Can I Survive a Wedding and a Divorce at the Same Time?

It's hard to keep it together for her when I just want to fall apart

woman stirring her coffee with a spoon

When my best friend called me from Europe in the middle of a work day, I knew she had gotten engaged. I missed the first call, but I picked up the second one immediately. We switched to video chat; she and her fiancé popped up on my desktop computer. She held up her ring. “I knew it!” I shrieked. We chatted for a few minutes. I texted my then-husband the good news. She asked if I would be her maid of honor. They asked if he would play music for the ceremony. For the next few months, I gathered information about flowers and donuts, booked a hotel suite for us to get ready in, and chatted about ceremony music choices. And then, my life shifted.

Their wedding stayed the same, but in the face of some pretty major life decisions, my marriage took a sudden, unexpected, and fairly spectacular nosedive. Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, there were weeks upon weeks of not knowing which end was up. These weeks ended in discoveries of dishonesty and unfaithfulness. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I lost weight at a rapid pace, stopped sleeping, and was bowled over by tears at the most inopportune moments. The idea of calling a florist or attending a tasting or looking at wedding dresses made me queasy. For a time, I thought I could do an adequate job of covering this up. I tried to smile. After all, I was genuinely happy for my best friend and her lovely fiancé. I was excited for their wedding and the life they had planned together. But I was also heartbroken and disillusioned and in a state of utter disbelief that my own life was falling apart in ways that seemed surreal.

In the midst of this dissolution, my best friend wrote me an email. She was emotional and stressed from wedding planning. She said she didn’t understand why I was not being supportive. She questioned the depths of our thirty-year friendship. To paraphrase: What kind of friendship do we have if we cannot get through a wedding and a divorce at the same time? I was at work when I received that news, too. For a moment, I stared at the computer screen in disbelief. Then a thought popped into my head: Fuck!

I had been trying so hard to avoid talking to her about my own sadness. I thought I sounded excited about flowers and after-parties and manicures. But the truth was, I hadn’t sounded excited because I wasn’t excited. And in some ways that really mattered to her, I couldn’t be excited. I felt awful about that. The truth was, I was overjoyed for my dear friend, but I was barely staying afloat. I was sure her wedding would be beautiful, but it took every ounce of energy I had to get through a work day without curling up in the fetal position under my desk in front of twenty-one unassuming eight-year-olds. I knew life would go on and time would pass and happiness would return, but I was existing on four cups of coffee, countless Advil, and little else during those weeks. My hands did not stop shaking, my head did not stop pounding, and my lung capacity felt diminished.

I apologized to her profusely in the weeks after that email. I thought long and hard about balance and tried to be more aware of my cynical comments or moments of disinterest. To her credit, she apologized, too. She said she regretted sending that email within minutes. She said it was harsh and unnecessary and could have been worded in a gentler way. I didn’t disagree. But it also served as a wake-up call for me, and after the initial period it took to process, I was grateful for her bluntness. Even if it seemed like my world had come to a jarring halt, the real world was still spinning, and as hard as it was to believe, I needed someone to remind me of that fact.

As time has passed and my best friend’s wedding gets closer and my divorce is almost finalized, it’s become clear that we are both trying our best. We are trying our best to be kind and gentle and caring to and understanding of one another. And there are ways in which each of our respective bests at this moment is not good enough for the other. As hard as I try, I cannot be idealistic and rosy. She cannot spend evenings listening to my sorrow or refrain from chipper comments about love conquering all.

But what is real is this: We are both trying our very best for one another. We are digging deep. We are rooting for one another. We are loving one another. We are supporting one another. Most importantly, we are forgiving one another. Even in the moments when we are making each other angry and sad and annoyed, too. In the end, isn’t that what best friends are for?

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  • H

    I’m glad you worked things out with your friend, but good god, I’m so angry on your behalf! She should just be happy you managed to get out of bed and be in her wedding!

    Asking someone to be your maid of honor is a way to HONOR that person. It’s not a way to get an indentured wedding servant for 12 months. It’s a gift, not a demand. It sounds like you were doing all you could in a moment of extreme emotional strife. In my opinion, you have nothing to apologize for.

