Missing a wedding because of work
April 12, 2016 2:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm double-booked -- I have a very important work commitment (a PhD viva) scheduled on the same weekend as my friend's wedding which is a six hour flight away. I can't reschedule the viva, but this is also one of my closest friends in the world and I know she will hate it if I don't come. What, if anything, can I do to make it up to her?
posted by Aravis76 to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my circle of friends, a PhD viva is sometimes almost equal in importance to a wedding - except that you can't schedule it to accommodate your grandma. Are you sure your friend won't understand? True, she would still be sad you can't make it but she might totally get it and not want to put undue pressure on you and just wish you good luck.

Anyway, in actual response to your question, is she having a bachelorette party or any other pre-wedding thing more than a week before the wedding? Can you come to that, and stay a couple days and do it up wedding besties style?

Depending on the sort of bride she is you might be able to be a help in making last minute decisions and important wedding memories so your presence will be felt by her on her wedding day even though you will have come and gone. Help choosing decorations or the menu or assembling a playlist for the late night post-reception dance party? If you are crafty, could you make something for her to wear? I have bookbinding friends who made a handbound guestbook for another friend's wedding, that was a lovely gift. Weddings are full of crafty opportunities.

And if she doesn't have anything like a bachelorette party or a bunch of wedding frippery to deal with, you can schedule a time to visit after the wedding, post honeymoon if they're taking one shortly after. Make promises to look at all the pictures and talk about all the weddingy stuff she wants, and something else special that has meaning to the two of you.

Depending on timing, you might also be able to set up a call after her ceremony and after your defense. Assuming all goes well with both important events, it can be a quick squeeful call of mutual celebration (and possibly drunken exhaustion). If she has a maid of honor, organize this with her so your friend doesn't have to worry about her phone after her wedding.

It might also be possible that she has other loved ones who can't make it, and is planning on setting up a live video feed for them to watch. Evidently these days that is pretty easy to do, and if she is open to the idea you could ask to help with that. Then you can watch and she can come say hi to you and the other long distance people in a video chat afterwards.

She's your friend and every friendship is unique. I think you should focus on what makes the two of you so close even though you are physically far apart, and bring her a few suggestions that you think she would like when you also tell her you won't be able to make it.
posted by Mizu at 2:45 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just to clarify - it isn't my viva, but I have to be there in an administrative role. There isn't another colleague available and the viva can't go ahead without me or someone there.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:59 AM on April 12, 2016

If you were my friend and you prioritized the viva over my wedding, it would most definitely hurt my feelings.

How much notice did you have for the wedding? The viva? Which did you commit to first?

And be honest, of course you *can* reschedule the viva--I mean, what would you do if you woke up vomiting that day? You'd reschedule. It can indeed be done.

You say "someone" needs to be there. So find that someone. But if you're not there for your friend, no one else can stand in as you.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 3:29 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]

Is there any way you can do the viva by skype (I know, but come on, technology)? I think missing the wedding would be very sad.
posted by papergirl at 3:38 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

You made yourself available for the viva even when you could have said you would be unavailable, like your other colleagues. You're continuing to make the choice to attend the viva over the wedding. Nothing you can do or say will change the fact that you are making this choice, so I don't really see a way to make up for it. Either she is more important than your work, or she isn't.

Maybe the politics of your workplace make it really hard for you to back out. I understand and if so that's unfortunate. The thing I'd watch out for is feeling like you don't have a choice when you really do. If your mother was dying would you still be at work? If you sister was getting married would you still be at work? If your work binds you so tightly that you can't be there for the people you are close to -- then that's kind of tragic, and you have my sympathies.

If you are really really stuck, could you fly to visit your friend the week before the wedding and help out with preparations and spend some time with her? That is about the only thing I can think of that could make up for not being there on the day.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [18 favorites]

If I had a friend who gave me a hard time over not attending a wedding that was six hours away, I'd reevaluate the friendship. Weddings are important, yes. But they are not a summons, and nobody owes you attendance. I'd understand feeling disappointed, but "hate it" seems like an overreaction. Tell her you can't make it, send a nice note, and if she can't accept it gracefully, I'd focus on more reasonable friends.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:10 AM on April 12, 2016 [21 favorites]

If this is one of your best friends, I am positive that she will understand. In the future, make sure you put yourself down as "absolutely & categorically unavailable" on dates where you need to be out of town.
posted by kariebookish at 4:21 AM on April 12, 2016

You're a close friend, but how close are we talking about? I'm assuming you're not in the actual wedding party so you're at least a tier down. And if she lives a 6 hour flight away from you then I'm assuming you don't see each other that often so you're limited to emails and phone calls.

