Q: I’m getting married to my partner of two years in five months. We’ve both come a very long way in coming out to our families (in my case it took multiple times), meeting each other’s relatives as partners (from two different countries), and just getting as close to a “normal happy engaged couple” as a we can. My partner’s family is extremely accepting of us and is excited and helpful about the wedding (which will take place in the city they live in). They’ve gone above and beyond to already make me feel like I’m part of their family.
My parents, even though they like my partner, come from a country where same sex marriage is unconstitutional and where most non-straight people I know are not out to their families. Let’s just say telling them I’m getting married to a woman was a very heavy conversation. I’m still not even out to most of my extended family, let alone gotten around to inviting them to the wedding. Still, I invited both my parents, promising to cover their flights and stay. All they need to do is show up and be nice.
While my father is down to coming to the civil ceremony (which will last fifteen minutes), he says he would rather not come to the party. His reasoning is that he’s not a fan of big gatherings of people, even though the wedding is relatively small: seventy-five guests. My mother, however, refuses to even travel to the country we’re getting married in. All this she has told my father, who relays the information. In conversations with me she hasn’t broached the subject, and she acts as if my prospective wedding doesn’t exist and everything is normal. I guess I should have been prepared to deal with such outcome of events from the get-go, and I am happy my father will attend at least part of the wedding. My sister will be a witness/maid of honor, so I won’t be completely without family members. I’m hurt, but I want to make sure this does not ruin my fiancée’s and my big day.
So do I insist my father try to attend at least part of the party? How do I deal with people’s expectations and avoid painful conversations with regard to my family’s absence at the wedding? My partner’s family is very much looking forward to meeting my parents, and I still haven’t had the heart to tell them this may not work out the way they’ve been expecting it. I will probably still plan for two extra seats at the party and two plane tickets, just in case, or is this just me being in denial and leading myself on? And finally, how do I communicate to my mother how painful her actions are to me and get to an emotionally okay place before the wedding?
A: Dear e,
Holy wow, do I want to hug you right now.
But here’s the thing. You and I both know that though all the digital hugs in the world would be a nice thought, they aren’t going to do much for your current problem.
The way I see it, this is a two-fold situation. There are two major issues that need to be handled with swiftness and grace.
First (though not most importantly), you have the expectations of your wedding guests and your partner’s family. Obviously, all of these people are extremely happy for you and looking forward to meeting your folks. It makes sense that your future in-laws can’t wait to connect with your parents, and I can only barely begin to understand the anguish that you’re experiencing, knowing full well that this meeting will probably never happen. Having said that, I think it’s entirely possible that once you explain the situation to your fiancée’s parents, they’ll understand. It’s a shameful thing that in 2016 we still have families who opt for ripping themselves apart instead of accepting and loving their children in spite of/because of their sexual orientation, but that’s the case. While your fiancée’s parents might be let down and disappointed, something tells me that they may not be shocked. As for the rest of the wedding guests… ultimately, who cares? One of the best things you can keep in mind about any aspect of a wedding is that you don’t owe anyone a single piece of your emotional life. You can choose what you do and do not disclose, and an easy “She/They couldn’t make it” should suffice.
The second (and likely most important) issue is that of your relationship with your parents. It sounds to me that you think, or at least hope, that despite his reservations, your dad might be talked into attending the entire event. If you think he will, then I say go for it. Just open up, lay it out, and let him know what it would mean to you. Worst case, you’ll end up exactly where you are now. Best case, he comes. I spent some time trying to rationalize and empathize with your mom’s perspective and couldn’t, and I imagine that you have probably done the same. Of course, you know her far, far better than I do… which probably makes her lack of support unsurprising, but painful nonetheless.
The issue with your mom is tougher. Because, you know, parents are supposed to be able to support and love their children, and put their happiness ahead of their own issues. But we both know, that doesn’t always happen. So, if you haven’t already, I absolutely suggest finding a therapist in your area who specializes in adulthood familial problems. I say this because therapy sessions have been where I’ve gotten the best advice on how to deal with my own family-of-origin problems. While I love talking to my husband about problems and things that have hurt me, I think there’s something freeing in unloading everything onto someone you can leave. If therapy isn’t your thing, then that’s when I would suggest what you’ve likely already done: speaking for hours and hours with your fiancée, who can hopefully help you distill your feelings into something you can say to your mother. Because here’s the thing. Not coming to the wedding—in fact, flat out refusing to even talk about it—is a serious form of denial that doesn’t stop with the wedding day. Is your mom going to respect your new family (and possibly, kids), or does she plan to pretend they don’t exist, either? Your mother’s denial of your life is bigger than your wedding, and it’s worth bringing it up to her that if she denies your life now, she’s denying your life in the future, too. Chances are, it’s not going to change her position, but at least you won’t regret things left unsaid.
Since it sounds like you won’t feel good unless you know you’ve provided tickets and place settings, just in case, if you’re in a position to do so… go for it. I’m rooting for a magic, end-of-the-movie moment filled with hugs and happy tears, and I hope you get it (with or without your mom).
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