From all the save-the-dates on my refrigerator, you’d think I was a wedding-attending superstar. But looks can be deceiving. I’m ashamed of the number of my friends’ weddings I’ve RSVP’d “no” to. The worst part? They came to mine.

I was the first of my friends to get married. My college pals from Kentucky came out in force: They traversed state lines to my home town in Central Florida, booked hotel rooms and shelled out gobs of money in the process. They maintain they were happy to do it, and as a bride, I was thrilled to have them there.

Since my friends came to my big day, I had always assumed I’d make it to their weddings, no matter where they were located. Maybe I was naive, but I felt an unspoken obligation to be there. As much as I wish I could reciprocate for my friends who made it to my ceremony, it rarely happens.

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While most of my wedding day was a blur, I’ll never forget leaving the getting-ready room and walking to the ceremony site. On the way, my friend Sarah wrapped me in a hug. She’d just gotten in from Indiana. Her flight made it in time. The moment paused the matrimonial frenzy for a bit.

It wasn’t long after my new husband and I settled in Los Angeles that the excited “he-put-a-ring-on-it” texts and Facebook messenger requests for our address started coming, and then the save-the-dates and invitations streamed in. We’d tack the materials to our refrigerator and discuss whether we could make it. They are our friends! It would be so fun! They came to ours.

But traveling from Los Angeles to the East Coast comes with a fair share of burdens we usually reserve for the holidays with family. It all adds up: The cost of plane tickets; the days off work; the stress of finding someone to watch our dog. Our lives as freelancers with unpredictable cash flow make it even more complicated to pack up and head to a wedding.

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When Sarah got engaged, I was trying on a pair of pants at Loft. I almost dropped the phone in the dressing room out of excitement when I saw her text. A few months later, she called for my birthday. When the wedding came up, she asked: “Can you make it?”

The sincerity in her voice resonated in my heart. I knew I needed to be there. After all, she’d been there for me. I may have limited resources, but I had to go. Both my husband and I are close to Sarah, but we decided I’d be the family representative. After price-watching flights for weeks on Kayak, I had to make a move. The night I needed to book tickets, they doubled. There was no way I could afford to go.

I knew I had to call her. And when I did, she understood. But it hurt.

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Since I got married three years ago, I’ve made it to only three weddings. One was for my cousin; one was for a longtime friend I was a bridesmaid for; and the other was for friends who got married in Southern California. (We could drive there! In an afternoon!) I’ve lost track of the number I’ve had to decline.

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The guilt I feel from missing out on witnessing friends tie the knot could be averted. I could stash money aside every time a relationship takes a serious turn. I could charge the whole trip and gradually pay it off. But if my friends knew that’s what I had to do to watch them walk down the aisle, they would feel bad. They wouldn’t want me and my husband going into debt for them.

We usually elect to take the route so many of those who “wished they could be there” for our wedding did for us: We send a gift. But I know it’s not the same as sitting in the pew or doing the Macarena at the reception.

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Now that our friend group has dispersed around the country, weddings are the few precious times we can reunite. Even though I’m forced to RSVP “celebrating from afar” to nearly all of my friends’ wedding invites, I still care. On a friend’s wedding day, you can usually find me on Instagram, refreshing the couple’s hashtag. It gives me intense FOMO meshed with happiness. I’m sad I’m not there, but I want to see them having the best time.

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When I combed through Sarah’s registry, it had been mostly picked over. I ended up sending her some pillowcases, hand cream and a sunflower doormat that I knew she’d picked out. Her thank you note was appreciative of the gifts, but didn’t fail to note how she missed us at the ceremony.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that the only weddings I’ll attend will probably be the ones for family or that I’m in. That’s not to say I won’t try to make it to the rest. I just need to have the time and money to go. Until then, friends, watch for my gift in the mail and tell your guests to make their Instagram accounts public for the big day.

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