#1288: “Saying ‘No’ To The Dress & My Overbearing Sister”

The world is on fire (in some places, quite literally), but it’s a weird sort of comforting to know that wedding planning can still bring out the family bullies and control freaks like nothing else. 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I hope you don’t mind another wedding question! 

My fiancé and I got engaged this summer and have begun planning our wedding for the post-Covid times, if ever they may come.

My older sister has been a lifelong seamstress and fashion enthusiast, and now works professionally in fashion and design. I was nervous to tell her about the engagement, because for my whole life she has always wanted to make my dresses for every important occasion. School dances, graduations, you name it, she wanted to make the dress. It has never been fun, it always turns into a debacle where she is very mean to me and often leaves the dress to the last minute. I’m beginning to learn that making my dresses is her way of making my special events about her. Because heaven forbid something not be about her.  

Sure enough, the first thing out of her mouth when I told her the news was “I want to make your dress.” I told her I wasn’t sold on that idea, and suggested she could make her own bridesmaid dress. “No, I want to make yours.” And then she was off to the races making a Pinterest board of dress ideas (totally ignoring my OWN Pinterest board of dresses I liked I had already sent her).

I messaged her very early on to say that while I saw the love in her offer (demand) and was sure she would make a beautiful, special dress, I was leaning towards buying one and wasn’t interested in having the dress be a long, drawn out project the two of us would have to collaborate on. I said I’d rather just enjoy the fun parts of wedding planning with her. She said she understood, but wanted the chance to tell me exactly how the process would go to put my mind at ease. I listened to what she had to say, and told her I still wanted to go dress shopping but wouldn’t entirely rule out her making something if I didn’t find “the dress.” 

Cut to several dress appointments later (in which she was very rude and demanding to everyone), and I found the dress of my dreams that I am going to buy. She wasn’t at the appointment when I made the decision, so I sent her a message quickly afterwards to let her know my decision and also to ask her if she would make my veil and an overskirt to wear over the dress during the ceremony. I told her it wasn’t because I doubted her skill, it wasn’t about her at all, those were just the right size projects for us to do together that wouldn’t stress me out and would still be VERY visible and VERY meaningful. 

She. Went. Ballistic. 

She started bombarding my phone with calls, and sending long messages demanding to know my reasons for slighting her, why I didn’t want to support her, criticizing the dress I picked and saying she could make it better and not have me walking down the aisle in “polyester made in China,” (not what the dress is, but even if it was, still my decision! But of course, my expensive designer dress is trash, but when SHE buys expensive designer dresses it’s amazing), and saying that just because I’m the bride doesn’t mean I get to go around shitting on everyone else’s feelings. She also asked how I can expect her to be my maid of honor and dress me on my wedding day in a dress that she didn’t make. 

I have not responded to any calls or messages because I’m upset and don’t want to open the door to her bullying, arguing, or manipulating me. She’s accusing me of hiding from facing up to the people I’ve wronged. My decision isn’t up for negotiation, but she sure thinks it still is. I tried to compromise when I broke the news asking her to make other special elements of my outfit, and she has completely ignored that olive branch, and now I don’t want her even doing that much after she cools down and still 100% expects to be involved. 

I was worried about asking her to be maid of honor because I know how she can be, but she’s my sister and I really wanted this to be a nice thing for us to share. I don’t know where to go from here, because cutting her out of things will upset me, her, and our parents, but she’s spiraled so far that I don’t think I can just forget all of this happened. Like, forget how she’ll feel dressing me on my wedding day, how am I supposed to feel asking for her help getting into a dress she absolutely shit on when she wasn’t getting her way! 

Do you have any suggestions on navigating out of this situation? I’m upset that I’m getting lambasted over saying no to something I never asked for!


Apparently a Bridezilla

Dear Apparently,

This is a lot of words about wedding planning with your sister and not very many about wedding planning with the person you are marrying. That is not a judgment of you or your love for this person – your fiancé is not stressing you out, and thanks for respecting word-count guidelines! – but I mention it as an indicator of just how much your sister has already managed to hijack your happy occasion so that it’s all about her and already cast you as the villain when it’s clear you have made every effort to include her. Since we’re talking about a theoretical party that may not happen for several years, this is an impressive feat on her part, and an indication that the time for yanking all of this back into a more reasonable shape is now.

From what I can tell, your sister doesn’t want to be your Maid of Honor unless she can make your dress, bully you as much as she wants,  and control everything about your appearance at your wedding. 

You don’t want her to make your dress (a very smart and self-aware decision on your part), control everything about your appearance at your wedding, or continue bullying you for the next year as you plan your wedding. Reasonable! 

It seems like these two problems have the same solution: Immediately and permanently fire your sister from all wedding planning duties, and tighten your circle of who is included in discussions of options (the person you are marrying, a very few people you trust to be supportive and excited) vs. who is informed of final decisions (everyone else, including unpleasant and controlling family).

