How do I tell a friend I don't want to be her maid of honor anymore?
July 3, 2013 5:44 PM   Subscribe

My friend and her fiance have been engaged for five years and they've finally set a wedding date for next year. Over the past several years, my friend has changed into someone I barely recognize. I’ve had to distance myself from her toxic behavior and no longer count her as a close friend. She still thinks of us as best friends and hasn’t asked anyone else to be in her bridal party. She has no other close friends to ask but I just can’t do it anymore. What’s the kindest possible way to tell her?

Jill and I have been friends since childhood. Jack proposed to Jill five years ago, and Jill asked me to be her maid of honor. At the time I was happy to accept the role. I went out of state for school in the fall and Jill seemed like a different person by the time I finished my degree and returned home. She had changed from a kind, humble person to someone who put status and material things above all else, and viewed friends and peers as competition. The appearance of success mattered so much to her that she spent ridiculous amounts of money to keep it up. Jill and her fiance spiraled deeper into debt until they had maxed out their credit cards and fallen behind on bills and rent. The wedding had to be called off until they got their debts under control.

By this point Jill and her fiance were fighting constantly. She also took her unhappiness out on me by picking at every perceivable fault of mine and bombarding me with unsolicited criticism. I couldn’t share anything about my life with her anymore because she’d inevitably use the information to make me feel terrible. I could only put up with her bitterness and resentment for so long and started distancing myself from her. The last straw was when she tried to embarrass me in front of other people by revealing things I’d told her in private. I withdrew from her even more and she got the message that she couldn’t treat me that way and expect me to stick around.

Since then Jill has been overly sweet and solicitous towards me to the point that it makes me uncomfortable. However, she hasn't apologized and I can’t bring myself to trust her again. Spending time away from her and developing healthy, fun friendships with others has made me realize how little I have in common with Jill anymore, and how much my friendship with her was dragging me down. I try to see Jill only in group settings because spending time with her one-on-one leaves me feeling drained. I haven’t felt able to cut her out of my life completely, because we have mutual friends in the same circle.

I’m not the biggest fan of Jack either. He’s in his mid-30’s but is socially and emotionally very immature. He regularly makes offensive sexual, misogynist, and homophobic comments and jokes, and has a habit of leering at and inappropriately touching Jill’s female friends. He’s been unemployed for most of his relationship with Jill because of personality and fit issues at the various jobs he’s been let go from. He has alienated many of Jill’s friends, because he has no friends of his own and tags along with Jill wherever she goes. There are many more reasons I won’t go into. Even if my friendship with Jill could be repaired, I couldn’t support her marriage to Jack.

Jill recently announced that she and Jack have set a wedding date for next year. I’m dreading the conversation where I have to tell her that I can’t stand up for her anymore. She has some casual friends and acquaintances, but no other close friends and no one else to ask. As it stands, I'm the only person she's asked to be in her bridal party. I'd really be hanging her out to dry by stepping down. I also realize that telling her this might end the friendship for good. I think I’d be okay with this, but it’ll be horrible to face her reaction in the moment. I'm very conflict averse as you can probably tell by the way I did the slow fade from Jill. If we didn't have such a long history as friends this might have been easier, but I'm freaking out about what to do. What do I say? What don't I say? Should I wait for her to bring it up, or should I ask her to meet me somewhere? Any other advice or thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"I love you, and I am so excited for your upcoming marriage. Unfortunately I am no longer able to fulfill the duties that come with being a maid of honor, and as such I wanted to let you know right away so you can find a replacement. Thank you for bestowing the honor on me in the first place; I wish you and Jack lots of love and success in the years to come."

And then when she asks why, just say, "It just won't be possible any more. I'm sorry." Do not tell her why, do not give her any more info, just reiterate that you can't and be strong about it. If she gets mad at you, tell her, "I know this is a stressful time and that me not being able to be there as your maid of honor is not ideal. I am very sorry and hope you know that I will be supporting you all the same." Validate her anger/stress, reiterate that you can't do it, and then continue the slow fade. Send a nice gift. Be done with it.

