Q: To my excitement, my boyfriend came to me and said he’s feeling ready to get married. We have decided we both want the wedding to be a small one, with a dinner party vibe. However, when it comes to the guest list, that’s where we have a big dispute.
See, my boyfriend has said that having my parents at the wedding would be a dealbreaker for him. He says he enjoys spending time with my parents when we go out to dinner with them, but long periods of time (during the holidays) feel like torture to him—not because of anything about my parents (they love him and already treat him like family), but because he says he feels like he has to constantly be on his guard regarding what he says around them.
It’s kind of hard to explain, but my family was very Leave It to Beaver (without the insidious misogyny), while my boyfriend’s family was more Shameless. Despite the massive dysfunction, he was basically able to express himself however he wanted, curse, and speak freely about sex and drugs. I got in trouble for cursing, my parents disparage marijuana on the regular (he and I live in a state where it’s been decriminalized), and they kind of act like sex doesn’t exist. I understand how uncomfortable it is to have to censor yourself, and I also understand that asking him to be extremely uncomfortable on his wedding day is not okay.
I understand that this is his ultimatum—get married without my parents present, or don’t get married at all. He’s not budging, and there’s no room for negotiation. He’s perfectly okay never getting married, so the proverbial ball’s in my court.
Other than that, though, he’s made a lot of concessions. He’s not religious, but is happy to get a ketubah and rabbi. He hates having his picture taken, but for me, he would throw down on a photographer. He even said he’d be happy to have a party that included our friends and my tight-knit family sometime after the honeymoon. He just doesn’t want the stress it would bring him to have my parents physically there on our wedding day.
So my question is, how do I tell my parents they aren’t invited to my wedding? I love them dearly and we are very close. It breaks my heart to think about it—not because of any walking-down-the-aisle moments, but the simple fact that they weren’t there would be really sad.
Or do I avoid the issue by putting a kibosh on the wedding altogether? Neither of us has told anyone about our engagement, so there won’t be any backtracking necessary.
Either way, my parents won’t attend a wedding, but this way will hurt everyone less. Except I’d still like to get married…
A: Dear OV,
Hoo boy, that isn’t the question I expected at the end of all of this. How can I dump him? Sure. How can I tell my parents? Didn’t see it coming.
Listen. People are complex and multifaceted beings. We each have multiple sides, various interests, even different manners of speaking. We contain multitudes. And a normal, natural, healthy part of adulthood is expressing only parts of that multifaceted self at certain times. You don’t talk about your sex life with colleagues. You don’t have a gin and tonic in the car. You don’t tell your two-year-old to fuck off (unless you’re having a really, really bad day). It’s not false or inauthentic. It’s courteous. It’s appropriate. But it’s not always comfy or cozy, and we all learn to cope with it because that’s what makes society, and being around other people all the frigging time, livable.
And that goes double for the people we love. The little bit of everyday awkwardness of restrained, polite chitchat is honestly the least a person can do for someone they care about. I muster that for the Target checkout lady, and I don’t even know her. What you’re telling me is that your partner is choosing the small comfort of being able to make a dick joke any time he wants over the importance of including your family in a significant life event. He’s asking you to risk long-term effects on your relationships with them for the foreseeable future so he doesn’t have to watch his mouth for six hours.
You know I’ve gotta ask: What’s that mean for the future? What do you do over these holidays he finds unbearable? At the hypothetical birthday parties of your potential kids? If they’re not invited to your wedding of all days, when will he feel comfortable enough to be around them? And what’s that mean for your relationship with them?
You also have to think about what this means about him, as a person. This kind of ultimatum—forcing you to make a hard, serious decision, rather than inconvenience him or make him uncomfortable—is very controlling. Worse than that, he’s trying to create distance between you and your parents, threatening to seriously impact your relationship with some of your core support folks. That’s… frightening.
But I’m just a stranger on the Internet. Ask yourself: Does this seem like a reasonable request? More specifically, what will excluding your parents for this reason do to your relationship with them long term, and are you okay with that? What does this kind of request say about your partner, and are you okay with that? If the answer to those questions is, “Nope,” then I think you know what to do.
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