“Luke” has been my best friend since Eleventh Grade, which is more than ten years now. He and “Jasmine,” my longtime girlfriend and now wife, have always gotten along really well. About two years ago, Luke went off to the Midwest to get an M.F.A. He just moved back home to take a job at our old high school, where I also teach.
This would be great except that “Elaine,” the woman he has been seeing since about Day Two of his Master’s program, moved here with him. Now he tells me they are getting married in September. I am not crazy about Elaine and have no doubt that life will not be as much fun with her in the mix, but I can live with the situation. I’m not so sure about Jasmine, and that’s the problem. Jasmine really, really hates her. She says Elaine is conceited, narcissistic, loud, reactionary, incapable of listening, and all too capable of criticizing people and giving unsolicited advice. She has also told me that Elaine is nowhere near as smart as she thinks she is, and that when Elaine criticizes Luke or bosses him around she has trouble even staying in the same room with them.
I am to be Luke’s best man, and Elaine has asked (well, actually, told) Jasmine to be one of the bridesmaids. That’s the immediate problem, since Jasmine is basically saying over her dead body. She says that being a bridesmaid for Elaine would be an unpleasant experience and that anyway since she hates Elaine and disapproves of the marriage, she does not want to give Elaine or anybody else the wrong impression. How am I going to handle this bridesmaid thing, and the years of socializing (or not) ahead of the four of us?
—Apprehensive in Anaheim
Let’s tackle the bridesmaid thing first.
Resolving it will probably depend on how elaborate the wedding is and how much participation and forced intimacy Elaine expects from her bridesmaids. There are weddings where being a bridesmaid is not all that onerous: you wear a dress you would never have bought otherwise, you pose for photos, you sit or stand where you are told during the ceremony and a photo shoot, and that’s pretty much that. All in all, you are not required to do much more than any other guest. If Luke and Elaine’s wedding is of this sort, I would take a stab at convincing Jasmine to reconsider. I assume that she is willing to attend the wedding—and, if her bridesmaid’s duties are light, being part of the wedding party may actually make the event more palatable for her by making it easier for the two of you to spend time together.
As for creating the wrong impression: I don’t think anybody will read much into the mere fact of Jasmine’s being a bridesmaid. In the unlikely event that people ponder the subject at all, they will probably assume that she was asked as a courtesy to you, the best man, and that she accepted in the same spirit. When people ask her how she knows the bride, she can honestly and pleasantly say that she is the best man’s wife and has grown close to the groom, which is why Elaine, whom she scarcely knows, asked her to be in the wedding.
Of course, Elaine herself may take Jasmine’s acceptance as a sign of growing intimacy, which does risk some annoyance and even conflicts down the road. But there are polite ways to counter this impression —for example, you and Jasmine can speak and behave as if you assume that Luke was behind the invitation and/or that Elaine graciously included Jasmine because of her status as your wife. And unless Jasmine can get out of it with some plausible excuse (see below), accepting the invitation will probably make life a lot easier for everyone down the road, including Jasmine.
From what little you reveal of her, though, Jasmine does sound like a strong-minded woman. No matter what you say, she may stand fast, even if the wedding is simple and her duties very light. Or the wedding may be quite elaborate and the bridesmaids’ roles a much bigger deal, with several bouts of obligatory, expensive, time-consuming, pointless shopping, a long list of assigned duties for each bridesmaid, and mandatory attendance at a weekend-long bachelorette party a thousand miles away where everyone is expected to stay up all night, get drunk, reveal their innermost thoughts, bond with one another, hoot at a male stripper, and act very stupid in public; then, perhaps, two or three more days of enforced togetherness at the wedding itself: a weekend of mani-pedis, hair styling, photo shoots, rehearsals, a rehearsal dinner, various staged and probably videoed scenes of stuff like the Dressing of the Bride and her Attendants and the Sampling of the Signature Cocktails. There may even be a special wedding-party dance or skit (although I think it is safe to say that Jasmine can avoid making an actual toast). If that’s the way the wedding is headed, I doubt if you have any chance at all of swaying Jasmine with any argument or plea. Although I would certainly give it a try, Jasmine will probably hold out against all persuasion and attempts at bribery—and I confess that, if drunken bachelorette strangers and ghastly skits play any part, the woman has a point.
