Q: My family lives on one coast, and we’re getting married on the other. I’ve lived there for years, my partner grew up there, and his family still lives there. But it has meant that one side of my family is simply not coming to the wedding.
I’m not angry at individuals, but more angry at the feeling that I’m not valued by this part of my family on a larger scale. My partner and I have also really made the effort over the years to be present at family events—red-eyes across the country, scheduling important work trips to coincide with weddings, spending a lot of money on hotel rooms and tuxedo rentals—and it’s very hurtful that, once it’s our turn to host the celebration, that effort is not being returned. I was really, really looking forward to seeing these family members, and was excited about them meeting my partner’s family. These family members are also a group of people that I’ve always wanted to impress, and so maybe have some baggage going into the wedding about finally gaining their approval. I feel like even when I’ve done everything right (wonderful partner, fabulous career path, happy), it’s still not enough to get them to show up for me and be proud of me.
It turns out a cousin is getting married just before me, and every single one of the family members is going to that wedding. According to the family grapevine, she was infuriated with the fact that I got engaged before her, and deliberately planned the wedding ahead of mine. At the time, I was like “Eh, whatever, as long as it’s not on the same day.” Now it’s becoming apparent that it really is a direct competition, and that family members who are making the trip to her wedding can’t also take the time to come to mine.
How do I keep up a relationship with this family, who have obviously shown me who they like and value more in a fairly obvious and public way?
—Alone on the Gold Coast
Don’t jump straight there! It’s easy to assume that if they’re coming to the wedding, they like you, and if they’re not, they don’t. But weddings are rarely that simple. My gut says it’s got zero to do with you being valued less, and everything to do with complex family politics—this aunt went to the weddings of my kids, so I have to go to the weddings of her kids. That sort of thing. And that’s apart from all of the regular reasons people don’t go to weddings—they had prior commitments, they couldn’t get a sitter, they couldn’t take the time off work. There are lots of possibilities that have nothing to do with, “We just don’t like you.”
None of that fixes that this is a disappointment. No matter what I say, your family isn’t coming to your wedding. But maybe knowing that it’s likely not personal can take some of the sting away.
The other thing I can’t fix is how shitty it was of your cousin to rush and plan her wedding first. But it could also mean there are even more logistics at play for your would-be guests. Is she closer geographically? Did she send her invitations first? If this wedding was anticipated for a while, she may have had verbal agreements about different wedding responsibilities or roles. You know, more of those family dynamics I mentioned above.
Or, maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe your family just sucks. Maybe this one cousin isn’t alone in some shitty behavior, and the rest of them are all just as weird and selfish. You had hoped to make them proud, and the way you say it kind of signals to me that they might have been cold and withholding before now. If that’s the case, hopefully you’re seeing that it’s not about you. And if you’re not, let me say it for you loud and clear: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Having everything lined up perfectly in your life won’t change things. After all, these are the people who should be showing up, being proud, and loving on you even when things aren’t perfectly lined up.
It’ll always hurt a bit when people aren’t who you expect them or want them to be. But don’t make the mistake of adding to that hurt by assuming it reflects anything about you. Because it doesn’t.
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