Editor's Note: Every Wednesday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. Have a question? Email her at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com.

Dear Therapist,

A friend of mine asked to rent a work tool of mine (namely, a high-end camera) in order for someone to photograph her wedding. I happily obliged, but then was shocked to later realize that not only was she not inviting me to the wedding but that she had failed to tell me so before she asked to use the camera.

My question is: How do I get her to give a sincere apology and admit her wrongdoing in asking for the camera in the first place, especially without an explanation about not inviting me? I don’t even know how to start this conversation and neither of us has said anything about it.

Michelle
Los Angeles


Dear Michelle,

This is one of those situations in which you’re either going to have to continue to wonder what’s going on or put yourself out there and ask—but be fully prepared for an answer that you might not like.

By “ask,” I’m referring not to seeking an apology but to requesting clarity. After all, I don’t think you can get a “sincere” apology from someone who doesn’t appear to sincerely feel a certain way. Besides, would an empty apology be meaningful to you? So let’s back up.

We all know what it’s like to feel both completely right and terribly wronged, which is why I imagine that you want that apology. But when we take the time to step back and reflect, we’re often able to consider other possibilities.

My guess is that your friend probably hasn’t said anything because she doesn’t realize you’re upset. You say that she asked to “rent” the camera, which seems less like a personal favor between friends and more like a business arrangement between acquaintances. And if she’s renting a camera from you, it sounds as if she isn’t hiring a professional photographer and is working with a limited budget—which might mean that the guest list is small, and that you aren’t part of a tighter inner circle that would be included on that list.

In other words, there might be a mismatch between her idea and yours about the nature of your friendship. Maybe to her, you two are friends, but not close enough for her to include you in her wedding celebration—or even close enough for her to ask to borrow rather than rent the camera. It’s highly unlikely that she’d have asked for the camera if she knew that you would be hurt if you weren’t invited to the wedding. She probably assumed that you didn’t expect to be there.

What could be most hurtful here, then, isn’t so much the not being invited but what it implies: that she doesn’t consider you to be as important to her as you’d imagined. In your mind, of course you’d be at her wedding (camera or no camera); in her mind, you’re a friend she enjoys but not one who’s close enough to get a wedding invite. Your situation reminds me of a person who lands in my office after discovering that while she believed that she and her boyfriend were going to get married, her boyfriend had no such intention. In those cases, I help her to look at what led to such a gap between their respective understandings of the relationship. Sometimes a person willfully ignores information she doesn’t want to have and signs she doesn’t want to see; sometimes she invents a story in her mind based on her hopes; and sometimes these misunderstandings repeat themselves in other relationships, leaving her baffled as to why other people would (in her view) treat her so poorly.

The only way to possibly understand what’s going on here—not just with the wedding invitation, but more generally in the friendship—is to ask. I say “possibly” because your friend may not be completely transparent, so as to spare your feelings or avoid an awkward encounter. But if you really have the kind of friendship in which you’d expect a wedding invitation, you should be able to talk to her about this.

Before you broach the topic, though, it’s important to adjust your goal for the conversation. The aim should be to understand more about your friendship, not to accuse her of having done anything wrong or pressure her to say something she doesn’t feel. You might say, “Hey, I’m thrilled that you’re engaged and I’m happy to rent my camera to you. I know this might be uncomfortable to talk about but we’ve been friends for X number of years, and when you asked to rent my camera, I assumed I’d be there to celebrate with you. I’m not asking for an invitation at this point, just a better understanding of what’s going on between us.”

A white lie will be easier for her to manage, but if she does have the courage to tell you the truth, I hope you’ll appreciate her honesty because it shows that she respects and values you enough to offer that. The upshot might be that the truth creates more distance between you, but it could also have the opposite effect: If you can hear it as information and not as criticism, you might learn something that serves as a springboard for the beginning of the kind of deeper friendship you desire after all.


Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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