Should You Attend a Friend’s Wedding Even If Your Heart Says “No”?

Close up of a girls faceYesterday Ellen walked into my office looking annoyed and confused. “I don’t know what to do. Robin invited me to her wedding and I don’t want to go, but I think I should. It’s a destination wedding, a long weekend in Mexico- four days! It might be fun but I can’t afford it, and I can’t take time off from work either. But I have to go.”

“Why do you have to go?” I asked.
“Because of what happened. Her parents both died in an auto accident last year, and she will feel awful getting married without them.”
“That is tragic. Who is standing up for her?”
“Luckily, Robin has brothers and a sister, aunts, uncles and cousins- a big family, and they will all be there.”

“That’s good. Are you and Robin close friends?”
“No. But I helped her out a lot when her parents died, and I feel like I have to go. I’ve been worrying about this all week, ever since I got the invitation. I went out and charged plane tickets and bought some really nice presents right away. Maybe I can find somebody to share a hotel room so I can save some bucks. I’m really over my head financially. I just can’t afford this…..”

“You feel you have to go, even though you can’t,” I said.
“What should I do? I’m driving myself crazy.”
“Well, explain to me why you think you have to go.”
“I told you, Robin’s parents died in an accident.”
“That’s awful, but why does that mean you have to go to the wedding?”
“To make up for her parents.”
“Oh, can you?”
“Of course not. But Robin expects me to be there. What should I do?”

So there you have it. That’s the problem. Ellen wanted me to tell her what to do, but I thought it was more important for Ellen to figure this out for herself. Perhaps I’ll tell you her decision- but maybe it’s more interesting to ask you what you think about the situation she found herself in.  Difficult decisions like this have to be made by the person involved, not by the therapist. There are many answers; Ellen has to find out what is the best answer for herself. What does she really want to do? Maybe we can figure it out.

We have some clues to help with our detective work:

  1. Ellen bought the tickets immediately, even though she couldn’t afford to.
  2. She bought wedding presents- more than one, right away too. And she charged everything.
  3. After she spent the money, she worried about going. Ellen really didn’t have the money or, equally and maybe more important, the time. She had just started a new job and had no vacation time. Her boss might not like her taking time off right away.
  4. She feels like she HAS TO go. She never said she WANTED TO GO. I wondered if she was feeling guilty in her relationship with Robin. Ellen told me once that she feels like she has a charmed life- a loving family, a promising relationship, and a meaningful vocation. Robin’s life, by comparison, is far from charmed. Her parents both died young, her career is not going well. She is getting married, though. And, unlike Ellen, she has no money problems- she came into a lot of money when her parents died.  Clearly, she would rather have her parents and not the money, but a hefty financial back up is some compensation.
  5. There are lots of things we all have to do; was going to the wedding a “have to”? It conflicted with Ellen’s job obligations; she was afraid her job might be in jeopardy if she just took time off. It was not easy to get this job, and she really liked it and needed it too.
  6. Ellen didn’t seem very excited about Robin’s wedding. Was she envious because she wanted to get married too?
  7. Ellen seemed stuck between obligation and generosity. If she really wanted to go, she would deal with the problems involved and get on with it. I know Ellen; she’s that kind of person. She sounded like she felt forced.

Generosity must come from the heart. If your head is telling you that you must, and your heart is saying otherwise, take another look at the situation.  Ellen’s body language was pinched up and uncomfortable- anxious looking. She needed to find a free place inside herself to listen deeply and find out what she really wanted to do.

There are many answers. What would you do? What do you think Ellen decided to do?

Related articles:
Part II: Should You Attend a Friend’s Wedding Even If Your Heart Says “No”?
A Picture of Lasting Love
Love Is Not Enough

© Copyright 2011 by By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • mhairi grisham

    July 12th, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    There are no “have to’s” in life. Everything is a choice and you make those choices knowing you’ll live with the consequences of them.

