Q: After planning my wedding and marrying my love, I went through a shocking divorce. I discovered my husband was cheating for months during business travel and had a side girlfriend while I was planning our beautiful, heartfelt wedding.
A year after my divorce, I’m still adjusting to life on one income with a crazy expensive Bay Area mortgage, paying off my ex crazy amounts so I can keep the house. My only vacations have been weddings. Last year I didn’t mind being a bridesmaid again in my friend’s wedding, but it was expensive for me and hard to go through emotionally.
Now I am the maid of honor in another friend’s wedding in January, planning her destination bachelorette and also bridal shower with little help (other than a long, long list of what she wants and choosing my birthday weekend months in advance). I was also invited to another best friend’s wedding in Europe that I had to say no to for financial reasons. My friend was shocked and hurt I couldn’t attend, her parents and other friends were too. I had two other friends call me shocked. My friend told me she will never forget, and this will be her only wedding. She also asked if I should consider selling my house. It stresses me out constantly and haunts me at night. I feel so guilty I didn’t go.
I tell friends I have a lot of financial obligations and life is very different for me now, but I think they see that I have the house (despite the twenty-year-old car in the driveway and my whole paycheck going toward it—that was my decision) and don’t notice things I’m giving up, like vacations, and that the only time I’ve taken off work is for weddings. One (very close) friend who lives out of town surprised me when she said she forgot I was divorced.
To get to the point, I’ve been feeling so stressed and resentful and have had sleepless nights, even though I communicate clearly and feel good that I’ve done what I can to get my perspective across. I feel lucky to have so many friends, and they were all supportive during my divorce. I think they just forget, don’t know what it’s like. And because they are celebrating now, it’s not in their mind that I’m reliving my wedding over and over in many ways with these planning events.
Do I need to suck it up? I don’t want to lose friendships. I need my besties, but sometimes I just feel very isolated in my situation. And now I also feel resentful. I have other friends with baby showers and weddings on the near horizon, but it’s not my reality right now, and sometimes it can be really hard to know if I’m being negative and selfish. I hate looking at wedding decorations and all things related to weddings now. I love me and feel proud of what I have communicated, but I love my friends too and don’t know if I just need to suck it up and allow this time to be about them, even if it means putting myself (my vacation desires, etc.) on hold for a while.
A: Dear Anonymous,
We all put ourselves on hold for friends, sometimes. We use precious vacation time to go to weddings, we spend our birthdays celebrating someone else, we trade cozy nights in for penis necklaces and watered-down cocktails. That’s a part of the friendship deal. And it goes for good times as well as the bad. I’m hoping someone was there for you in any late night crying bouts during your divorce, even if it meant they missed out on some sleep or skipped an episode of Insecure. Friendship means putting yourself on hold for friends in a lot of different ways.
But you canNOT put your mental health on hold. That’s where I draw a solid, steady line. It’s not negative, not selfish, to need to step away from something that reminds you of a recent traumatic experience. We can all recover from a night of lost sleep; we can bounce back from the disappointment of a skipped vacation. Sacrificing your emotional health isn’t so easy to overcome.
So, start there with this wedding. If involvement is bringing back all of your pain to the extent that you can’t sleep at night, step back. I’m not sure if that means giving up the bridesmaid role completely (I’d try to avoid that, if possible) or, more likely, roping in a mutual friend to take on some of the logistical planning. Do what you can to ease the burden of nonstop wedding.
I’ll be honest, your friends probably won’t get it, even if you do a great job of communicating your feelings. And we can’t be too hard on them for that. You said it yourself—even the very best friends can be totally oblivious to struggles they haven’t experienced. That ranges from mundane problems like the stress of wedding planning, to the infinitely more difficult ones, like recovering from the financial and emotional turmoil of divorce. People often don’t understand what they haven’t lived through. And I’m so sorry that it seems like your friends aren’t getting what you’re going through right now.
That said. There are a few things you mention that have me wondering if maybe these particular friends sort of suck. Someone who’s not only surprised that you can’t travel for a destination wedding, but suggests you sell your house to do it? Someone telling you they forgot you were divorced? That’s some next-level bullshit.
Are these folks just swept up in their own short-lived whirlwind, or are they generally, usually ignorant of you and your feelings? Like we just discussed, yeah, there will be times you set yourself aside to be there for a friend. But are you finding you have to do that a lot? Like, all the time? Or is this just a short stretch of wedding foolishness?
It can be really, really tough to set aside your own junk to be supportive of the happiness of friends. It’s an important skill! But it has to be balanced with protecting yourself. Be introspective. Are you setting yourself aside in normal, expected ways, or are you sacrificing your emotional health? Is this a short stretch of self-focus for your friends, or are they generally people you can’t rely on? Answer those questions and it may help you figure out how much effort to put out here (and how much not to).