Q: Dear APW,
I am trying to have a non-traditional, authentic wedding that represents what me and my fiancé value. This includes paperless invitations, the writing of our own ceremony and vows, and the elimination of certain traditional things (bridesmaids/groomsmen, wedding cake, white wedding dress, etc.).
My Filipino parents, however, come from a very traditional Catholic background and are appalled that we are deviating from the norms. When they found out that I was doing electronic invitations for some of our guests, they informed me that I was selfish, not thinking about anyone else, and that they no longer wanted to attend our wedding. I am heartbroken that a seemingly trivial thing (the format of invitations) has caused my parents to decline my wedding invitation. Furthermore, the invitation issue should be the LEAST of their concerns… there are far less traditional aspects of our wedding than that.
My question is: am I truly being selfish? To what extent do I have to take other family member’s wishes into account when their values are totally different from mine?
A: Dear Jennifer,
No, you are not being selfish. You only have to take family members’ wishes into account to the extent that you want to, and are comfortable doing it.
You and your parents can have totally legitimate values that nonetheless clash. That doesn’t make you a bad person, or inconsiderate, or any of the mean things your parents said. Your parents’ views on invitations are neither right nor wrong, but the way they are acting about them—by threatening you with non-attendance at your wedding—is unreasonable and unkind.
That said, at the moment it looks like you may either have to compromise on this point, or accept that your parents may not come to your wedding. I don’t know the situation, you, or your parents well enough to know what the most desirable outcome would be—short of their changing their minds and being totally fine with paperless invitations and all the other cool stuff you’ve planned, which is probably not going to happen.
But here are some questions that might help you decide what the most desirable outcome would be for you, and some suggestions for how you can get there.
What’s It All About Anyway?
Why is having paperless invitations for some of your guests important to you? How does it represent your values? I am not asking this as a way of suggesting that you ditch them, but because once you’ve articulated your values—and how paperless invitations tie into those—you’ll have a clearer idea of whether this is something you want to stand your ground on, and how to defend it.
Put it another way—what values do you want your wedding to embody? What are the values that are at conflict here between you and your parents?
To be honest, on pretty nearly every point relating to the wedding where I disagreed with my family that badly, I gave in. But that’s because (a) my parents were mostly cool and never threatened to boycott my wedding for any reason, and (b) from the outset I had decided that my wedding would be about family and tradition, so that made it pretty obvious which option to go for in any disagreement.
If the values in conflict here are economy/convenience/environmental-friendliness (you) vs. we are scared people will get mad at or judge us (parents), that’s something you can work through. If the values in conflict are economy/convenience/environmental-friendliness (you) vs. we want to control you and your wedding and this is only the beginning of many unreasonable demands (parents), that’s going to be more of a problem. Which brings us to the next question…
Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Why are your parents upset? You mention you are doing electronic invitations for only some of your guests—I assume these are guests for whom electronic invitations are convenient and appropriate. (I had friends who kept losing their invitation cards and texting me to check what the dates were. A Facebook event invite they could sync with their smartphone calendars would probably have been easier for them!) Do your parents not understand this? Are they worried your guests will be offended? Do they think paperless invitations will make them look cheap, or that their friends will judge them?
In the corner of Asia I come from, people have increasingly more control over their own weddings, but it’s still the case that if a wedding sucks everyone assumes it’s because the couple’s parents don’t know what they’re doing. No blame attaches to the couple—it’s basically the parents’ responsibility to get the etiquette right. Obviously that puts a lot of pressure on the parents! I don’t know if that’s what your parents are worried about, but it’s a possibility.
And while invitation format is a bad reason to tell your daughter you’re going to stand her up on her wedding day, it’s not necessarily trivial. Traditionally—and people still do this—the right way of inviting people to a wedding in my culture, and other Asian cultures, would be to actually visit them in person, and ask them to come. I know people whose relatives have been seriously offended at not receiving a visit, and threatened not to accept wedding invitations as a result.
These things do matter. It’s not about the format, but about the respect and consideration that is being signaled—and if you are not aware of the finer points of etiquette of a certain culture, you may not be aware of the signals you’re giving off. Maybe your parents are right in a way, and everyone they know would be offended and hurt by an electronic invitation. And while the people you are inviting will probably be fine with it, maybe your parents don’t get that.
Getting Down to brass tacks
You may want to sit your parents down and try to get them to give you concrete reasons why paperless invitations are so terrible. What are they actually worried about? It may take multiple conversations before you find out the real reason (it can be hard for parents to explain their reactions to their kids when there’s a cultural gap on top of the existing generation gap). But if you manage to get at a real reason, that may help you figure out a compromise, or a way of reassuring them.
Of course, this advice about talking and listening and reassuring and compromise will only really work if your parents are decent people who want to work this out. Maybe they are, and they only said they wouldn’t come to your wedding in a fit of temper, which will pass if they feel listened to and taken account of. But maybe they don’t actually want to work it out. Maybe they want you to knuckle under and they are willing to do whatever it takes, including emotional blackmail, to make you do it. Either way, you’ll want to set some boundaries with your parents over the wedding. Check out Captain Awkward for really useful, practical advice on boundary-setting. Her post about training her racist grandpa not to send her distressing emails is a classic example—while it’s a different situation, sometimes that is just how you have to deal with relatives who have fundamentally different values from you and insist on shouting about it.
If you can’t reach a compromise with your parents or resolve the disagreement some other way, be prepared for them to stick by what they have said and refuse to come. Let’s be clear here—if that is their decision, they will be JERKS. But that is on them. No matter what they say, it is not about you, and it is not your fault. They are the ones who decided not to attend the marriage of their daughter.