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Engaged best friend is getting cold feet. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

Carolyn Hax (The Washington Post)
6 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My best friend and I are in our late 20s and have known each other since grade school. I’m the maid of honor for her wedding, which is next month. She and her fiance have known each other for three years and have been engaged for a year of that. Last weekend at her bachelorette party (after it was over, and we were cleaning up together), she started telling me she’s having second thoughts about going through with the wedding. I was surprised, because she seemed totally onboard before.

Her reasons are completely valid, but they may be exacerbated because of wedding planning and work stress. She’s a nurse, and the hospital she works at has been short-staffed for a long while. Her main issue with her fiance is him not doing his share since they moved in together in the fall. I know it was especially bad at Christmas he wanted the whole place decorated up like his mom used to do, wanted the gifts all wrapped just so, wanted to throw a big party and expected her to do 100 percent of the work. I know that’s bad and nothing I’d want to put up with, but it’s all stuff that’s fixable, and she has told him he has to step up and do better.

I want to support her in whatever way is right, even if that means her backing out. However, I don’t know if this is a normal feeling, and if I should be helping to see her through it. Does everyone go through these thoughts and feelings before marriage? I haven’t ever been close, so I’m not sure which way to advise her.

— Maid of Warming Feet

Maid of Warming Feet: I was 21 the first time I married. I remember voicing the same doubts to my mom before the wedding. Her reply was, “You just have the jitters and it’s perfectly normal. Everyone gets the jitters before the wedding.” Turns out it wasn’t the jitters. Seven years later, I was divorced. I remarried 12 years after that. Different doubts, same result. Divorce.

Speaking from experience: If there is doubt, listen to it. I am now married for the third time. From the minute I met my current husband I knew I wanted to marry him, and I never had any doubts. We have been together for 19 years, married 14 years. I am more madly in love with him now than I was the day we were married, and I have never once regretted being his wife. When you know, you know. I wish my mom would have told me to examine my doubts closely and be sure I really wanted to marry that man. It would have saved me the heartache of two failed marriages.

— Joni Foster

Maid of Warming Feet: I’ve been a bridesmaid six times and a bride once. I’ve seen every wedding-related meltdown imaginable. That’s why I feel so strongly that this is different; your friend is expressing real concerns about the marriage, not the wedding.

Find some time to meet with her, alone. A sample conversation starter: “You told me you were having some doubts about your relationship. How are you feeling?” Open-ended questions are your friend. You’re not here to “see her through” anything, just to reflect her words back to her and support her conclusions. If she continues to express serious doubts, make an offer (just once!) to be the getaway driver. “I love you, and I’m always going to be your biggest cheerleader. If you decide you don’t want to be with FianceMan, I’ll contact guests, cancel vendors, or do whatever it takes to be there for you.”

Many people know they don’t want to get married but feel like they’re in too deep or fear the humiliation of such a public split. Just having one person whom she can count on for emotional and logistical support (hello, phone calls from relatives complaining about sunk airfare costs) can mean the world. And if she decides to go through with it and the marriage fails, you’ve already positioned yourself as someone she can count on. Your letter is so caring, I can tell your friend is lucky to have you.

— More Than Cold Feet

Maid of Warming Feet: It sounds like your friend’s main problem is a lack of communication with her partner. I’d encourage her to sort these issues out before taking her relationship to the next level. It’s not for you to decide whether something is “fixable.” Maybe they can postpone the wedding to get couples counseling, or they can agree to accept each other as they are, or they will decide they have differences that just can’t be worked out. Whatever the solution is, it should be up to her and her partner to figure it out together. Encourage her to open an honest line of communication with the person she’s about to marry.

— It’s Up To Them

Maid of Warming Feet: These are all beside the point: Demanding that someone else do all the work to serve up a perfect Christmas isn’t a failure to “step up and do better,” it’s entitled dirtbaggery; entitled dirtbaggery is rarely fixed, much less in a month; and nothing is officially “fixable” until it has actually been fixed.

The point? That it’s not for anyone else to decide, not even remotely, not even a lifelong best friend, whether someone’s reasons for doubts are valid.

She has them. That’s her business, and that’s good enough.

The best input from a best friend in this situation is this: “You don’t have to marry anyone you don’t want to marry. You certainly don’t have to marry someone just because it would be messy not to. Trust yourself, do what you need to do, and I will have your back.” (Run, Bride, run.)

— Carolyn Hax (who couldn’t help herself with this one)

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 they are edited for length and clarity.