    Ellen has already done a lot for Robin. Any obligation she feels should be to herself and her own happiness first and foremost. Robin will have plenty of support there on the day itself. Her presence cannot make up for her parent’s absence.

    She could simply say she cannot request the time off work having just started the job and she hasn’t been there long enough to build up vacation time. That’s probably true. Ellen doesn’t want to risk losing this dream job. If she tells Robin it’s straining her financially, she may offer to pay her expenses which puts her back to square one where she’s risking her new job.

    If Robin is truly her friend, she will understand that. Ellen can offer for them to get together upon their return to celebrate and give them their gift. It makes no sense to strain her finances for the sake of a few days and have that stress hanging over her.

    Once Robin’s marriage takes place, her reliance for support will likely and naturally transfer more to her husband than her friend. Maybe Ellen in a way is scared of losing that feeling of being so needed.

    Either way, I don’t think she should go. It would be exchanging short term gain for possible long term pain (potentially losing the job, financial burden, the resentment over feeling obligated affecting their friendship etc.)

    Can’t wait to hear what she does!


    July 12th, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    If I were in Ellen’s shoes I would forego the wedding,throw the couple a nice little party once they’re back State side.that way it saves the money,doesn’t put off the boss and keeps the friend happy because you gave an exclusive party to the new couple!

  • Melly

    July 12th, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    Look there are always going to be times when issues like this come up. But I think that the thing that you have to think about is whether this person would make the same kind of sacrifices for you. And if she would then I strongly feel that you owe it to her to go. I know that there will be those of you out there who disagree but I think that to be a good friend means that you sometimes have to make sacrifices. And if this is a friend that you have had for a very long time and would do it for you then you have to suck it up and do the same. I know that spending the money can make you feel bad, but how would you feel if you did not go at all?

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 12th, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    Mhairi- what a reasonable and well thought out plan- sounds like you looked at the situation from all angles and came up with a great compromise.

    Alice- very graceful solution- saves grief and gives joy.

    Melly- Very good points- sometimes you do have to make sacrifices- considering the depth of the relationship is certainly very important.

    Thanks to all of you for coming up with 3 gracious ideas.

  • Jerry Dodds

    July 12th, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    @Melly: ” I know that spending the money can make you feel bad, but how would you feel if you did not go at all?”

    I’d feel good about making the right choice for me personally.

    Would you not feel worse Melly if you went then came back to find you no longer had a job? A job that was hard to get in the first place? Nice way to spice up the resume, getting fired. Think of the bigger picture here. Four days vs. a career doing something you love.

    Or put it this way: how would you feel if you were her friend, knowing your wedding plans had cost your friend her livelihood and put her into debt that she can’t easily pay? I’d feel terrible if I realized that. Her friend has money and it probably never crossed her mind that the expense of such a trip may be a hardship for some guests. Rich people don’t think about things like that because in their little world, money’s not an issue.

    Not going at all is the best option all round. If it’s a strong friendship, it will survive that. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t worth keeping anyway.

  • jarvis g. cole

    July 12th, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    If you can’t make it without regrets, then don’t attend. A wedding is an important occasion but you’re not being forced to go at gunpoint. If you can’t afford it, don’t go. If you don’t have time, don’t go. It’s not rocket science.

  • Melly

    July 13th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    @Jerry- obviously if it meant that I would lose my job then no I would not make that choice to go. But if it meant that I had to work a little overtime or save a little more when I got home so that I could cover the expense? Then yes I think that it is worth it.

  • R Evans

    July 13th, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    Well…all throughout the article,Ellen has been saying that she needs to go for her FRIEND,that her FRIEND’s parents passed away and things like that.But what about HER job?What about HER unwillingness to go?

    In a situation like this,give at least a little thought to your own points as well.Just don’t always think for others.Otherwise you become a person others always use to THEIR advantage.I’m not saying Ellen’s friend is like that but in general,you have to look after your own interests,isn’t it?

