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My sister and I are less than a year apart in age and had to share everything growing up. We both got engaged in the same year, and to not break the budget, we shared a lot of our DIY wedding prep (same color scheme, reused table cloths, centerpieces). I had to rapidly move my wedding up because my fiancé had to move for work. My sister and I decided to split the cost of a wedding dress (we are similar sizes) and then alter it. We went to a dozen dress shops and finally found one she “loved” and I was fine with. I was so stressed over the wedding I just wanted it to be over. We bought the dress, I wore it at my wedding, and then I gave it to my sister. Then I moved away to be with my husband.
My sister’s wedding is in June. Out of the blue, I got a text from her telling me I owe her hundreds of dollars because she hates the dress and deserves a new one and that she only paid for it because of me. This was completely bizarre. I called, and we argued. She said she never liked the dress and couldn’t get it altered to look “presentable.” I have no extra money. Everything that doesn’t go toward necessary living expenses is going straight to my college loans. I sent my sister screenshots of the texts where she gushed over the dress. She hasn’t responded to this or any of my other attempts to contact her. My parents say she has been under a lot of stress. What do I do here? Should I tell anyone? My sister and I aren’t super close, but this is so out of character for her.
—Wedding Dress Woes
This is a new one! My guess is that your sister knows she doesn’t have a leg to stand on since you showed her those screenshots, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to apologize. She sounds overwhelmed and like she’s been lashing out, and she still wants to blame someone besides herself for the fact that she doesn’t like the dress she once loved. It’s a hard position to be in, knowing that you’re wrong but still feeling angry—somehow knowing you’re wrong can make it harder to apologize, because you feel like you’re about to lose control of everything in your life, and the idea of giving up your martyrdom, that last comfort, feels like giving up your very sense of self.
Right now, the best thing you can do is to continue to give her space. If you still haven’t heard from her in three or four weeks, give her a call and (leaving a message if you have to) tell her that you’ve been worried about her because she has seemed unusually stressed and upset, that you hope she’s doing better, and that you’re around if she needs to talk. If she uses this as an opportunity to try to relitigate That Ridiculous Dress Thing, you don’t have to entertain her: “I’m really sorry you’re going through a difficult time right now, but as I reminded you earlier, you picked the dress and were really happy with it when we bought it. I hope you’re able to figure out what you want to wear for your ceremony, but I’m not able to help you buy a new dress now that you’ve changed your mind.” I hope this ends up being one of those things she can look back on and say, “Man, did I get incredibly stressed out planning my wedding. I’m so sorry I took it out on you—I can’t believe I acted like that.”
One of my dearest friends got engaged to a partner whom she had dated mostly long-distance, and he travels for work about half the year. It wasn’t until after he proposed that her friends really got to know him. Prudie, he’s awful—rude, mansplainy, judgmental, offensive, spits all the time. Once, when I didn’t want to walk home on the path he deemed the most efficient because mud would ruin my new shoes, he told me right to my face that I was “fucking stupid.” Because she wants him to make friends and feel like he has social connections in a new city, my friend brings him everywhere with her, even to events that are supposed to be ladies-only. It ruins them all. I end up leaving early (along with some of our other friends) because my max tolerance of this guy is maybe two hours. I love my friend so much. How do I keep being a good friend if I can’t tolerate her partner? And how do I keep biting my tongue and not just blurting out, “How do you actually want to marry this offensive boor?”
–Love My Friend, Hate Her Partner
At the very least, you can start reminding her when an event is women-only: “This is a girls’ night, and no one can bring their boyfriends.” Generally, I tend to suggest that, short of controlling or abusive behavior, people refrain from commenting on their friends’ choices in partners because usually that does not result in their friends saying, “I must have been wearing rose-colored glasses. Thanks for your honesty. I don’t love him anymore,” so much as “How dare you! You just don’t know him like I do.” I don’t think you should go over to her place tomorrow and give her your unvarnished opinion all at once, but I do think you can start speaking up when he’s rude to you. Don’t wait until you’re so resentful and irritated that you explode, but if he says something as impolite as “you’re fucking stupid,” give yourself permission to say, “That’s unkind and unnecessary. Please don’t talk to me like that,” and let him squirm in front of everyone else. If there are specific things he’s said or done that you want to bring up with your friend, talk to her about him at least once—not to tell her she has to dump him, but to ask her if she’s noticed it too.
Frankly, I don’t see this friendship lasting much longer, at least not on the same level of intimacy you’ve previously enjoyed with her, if he’s this much of a jerk and she insists on bringing him everywhere. Unless you can see yourself keeping your mouth shut about him forever, you’re probably going to have to scale back how much time you spend with her anyway, so you’re not running too much of a risk in saying something.
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