Advice Column: the Case of the COVID-fearing Bridesmaid
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I’m getting married at the end of March, and before I get too much hate I fully understand I’m getting married in the middle of a pandemic, we are having a small destination wedding in Florida in an outside venue, and a socially distanced reception after. We (my fiancé and I) are completely fine with having a small wedding. With the small wedding comes our small wedding party.
We each asked 1 person to stand up for us, my fiancé chose his brother and I chose my best friend J* who lives in a different state than I do. J and I have been close for the past 5 years. When I got engaged she knew I was going to ask her to be my bridesmaid well before I even asked. I sent her a huge bouquet of flowers with a note asking. She texted saying yes and that was about it.
As it is a destination wedding I offered to pay for her dress and hotel room. A week later a different friend of hers asked her to be a bridesmaid and she blasted it all over social media - declaring she couldn’t wait to be part of her bride tribe. I’m not going to lie -- it did hurt my feelings a little bit. It felt like she was more excited for her other friend than for me. She then started to not reply to texts or call... and got really distant. I was looking for dresses for her and sending her pictures because I wanted her to actually like the dress. I told her she didn’t need to plan a shower or a bachelorette party, since we live a long way away from each other.
In November, she asked me if we were planning on postponing the wedding, which we aren’t. She told me she wasn’t sure if she would be able to come to the wedding due to COVID, but that she really wanted to and would do her best to make it. I was optimistic, and said we would see how things are going, as the vaccine would be released soon and things felt like they were changing day to day. (Perhaps here is where I should have gotten the message and given her a way out.)
At the end of December I told her I needed an answer one way or the other. She said she needed a week to decide... last week, I finally heard back from her. She said she felt like the responsible thing would be for her not to come. I said I understood (and do in principle), but here’s the thing: She is constantly around people. She is a waitress, drives for Uber, and her social media timeline is full of photos with people who aren’t in her pod, and no one is wearing masks.
Is it wrong for me to feel that she’s being completely hypocritical? It feels like she didn’t want to come in the first place, which she easily could have told me. I honestly wouldn’t have been offended. It’s a destination wedding: typically only 30% of your invites actually come. We haven’t spoken since she said she couldn’t come. I feel like the ball is in her court, but know that if I don’t make a move, our friendship is likely to just disappear. I know most relationships have an expiration date, but I didn’t think COVID would be the catalyst for the end. – Bummed Bride
One of the things about friendship is that we expect it to have more predictable rules than romantic relationships. When a couple break up, and one says, “We just fell out of love” or “It turned out we didn’t have the chemistry we needed,” we all tend to take that at face value. Romantic and sexual connections are often rooted in the illogical and inexplicable, or so we think – so if someone “just doesn’t feel it anymore,” we find it hard to push back.
Friendships are different, or so we imagine. The reciprocity is built on a shared history, on earned loyalties, and on memories. Because friendships aren’t generally subject to the caprice of sexual chemistry, they aren’t supposed to dissolve as quickly. And yet, as you point out, they do often seem to have their own shelf life – fewer last than we expect. Declarations of “best friends forever” almost never pan out, often less because of outright betrayal and more commonly because of diverging lives and interests.
There are rules for ending friendships, though, and for breaking commitments. You have every right to be annoyed at two things here. First, your friend’s very different reaction to her other bridesmaid opportunity than to yours. That must sting, and even if you know on some level there must be a reason, she violated an unwritten code about equal enthusiasm for friends’ weddings.
The hypocrisy about COVID is also -- rightly – exasperating. Worry about the virus is indeed an excellent reason to decline social engagements, but yours is far from the first case where I’ve heard that anxiety deployed inconsistently. COVID is real as real can be, and yet almost everyone assesses the danger differently. We’re quick to use the pandemic as an excuse to avoid what we didn’t want to do anyway. We’re all aware we live in a country where masks and social distancing are points of fierce contention; everyone is exhausted from bitter battles over the appropriate response. Your friend probably knows this, and hopes you won’t confront her on her hypocrisy about how she evaluates risk.
To be fair, your friend may not believe what she’s doing is hypocritical. If she drives for Uber and works in a restaurant, she may (not wrongly) say that some dangers are necessary to earn a living. She may accept risks for work that she wouldn’t accept for friends or family. That too may be applied inconsistently, but she probably has convinced herself that her seemingly arbitrary “threat threshold” is rational and justifiable. Confronting her about it may not go well.
At the same time, just leaving everything unsaid may be worse than confrontation. I’d recommend writing her a letter, telling her of your disappointment and frustration with her foot-dragging. Sit with it for a day or two before messaging her. The friendship may not be salvageable, but you can achieve something proximate to closure by writing to her.
Five years ago, very few of us imagined that politics or public health would tear families apart and end close friendships. If there’s one thing the twin demons of Trumpism and COVID have shown us, it’s that we didn’t know our loved ones as well as we thought we did. The Biden Administration and a vaccine will go a long way towards healing some of the hurt, but many wounds will endure. We will not look at our friends and relatives the same way again.
If it’s any consolation, this fall-out with your flaky bridesmaid is one of tens of millions of similar “breakups” so many of us are experiencing. The one bit of good news is that we are all discovering who are our “true people” are, and finding solace and comfort in the ones who share our same sense of reality.
Wishing you much joy and happiness with your impending nuptials!