    • Ashlah

      Eh, I would give the friend some more leeway (as the writer did). Maybe the email she sent was harsh, but her friend acknowledged and apologized for that. Having been in a similar situation, though not to the same extent, it’s hard when your friend can’t be happy for you. Even when you know what they’re going through, it still hurts. It sucks to feel like you’re giving your friend space to be sad, and offering an ear to their grievances, and realizing it isn’t enough because they still can’t also provide those for your happiness. Emotions are more complicated than we want them to be, and it isn’t easy to give up all your expectations (especially surrounding weddings!), even when you know your friend is having a difficult time. It sounds like these two worked through a really difficult situation together and have a very strong (now even stronger?) friendship.

      • sofar

        I think someone who is going through a tragedy should get more support than someone planning a happy occasion. And I say this as a bride who is getting married in a few weeks. One of my bridesmaids broke up with her boyfriend of 7 years shortly after I got engaged. There were plenty of other people in my life I could talk about the wedding with. I gave her space and support, until she, on her own, asked me, “OK … so.. now that I’ve come up for air, how’s wedding planning? Can I help in any way?”

        Major props, though, to the engaged friend for apologizing. Wedding planning can make you a bit nuts.

        • Ashlah

          Absolutely, and I’m not saying the happy person shouldn’t adjust their expectations and try to focus getting their “happiness support” from other friends, if they have them. Nor do I think the author did anything wrong in being more withdrawn during this time. All I’m saying is that I understand the emotions the friend is feeling too, and I wouldn’t come down on her too harshly for being sad that her friend wasn’t able to be happy during her happy time. I’m sure she already felt a lot of guilt for feeling that way too.

      • Amy March

        And it is just hard, full stop, to really understand what someone else is going through, especially when they are doing their best not to tell you! There have definitely been times when I didn’t give my best friend the support she needed because I just didn’t get it, and there have been times I didn’t get the support I needed because I didn’t really let her in enough for her to realize what was actually happening for me. I didn’t read any part of this as expecting an indentured servant, but more as expecting your best friend to be happy and engaged and present with you, probably like she was for you when you got married, and not getting how hard things were. I think its a lovely testament to a great friendship on both sides- 2 people struggling through together without demanding perfection from each other and acknowledging where they were wrong.

    • Dolly

      Oh my goodness, I so agree with H. I, too, am glad you found a way to work it out. But oh my, this is, to me, a really strong example of the way we license women getting married to feel as if the world revolves around them. Ouch. I’m so sorry that all this happened to you. Hope you feel stronger by the day.

    • sofar

      I agree.

      When I got engaged, I found that some people in my life were enthusiastic about talking about the wedding (they asked me tons of questions, offered to help, etc.) And those were the people I talked about fun wedding stuff with. And some others (including one of my bridesmaids and sister — MoH) weren’t so excited to talk about the wedding. So they became my distractions when I was SICK TO DEATH of talking wedding stuff and wanted to talk about LITERALLY anything else or when I wanted to bitch about my in-laws.

      People in your life can play different roles. The bride shouldn’t feel like she has the liberty to designate someone as their go-to wedding support system.

      Also, calling vendors and going to taste-testings are expected for Maid of Honors? Really? My bridesmaids have one “job”: show up on the day of and take a bunch of pictures with me. They all stepped up and DEMANDED to help with certain things (which they proposed), but I assumed that I’d be calling/researching all the vendors myself, as it is *my* wedding.

      • idkmybffjill

        “Also, calling vendors and going to taste-testings are expected for Maid of Honors? Really?”

        This really struck me too! I was like, sounds like she was still going pretty dang above and beyond! Making just one of those calls she mentioned (donuts/wedding suite) would’ve put her in super star MOH status in my book.

        • Mrrpaderp

          Although I generally agree, I think this depends on the relationship. Was the friend LW’s MOH when LW got married? Did LW expect friend to do all this stuff for her? Even though it’s obviously understandable that LW hasn’t reciprocated fully, it’s also fair for the friend to have some feelings of disappointment about that.

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh totally true – “Was the friend LW’s MOH when LW got married? Did LW expect friend to do all this stuff for her? ” I didn’t think about that part!

