Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Too Much Love for One Wedding: I’m getting married in a few weeks and my partner and I decided to do a joint wedding party because we’re queer and we’ve been together for so long, there’s a lot of friend overlap. For a medium-sized wedding, we’ve got 12 members in our wedding party.
There are a few friends who I love dearly but who didn’t make the final list. Most of it was just arbitrary, 12 feels big to me and we needed to make a cutoff. These friends aren’t coming to me upset or with accusations about it, but based on conversations, I think they’re feeling left out. We’re doing a welcome party for just friends and we’re doing drinks the day after for people still in town, but of course, it doesn’t work for everyone’s travel plans. There are also friends who we didn’t invite to the wedding at all because of venue capacity, waiting to get RSVPs from family, etc.
Any suggestions on how to let these people know I love them even if they’re not in the wedding party? Any suggestions for the people who weren’t invited at all? Not entirely sure what etiquette standards are expected or how to do right by people, while being upfront and accountable that we did make these decisions.
A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My strong belief is that very few people are dying to be in a wedding party. When all is said and done, it can cost THOUSANDS of dollars, involves wearing something you didn’t choose, and makes you organize at least one day (maybe closer to five days) of your life around making someone else feel special, putting your own needs and preferences on the back burner. I feel the same way about weddings. They’re cool and can be a nice time! But especially after a certain age, they’re not exactly a blast. There are a lot of other ways to spend a weekend day, doing what you want and eating what you want, sitting at a table with people you actually know.
Also! Most people have had a wedding, been in a wedding, or been close to someone who had a wedding. Everyone gets it. It is no secret that tough decisions have to be made when it comes to the guest list and wedding party, and that many people who are liked and even loved aren’t included. As a bride or groom it’s easy to get caught up in thinking your wedding is as important and emotional to other people as it is to you, and the vast majority of the time, it’s simply not.
That said, you say you’ve heard people are feeling left out so I will believe you. I don’t suggest explaining to them directly why they weren’t included or apologizing unless they confront you. That’s just awkward. And God forbid you give a whole sob story to someone who doesn’t actually care. Instead, you can just kind of spread the word that you would have loved to invite more people or have a larger wedding party but could not.
So whenever you have a chance, on social media or in real life, picking what feels right for the audience, casually toss out one of these statements:
—“We’re having a smaller wedding than we planned.”
—“We have a lot of relatives and couldn’t invite all of our close friends.”
—“We wish we could have included more people—it’s just so expensive and we’ve had to make tough choices.”
—“We are lucky to have so many close friends. Really everyone invited could have been a member of the wedding party so we just chose people we’ve known the longest.”
—“Wedding planning has been hard! If we could do it again we’d choose a bigger venue so that we could invite all of our loved ones…”
Then just be at peace with the fact that you did the best you could and that involved making decisions that excluded some and included others. In my opinion, you’ve done more than enough, especially with the extra events. You might slightly shift your mindset to, “People who feel entitled to be a part of our wedding are a little unreasonable.” And hey, a lot of people have trouble digging up a second or third bridesmaid. The fact that you have such a robust social circle is great. You and your spouse should go into your marriage grateful to be part of a community full of people who are apparently chomping at the bit to spend their Saturday celebrating you.
Q. Emotionally Exhausted: I’ve been working for almost 10 years in a small company, with a team of about 15 people who are all generally nice. The vibe is that of a little family. Over the years, I’ve started struggling with the emotional toll this atmosphere is taking on me. I’m more of a private person but this team feels like everyone is all in each other’s business. There is always a new problem/situation with someone’s kids, partners, pets, and whatnot. I feel exhausted by having to be receptive to everything but also fear people will see me as cold if I say that I’m not necessarily emotionally available myself to empathize with everyone’s situation of the day. I have myself been experiencing burnout from the work itself (not due to my coworkers) but I feel uncomfortable sharing with them that my general apathy and irritability are due to that and that I have a hard time being as invested as they are in everyone’s lives. I’ve been looking for another job but in the meantime, I’m struggling. Any advice?
A: There’s a lot of room between discussing all the details about a coworker’s ex-spouse getting the dog in the divorce while offering a therapy session in your cubicle that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and irritable for the rest of the day and just coldly announcing, “I’m not emotionally available to empathize with everyone’s situation of the day.” Try: “That’s awful for you, I am so sorry to hear it. I have to turn back to this report to finish before the end of the day but hang in there, I’ll be thinking about you, OK?”
Q. Have One, But Not Five: My mother is 83, I live 350 miles away, and I visit when I can. She lives alone, doesn’t go out except for doctor visits, and has a lot of health problems (some real and some hypochondria). She is also an alcoholic. She is often drunk by 4 or 5 p.m., drinks about five glasses of wine daily, and sometimes starts drinking in the morning. It has caused her to take some falls.
She has relied on me, neighbors, and her paid weekly assistant to get wine for her. One after another, neighbors and assistants have refused. She has now demanded that whenever I am in town I supply her stock of wine. I want to be helpful, and I am not judgmental about other people’s drinking (I’m not an abstainer). Yet, I don’t want to be an enabler contributing to more falls or health problems.
She would refuse to get professional help for her alcoholism and is very stubborn both in maintaining that imaginary health problems are real and in denying real problems, especially behavioral ones. My inclination is to pick up a reasonable amount of wine for her—no more than that—when I am visiting and hope she rations and thereby cuts down on her own. Or should I simply refuse?
