Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
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Carolyn Hax: Bridesmaid dilemmas

Editor’s note: Nothing stirs up questions for Carolyn Hax like a wedding. And many a bridesmaid has wondered how to navigate the role as supporting cast. Here, we round up some of Carolyn’s most interesting advice for members of the wedding party from the last 15 years.

April 2013: The would-be bridesmaid and the baby

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of “relationship cartoonist” Nick Galifianakis. She is the author of “Tell Me About It” (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon.

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Hi Carolyn:

I have a friend who I thought was a really close friend. I backed out of being her bridesmaid because I am due to give birth that same month; I apologized profusely and gave seven months’ notice. I have gotten the cold shoulder since.

She has a long history of being extremely passive aggressive to others when they “wrong” her in some way that normally, after some time, she gets over. Despite her saying that “everything is fine,” she has not accepted any of my invitations, nor has she invited me to anything.

I know it’s time to cut my losses, but I’m having a hard time doing it. What do you think?

She sounds less like a friend and more like a narcissist. I’m sorry.

Yes, it’s time to back off. If Miffy’s disappearance is about something other than being miffed at you, then she’ll come around when she’s ready to.

***

July 2012: Self-conscious about being a bridesmaid

Hi, Carolyn:

My brother is five years younger than I am, and he is getting married. His fiance asked me to be one of five bridesmaids. We are not particularly close, but I think she extended the bridesmaid invite as a social grace that I certainly appreciate.

I have 4-year-old and 9-month-old children and am having trouble losing weight. All of the bridesmaids are young, mid-20s, and have cute bodies. I am hesitant to accept the bridesmaid invitation because I do not want to stick out as the Fat Old Bridesmaid.

If we were close, I would suck it up and go anyway. But we are not, and it seems like I would be putting myself through unnecessary self-conscious behavior. What do you think about this?

I see where you’re coming from, but this also saddens me. If you hide yourself because you think your body isn’t “cute” enough, then you might be avoiding “unnecessary self-conscious behavior,” yes — but won’t you also be aware throughout that you would have stood up there with her if you liked yourself more? And won’t that also reinforce the corrosive self-hatred you’re harboring?

You are you and you have inherent beauty, and any pounds plus or minus, here or there, are just life mileage. Life mileage used to be valued before the nitpickers and narcissists took over the machinery of popular images. Do what you want regarding the wedding, but please do consider striking a one-woman blow against the tyranny of superficial values.

***

May 2010: Nixing a bridesmaid for being too fat

Dear Carolyn:

So college friend A just disinvited college friend B from being a bridesmaid -- because B is fat and would ruin the pictures and the look of her big day. Friend A did tell me that if B lost some weight, she’d let her back in the wedding party.

Her rationale is that B promised to lose the weight by the wedding but didn’t, and that whenever there is a big bridesmaid everyone is looking at her and not the bride.

I am so angry about A’s nastiness that I can’t even think straight. Is it kosher for me to drop out in solidarity with B (with whom I am actually not that close)? What is the best way for me to communicate to A that she is a gigantic [idiot]? I don’t know if I even want to be friends anymore.

B hosted a bridal shower, has come to all the fittings/food tastings/other assorted events. She’s a good egg. I heard from mutual friend C that B spent the morning crying. I would too! What can I say to B?

— Bridezilla

Wow. Everything you hope to accomplish, you can accomplish in one move: Trust your revulsion and end your friendship with A (which obviously includes dropping out of the wedding). When A asks, tell her exactly why. B doesn’t even need to hear it from you; it’ll make its way around. I hope C follows your lead.

***

November 2008: Excluded from the wedding party

Hi Carolyn:

A girlfriend asked everyone in our close group to be a bridesmaid — everyone, that is, but me. Apparently I got bumped for the groom’s big sister. I’m trying to be supportive and take the “It’s your wedding, it should be how you want it to be” attitude . . . but feeling more than a little left out and a lot like she doesn’t feel as close to me as I do to her. Am I being unreasonable? Any tips for dealing with it gracefully?

— Last Kid Picked for Dodgeball

I know, intellectually, that trying to project how funny this will be in 10 years will offer no consolation. However, it’s just this kind of horrid, thoughtless behavior that softens us up and teaches us not to entrust our happiness to others lightly. In the short term, as you have identified already, it also teaches us who our friends are, and whom we can trust. This here bride, not really your friend.

To this hurtful message, though, I think I can safely add a buffer: Just because she’s thoughtless enough to do this to you now, and just because you’re apparently eighth on her list of seven friends, that doesn’t mean this friendship is over.

Why? Something else that always seems to come out 10 years later (as you’re regaling your current friends with the tale of the Great Wedding Party Dissing of 2008) is that everyone else can tell a story like this, too -- from the other side. If anyone claims to have made it to middle adulthood without being able to cite a moment when s/he, wittingly or not, treated someone cruelly, then that person is either delusional or a saint.

So do as you’re doing, square up and take it. It’s for your own dignity, but that alone could improve your standing with the bride, if that’s what you want. And if you’re not sure where she stands with you now, then be civil and open-minded, and let time take care of the rest.

