I admire the way you often take a conservative approach on difficult social matters and err on the side of doing what one must to maintain relationships. But at some point, when is it OK to let go of friends? Here's my situation:
I graduated from college two years ago and got married. I keep in touch with a few friends from there, but with many others, I've lost touch. I don't drink as much as I did then, and now when I see some old friends, it seems that we were only "drinking buddies" and really don't have much else in common. I'm introverted by nature and have a hard time working up the energy to call friends or make plans, and I have let many of these second-tier friendships slip by not calling or deferring plans for "someday." Some of my closer friends have told me that people have been offended by my behavior.
There is a huge wedding coming up about seven hours away from where I live. It will be very expensive to go, and my husband is dreading it, as he dreads all weddings and basically any occasion that involves dressing up and talking to strangers. Many of my college friends will be there, including some people I don't particularly want to see. The bride considers us to be closer friends than I remember being; I helped her during a difficult time, but I never felt particularly connected to her.
So the solution seems obvious, right? Send a gift and don't go. But I'm afraid that if I do this the bride, and many of my other friends, will consider this the "last straw" of my flaky friendship skills. I apparently don't care about maintaining those friendships enough to actually do the work of keeping in touch, but I'm scared to be written off by so many people and be remembered as having been a bad friend. There is a part of me that thinks I can avoid phone calls, and then, as long as I attend all the weddings, I'll still be able to consider them my friends. These really are nice people I'm talking about, and I don't think friendship is ever a thing to throw away casually.
What should I do?
Dear Wedding Avoider,
I think it's OK to not go to the wedding.
But don't just send the bride a gift. Write the bride a letter. Put some work into it. Tell her that you are happy for her. Mention that as you all take different paths in life you probably won't be able to see as much of each other as you would like, and that practical circumstances make it impossible for you to be at the wedding, but tell her she will be in your thoughts and you hope that she will not think less of you for only sending a gift and writing a letter. Mention the difficult time you helped her out of, as long as it can be done in a lighthearted manner. (I mean, if by "difficult time" you mean you helped her murder some guy and dump him off a cliff, never mind.) And don't emphasize your role or remind her how screwed up she was; just say you remember the tough time she went through and you are glad she's doing well and looking forward to a fabulous wedding, which, unfortunately, though you'd love to attend, circumstances just don't fucking permit. Well, don't say fucking. And maybe say something about how you always felt she was a very special person or something like that. Make it a little gooey but not over the top.
As for your actual excuse for not attending the wedding, if "practical circumstances do not permit" is not the polite way to say it, well, that verges on the realm of etiquette, which I know nothing about. So if there is some regular polite way that people decline wedding invitations, and you want to do that, go ahead and use those words. If you don't know what the preferred method is, ask a friend, or ask an etiquette columnist. Just generally tell her that you do really wish her happiness and are sorry you can't make it, and allude to the college days, which you will never forget. Something like that.
I like weddings, but then, I'm a shameless extrovert. I know what you mean about attending weddings as a way of maintaining ties, but if you in fact dread them, then now is a good time for you and your husband to agree on ways for opting out that keep you two from murdering each other in the car but don't alienate your old friends either.
You can still maintain the friendships you want to maintain. I suggest you focus on the individuals who matter most to you. A good way to do this is to get out a piece of paper and write down the names of people who are dear to you, whose friendship you truly value and wish to maintain.
How many end up on that list? A handful? Of that number, how many are in your area? How many can you actually see regularly? I would choose those people and concentrate on them, building richer and deeper friendships, spending more time together, supporting each other in ways large and small. And the rest I would just not worry too much about. You'll see them when you see them and they will go on with their lives. As to the bride, well, let's hope she can accept the level of friendship that you choose to have with her.
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?