Q: Dear APW,
My fiancé and I have been engaged for two years. We had to postpone our wedding due to the pandemic so we have had a lot of time to think about the wedding we want. We originally wanted an intimate wedding of about 70 to 80 so we could have time with all of our loved ones and not feel rushed. Additionally, our venue allows a few of us to stay there for the weekend so we figured we could have the wedding party stay with us and make a weekend of it.
Since then, my parents have insisted on inviting all these friends of theirs (who I haven’t spoken to in years but they say are important) and a couple extra family members I didn’t even want but have to invite because “they’re family”. My wedding has become a runaway train. As people pleasers, we both just want everyone to be happy, but my fiancé is the more practical one and feels like he has to be the bad guy because… well, he keeps having to be the bad guy. We now are inviting 115 people. My mother is still trying to add people, so I had to say no. Also, it’s almost all of her friends at my house, making it not so fun. I wanted to stay in a house with my friends and wedding party, not in a house of my mom’s friends.
I didn’t realize how negatively it was impacting my partner until I asked him if we could add my best friend’s mother to the guest list. He broke, and said he felt like it was just a party and wasn’t his wedding anymore. He has a very demanding job so he hasn’t had time to help plan the decorations or anything else and I think he feels like he doesn’t have a say. Is there any way to reclaim our runaway train of a wedding and make my fiancé feel included and heard?
—Runaway Train (Never Coming Back?)
A: Dear Runaway Train,
First up, welcome to adulthood. I know, I know, you’re an adult already. But getting married is one of the many life experiences that can call you to a higher level of adulthood. Wedding planning has a way of making you level up some key adulting skills, which is great because you’ll need them later, but also kind of miserable because they’re not skills that are fun to learn.
Here you’re being asked to practice boundary setting. You’ve told me you’re a people pleaser, which means I’m going to suggest you pick up the book Codependent No More. It’s an EXCELLENT book that probably every woman in America should read because we’re all socialized to be somewhat codependent. But as far as I’m concerned it’s a must-read for anyone who describes themselves as a people pleaser. Because people-pleasing is a quick road to hell, and not living the life you want to live… as you’re clearly learning right this second.
But with that out of the way, I’m going to play devil’s advocate for you for a hot second (I mean, you know who you wrote to for advice, right?) before we discuss plans to move forward.
I started APW 13 years ago (omg) back when I was planning my own wedding. Since then I’ve had two kids, so I can now see things from both ends to some extent: the couple end, and the parent end. So I’m going to take a minute to give your parents a little bit of grace. (Don’t worry, I won’t spend too long on this.) But TL;DR: your parents have likely been thinking about your wedding since before you knew what a wedding was. And it’s likely important to them to invite some family and close friends. And whatever decisions you make about the guest list, it’s important to be empathetic with them.
The thing is, it’s everyone who loves you’s day, but it’s YOUR wedding. And that means that the two of you need to figure out what you need to be emotionally fulfilled, and make sure you get it. I’d strongly suggest writing a wedding mission statement if you haven’t already since that will help you talk about what’s important to the two of you, and let your decisions flow from there.
What comes next is going to be difficult for you, as a self-proclaimed people pleaser. But it’s going to be vital not just to your wedding, but to the rest of your life. It’s simple as hell, but possibly emotionally challenging to execute, so listen up:
YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO SAY NO.
You’re not going to say “maybe.” You’re not going to mumble something nobody understands, or say “I’ll get back to you on that later.” You’re not going to let your fiancé do the dirty work. You’re going to call your mom and say something along these lines:
Hi Mom, I need to talk about the wedding. I know I haven’t been clear about my needs, and doing that has been unfair to both of us. At this point this wedding feels like a runaway train, and like it’s not shaping up to be the wedding either of us (my partner and I) need or want. So here is what we’re going to have to do. (Your details my vary here but I’m going to suggest best practices based on the facts you gave me.) We’ve already invited more people than we’re comfortable having at the wedding. And while we know it would put you in a difficult position if we uninvited people, we simply can’t invite anyone else. Beyond that, we picked this wedding venue so that our wedding party could stay with us, so we’re going to need to re-arrange lodging to make that happen. This is really stressful for me, but I’m hoping you’ll help support me in making these changes happen.
Your mom might not be happy. In fact, it sounds to me like you and your mom may have set up a dynamic where you are the people pleaser and she gets what she wants. And breaking that dynamic might be painful. But it’s also vitally important. Because the decisions only get bigger from here. They may involve how to raise your child, or how you’re going to finance your house, or how you’re going to make medical decisions. I can’t tell you what decisions are in your future, but I can tell you that they will be big, and you and your partner will need to make them together, without your mom calling the shots.
So think of this as (relatively) low-stakes practice. I know it feels high stakes now, but 13 years into this journey of marriage, I can tell you that this is practice for what’s to come.