,000 to be in my best friend's wedding … Custom made gowns from India, three nights at a five star luxury hotel, bachelorette week in Vegas … Just the beginning."
Kelly Gallagher, a Philadelphia event planner, put it more bluntly.
"More and more, what we're seeing is there's a lot of demand to do different stuff so that, I hate to say it," she said, "but so that their Instagram makes people jealous."
"Different" means personalized, and going beyond visiting a strip club in Atlantic City. For the masses, it's a three- or four-day trip to popular hot spots like New Orleans, Vegas, Miami, Austin, or Nashville, said Gallagher, director of marketing for Bach Party Travel, a new group focused specifically on planning bachelor and bachelorette parties.
But for those with the money to spend, the experiences are getting bigger and bigger, and Gallagher said it's the little details (that add up in price) — like personalized bathing suits and raunchy T-shirts — that mean a party is on a "distinct different level."
It's the men who are routinely spending more, shelling out to party in Ibiza, drink at Oktoberfest in Munich, or go whitewater rafting in Central America, Gallagher said. The latest destination hot spot for the guys is Colombia. "You always hear about millennials wanting experiences over things," she said, "so this is a huge market, not just for millennials, but people getting married that are older that want to travel and almost use this as an excuse to travel with their friends."
Longubucco said expectations vary, but generally, wedding party members should expect to attend a shower event, the bachelor or bachelorette party, the rehearsal dinner, and the wedding. She recommends brides and grooms have a frank discussion with their close family and friends about being in the wedding party before people accept. Outline hopes and expectations, and ensure friends feel comfortable disclosing financial constraints. And, she said, if a person can't afford it, involve him or her in the Big Day another way, perhaps by being an usher or a reader at the ceremony.
Longobucco said that although she sees "a Reddit story about a demanding Bridezilla" every week, this isn't the norm.
As some engaged millennials shell out thousands to be part of the umpteen celebrations, there's been a sense among others that simplification is the way to go. They respond to the razzle-dazzle by doing the opposite: being uber-conscious of managing their expectations so as not to drain their friends' bank accounts, or even eliminating bridal parties altogether.
Essig, whose book Love, Inc.: Dating Apps, the Big White Wedding, and Chasing the Happily Neverafter drops in February, said fewer people are getting married in general, many of them resisting "the capitalist pull" of the wedding industry or unable to afford it. She guesses such resistance will only increase.