Dear Prudence: My friend is $250,000 in debt, but won’t tell her fiancé.

Help! My Friend Won’t Tell Her Fiancé She’s in $250,000 of Debt.

Help! My Friend Won’t Tell Her Fiancé She’s in $250,000 of Debt.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 19 2014 6:00 AM

A Real Ball and Chain

A woman who won’t tell her fiancé she’s $250,000 in debt—and other wedding-season quandaries.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudie,
My good friend has found her mate after several failed relationships and is desperate to be married and start her family (tick tock). I am thrilled that she is engaged, and she has asked me to be in the wedding. I would normally be pleased to do so, except for one issue. She has debt of approximately $250,000 in credit cards and student loans, and she has not told her fiancé about this. I feel strongly that she is morally and ethically required to tell him before they are married, but she refuses. I can’t help but feel like an accomplice to her dishonesty by standing up in the wedding. What is the right thing to do?

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—Silent Accomplice

Dear Silent,
I hope these two plan to recite the traditional vows, because right after he says “for richer, for poorer” Equifax can guarantee he’s going to get a whole lot poorer. Eventually she’s going to have to lead her beloved to the edge of the quarter-million-dollar abyss that’s looming before them. I’m with you that a debt like this is something that simply must be revealed before two people wed. Keeping from your intended painful news, like a diagnosis of major illness, a previous incarceration, or the fact that you are dead broke (and not Hillary Clinton dead broke), means starting a life together based on an implicit lie. To find out what marrying someone with this kind of debt would mean, I contacted attorney Daniel Blinn of the Consumer Law Group. Blinn said that in most states the new husband would not become responsible for any of her debt, but it would severely compromise their ability, for example, to buy a house together. He said that level of debt would likely lead eventually to bankruptcy (which would not discharge the student loans), inevitably complicating the husband’s financial life. So I agree with you that he needs to hear the bad news now. I think you should tell her she has to tell him, and if she won’t you will. Yes, that might end your friendship, but surely you would want someone to step up and clue you in if you were in the same situation as the groom. But if you just can’t bring yourself to spill, then tell her you wish the two of them all happiness, but you can’t be a party to this wedding party.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie, 
My fiancé and I are getting married soon at his parents’ house, and everything is great except that my future brother-in-law and sister-in-law are insisting on bringing their three dogs along. Two of the dogs are old and sick, another is a young terrier who has a nose for trouble. We’re doing our own catering, so I’m not looking forward to cooking with so many dogs around. The two larger dogs also keen very loudly if their owner is out of sight. My fiancé’s family is acting like he and I are selfish for not wanting these dogs around at our wedding. A polite request to not bring them was met with a minor fit about how they didn’t have time to interview dog sitters and a threat that the brother-in-law would stay home if the dogs couldn’t come. Also these future in-laws are not married yet and are not going to have the dogs at their church wedding. There’s a nice kennel where they can board their dogs for the day, but the sister-in-law has said they will not go to a kennel. What can we do about this?

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—Three-Dog Blight

Dear Dog,
I think you’re looking at this the wrong way. You apparently don’t know there’s a trend to make dogs part of the wedding. You could enlist this trio to become the flower dog, four-legged ring bearer, and combination best man/man’s best friend! Actually, speaking as someone who has been under virtual house arrest for more than a decade because of the needs of two consecutive dogs, I conclude your future sister- and brother-in-law are nuts. I agree with you that either they make arrangements to have someone care for the dogs (as presumably they will when they get married themselves), or sadly your future brother-in-law will have to take care of his pets and miss your festivities. The trouble comes in enforcing this edict. Since you’re marrying at your mother- and father-in-law’s house, it’s up to your fiancé to slam this home. He needs to say he understands how his sibling feels about the dogs, but that he’s invoking his privilege of setting the guest list, and guests who would eat the invitation but can’t read it are not welcome. Then if the dogs come anyway, do not fret that this means your wedding will go to the dogs. Some keening to accompany your vows, and a terrier who, say, takes off with grandma’s dentures, will not ruin your wedding—it will just make it epic.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I have been in a stable relationship with a married co-worker for two years. I get some flak for it because he still lives with his wife and their 10-year-old twins, but the wife is aware he sees another woman, and she hasn’t had intimate relations with him for the last five years. He has talked about our living together when his children are grown and we both consider this to be a committed relationship; we do not see other people. My own twin sister is now getting married for the third time and has recently become a devout Christian. I was invited to the wedding, but my partner was specifically excluded. When I asked her why, she said it was because our relationship made a mockery of the sanctity of wedding vows. I find this hilarious coming from a twice-divorced woman marrying a divorced man. Her fiancé, who is lovely, is fine with my partner coming, and my sister has met him many times and has always been gracious. Should I simply attend without my partner, or should I refuse to go unless I am permitted to bring him along?

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—Not the Evil Twin

Dear Twin,
I have often said that when one spouse unilaterally shuts down conjugal relations on a permanent basis, he or she has changed the terms of the marriage. I think that means that the other spouse does not have to be condemned to live celibately, but should be allowed to seek other sexual outlets. Whether the couple is completely open about this, or takes a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance, is for them to work out. I will take you at your word that your boyfriend’s wife has indeed ended their sex life and also given tacit agreement to your arrangement, one that allows you to socialize publicly with him. So your twin, who should know just how difficult it is to make a marriage work, should extend the invitation to your guy (and maybe he’ll be tied up with his own twins that weekend!). I suggest you take one more pass at asking your future brother-in-law to get your boyfriend included. But if that doesn’t work, I don’t think you should declare war by not showing up. Your sister is being rude, and hypocritical, but set an example in response by being the generous-spirited one. Go, wish them all the best, and resist the urge to say that you and your partner fondly hope that together you can attend her wedding No. 4.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
For the past five years things have been tight for me financially. This also happened to be the time that almost everyone I know got married. I did whatever I could to pay for airfare, hotels, and appropriate attire. I served as a bridesmaid three times and contributed to a few bachelorette parties. I put charges on credit cards I’m still paying for, worked extra shifts at my part-time job, and borrowed money from my parents. I made it to all 20 weddings. The one thing I was not able to do was give gifts to everyone. I cannot shake the guilt and embarrassment about this and I still feel I did not complete my end of a social transaction. I definitely got the feeling that there was a change in some of these friendships after I attended the weddings and did not give a gift. Would it be totally weird to send wedding gifts to the people I missed more than four years later? And what should I send since their registries are long closed?

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—Guilty Guest

Dear Guilty,
Please tell me you haven’t racked up $250,000 in debt in order to fly around to other people’s weddings. I always tell couples about to marry that if they can’t write a check for the celebration they want, then they need a different celebration. But I didn’t think I would have to tell guests that taking on debt to go to someone else’s celebration is disastrous financial planning. You are a kind person who’s got to get more ruthless. Anyone who has rethought a friendship with you because you didn’t pony up for a trivet is not a real friend. It is the case that sometimes people worry maybe a gift was sent that didn’t arrive, and then it becomes awkward to ask, “Hey, did you get me anything?” But it’s now years later so everyone should just have moved on. Do not think about spending more money on your friends, just work on wiping out that credit card debt. Make a vow to yourself now that from now on, if you can’t afford it, you will decline the invitations to your friend’s nuptials. With all the money you will save on airfare and hotels you should be able to send a lovely gift.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at the Atlantic.