Carolyn Hax: Awkwardness between friends over wedding party choices

06/10/2014 12:00 AM

06/10/2014 2:07 PM

DEAR CAROLYN: I would like to invite one of my good college friends to be in my wedding party. He and I live relatively far apart but have, over the years, traveled together and gotten together whenever we’ve been in the same city. We last saw each other about nine months ago, but alumni groups keep us connected by email almost weekly, and we often talk on the phone. I consider him a close friend.

But when he got married five years ago, he didn’t invite me, and he didn’t even let me know when he had his first child. We’ve never spoken of it all, but now I’m in the awkward position of inviting someone to be in my wedding when he didn’t even invite me to his. Do I need to broach this, or just invite who I want to invite?

– D.

DEAR D.: Definitely the latter, with one caveat, which I'll get to in a second. Your position is awkward because it’s humiliating; he’s in your Top 5, and you didn’t even make his Top Whatever. We’ve all been there and it’s no fun. But There is (probably only) one good thing about being humiliated: If you decide it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter, period.

Plus, wedding parties are snapshots. You missed the cut five years ago, but maybe now you’d make it. Who knows. Few stay close to every attendant. So, just pick your preference, inviting your friend or saving face.

And heed this caveat, which is: He lives far away + has a newish child + may not regard you two as close = he might not want to travel. And he might feel too guilty to say no. So, if you do opt to invite him, make it clear it’s OK for him to say no.

DEAR CAROLYN: We’re planning our wedding and my fiancée’s mother is making life miserable. My fiancée and I know what we want, and it’s simple since she and I are paying for it. We live in D.C.; her mom lives in California. The wedding is in D.C.

Her mom keeps suggesting that we’re doing things wrong, and that she’s not included enough, and that it’s her daughter’s fault for not including her. This in turn makes my fiancée depressed and angry, but she doesn’t speak up because she doesn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings, even though hers are hurt on a weekly basis.

Is this one of those times where I need to step up and ask the future mother-in-law to please restrain herself more?

– Planning

DEAR PLANNING: This is one of those times where you need to back your fiancée in a way that makes her life easier – enduringly so. The mother’s complaints expose her as someone who feels powerless, superfluous, left out. If you take it upon yourself to give Mother the stiff-arm, then she’s likely to feel even more left out and increase the pressure versus dialing it back.

So try this instead:

• Remind Fiancée that you two are happy with these plans and that’s what counts.
• Float the idea that Mother is acting like this because she feels distant and excluded. Say it to explain, not excuse, since there are actual, grown-up ways to handle this that don’t involve criticizing and guilt-tripping.
•  Ask Fiancée whether openness might calm her mother: “Mom, you’re far away and feel left out. I get that. How would you like to be involved? I want you to feel welcome.” Giving Mother a low-stress corner of the wedding to control, particularly one that suits her expertise, can be transformative.

If not, oh well – then:

•  Preach the gospel of owning one’s choices. You and Fiancée are having a simple D.C. wedding on your dime because that’s what makes sense for you – not because of or in defiance of or anything-else-of her mother.

So, she (and you) can walk that walk without apology, to Mother or anyone else: “Mom, this is what works for us; it’s not personal.” And, “Hm, I hadn’t thought of that. (Change subject.)” And, “Thanks for the suggestion. (Change subject.)”

The fault-finding is Mother’s choice, but the “depressed and angry” is Fiancée’s choice. This is as good a time as any for Fiancée, and you, to adopt a more empowered response.

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