Q: I’m the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding. The only date for the bachelorette party that works for the whole group is also my long-term boyfriend’s birthday (dating seven years, turning 28 this year). We went ahead and started planning the party a few months ago. I just told him about the date conflict and he is very, very upset that I would plan this on his birthday. I’m at a loss. Although nothing has been booked, I feel strange saying I have to change the date because my boyfriend wants to hang out on his birthday. He says the larger issue is that I didn’t think it would upset him. I honestly didn’t think he would be upset, since he never wants to do anything big for his birthday, and I feel terrible because I feel like I’ve let him down. How can I fix this and also work to avoid this in the future? I’ve made similar errors in the past. I usually feel like I’m good at managing things like this, but I seem to have dropped the ball on this one.
A: You did think he’d be upset. You knew it, in fact. You blunted your knowing with a rationalization about his downplaying past birthdays, sure, and you almost got yourself to believe it — but. Had you truly not expected him to get upset, then you wouldn’t have stalled for months before telling him. You would have just said, right after confirming with the group, “Bridey’s bachelorette is on your birthday, sorry about that — it was the only date we could all make.”
And someone turning 28 emotionally instead of just chronologically would have responded, “Thanks for telling me, but, of course it’s OK,” instead of launching you into a tailspin of suppliant shame. Over a grown person’s cake.
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It’s possible, always, that I’ve read this wrong. But your stalling and his overreacting and your groveling, not to mention your noting, “I’ve made similar errors in the past” (!), and your discomfort with admitting the truth to your friends that your boyfriend is pitching such a hissy over his birthday that you’ve actually considered canceling the bachelorette — all add up to a sadly familiar scene: Controlling person yanks the chain of the controlled.
Do you see this? Are you weary enough yet of “managing” volatility, of tiptoeing around, of being defensive of your guy around your friends, of waiting as long as possible before breaking news he won’t take well, of needing to be “good at managing … this”?
Are you weary of blaming yourself when he moves the goalposts on things like his birthday? Which is, by the way, what controlling people do to keep others off-balance. It wasn’t that you were wrong about his past disregard for birthdays; it’s that you presumed to prioritize a friend.
Again, I could be wrong, he could be a wonderful guy who just happens to have been scarred by annual parental overindulgence into losing all perspective on birthdays. Or he’s upset about something else and it’s coming out here. I hope for your sake either is true.
But look hard at those seven years and ask yourself: Who says “Jump,” and who asks, “How high?”
Washington Post Writers Group