    • tr

      I don’t know, since I’m not a part of things, I don’t guess I feel like I really know enough to judge one way or the other. On the surface, yeah, tit sounds like the friend was super wrong. On the other hand, I’ve been in enough similar real life situations to know that things aren’t always that cut and dried.

      For instance, during part of my wedding planning, my mom was in the midst of an angry divorce. Knowing that, I intentionally made sure to give her plenty of space, and I made it clear that the “traditional” things like dress shopping were 100% optional. Knowing that it was optional, she decided she wanted to be a part of those things, anyway…and then she proceeded to spend the entire time making comments like “Well, maybe this will be one of the ones that lasts”. I didn’t say anything to her, but it was INCREDIBLY hurtful and led to quite a bit of resentment on my part.

      Having been on the receiving end of such things, I’m inclined to trust the author’s judgment on things. If she’d said the friend was just being a hurtful, selfish b*tch, I’d take her word for it. However, I’ll also take her word for it that the friend had a valid point, because depending on exactly how things went down, that may very well be true!

    • CMT

      Ugh, I knew this was going to start another pile on like yesterday’s post. The friends both had feelings! That’s valid! One friend made a mistake in expressing the feelings. That’s a bummer. The other friend realized it was a mistake and forgave the first friend! They worked through it, and it sounds like they have a very strong friendship. We don’t need to excoriate people for feelings they’ve had or mistakes they’ve made, especially when they come to us and write wonderful essays about how they’ve worked through those feelings and mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, and I don’t want my APW writers to be, either.

  • AmandaBee

    APW is on fire with the thought-provoking essays these days. I found this one really valuable – it made me think a lot about how our attempts to be strong for our friends can often backfire. In this case, I wonder if the author had been open with her friend a bit earlier (“hey, I’m doing the best I can but I’m REALLY hurting right now”), if her friend would have been more understanding. Before we jump on the friend for not understanding the author’s pain, it’s probably worth considering that the friend may not have realized how much pain her friend was in. That’s one of the drawbacks of trying to appear outwardly strong, is we sometimes accidentally prevent ourselves from getting the support we need.

    It’s also possible that the friend was really wrapped up in “her” day and was, subsequently, a jerk. That happens, and it’s an incredibly human part of friendship. Sometimes our own “problems” can cloud our vision to when our friends need it most. I’m glad that the author and her friend were able to come to a better understanding.

    • Mrrpaderp

      I’ve definitely been guilty of not understanding how much pain a breakup/divorce caused. When you’ve been the shoulder to cry on about relationship woes, it can be hard to be the shoulder to cry on to grieve the end of that relationship. Even if the relationship wasn’t awful, it’s easy for an outsider to know for a fact that the end of a relationship is not the end of the world and there are so many awesome things awaiting you in the future. Grief is a tricky, fickle process – it’s hard to go through yourself and hard to know how to be there for someone else.

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  • raccooncity

    This essay made me want to check in with all my best girlfriends. My MIL’s good friend has a terminal illness and last time we saw her (we don’t visit often) she found out I was pregnant and said “keep your girlfriends close, they’re so important”.

    Wedding, marriage, divorce, kids, terminal illness…it’s all about having friends there to support you and supporting them as best you can. It sounds like the people in this piece are human and forgiving. off to call my besties now.

    • Jess

      Yeah, that’s kind of what I got from this too. Life is tough, and friendships are hard, but they’re also really great.

  • Not Normally Anon

    I’ve seen both sides of this frustration.

    As a young, stupid girl in my early 20’s, I didn’t go to my friend’s wedding in which I was a bridesmaid because my fiance dumped me for another woman two days before her ceremony. It wasn’t the best decision I ever made nor am I happy that it destroyed a friendship, but it was the best choice I could make at the time.

    Now, I’m engaged to a wonderful man and planning my own wedding and my own matron of honor has been spiraling, shutting me out for the past month as she and her husband “work through some issues.” I have no clue how to approach her in life, much less about my wedding, particularly since their relationship issued resurfaced right around the time my fiance proposed. I’m hoping that even if the worst happens, we can stay strong in our friendship and move through both of these stressful times together.