So I'm taking some huge leaps here and assuming you're "close" in terms of the memories of a friendship that was actually close in the past, and yeah you'd do anything for her but you're not involved in each others lives all the time anymore.

If these assumptions are correct, I think you'll be ok in the long run and here are some ideas of how to be remotely present at the event:

- Send a card to be read during the speeches. I believe tradition calls for the best man to read them during his speech, but this may not be a tradition they tie to so you may have to get in touch with the groom/best man directly for this request
- Send money to the hotel they are staying during the evening of their wedding. Arrange for a nice bottle of champagne and a bouquet to be sent to the room.
- Send her something old or new or lend her something, maybe blue.
- Send a video of yourself to your friend, talking about how sorry you are, mention some fond memories, talk about how you imagine the wedding will go, wish her all the best.

If my assumptions are way off base and actually you are besties and you were supposed to be her maid of honor and now you're backing out, I guess you can still do these things but be emotionally prepared for a setback in your friendship. Your situation is probably somewhere in the middle and only you can gauge the impact.
posted by like_neon at 4:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do the other administrative people who can't be there have more important engagements than yours, or was it a case of them booking the time off first? I would talk to them.
posted by gorcha at 4:29 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

The message you're sending your friend is that staying for an administrative role at the viva is more important to you than being at her wedding. Ten years from now, which will you regret more: Missing the viva, or missing the wedding?
posted by MelissaSimon at 4:56 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I had one of my closest friends miss my wedding. You know what? It was fine. We visited her on our honeymoon and it was perfectly okay.

The sad fact of the matter is that weddings go by in blurs. I've been the out of town wedding attendee (same friend actually.) She was so busy that even though she tried to make time for me, our actual interactions over a 4 day period were limited to a manicure and breakfast. Did I mention that my Dad performed her ceremony? It wasn't like we were casually involved.

If it's at all possible, see if you can get out of work to attend the wedding. But, if you committed to the work before you were invited to the wedding, send a nice gift and see if you can arrange to visit the happy couple in the near future.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:03 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

Take a picture of yourself in a nice dress and then have it printed up life sized so that she can stick you in a few of the photos.
posted by myselfasme at 5:08 AM on April 12, 2016

Even if this were my own phd student, and even though I hate weddings, this is still not even a choice to me. You saw this coming and made your choice, so now you need to own up to it. I don't know if you can actually make it up to her, but a huge and thoughtful gift is in order.
posted by Dashy at 5:51 AM on April 12, 2016

Are you in the wedding party or immediate family? If not, your attendance isn't really essential and you are unlikely to be the only person who isn't able to attend.

Sure, it would have been better if you had arranged to attend. But guilt and shame aren't warranted here on your part. Nor "hate" on the bride's part.

The best thing you could do is arrange to take that six-hour flight to visit your close friend for a few days sometime after the wedding, and take her and her new spouse out for a nice dinner.
posted by grouse at 6:06 AM on April 12, 2016

Thanks, everyone. I figured out a way to do both, surprisingly, but the reality check on needing to find a way to do that was helpful.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:08 AM on April 12, 2016 [26 favorites]

I haven't read the answers here so I apologize in advance if I'm rehashing. I was in a similar predicament this past summer (I had an unavoidable work commitment at the expense of a close friend's wedding). I wrote the couple a heartfelt e-mail explaining the situation, gave them a call to talk about it further, and then booked a flight to visit them after their honeymoon so I could properly toast -- in-person -- their wedding.

It wasn't ideal, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. I also got them a great gift.

