My Cousin’s Boyfriend Groped Me—Why Is Keeping Him off My Guest List My Problem?


#MeToo, even on the damn guest list

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

A bride sits with her hands folded in her lap

Q: I am newly engaged. So far things are going smoothly, but there is one issue I have to address, and it is super icky and awkward. Basically, I have a second cousin who I grew up with and is around the same age as me, and I always thought she would be one of my bridesmaids if I ever got married. Last Christmas, her boyfriend of five-plus years groped me (down there… yeah) while hugging me goodbye. I was a little drunk, and he was trashed, and I didn’t say anything about it for a few months because I was so shocked. I did have some long conversations with my cousin about it after, and pretty much everyone in my family knows about what happened to some extent, because I have not stopped discussing it with them. This guy has been a creep from the first day I met him, when he put his hand on my thigh. He has done this with several other women in our family, and my cousin has chalked it up to “cultural differences.” I told her that it is unacceptable and that he crossed a line. I told her that if it were up to me, he would not be present at any family functions (well actually, I would prefer she break up with this guy). We agreed that if he did come, he is not to talk to me, and she already has broken this agreement by forcing him over to say hi to me. My fiancé also does not want him there, as well as my parents and siblings.

My question: I do want to invite my cousin, despite her terrible judgment and questionable behavior, but how do I not invite her boyfriend? Do I have to have another a conversation? Do I give her a plus one, but say bring a friend? There is no way I am inviting someone who sexually assaulted me, and creeps on other women, to my wedding.

—WTF Cuz?!

A: Dear WTFC,

You’ve been really strong in this super difficult situation. You told folks what happened, which is hard to do. You let your cousin know, which can be even harder. And you’ve established some great boundaries. You’re amazing. And yes, the next step would definitely be to exclude him from your wedding. I cosign that decision completely. I think we’ll all agree, “No known sexual predators at the wedding,” is a great rule.

There is no “cultural difference” that would excuse this. If anything, it’s entirely normal for our culture to rationalize it, explain it away, ignore it. If your cousin continues to do that, there’s not too much you can do about it on her behalf. I wish she would break up with him, too. But it’s really telling that this is so expected that your cousin is willing to settle for it in a partner. It makes me angry and heartbroken and frustrated all at the same time.

Invite your cousin to the wedding, but let her know up front that he isn’t invited. No need to give her a plus-one. She’s family; she’ll know plenty of people there. You could just send an invitation without his name on it, but I have a feeling they’ll choose not to understand that he wasn’t invited. So I would call to explicitly say, “Hey, by the way, he’s not invited.” She already knows why, but you can break it down one more time for her, if necessary. It won’t be a fun conversation, but it sounds like you’ve gotten used to having some difficult ones. I hope she chooses to come.

But I also hope he chooses not to. Since we know he’s got a thing for ignoring boundaries (and she sometimes is complicit), I’d just be braced for him potentially crashing the wedding. One good way to handle this is to confide in someone you trust so that, if he does show up, they can keep a sharp eye and escort him out. It sucks that not only did you endure this, not only was it on you to call it out and let everyone know, but it’s also on you to worry about keeping him away from the wedding. So loop your family, your friends, your support network in on this. Not just to make sure he doesn’t enter the door (that, too), but to make sure you’re not alone in facing this mess, in general.

Other than that, go on, girl. You don’t need me; you’re doing a great job. If anything, maybe you need someone to say, “This is the right decision,” (because it can be hard!) so, hey. This is the right decision.

—Liz Moorhead

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! 

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Amy March

    You don’t have to invite people who have assaulted you to your wedding. You also don’t have to worry about making this awkward. He made it awkward by assaulting you. She is making to awkward by not respecting your boundaries.

    • sofar

      Yep. And you don’t even need to have a conversation about it if you don’t want to. When the invites go out, text your cousin and say, “Heads up, invitations are in the mail. We are not inviting [boyfriend’s name], given his past behavior.”

      If your cousin demands to talk about it, you just say, “We’ve already discussed it. I have nothing new to add.”

