We were invited to a good friend’s wedding that has been repeatedly postponed due to Covid. This is a very close friend and she and her fiancé honored my partner and me by accommodating us in one of two tiny farmhouse cabins at the venue (the other cabin is going to the groom’s best man and his wife). The dress code is pretty chill. Think of the vibe as “electro-hippy psychedelic chic.” I’m obsessed with sustainable fashion, something my partner loves/hates about me, and I have been ebay-shopping vintage dresses for the last month. My partner’s fashion sense, however, died with the dissolution of his marriage three years ago.
We live in New York and he takes issue with Brooklyn’s hyper-vigilant style-consciousness. I get it. “Brooklyn hip” can be a little over-the-top,and I’ve met plenty of transplants (myself included) who’ve spent time resenting it. My partner needs some new clothes because his are quite literally falling apart; however, he’s taken it as a point of pride to wear things that are beyond repair (e.g. broken flip flops, shredded, ill-fitting button downs, pants that no longer fit because of the Covid 15). I mostly avoid buying him new stuff out of respect for his history and perspective on all of this, but I was able to get away with gifting him boots and a winter coat for Christmas and his birthday.
So, the wedding….is it wrong for me to want him to step it up for the occasion? We had a discussion about it maybe a month and a half ago. The discussion turned into a blow-out fight with him exclaiming, “I hate weddings!” Fair enough, but he still wants to go. We came to a point of resolution where I thought we were on the same page that it was okay for me to buy him something, and so I did: a paisley print Paul Fredrick linen shirt. The shirt arrived, the shit hit the fan, and the shirt is now being returned with the assurance that he’ll find something appropriate to wear. The wedding is two weeks away and he hasn’t done anything.
We have since had more arguments and relationship-bending blowouts that, in his mind, are all my fault because I bought the offending shirt. Kind of like a childish “you started it” with a complete disregard for the nuance and content of our arguments. There is a lot of history on his end, which I appreciate: his divorce was traumatic and his ex-wife tried to buy him a coat when they arrived in New York; he has a fraught relationship with his sartorially-savvy father who apparently used to buy him shirts much like the one I purchased; and he’s a bit insecure about his under-developed fashion sense in a city that admittedly tends to judge people based on their style choices.
It’s not even about the shirt anymore, but rather about underlying themes in our relationship that I believe are navigable over the long-term. The short-term problem is the rapidly approaching wedding and the fact that he’s running out of time to find an outfit. I give it an 80% chance that he misses the window and a 100% probability that if he attends this wedding looking like a schlub, I will be so pissed off that not only will the shit again hit the fan, but also it will ricochet off it and rain fecal destruction upon our partnership. Can we survive it? Sure, maybe, but maybe not because I feel that the shirt is symbolic of our mutual stubbornness, and the odds ratio I’ve given him is emblematic of my simmering resentment that he’s pinning the blame squarely on me for “The Shirt That Launched a Thousand Ships and Broke the Camel’s Back.” What should I do? — Scared He’ll Be a Schlub
If this is truly just about the short-term problem of the “rapidly approaching wedding and the fact that he’s running out of time to find an outfit” and your fear that your boyfriend is going to look like a schlub, just buy a few things in his size and hide them somewhere and only show them in the event that it’s the day of the wedding and your boyfriend doesn’t have shit to wear. Don’t but him a paisley shirt or anything else that might seem too Brooklyn. Buy plain things – solid-colored button-downs in a breathable fabric. I wouldn’t even do a checkered shirt. Avoid trendy colors and stick with blue or grey. Go into Manhattan and hit up J.Crew or Bonobos or Brooks Brothers. Get slim-fitted if your man is thin, a regular fit if he’s average, or relaxed if he’s bigger than that. If you want to get wild, see about a patterned pocket square (but only break it out if he doesn’t have a meltdown over the other stuff). Does he have some decent shoes and socks at least?
Another suggestion regarding a wedding outfit for your boyfriend: Do what I have to do with my 9-year-old son, who would freak the fuck out if I bought him anything to wear that he didn’t ok first, and sit down and go through a couple websites with him, scroll through shirts, and tell him to say when he sees something he doesn’t hate. Click on that shit and put it in your basket. When you have a few items, go to your basket and ask if he wants everything or wants to narrow it down to two or three items. This should take 10 minutes – 15 tops. Give him a snack to eat while you do this or make sure he’s recently eaten. If he’s a drinker, give him a beer. I give my son lemonade and pretzels. Make it fun. Or at least do what you can to avoid a hangry tantrum. If you can find sales or promo coupons to use, tell your boyfriend exactly how much you’re going to save. A man who takes it as a point of pride to wear clothes until they’re beyond repair will appreciate a deal. Paying full price will not be exciting for him (even if you happen to foot the bill).
Now, we know this is more than a short-term problem. Even if you’re able to avoid the scenario you most fear of the shit hitting the fan and ricocheting off it and raining fecal destruction upon your relationship – oh my god, the imagery here – you still have the long-term issue of what you call your join stubbornness but what I call a lack of respect – or, at least, a lack of understanding – for each other’s needs, which may just be a communication problem. Does your boyfriend know how important your friend who’s getting married is to you? How honored you feel to be one of only two couples invited to stay in the on-site cabins? How much you – and, frankly, most people – see attire as a symbol of respect and that showing up to a dear friend’s wedding in ripped clothes is unacceptable to you and would hurt your friend’s feelings, and by extension your feelings? All of these things need to be communicated, and the communication needs to extend through all events that have any meaning or importance to either of you.
You may not always be on the same page, but you need to read each other’s pages, and you need to at least be in the same book. If this isn’t already happening, you have lots of room to improve your relationship. If you’re already expressing yourselves but simply don’t hear or appreciate what the other is saying, then, yeah, maybe this relationship is doomed. Maybe the simmering resentment you feel towards your boyfriend isn’t just about the wedding outfit or the blame you think he’s already placing on you; maybe you feel resentment that he simply isn’t the right match for you, despite your really liking him and enjoying his company. Maybe there’s some simmering resentment that he hasn’t fully processed his divorce and still carries heavy baggage from that relationship. Maybe you resent that he’s so defensive and stubborn and “often lags with the requisite self-reflective capacity to admit when he’s wrong.” No one is perfect, of course. But in relationships, we have to make sure that the expected issues in our chosen partner are issues we can deal with long-term or the relationships won’t be. It sounds like you’re at the point now of making that decision. Is your boyfriend – and his assorted issues – long-term material for you? Only if the shirt fits…