This is her life. She has chosen her husband. He's gross. Unless you are willing to wage a collossal war on his lack of moral fiber and character, this is a lost cause. It happens. Say goodbye and wish them well anyway, even if you don't really want to (and they don't deserve it).
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:56 PM on July 3, 2013 [26 favorites]

In a situation like this, I think that you should be the one to make the first move, since dragging it out any longer isn't in anyone's best interests. If you don't want to go into specifics with Jill, just tell her that you'll no longer be able to be in her wedding. If she pushes for more details, you're under no obligation to give them to her, and you could even just give her the typical AskMe answer of, "I'm sorry, but that just won't be possible."

You can't control how Jill is going to take the news, but you can control how and when you deliver it to her, which should be as soon and direct as possible.

If you want, you could offer to take her out at some point to celebrate her special day with just the two of you, but even that isn't really necessary. If she doesn't take the news well, then that's really on her, not you. You're under no obligation to be in her wedding, and I think that if she's a true friend, she'll understand that. If she doesn't, then her reaction will tell you everything that you need to know.
posted by sabira at 5:59 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

How do you know she even remembers selecting you as maid of honor?

But yes, I think that your only choice is to follow These Birds of a Feather's script.

If you say nothing, you will have to be in the bridal party.

If you hope she's forgotten, she will get the planning underway, give you things to do, and you will then have to confront her and say "J-j-j-jill, I d-don't want to do this anymo- OWWWWW!!!!" And actually, she will have a right to be annoyed if you drop her in it like that.

Unfortunately, in life, there are times when there is no substitute for saying something that someone doesn't want to hear.
posted by tel3path at 6:02 PM on July 3, 2013

Despite all appearances to the contrary, a maid of honor is not a requirement for a wedding, and a wedding is barely a requirement for a marriage. Jack and Jill could go down to the courthouse, city hall or whatever your local equivalent is, get married with a couple of people they waylayed on the street as witnesses and be married.

I say this to disabuse you of the notion that you are, in any way, hanging out this person to dry by stepping down. That way lies guilt and madness.

I think how you handle it depends a bit on how it was handled in the first place. Was there a big formal talk about how you'd be her maid of honor? Have you talked about maid of honory things in the meantime? When the last wedding got cancelled, was there an 'of course, I'll always be there as your maid of honor in the future' moment?

If this is all hinging on a brief conversation or an assumption made 5 years ago, I don't think you need to be the one to bring it up. You can wait until she asks you again, and then cry off -- whether by claiming you're much too busy or by saying you don't feel like your friendship is in that place anymore, as you prefer based on your conflict avoidance requirements.

If there's been a more ongoing maid of honor thing, where you've talked about it since the last wedding was cancelled, though, you should probably bite the bullet and just tell her you don't think you can stand up for her. This conversation will suck. But on the plus side, she will probably declare that she never intended to ask you again anyway, and then this friendship you no longer want to be involved in will end.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:02 PM on July 3, 2013 [18 favorites]

I like sabira's script. However, I would not say "I love you," since it doesn't sound like you do; and I wouldn't take her out to celebrate or tell her that you'll be supporting her, because it doesn't sound like you want to be friends with her anymore.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:05 PM on July 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

...and I should add that, yes, agreeing to be in the wedding party and then breaking the agreement without a genuine reason (e.g. in the five years since agreeing, you have moved to Timbuktu and have only intermittent satphone access so coordinating the Etsy-sourced table favors will be challenging; you are pregnant and can't do much extra beyond your daily routine; you are in traction) - that is a friendship-breaker. There is some leeway in that you made the agreement five years ago and circumstances could reasonably be expected to have changed, but since the changed circumstances are that you hate her guts... well, that's a tough one even for a "true friend" to understand.

But as you say, the friendship is already broken, so making a friendship-breaking move won't matter. It's only her enraged reaction that you don't want to deal with. Sorry, there's no way around that one, you'll just have to brace yourself.
posted by tel3path at 6:09 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

5 years was a long time ago and unless she has been reminding you in the interim that you're her MOH, I'd wait for her to bring it up and then say no thank you. No details about why not. Just a "that won't be possible".
posted by quince at 6:23 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Actually yes, I change my vote depending on whether she has been reminding you in the interim that you're her MOH.

If you're lucky, she will have already picked someone else, perhaps someone she doesn't actually know but who is twice her size so that she will look thinner by comparison. That sort of thing.
posted by tel3path at 6:34 PM on July 3, 2013

I do think those in this thread who've raised questions about whether you're still maid of honour are right. Has Jill said anything to you about being in the wedding recently, as in since setting the date for the wedding? If not, then wait until she mentions it before you talk to her about it. If she has already mentioned it, then you need to talk to her right away, either on the phone or in person.

