I have a school friend, “Susan.” We met last year when I started the program. Around the time this school year started, I started therapy to address Issues, and I came to the decision that Susan should become a Small Doses Friend.
I find Susan kind of draining to interact with, and I feel like she has a hard time respecting my boundaries. She often brings up subjects I’m uncomfortable with, and I feel like when I ask/ remind her that I’m not comfortable talking about X, it becomes a big production. I’ve also tried to explain to her that because of Issues, I don’t like to say “I love you” to friends because it feels smothering to me, but she often seems to “forget.” It also seems like lately when we hang out there’s a lot of complaining, nosy questions, and little honest enjoyment of each other’s company.
So, all of this considered, I thought it best to just enjoy her company when I can and detach when I can’t. We’ll both be graduating soon, I might be moving really far away, and I imagined we’d kind of naturally drift apart, as people do sometimes.
Just about the time I figured this out, though, she got engaged. She’d been talking for a while about how she wanted to get engaged and married Very Soon, so when she told me I was of course very happy for her and imagined that the wedding would be this spring or maybe summer at the latest. She asked me to be her Man of Honor, and I was really touched. I said yes.
A few weeks later, I asked her if she had an idea of when the wedding might be (thinking which month). She said they haven’t yet settled on a year, and the earliest possible date is a year from this summer. When I think about having to keep this up for at least another year I want to run away screaming.
I think I need to tell Susan I can’t be in her wedding, but I don’t know how to do that. I keep meaning to ask my therapist for help sorting this out, but then when I consider that I only have an hour each week to work on Issues with a professional, there always seem to be more important things to deal with than how to get out of a wedding. I’m wondering: is it wrong of me to want to ramp down this friendship? And how can I get out of the wedding commitment, since that seems to be what needs to happen?
Thanks so much,
27 Issues (he/ him)
Dear 27 Issues,
You’re allowed to talk about whatever you want in therapy, even if it seems “unimportant.” You’re also allowed to change your mind about friendships. Some people would rather not be your friend at all than be a “Small Doses” friend and as long as you make room for that possibility, you’re allowed to take a break from hanging out so much and see if you miss her and to quash “I love yous” and nosy questions. In my experience, therapy is a time when a lot of “I used to quietly put up with that annoying behavior for the sake of keeping the peace” turns into “UGH, KNOCK IT OFF!”and that can be an important but messy period in reassessing relationships and figuring out which ones no longer work for you in their current form.
Truth: Susan will not like it when you tell her you don’t want to be in her wedding and it will probably have a chilling effect on your friendship…
…The friendship that you find draining and are looking forward to petering out when school ends.
She’s not in full-on wedding planning mode right now, if they haven’t set a date, so “very soon” is a good time to pull the ripcord.
“Susan, I am really happy for you, and I was honored when you asked me to stand up in your wedding, but I need to resign as Man of Honor. I’m so sorry, I wanted to tell you right away so you could make other plans.”
She’ll ask you “Why?,” and it’s not a silly question, and there is literally no good answer. “I don’t…really…like you that much?” is just cruel on top of everything even though it is the truth. You still have to see her all the time at school, yes? So this is not the time to launch into a catalog of her faults/the reasons you’re no longer that into her friendship. Any reason or excuse you give is just gonna pour salt in the wound. Try: “I don’t really have a good reason, I’m so sorry. I am happy for you and I hope that when the time comes I can celebrate with you & Intended Spouse as a guest.”
The “I don’t want to be in your wedding, sorry” conversation might force the “I like you a lot, but I think you think of us as closer friends than I do and that imbalance makes me uncomfortable sometimes, this being one example – I was so excited for you but I agreed too quickly to something that I’m not prepared to actually follow through on, I’m really sorry” conversation. Don’t start there, and maybe run this all by your therapist before you open discussions so you can practice scripts and get your feelings out in a private space before you have to do it for real.
So that your suffering might set an example unto others, let’s review some things.
- When someone asks if you are a god, say yes!
2. When someone asks you if you want to stand up in their wedding, and you’re not 100% sure that you do want to, it’s okay to say:
- “Wow, what an honor! I’m really happy for you! Can I think about it?“
- “Wow, what an honor! I am really happy for you! Can we talk about some specifics before I commit?” (Including explicitly discussing stuff like budget, event planning & attendance, travel, etc. If their expectations are Vail & Vegas* and your budget & schedule are not, that stuff is good to hash out even if you are emotionally down for the job.).
- “Wow, what an honor! I am really happy for you! I’d love to celebrate with you, but being in the wedding party isn’t possible for me.”
I mean, look at it this way – If saying one of the above phrases causes a big argument and hurt feelings and totally tanks your friendship with the recently engaged person, you might as well tank stuff before you’ve agreed to be in their wedding and all that entails.
*BTW everyone made a lot of fun of this “Bridezilla” at Jezebel but I kind of love her for telling people exactly what her expectations are and giving friends the chance to opt out. Her ways are soooooooooo not my ways, but she is clear and direct about what her ways actually are. I hope it was a rocking wedding and that she’s happy and that she long ago ditched the “friend” who would sell out her private email correspondence for public mocking.
88 thoughts on “#929: “I said I’d be in someone’s wedding even though I wanted to fade out on our friendship. Now what?””
LW, another script option, one I used when I resigned as MoH from a friend’s wedding, was “I know that you want your wedding to be as special as possible, and I just can’t commit to the kinds of things the bridal party is responsible for, and I would feel awful if your wedding was any less special because of me. I’m really happy for you and Fiance, and hope that when the time comes, I can celebrate with you from the audience.”
