Should I attend my friend's wedding?
February 6, 2023 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I have been invited to my friend's wedding (guest, not wedding party). I was excited to go, and told her that, but with the wedding three and a half months out I'm having serious second thoughts for time, financial and headspace reasons. Otoh I am worried that I may be catastrophizing. I would like input, and also advice on how to mitigate the stress on her if I back out.

My work contract will end about two months after the wedding, and I am increasingly anxious about taking time away from the projects that I will need to finish before that happens. Because of the timing, I think I would be okay taking a long weekend off, but the wedding is a transatlantic flight away - it would involve a lot of travel, a lot of jetlag, a lot of emissions and a lot of money for just a few days (between the flights, the accommodation, travel down to the venue and the nice gift that I would like to get them anyway).
Also, I am currently applying for jobs, and if all goes well I may end up having to interview for something around that time.
For various reasons I am struggling with this next step in my career, and have been trying to figure out whether I should look into getting an assessment for anxiety and/or neurodiversity (which will be tough where I live).
As a result, I am feeling increasingly anxious about the wedding, and am beating myself up for having said that I would go.

Counterpoints: my friend and I live in different countries, over the past years because of her job and brutal family stuff on her part we haven't been in contact much, and I miss her very much. I would have liked the opportunity to see her and share this day with her and her new husband, and I suppose I saw this as a way to strengthen our bond. We would have been staying together as part of a group in a vacation home around the wedding, which would have been a great way to bond with her but also potentially a source of more anxiety around sharing and socialising with her other friends that I don't know.
We recently had some drama surrounding an ex of hers, and I'm weirdly anxious about the possibility that she will see this as some form of choosing sides against her on that (even though she hasn't said anything to me, ever, to make me think that she would think that way).
Bonus complication: she, her fiancé and I work in the same field, and beyond the heartache of disappointing a friend I am anxious about annoying colleagues.
It's also possible that as I get closer to the end of my contract I'm catastrophising: I often struggle with feeling that I'm 'not allowed' to make big plans without some form of permission (which is something I would like to address professionally), particularly when I still have open projects (which, due to the nature of my job, is always). I think it is possible that if I back out, I will then beat myself up for having freaked out over something that actually isn't a big deal.

Currently, I'm coming down on the side of asking her asap if there's still time to back out, and asking whether she and her fiancé have made concrete arrangements about e.g. catering, in which case I might offer to reimburse them. I don't have much of an idea how American wedding planning works, and I'd very much appreciate advice on any other way in which I might make things easier for them.

Thanks for any thoughts/advice on all of the above!
posted by jlibera to Human Relations (27 answers total)
Hmmm, I was all ready to tell you to cancel with no regrets until I read all your counterpoints. If you'd really get a chance to bond and hang out, then it might be worth it. Though you could do that another time too. Are you sure you'll really get a chance to bond with her? Weddings are chaotic, and she may be pulled in 20 other directions.

So my advice is to flip a coin and leave the decision in the hands of fate. (When you get the coin flip, if you're unhappy with it, then you know the real answer.) Alternatively, make a decision and sit with it for a week. See if it's the right one and how you feel about it, then act on it at the end of the week. There's no 100% right answer here, so you'll just have to go with your gut and stick with it.

For an American wedding, I'd imagine that three months out, they can still add/remove a person from the catering list without issue. Cutoff is likely about 2-4 weeks out.
posted by hydra77 at 2:02 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]

Ultimately it all comes down to figuring out what YOU really want, and hydra77's coin flip is a great way to gut-check that.

But my argument would be: you will work thousands upon thousands of days in your one short human life. You will make money and then you will not make money hundreds of times over. You will interview for probably many dozens of jobs and have many, many years in which to find new ones. You have an entire lifespan in which to fret and be in your head about everything on earth, thousands of times over.

Your close friend (hopefully) gets married once. ONCE.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:15 PM on February 6 [36 favorites]

(Sorry, accidentally posted too soon -- on mobile) Anyway as someone who spent her entire 20s regretting that she missed out on basically everything fun, good, and special in the interests of everything "responsible," grinding, and boring as shit, I would conclude: don't be me! Go do a fun and good thing with human beings! Because people are really all that matter, literally the only things that matter. Nobody is going to show slideshows of Excel spreadsheets and meeting powerpoints at your funeral.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:17 PM on February 6 [21 favorites]

Long haul flying this winter is not the same as long haul flying used to be. You might get where you're going, more or less on time: or you very much might not.

