Carolyn Hax: Wasteful bachelorette parties are stressing me out

It’s generally been a positive experience for me and most of my friends have been supportive. Except when there’s a wedding, that is, especially regarding the bachelorette party. The expectation is for a big destination trip with single-use decor and special outfits and accessories and everything. It’s so excessive it makes me crazy.

I love my friends and even though I can afford it, dropping hundreds of dollars for flights and hotels and tons of disposable garbage is really getting to me. The worst part is that one of the brides didn’t seem like she really cared, but the maid of honor felt like she needed to live up to social media standards. When I asked, “Hey, do we need to buy (this wasteful or plastic stuff)?” the answer was, “Of course! Didn’t you see it on the Pinterest/Instagram/TikTok links I sent out?”

It’s really getting out of hand and puts a huge financial burden on people, and for what? A few hours of Instagrammable “fun”? That’s not what friendship is about, in my opinion. Am I a spoilsport if I start bowing out of these festivities? And if so, is it okay to explain my objections when people ask why?

Sustainable Friend: I am you. I recently attended a bachelorette party that followed nearly all the patterns you mentioned, and yes — the cheesy favors that just get tossed irk me to no end. But, for the honor of being asked to play a special role in a friend’s wedding, it was something I chose to look past. I think you’ve done the right thing to press on the maid of honor without haranguing the bride — perhaps you can encourage her to find more reusable, or at least recyclable/biodegradable options, or offer to start a “party chest” for your friend group and store those decorations and baubles for anyone to borrow. If plastic crap is purchased, at least we can try to use it more than once, eh?

You may also think about offsetting your flight miles, and those of your group, as a nice gesture and for some peace of mind about your party’s footprint. Offsets are not a perfect way to counter fossil fuel use by any means, but do your research, and pick one that is third-party verified. They are surprisingly affordable (I am making some assumptions about your financial situation based on your letter).

There is also the adage that individual choice is not the driver of our environmental problems. Of course it is an excellent thing to try to reduce your own footprint. But it can be helpful to zoom out and remember that it is massive industrial and political powers that are at fault for our planet’s suffering, and to some extent we can only exist within the framework they have built if we don’t want to become, as you said, a spoilsport, or even an outcast.

The choice of whether to participate — or to take a silent stand by coming to the party but politely declining the single-use favors, etc. — is yours. Ultimately, the big picture is that you have been offered a place of honor in your friend’s life, and if she’s a good friend, whether or not you wear the glitter hat, she will appreciate your presence because you are important to her, sustainability quirks and all.

Sustainable Friend: I do get (and commend) your sustainable lifestyle. Ultimately though, for these bachelorettes it’s not your party, not your rules. Weddings are a very personal and stressful time, full of a lot of other people’s unsolicited opinions. If I were the bride I’d understand if someone bowed out of a destination bachelorette because they couldn’t afford it (I mean … that’s a lot!), but I would feel hurt if it was because my friend disagreed with my wanting group T-shirts and plastic cups and tiaras. I also wish people would think more sustainably about this side of weddings, because you’re completely right about the waste, but as someone who recently planned a wedding, there are a billion things to think about and I can’t fault someone for wanting to do what’s classic and easy.

You don’t have to participate in something you don’t agree with. But I think it will come off as you placing these values above supporting your friend during a very personal (and stressful!) important occasion, and you should be prepared for the relationship to take damage accordingly.

An intermediate option would be that when you’re invited to one of these bachelorettes, as early as possible before the details are finalized, look up some cheaper and more sustainable alternatives (compostable cups/tiaras, re-wearable T-shirt designs, upcycled sashes, fun local Airbnbs or day trips), suggest them to the group — and importantly, volunteer to source and plan them. The bride/maid of honor may not know how to look for this type of party favor and the idea of learning how is probably overwhelming in the midst of wedding planning. Because of that, you should also graciously accept it if they decline your alternatives, or if they only take you up on one or two suggestions (baby steps still count). You volunteering time and resources toward these substitutes honors your values, avoids creating additional work and allows you to be part of the solution.

Sustainable Friend: For the sustainability issue, I think a distinction needs to be made between once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime events and regular events. One-use decorations for that sort of thing are hardly going to break the camel’s back in light of corporate/industrial waste.

I think the financial issue needs to be addressed separately. Ideally, a friend shouldn’t be putting unreasonable financial burden on others, but unreasonable is different depending on circumstances.

Finally, the “fun” issue. It seems like your idea of an enjoyable time doesn’t line up with most of your friends’. And to an extent that’s fine, you’re not always obligated to enjoy the same things. But sometimes for the sake of friendship, you do what the other person enjoys, as long as it doesn’t actively negatively impact your mental health or well-being. This is especially true for the aforementioned once-in-a-lifetime events.

If you want to bow out, that is your prerogative. But depending on your friends and how important the event is to them, you may face some understandable resentment and it may damage that friendship.

Ultimately, if you can’t afford it, be honest and bow out, and good friends will understand. If it’s the sustainability issue or you just not having fun, that’s going to be a harder sell.

— Sustainable Friendships

Sustainable Friend: A big part of life is recognizing other people don’t always share the same commitments, beliefs or express them in the same way that we do. A lot of people have a different level of resources and ideas on how to use them. We can still appreciate these people AND honor our own values. You don’t have to participate in the activities. You can participate in the activities but reuse the dress or make a contribution to the event in a way that aligns with your principles. Honor your beliefs but remember to honor others’ too. Don’t preach at people; just make a decision that you can live with and recognize everyone else needs to make their own choices too. Release yourself from the idea you have to follow the crowd, it is very freeing!

— Just a thought from Minn.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.