We are still close friends.
posted by lecorbeau at 6:33 AM on April 12, 2016

May I ask, aravis76, how you were able to do both?
posted by dubious_dude at 6:51 AM on April 12, 2016

I think a lot of non-academic people in this thread are missing the sacred duty of care that faculty and professionals in a department have to students and only seeing the work commitment. Shit must always be made to flow uphill because the results of it being allowed to flow downhill get so deeply wrong. A viva proceeding forward on track can very easily be much more important than anyone's attendance at a wedding aside from perhaps the bride and groom's.

I'm really glad you found a way to satisfy your/your department's to the student and go to the wedding!
posted by Blasdelb at 7:30 AM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

When my cousin got married, one of her best friends was unable to attend. (She did go to the bachelorette activity - skydiving - but had work stuff the day of the wedding.) So the friend made a life-size cardboard cut-out of herself to be at the wedding instead.

You have to be that kind of fun friends for it to work, but that way there were still pictures of her there. (And being at the bachelorette event meant she was still there for her friend, too.)
posted by jillithd at 8:30 AM on April 12, 2016

Just an update: unfortunately I was too optimistic, and my method for doing both has collapsed (the new flight I booked is on the wrong day). I'll explore the options with the university but I don't think I can say to a student that her viva must be cancelled because of an outside commitment of mine. Thanks for all the thoughts, everyone. It's clearly important that I do my best to be there and I'll try and work something out that doesn't involve leaving the student in the lurch.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:45 AM on April 12, 2016

(Also, in terms of whether I saw this coming - I really didn't. The viva date was set in advance of the wedding date, which changed unexpectedly. It's true that I should have caught the clash earlier, though.)
posted by Aravis76 at 8:47 AM on April 12, 2016

Also, in terms of whether I saw this coming - I really didn't. The viva date was set in advance of the wedding date, which changed unexpectedly. It's true that I should have caught the clash earlier, though.

Ah! Well, if you change your wedding date mid-stream, you do run the risk of having people with previous, unbreakable commitments. That's just a fact.

Don't make yourself crazy trying to get there. Send your regrets and a nice present and make plans to visit after the festivities.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:03 AM on April 12, 2016 [12 favorites]

Are you in an administrative role or are you on the committee? If you're on the committee, then yeah, you need to show up for the defense. Particularly if rescheduling would mean that your student misses graduation or has to pay another semester of tuition. The way you've written the question, it might give people outside of academia the idea that your participation in the viva is unimportant. It has real repercussions to a student who is powerless in this situation.

Your only real option to do both is to participate in the defense via Skype/WebEx whatever. Otherwise, I think you need to miss the wedding. Send your regrets, a nice gift and then schedule a visit to look at all the wedding photos.
posted by 26.2 at 9:18 AM on April 12, 2016

The viva date was set in advance of the wedding date, which changed unexpectedly. It's true that I should have caught the clash earlier, though.

This is a crucial detail! I think that really changes the expectations around attendance. Sure, it's unfortunate that you can't attend, but really, it's not like you can block out every weekend in 2016 just in case a friend's wedding date changes at the last minute. Forgive yourself. You did what you could to make it work.
posted by kate blank at 9:21 AM on April 12, 2016 [25 favorites]

The viva date was set in advance of the wedding date, which changed unexpectedly. It's true that I should have caught the clash earlier, though.

I agree, this does change the situation. I would soften my original answer considerably.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:54 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Same here. I know that scheduling committee meeting, orals and defenses is like herding cats (miao!).
posted by Dashy at 1:01 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that if your friend is the one who changed her wedding date late in the game, she has to accept that people may not be able to attend. This is why people send out save-the-dates a year in advance. :)

That said, unless the times 100% overlap, I would look into supervising the vita via Skype. Although not ideal, I do think this could work.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:56 PM on April 12, 2016

Three of my dearest friends were not able to attend my wedding. I only know the reason for one of them (his baby was about six days old). I had a few moments of disappointment when I found out they would not be coming, but frankly, I'm not sure if I even noticed the day of. Weddings have so much going on for the couple and if she were to really hold this against you (especially given the fact that she changed the date!), this isn't much of a friendship worth holding onto.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:39 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sorry, final update: I am definitely going to the wedding as my friend has basically moved heaven and earth to find me a route there. All the advice here really did clear my head about priorities, and I'm very grateful. Thanks!
posted by Aravis76 at 9:24 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

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