Is It Sexist That My In-Laws Expect MY Parents to Bankroll Our Wedding?

If they don't pay, they don't get to participate in planning, right?

Q: How do I address/wrap my mind around/share with my parents that my fiancé’s parents believe that the bride’s family is responsible for paying for our entire wedding?

My fiancé and I got engaged on Thanksgiving, and we spent the day celebrating with his parents, who could not have seemed more overjoyed for our engagement. Our celebration dragged on into a dinner later that week, where the four of us talked about everyone’s wedding dreams and excitement. Throughout all of our conversations, there was a clear undercurrent of “we all want to prevent breaking the bank on this wedding,” but other than that no finances were discussed. Fast-forward to a week later, and my fiancé is alone with his parents. They get on the general topic of wedding expenses, and they tell him that they believe that the bride’s family is wholly responsible for wedding costs, as per “tradition.” They tell him that they’ve been saving for his sister’s wedding (she is not engaged and has no plans of marrying anytime soon) but only believe they need to contribute to a rehearsal dinner for his. They then follow these declarations with venue, location, and other suggestions—implying that they still expect to have a large role in the planning process.

I can honestly say that their position is both hurtful and infuriating. The money part of this is truly not what matters to me. This would be a very different conversation if his parents simply stated that they couldn’t afford to help, or if they believed that we should pay for our own wedding as a couple. What is offensive is the entitlement and, let’s face it, sexism that follows with their adherence to this tradition. My parents aren’t, per “tradition,” providing a dowry, nor are we going to live with my in-laws post-wedding. I am also not the burden that unmarried women were once considered to be on their family. So why is the wedding payment aspect of this tradition still valid? And why do they get to feel entitled to free food, drinks, and a party care of my family? I struggle to find a way to come to terms with their position myself, but can’t imagine how hard it will be to tell my parents that their future in-laws believe they need to bankroll a joint celebration. His parents are not supremely “traditional” people, and they have been supportive of my fiancé and I living together, not getting married in a church, and a myriad of other “non-traditional” choices regarding our lives and our wedding. So why do they get to pick-and-choose what tradition matters?

Our wedding will be a celebration not only of the love my fiancé and I have for each other, but also of two families joining together. Over half of our guest list will be members of my fiancé’s family, and my future in-laws clearly still want to participate in planning the event. My fiancé’s reaction at this point is to tell his parents that they will not be allowed to help plan the wedding, and they may not even get an invitation for themselves or their kin. That is, obviously, not the kind of attitude I have, nor is that I want to bring into what should be a joyous day spent with friends and family. I want to have everyone involved, and I want everyone to have a great time and bond at the wedding. But I also don’t want to resent, or have my parents resent, my future in-laws, which right now feels like an inevitability unless something gives.

So what do I do? Do I or my fiancé try to confront my in-laws and express to them why we believe that gender shouldn’t have anything to do with family support of this wedding? Do we cut them out of the process to reflect the way they’ve cut us off from financial support? Or do we just accept that while we might be insulted and hurt, that ultimately the wedding must still go on, and try to forget about it?

The last thing I want is to start this marriage out with a family feud. I need your help!

—Bride, Not Piggy Bank

A:Dear BNPB,

Before we go about confronting and cutting, try to remember that weddings can be intimidating. Realistically, how many weddings can one person expect to be involved in over the course of their lifetime? Not all that many. I’d guess your in-laws haven’t planned a wedding since maybe the ’80s, right? It’s been awhile. And they haven’t spent the years since reading awesome wedding sites, so it can be expected that they don’t know what’s been going on or how things have changed. Add to that the fact that weddings feel Very Important, and so steeped in etiquette and tradition and expectation, and your average person will feel like, “Whoa, I haven’t done too much of this, but I know there’s a Right Way to do it, so I’d better stick to those rules pretty strictly!” Right?

Just imagine that this is true for your in-laws. Just between us, I think we know it’s not the case. But go ahead and try to scoot yourself over to the benefit of the doubt, because it’ll make any further conversations easier for you. And while you’re there, imagine that they’re not even noticing the sexist, antiquated dowry angle of this. It’s not that they consider you personally a burden, it’s just an easy (albeit self-serving) rule to latch onto in a giant complicated event.

Even if that’s not the case, as weird and outdated as their ideas are, you’re not entitled to their money. At all. Yes, you can let them know that this decision hurt you. But I don’t think I’d call it a confrontation, and I think I’d tread very carefully.

Before you speak to them, consider how they’re likely to respond. Walk through this conversation in your mind. “We appreciate your support throughout our entire relationship, and we’re excited to celebrate the families joining together. We had hoped that gender wouldn’t affect the ways in which you further offer support. It hurt us to know you’d considered that a good reason not to help us out.” Then think about how you expect them to answer. Because, honestly, they’re likely to stand firm in their decision, and you’re likely to walk away with even more resentment. Not only will your bitterness be compounded, but maybe they’ll resent you for bringing it up (you know how petty it can feel to talk money), or resent your family for not “carrying their share.” Not that either of those things would be valid, but ask yourself this question: Is this conversation going to resolve something, or will it make an uncomfortable situation worse?

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If it’s likely that this chat won’t go well, I’d skip it and carry on with wedding planning. Chalk it up to being old-fashioned, remind yourself that it wasn’t your money, anyway, and continue to loop them in on what you’re planning. Your parents don’t need to know how much his family is contributing (or in this case, not contributing), and it may be hard, but you’d better hold yourself back from telling them (it’s pretty common to keep parental contributions confidential, because money is complicated stuff).

Instead, consider reworking your outlook on the finances. Instead of making plans and then expecting each family to pay half, ask your parents what they’re willing to contribute, figure out what you have to spend yourselves, and then work your planning around that budget. No letting either set of parents know about the other’s finances, no cutting anyone out of the planning based on what they give. But, if his parents make some expensive requests that will jack up the price of the wedding, let them know it’s not within the budget, and they’re welcome to cover the additional cost.

That’s the financial stuff, but the real answer to your question is this. There isn’t always a way to avoid icky feelings. You mention not wanting to start off the wedding with an ultimatum, but that you also don’t want to resent your in-laws. Frankly, resentment may not be something you can avoid. It’s their money, they’re allowed to do whatever they want with it (no matter how much you disagree). Sure, you can do things like chat about your hurt feelings, but there are times when even that doesn’t resolve anything. The only thing you can really, honestly do is remind yourself that this isn’t your call. Understanding that there are some things you aren’t in charge of, some things you can’t make better with a reasonable talk, can be even harder than swallowing some outdated and inconvenient opinions about wedding finances. But you need to do it.

Ultimately you can’t change their decision, or even their values. The very best you can do is consider what’s going to make coexistence easiest moving forward. Right now, that probably means shutting up about the money.

—Liz Moorhead


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