This is going to be a hard conversation no matter how you do it, but if Jill is planning on including you in her wedding it's one you'll have to have with her as soon as possible. She has a year to find someone else to be in her wedding, which is lots of time, and even if she can't... it really isn't your problem, nor is it even a serious problem for her.

Now, about the conversation itself. I would not use vague excuses to get out of this one. I would be strictly honest. I would say that things have changed a lot in the last five years and I felt I couldn't be in her wedding at this point. If she insists on a reason, I would tell her I felt we'd grown apart and also how I feel about Jack, how I felt I couldn't support her marrying him because of the reasons you gave us. It probably won't do any good but you'll have told her the truth and done what you could to save her from making a big mistake.

Once she hears this she may be very angry and won't want to talk to you again, or at least probably won't be too interested in being friends with you anymore, which will make it possible for you to taper off contact with her.
posted by orange swan at 6:46 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Call her up and tell her you've agonized over it but it won't be possible for you to stand up in the wedding. Better still, call her up, ask her if you can come over, and then tell her in person. When she asks why, tell her the truth - that you feel your friendship isn't what it once was and you feel it's best to be honest about it. Whatever she asks, whatever she says, however she vents, just tell her, "This is an impossible situation. I won't be changing my mind. I'm sorry." Then hang up, or leave, and don't look back.

To me, the only really kind thing to do in this situation is to tell her the truth. It's not kind to pretend that you're still somewhat enthusiastic over her, your friendship, her marriage, anything at all. You have to own your feelings and effectively break up with her to walk away from this with your integrity and her dignity intact. After all, not being clear about how you've felt about her changing character and priorities, and her treatment of you, is what's landed you in this awkward situation now.

Lastly, I'd like to say that I've had a friend or two decide they didn't want to be friends with me anymore and do the slow fade thing. It's pretty humiliating, honestly, particularly if they behave in a saccharine, disingenuous "Who, me? No, no, I've just been busy and I do really care about you..." way when I've tried to talk with them about things after the fact. And that is absent an important circumstance like standing up in someone's wedding. My own fault? Yes. But you asked what the kindest thing to do in the situation is, so.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:05 PM on July 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's not obvious to me that an invitation made five years ago is still in effect.

If marrying next year means a full year from now, you can wait for a while. Have your no-thank-you speech prepped in case she brings it up. Otherwise you should get a clue in the next six months about what she's still expecting. Maybe you're already off the hook.

If it's already obvious or becomes obvious that you're expected to be maid, or it's somehow still cloudy six months out, then you have to bring it up yourself.

I would probably say something like "I'm just not comfortable in that role", and then to the inevitable why not, to either "we're not that close any more" or "I don't like Jack" or both, and then back to "I'm just not comfortable in that role any more". I don't think what you say matters as much as delivering it decisively and without any wavering.

>Since then Jill has been overly sweet and solicitous towards me to the point that it makes me uncomfortable.

Saying no may get you attacked in a fury, but I'd also be prepared for tearful pleading. Sounds like she knows she blew it. Decide now what you're going to do if you get tearful apologies and declarations of regret and please don't break my heart. (I'd recommend sticking to your guns, however uncomfortable it is in the moment. You'll be unhappy for six months or more if you relent.)
posted by mattu at 7:08 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like a dinosaur clinging desperately to the last vestiges of a bygone era in which a, "me first and only" modus operandi and positive affirmation from others for these behaviours wasn't quite so prevalent.

People change...that's life, but once upon a time she was a close friend you cared for and shared much with. Out of respect and gratitude for those memories, would it really be so difficult to put yourself aside and make a loving and genuine gift of your time and effort to her for a single day?
posted by Nibiru at 7:54 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's been five years and she's become status-hungry. Don't assume that she still wants you as maid of honor; I'm fact, you should probably assume that she doesn't want you, but wants the prettiest, highest status person she knows.

It doesn't seem to you like she has many close friends, but you are so different that she might have different ideas about what constitutes a "friend", and also what the purpose of a wedding or a maid of honor is.

If she does want you as maid of honor, just act surprised and confused. "What are you talking about? I can't do that! Sorry, no, I don't know where you got that idea but I can't".

