Dear Captain Awkward,
I got married 2 years ago, and since then Older Sister & I haven’t spoken. What prompted the silence was that she wasn’t a Maid of Honor at my wedding.
Let me preface this by saying I come from a Southern family where weddings are a big deal, but if it had been solely my choice, I would’ve happily eloped at city hall. But we did have a traditional Southern wedding, which my mom planned.
My husband wanted his brother to be his best man, so knowing that I needed a MOH, I picked my younger sister. I figured that Older Sister, who’s 11 years older than me, would’ve been relieved that she didn’t have to stand in front of everyone and buy a dress she’d only wear once.
Welp, when I called to update her on the wedding plans, she was very upset and ended the call abruptly. I felt terrible and called back later, apologizing, asking to talk. She didn’t return my call for three months and only did after my mom drove down and convinced her to reconcile. We had a nasty conversation of “how could you not know this would hurt me,” etc.
I thought about having 2 MOHs, but that would mean my husband’s sister would be left out, and I wasn’t eager to include her because we haven’t always been on best of terms. So I sent Older Sister an email asking her to do a reading, and she said fine and that she wasn’t upset anymore. Then she sent a hurtful email to my mom, which was about a lot of other things, but also said how mom should’ve “made” me have two MOHs.
Anyway, the wedding day wasn’t fun. Older Sister ended up crying in the bathroom while I was getting ready, and I had to be the liaison between her & mom the entire weekend. It was terrible. I didn’t even want this damn wedding, and I spent the entire time on edge and nauseous. Afterwards, I wrote Older Sister an email explaining how angry I was, and she said not to contact her anymore.
Captain, I still feel so guilty about the MOH thing. Maybe I should’ve had 2 MOHs, my husband’s sister as a bridesmaid, and gotten two groomsmen to even things out. I was trying to protect myself against more drama and stress by not doing those things, but that clearly backfired.
I don’t have a plan of how reconcile with Older Sister, and that’s fine for now. But I need an honest answer to this question: Did I really mess up? Did I wrong Older Sister?
Thanks for reading,
Dear Guilty Sis:
Your mother sits in the middle of this tale like a spider, and I wonder how much of this fight was a proxy fight about something else entirely – old wounds between your sister and your mom and you in a headspace of “Ok, fine, I’ll have your stupid wedding.” Whatever, weddings and funerals bring out all the funky stuff in families and I feel like a fight about them is never really *about* who stands where wearing what dress. You and your sister were”not on the best of terms.” That is a truth that you are not and were not obligated to spackle over when planning your wedding.
Like, maybe there is a Big Book of Southern Weddings where it is written: “Thou shalt ask the elder sister to be thy principal nuptial companion, then thy younger, then thy friends in order of how much affection thou feelst towards them, that by the order they walk down the aisle and the relative size of their bouquet all shall know their exact and ultimate rank in your heart. Any women of your peer group and acquaintance not selected to participate in the bridal parade are hereby designated Left Out and should consider this a most grievous offense, akin to the Cut Direct. The Best Man shall be determined by a trial of combat, that the groom shalt know that the man most able to defend him in battle is by his side.”
Even if that were an actual set-in-stone Etiquette Rule, bad news: You don’t have a time machine.
Good news! You don’t have a time machine. IT’S OVER. You are married. Dunzo.
With the power vested in me by the Internet and my own self-designated title of Captain Awkward, I hereby give you permission to stop worrying about anything that happened at your wedding. It was one fucking day of your life two years ago, not “who you are” or a referendum on every single relationship of your life. The Internet, The Dearly Departed Spirit of Prince, The Wedding Industrial Complex, All Your Favorite Characters of Literature and Fiction, Whatever Gods You Worship or Do Not Worship hereby do absolve you. May you and your spouse enjoy a long and happy life together.
A script for yourself:
“If I had known what a big deal it would be, I might have done the bridesmaid thing differently. But maybe not! Too late now! I have made what amends I could, and now I forgive both myself and my sister for getting caught up in a FEELINGSTORM during that time period. I am also calling ‘bygones’ on this whole thing. I will not perseverate on guilty feelings or try to seek answers about this any more.”
If your sister still wants to avoid you, let her. At family gatherings when you do run into her, greet her politely and then give her a wide berth. Focus on the people you are happy to see and who are happy to see you, and nurture the family relationships that sustain you.
Some scripts for your sister, should she speak to you again about this:
If she comes at you easy:
“I did not know it was that important to you, and if I’d known how hurt you would be I would have asked you about it first. I am sorry* for hurting your feelings. I’d really like you to be my sister again, so when you’re ready to talk, I’m here.”
If she comes at you hard:
“I honestly did not realize it was that important to you. But [sister], it’s been two years. Why are we still fighting about this? Do you want to be my sister in the here and now, or do you want to stay mad and avoid me forever? What would it take to just declare “bygones” over this whole thing?”
Then, listen to her. You can’t predict what she’ll say. She may surprise you.
*A note on “sorry:” This is a “Do you want to win the point, or do you want to make peace?” moment. It’s not about whether you owe the apology, it’s about whether the apology will de-escalate the situation and get the outcome that you want. The words “I am sorry for my part in this” are powerful ones to offer up when you are trying to make peace.
If your sister still wants to nurse her hurt about not being asked to be in a wedding that happened two years ago (one that she spent ‘crying in the bathroom,’ and ‘stressing you the fuck out’) for another two years, then she’s chosen to try to “win” the argument and “be right” (subjectively speaking, of course).
Finally, that thing about your mom: She was in your letter a lot – planning your wedding that you didn’t really want, driving down to facilitate reconciliations, fielding letters of grievances from your sister. That can be all to the good and she’s probably a lovely person. I can’t quite put my finger on the vibe that made my Awkwardsenses tingle, but tingle they did. Maybe you are the Favored Child and your sister is or feels like the Outsider in some way – which is totally outside your control/not your fault/not an excuse for her behavior toward you, just, it might be thing that is present in the soil where the current conflict grew. It’s easy for us to roll eyes at someone who wants to be a bridesmaid sooooo bad, but there’s maybe something primal here about your sister seeking out her “rightful” place in your family that’s bigger than bouquets. If so, please know that it was not on you to know about or fix whatever it was or is. Repeat after me: “My wedding was not created to fix my family.”
Anyway, I wonder what would happen if you tried out a policy of speaking with your sister directly or not at all. Scripts: “She should speak to me directly about that.” “I’d prefer to speak to her directly about that.” “If that’s true, she can tell me directly.” Treat apologies (or insults) relayed through your mom or other family members as if they don’t exist, resist telling negative stuff about your sister to your mom or other family members for a while, and don’t enlist your mom to forge peace (especially since the last one did not hold). If your mom is relieved to be out of the middle, that’s a very good sign. If she keeps trying to fix things, try saying, “Thanks Mom, I know you love both of us. It is what it is. We’ll figure it all out in our own way.”
Your sister will come around with time, or she won’t. You’ll be open to it when she does, or you won’t. Time to hang up the dress and the veil and the grudges. You weren’t that close before the wedding, you aren’t close now. Give it 20 years more and see where you end up.