Dear Captain Awkward:
My friend’s wedding was the weekend of Hurricane Florence. I considered her one of my closest friends until she got engaged and like a bad cliche stopped communicating with her only single friend.
I didn’t take the hurricane seriously at first but everyone I spoke to freaked out when I said I was still attending the wedding. I agonized over it and talked it out over and over with my family this week. I had been on the road for work for 3 weeks and was not at 100%. I learned that the friend I was meant to travel with to the destination was canceling due to the weather. I panicked and canceled my flights and hotel that night too. I couldn’t sleep as I was distraught at having to call her to cancel in the morning only to find in the news that the situation was nowhere near as bad in her area as I had thought. When I rushed to try to get another ticket, the fares were astronomical and I couldn’t afford it. I waited until a decent hour and then called the bride to tell her I couldn’t come and apologize. She hung up on me. Within seconds I was getting angry texts. She told me not to bother her again unless it was to say I was coming. She said a lot more but essentially she was done and finished with me.
I’ve been crying randomly all day. Those texts are like a sore tooth I can’t stop messing with. I keep going over in my head, wanting to not mess it up this time or imagining how I could apologize if she’d just give me a chance or rip into her so she’d be hurt too. I have problems with anxiety, self-harm and was already in a bit of depressive funk from being so isolated with work. I just don’t know what to do and am worried that if I tell anyone what happened that they’ll think badly of me too. Before those texts, I thought I would send flowers or a letter to her but I’m guessing those would go in the trash now. What do I do to fix this?
I read the texts you attached (and will not publish them. I don’t publish screenshots people send me as a rule – I would want the consent of everyone in the conversation before I did that). For the people reading along at home, the wedding was in Richmond, Virginia. Here are my thoughts:
- Before the weekend, people didn’t know that Richmond would be okay and planning travel there did not seem like the greatest idea on earth. The stories from further south & east are horrifying, there seems to be a rash of tornadoes, and elected officials also erred on the side of caution. There’s always a risk that you’ll take precautions and not really need them, but we do the best we can with imperfect information, especially if the alternative is getting stranded/trapped/putting yourself and other people in danger. “Do I want to maybe risk my life to go to this party?” is a reasonable question and “Nope!” is a reasonable decision.
- I think the couple planning the wedding owed all their out of town guests some kind of weather update & a general cutting of slack if people couldn’t make it or chose not to come given the storm. Like, fuck the seating chart at this point, party with the people who can make it, live to tell the tale.
- You checked in with your family & friends and the friend who was due to travel with you before you made your decision to cancel, but it doesn’t sound like you checked in directly with the bride. I think you owed her a text or a phone call before you canceled. You may have made the same decision in the end anyway, but you mention being really worn out from work and also not feeling very close to her since her engagement in your email to me. You’re over-justifying. It happens and your other stressors are real! But they can’t be part of your apology/quest to make peace.
- Maybe it’s not about you & your friendship specifically. Depending on how big this wedding was, I want you to imagine your text conversation with the bride as one of probably 50 or even 100 that she was having that same day at that same time, like, EVERYONE is contacting her on the wedding day to tell her they won’t be there or will be late or have some logistical question (probably her partner’s family & friends, too, and vendors, because everyone assumes the bride has all the answers). It’s easy to be like “god, what a bridezilla for getting mad that people don’t want to come to your maybe-drowning, maybe-evacuation party” but also imagine that a similar amount of panic you felt was also going through her, like, her whole beautiful plan that absorbed months of her life is now FUCKED, her friend that she couldn’t wait to see won’t be there, and maybe she didn’t have the bandwidth to be maximally sympathetic to you or reassure you right at that moment. I didn’t have a natural disaster to deal with two years ago, we had inexpensive comfort food catered by our local grocery store, so it’s not like every person who cancelled meant losing some huge catering fee, but I can still remember feeling exhausted when the week before the wedding and literally on the day of the wedding people we thought would be there sent me & Mr. Awkward these lonnnnnnnnnnggggggggggg emails & texts about why they couldn’t come. Some of them had really good reasons (a sudden health scare & surgery, life happens!) and some of them clearly just flaked out and some could not be bothered to click RSVP on our website but could be bothered to send us essays about why they couldn’t make it. In the end it didn’t matter, we were happy to celebrate with the people who were there, and I honestly don’t hold it against anyone or even remember who wasn’t able to make it – I know their exhortations were sincere expressions of love & regret and it’s just one party in a whole life! That week/that day, however, the barrage of their apologies taken all together was exhausting and annoying. Like, I hope I replied to them with something sufficiently gracious, but I know I yelled “DO I NEED TO RENT YOU A FUCKING CHAIR OR NOT, THAT IS LITERALLY ALL I CARE ABOUT RIGHT NOW” at my various communication devices a time or seven. By which I mean to say, “don’t bother me again unless it’s to say that you’re coming” might be more of a statement about that day & the suckitude of wedding planning & anger at the storm situation than about you specifically/the rest of your lives/your entire friendship. Also, as you are a very close friend, it may have felt safe for her to unload some of her stress on you (vs. her future spouse’s Great Great Granny or the cake vendor).
So, two friends were Not Awesome during a stressful moment and nobody has a time machine. What do do now?
- Please, aggressively take care of your depressive funk, exhaustion, cutting impulses, burnout. Consult your mental health support team (or put one in place), be nice to yourself, do all the self-caring & self-soothing things you know how to do, reach out and interact with people who love you and make you feel good and who aren’t currently pissed off at you. Also: Delete the texts. Stop reading them obsessively.
- Forgive yourself. You missed your friend’s wedding, which understandably hurt her feelings, and you also made a reasonable decision not to fly into an oncoming hurricane. If there’s a villain here, it’s the weather.
- Give it time & space. Let your friend go on her honeymoon and just be for a bit. She’s probably not thinking about you all that much right now (and that’s good, or at least better than her thinking about you a lot and still being mad). The more you push to try to fix it fix it fix it right now, the worse her response will be. We avoid people we’ve offended when we feel guilty. If she feels embarrassed about sending you mean texts, a little space & time will let her save face. It’s a gift for everyone.
- Wait a month or so and then mail her a gift and a card with an apology. An apology doesn’t explain or try to justify or ask for anything, like “Dear [Friend], I’m so very sorry that I couldn’t celebrate with you, and sorrier still that I didn’t check in with you before I cancelled the trip and that I added to your stress on such an important day. I want you to know how happy I am for you & [spouse], and I’m sending you all my love & congratulations.”
- Then, leave it alone. Hopefully she’ll respond and apologize too, for not being more understanding & for snapping at you in a stressful moment, and you’ll start to repair things with a little time & grace. Sometimes you just gotta declare “bygones” and decide that even if people made mistakes the relationship is important enough to put that behind you and forgive yourselves and each other. If she really is done and doesn’t want to resume the friendship, or if she doubles down on her earlier behavior, you can know that you did the right thing by making a sincere apology for your part in this and that you did your best to repair things.
Commenters, can we be really gentle with everybody in this story?