    The point is, no matter which side you’re on, this conflict sucks. I applaud the writer for taking the wake-up call, the friend for giving and, most importantly, for the author’s clear reassurance that we are all stronger when we build each other up. Thank you for the reminder because I know I needed it.

    • Mrrpaderp

      Idk, I think you made the right decision to not attend. I’ve attended weddings where someone just went through something awful. It’s not pretty. No one wants someone in hysterics in the bathroom, or loudly announcing to other guests that they’re newly single, or insisting that their tears are happy tears “even though I know I’ll never love again” – all true stories. Even if you’re able to hold it together, the pain is written on your face and in your eyes.

      You would’ve been so front and center as a bridesmaid… if I were that bride I would’ve preferred for you to at a minimum step down. Selflessly, I want you to take care of yourself, and selfishly, and I only say this because this is an anonymous internet board, I’m paying too much damn money for this party and my photography for my wedding pictures to memorialize one of the worst days of your life.

  • Anon today

    Oh wow. At first I thought this was one of my bridesmaids. I was a ‘maid at her wedding years ago, and now she is in mine. She is now going through a divorce and has been depressed about life in general, and it’s all understandable that she’s hurting and needs to spend energy on herself rather than me and my wedding, but it can still hurt. I spent SO much time and money for her wedding, and she’s definitely not reciprocating. I have to remind myself that as hard as wedding planning can be, the end of a marriage is excruciating and life altering and I really think it takes precedence. More than anything I want her to feel ok, and that means not expecting too much from her in terms of official bridesmaid duties. Weddings are rough for so many reasons, and in this case it’s just a painful reminder of what used to be for her.

  • Her Lindsayship

    This essay nearly had me in tears at the part where you and your friend forgave each other. Friendship does not mean ‘this person must treat me perfectly 100% of the time or they get the axe’. People just aren’t that clean, and we talk about that with romantic relationships a lot. But it’s so moving to hear about a good friendship getting past those rough patches.

    Also, my heart breaks for you, LW. I hope time (and a great best friend) can heal some of that inexpressible pain. Your writing is so thoughtful and emotional and honest, thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Meg

    Good luck to you both. You both need each other so much right now, and I’m glad you’re working through it so you can be there for each other.

  • Eenie

    If only the friend had written into ask team practical before sending the email!

    This really felt like seeing the other side in a lot of the letters that are printed. I do sometimes wish there were followups! Great essay, and best of luck to the OP.

    • Rg223

      I was thinking this too! The author is being very generous to her friend to grow from this experience, and that’s great. But if friend had written to APW beforehand, the advice would have definitely been to not send the email and check in with the bride on how she was doing instead.

  • toomanybooks

    This is nice to have on here because I feel like it’s the other side to countless questions like “I’m getting married, why can’t my [sister, best friend, etc] be happy and supportive?” We’ve heard the bride’s side of this story on APW before – I wouldn’t be surprised if the one in this story had written in for advice!

  • Leah

    During my recent wedding both of my two closest friends were in the midst of divorces – part of the reason I decided not to have a wedding party. And Everywhere in the wedding world (with some nice exceptions like this piece) there are expectations of friends being excited for your wedding, if not involved in and planning some pre-parties or shopping trips. I knew I couldn’t expect that (and the truth was that I hadn’t done those things for them, really, either, less aware of societal expectations back then). But because I was reading so much about showers and bachelorettes and friendly-wedding-support, it was sometimes a little rough to mostly support them through their very tough times, even though I knew that was the important thing to be doing. So I can see how this is definitely hard on both sides, and commend the letter-writer and her friend for trying to step up as friends for each other, despite the hurt.

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  • Alexandra

    I got married at 33, after all my friends had already gotten married years ago. By the time it was my turn, my high school best friend was on her first breakdown due to marriage issues she glossed over, and my college best friend was having a baby the same weekend as my wedding and couldn’t make the trip. My husband’s best friend’s wife was having a baby that weekend, too! All three of these people saw us present and highly participatory at their weddings (my husband actually officiated at his best friend’s wedding!) and lead-in events, and they could not reciprocate except by making a few kind phone calls and sending gifts.