It’s hard, and it does cool the relationship, but if it’s what you need to do, it’s what you need to do. I suspect one of my friends would have liked to resign as bridesmaid, and I really wish that she had. In the two years since my wedding, we’ve grown substantially apart (her deliberate choice), and it makes my wedding photos difficult to look at because she’s in so many of them and it sparks a lot of sadness in me when I see photos of us. It is a kindness to her to ultimately step away as part of the bridal party if you’re heart isn’t in it. In the short term, it may be painful, but in the long run, you’ll help preserve the memories of her wedding day AND save yourself the year or more of emotional drainage that being in her wedding party will cause you. Short term pain, long term gain on both sides.
I love this comment both for its compassion and for the “I’ve been on both sides of this” wisdom. ❤
I was going to leave a comment not too different from this one so I’ll put it here instead. My thought was that you have a wonderful unarguable Big Life Change impending with your graduation coming. “I was really honored that you asked me to be your MoH but with graduation approaching I’m seeing a huge number of things maybe changing for me, including possibly a big move and new job obligations. It’s all so overwhelming and turbulent that I can’t commit to being MoH at some future point when I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’m doing, and the idea of backing out later makes me feel even more panicked. I’m going to have to bow out so you can make a more reliable pick.”
I wouldn’t make it too much about letting her down, lest she reject all your concerns. It should be about you and your feelings and inability to do something. If she just can’t take no thanks for an answer you can firmly say you cannot commit to it and if she doesn’t want to find a replacement that’s her choice. Then if you’re slow ghosting it’ll be in her head, possibly even well enough that she’ll forget she refused to accept your resignation.
This is a great answer that tells the truth and gives reasons but also takes all the responsibility back to the LW – “I am feeling panicked, I need…etc.”
That script is dead-on perfect. It acknowledges how serious this personal benchmark in the friend’s life will be and does so with support and love, while elegantly expressing the complex feelings of a reluctant, but responsible would-be bridal party member. I also think, if I were the bride looking back on this conversation post-ghosting, post-wedding, I wouldn’t really see or hear anything amiss. I actually think that’s a good thing. I’d hate to review the friendship after it was over and recognize that the moment where my former friend started to consciously but quietly disengage occurred just after I reached out and asked for more intimacy. Normally, I’m in favor of throwing out clues before cooling off on a friendship, but intermingling memories of a wedding and the loss of a relationship is usually unnecessary. It’s better to separate the two as much as you can, even if, in reality, the announcement of the wedding has crystallized the OP’s feelings about withdrawing.
Declining the offer while pledging a certain amount of support strikes a good balance, will probably make the friend feel less insecure and blindsided, and will allow her to return to planning the event with an untroubled, undistracted mind.
I think, in this case, the fact you’re moving far away can help with the inevitable “Why?” if you feel like giving her an answer.
“When I said yes, I thought the wedding would be sooner and I don’t really know how easily I’d be able to travel back to the area.” is probably as a good an answer as you can give to avoid hurt feelings.
This can be a good, face-saving answer IF Susan is basically reasonable about stuff and willing to take “no” for an answer.
Otherwise (and if Susan pushes back a lot on the reason we are in an Otherwise situation), it gets Susan to try to solve the geography/timing problem and ignore the “But said I don’t want to” problem, which just prolongs the mess.
Yeah, I have a lot of friends who are Problem Solvers, and I learned pretty fast that “oh, I can’t because [face-saving reason]” was a Bad Idea. I can’t come because it’d cost too much (“We’ll pay!”)… and I can’t take time off from work (“Oh, if that’s the issue, you can fly in on the Saturday morning and out the Sunday night–it’s fine if you miss the rehearsal dinner!”)… and I have nonrefundable theater tickets (“My nephew’s best friend has tickets to the same show a week later, you can swap!”)… and in the end I actually do have to finally say, “I’m not coming, okay? I’m just not,” so we end up in the same place, only with a lot more frustration.
It took me a loooonnnnnng time to figure out, because I grew up in an area where pretty much everyone abided by the rule “one reason is potentially a real problem, two or more is probably an excuse to save face,” and so approaching my problems as Reasons to be Solved over and over felt really pushy and aggressive at first. And some people don’t actually react better to a straightforward “sorry, I can’t” than they do to reasons, because some people just plain don’t want to be told “no.” But yeah, whether the Good Reason Method works depends hugely on Susan herself.
Yeah, I am a natural Problem Solver and I deal with this by saying “Well, if you’d still like to come I’d be happy to/you’d be welcome to [x], but I understand if you’d rather just leave it!”
That strikes me as a lovely compromise. If they really do mean, “I seriously would love to come, it’s just that I have to tie-dye my poodle that weekend” then offering help with alternate poodle tie-dying plans is useful–but if not, they still have the freedom to say “actually yeah, it’s best if I pass, I hope you have a lovely time” without feeling like you’re going to make a huge effing deal about it.
Please tell me you can actually tie dye poodles!
replying to eleanor377:
Ask and ye shall receive:
I was thinking exactly this. The beauty of it is that you were open to the idea (if not thrilled) about doing it if was a lot sooner. So if the wedding date got pushed up for some reason, you wouldn’t have to think of an excuse to weasel out.
Everybody is right about the possibility of Susan trying to problem-solve even if you’ve moved away, but you can stand your ground with simple answers. “I’m not comfortable with it, sorry!”
I concur with the captain that some people don’t want to be “small doses” friends. I get what you are saying. Everyone knows people that fall into this category, but it’s not awkward only when both parties see each other as very casual friends or acquaintances.
