Q: Dear APW,
My partner and I have had a rough few years. We lost several people close to us, and it has been a tough ride. Now that we’re getting married, we want to have a somewhat intimate wedding with all of our favorite people. Think: glam but low-key vibes, and a weekend of hanging out with people we love the most. We have good people coming, and we’re excited just to spend time with them.
The one issue is this: my dad died a few years ago, and my mom re-married in a rush afterwards. The guy she married is—and I mean this objectively—not a good guy. There’s no point in going into details, but suffice to say, he’s not beloved by his own family, let alone by ours. Aside from not being a great human being, he’s pretty much the opposite of our wedding weekend vibe… he’s not low-key and he’s not fun. He’s going to complain about everything, be variously obnoxious, and take up way too much space. For me, there is complexity to it. First up, I flat out don’t like him and wouldn’t voluntarily spend time around him if he was any old person. Second up, being around him can trigger the complex grief of losing my dad… and the messy way my mom handled that loss. (That part is not his fault, but it’s still true.) My dad not being around on our wedding day is going to be hard enough. Having this guy being loud and insensitively filling a space my dad used to fill—without caring about anyone’s feelings—is going to be harder.
I’m not writing to ask you how we can disinvite this guy to our wedding. We can’t. It’s important that my mom is there, and he’s going to come with her. What I’m writing to ask about is how we can best manage this. This man is going to be at our small wedding, like it or not. But I don’t want him to color the day for us, and I frankly don’t want him to color the day too much for our guests. (Did I mention that he takes up too much space? He really does. #WhiteMenProblems.) What I’m writing to ask for are practical tips. How can we manage this guy so that this relatively small party can still focus on good vibes with our best people? (And frankly, deal with the grief that we’re already going to be dealing with, without someone causing additional pain.)
We’ve had a particularly awful few years, and we deserve this good thing.
—Lady of the Loss
A: Dear Lady,
I’m so sorry. We all know folx like this, but the added sting of losing your dad cannot be easy.
I know the answer is “not often,” but when is this guy the most tolerable? If he has a specific task, a responsibility to keep him occupied? When he’s stuffing his face or watching TV? If there’s someone to have a distracting, long argument about the best team in the MLB (the Phillies, obvs), or some other specific topic?
Much like caring for a toddler, my ideas are to keep him confined and occupied. Have a place in the venue that you know will be a magnet for him (and then stay away from there). Conversely, set aside a place that’s off-limits to him or that he doesn’t know about, where you can go and breathe deep/scream into a pillow. Come up with some job for him to focus on. Keep him busy. Keep him away.
And loop in your friends. I know you would hate to impose him on anyone else, but your friends love you and want to help you. Have an unfortunate but beloved (and much-thanked) friend keep him engaged. Create a code word or signal that means “someone change the topic” or “get this man the f*ck away from me goddammit.”
This problem hit close to home for some of the APW team, so they wanted to chime in. Maddie offers:
One of the first things I’ll tell you is what we tell so many people on this site: your family isn’t going to stop being who they are just because you’re having a wedding. I can see clearly from your letter that you’re not going to expect this guy to change for your wedding. But he’s going to have SOME kind of impact on your wedding, even if it’s just being obnoxious at the rehearsal the day before. So if you can find a way to accept the reality that he will likely color this event in some way—and start emotionally preparing yourself for it now (vs. trying to figure out how to avoid it altogether)—I think you’re going to end up in a better spot once the wedding rolls around.
That said, I’m not suggesting you should just lay back and accept this guy’s shitty presence at your wedding without some measures of protection. I know you mentioned you’re having an intimate wedding, but I do find that bigger crowds tend to drown out dudes like this. (We had one at our wedding, but our guest list was so big I didn’t even notice he was there.) If you can’t expand your guest list, I’d let your best emotional bodyguards know what’s going on and see if they’d be willing to be a buffer between you and him for the weekend. I’d also work at creating some physical space between yourself and your mom and her new husband. Maybe don’t stay at the same hotel as them (if you’re staying in a hotel). Lean into the seating chart and put him as far away from you as possible. (If they have to be at the same table, then at least on the other SIDE of the table.)
Hugs to you. Families are hard, grief is harder, and sometimes the only way to protect yourself is by leaning into those truths instead of trying to fight them.
Honestly, at first, I was not sure that I am qualified to help answer this question. Having no living family means very little experience negotiating these things for myself—BUT the silver lining is lots of understanding that getting married without a beloved parent’s presence is really freaking hard. So I just want to send you LOVE, letter-writer. The thoughtful and self-aware way you have considered this question sounds to me like you’ve done a ton of work on yourself, your grief, your relationship with your mom, and so on—that’s amazing and I salute you. It’s also totally okay if your wedding ends up feeling like an emotional backslide, and it’s equally okay if you end up barely thinking about your dad or this guy because you’re too busy getting married. (I’ve definitely missed my mom way more on a random Tuesday than I did on my wedding because, uhh, I was really busy.) Weddings are complicated and emotional and unpredictable, and all the emotional responses they bring up are valid. That said, take Maddie’s advice. Create some physical space and some emotional space (prep a friend who can make small talk with anyone and another friend who will guard your boundaries like a bulldog), and then let the overall good vibes of your most beloved people dilute his bad ones.
I know this is the last person you want near you on an important day. But hopefully leaning on all the good people around you will help you to drown out the bad (since actually drowning him isn’t an option).