Q:I’ve seen several posts on APW and elsewhere that pertain to whether or not parents’ boyfriends/girlfriends should be invited to the wedding. Elsewhere, I’ve seen rules like “no ring, no bring,” or if you love your parent you should invite who they love, or that people should only not be invited if they have been abusive. However, my situation is not as clear-cut. My mother recently left her second husband (my stepfather) of fifteen years. They’ve been separated for a little over a year but are only now going through divorce proceedings. It became clear soon after she moved out that she had been seeing another man, “Hank,” for at least several months before she left. Hank quickly moved in with her, and they have been living there together more or less in secret since then. I wasn’t a huge fan of my stepfather, but I find this infidelity upsetting.
Furthermore, Hank makes me very uncomfortable. Beyond the discomfort associated with knowing that he was in a relationship with a married woman still living with her partner, I do not like him as a person. I had met him once previously, several years ago, as a “friend of the family” and found him off-putting. He is aggressive and bossy to my mother and has, as far as I can tell, few redeeming qualities. On the few occasions that I have interacted with him, he has presumed an emotional intimacy with me that I find inappropriate, seeing as we’ve interacted less than a handful of times. My partner, aunt, and uncle (the other people in on this semi-secret relationship) similarly find him abhorrent.
My partner and I are paying for our small, backyard wedding ourselves, so we do not owe my mother for any contribution to the wedding that might necessitate an invitation for her boyfriend in exchange. Similarly, while we are not inviting my stepfather, we are inviting the rest of the family who does not yet know about Hank, many of whom are on good terms with my stepfather. If Hank did attend our wedding, it would be his introduction to everyone else, which would be upsetting for me and my partner.
Ultimately, I have two questions: first, do I have to invite the man my mother cheated with to the wedding? Second, if not, how do I communicate explicitly to her that he is not welcome?
A: Dear DD,
Like you said, whether or not to invite these folks is a really complex question that involves a whole ton of factors. But I think in every situation, no matter what else is going on, the two main questions are the same. What will excluding him do to your relationship with him (and your mom)? What will including him mean for you and the guests at your wedding? Then you weigh those two things against one another, and ta-da, magical, complicated, still-very-difficult answer.
In your situation, it doesn’t sound very much like you care what happens to your relationship with Hank. But how will it impact your relationship with your mom? It also sounds like you’re worried Hank’s inclusion will upset a lot of guests, maybe to the point of distracting from the wedding.
Your job (and I can’t do it for you) is to figure out which will be worse. Is it worth the damage to your relationship with your mom to exclude this person that she finds so important, and save yourself and your guests the headache of dealing with him? Or is it worth putting up with this jerkwad to avoid making waves with your mom?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with a Hank-free wedding, if that’s what you decide. This stuff is complicated and tough, and hey, maybe mom will be really understanding and totally fine with it. If that’s the route you go, make sure to let her know in person, and weigh which parts are absolutely necessary to tell her. I mean, yes, you can tell her that you find Hank insufferable to be around, but that’s not likely to change him or to go over well with her. So, maybe stick with, “It’ll be weird for this to be the first time everyone meets him, and it might be upsetting to them once they figure out the timeline of your relationship,” or “Hey, we thought Hank could sit this one out in case his presence upsets anyone who knows and loves stepdad.”
I’ve seen this situation go a whole ton of ways. Sometimes it’s really for the best that this new person not be invited, and the other person knows it, and there’s no conflict about it at all. Other times it’s a little harder than that, and things get messy. But either way, there’s rarely a clear, black-and-white, right answer. I hope knowing that makes it easier for you to find the very best murky gray one.