Susan thinks you are close enough that she invited you to stand up at her wedding. If I were in her situation and found out that someone was actively trying to limit our time together and ultimately planning to fade out the friendship, I’d be done. Yeah, it would hurt to realize we saw things so differently. But, honestly, who wants to be “friends” with someone who can barely tolerate them? It wouldn’t feel like a kindness to me for someone to keep up the illusion of the relationship. I’d rather spend time with someone who didn’t have to strategize so much to enjoy being around me.
But, honestly, who wants to be “friends” with someone who can barely tolerate them?
Sometimes, it’s less ‘can barely tolerate them’ and more ‘this person is awesome, but too intense for me’ or ‘wears perfume that irritates my nose’ or ‘occasionally gets off on political rants about Green Party politics’ or ‘stays for too long whenever invited over’, and it’s just enough that you can’t spend time with them all the time. Or, I have people in my social circle who I like very much, but for some reason I find myself drained whenever we hang out, because I find myself pushing the conversational ball around or it’s just slightly awkward all the time. They’re good people, I like them, they are my friends! But if I had to hang out with them all the time, either I’d get used to the awkwardness and it would be fine, or I’d get exhausted and snappish and then we’d never be friends.
You do not have to enjoy hanging out with someone all the time in any circumstances to legitimately enjoy their company and want to keep them in your life. The same friends that I enjoy going to see shows with are not necessarily the same friends I love having deep 2am conversations with and vice versa–some of my 2am friends hate the music I like or think the movies I want to see are frivolous and would not have a good time. I just learned that a friend who loves reconstructing traditional recipes absolutely cannot get into comics. She’s still my friend even though she wouldn’t come to comic-con with me and spend 36 hours in a hotel with a bunch of comics nerds.
Having a friend you only see at certain times in certain contexts means that you can fully enjoy the awesomeness they bring without being overwhelmed by whatever that thing is that would annoy you if you had to put up with it full time. That may be strategic, but it’s not necessarily unkindly meant, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the person is ‘barely tolerated.’ It means that your friend can be fully embraced for that time instead of barely tolerated at all times.
Sure, I have friends I only do specific activities with too. But the LW here said that he has already decided that he no longer enjoys hanging out with Susan and is secretly hoping their friendship will end as soon as their school program does. In his words, pretending to be her friend for another year makes him want to run away screaming. Meanwhile, Susan sees him not as a twice-a-month concert friend but as the kind of friend she would invite to play a special role in a major event in her life. Most people don’t invite one activity friends to be maid/man of honor.
If I were Susan, I would rather have the opportunity to share that day with someone who felt equally close to me and was truly excited to be part of it. I wouldn’t want someone who describes our relationship like the LW does to keep pretending, be in all my wedding photos, and then disappear from my life immediately after. He specifically asked if it was wrong to ramp down the friendship — my feeling is, no, that it’s actually unkind to drag it out if you already know you are done.
I don’t think being a sometimes friend in this case would mean going through with being the MOH and then ghosting–that seems like the worst of all worlds for anyone involved.
It seems like most people are agreed that the LW needs to bow out of the wedding party.
But, honestly, who wants to be “friends” with someone who can barely tolerate them?
I think tolerating people is sometimes the price of admission when dealing with a wider social circle and in university (like the LW) it can be the price of having groupmates who are going to pull their weight when it comes to getting a project done on time. It’s not particularly fair or nice but that’s just the way things go sometimes. I’d argue that as long as both parties stay off each others toes, mutual tolerance can be a success (and avoid nasty instances of GSF#4 leading to the cut direct)*.
With the LW and Susan I think a big part problem is that they each have a different view of their friendship. LW seems to view their friendship as relatively situational whereas Susan seems to think they are share important life events together friends. The differing assessment of their friendship level is possibly part of the root cause as Susan is doing stuff she think appropriate for that level of friendship whereas the LW is trying to reset the relationship to the level they consider the friendship at.
*Though tolerance should not be used as a smokescreen to avoid dealing with missing stairs, beware GSF#1.
Yeah, I’m seeing differing views of the friendship as the root of the problem, too. I’ve been on both sides, and both sides suck once you are aware of the difference. I think LW’s original, pre-engagement plan was a good one, but now post-engagement, the Big Life Changes Mean I’m Unavailable script presented earlier is a good route to go.
One of my good friends from grad school is like this… He’s a great guy and we worked really well together on projects…
But, we don’t have much in common besides our mutual profession, so the chances of us being more than casual acquaintances without school in the mix are basically nil. If we were ever in the same town/conference/workplace again, I’d be happy to spend time with him and catch up, but as it stands, we have no reason to talk aside from “happy birthday” posts on FB… So we don’t.
Another friend of mine has been vaguely reminiscent of the LW’s Susan – intense, pushy, psychologically draining to spend time with. Said friend would be lovely, if she didn’t tie so much of her self worth to Being In A Relationship, Even If It’s With Darth Vader/An Evil Beekeeper… But she does, and listening to her tales of Woe and Forever-alone-ness (alternating with logic-proof “discussions” of “if only Latest Object of Affection could see how Perfect We are Together and How can I Make him See the Light?!”) are not something I can do on a regular schedule.
So… Yeah, small-doses friend does not mean “I can’t stand this person but don’t want to feel bad for cutting them out of my life.” It means there are Reasons why you don’t hang out with them all the time.