Your diplomatic attempts to include your sister and set good boundaries aren’t working, and your hopes of bonding through  planning this party together are already doomed. If she’s going to paint you as the villain no matter what you do, you might as well embrace the role and follow through in ways that free you from having to placate her. She’s shown you that there is no amount of inclusion and participation that she can be trusted to handle, so it’s time to change your inner monologue from one where you try to find ways to include her and explain yourself to her to one where you’re like, “Yep, that’s me, THE WORLD’S MOST SELFISH & UNFASHIONABLE BRIDE, you’re right, I am TOO WEAK and COWARDLY to accept your CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM after I cruelly threw your PRECIOUS GIFT of CUSTOM FASHION back in your face! Byeeeeeeeeee!” 

To be clear, you are none of these things, but lean into the absurdity of her point of view for a second and really feel how ridiculous she is being before you respond. What comes out can be more like “Hey, Sister, I’m already tired of fighting with you about my wedding, which doesn’t even have a date, so let’s not do that anymore. I’ve got the dress & accessories handled, I’ll check in with you when there’s an actual date and venue – who knows when that will even be – in the meantime let’s both just take some space from worrying about all this.”

I don’t think that’s going to convince her of anything, it’s more about saying something back that puts you in a place where you can move on from fighting about this. You don’t have to officially demote her from her MOH duties to proceed with party-planning without her input, but it’s time to at very least put her on an information diet that limits the places she has traction to pester you. 

That said, when was the last time you lost your temper with her, raised your voice, and expressed exactly how angry and cornered she makes you feel? I wouldn’t put this in any text format that she can screen-cap, but if you’ve been invested in being The Reasonable, Bigger Person who carefully manages The Difficult One, strategically upending that balance can sometimes get through when nothing else does. “Do you bully your paying clients like this? Or are you just an asshole when it’s a ‘gift’?

You’re acting like I wronged you by wanting to pick out my own outfit for my own wedding instead of signing up for a whole year of you talking to me like this. This has gone on long enough. You want to give me a wedding present? Great: BACK. THE. FUCK. OFF. The next (and only) words I ever want to hear from you about my wedding dress are ‘You look beautiful’ on the day I get married. Until then, we are done talking about this.” 

Like you, I like to be reasonable and kind, collaborate with people on decisions that affect them, communicate what I need as clearly as I can, anticipate and avert conflicts, and set everyone up to succeed. Your sister is one of the people in this world who reveal the limits of that approach. When you run into someone like that, sometimes the best you can do is communicate: “I can live with your disappointment and displeasure, but I will not put up with continued mistreatment, so it’s time to choose: Behave yourself, or GTFO until you can behave yourself.” From there, you can’t make her behave herself, but you can limit how much she can ruin what’s supposed to be a fun, happy thing to look forward to. 

If she doesn’t get what she wants from you (attention, control, submission to her bullying), as you know, she may put pressure on your parents to put pressure on you to give in to her.

Maybe your parents are so used to the roles of Reasonable One vs. Difficult One in your family that they’ll carry water for her or treat you like you’re the one ruining everything, but even if that’s true, there’s another truth buried here: Deep down, they know exactly what she’s like. You can use that knowledge, and a variation of the initial, reasonable script with them: “I’ve tried my best to include [Sister] and be clear and diplomatic with her, and it’s already a mess, and I’m not putting myself and [Fiancé] through another year – or more! – of this behavior from her. I hope she’ll celebrate with me on the eventual day, and I hope she won’t take it out on you in the meantime, but this whole fantasy where we all happily plan a wedding together just isn’t working and I need to stop it now before it gets even worse.”

Shorter version: “Come on, I’m not being unreasonable or mean if I want to choose my own outfit for my own wedding. The way she’s behaving right now is exactly why I made the decision I did to not mix ‘wedding vendor’ up with ‘family.'” 

As always, when you’re tangling with someone who doesn’t fight fair, get in the habit of naming specific behaviors and actions when they try to keep things vague or shift the blame. 

Your parents: “Your sister says you’re being mean and unfair. Why don’t you want to include your sister in your wedding?” 

You: “I did ‘include my sister,’ but I told her from the start that I wanted to pick out my own dress. Since I settled on a choice, she has called and texted me X times in Y days to harass and insult me about it. Would you like to see the texts? They’re really something.” 

Your parents: “But if you would just talk to her…” 

You: “…maybe she’d stop bothering you about it? Yes, that would be nice! Fiancé and I can’t plan a wedding with someone who bullies me like this, so I’ve asked her to back off and apologize, and then we’ll see, but I’m not making any big decisions until that happens.” 

Your parents: “But you know how she gets, she’s your only sister, we’re a faaaaaaaamily, she’s really upset.” etc. 

You: “I’m upset, too, and we all know ‘how she gets.’ If you want to help, support me when I set reasonable boundaries like ‘I want to pick out my own wedding outfit,’ and stop pressuring me to ‘make peace’ when what you mean is ‘let your sister be mean to you without any consequences.’ [Sister] and I are just going to have to figure this one out ourselves, and until we do, I’m going to stick to wedding planning with people who don’t treat me like that.” 

If your sister wants to make herself your parents’ problem, that’s on her. 

If your parents want to convert that into your problem, I hope they and your sister all enjoy each other? Don’t accept this reframing, and remember that “Oh, Fiancé and I have got that handled, thanks” and “Sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money” are your friends for the next year…and beyond. 

May you have a safe, happy, fun eventual wedding and a wonderful marriage. 


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