Q: Dear APW,
My fiancé really prioritizes family, which is one of the reasons I love him. He has a huge one and most of them live in our state and presumably will be able to attend our wedding (we haven’t made our guest list yet). It’s important to him to have them ALL there. I think this is great. However there’s one person in his immediate family, let’s call him Nick, who I am concerned about having at our wedding. Nick has a very serious drinking problem. He is homeless on and off because of this, and mostly lives with different family members who all care for him. No judgment on that in itself. He has had a really shitty life, and it’s hard to help him, although we have tried. The issue is his behavior when drinking, which is unsafe for others. Nick has made sexual and lewd comments to me on numerous occasions when drunk. He does not have control over his alcohol consumption, gets fall-down drunk very quickly, and will go to any means necessary to get alcohol. In other words, he is not in a place where it is possible to have a rational conversation with him beforehand.
There are people in our families who are teetotalers, for different and good reasons. This includes both of our mothers and most of my older relatives. There will also be a lot of children at our wedding. Nick is not allowed to see his own children because of his drinking, which is heartbreaking. Yet, if I was his childrens’ mother, I would do the same thing. We don’t allow our children to be around him for this reason. Some other members of the family with young kids don’t either. But it is not openly talked about with all the family members because it’s so hard and sad for them to see him this way and be unable to do anything, since he refuses help.
We’re definitely not having an open bar, and I’ve considered not having any alcohol at all. But we both think it would be nice for our guests to buy a drink if they like, especially since we want to use the money we save on booze to be spent on a band. I’ve thought of asking the servers not to serve Nick, but I really don’t think that will do anything—I’ve seen him steal alcohol and hide it before.
I haven’t said anything to my fiancé yet, but in other conversations with him about Nick he falls back on saying that Nick is not dangerous and is well-meaning. I agree with this when Nick is sober, which I have seen only once for a short time. I frankly don’t think anybody who is intoxicated to that extent is safe, and I don’t want my family, friends, or anybody’s kids to have to deal with that—especially because Nick’s inappropriate comments every time make me feel so uncomfortable. I know my fiancé and his family cares about Nick and feels for him and his situation. But I don’t want Nick to make me feel unsafe on my wedding day, I can’t in good conscience let Nick get drunk and subject my guests to behavior I know to be unsafe, I cannot handle babysitting him on my wedding day, and I don’t want my fiancé to do this either. And I don’t feel good inviting Nick into a situation that feeds his addiction.
What should I say to my fiancé about this? Do we have to invite Nick? What if my fiancé refuses not to invite him?
A: Dear Anonymous,
None of this is easy. What you’re walking into here is a whole family dynamic built around ignoring and excusing and tip-toe-ing around what’s actually going on with Nick. (This is what’s known as missing stair theory, and it’s worth reading.) If your partner feels “he’s harmless,” I’m sure his whole family does as well. They anticipate and then ignore how Nick behaves at gatherings. I’m not saying that I blame them; we all do a little bit of this for the people we love. But it does mean you’ll face some resistance.
You may not be able to change your partner’s perspective of Nick’s behavior as innocent and harmless and not-that-bad. So the only thing you can really push is how it makes you feel. Specifically, the comments that make you feel unsafe. Your partner, as a man, may not be able to relate to how powerful those words can be. But it’s important for you to press him to try to understand, and to back you up whenever you feel this kind of un-safety.
You won’t be able to change how your partner and his family handle Nick, whether or not they invite him to other events, how they rationalize and make excuses for him. But you can insist that you won’t be spoken to in a way that makes you feel unsafe. It’s crucial that you help your partner to see things that way, too.
And this is your wedding. If you don’t feel safe around him, it’s ok (and probably quite important) for you to put yourself first.