(Saying this as someone whose transatlantic flight was recently delayed by 16+ hours. I lost the entire first day and night of my trip, including the expensive hotel room it was too late to cancel. My "compensation" was an airline credit for $150, and a coupon for a meal at the airport which was worth about 40% of what it would have cost to actually have a meal at the airport.)

Which is to say: I would not fly transoceanic for a wedding these days, unless the bride were either my sibling or "best friend"-- the kind of friend who would have consulted with me about the date of the wedding to make sure it worked for me because she wouldn't have wanted to have her wedding without me. The expenditure and risk/reward calculus just doesn't work out for a short trip, especially since yes, she will be pulled in lots of directions.

What I would do though is plan a trip to see her, at a time that makes sense to you (i.e. when you have appropriate vacation time set aside, or are off your contract already), and when you know she has time to spend with you.

[ETA: although now that I think of it, maybe your transatlantic is not like mine. Mine takes 11+ hours. If you're talking a flight from London to NYC, the math might be quite different.]
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:19 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]

For a normal American wedding three months out is plenty of time to change the logistics so I wouldn't worry about that part in the least. As to the rest....

Anxiety is always worth listening to, but there are enough ifs, mays, and mights in your question that I suspect you may be exaggerating to yourself.

To pick two:

Also, I am currently applying for jobs, and if all goes well I may end up having to interview for something around that time.

Moving the schedule for an interview a few days in either direction is extremely unlikely to affect the outcome. It could, but this one seems like a reach.

she, her fiancé and I work in the same field [and] I am anxious about annoying colleagues.

Only you know your friend, but how likely do you think a professional rift over failing to attend a transatlantic wedding really is?

As a personal matter I would definitely encourage you to go. As you note, you have trouble giving yourself permission to get up and have adventures ... so, without this excuse when are you ever going to see her again?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:24 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

I’d be more worried about the vacation home than catering - that sounds to me like the thing where you could really screw people over if you have to drop out last minute and can’t cover your share. So it’s probably worth thinking now about whether you can/will still pay your share if you end up not going, and if that won’t work, probably reach out now to tell your friend the timing is starting to look dicy with your job hunt and you’re trying to figure out how to juggle obligations, but you very much want to be there, what’s the latest date she needs a definite in or out from you to avoid burdening her with costs or logistic nightmares?

That aside: If this were a local wedding I’d urge you to go. An interview can wait a few days, and this is a dear friend you miss terribly.

But a transatlantic wedding is a huge ask. A transatlantic wedding in a still-actually-happening pandemic, to a country that’s handling that badly, and where our air traffic infrastructure is not doing well lately, is another. If you can’t afford potential multiple days of delays and then having to quarantine here for several more days before you can fly home and resume your work and interviewing, it seems very reasonable to me to skip this, send your love and a very warm note with your gift, offer any long distance organizing help you can give, and consider whether you might be able to visit before or after the wedding, at a less fraught and less expensive time when you might be better able to absorb the complications of transatlantic travel.
posted by Stacey at 2:27 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]

I missed weddings when I lived abroad, and I missed weddings abroad when I lived far. Not going to these weddings felt like the right choice at the time given a million logistical and personal hurdles. A few years out, I regret so much that I didn't go. Friends still talk about the weddings; they're strong shared experiences. I wish so much I had been there to be with people and celebrate.

I was able to come back to the US for one wedding when I lived abroad. It involved traveling through three continents from a rural village in Ethiopia to rural Arizona. I no longer remember the professional or personal issues I had at the time that made going to the wedding difficult. I do remember that I was there and how much fun I had and how much I loved the people who were there. Everyone else remembers and values that I was there too.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:33 PM on February 6 [15 favorites]

It does sound like your work anxiety is driving your second thoughts. You can prepare to wind down projects; you can schedule interviews around travel and offer to interview remotely if something truly make-or-break comes up.

