Q: I’ve been engaged three days and my fiancée is already freaking out. Our parents haven’t met yet even though they live three hours apart (in part because my parents can be a lot, and in part because it just hasn’t been a priority). Now that we are engaged, everyone (except me) wants a meet and greet to happen because “We are all family now!” Fine. I suggested we meet up for dinner somewhere in between the two parents. She and her parents were on board, but my father didn’t love the restaurant and suggested having her parents come over for a barbecue instead, which sounded good to me. But then my fiancée was unhappy because she thought that would place her parents on unequal footing with mine. My parents live in a fancy suburb of D.C. and hers live in rural Virginia. Okay. Back to a restaurant. But if I pick one her parents like, my dad will hate it. He’s a total food snob. But if I pick one my parents like, her parents will be uncomfortable. How on earth can we plan a wedding when arranging dinner for six people is impossibly difficult?
“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”
Okay, Harry Potter references aside, you’re right, there are a lot of feelings here, but that doesn’t make this an incomprehensible mystery. Let’s break down the cast of characters a bit:
Your fiancée: She’s excited to be engaged! She’s nervous about the parents meeting. She feels protective of her parents’ feelings and their experience. She doesn’t want your parents to be hosting her parents; she wants them to meet as equals.
Her parents: They’re excited you two are engaged! They want to meet your parents! They’re not city people and they aren’t comfortable in fancy restaurants.
Your father: Hates bad food.
You: Just would like everyone to eat their brunch and move on.
Here’s the thing. These feelings are all real. They are all valid. They are not all equally important.
We can go ahead and cross your father off the list right away. I’m sorry he has an existential dread of eating a meal at Applebee’s, but that is something he will just have to cope with. It’s a lot easier for someone fancy to simplify than the other way around. Sure, a city dweller might be uncomfortable at a barn raising (that’s what people do in the country right?), but they’ll muddle through. Coming the other way isn’t just a city mouse, country mouse issue; it’s also a class issue. It’s not just a discomfort issue; it’s a privilege issue. The discomfort her parents feel at going to a restaurant that may be out of their budget (even if you’re paying), more than they are comfortable with food costing, potentially involve terminology they are unfamiliar with? (Because who understands fancy restaurant menus these days? Pretty sure nobody, but at least some of us are used to it.) That’s a much bigger deal than your father just not liking the food at one meal.
So, considering everything here, she’s right and you are wrong. Tell your dad he needs to suck it up. But don’t assume you’re off the hook! Lol wayyyyyy too easy. Nope. You just signed up for this group of people and their assorted feelings for the rest of your life, so get used to it! I’m not saying you can never go out to a fancy meal with her parents, or that your parents’ wishes never come first, or even that your desire to just pick something and move on can’t be considered. There are absolutely situations where all sorts of feelings are going to matter more than others.
You just need to focus on your feelings and her feelings first. Make sure the two of you are on the same page. Listen to each other. When she says, “My parents are going to have XYZ feelings about this”—believe her. Start by assuming she knows what she is talking about when she talks about her family, and go from there.
For what it’s worth, even though you’re saying you are baffled by the feelings, you are the first dude who has ever written into Always a Bridesmaid, so I think you’re more tuned into feelings than you give yourself credit for.