A: If she falls down drunk and dies and you know that you supplied the wine that fueled the tragedy, you’ll never forgive yourself. But if she’s physically dependent on alcohol, you don’t want to leave her to suffer through withdrawal, so refusing to buy any at all may not be a great option, either. It sounds like she needs professional help with detox and recovery (I type that knowing that convincing her to get this help and paying for it will not be easy, and that the solution is not guaranteed to stick). It also sounds like the time for her to live on her own has come to an end. The steps you’re going to have to take now are going to be incredibly, incredibly tough and the fact is you may not get her to a great place before the end of her life. Please look into Al-Anon for support from people in similar situations, which I believe is the only way your work here is going to feel anything less than completely overwhelming.
Q. Creeped Out: I just went on a beach trip with my significant other and my whole extended family. He got offended because I spent the first day of the week cooking (each family had a day). He decided to not eat with us the whole rest of the week and bought himself food to eat. I thought this was creepy and weird, and my family was really embarrassed. He says he felt he had to behave that way because he thought he was supposed to cook as well (not true he could have just helped with cleanup or something). I am still messed up about this. Is this normal behavior? He was fine about the rest of the trip, just not the food part.
A: This is indeed weird and I’m sure there is some awful experience in his personal history that led him to feel so worried about being a burden that he chose to engage in inappropriate behavior that made everyone uncomfortable instead. He is a troubled person and whether you push forward and continue to have a relationship with him is up to you. But I would advise against it if you two aren’t able to have a productive conversation about how and why your expectations were so different and how similar situations will be handled in the future.
Q. Bizarre Love Triangle: I’m a middle-aged divorced guy in a significant relationship of more than a year. Everything has been mostly great. Lots of time together, romance, and great sex.
We have some mutual friends and lately, one of them that works with her has been crossing the line a bit for my comfort. Earlier this year he contacted her with an “urgent” work matter while she and I were on a romantic getaway in the country. It turned into just idle chit-chat and went on for a long time. I sarcastically said out loud that we should have invited him along. He messaged me and apologized. Then we recently had dinner with him and his wife and when they were leaving he and my girlfriend kind of lagged behind and I saw them hug and he kissed her on the cheek. He’s not European or anything so this kind of got my back up.
I mentioned it to her kind of in a joking way later and she really didn’t see it as a big deal. I also found out they will be working more closely together soon. Am I overreacting? I feel like it will upset my girlfriend if I bring it up again or reach out to talk to him about my feelings on it.
A: Oh, God. Do not reach out to talk to him about it. That’s big red flag behavior. To be fair, it was also big red flag behavior when he reached out to you.
I’ll be honest—I don’t love what I’m hearing about your girlfriend’s relationship either. If I had to place a bet, I’d say there’s at least an emotional affair going on. Or maybe she doesn’t feel she’s doing anything that’s not above board but simply has different ideas than you do about closeness with friends of the opposite gender. Either way, it’s clear that your expectations don’t line up. At just over a year of dating, I think you’re better off taking this data you have and using it to make a decision about whether she’s a good fit as a partner than you are pressuring her to change her behavior.
Q. Re: Too Much Love for One Wedding: When you choose some people and not others to be in your wedding party or to receive invites, you are telling those others that they aren’t as important to you. This is of course reasonable, we all are differently close to different people. But if they thought they were closer than they are, they’ve now learned otherwise, and this is hurtful, no matter how much you didn’t intend to hurt people. You can’t, and shouldn’t, do anything else, but your friends who didn’t receive invites (especially them, but also the ones who aren’t part of the wedding party but wanted to be) are going to have the feelings they have and make decisions about the friendship. It was entirely up to you to make those decisions for your wedding, but it’s also reasonable for them to make decisions based on that.
A: You know what? This is so true. I think there are some exceptions (Like: Laura might get invited even though she’s a third-tier friend because she is part of a trivia team that includes long-time BFFs Kate and Kendra, and it would be weird to exclude her, while Dan, who’s actually a second-tier friend, doesn’t get invited because he doesn’t know anyone else who will be there). But overall, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense—the choices about the guest list reflect reality, and maybe the best bet is to resist sugar-coating it. Related: Weddings not only reflect the current status of friendships but can deepen and solidify them. When you’re deciding who to invite, you are deciding who gets to meet your grandma and dance with your toddler nephew and say “I was at her wedding” when people ask if they know you. That creates a certain kind of closeness. And yeah, you’re choosing to offer that to some people and not others for a reason.
Q. Re: Have One, But Not Five: There is real medical treatment for alcoholism now that isn’t just attending a meeting every day. Try to reach out to her doctor about it. Medication can help her resist the urge to drink but also see if she might need something else long-term, like an antidepressant.
A: Definitely, look into all the available options.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: We’ll wrap things up here. Really good advice this time, readers. Stop trying to take my job!
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My husband and I have a 2½-year-old son with another boy due in July. We also have cats. With the pandemic, both my husband and I are working from home (but I have a little more flexibility than my husband). My son has been pretty great about the whole thing despite the odd tantrum, but he’s 2, so we know it goes with the territory. Our dilemma is that his favorite things to do right now, when he’s not busy with Legos or Play-Doh, is running around at “jet speed” and roaring like a dinosaur, loudly (thanks to his favorite cartoons), which he does to our cats.