***

March 2007: What if I hate the groom?

Dear Carolyn:

How does one respectfully decline an invitation to be a bridesmaid without hurt feelings and permanent damage to the friendship? I’m afraid I’ll be asked to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of my best friend (who stood as my maid of honor several years ago).

The problem is I really dislike her fiancé; he takes advantage of her, is a pompous know-it-all and they are simply a bad match.

I can’t get inspired to be fake and pretend how wonderful I think this event is (I think it’s a mistake and will end badly sooner rather than later), so I’d like to respectfully decline. Is there any non-messy way out, or am I just a bad friend?

— Soon-to-Be-Ex-Best?

Maybe there isn’t, and maybe you are. But both are ancillary problems to the main problem — that this is your best friend, and she’s marrying someone you strongly dislike.

It raises a larger question than how to deal with her wedding: how to deal with her marriage. Will you tell her how you feel beforehand (if she doesn’t already know), out of a duty to warn her, or a duty to be honest? Will you shut up and hope you’re wrong about him? Will you try to socialize with her one-on-one? Or suck it up and endure them both?

Will you pull off a triumph of grace and bet-hedging that draws the best from all approaches, preserves your friendship and empowers her to make better choices? And if you do this, can we have what you’re having?

I wish I could be more specific. But each of these approaches is “right” only when you believe in it. Like all losing campaigns.

There is one bright side, though. When you do find an answer you can live with to this big and terrible question, the maid-of-honor one will have answered itself.

***

January 2004: Just say no?

Hi Carolyn:

Can you tell me the most gracious way to decline the invitation to be a bridesmaid in a wedding? I recently tried to do so (in short because our friendship has drifted and bride-to-be has refused my attempts to talk about the issues), and now she is accusing me of “bailing” on her big day because I am jealous. I tried to explain that I would love to be a part of their celebration, but I did not feel comfortable being in the wedding. I feel I was honest, but it’s backfired, and now I am wondering if I should have just sucked it up, kept my mouth shut and been in the wedding. Thoughts?

— Banging My Head Against the Wall

That a damp washcloth is magic on a sore forehead.

It sounds as if your friendship has drifted because the bride-to-be refuses to talk. It also sounds as if you did decline the invitation graciously.

And it sounds as if honesty isn’t a language your friend is comfortable speaking, no matter how gracious the terms. And so she lashed out in the languages she prefers. Denial, deflection, blame.

Bummer. For her, though, not for you; you were right to say what you said, even if you’re now stuck seething over the idea that she actually thinks you’re jealous of her. (If it helps: She doesn’t. People confident in their beliefs don’t fling them in anger at others. Besides, the last word is hardly a victory when it’s a fatuous one.)

That’s assuming, of course, you wanted to put this friendship on honest footing, even at the risk of ending it. If you would have preferred keep-your-mouth-shut-and-stay-bad-friends footing, then you should have sucked it up. Unfortunately, going that route means you also have to suck up whatever else she throws in your face. Not a path I’d recommend.

***

May 1999: Bridesmaid without a plus one

Dear Carolyn:

I am a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. I received my invitation and discovered that I am not invited with a date. Since I am not dating anyone, I had planned to take a good friend from college who also knows the bride and many others who will be there.

I explained to the bride that I would really like to bring someone. She remains adamant because they have already invited 330 people and the reception area can only hold 300, and that she had to draw the line somewhere or else it will get too expensive, but, I will spend $700-plus — dress, shoes, presents, plane ticket, etc. — before this is all over! She is allowing only dates who are engaged, married or in a “serious relationship.” She said she cannot change her policy for one person. I feel as if she is not considering my feelings. What should I do? Some have said I should drop out of the wedding, while others have told me to suck it up and deal.

— Disgruntled Bridesmaid

The bride’s response is a real stumper. How could she be so cool, so detached?

I would’ve let you have it. Then again, you aren’t in my wedding . . . so.

Drop out, by all means, because whiny fatheads make lousy bridesmaids. As do nickel-pinchers who think their dress money also buys them the right to bully their own friends onto the guest list.

Alas, you do not grasp this. Since I’m also not planning a 330-person, life-altering event, I can spare a moment to offer you the large-print edition of the bride’s message: Butt out. Few couples have the money (or inclination) to invite everybody they know, and the best defense against hurt feelings is setting clear and firm limits. Family only, say. No kids under 10. No one who hasn’t called in the past year. No barking seals. Whatever. The idea is to avoid getting into a this-person-is-better-than-that-person snark-fest. The idea is to avoid making the exclusions personal.

What the bride forgot was that some people are capable of making even the latest phase of the moon into a referendum on themselves. (You can perk up now, I’m talking about you.) Please explain to me, what in the name of poofy pastel dresses does this have to do with your feelings? And, a bit off the point, what kind of friends would encourage you to indulge this kind of self-centeredness? And why, oh why, the burning desire for this platonic date?

Your friend has asked you to stand with her as she makes the biggest commitment of her life. If that honor isn’t worth your money, decline.

***

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