I vote go for the very simple reason that you’ll have an awesome time and sound like you really could use one!
posted by kapers at 2:38 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]

No idea if this perspective is helpful, but I see some of me in your description. I dislike the inconvenience of travel, I feel like I always have a million things to do at home and work, I don't like flying (in terms of comfort/hassle/emissions, I'm not afraid of it), I feel bad abandoning/boarding my cat, and then the more concrete the trip gets the more stressed out I get. Pandemic world doesn't help. I almost always research cancellation fees on my flights at some point in this process, before deciding I'm not paying so much to not go somewhere.

But I never end up regretting the trip. Even the ones that are pretty mediocre. It always turns out the stuff I needed to do before I left is still there when I get back, waiting patiently on my return. I mean, if I was out sick for two days it's not like the world would collapse, and it doesn't when I'm out travelling either.

So I don't know how much of this is you? But it sounds so familiar to me that I'm guessing it'll all work out if you go.
posted by mark k at 2:41 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]

one more thing. If your transatlantic flight isn't IN ITSELF the reason not to go, then I would go.

You can always make more money and get more contracts. God knows there will always be more work to do.

But close friends become very thin on the ground after the point in your life when people start getting married; and being there at the transition cusp can be an important thing. Will skipping it necessarily mean your friendship is more likely to fade out? No, there are things you can do, like planning a specific trip to see her after. But being there, with the group of important people, as she starts the next phase of her life can actually be quite a big deal.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:50 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]

It may be useful to also think about how you will feel about traveling to this wedding if you don't have the opportunity to spend much time with your friend because it sounds like that is a big motivation for you. I am sure every wedding is different (and perhaps I am missing something unique here), but I have never been to a wedding and spent any meaningful time with the couple. Even at small and destination weddings, it has been my experience that there is a lot going on and the couple is consumed with the event, relatives, and each other. Will you be ok if you attend and while your friend appreciates that you have attended, you aren't able to spend time with her? If so, I'd lean towards going.
posted by fies at 2:56 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]

Fuck your work. How nice that you’re thinking of what they need; do they ever do the same for you? No, you’re not even a permanent employee.

Likewise, fuck your interviews. If a company won’t reschedule them a couple days earlier or a couple days later, that’s a great sign that they’re a shitty place to work and you shouldn’t want to work there.

That’s not to say you should go, but your job and job interviews shouldn’t be the reason you don’t.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:01 PM on February 6 [10 favorites]

I think you have a pretty good handle on some of the extenuating factors here and insight into how your work anxiety might be driving this, and I agree that working on it can only help you in the future.

I will just offer the rather coldblooded calculus that I, a person who doesn't really like weddings (a veritable wedding Scrooge!), personally use in deciding whether or not to go to destination weddings that I feel torn about attending. If the person getting married is someone you were close to in the past but have drifted apart from and you're mostly fine with that drifting, it's OK to send your regrets and a gift. But if the person getting married is someone you intend to continue OR rekindle a friendship with in the future, absolutely go and make merry even if it's sort of a pain to attend. It sounds like you are hoping to not only maintain but deepen your relationship with your friend, so in this case I would definitely go in order to give yourself the best shot of doing so.
posted by superfluousm at 3:04 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]

I went to a transatlantic wedding once, as a longish weekend, and on top of being something good to do for the friendship, it was also a really memorable trip. How often in your entire life will you get the chance to rock up in a totally different community elsewhere in the world, and partake in their very different life for a few days, then shoot off back home?

Apart from the bride and groom, I only knew 2 other people (who were both in the wedding party - I knew nobody else from among the guests) but a few other guests took me under their wing - the bride kind of engineered this in advance, introduced me online to the people staying in the same hotel as me, and they made me part of their gang for the day, so maybe your friend could do the same for you?

I think you could make a virtue out of the fact that this is a short trip (rather than catastrophising that it's a lot of emissions etc for a short trip) - it's a way to help beat your own tendency to struggle to make big plans, without them being really HUGE plans - honestly, you'll be away and back before people have really noticed you're gone. I'm always mildly disappointed when I go on holiday from work, feel like I've been away for ages, and get back to discover people have barely missed me. It's never as big a deal as you think it is.

Also, if you're leaving the job soon, now's a fine time to ease up a little on flogging yourself for them.

I say go.
posted by penguin pie at 3:05 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming that this is a relatively close enough friend that you could share (at least some) of your anxieties with her, so I like the idea of asking about a true "need to commit by" date. On the other hand, I am kind of skeptical that you will be able to bond much during that time, so I think part of the consideration would be whether you'd enjoy being there anyway.

