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Will My Conservative Family Hate My Wedding?

They don't GET me

Q: Dear APW,

I love my family, and we have a lot in common, but I’m different from them in a few key ways. They’re more conservative (and religious), and I am a card-carrying progressive liberal who hasn’t set foot in a church in years. While they’ve never been outright rude or denigrated my choices, they will still sometimes “subtly” push me toward choices they would make or express confusion as to why I hold the values I do. (For example, my mom has said in passing that I should go to church once in a while because “it’s good for my soul.”) For the most part, we just avoid these conversations entirely. (My family has never been good at forthright communication.)

Normally I can brush this sort of thing off to keep the peace, but I’m worried that this is going to become an issue now that I’m getting married. (Ya know, since weddings and WIC often mean heightened emotions for all.) Already my mom has (briefly) brought up that getting married in a church is very inexpensive. And when I sent my sister (whom I love, and with whom I have a pretty great relationship) links to the silk separates I want to wear instead of a traditional bridal gown, she replied that it seemed a bit casual and that I might regret not getting something more “elevated” so that I would feel “more like a bride.” When I went on to explain why I chose the pieces I did, she doubled down (in a nice way) by saying things like, “Your wedding is the one day you get to buy something you only wear once,” and “You’ll want something you feel really special in.” This right after I said that I really wanted something I could wear again and that I loved what I’d chosen.

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APW, her response kind of… crushed me a little, I think in part because we’re usually very close and her response made me feel less “known.” I’m starting to feel really worried that my choices are going to alienate my family and that attempts to go the nontraditional route are going to come off as saying “The traditional choices you made were bad”—when what I really want to say is, “Some of the traditional choices you made aren’t ME.”

So, my question is this: do you have any ideas for how to help family distinguish between “I hate your choices, and you should feel bad about them” and “I would rather go this route because it’s more authentic to me”? Does anyone have any good advice for how to explain why your priorities are different, when your family has very rigid views of which priorities are the “right” ones?

—Anonymous

A: Dear Anonymous,

Don’t spiral out. Yeah, it can be really frustrating to make a choice that’s very “you” and have someone you love not get it. But, the examples you’ve given don’t seem to indicate that your family will resent your choices or take them as a personal rejection.

I understand where you’re coming from. The conversations you normally gloss over, the disagreements you typically ignore, they won’t be able to be glossed and ignored when you’re making tangible choices about venues and dresses. The tiny, little, definite things can be harder to swallow than the sweeping, large, theoretical things, because they’re there and in your face and you can’t pretend them away. That might be tough.

If these things come up (if!) try to remember: this is about them, it’s not about you. In the same way that your choices aren’t intended as a rejection of theirs, their preferences are simply that. And when they encourage you toward steeples and sweeping trains, remember it’s because that’s what they would want, and they’re trying to protect you from the regret they imagine they would feel in your position.

In my experience, there’s no point in trying to defend your decisions. No reason to explain. It’ll get you nowhere. Instead, focus your energy on shutting the conversation down after it hits a certain point. Your mom brought up the frugality of a church wedding, fine. If she continues to press and you’re just over it, you can gently and firmly say, “I heard your suggestion, but we’ve already made the decision.”

You’re creating your own life with your own baby family, and that means your own unique, individual choices. Try not to feel preemptively ashamed that these choices won’t match up with what your family expects or what they would consider “correct.” They’ll have opinions—but don’t take it personally.

—Liz Moorhead

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