Having a friend officiate is more than just a way of making a wedding more personal—it’s also a way of recognizing the significance of friendship for modern couples, offering a sort of subtheme of platonic love to a day centered around romantic love.
O’Connell says he has yet to hear of a case where the act of choosing one friend as an officiate offended other friends. He even points out that sometimes the wedding officiant isn’t necessarily the closest of the couple’s friends. It could be a friend who has a special connection to the couples’ origin story or someone who has previous experience in an officiant position. That was the case for Caroline: The friend who officiated her and her husband’s wedding had officiated the wedding of another good friend. “We met up with him for drinks so he could get to know us as a couple,” she explains. “And we had a lovely time.”
Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and a friendship researcher, points out that when compared with our romantic relationships, which get honored frequently with ceremonies and anniversaries, friendship histories don’t have many formally recognized opportunities for celebration. “So involving our friends in other major life experiences, such as including them in weddings as bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, or officiants, is one way to express our gratitude and recognize the important role they have played in our lives,” she says.
Kirmayer says that although friends have long been incorporated into wedding festivities in meaningful ways, it is possible that friend officiants reflect changes in how people view their friendships. “Increasingly, we are learning just how much of an impact our friendships can have on key areas of our lives,” she says, explaining that the company we keep influences our physical health, emotional well-being, and even professional success. There’s also something to be said for the fact that friends have likely been along for the romantic ride, whether they’ve gone out to get the Ben & Jerry’s following previous breakups, watched the current relationship unfold, or, in some cases, even set the couple up. “Including friends in our wedding is one way to honor the extent to which they have helped us to arrive at that point,” Kirmayer says.
For many young people, lines are blurring between the way they treat their friends and the way they treat their family—take the growth of “Friendsgiving” celebrations, for example. “Many of us today feel that the people in our lives are there because we have chosen them,” says O’Connell, observing that in his psychotherapy practice he’s seeing more and more people choose to be discerning about who they spend time with, whether that means their “family of origin or friends they consider to be family.” Because Millennials are delaying milestones such as marriage and starting families, they might focus more on self-created friend-families than previous generations. And when they do get married, they might want the focus of a wedding to be more of a celebration of the couple’s life together, including friends.
Having a friend officiate your wedding—be it a way of shattering traditions, of personalizing the ceremony, or simply because it makes the most logistical sense—is a wedding trend that feels more authentic than cocktails named after the couple. The wedding industry is full of gimmicks, but this is a trend that is less about aesthetics and more about what, and who, hits closest to the heart.