Oh LW. I feel for you. I had some weird MOH issues when I got engaged. The friend I asked first said no. She said that because of her law school commitments, she worried she would not be able to do my wedding events justice. My feelings of course were bruised, but I absolutely respected her decision. We have drifted apart since then (Nothing to do with the wedding btw. Just normal drifting), but we are still friends and think fondly of one another. Hopefully your school friend will understand, even if she is a bit hurt at first. If not, your instincts about letting her go were spot on.
So, after the first MOH declined, I decided to ask another friend. She said yes, and all was well…until I went through a traumatic experience and she honestly didn’t care. It didn’t bother me until I needed support, but she was one of those “My life is always worse than yours” One-uppers. The moment I needed her, she gaslighted the ever loving crap out of me. Like you, I decided this person needed to become a very small doses friend. I took her to coffee, expressed my feelings as best I could (I had a script I made and practiced). She ended up being one of the friends who “would rather not be your friend at all than be a ‘Small Doses’ friend.” It quickly devolved into a chucking of African Violets, and we are not friends. We tried once or twice years later, but it’s just not meant to be. Looking back, I’m glad I made this decision, but in the moment, it was so hard and painful.
Luckily, third time’s the charm. My MOH was fantastic. She was excited to take the role, and she was the best MOH you could ask for.
As a dumper and dumpee, I think The Captain’s advice is great. Good luck!
“quickly devolved into a chucking of African Violets”
Am I a terrible person if I can only imagine this happening literally?
Nope. The moment I typed it, I LOLed and then imagined people throwing adorable, tiny pots of purple flowers at each other. 🙂
Am I horrible for imaging that they are heavy, medium-to-large size pots?
Absolutely not. Comically large items are fantastic! I’m going to visualize that now. LOL.
Now I also am envisioning a African Violet Catapult.
“African violet catapult” could be an idiom around here for when you end a friendship with someone who’s utterly oblivious and you have to be unbelievably blunt.
Long time lurker here! Thank you for your advice, captain: it’s always spot-on.
I like the formula: “Wow, what an honor/fantastic idea/marvelous plan! Can I think about it?”, and it’s my mantra when someone asks me if I want to participate in *anything*.
I also use the “Let me speak to Sir Bodacious about it and get back to you.” Useful on many fronts.
I always have to check my calendar. (Which is at home, on the wall.) And that’s legit! I have a craptastic memory and I really DO always have to check my calendar before I can commit to anything.
Personally I’m a big fan of “I must check my schedule/check with my partner/see if (vague implication of travel plans) are that day.” Sometimes it’s honest, sometimes I’m really just checking my own feelings or taking some of the pressure off so I don’t have to decide immediately. (Rushed decisions about my free time tend to stress me out.)
I like that formula, too. For some reason, I spent most of my adult life believing that when someone asks me a question, I must answer both immediately and definitively. (Part of this could be having a spouse who would insist that I come up with answers to things I don’t know, like, “WHY are you depressed?” “WHY don’t you want to have sex right now?”) It took me a long time to learn that I could answer questions with, “I don’t know,” “Let me think about that and get back to you” or sometimes, simply not answer a question at all (like when it’s intrusive, or when someone keeps asking me the same question over and over expecting a different answer, etc.)
I have a friend like your spouse. It took me forever to figure out why I always ended up annoyed after some kinds of conversations with her. It was because she wanted definitive answers, on the spot, to difficult, obscure, or outright unanswerable questions, and was incredibly resistant to “I don’t know” or a back and forth speculative discussion. I’ve started pointing out the behavior to her, but she genuinely doesn’t seem to get what’s wrong with it, or why I find it annoying. I can enjoy the crap out of an hour-long discussion over why Author X may have written Scene 3 that particular way, but not out of that same hour if my conversational partner is demanding I explain why Scene 3 was written that way to her satisfaction.
I was on the receiving end of a “Wow, what an honor! plus negotiations” response a few days ago, and it was completely normal and good to hear. In this case, it wasn’t asking to be wedding attendants, but more like godparents (I’m trying to find a relatable analogy since the details are specific). My wife and I asked a couple people we like and respect a lot, but with whom we aren’t already super-close friends, to both do something specific quite soon and just generally be part of our family’s future life. One response was “Wow, what an honor! Yes. I am happy to do this thing.” and another was “Wow, what an honor! I’d love to celebrate with you, but because of life stuff right now I don’t think I can take a lead role.” And that was fine. We will probably end up with first person in charge of Doing the Thing, and second person will be welcome to participate as able, with no pressure. Plus it’s a long-term gig, so maybe when current life crises change, second person may have more ability and/or willingness to be involved.
Ahh, what a situation. The other advantage of backing out early is: you’ll be able to attend the wedding in a way better frame of mind. With six or however many months for both of you to get that distance from the awkward conversation? Months to get some emotional distance from her? You’ll be so much more equipped to celebrate.
(If you even want to celebrate and the friendship stays around, I mean. But if you delay very long, you’ll be amping your negative feelings way up and it’ll be even worse than it is now.)
One of the hardest and most important adult lessons I’ve learned is that sometimes you can’t avoid hurting someone’s feelings. And any time you take a step back from a relationship (whether it’s a massive step back, like a breakup, or something more like this where you’re trying to turn a friend into a Small Doses Friend) there’s a very real chance that it will hurt someone, and you probably can’t avoid that. Which is hard! It’s why so many questions to advice columnists of all stripes boil down to “how can I break up with this person in a way that is painless and friction free for everyone?” Answer: you can’t. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever take a step back from a relationship, or that you have to stay in your first romantic relationship forever to avoid hurting someone. It just means that sometimes you’re going to hurt someone, even if everyone involved is basically a good person.