  • Lisa

    Great advice from Liz. I think we can all agree you get a pass on the giving-plus-ones-to-long-term-partners rule here.

    If you end up hiring a DOC or if there is a venue coordinator on-site the day of your wedding, I’d give her a heads up to the situation and ask her to keep an eye out so he can be removed if necessary. Otherwise, you could potentially one of your largest, intimidating friends to play bouncer and keep him out if your cousin decides to ignore your wishes.

    Good luck, LW. This is a shitty situation, but hopefully your cousin won’t stir up too much drama so you don’t have to deal with it on your wedding day.

    • Zoya

      Yes to the coordinator/bouncer point. Seems applicable to all sorts of difficult party guest situations: having someone who is emotionally detached from the situation run interference.

    • penguin

      Yep this is a situation that calls for a Brute Squad (à la Princess Bride). I was nervous about some people trying to start shit at my wedding, so I talked it over with my older brother and he and his friend were my Brute Squad. They were keeping an eye on everything, and would occasionally make eye contact with me to make sure I was doing ok and didn’t need anything. They didn’t end up needing to do anything (that I know of) but it made me feel a lot better knowing that they were on it.

      • Lisa

        Yes, just being able to outsource the worry about this and having a back-up plan might help the LW feel more relaxed on her wedding day.

    • PAJane

      And make sure all those people have a picture of the guy.

      • Lisa

        Yes, sorry, that’s what I meant by heads up and eyes out, but I should have been clearer. All bouncers/DOCs/venue coordinators should have a photograph of the cousin and boyfriend.

    • Jenny

      Agree, I would also probably pass down through family communication lines that the venue has security (meaning anything from security to the DOC/person on call) and will be removing cousin’s partner should he choose to show up un-invited. It might just make it less likely for there to be a boundary pushed since it’ll be clear that you have a plan to push back.

  • rai

    100% agree. For my own wedding, I extended this no-invite idea to include people who are emotionally abusive…my father was not invited, nor was my sister’s boyfriend. I wanted/needed my wedding to be a safe space. #notsorry #bestdecision

    • PAJane

      Good! Was there much pushback? Did anybody else decide not to come out of protest, or in solidarity with them?

      • rai

        No pushback from my sister, thankfully, but my dad was SUPER pissed and that effectively ended what tiny shred of a relationship we had. But it was totally the right decision for me and I stand by it.

  • It sounds like LW is close to her cousin which makes this difficult, but I have to be honest I would seriously reconsider inviting the cousin also — Her doing things like “forcing him over to say hi to me” is a pretty egregious boundary violation.

    Either way, she should not worry about not inviting this dude, and I hope that there is a family member who’s willing to step up and escort him out if he does show.

    • penguin

      Agreed. I also didn’t see Liz address this part of LW’s letter – “I always thought she would be one of my bridesmaids if I ever got married”. Just in case LW is thinking about it – I definitely would NOT make this cousin a bridesmaid, if she’s invited at all.

      • Zoya

        Ooh, good catch.

      • Reeeeally good point.

    • jem

      Agreed… I had a friend whose boyfriend was verbally abusive to me and I decided not to invite either of them to my wedding. Also decided to stop being friends with her, because she continued to try to force me be friends with and spend time with her horrible boyfriend. And… that’s not friendship, in my book.

    • Abs

      I feel the same way. I would also encourage LW to think a little bit about *why* she still wants to invite the cousin. Are they really still close? Or is this about honoring a past relationship or keeping the door open to a future one? Sometimes when you’re thinking about whom to invite to your wedding, it can feel like such a huge thing in the relationship–like, if I don’t invite this person to my wedding now, the door is closed between us in the future. Some families and some cultures are like that, but not all, and perhaps not as much as we sometimes think.

      If LW is only inviting the cousin because she hopes that someday the cousin will dump the boyfriend and things will go back to normal, I don’t think she necessarily has to worry about that. Either they will become close again or they won’t–LW’s wedding isn’t going to be the deciding factor.

