Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Unwilling officiant: My best friend recently got engaged to a woman I think is awful. In the year and a few weeks they’ve been together, I’ve never seen her treat him compassionately or tenderly. I frequently marvel at the cruel things she says about him in public, even though he laughs these incidents off and swears she behaves differently when they’re alone together. Our other friends have similar concerns. Despite him being in his early 30s, this is his first relationship, and he seems to be rushing things with someone who’s terrible for him out of fear that he’ll never have another chance at love or having a family.
There’s no way to tell him that the marriage is an awful idea without ruining our friendship (he already cut out another friend who tried to bring up his concerns just a few days ago), and I understand that he gets to make his own choices even if I think they’re mistakes. Since I am unwilling to jeopardize our friendship, I’ve decided to just keep quiet and hope his marriage won’t be as bad as I fear.
My problem, though, is that he has asked me to be his officiant. It’s frustrating but doable to bite my tongue and let him live his life, but I’m not sure I can be an active participant and enabler in something that I view as a huge mistake. Is there a tactful way to turn down my friend’s request without revealing my personal reservations about his relationship?
A: There’s plenty to be said for holding one’s tongue about a friend’s choice in a partner, but he’s not just asking you to attend his wedding and privately think, “Gosh, I’m glad I don’t have to marry her” while smiling and acknowledging that life is a rich tapestry full of diverse experiences. He’s asking you to officiate the ceremony. And you don’t just think his fiancée is dull or irresponsible or irritating—you’ve seen her say incredibly cruel things about him in public repeatedly, and you think she treats him badly.
I think it’s important to express your concerns, even knowing that your friend may not be able to hear them as coming from a place of love and wanting him to be happy, healthy, and safe. He’s already getting a lot of harsh criticism from his partner, so speak as kindly and as gently as you can. Tell him that she may very well be different when they’re together in private but that from what you’ve seen, she treats him cruelly and you believe that he deserves better.
“I’ve been anxious to say this to you, because I respect your right to make your own choices, and I know I don’t know every detail of your relationship, but I think this is important to say. I care about you so much, and I’m not here to judge you or try to tell you what to do or that you shouldn’t get married. The way your fiancée speaks to you in public is painful and unkind. I don’t want anyone to speak to you that way, and I really believe that you deserve to be treated better. Based on what I’ve seen from her, I can’t officiate this wedding.” Make it clear that you’re always here for him, that even if he decides to go ahead with the wedding, that you will love and support him. If his fiancée ramps up her already verbally abusive behavior, it’s entirely possible that she will continue to isolate him from friends and family, and he’s going to need all the support he can get.