When she asks why, just say you "just can't".
posted by windykites at 7:57 PM on July 3, 2013

In your case, I'd try to rip the bandaid off and address it first. I don't think you should assume one way or the other, and waiting for her to bring it up and wondering will just be torturous for you. I also think that the most you should say is that you aren't close anymore and don't feel comfortable being her MOH. I don't think you should go in the other stuff about her fiance, or the like. It will just add fuel to the drama fire.

On the other hand -- The fact that she announced that there's a wedding date but doesn't seem to have communicated to you about it might be irrelevant (might not).
posted by sm1tten at 8:31 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wedding planning is not for sissies. This is more than a single day. It's months of caterers, dress shopping, accessories, napkins and every other nuance that comes with planning a giant party. She will email you 100 links of ivory heels. Your pinterest board will be covered in cakes. You will pay $300 dollars to wear a dress that is likely atrocious and then you will have to turn around and buy her a standing mixer. Oh, and let's not forget the bachelorette party, which will likely be a weekend trip and cost you another few hundred bucks if you're lucky. Not to mention she is THERE. THE WHOLE TIME.

Now...if you loved this girl, everything I just said would be awesome and fun for you. However, that's how it feels if you don't like the bride. If this girl is as materialistic and self-centered as you have made her sound here, she will likely expect you to be at her beckon call throughout....and it will drive you completely bonkers.

I just went through this last year...the difference being I didn't stick to my guns when I tried to decline. She pushed back and I agreed. I felt bad and told myself it would be crappy of me to say no, and then later when I was miserable I told myself it would be crappy of me to back out. I ended up being in the wedding and the experience was horrible from start to end. Nothing redeeming about it. Any part of me that felt a positive emotion about her was incinerated by the time I left the wedding. We haven't spoken since. Worse, I'm not the only one - none of her bridesmaids are still friendly with her.

This doesn't make me feel good. It makes me feel terrible. I feel terrible that this woman's wedding photos are populated by people she will likely have little to no contact with for the rest of her life. People who don't even like her or think she is a good person.

You are not doing her or yourself a kindness by participating if you don't like her. Some will tell you it will feel good to do it, like it's some sort of charitable act. It won't. It will feel dishonest. It will feel mean. It is unlikely that either of you will be happy about it when everything is said and done. Don't be the weird ghost in her wedding pictures. You have a small window of opportunity to save yourself a lot of grief. Take the advice of those suggesting you politely bow out ASAP without going into details.
posted by amycup at 11:19 PM on July 3, 2013 [20 favorites]

"You have a small window of opportunity to save yourself a lot of grief. Take the advice of those suggesting you politely bow out ASAP without going into details."

posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:06 AM on July 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Nibiru, it is not a selfish thing to want out of this wedding (and let's not get too up on how fabulous bygones eras were).

If you were getting married, would you want someone who no longer cared for you to stand up for you? I want someone who genuinely loves me helping me with dresses and caterers and all of those terrible boring things. I want someone who will grin madly in photos because they are just so happy for me. I don't want someone who is only up there because they think Grandma would have been up there, grinning-and-bearing-it through the many, many responsibilities of moh-hood.

It's also possible that, since you never really see her alone anymore, she's been debating how to tell you that you can't have the job anymore.

All of that being said: do you see any chance of rekindling this friendship? Is this new money-hungry thing perhaps a phase? If so, maybe being her moh will be the thing that sparks a new turn in your friendship. If you have no interest in being her friend again, though? Talk to her about not being in the wedding now.
posted by AmandaA at 6:31 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Out of respect and gratitude for those memories, would it really be so difficult to put yourself aside and make a loving and genuine gift of your time and effort to her for a single day?

Being a Maid of Honour is often a significant, long term commitment, involving time, effort and money. It's not usually just showing up on the day, holding the flowers and signing the register. A bride who is materialistic and status-obsessed is more likely than most to drag their bridesmaids into a months or year long process of decision making, party throwing and personal expenses.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:57 AM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is where email will come in SO handy.


I know way back when we had discussed my being in your wedding party, and since you and Jack have set the date I wanted to revisit that decision. I don't know if you've changed your mind or not, but I wanted to let you know that at this time I'm not able to participate in your wedding. I wish you all the best.


Sweet, simple and you avoid confrontation.

