Conventional wisdom dictates that if someone you care about is dating someone who is objectively a jerk, you should play it cool, keep your powder dry, bite your tongue, and wait for it to fizzle out. As a friend, it’s your duty to be supportive, keep an open mind (unless, of course, they’ve broken any laws, in which case none of the above applies), and be poised to pick up the pieces over some conciliatory drinks when the time comes — without ever once being smug or muttering anything resembling "I told you so."
As you get older, the problems you face change. "My friend is dating a total prick" can quickly turn to "my friend got engaged to a total prick" and then to "my friend is marrying a total prick." In the final stages of this scenario, the stakes are very high.
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Weddings, for the people involved, are supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. I never got married, so I can’t testify to this. I have, however, attended a fair few, and they don’t always bring out the best in me. I’m not sure if it’s the intense emotions, "difficult" family and patriarchy, or my own covert commitment phobia, but I often find myself sweating profusely and convinced I can’t breathe as I arrive at weddings. I also balk at the sums of money involved in this ritual and find it hard to understand why anyone would do it.
It’s difficult enough when a friend gets married to someone you like. You’re happy of course, but there’s always a sense that you’re saying goodbye to a period of your life before serious partners, big jobs, responsibilities, and even children. Regardless of whether you think the person your friend is marrying is brilliant, wonderful, and amazing, you’ll always hold them in contempt on some level, because they represent the end of an era.
So, I found myself in an already difficult situation made worse when one of my best friends decided to marry a man that at best, I simply can't tolerate, and at worst, I consider to be emotionally abusive.
My friend is a brilliant woman. Since the moment I met her, I’ve admired her. Back then, she was fearless, forthright, ambitious, and kind. I remember the first time I ever saw her across the room at a party, it was like light emitted from her. She was radiant. I know, I sound like I’m writing bad romantic poetry, but before I get too Byron on this, let me explain what has unfolded since she met this man. Her light has been dimmed. It still shines, but it’s a lot duller — it flickers. Occasionally, I catch glimpses of her, but it’s rare. We all change as we get older — that’s no bad thing — but I do not see her flourishing.
The man in question is getting a PhD. He is intelligent — there’s no question about that — but he is not kind. He regularly undermines my friend in public, even when I know her to be right. On multiple occasions, he has been openly racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic in my presence. A few years ago, she was dismissed from a high powered job and moved to Scotland to be with him. Her life has since been tailored to meet his needs. Her career, it seems, is on hold. Many friendships have faded and become a thing of the past, as she’s lost touch with many people in our group. Anxieties, which I never realized she had — particularly about having children very soon — have surfaced on her part. And, while I am not her therapist, it seems to me that she is trying to shore up the security of the relationship and not actually think about what’s best for her.
How, then, was I going to navigate their wedding? How could I celebrate said friend’s union to another soul if I wish she had picked a different sentient being to latch herself to legally and spiritually? Did I A) make excuses and politely decline the invitation or B) say something. I realized quickly that the answer could only ever be A. In situations like this, you never, ever speak your mind. I was aware, however, that either way, my decision would deal a fatal blow to our floundering friendship.
I thought it through. Was there any way that I could possibly plaster a smile on my face, bite my tongue, turn up, and spout platitudes throughout the day? That’s what a few people advised would be the "right" or "proper" thing to do. I couldn’t do it. Inwardly, all day long, I’d be screaming "Don’t do it," because I truly believe she is making a mistake. As the words "speak now or forever hold your peace" left the priest’s mouth, I envisioned myself standing up — silently and spontaneously — then having to feign sickness to undo it all.
The consequences of saying something were great. No good would have come of it. I also didn’t want to isolate her forever, because if, as I suspect, this doesn’t work out, I wanted and still want to be there for her. There are people who will say I should have just sucked it up, put my feelings to one side, and been at the wedding. I hear them, I really do. Who she spends the rest of her life with is not for me to choose. I really do advocate being aware of the signs of a toxic or abusive relationship so that you can support anyone in your life who finds herself in one. But, in this situation, I knew I couldn’t say anything until she did. I also knew myself well enough to know that I would struggle not to say something.
Holding your "peace" forever seems unrealistic either way, and I wasn’t prepared to commit to that in a church (despite being an avowed atheist). I didn’t want to object, ruining her big day and causing a scene that I could never come back from. So, with a very heavy heart, I did the decent thing and abstained in the hope that I could preserve our friendship.
This post was written by Ellie Wiseman. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.