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Wedding Season Friendship Strain: Bridal Party Drop-Out

How feeling responsible for people's behavior can backfire.

Key points

  • When we choose people to be part of our bridal party, we choose them because, in part, the role defines how much they mean to us.
  • Someone dropping out is a difficult and stressful situation because it may suggest the relationship isn't as meaningful as you'd thought.
  • Ask for their reasons why and take them at face value. It's counterproductive to create alternative narratives.
  • Avoid the myth that you are responsible for and have the power to control how someone behaves.

This question comes to me from a reader. It is published with permission and has been edited for grammar and flow:

Hi Mariana,

I read your post on the "Wedding Season Friendship Strain" and was wondering if you have any advice for the bride and groom when someone you have asked to be in the bridal party drops out? I asked my first cousin to be a groomsman for my wedding. It surprised me because he has always been like a brother to me.

This past week, with nine weeks left, he told me that he no longer wants to be a groomsman. He said that he wanted to choose his own suit because the suit color my fiancée and I chose for the bridal party didn’t flatter him. He sent me examples of other suits he wants, but what my fiancée and I want is different, and it's important to us to keep to a specific color.

We also have a 14-person bridal party, and it would look odd for him to stick out in a different suit if I let him get the suit he wants. I’ve offered to help pay for all of the groomsmen's suits, so I know the issue isn’t financial. Maybe suit color shouldn’t matter so much to me, and I've considered changing it for him, but I can’t help getting angry at having to and thinking, is it that big of a deal that he can't do this one thing for me?

When I asked him for more details about why he was dropping out, he said that it was mostly the suit color and that he didn't want to be told what to do and found it stressful. I’m so disappointed, and I can’t shake the feeling.

I’m not sure why I feel disappointed because he’s always been a difficult person and has named himself the "black sheep" of our family. I don’t know why I thought things would be different for my wedding, and he would bend to my will for once. I don’t even feel angry but sad. Can you shed any light?

---

Hi there, and thank you for writing in.

As a bride-to-be myself, I'm sorry about this situation and that it's arisen just a few weeks before your big day. Certainly, with just over two months to your nuptials, this likely wasn’t a situation you were expecting, and I understand that it could hurt deeply to have someone who means so much to you drop out of an important role.

Perhaps that is one of the core issues contributing to the feelings you are unable to "shake": When we choose people to be part of our bridal party, we choose them because, in part, the role defines how much they mean to us and it's our way to honor our relationship with them. In that sense, we single them out, apart from all other family and friends, to showcase this closeness. In essence, it is truly a privilege to be asked to be part of a bridal party and, in parallel, to ask someone to be part of your own bridal party.

From what you've described, I imagine you asked him because of your affection towards him. By him bowing out, perhaps some of the sadness you feel stems from it seeming as though that affection is not reciprocated and that your relationship is not as special as it seems.

Or alternatively, you may be thinking, if it were really that special of a relationship, then he would be part of your happy day and not make things even more difficult for you, particularly so close to your wedding. You may also be experiencing stress because of the suddenness of the decision.

If it is the former, take him at his word and the details you already know about him (as you note, he's a difficult person) without creating assumptions about the closeness of your relationship. If it is the latter, the underlying belief is that you are responsible for—and have the power to control—how he behaves.

This is a myth that I've detailed here. Within this myth, we are taught from a young age that we are responsible for the feelings of others, which are more important than our own. You noted that you considered changing your decision on suit color, which is a decision you noted is important to you and one that you are fully entitled to have (after all, it is *your* wedding!) because it may change his behavior is an accommodation that is exceptional, and not in a very healthy way.

Asking your groomsmen to purchase a suit that you've helped pay for in a color of your choosing is not an extraordinary demand. Changing what you truly want for your wedding in hopes of accommodating one person may lead to resentment down the road, both towards him and towards yourself. Towards him because you've already noted experiencing anger, which is what people generally feel when they believe an injustice has occurred.

This is because it has: Someone who accepts the position of a groomsman generally knows what they are signing up for and generally is there to support and not to make the lives of the bride and groom more stressful. Resentment towards yourself may occur for not outfitting yourself as you truly wanted just to accommodate one person. But in this role, it is the most reasonable for him to accommodate you.

All that has really happened is this: No matter how close you are or how much he knows this might mean to you, he has chosen himself and put his needs, wants, and desires above your own, regardless of how it may be affecting you, and so close to the wedding, as well.

He’s noted that what he wants out of your wedding is not to support you but primarily to look good, stress aside. If you’ve spoken to him and tried to address the stress that may otherwise be causing him to drop out (like financial strain or social anxiety), consider that as difficult as it may seem, this has been an important lesson: you can now see your relationship with him for what it is.

No special relationship or special day will change who he is and how he behaves: This doesn’t mean your relationship isn’t special, just that regardless, he will choose his needs over your own.

While this realization may hurt temporarily, this is a blessing for your future: Your wedding day will not be ruined by him dropping out the day of, making comments about the suit color he would have preferred, and in a few years, while looking back at your wedding photos, it will not be with anger or resentment at the memory of changing suit colors just to accommodate him, if that accommodation would have kept him in, at all.

Beyond your wedding, this will serve you well in the future: you can now lower your expectations of him, let go of feeling responsible for his behavior, and see things as they are.

Best of luck to you, and congrats!

Mariana

Thank you to readers who submit questions. Kindly use my author page to do so in lieu of other methods. Due to increased volumes, I am only able to respond to a handful of questions, some of which will be published here. Please submit only if you are comfortable having your question made anonymous, edited for flow, and posted with my response on Psychology Today.

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