  • M.G

    July 13th, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I would be freaking out in such a situation.But yeah,I guess women rend to freak out more than men.So it’s only natural that I would.
    There doesn’t seem to be a clear choice whatsoever.Asking friends for help in deciding would be fine.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 13th, 2011 at 5:13 PM

    Jerry and Jarvis know their own minds and have come to strong decisions- good for you both!

    R Evans- you noticed that Ellen is emphasizing her friend’s needs more than her own- there are people who tend to do this- and they are, as you write, vulnerable to being used.

    MG- talking this over with friends might help- but in the spirit of getting closer to your own wishes, not in the spirit of taking advice and doing what somebody else would do. In other words, talk to clarify, not to seek votes on what to do.

    Melly- you have lent depth to the conversation.


  • Maurice Bell

    July 14th, 2011 at 1:59 AM

    I’d say this to Ellen: You’re not a child that’s invited to a wedding that has to go because your parents said did. If you can’t make it, do the adult thing and say “I’m sorry but I can’t make it because of both time and money. I apologize.”

    If your friend has a problem with you not wanting to spend money you don’t have or taking time off a job you can’t leave, then that’s theirs to deal with.

  • selena

    July 14th, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    I think a swot analysis would be good in this situation.with the girl’s relatives by her side and the wedding being held far away,a job under threat and money issues all sacked against attending the wedding,it’s not so hard to choose!

  • Lucille Joyce

    July 14th, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    I completely agree with Maurice. Sometimes we either don’t have the time for these kinds of affairs, or we simply can’t afford them. Springing a far away marriage on everyone and expecting them to show up isn’t fair. I’d say thanks but no thanks. My bank account wouldn’t stretch to that.

    If you really want those you love to be at your wedding, try and organize the time and the place locally so that most can attend without guilt or worry.

  • Gayle Frost

    July 14th, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    There are only a few people who HAVE to be at a wedding. Those are the Bride, the Groom, the Priest(or Pastor) and the witnesses. Everyone else is there as a spectator and they do not have to be there. Pushing yourself to your financial limits to please another when it makes you unhappy is an act rooted in foolishness. Stay home and watch the video on YouTube when somebody posts it.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 15th, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Interesting that people mostly agree that the only the bride, groom and the person who officiates plus witnesses HAVE to attend. Gayle- your reply is so funny and right on, thanks.
    Lucille, very compassionate way to say no.
    Selena has examined the evidence with SWOT and finds her answer. Lucille, I agree, people should consider keeping events local, if they can, to make it easier on everyone, and save the more exotic locations for the honeymoon.
    Thanks everyone-I’m enjoying this conversation and hope you are too!

  • Arlene McCarthy

    July 15th, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    If Ellen’s that worried about her job, all she need do is ask her boss where she would stand if she wanted to go. And even if he okays it, money remains a problem for her.

    If you’re strapped for cash, then you have to learn to say “No” to things that you would have liked to say “Yes” to. She’s not being realistic here. I feel she needs to grow up a little and develop a more responsible attitude towards her finances.

  • kirsty cartwright

    July 15th, 2011 at 6:13 PM

    I agree with what many of the previous commenters have said at one point: She cannot afford to go, so she shouldn’t. And as Mhairi said if Robin is her friend, she will understand if she can’t attend. She’s better off giving the tickets to another guest so they’re not wasted if she can’t redeem them (unless they are non-transferable…then she’s stuck with them)and giving the couple their gift in person upon their return if she cannot reasonably make it.

  • Di Jones

    July 17th, 2011 at 7:16 AM

    Arlene, sometimes people get themselves into financial trouble & can’t help it! Robin has plenty of family yet might still be lonely. Maybe if Ellen writes or calls and explains why she can’t make it & that she will want to catch up with her when possible to see pics of the wedding etc

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 18th, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Arlene, Kirsty and Di- what kind understandings you have- I salute you. I bet you all know a lot about friendship.

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