If Jasmine won’t come around, and if matters are still in an early enough stage that you two can swing it, I would suggest the tried and true competing-obligation gambit. She will need to come up with something major and unassailable: the wedding of her favorite cousin, the dream-of-a-lifetime family cruise her grandma has already booked, or perhaps her only niece’s bat mitzvah. In such cases, it is always better to manufacture a real or almost-real conflict rather than just lying. For one thing, you and (probably) Jasmine will be seeing Luke and (possibly) Elaine for a long time or even the rest your lives, and it would be demoralizing—to say nothing of difficult—to lie repeatedly to a close friend. Maybe Grandma really does want to go on a trip? Or maybe you and Jasmine could embellish just a little, and turn some relative’s graduation or birthday into an obligatory major celebration?
If Jasmine can’t or won’t come up with an actual competing obligation, I still wouldn’t rule out her leaving town on some total pretext. Even the flimsiest excuses tend to cause less harm than outright refusals in cases like this. If Jasmine does refuse to dissemble, or if you can’t bring yourself to deceive your friend—which I honor, although I also honor not hurting people’s feelings at weddings—be prepared for some ill will. Perhaps you and/or Jasmine could mitigate it by taking Luke and/or Elaine —whichever permutation seems least incendiary—aside and explaining that Jasmine is honored to have been asked, but isn’t quite ready yet to be in the wedding party.
Your chance of coming up with any acceptable and true, true-ish, or at least plausible reasons for Jasmine’s saying no are the flip side of your chance of getting Jasmine to give in and say yes: how big a deal is this wedding? If it is a time-consuming, expensive affair, you and Jasmine might be able to cite work or family obligations that place huge demands on her time. Maybe money is tight. Or maybe Jasmine is or can claim to be shy, and confess that she would have trouble coping as the odd-woman-out in a group of close-knit old friends sacking Vegas. But I would still expect some bruised feelings. For your sake, I hope that Jasmine comes around, or that her fragile old granny really does book a cruise with nonrefundable tickets.
As for the looming future, you and Jasmine are just going to have to make some compromises. If Jasmine is at all reasonable and your marriage is solid, you should be able to agree on a few mutual concessions, probably involving your spending less time as a foursome than you would like and Jasmine’s spending more. It will help, I think, that you are not wild about Elaine, either, and can mollify Jasmine sometimes with the occasional shrug or eye roll when you are all together– although I would also suggest trying to help Jasmine see whatever good points Elaine may have. Is she witty? A good vocal harmonizer? Kind to animals?
It should make you and Luke happier if you set up routines for meeting without your wives. Consider classes at the gym, a weekly happy hour, workday lunches or early breakfasts, regular hikes or dog walks, or even a two-man carpool if you live near each other. Or how about coaching or advising an after-school club together?
You might also try making some explicit deals with Jasmine. Here’s one that once worked for me: for every night the four of you go out, you will spend a night doing whatever she wants, including seeing her friend Molly and Molly’s blowhard philistine boyfriend at that atrocious overpriced restaurant Jasmine loves.
By the way, I detect a note of moralism, or at least wanting to bear moral witness, in Jasmine’s attitude, not just because of the “wrong impression” issue but also because she hates the way Elaine treats Luke and does not want to be part of it, either as wedding attendant or friend. I would remind Jasmine that Luke is a grown man. And it doesn’t sound as if Elaine is truly abusing him, or as if Jasmine’s refusing to be around them would improve the situation even if there were some verbal abuse going on. In fact, it might be good for Luke if you and Jasmine are around to inhibit some of her nastier behavior, or at least to keep tabs on her.
Good luck to all of you. I can see why regularly having to sit through Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would not be fun; but so much if what we do, from necessity or duty or love, is no fun at all. Let’s just hope either that Elaine tones it down, or that Luke manages to extricate himself before too long.
LA WALLY: If you really don’t like somebody, you should not have to be in their wedding. But if your spouse really needs you to, that’s different. As for the future, I hope the marriage won’t last. In the meantime, everybody should try to be friends. Elaine is annoying, but so are most people.
NOW WARD (JUNE’S HUSBAND) IS WEIGHING IN: I agree with June, except that I don’t think she is totally fair to Jasmine about being a bridesmaid. Why should Jasmine have to pretend to be Elaine’s friend?
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.
La Wally is the nom de June of June Cleaver‘s adult daughter. In real life, she’s an artist and entrepreneur. What’s up with her name? In choosing a pseudonym, the two of them considered the names of the original Cleaver family offspring, both boys, but rejected “Beaver” for obvious reasons. “Wally” alone seemed too masculine and generally hideous. But “La Wally” brings to mind Catalani’s wonderful opera. Speaking of which, have you seen the movie Diva? You should.