For most of my life, I have believed that getting married means making a new family with the person you love. It means setting aside differences and working to accept and love new parents-in-law, new siblings, new friends, and more.
But what if you can’t find room in your heart to love your new family?
My fiancé’s relationship with each of his parents has been rocky for many years. His parents got divorced eighteen years ago, when he was sixteen, and he’s said he hasn’t had a family since then. They’ve moved, he’s moved, there have been many disagreements and slights on all sides. But fundamentally, my fiancé has been independent from both of his parents since he started college.
That stands in sharp contrast to my relationship with my own parents. At twenty-six, I still count on them for almost everything, from emotional support to helping with school and life expenses to expecting that we will find a time and a place to meet up at least once a month, despite their living four hours away. I talk to my parents several times a week, from hours-long conversations about our lives to quick phone calls as I walk across campus just to check in.
The Consequences of Engagement
When my fiancé and I got engaged, a part of me thought that this was a chance for him to mend old wounds with each of his parents. The morning after I asked him to marry me, we both dutifully called parents, siblings, close friends, grandparents, and anyone else who might be saddened to find out the news on Facebook. “This is it,” I thought. “The people he’s calling right now are my new family.”
Just one month later, I got in a political argument with my future father-in-law on Facebook about a post he had made in support of Brett Kavanaugh. And, in response to that argument, he chose to text his son saying that he was cutting off contact with him because the person he had chosen to spend the rest of his life with was “a little over the top.”
Families are different from one another. Families fight and make up over things that might seem big in the moment but are small in the grand scheme of things. But in no definition of the word “family” that I have ever heard is it acceptable to become estranged from your child because their significant other dared to challenge your sexist, victim-blaming rhetoric on a Facebook post.
When I asked AJ to marry me, I was hoping to get a second set of parents to love and to cherish. Never did I imagine that I would be responsible, at least in part, for him losing one of his parents.
Navigating a Rocky Relationship
In the time until our wedding, AJ and I have many decisions to make about family and about its role in our lives. If my father-in-law apologizes, can he come to the wedding? If he doesn’t, then are we going to send him an invite anyway? What does this mean for AJ’s relationship with his half-siblings, his dad’s much younger kids from his second marriage?
In the midst of all these questions, I have come to one major conclusion. I believe, more than ever, that we get to choose our families and that being related to someone does not mean you are a part of their family. Going forward, I promise to always choose my future husband, my family of choice. I promise to find ways to incorporate him into my family of birth. But loving and accepting his father? That’s going to be a lot harder.
Ultimately, this is a question of my fiancé and his relationship with his dad. Maybe things will be better by the wedding. Maybe their relationship will continue to be a rocky one. All I know is that, come what may, I choose AJ, to love and to cherish and to build a family with. What comes next for us will always be guided by that choice.