And since most of us internalized the ‘it’s bad to hurt someone’s feelings’ as really quite small humans, back when that meant something as simple as, “don’t kick sand in your friend’s face and call her an ugly stupidhead,” it is of course very difficult to accept that the thing that you have to do, that is right to do, might hurt feelings.
(As a number of people alluded to in the last letter, this is often why we internally run down our friends/partners before we end things with them, because it feels less bad to hurt the feelings of a terrible person than to hurt the feelings of someone who is basically good but just not good for you. But sometimes you do in fact have to hurt the feelings of someone who is basically good, because they’re not good for you.)
So, yeah. The plain fact of the matter is that unless Susan is a suuuuuuper chill human being, chances are good that you’re going to hurt her feelings by going back on this. And that’s okay. It’s life, it happens, it’s unavoidable. It’s good to be mindful of when your actions might hurt someone, but that doesn’t mean that you can or even should always avoid hurting someone. And sometimes for me it helps a lot to simply sit with the fact that the thing I am going to say is going to be hard, and is going to cause at minimum some ruffled feathers and quite possibly some genuine hurt, to get used to the idea; that way if/when Susan is hurt in the moment and reacts accordingly, it doesn’t catch me by surprise, and I don’t fumble and make it worse. Also could be useful to talk about with your therapist, since this is something that is very, very hard for a lot of people, but is an important life skill.
Best of luck, LW. I’m glad you’re taking a serious look at these kinds of needs and boundaries of your own.
This is a really good comment. A close friend of mine who is pregnant asked me if I wanted to accompany her to some of her monographer appointments as her partner was going to be busy with work on some of them. It was such an honour to be asked to share in something so intimate, it really was. However, I have had a rough year: messy breakup at the beginning and dealing with depression and bouts of unemployment. it seemed that fortune was smiling on everyone else whilst simultaneously sticking two fingers up at me. I had to focus on taking care of myself, and part of that meant taking time out from celebrating in other people’s joy. I politely declined, and I could see that my friend was hurt. I felt bad, so I ran it by another friend who said that I had made the right choice for myself. She pretty much said the same things as you Turtle Candle, that you can’t go through life without sometimes hurting people’s feelings, and to think how much crappier I would’ve felt if I had gone to the baby scan. Most of us are decent people for whom hurting someone, especially someone that we care about, is anathema, but sometimes it’s the least painful course of action in the long-run.
“Given that the date isn’t set yet and is so far out, I really can’t commit to being your Best Man. I don’t know where I’ll be or what responsibilities I’ll have, and I don’t want you to count on me for something I can’t do.”
Captain, can you delete this one, please? WordPress was doing something weird with logging in. (Or change the name, that’s fine too.)
You’re getting a lot of good advice on how to handle the wedding situation so I want to address your question “I’m wondering: is it wrong of me to want to ramp down this friendship?”
The answer is no. You reach a point sometimes where you realize that regardless of how nice or good someone is they are not healthy for you to be around. Just because you were good friends at one point does not shackle you to being friends with them for eternity. People change, tastes change, times change. If this person really is walking all over your boundaries then it sounds like it would be healthy to scale it back and possibly end it altogether.
I had to do it, to my best friend no less. Something happened our friendship warped and I realized that I felt actual anxiety and dreaded hanging out with them. I finally reached a point where I said “nope I’ve had enough” and just outright told them and hadn’t seen them since. It was hard, it took a while to reach that point but it’s one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done for myself.
Yes. There’s someone I was good friends with for several years, but I realized awhile back that we really don’t see friendship the same way and I can’t handle her form of friendship anymore (I don’t think she realizes that friendship doesn’t have to be antagonistic, she fights with everyone), so I’ve spent the past year backing away from the relationship as much as I can. While the work it sometimes takes to avoid spending time with her is unpleasant (we’re still in the same social circle, I can’t avoid her completely), that’s a lot less stress than it would be to hang out with her.
One potential red flag the Captain did not address: Why is Susan insisting on saying “I love you” to the LW (or having the LW say this to her)? In my culture, it is extremely inappropriate to say “I love you” to someone unless they are your romantic partner or a close family member. (I am a white American). I hope Susan isn’t trying to groom the LW for an affair.
I think it’s really culturally specific whether this is weird or not. Here in the U.S. South, there are social circles where this would be unusual, and others where gushing “I love you so much!” is expected between even fairly casual friends. The LW is probably the best judge of whether this feels off to her, or just like a mismatch in emotional styles.
I’m also in the American South, and “I love you” is part of building and maintaining a close friendship.
It’s meaning in that context is closer to “You are valuable to me. Your time and energy is a gift. I will give time and energy to you”
A while after leaving my longtime friend group because of a Creepy Guy at the center of it, a couple of friends who had small doesed me because of my friendship with Creepy reached out with an “I love you.” In that context it was an invitation to resume a deeper friendship.
When I grew up, saying “I love you” to anyone but a romantic partner or close family member would get accusations of “EWWWW! You’re gay!” or claims of sexual harassment.
People have different rules around this and it’s context-dependent. I think the thing to focus on is that the LW is uncomfortable with it and has told Susan so, meaning, it doesn’t matter if it’s ‘normal’ where they live or part of how she relates to friends. He’s asked her not to, so, don’t.
