A GEM OF A HUMAN:
My fiancé and I got engaged nearly three years ago after six years of dating. We've been moving slow because both of us have demanding jobs and demanding hobbies, and planning a wedding has been a little overwhelming — we're doing it, just slowly! It'll probably end up being summer or fall of 2021, so we still have quite a ways to go. As a result, some things have changed in the years since we had our engagement party and asked our bridesmaids and groomsmen to be in our wedding party.
At the time that we got engaged, my fiancé and I were living with a friend. We had just moved back to our home state from another state, and she gave us a chance to get on our feet financially and find jobs while paying very, very low rent. I'll forever be extremely grateful to her for helping us out in that way. She and I had been friends for years, but it was both a) mostly long-distance, and b) centered around a project/business we were working on together, so we always had something in common and something to talk about. Sometime either just after or just before we moved in together, this project fell apart, not in a disastrous way or anything, just in a way that ended that point of commonality between us. It's also relevant that, during the years I lived in another state, she became close with my family. For years she was invited to both close and extended family dinners and holidays. When I got engaged, I invited her to be one of my bridesmaids (I admit, a little bit out of guilt/obligation) and she said yes.
We lived with her for just under a year, and as can sometimes happen with roommates, it highlighted some of our differences for me (I'm not sure if it did the same for her.) There were habits and behaviors that I learned about during that time that pushed me away from her. For example, she has many pets of her own and also fosters animals, but her own personal struggles with depression and work/life balance meant that sometimes she wasn't capable of caring for those animals, and that burden fell to me, which was frustrating and stressful. I also realized that we don't have very much in common now that we aren't trying to run a business together. I'm a pretty hardcore introvert and unless I "click" with someone, I can find social interactions really draining. Talking with her without the project as a subject felt like hard work.
Eventually my partner and I moved into our own place, and a year or so later she moved in with her boyfriend about an hour north of where I live, so we were hanging out a lot less. My mom told me a few times that this friend had told her that she was worried I didn't want to be her friend anymore. She also isn't really friends with any of my other friends/bridesmaids.
I'm starting to feel kind of trapped in this friendship, because I suspect that if she weren't my bridesmaid and wasn't close with my family, our relationship would've just naturally dissolved years ago. But since I asked her to be my bridesmaid, I feel like my only options are to hurt her by retracting my offer, or to go through with having someone I'm not close with deeply involved in every part of one of the most important days of my life. One part of me says that I should bite the bullet and just have the difficult conversation so that I can feel comfortable and happy and surrounded by my closest friends on my wedding day (and I've never shied away from confrontation — I'd always rather rip the bandaid off.) But the other part of me feels like that would be selfish and cruel, and I can handle muscling through some awkwardness at my wedding in order to save her the pain of hearing that I don't want her in my wedding.
Ok, I’m surprising myself a bit here with my answer to this one. And, as ever, you’re more than welcome to ignore or rail against my advice. Hell, you can send it to all your friends and family and laugh and laugh at what bozo ideas I have. But here’s what I think.
Verdict: Keep her as a bridesmaid.
In general, I am absolutely not against un-bridesmaid-ing people to protect yourself from mental anguish or abuse. It’s not like I think being a bridesmaid is something you owe to her, I just think this is not a case where you need to cut her out of that role, and in fact I don’t think you have much to gain from doing so.
Your biggest complaint about her that I can tell is that a few years ago when you were living with her she was depressed and didn’t care for her pets well, leaving some care to fall to you. While not great, that’s certainly not damning* especially in terms of being a bridesmaid and I find it highly unlikely that you two will ever be in that situation again. The second thing you have against her is that she’s kind of boring to talk to now that you don’t have a project to plan. Well, guess what? You have a dang wedding to plan and if anything, a wedding is a project! She is probably a great person to give tasks to, if you found her a good business partner in the past.
One major note I have for you is that while your wedding certainly is a big fun party to celebrate your love, you may need to relax your expectations of that day. Most people barely maintain perfect happiness for five minutes let alone the five hours that constitute a wedding (plus the rehearsal dinner, plus the bachelorette party, plus the bridal shower, plus plus plus plus). It’s a party with your family and your partner’s family and your friends and your partner’s friends and maybe even friends of your family’s. Oh, and a bunch of businesses are being brought together to provide a bunch of different services that they only get one shot at? Do you know how unlikely it is that everything goes perfectly? UNLIKELY. If you decide that the only way you’re going to feel relaxed and happy on your wedding day is if everything goes the way you want, you are setting yourself up for misery.
