Writer and broadcaster

My friend stole her boyfriend from my sister – should I snub their wedding? The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

Declining a wedding invitation is a big statement in my group of friends. It has caused a breakdown in relationships. Now, one of my friends is getting married to a guy who used to go out with my sister. My sister and this guy kept their relationship quiet, since they met at work. My friend was a friend and colleague of both of them and, because of the nature of their occupation, chose to keep their relationship secret when they got together – until their contracts ended and we all learned they were dating. Five months later, they were engaged.

The scandal in all this, and my dilemma, comes from the fact that I have recently learned that this guy cheated on my sister with my friend and that my friend knew he was cheating. It’s not the first time my friend has dated someone who already had a girlfriend, but I can’t work out if I should support their commitment when they caused my sister pain. That’s without taking into account the fact that I don’t want my friend to marry a guy of such character, in spite of her previous errors of judgment.

On the other hand, I’m glad my sister didn’t end up marrying him. But what should I do? Should I attend the wedding and pretend everything is all right or decline? I suspect I have been invited to the wedding out of politeness, given that my friendship with the bride-to-be precedes hers with my sister. I’d talk to a friend, but none of them know, because my sister doesn’t want this story to get out.

I had to write out all the characters involved in this to fully understand it. What I got was that your sister dated a guy at work, it was kept secret and he cheated on her with your friend, whom he is now marrying.

I have really pondered this, because although it’s fairly simple – should you go to the wedding or not? – it has the potential to become much more complicated. Had your friend’s relationship with this man just petered out, very little of this would have been a dilemma, but the wedding has brought things to a head.

I asked Karen Partridge, a psychologist and psychotherapist who deals in family matters (aft.org.uk), to help unravel the complexities to turn this back into what it was: a simple yes or no. We discussed your problem for a while, talking through solutions.

Partridge focused on what should be the basis of your decision, which is that “the wedding is really a red herring. This is about what you want the future of these friendships to be”. She felt you were caught between “forgiveness and blame, loyalty and disloyalty and truth and lies”.

The fact that your sister has restrained you from talking about this makes this dilemma tighter still for you. If you refuse the invitation on perfectly reasonable grounds (loyalty to your sister), no one will understand why, thus you will cast yourself as the bad guy. (This may or may not matter to you.)

The fact that your friend is marrying a guy you don’t like is unfortunate, but not that unusual. You don’t have to make any comment on this. Nothing you have told me says he is evil, just a bit weak. He may redeem himself in your eyes or he may not, and your friend and her new husband may no longer feature largely on any future landscape of yours – time will tell. I’m sure you won’t be the only person in the land attending a wedding where you don’t love both the bride and the groom.

It seems that, by going to the wedding, you feel 1) disloyal to your sister and 2) as though you are rubber-stamping the relationship between your friend and her boyfriend. By not going, you are being loyal to your sister, but making a larger, undefined statement that may ricochet and cause issues among your friends.

Partridge and I talked through various scenarios: you don’t go, instead making up – and actually going on – a weekend away (possible, but doesn’t really help you with the “declining an invitation is a big statement” thing); you go and keep a low profile (see later); you explain to the friend getting married why you can’t go (bad idea); you confront everyone about everything (really bad idea). Once we did this, the only real option – taking in everything you said – was to go.

The really tangible thing stopping you going seems to be your relationship with your sister, and how it may look to her if you go. I get that; she is a member of your family. Partridge could see you were feeling torn, so she suggested you face this by saying something to her along these lines: “I’m going to respect that you asked me not to say anything and I haven’t. But I am going to go to the wedding. Please don’t see this as any reflection on my loyalty to you.”

If you are confident but firm – she has asked you to do something (not tell) and you haven’t, but the next part is up to you – hopefully she will understand. Whatever you do, don’t ask her permission.

Things may change after the wedding – they may blow up or they may settle down. In any case, the least affecting thing you can do right now is RSVP yes.

This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 28 April 2017.