Yes exactly. We don’t actually have to decide whether “I love you” to friends is Always Good or Always Bad or Good In This Culture But Not That One or whatever. If you say it to someone and it makes you both feel good, then it’s good. If you say it to someone–or they say it to you–and you or they are uncomfortable and say “please stop,” you/they need to stop. If Susan has other friends who are perfectly happy with this kind of thing, she is under no moral imperative to stop it with them–her moral imperative is to stop it with the LW, who told her not to. She’s breaching a boundary not because there’s something wrong with telling friends that you love them, but because she’s repeatedly using a term of affection to someone who told her not to, after he told her not to.
(I have a very verbally affectionate friends group, who will say “love you” and call each other “dear” and “sweetie” all the time, stuff like that. We have one friend who isn’t comfortable being called “dear” or “sweetie” by friends, and she said so, and we stopped with her, but not with each other, and it worked out fine. Same as if some of your group is huggers and others are not-huggers–the huggers hug each other and they don’t hug the not-huggers, who don’t hug anyone. There doesn’t have to be One Acceptability Rule that we negotiate for everyone; it’s enough to simply listen to the boundaries that other people set and respect them.)
I’m another white American in the south (though I’m not from the south), and my friends and I say “I love you.”
That said, it is not loving to insist on that phrase when someone tells you it makes them uncomfortable. There are a lot of other ways to express love and care for someone than with that specific phrase.
Yep, my friends say it pretty regularly to me; but, I don’t say it back because [reasons]. So long as they’re cool with the non-reciprocity I don’t worry about it too much.
I had a person in my life who did this once – it wasn’t a friend, it was my employer at that time (thankfully, no more). I didn’t feel like I was being groomed for an affair, but I did feel that my boss was trying to force an intimacy that wasn’t there – particularly because this started on my first day of work, with a small expectant pause after she said it for me to say back. This woman was also not very good at boundaries; in fact, complained that I was good at boundaries during my employ there.
I wonder if Susan has sensed the LW’s distance, and is trying to hold harder, and the result it that it is driving the LW away faster and farther, as is the case sometimes in other types of relationships.
That was my thought as well.
If so, then stepping back now really is the kindest thing to do. Though it will probably be very uncomfortable for both of them in the short-term, and possibly a relationship ender.
Okay, I feel like that’s a lot more inappropriate coming from a boss than from a friend, even in cultures where it would still be weird coming from a friend. That’s so skeevy!
Your boss tried to force you to say “I love you” to her?
EWEWEWEWEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m so sorry that happened
That struck me too, gotta say. And whether it’s acceptable in their culture or not, the LW has expressed that it’s not acceptable to him, and thus, she should cut that shit out.
My friends and I say “I love you” all the time. (I mean, not in a deep-sustained-eye-contact “I looooove youuuuu” kind of way, but a quick “love ya!” is very common.) So this is definitely culturally dependent (30somethings, urban West Coast). The red flag to me is not that she says it–it’s perfectly normal in some cultures and idiolects–but that she doesn’t stop when told. Repeatedly “forgetting” that someone doesn’t want you to say X to them is a big problem whatever X is.
I’m also a white American and my friends and I say “I love you” to each other all the time. So yeah, I agree that this is really specific to the culture of your particular social circles. That said, it’s still not okay to say something to someone that they’ve explicitly asked you not to say, and I think that’s the real problem here.
I say “I love you” to friends quite a lot… Usually more of a tossed off “love ya!” At the end of a phone call, or combined with general “take care” and “drive safe!” -type statements while goodbye ing after a visit. It is not a “white” thing not to say it…might be more regionally or familially specific to some of the more reserved pockets of American culture. I feel very badly for LW that this common expression of affection is a boundary for them. It may be a fairly automatic phrase for the friend although yes, she could try harder to observe this boundary. Maybe she just doesn’t understand it? I will admit, I don’t. My “trigger” phrases are much more abusive things…friend may not “get” why “love” between friends is unmentionable. Not to say LW owes friend an explanation, but, if they are not close enough to understand each other, it’s another sign that pulling back from the friendship is a good idea.
I don’t think it’s that mystifying why someone might not like this, though? If you reserve “I love you” for people you actually love in a serious and committed way — your romantic partner, your dearest friends, your close family — it’s weird to have someone who’s a more casual friend saying “I love you,” or expecting you to say it, as an expression of general warm feelings. It’s like huggers and non-huggers — there’s nothing wrong with liking hugs, but it’s also not mysterious that some people don’t like to be hugged by people they aren’t very close to (or at all).
Susan does not consider them casual friends, though. She asked the LW to be her MOH–is that an ask one would make of a casual friend?
Ermm, please don’t “feel badly” for someone whose boundaries around “I love you” are different from yours. Its weird and patronising, and reminds me a lot of the boundary-violating insistent huggers who refuse to take no for an answer.
“I feel very badly for LW that this common expression of affection is a boundary for them.” Eh? It’s really just different cultural uses of language. I grew up learning that “I love you” was a deeply meaningful phrase, used for lifelong family commitment or deep passion. Hearing it from a casual friend would be very strange for me and my first reaction would be that this person was expressing romantic interest or about to announce she had some terminal illness. It doesn’t mean I care about my friends any less, I just don’t use what to me would be extremely intense language! (Five years after moving to the West Coast, straight women talking about their “girlfriends” also still causes me a brief moment of internal confusion.)
But even if you’re from a culture where “Love you!” just means “You’re a close and cherished friend” the LW is saying he *doesn’t* feel that close to Susan any more, so it makes sense that hearing “you’re a close and cherished friend” would also make him uncomfortable.
Ah. Thanks for pointing that out! It’s the consent violation that’s the issue.
