Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m supposed to be a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding in a few weeks but I don’t want to do it anymore. My friend and I met in college and we used to be really close. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding and did so much to help me out. She kept me calm and really went above and beyond to make my wedding day really special, which is why I agreed to do the same for her. I’ve already bought the dress and the shoes. I co-hosted a bridal shower for her and I’m helping the other bridesmaids to put on the bachelorette party. But the truth is that our friendship is different now and I’m not sure I want her in my life anymore. She used to be so much fun when I was drinking, but now that I’m sober she grates on me. She gets really drunk all the time, I don’t get along with her soon-to-be husband, and I try not to see them at all outside of mandatory wedding-related events. It’s like we used to be friends and now we’re people who can only talk about fun times we used to have because we can’t have good times now. She’s gets agitated about every detail of the wedding and I just roll my eyes at her most of the time, which I know is pissing her off. Part of me thinks that I should do my duty and be there for her throughout her wedding, and then part ways afterward. But part of me feels like a fraud and like I should just own up that I never should have said yes, seeing as we don’t have much in common anymore. Should I abandon my friend on her wedding day? Or should I fake a smile and be her bridesmaid?
Dear Fake Bridesmaid,
A wedding is a social situation that calls on us to rank those we love. I have a good number of friends who I’m very close with, but now I’m getting married and I suddenly need to decide which ones are close enough to me to warrant becoming wedding attendants, while my partner has to do the same with his wedding attendants. We have to think about who we’re going to invite to the wedding, to the reception, to do a reading at the ceremony itself, who gets to come to the engagement party and bridal shower and bachelor/ette parties. Being asked to be a bridesmaid is an honor, while being a bridesmaid is often arduous and expensive. It’s something you do for a friend that you love who loves you in return, not an obligation that you’re required to do in turn for someone because they did it for you. I mean, it’s standing in a position of honor during a ceremony of love, not picking someone up from the airport.
I was once asked to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. I was dating her brother at the time, and I was so excited to have been asked to stand up at her wedding because it showed that she felt about me the way I felt about her — that we were friends, and soon-to-be sisters as soon as her brother and I got engaged and then married. But then my relationship with her brother fell apart, I broke up with him, and I had to make the awkward call to his sister. I dialed her number with shaky hands and was so grateful to the universe when she didn’t answer. “I’ll still be in your wedding if you want me to,” I said to her voicemail. “But, if not, I totally understand. It’s your wedding and I’ll do whatever you need me to do.” She called me back and I, of course, let it go to voicemail. “Thanks so much,” she said into my voicemail. “At this point, it would be too awkward for you to still be in my wedding party. But you’re still invited to the wedding for sure, as long as you and my brother stay on good terms.” We didn’t stay on good terms, so I wasn’t invited to the wedding, which was totally understandable. We were honest with each other.
I’m glad that you’re honest enough to admit that you don’t like your friend anymore. Friendships can ebb and flow over time — they don’t have to be all-in or all-out — but then this wedding came around and you’re suddenly asked to exhibit all-in behavior that you aren’t feeling. I would tell you to stay in this wedding party if you were just going through a rough spot with this friend, if you were simply annoyed by her behavior during this intense wedding-planning process, and if you had indicated to me at all that you wanted to stay in her life afterward. “Plaster a smile on your face and do your damn job,” I’d say.
But I’m not going to say that, because one of my bridesmaids stopped talking to me soon after my wedding. A few weeks afterward, I invited her out for dinner, as a way of saying thanks for being in my wedding party, and she responded that she was busy for the next six months. I thought, maybe that was true, and I was just being sensitive, and maybe she needed time away from me after all the wedding craziness. But then she stayed away — didn’t return my emails or texts. It was so clear what was going on, but it was hard for me to accept because she had just been my bridesmaid. Who would be a bridesmaid and then immediately end a friendship afterward? It didn’t make sense. When my birthday came around and I still hadn’t heard from her, I knew that we were really done. Her service as my bridesmaid had been a swan song of sorts, a farewell gift. I can only guess as to her reasons for cutting off our friendship because, and this is not a great trait of mine, my stubborn pride prevented me from ever actually asking her why we weren’t friends anymore, but I realized that she had been planning to exit my life since before the wedding. And, really, I’m still not over it.
When I went through my wedding photos I saw pictures of happy people drinking and dancing, my husband and I smiling and dancing, my nieces stealing flowers and hiding under tables, my dearest friends in the world all in the same room, and then her face. Her smile tight, her head always tilted just so. I winced each time I saw her. There were no pictures of just the two of us, though I had tried to get some taken on that day, but she always slipped away. I couldn’t find her to get the shot so I gave up.
Knowing that she had known then, on that day, that our friendship was over, made it impossible for me to have a neutral reaction to her image in those pictures. When I put my wedding album together, I cropped her out of it. Our friendship ending in no way ruined my wedding, but it did cast a shadow. Would the shadow have been there if she declined to be in my wedding party and had instead parted ways with me before hand? Probably, but it also would have saved me the time I spent editing her out of the photos.
No one wants to look at their wedding pictures and see a lie. So don’t be that lie. As easy as it would be to just keep going through with it, showing up to events, smiling nicely, leaving as early as possible without anyone noticing, it’s just going to make the eventual end of your friendship all the more difficult. You are not obligated to be in this wedding and, if you truly don’t like the bride or the groom, you shouldn’t be in this wedding. Hell, if you truly don’t like them you shouldn’t be at this wedding. You’ve changed the way you relate to the world by removing the hazy filter of booze, and this has lead you to reevaluate your old patterns and old relationships. You’re wholly within your rights to walk away, but you need to do it now.
It’s going to suck to break the news to your friend. She’s going to be upset and you’re going to be upset. But pretending to like someone isn’t a gift the same way that a beautifully wrapped box of shit isn’t a gift. Eventually she’s going to open it, and see the shit, and know that there was shit in there the whole time. Don’t give her the gift of shit. Give her the gift of the truth. Bow out, allow your ex-friend the space to rage and grieve and find a replacement bridesmaid, and live happily, knowing that you aren’t going to be cropped out of anyone’s wedding album.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.