Your wedding day is not going to be perfect. I’m telling you that right now. Some shit is going to go down that you will not like. I promise that. If including someone that you’re not super-super close with is your thing that goes wrong, that’s pretty fucking great.
Additionally, your wedding—while very important (and expensive!!!!)—is one day of your marriage. And while it might be the most memorable because of the ritual of it, it is not the most important. The most important day is the days that are hard, that suck shit, where you want to leave your spouse or want to scream but you don’t. Or the day one of you gets really sick. Or loses your job. Or the basement floods and you lose all your family photos in one fell swoop and you cry together for eight hours. Those are the days that count.
Your wedding will be good and fun and memorable, even if you include a couple people who aren’t The Most Fun Person You’ve Ever Hung Out With Ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In fact, there are going to be a lot of people in your wedding that in a few years you will not talk to. That happens to everyone. It’s life. Additionally, you might be surprised with how little time you spend with her in this process, especially on the actual wedding day. You will be so busy saying hi to people that you are very unlikely to need to keep up any kind of conversation with one person, especially one you find somewhat boring.
If you un-invite her from being a bridesmaid, I think it’s unlikely that she’ll go to your wedding at all. She’s likely to feel humiliated and hurt (I KNOW I WOULD!!!!), and while you may feel some relief from her not being in your bridal party, I think you might also feel a spoonful of guilt for hurting her, especially because she’s close to your family. Despite it being totally reasonable to not care that much if she’s in the wedding party, making a big move to remove her might signal to your friends who aren’t her that you see them as disposable—even if that’s totally not what you mean at all. This person is close to your family, and I have a hard time seeing how this move does anything other than make you look exclusionary and petty.
I don’t know that this is the case, but you may be focusing on her involvement as your big problem with the wedding, your stumbling block to pure, unmatched happiness instead of addressing other fears and concerns you have. She might just be a stand in for your fears about the social aspects of a large gathering and navigating a lot of people from different walks of life.
Now, here’s how I think you should deal with her as a bridesmaid:
The first thing you need to do (and do it ASAP) is reframe, reframe, reframe. Reframe is the name of the game for getting through this situation. I would start by mentally reframing her as a family member rather than a friend. Family members that you’re meh about are a whole lot easier to include in bridal parties because after all… they’re family. You’re stuck with them. Pretending as if you don’t have a choice might (seemingly paradoxically) make you feel better about having her around. There was a study once that people liked music more when they weren’t in control of what played. They didn’t care if a bad song came on the radio as much as they might care about not playing it when they had control of the music. It’s just part of the experience of listening to the radio. In the same way, frame her presence as part or your family, and her as a supporter and someone who wishes you well, even if you don’t love talking to her.
The second rebrand is of yourself: brand yourself (and by extension, your wedding) as as kind, magnanimous and inclusive rather than elite, perfectionistic or exclusive. Instead of, “I’m struggling so hard with whether to keep her around or not because her presence will ruin my day” you can be, “I’m a great friend to people, and want as many people who love me around as possible for this super fun day.”
None of this means that you need to spend your precious energy at pre-wedding events making sure that she has fun, coaxing her to talk to other people, or guessing at and prioritizing her experience of the day. You invite and include her and trust that she’s an adult who can handle herself. If she asks too much socially, you can redraw some boundaries or “assign” a closer bridesmaid or two to giving her some extra attention. You do not need to bend over backward to make her have a good time. The wedding is still about you (AND YOUR PARTNER!!!!!!!)
Once you’ve made your decision, allow yourself to feel relief. You’re done agonizing. She’s either in the wedding (or, if all of my advice was WRONG AS SHIT!!!! for your situation) she’s not. Move forward towards your wedding day and focus on who really matters—you and your partner!!! The wedding is not between you and your bridesmaids. Your day will be wonderful, magical and full of fun whether she’s there or not. I promise I promise I promise.
*Obviously pet abuse is never ok, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what happened, so I’m proceeding with that assumption.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.