Exactly. Bad idea to say it to somebody who’s uncomfortable with it, egregious to pressure them into saying it back. That squicked me more than anything else in the letter.
Um, the letter writer is male and the bride-to-be is female.
I’m male, too, in the US, and while I have lots of friends who are female, I do not say “I love you” to anyone who is not a spouse or close bio-relative. My female friends do not pressure me into saying “I love you” to them. The bride-to-be’s pressure to do that sounds quite odd to me.
It’s not necessarily unusual or unacceptable. When most of my friends were girls (in high school) I did this all the time. Now I am a little more circumspect due to who my friends are, but I still definitely hear it.
Just want to add that this is something I (white American, mid-twenties) say to some friends and not others. Definitely doesn’t sound weird or sinister–until Susan ignored the LW’s request to stop doing it. Nothing inherently wrong with different markers of closeness between friends, but lots wrong with repeatedly doing something someone tells you they’re made uncomfortable by.
I’m a white (queer) American, and it’s been my experience that close friends tell each other “I love you.” I really don’t think Susan is grooming the LW for an affair; that seems like a stretch. The only thing that matters is that it’s a level of intimacy that makes the LW uncomfortable.
I reached for the whole “affair” thing because the “I love you” thing from Susan squicked me out, and that was the only reason I could think of.
Uh…whoa, no. I’m a white American too (East Coast–>West Coast fwiw) and have many friends I would and do say “I love you” to, because I love them platonically. I wouldn’t say it to all my friends, depending on how close we are or how emotionally expressive we are, but we’re not sneakily trying to date each other.
That said, obviously Susan’s behavior sounds weird–if you say “I love you” to someone and they don’t want to say it to you, then you just back off, you don’t try to push them into saying it!–but it’s not weird because they are friends.
When I was growing up, saying “I love you” to anyone who was not a romantic partner or family member would bring accusations of homosexuality or sexual harassment. I think it’s a generational thing, because I am older than most of the commenters.
In a case where the relationship isn’t important to LW, as it seems to be, I’d favour the blander route of backing out on the grounds of not knowing when they made the commitment that the wedding was so far in the future. Yes, Susan may try to problem-solve leading to a whole new set of problems, but LW can always just stick to their “no” guns without further reams of explanation, which may disappoint and frustrate Susan but be less hurtful. My feeling is that you have to pick your battles. Thrashing out a relationship which is on the point of a natural end anyway will not only take up a lot of emotional spoons but also be more hurtful to the other person, who is not likely to welcome the kind of truths she is going to hear and may well not be receptive to them. A quiet retreat followed by a fade will also sting, but less so IMO.
Gosh, I feel for you. I am not a wedding person. I feel extremely uncomfortable being in weddings. When asked, my usual reaction is to say yes, but after some time passes, I cringe inside…. what did I do! It’s a huge commitment, and you don’t even really like this person, so yes, you will feel bad, but honestly it’s the best thing for you both. Good luck. I’ve been there. It’s hard.
I love several of the scripts so far. Here’s another one to try:
“Susan, I am so touched that you asked me to stand up in your wedding, and in the moment I said yes impulsively. After reflecting on it, though, I don’t think I’ll be able to do it after all, and I wanted to tell you now while you’re still in the early planning stage so you can ask someone who will be as excited on the wedding day as I was the day you asked me. I’m sorry that I said yes without really thinking it through.”
This is a wonderful script! Kind and irrefutable.
Another option is to say that you’re bowing out for mental health reasons– that you’re just not up to participating at that level. You can say you and your therapist have reflected on it, and your mental health just is not in a place where you’re able to follow through on the various MOH duties, especially with your various life transitions coming up. It’s true, if perhaps a very broad brushstroke of the truth, and lets you give her just enough of a “why”.
My bet would be to keep it vague, don’t get into justifying or giving Reasons, just keep citing general mental health. If she is pushy and wants Reasons, which she probably will, it’s a good chance to practice addressing the issue that’s driving you apart in the first place. “I’m really not up for discussing my mental health, thanks for understanding.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep it vague, keep it general, keep it boring, Don’t get drawn into discussions you don’t want to have.
If she keeps pushing, you can also say, “For this friendship to work, I need you to respect my boundaries. This is not a subject I’m able to discuss.” It’s clear, it’s firm, it’s not unkind, and it lets her know where you stand. Once you’ve set that expectation, you have given her a chance to make an informed decision about what kind of friend she wants to be. It’s likely that she will keep pushing and prying, but as you inevitably become more distant, at least you will have given her a clear reason & precedent as to why.
I feel like you could go for an easier to swallow version of the truth “when I said yes, I thought we were talking about sometime soon – I don’t know where I’ll be in a few years and can’t commit to that” might go over better than “I can’t but won’t tell you why”
Yes, I think this is the kindest way to do it and it’s also truthful.
I’m not married myself, but several of my married friends have had people in their wedding party who agreed to be part of the party… and then it turned out they weren’t really happy to be in it. Some people were passive aggressive, some were aggressive aggressive, some were perfectly nice but totally flaky during the lead up to the wedding.
For each of these married friends, it was a big source of stress and hurt throughout the wedding planning, and a dampener on the joy of the wedding day. They don’t talk to their former bridesmaids and groomsmen, or the relationships are really strained.
I know it feels sucky, but you’re doing Susan a kindness by pulling out early, when there’s lots of time for her to find someone else who is able to joyfully and wholeheartedly participate as a member of the wedding party.
