Q: Remember that saying “friends are the family we choose”? I grew up in a household that had that saying on a giant refrigerator magnet, and I never forgot the saying.
Wedding planning has seemed like an unclimbable mountain that catered to the needs of everyone except my fiancee and me. He’s from a huge family (his mother is one of ten), and I’m the only child of two women whose families (for differing reasons) don’t quite see our little trio as “part of the clan.”
This summer, his mother threw us a beautiful engagement party (that I had a very strong hand in planning), and both the planning process and party itself nearly sent me to an early grave. She wanted to throw the party but needed a lot of my input, organization, and connections to make the day go the way she wanted it to; my mothers were initially invited (by me) to stand-in and help plan the shindig, but they were only given one task: cake. My mothers had countless chats with me about how they felt left out of the party planning process, which created a beautiful cocktail of stress and guilt. By the time the actual party arrived, I was so exhausted that I wound up hiding in the “video room” for more than half of the party, and I barely saw my fiancee at all.
We knew that this party was a perfect example of how we did not want our wedding to go.
We used the APW planner and determined first and foremost that we want our wedding to be intimate and that we want it to include our friends. We know that we want to celebrate with family in all capacities, and we also know that we want to give them the attention they’ll want (and the attention they deserve). But we know that our actual wedding, our exchanging of uncensored vows, is the most important part. But if we’ve got a bigger crowd than just our closest friends, I fear that I will censor my vows, because I suspect that they will be quoted back to me by our parents for years to come. I don’t want to censor my vows. I fear that my mothers will cry like I am going off to the Great War; I fear that his mother will micromanage and make the day about her and her side of the family, not about us.
We devised a plan to run away to San Francisco to elope; we wrote the cutest little “top secret” note to the wedding party that invited them to tag along but absolved them of any guilt if they were unable to attend.
When we told my parents, they were (initially) happy; when we told his parents, his dad got really excited and his mom said every negative thing she could about our elopement and elopement in general. My mom never expected anyone from the wedding party to attend and got her feelings hurt when she realized that friends got an invite and she didn’t. His mom talked about the elopement with her family, even though we asked her to keep it a secret.
The spouses of these two have been our quiet cheerleaders, but the moms are making quite a stink. We’re ready to give in and just let them have their ways, in spite of their wishes directly clashing with ours. We don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I’m starting to feel like our feelings haven’t been considered.
So, here’s my question: Is inviting them now setting us up for stress that we were hoping to avoid? Is this somehow showing them that they can control any future endeavors (read: children) if they just get a little upset? Are we terrible people for thinking that our destination elopement won’t be happy and free of guilt-trips if they’re there?
A: Dear B,
Don’t worry too much about setting precedent here. Caving in one situation doesn’t cement the course of your relationship. Establishing boundaries for how you’re treated, for having your decisions respected, is a journey. Sometimes you bend a little, sometimes you cave completely, and even if you don’t make the right decision every single time, the hope is that there’s enough consistency that eventually the boundaries stick.
Honestly, it makes me think of my three-year-old (a tantrum is a tantrum is a tantrum, right?). Ideally, yeah, I’ll never give in to this little malevolent emperor. Ideally, I’ll coolly and calmly reinforce my expectations every single time, without wavering. But man, sometimes he gets to watch another episode of Curious George because I just want to sip my coffee in quiet for a minute. (Is that so much to ask?!) And that one-off isn’t going to spoil my kid, make him grow up to be a jerk, teach him that he can always get his way if he just whines loud enough. Maybe he’ll try that whining again later, and then I’ll get my chance to lay down the law. That one instance is only a moment in a long, continuous series of Curious George requests. Same goes for parents, or anyone else.
I know I spend a whole lot of time on here talking about setting boundaries for how you want to be treated, and about that being an easier habit to build the sooner you get started. That’s all still true, but it should be balanced with a little bit of choosing your battles. Not every confrontation is a hill you want to die on.
So let’s talk about this specific hill you’re camped on right now. You mention that you don’t want to hurt your parents’ feelings. But you’ve got to acknowledge that decisions about whether or not your parents are invited will make them feel something. It will be taken personally, because it is personal. But especially, especially, especially if 1) other folks are invited and they aren’t, and 2) you tell them about it in advance. Both of those little tidbits sort of strip the “eloping” out of this elopement, and your parents can see it for what it really is: a wedding where they’re excluded. By choosing to invite other folks but not them, you’ve made this about avoiding them in specific. By choosing to tell them about it all in advance, you’ve invited all of the drama you were trying to avoid by excluding them, but added the additional drama of actually excluding them. Put another way, now you have to deal with their complaints about the planning and their complaints about not being invited.
I know, coulda, woulda, shoulda. You’re not asking what you should’ve done; you’re asking what to do now. Sorry. But if you get yourself to see your parents’ perspective, it might help you figure out next steps. Because from over here, I’m thinking you cave on this one. Eloping is not, of itself, a bad idea (others have eloped and gone on to write about it here and here). But including some folks while excluding parents (who aren’t estranged or abusive or otherwise trouble outside of basic, annoying parents stuff), and telling your parents up front, “Hey, we’re doing this without you,” are not great choices, if we’re being frank.
This decision isn’t about laying the groundwork for them to control every move from here on out. This is showing them that you care about their opinion and feelings, and can admit to being wrong, and course correct when needed. That’s maybe a little nuanced to convey to them in one swoop, but with any luck you’ll have plenty more opportunities to establish boundaries. I just wouldn’t start with, “We’re inviting all of these people, but not you.”