Also, twice now, I've been traveling internationally either during an interview cycle or shortly after taking a new role, because I didn't want to put my life on hold. In fact, I have interviewed while in another country! However, in both cases I was already employed and felt comfortable with the outlay even if I didn't get another job. If that's not the case for you, I would probably be leaning somewhat against.
posted by sm1tten at 3:09 PM on February 6

My anxiety likes to try and protect me by saying "quit everything! Cancel it all! It's too much we are so overwhelmed!" But of course with a bit of planning and gritting of teeth we get through.
posted by freethefeet at 3:09 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]

I kind of hate weddings in general, and specifically hate destination weddings, and have skipped a few, feeling justified that I wasn't even really that close to the people getting married. And I do regret not going. I mean, it would have sucked, and cost a lot, so I don't regret it that way, but those people really resented the fact that I didn't come and it permanently harmed our relationship. I'm surprised, because I had people of similar relationship intensity not come to my wedding and it never occurred to me to be mad about it, but everyone is not like me. So I say go.
posted by HotToddy at 3:13 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quick threadsit after seeing some of the comments about work: I'm an academic, trying to land a permanent position (if not right away, then hopefully in the near future). So these aren't so much projects that a company is paying me to do, as investments in my future that will affect how easily (if at all) I can land funding and a stable job.
posted by jlibera at 3:18 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Here are my thoughts:

Worth going for
- your friend, in that showing up for milestone events does have significance
- your own feelings in that it's important to prioritize your significant people. A wedding is useful in that it's a very straightforward reason for work-people to understand why you have to go away At That Time

Not worth changing plans for:
- deadlines two months out - I can't comment on academia but it seems like with a two month runway you should be able to make the time unless something will die in a petrie dish or something
- anxiety about job interview timing or really, anxiety
- possibly money, depending - if you'd already budgeted for it it should be fine
- also "value for money" - I once was in Bruges for 14 hours, flew from Toronto and then to LA. I did see a Salvador Dali exhibit but mostly I saw a hospital and a bed and breakfast. But the relative I went to get and I had a much better relationship and so the quality of the 14 hours was way above a "wasted" trip to Europe.

Neutral things:
- time with your friend - I think it is very significant to be there for her, but I don't think weddings in general always make for good bonding time because the bride and groom have so much going on
- your friend's fiancé's field - unless there's really bad feelings I don't think that should impact that

Possibly leaning towards no:
- transatlantic flight - it sounds like any time you would go to see this friend, you will have to travel that far (or she will). But yeah, jet lag can take it out of you.
- money, if that's a major concern. If I were your friend I would choose seeing you over a gift but I get it.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:25 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

If your primary reason for going is to spend time with your friend, I might re-think if that's a realistic goal. In the majority of the weddings I've attended when not part of the bridal party (and this includes a couple destination weddings when everyone was in the same resort) the bride was usually the person I saw the least of. Planning a wedding is a huge, stressful ordeal, and there wasn't a lot of time for regular friend-bonding, especially if you're not part of the wedding party.

I know I've been disappointed by this in the past, and it's definitely changed my personal view on destination weddings (and this was from the before-times - now it's even harder!) Of course YMMV. But if you're looking for an internet stranger's permission to skip out, you have it... I'd personally rather spend the time and money with the friend another time when there's no wedding distraction.
posted by cgg at 3:59 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It can not be stressed enough how much of a shitshow air travel is right now, and is likely to be still when this wedding rolls around. I would base my decision on two things:

1) Are you able to come early enough that if you have a multiple day delay (happened to a friend flying from Europe to the US just a week ago, and another friend took 36 hours delay between two US cities) you can still make the wedding? You should be planning two or three days buffer time.

2) What happens if you get sick? Are you able to stay longer to get well? Do you know how to access medical treatment and what it will cost?

For now, it really is true that the worst case scenario is happening more than people are counting on, and it makes sense to consider if you can afford the two most likely worst cases.

If you decide to cancel, you can tell your friend that the transatlantic flight was much more expensive than you were anticipating and that you would still love to pitch in on the vacation home and send your regrets.
posted by Bottlecap at 5:45 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

I'm going to tell you to go in the opposite direction--if at all possible, take more time off and work in the vacation home if necessary (this is a good excuse for privacy if for any reason you dislike the other attendees, but I hope you will not have that situation and will happily bunk off work with your friend and her friends).

