Miss Conduct

Odd bridesmaid out

How does a 42-year-old escape a younger wedding party? Plus, a couple who can't take a hint.

By Robin Abrahams
April 17, 2011

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My 25-year-old niece, who hasn’t been a part of my life in any significant way, texted me to ask if I would be a bridesmaid at her September wedding. I am 42, with three kids, and I don’t feel comfortable in this role. My brother was disappointed that I considered saying no and accused me of being vain. He said I was the only relative asked to be in the ceremony, so I agreed and asked my niece to consider my age when selecting the bridesmaids’ dresses. She chose a less-than-flattering strapless dress and suggested I do push-ups to get my arms in shape. Is there still time to bow out gracefully? How?

S.L. / Boston

Of course you can bow out gracefully, and the push-up suggestion was disgraceful in the extreme. (I have the obscure feeling that Michelle Obama is in some way implicated in this cultural moment of the upper arm.) You mention that you are the only relative in the wedding party, and that you’re older by the bride by nearly 20 years – does this mean that her bridal party consists of Auntie and the Girlfriends? In that case, you’d be doing the bride a favor by declining now. She may not realize it immediately, but it would surely occur to her sometime – most likely during the bachelorette party. If this were only a matter of the dress, I’d say you ought to go along, but it sounds as though you and your niece have very different styles. Forcing a distant relationship into sudden intimacy does not sound like a recipe for success.

The problem is that you kicked up a fuss about the situation before you officially decided to get out of it. If you’d declined affectionately, firmly, and nonspecifically at the outset, it would have been easier. But now your motives are suspect; no matter how tactfully you phrase your refusal, everyone will think it’s about your triceps. Don’t even bother trying to persuade them otherwise. Simply say that you’re uncomfortable, that you’d prefer to take a role in the wedding that’s more suitable to your age and relationship to the bride – being in charge of the guest book, for instance, or helping out at the reception. Then be lovely and enthusiastic at the wedding and make yourself useful. That should be enough to cause any lingering resentments to fade.

My husband and I met a lonely couple who appeared pleasant. Their political views are radically different from ours. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but they want to bring it up over and over. Each time I think I have put the discussion to bed and there will be no reason to rehash it, they start again. The last time we were together, I clammed up and stormed off, but they have called and invited us to get together a few times since then. We are shocked that they don’t get the hint. Do you think they will eventually go away if we continue to be unavailable?

D.G. / Boston

I guess you know now why they were lonely. Your unavailability will not drive the Rehashers away, unless by “unavailable” you mean “in the Witness Protection Program.” They are focused on converting you, and hints and indirect communication won’t work. Listen, people – not just you, D.G. – please get it through your heads that hints don’t work.

The next time the Rehashers call you, tell them calmly – but in no uncertain terms – that you and your husband feel uncomfortable with their proselytizing and dead-horse-beating. Therefore, you’ve decided that it’s best if the four of you don’t see one another anymore. Do not allow them to drag you into another pointless argument. “Isn’t it nice the days are getting longer. Goodbye.” Be polite – and as relentless as they are.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

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