    That’s life! We made new friends! Lots of people who didn’t know us as well stepped up big time to help with planning. A girl I had only known for six months but had a really good feeling about stepped in as a bridesmaid when high school best friend couldn’t make it, and she wound up throwing me THE BEST bachelorette party EVER at her house. She’s a great friend of mine now.

    Holding expectations for another person to feel your joy is a recipe for discontent, I think. People get super jazzed on weddings–there’s probably someone in the friend’s life who is in a good place emotionally to support the heck out of the author’s friend. AND there’s probably somebody else in the author’s life who is in a good place emotionally to support her, too. They’re in two opposite spots; it doesn’t make sense to have such expectations of each other.

  • ano123

    oh man, it feels like APW’s content is being pulled from my head recently. My life recently took a similar spin, out of no where my husband abandoned me, just packed up and left. I have done my best to pick up the pieces, and accept that the world goes on and eventually happiness will return.

    • I am so sorry you are going through this. Please take care of yourself as best you can. It is excruciating to experience this kind of loss. I found the books Runaway Husbands by Vikki Stark and How to Survive the Loss of a Love by McWilliams, Bloomfield and Cosgrove to be lifesavers in the early weeks. Thinking of you…

      • Alison O

        I also recommend Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends by Bruce Fisher. It’s kind of cheesy but I found it really helpful when this happened to me the last time…. It would be lovely if it can not happen again…

    • Alison O

      i’m here. last week. not married but 6 year partner. not sure but seems like there’s a good chance there’s somebody else in the picture.

      hugs for us both

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  • Victwa

    Oh feelings. All The Feelings. Can I just hug everyone involved in this situation (person getting married, person getting divorced)? Because this is the thing that life (particularly parenting, and then even more, parenting in a stepfamily) has taught me, like 10000000 times over: we’re all having our totally different experiences of life at the EXACT SAME TIME, and sometimes what one person in a relationship (whatever kind of relationship you’re talking about) needs is exactly the opposite (try POLAR opposite) from what the other person needs. Even when both people (or more than both people) are all trying their hardest and wanting to do The Right Thing, whatever that looks like. This whole situation just seems like a snapshot of one of the biggest questions of life (for which there is no clear answer, I have decided): How do I get to be the most myself while also not impinging on your need/want/desire to be the most yourself possible as well? I wish everyone in this situation gentleness and healing and (eventually) happiness– but really mostly gentleness. With themselves and with others.

    • Alanna Cartier

      THIS “we’re all having our totally different experiences of life at the EXACT SAME TIME, and sometimes what one person in a relationship (whatever kind of relationship you’re talking about) needs is exactly the opposite (try POLAR opposite) from what the other person needs.”

  • Jay Fitz

    Beautiful writing. Friends through and through. Love you.

  • Laurel, it sounds like you are doing a great job navigating a terribly painful experience. I was a bridesmaid in a wedding 6 weeks after my then-husband unexpectedly left me. I was worried I was no longer able to be as excited for my friend due to my pain, and I felt sad about that. Thankfully I was okay on the day and managed to hold it together during the day (and help with flowers the day before), and I was truly happy for her and her husband. And she cared for me too, even though spending time with me must have been hard because I was in so much pain during that season. All that to say, that I think it’s great that you and your best friend are discovering together how to navigate your friendship when you are in opposite places emotionally. (My best friend’s father died right right before my wedding, so I’ve been on the other side too…) Often, like another commenter said, we go through things at opposite times from our friends, but maybe that’s part of the beauty of friendship? We can help carry each other’s pain and find hope in the other’s joy, loving and helping each other the best we can along the way….

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  • ladyjanegreysanatomy

    this comes on the heels of a similar — though thankfully less life-changing — situation with one of my closest friends. In essence, we were both freaked out and stressed about things happening in our own lives, things that we otherwise would have been supporting each other through, which happened to be happening at the exact same time. But since each of us was dealing with her own thing, neither of us had the emotional space to help the other and we ended up fighting (and therefore piling on some extra stress) instead. we got through it because we are pretty good at getting through such things and lucky to have a very good mutual friend who was able to talk us both down until we could talk to each other. But it was kind of awful. When the best possible resolution to a fight is admitting that you can’t be there for each other in this moment but it doesn’t mean you don’t care… it still kind of sucks.