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Should I stop my unhelfpul sister being my bridesmaid?

Mariella Frostrup

The dilemma I am due to get married in seven months. Recently, I have felt conflicted about whether I should pull my sister off from being a bridesmaid. At one point I thought our relationship was great and I couldn’t think of anyone else who’d be my maid of honour.

I asked her to host a couple’s shower. She did not seem happy to oblige. She stated that she did not sign up for that and was not going to do this or that. The conversation was a blow-out. I asked if she still wanted to be in the wedding. She said she couldn’t decide on the spot and replied two days later with a ‘yes’. However, she’s not offering to help with the bachelorette party or the couple’s shower.

I would love for her to be a bridesmaid. However, due to the strained relationship and reluctance to help with wedding activities I feel negative energy. I prefer to have people around me willing to make the events as memorable as possible.

Mariella replies Ah, the wedding season has arrived! And with it the surge of romantic young hopefuls, eager to tie the knot and step forth into a future entwined. Alongside them, the mature adults going round again, shrugging off the benefits of hindsight and still defining relationships with contracts sealed in ink.

The minute the daffodils are out, so too are the wedding banns, with lovers lining up for the summer wedding, a froth of white lace, poached salmon and a sea of overpriced flowers. I read in this very paper, such celebrations are increasingly cut price affairs with high street intervention meaning brides are no longer investing a year’s salary in a dress they wear for a day. Lidl is offering “capsule blooms” for your special day at only £150 a pop.

It’s all good news for cash-straightened times, but tying the knot at a bargain price only confirms what singer Gwen Guthrie summed up in her cynical 80s power anthem Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent, with the refrain “no romance without finance”. You, like many others, have taken that investment versus results approach a stage further with participant contributions evaluated as rigorously as in any corporate enterprise.

As a shirker myself, whose two wedding excursions came with as little party planning as humanly possible, the last a four-person event in the Panamanian jungle, I’m ill equipped to advise on how to manage Swat teams of relations for “couple’s showers” and the more recognisable “bachelorette night”. The latter hints that you are writing from abroad so do forgive me if I’m ignorant of the commercialised heights to which ceremony expectations have risen further afield. Here in the UK a slightly apologetic wedding list is the pinnacle of the commodification so far. Finding yourself being carried along on a bandwagon is no reason to cling to that position for all it’s worth.

I know there are saintly friends and relations out there, eager to take the load off a couple’s nuptial planning, but equally, the very best friends and closest family members are often those least capable of practical help. Does that mean they should be eschewed for those with better management skills? Starring roles of best man and maid of honour aside, bestowing of the honour of placement in the wedding party shouldn’t really come with strings. Nominating bridesmaids is a gift, a recognition of the chosen women’s importance in your life, not a redistribution of chores – aside from turning up for the dress fitting and perhaps snogging inappropriate guests on the day!

For some reason you’ve seen fit to use the promise of involvement as leverage in a more long-standing conflict with your sibling. I appreciate her attitude is unhelpful and her responses speak loud about fractious relations between you. That’s a standoff you may want to resolve later, but trying to do so in the lead-up to your wedding is an unrealistic goal.

What you mustn’t do is sully your wedding day by overloading the agenda, or demanding that participation comes at a price. She’s your sister and for all her faults and foibles your happy day offers a period of reconciliation not estrangement. Personally I love a wedding for the example offered of all that’s best about humanity – our power to love unconditionally, capacity for generosity, optimism despite the odds against us and the shared bond between families and friends that is never as potent as it is when we watch two people pledge their troth and look to the future while tears slide down our cheeks.

So scoop your sister up and carry her along with you. What we put out into the world is what we hope to get back and any generosity of spirit towards your sibling now, by making her part of your entourage with no strings attached, will no doubt eventually be rewarded. Enjoy the big day and let your bounty be unfettered!

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1