Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Now we're sober, they're not fun to be around

"I suspect that these old friends, to whom you both used to be so close, remind you of behaviour that you now find somewhat reprehensible"


Dear Virginia,

I used to drink a lot, and my husband and I were friends with a couple who were big drinkers, too. Now that we’ve both given up, I find seeing this pair very boring, and our friendship has dwindled. But my daughter’s getting married and I know this couple will be very upset if they’re not invited, because they’ve known her since she was a baby. They came to my son’s wedding years ago. My daughter doesn’t particularly want them to come, but says it’s up to me. They’re good fun, but I know they’ll get completely plastered. What should I do?

Yours sincerely, Zara

Virginia says...

These social ceremonies are always difficult. Funerals, for example. Are they for the dead person? Are they for the bereaved? And if so, which bereaved? The widow, the children? The public?

You’ve got the same problem, but with a wedding. Is this ceremony for the benefit of the couple (and, again, is it the bride or the groom who takes preference?) Or is it for the parents? Or is it for the friends?

Ninety per cent of the time, there aren’t too many conflicts, but this one’s tricky to manoeuvre. Your daughter has made it clear that it’s up to you whether you ask this pair or not. You’ve admitted that they’re boring (no hanging offence), fun (rather a benefit), that they’ve known your daughter since she was a baby (making them more like irritating relations than just friends) and would be very hurt if not asked. You also say they’d almost certainly get pissed.

My mother was an alcoholic and anyone who has been a bit too close to alcoholic behaviour, whether it is in themselves or in other people, can get extremely po-faced about it in others once they have extricated themselves from the boozer or given up drink themselves. I’ve known lots of drunks who my friends cheerfully laugh off as amiable boozers. But to me, because they remind me of my mother, they are vile, evil, irresponsible walking nightmares who should be locked up with the key thrown away. I find it hard to see them in anything but a murky light.

I suspect that these old friends, to whom you both used to be so close, remind you of behaviour that you now find somewhat reprehensible. When you see them throwing buns, singing loudly, making fart jokes, kissing complete strangers on the lips, or whatever they do when they’re plastered, you can’t accept them as jovial Falstaffs in life’s rich tapestry. You purse your lips and see them as real blights on the social scene. Perhaps they remind you of your own behaviour, which you now consider embarrassing and shameful. 

I can well see why you don’t want to invite them. And if you’re just thinking of yourselves, then don’t. But if you’re thinking of the bigger picture, of what is kind and right and charitable, then I think you should ask them. They’re obviously not going to pick a fight – they don’t sound like those sort of drunks – and surely you can seat them at a table at the edge of the proceedings and, after a brief hello, keep away from them for most of the time? They sound good-hearted enough, and a wedding is surely a time for celebration, generosity and compassion, not meanness and exclusion.

I’m sure that your head and heart will be so full of the wedding day that there won’t be much room for you to notice the odd drunken cheer from stage left. Only if you really fear their presence will completely ruin your enjoyment should you give in to the temptation to exclude them.

Readers say...

Leave them off the list

You and your husband changed your drinking habits; your friends did not. As a result, you have drifted further and further apart. They were guests at your son’s wedding several years ago; now you hardly ever see them. Your daughter would rather they were not invited to her wedding. You know the probable outcome if they do attend. But given the change in your relationship, will they really expect to be invited, despite the length of time they have known your daughter? There are “difficult” family members that we usually feel obliged to invite, but they don’t fall into that category. Bite the bullet, live with your own anxious guilt feelings, and leave them off the invitation list – along, no doubt, with several other people who can’t be accommodated within your budget.

Ian Hurdley, by email

It’s your daughter’s day

There is only one question you need to ask yourself. What is more important? Your daughter’s feelings, or what your friends will think? It is your daughter’s big day and if she would rather they did not go to the wedding, then the answer is obvious: don’t invite them.

Ian Laird, by email

They’re boring, so ditch them

Is this really a dilemma at all? Isn’t the main point that it’s Zara’s daughter’s wedding and she doesn’t want these people to attend? Zara hardly ever sees them and now finds them “very boring”. Simple solution: don’t invite them and maybe kill two birds with one stone! 

Mike T, by email

Old friends matter

I think you’re being unfair to your old friends. Judging by the fact that your children are still speaking to you, despite your rather drunken past, I wonder how bad your behaviour could have been – and therefore, how bad that of your friends really is? Old friends matter, especially at occasions such as weddings, and these people are a part of your family’s story. Unless you think they’re going to cause huge embarrassment or wreck your daughter’s day, ask them along.

Geraldine, by email

Next week's dilemma

I’ve been having an affair with a married woman for five years, and now her children – 20 and 21 – have all left home, she’s finally left her husband. They haven’t been having sex for years, and they lived virtually separate lives in the same house. He has also declared he doesn’t love her any more. But now she’s left, he’s weeping, furious, pesters her with texts and phone calls, begs her to return and now is threatening violence. He says he’ll kill their beloved cats, he’ll cut up her clothes and poison the children’s minds against her. I fear that, if she goes back to collect her things, he may attack her. Or worse. What can we do?

Yours sincerely, Jeremy

What would you advise Jeremy to do?  Write to Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a box of Belgian chocoloates from (

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