I am also shy, think of all sorts of reasons why I shouldn't do fun things, and I haven't gone to a wedding yet that I didn't enjoy. Finances kept me from doing a transatlantic trip once to see a friend get married and I still regret it--marriage didn't last, but it sounded like it was a blast and I liked them both enough at the time to wish them well.
posted by kingdead at 6:12 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to go against the grain here and say I know exactly how it feels to feel against the wall when your project is coming to an end and the anxiety of not having income even if you find a new position fairly quickly. But sometimes you don't.

Personally I've skipped expensive overseas weddings and I'm still good friends years past. I think these things matter when your much younger but there's going to be a difference of opinions. Again, this might be the dynamics between my friends and I but I waited for several months and they got settled in and we had a great weekend together. Saying work can wait is true but doesn't relieve your anxiety. I can't imagine going overseas, spending a bunch of money and fretting about my next paycheck. Again, I might be the odd one or just old but my friends totally understood my work commitments.

I think if people aren't freelance or do project based work they don't know how tenuous it can feel. I mean there's a huge difference between a taco dinner in the basement of a church and an overseas wedding. I would not feel bad saying it was not feasible right now and you have other commitments but would love to see them later. I wouldn't make a huge deal out of it and just know they have a million things going on now.
posted by geoff. at 8:09 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

I missed my friend’s wedding because I feared travelling around a volcanic ash cloud, and it’s still painful to think about. I wasn’t there on the day. Some flights were sort of going, but I was scared. Regret endlessly. Those are lifetime memories.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:05 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

As an academic, if this really is a good friend and you can get ahead on these projects enough, then I absolutely think you should go. Think about adding some half day Saturdays to wrap things up?

My reasoning is that once you land a tenure track job, you might have a bit more money, but I guarantee you will have more stress and a heck of a lot less free time… for years. Years! (This advice goes double if you only land a fixed term postdoc and also have to be on the job market at the same time.)

So if this is a good friend, take the chance now as once you’re on the tenure track (or postdoc) you’ll be lucky to get much more than Christmas break and a few add on days around conferences where you’ll actually feel able to travel and relax.
posted by ec2y at 10:49 PM on February 6

As a counter point to all the people describing their air travel disasters in recent months….I traveled internationally over Xmas, short flight and long haul connecting in one of the busiest airports known to man and …. everything was on time, queues were within normal range of years of pre pandemic experience. So sure, plan a reasonable itinerary that has a bit of slack. Buy travel insurance. Take your laptop so you can keep working on some of your work if you do get stuck. But the vast majority of flights get you where you’re supposed to get to at approximately when they are supposed to get you there.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:26 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]

Having made it to most, but not all, of the destination weddings I was invited to for a variety of reasons, not going is totally survivable for a relationship between reasonable people. But I do have a bit of regret in each of the cases that I missed about having passed up a special experience. While I might not have gotten a lot of time with the couple in the cases where I did go (although a shared vacation house creates some more space for that), I got time with family/friends that was really lovely and experiences of places I wouldn't have otherwise gone to. If you don't know anyone but the couple, you're going to be missing part of that draw, obviously, but even if you've got some general acquaintance with a few other guests you find pleasant, spending some more time with them could be nice.

As an introverted person with anxiety, I would also be feeling unsure of myself around a houseshare with a group I don't know or don't know well. I totally appreciate that concern. But it's every bit as likely that it will be a nice time as a bad one. Unless you have reason to think you're a wild outlier in terms of who your friend befriends, the people around her are likely to have overlap with you in terms of interests. Since you're in the same field, you might even meet people who open up new thinking or new possibilities in your job search (not to say that you should go to the wedding to network - just that the possibility of meeting some interesting people who spark some new ideas or connections is as much of a possibility as things being awkward).

It sounds like you need to really let yourself believe that whatever choice you make, it's going to be okay. It will be okay to go or not to go. But before you make a decision, I would encourage you to try to reconnect with that sense of excitement about being with someone you miss and care about on a special day - it's very easy to focus on mental scenarios and disregard what the gut knows.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:28 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]

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