      • PAJane

        I’ve definitely seen wedding invitations or the lack thereof change relationships. If she doesn’t invite the cousin, it’s a definitely possibility that their relationship could have some permanent damage. But, again, why is she maintaining a friendship with someone who doesn’t care that her boyfriend is a gropey creep? Is honoring some childhood vision more important than considering their present relationship for what it actually is, now?

        • Cleo

          In defense of the cousin, if her boyfriend is comfortable being so gross in public, who knows how manipulative he’s being in private. Could it be that he has the cousin snowed, is using abusive/abuse-adjacent tactics to keep her under his thumb, etc.? In this case, when/if (hopefully when), the cousin is ready to get out of the relationship, it would help for her to know she has a good support system out there.

          Of course LW should continue to value her own mental and emotional health above that of someone who is supporting a sexual predator, but since LW feels the relationship with her cousin is worth preserving and there are decent odds this creep is being creepy to her too, I don’t know whether I’d advise throwing the baby out with the bathwater just yet.

          • PAJane

            Agreed, there’s definitely a case to be made to keep open lines of communication with someone who’s in an abusive relationship. I would question whether that has to extend to a wedding invitation, specifically, but the LW does sound like she still loves the cousin and wants her there.

        • Zoya

          In this case, I’d argue that the relationship is already damaged. The wedding invitation isn’t the cause, it’s the consequence.

  • Sara

    Since your cousin has turned a blind eye to his behavior, I am willing to bet she will pull a ‘well if he can’t come, I won’t either’ argument. Be prepared to stand your ground with her and for the possibility of her not coming. That’s not on you at all. Its her choice. It sucks when people we love choose to love awful people.

    • Amy March

      Yup. “Oh well!” She won’t come? That is not a problem you need to invest any time in solving.

  • PAJane

    It’s good that LW’s immediate family are supportive (and will presumably back her up on the no-invite front), but I have to wonder what’s up with the rest of the family. Who are the other people he’s grabbed? Is anybody other than the cousin actively defending this guy, or are they just shrugging it off? How many people does he have to grab before he’s no longer welcome at family reunions? Come on, extended family, get with the program.

    • Eh

      My aunt defends her son-in-law to no end after a family member accused him of taking pictures of her preschool-aged daughter while the girl slept in her own room during a family get-together (the police and CAS were called). My aunt blames the other family member for causing her daughter and son-in-law pain and leaving a black mark on his name (note: little girl was in therapy over the incident). These two parts of the family can’t be in the same room. When they see each other in public my aunt or my cousin will get verbally abusive towards the other family member/her family. I was very worried about my aunt’s son-in-law coming to my wedding and very relieved when he (and, unfortunately, my cousin) couldn’t make it (I didn’t want to invite him but there was a lot of pressure from my family to invite him because my dad has tried to maintain relationships with both families and he knew my aunt would take the exclusion of her son-in-law as us taking sides). The only time my aunt’s family and the victim’s family have been in the same room since the incident was at my wedding (the victim’s grandparents were there, along with my aunt/uncle and their two other children). That was unbearably uncomfortable for my aunt, so she refused to go to my sister’s wedding since the little girl attended and her family were going. The rest of my aunt’s family also declined the invitation.

      • PAJane

        I’m exhausted just reading this.

        • Eh

          It is exhausting dealing with them. Luckily I live far away from them so I don’t need to do that much.

  • Abs

    This is a bit off topic, but I would actually love to see an etiquette discussion of who you really should strike off your wedding guest list. Like, in this moment, how do we go about making the decision of whether the creeps and their enablers in our social circles should be invited to our weddings? I’m thinking maybe a list of factors to consider, because there are a lot of variables, and a lot of pressure coming from all sides that makes these decisions feel even harder.

  • Emily

    THIS IS THE RIGHT DECISION. You don’t need some one to solve this, you got it, just here in solidarity

  • Jess

    1) THIS IS THE RIGHT DECISION.

    2) If you think there’s a more-than-small chance the cousin would bring this guy anyway? I grant you permission to not invite your cousin either.

    • suchbrightlights

      Cosigned.