It's an awkward situation. It may be that she doesn't want you in the wedding anymore than you want to be in it. It may be that she's dreamed of having you be her BFF and coming with her to do all the wedding stuff. Either way, you can head off the drama with a simple email.

If you are THIS over Jill, I really don't see an issue with breaking up with her in a text.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on July 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

If she went ahead and set a date and didn't actually check in with you beforehand, I would question whether you're still the maid of honor she has in mind. Maybe she doesn't know how to break it to you that she has someone else in mind...?

That said, everything above is good advice - These Birds of a Feather, jacquilynne, and Ruthless Bunny (I always like her advice).
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:48 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay. My advice here is super passive-aggressive, totally emotionally unhealthy and not straightforward truth telling that Jill so desperately needs. Forgive me, gods of Askme.
When wedding planning comes up, ask in as innocent a voice as you can muster, "So, who is going to be your maid of honor?" like you don't know or don't remember. If she says, "Well, you, silly!" you say, "Don't you want the help of someone who better reflects your aesthetic/ values/ terrible taste in men?"
And then show up for the wedding with something your bought on clearance at Crate and Barrel.
posted by pickypicky at 9:12 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

she and her fiancee sound like horrible it by email.
keep in mind that that she will show it to everyone she knows in an attempt to embarrass you, so make sure it contains as much personal info about her that she wouldn't want anyone to know to prevent this...something like....hmm...
'I got invited to another wedding on the same weekend by someone who hasn't gone bankrupt recently, so the food and band will probably be a lot better and I'll have more fun'
posted by sexyrobot at 9:54 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jack seems like a asshole, maybe worse. Could he be the driver of this pernicious change in your friend's personality and behavior?

If you think he is, I think you should say something to her about it. When you decline to be the Maid of Honor, go out of your way to explain why you think Jack has been a destructive force in her life, and made her a worse person. Explain that you think the marriage is a mistake.

I doubt she will be able to hear this. She may tell herself that you are jealous or bitter. You likely won't be able to reach her when you say it. But if you say it with enough eloquence and feeling, you may be able to sort of send a time capsule to her future self, so that when she finally is ready to understand what a mistake Jack is, she can remember what you said and find some support for her feelings.

I think this would be a cool thing to do for someone who was once your friend.
posted by grobstein at 9:57 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hard stuff is hard. Practice in the mirror Jill, I'm not comfortable being your MOH Why? We've grown in different directions. I wish you the best, but I'm not comfortable being in your wedding Repeat as needed. Jill has no power over you. You don't like or trust her anymore. Learning to say No and deal with conflict makes your life so much easier. Really.
posted by theora55 at 10:09 AM on July 4, 2013

I would try to say something that has a capsule of truth in it, in the kindest and most succinct way possible, as opposed to an impenetrable "that won't be possible" from start to finish. You won't be able to change her, but you can do her the courtesy of being honest and honoring the person she once was and the friendship you once had. Looking back on hard moments, I most appreciate what the other person did if they not only avoided being hurtful but were honest.
posted by salvia at 11:21 AM on July 4, 2013

If you'd like to maintain a distant friendship with her while being fairly honest with her, when she contacts you to remind you of your MOH promise, whether she calls or emails, wait a few days, then email her back with something along the lines of this (which is similar to These Birds of a Feather's tone):

Dear Jill,

I appreciate your thinking of me, remembering me for this important role. I've given it a lot of thought and, you know, I have to be honest. Five years ago our friendship was in a different place, but you and I have changed a lot since then, grown in different directions. And, hey, that's okay! But I believe a bride's MOH should be a reflection of the beautiful person she is today, not the person she was five years ago, and I just don't feel I'm the right gal anymore. ['beautiful' inserted to ease rejection]. I'd really be happiest/more comfortable cheering you from the sidelines [That is, if you're open to being a wedding guest, which also gives her a chance to reject you by not inviting you, further easing her rejection]. I'm excited for you and Jack and wish you guys an incredible continued life together!

All my best,

If she asks you why you've grown apart you can offer the oft-used "sometimes people just grow apart," repeat that you'd just feel more comfortable cheering from the sidelines, maybe add that that's where you see yourself in her life today.

There's no need to contact her first since I'd assume she'd need to contact you fairly soon, so I'd think she'd have time to find a replacement.

Disclaimer: IANFE (I am not a friendship expert) and have trouble negotiating female friendships myself.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 9:35 AM on July 5, 2013

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