Ugh, forgive the use of gendered language above – should have said ‘wedding party members’ (I was a groomslady myself a few years ago 🙂 )
“I feel very badly for LW that this common expression of affection is a boundary for them.”
As this comment threat attests, many people use the phrase differently. There are many people who would never say “I love you” to their friends, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not some ubiquitous thing he’s having to bow out of.
Squeezing Susan’s hand while beaming “I’m so happy for you, and I look foward to being a guest” seems true and cuts to the chase.
As far as I can tell from the letter, LW would be fine if the wedding were soon so that he could be done with regular contact with Susan and do a slow fade. Since the issue seems to be that this is a commitment over a year in the future at a yet-undetermined time (and perhaps never – people can and do go from totally in love to not in the span of a year), I would suggest telling the truth, selectively edited to omit the parts about wanting to scale back the friendship generally, which seem like they would really only serve to be hurtful, though it can be addressed kindly if it does come up, as CA suggests with her scripts.
“Hey Susan, I was really happy to hear that you’re getting married [true!] and very touched that you asked me to be in your wedding party! [also true!] Since you’d been talking about wanting to get married very soon, I was expecting the wedding to be some time in the next year when I accepted your offer [still true], but this was a bad assumption on my part, and now that I know you’re not planning on having the wedding before the summer after next, I’m going to have to decline. I’m sorry to back out [maybe not exactly true, but more a matter of expected social graces than a lie], but I don’t want to make a commitment that I might not be able to keep, and I wanted to let you know as soon as possible so that you could make other arrangements if you do start planning events early. [I would say this next bit only if it’s true] I’d still love to attend and celebrate with you, and congratulations again on the engagement!”
Lots of excellent advice here! I had a similar experience that may serve as a cautionary tale. My high school/college BFF ghosted on me for about a year, and that break helped me realize that we weren’t healthy for each other. But one day we ran into each other and started hanging out again, and shortly after she got engaged and asked me to be a bridesmaid. I said yes, which was a terrible decision in hindsight because it turns out I hate wedding planning. Moreover, she spent the entire engagement year lamenting the possibility that she didn’t really want to get married to This Guy. My refrain that This Guy was awesome but she could absolutely leave at any time may not have been what she was looking to hear. The wedding itself was fine, but she never spoke to me again afterward and I was so relieved.
The moral of the story is that half-hearted wedding party members, for whatever reasons, don’t make anyone happy. The good Captain and others have offered excellent scripts, and I wish you the best of luck.
They haven’t picked a year yet? Easy out.
“Susan, I was so honored to be asked, I assumed you were marrying Very Soon and answered too quickly. With us graduating, I really don’t think it’s wise to commit that far out, not knowing if I’ll even be able to follow through. When you have the specifics set, we can revisit the question if you still want to.”
Then you have 2 years to fade out. If she does ask again, it will be much simpler to give a flat no when you have that distance.
Just want to add that this happened to me decades ago – sort of.
When I was a first year grad student decades ago, an undergrad student,”Roger,” a junior, struck up a friendship with me while we were both volunteering for the same non-profit near campus. We’re both male, and I think there was a 2½ year age difference. We had a shared interest in that non-profit’s good works in common, and, looking back, I had a car, and he didn’t, so maybe that was part of why I was a fun friend to have, too.
Roger got engaged to his hometown girlfriend over the summer. When he came back to the university to start his senior year he came over to my place to share his good news and to ask me to be his best man at his wedding in one year. I was pleasantly surprised; I liked Roger but I didn’t realize he considered us that close of friends. I remember asking Roger if there weren’t any of his hometown or undergrad friends he was closer with. He said, no, he and I had had much deeper conversations than his other friends and he wanted me as his best man.
Well, I accepted, but then the way our schedules turned out that semester we hardly ever volunteered at the same times and we didn’t see each other nearly as often as the previous year.
Roger came by just before he left for Christmas. He looked sheepish and embarrassed – and after hemming and hawing for a moment he announced that he had thought it over and had decided that he was closer friends with someone else and he wanted that other friend to be his best man instead of me.
In a way it was a sort of relief. After all, I had been surprised that he considered me that close of a friend. But it did hurt just a little bit, too. Didn’t see much of Roger the following semester – and then we both finished at the university and moved away. Never did even get an invitation to his wedding, though!
(Trying to tie this in to the OP…) I think that it will be less hurtful in the long run if you say no now than if you say no later or than if you say yes and perform grudgingly. Let her have a chance to pick someone who really is closer to her as a friend than you are.
I had this happen to me, on the other side. The year I was engaged I was roommates with a girl I really liked and admired. I kinda wondered if she was “too cool” to be friends with me, but then she’d agreed to live together and she always said I was an important friend to her. At the same time, she almost never invited me out with her other friends, and we basically only spent time together if she had nothing else going on, which wasn’t often.
I asked her to be a bridesmaid, she said yes, and then a few days later she came back with, “You know, I’ve thought about it, and I don’t think I can afford to travel to another state for this, you should ask someone else.” Was it true? I guess. But all our friends were equally poor and they made a cheap road trip of it, so she almost certainly could have come if it had been important to her. But … it actually wasn’t, because we were Not That Close, and I’d failed to realize it. I was a little bit hurt, but I got over it. We are facebook friends still but don’t really hang since we stopped living together.
I wish she hadn’t said yes in the first place, and yeah, I kinda wish she’d liked me as much as I liked her, but failing those two things, she did the best thing she could have: back out ASAP, and give a plausible excuse so that I could pretend I didn’t know that the reason was “I’m just not that into you.”
Comments are closed.