  • ManderGimlet

    Just want to drop in and say: way to freakin’ GO, LW! You have faced so much bs from this dude and your cousin and even in your letter you have exuded such grace, patience, and compassion (more than probably anyone deserves!) I hope you have a wonderful wedding, and that your cousin dumps the jerk before your big day!

  • bunnycat

    Pretty solid advice, but I’d really like to note one thing:

    Telling a survivor of sexual assault (and yes, groping is sexual assault) that they’re doing “all the right things” is dangerous and unproductive. If another survivor has *not* chosen to tell anyone, you run the risk of making them feel like they’re “doing” their healing process wrong. Just a thought for the future.

    • Liz

      I appreciate this, thank you.

    • Circling back to this now that I’m at my desk! I just updated the post, you’re completely correct. This one was written on a tighter turn-around than usual, and I had earmarked that phrase to come back and edit later, but then missed it in the shuffle.

      • bunnycat

        Hey, thanks so much for being open and thoughtful about this. Much appreciated. :)

  • Pingback: My Cousin’s Boyfriend Groped Me—Why Is Keeping Him off My Guest List My Problem? | Wedding Adviser()

  • KH_Tas

    Agree on making adults responsible and actions having consequences, even if they’re family. We actually had a version of this at our wedding, though he wasn’t close – a cousin was omitted from the guest list for domestic violence, and we were open about that being the reason.
    Related, a slight acquaintance sent word to us that she was sorry about not inviting us to her wedding, but they’d had to make it really small to have the excuse to not invite the person who had punched her at the engagement party (she was hospitalised). I didn’t mind not going at all, but I was sad that her well-being wasn’t reason enough for this person to be uninvited forever.

  • Anonymous

    Chiming in as a guest.

    1. I support the LW decision to create a celebration where guests and hosts are comfortable.
    2. A backup plan and some third-party folks to address a potential wedding crash might be useful.
    3. I empathize. This is a shitty situation to experience. My fiancée’s brother is similar to the bf of the LW’s cousin. In the years since I first met my future BIL, his behavior escalated from awkward announcements of his opinion of how hot I am, to multiple drunken ass grabbings, to walking in on me while I was changing. It has felt like I had to be preemptive in every scenario (to the point that I suspected he might walk in on me changing, so I deliberately made sure the door closed inward so if he did walk in, I would have bought some time hiding behind the door). Both my fiancé and I had really challenging approaches and and conversations with each other trying to create game plans for no-contact, in essence focusing on what we can control: our time, our words, our actions. We reached out to other trust-worthy relatives to let them know what happened to me, and provided anecdotes that other folks shared. Most other relatives understand how much of a creep the future BIL is. We basically found our own time and moments to be with family we appreciate and trust, and they have been kind in that. Fiancée and I have have been up front–sometimes finding lukewarm reception for our preferences…Mostly with fiancée’s parents. It’s a constant reminder that we don’t want to interact with the BIL, but seems to sink in more each time it’s discussed. They often say that “even if he is an ass,” they don’t want to take sides, and they’re worried about what might happen if they do. (FWIW, the future BIL probably has other issues that create a Big Jerk.) What I’ve learned is it’s a tough balance to figure out when not all folks started out on the same page/boundaries/not okay vs. okay with ‘lumpy rugs’, but I feel better and more comfortable since fiancé and I have a game plan for what we want, need and will do. Mostly, when it comes to fiancé’s brother, the brother’s wife and their daughter–the fiancé and I are estranged as a duo with them. Fiancé does his own trips on holidays or to family gatherings where BIL will be there too. We decided in advance that if BIL gets word and shows up to a family gathering uninvited, fiancé and I will leave. That said, the whole ‘family is family’, and weddings as family reunions theory, has made implementing this approach for our wedding planning tedious…to the point where we want to elope… But, no matter, our approach to the scenario is to keep telling folks our stance: he and his family are not invited, and remind them of reasons, and keep everyone in the know about his habits. Frankly? I’m a bit grateful the meToo timing bc FFS, it shouldn’t take newspapers worths of content to drop jaws and put things in perspective, but if it helps ground the conversation, that’s important.