Dear Captain Awkward,
My wedding is in a month. There is new parental drama that makes me wish we were eloping. How do I still enjoy my wedding?
Fiancée and I are introverts and did not want a huge wedding. My parents do not understand why we would not want 300 guests (despite numerous attempts to explain). We compromised and invited almost everyone they wanted. We will have 100 guests (a lot!).
A few days ago, amidst a calm discussion about wedding logistics, my dad got unexpectedly angry and bitter and said (I quote) “You have made a lot of choices about this wedding that your mom and I would not have made and you just have to live with the fact that you can’t make everyone happy.” He said it in a way that clearly indicated he was bitter and resentful and unhappy. It was out of the blue and really upsetting, very much the “you are a child and I am not going to engage with or respect you” tone of voice. I am about to be 30.
I tried to engage in calm, thoughtful conversation (through tears) about his concerns, but to no avail. He does not communicate about feelings, apologize or have discussions about his behavior. My mom did not get why I was upset (???), but when I talked to her later she did commiserate that he does not apologize for things. I assume he is still upset about invitations, which pisses me off because we invited all of his family (except for some adult children, which caused other drama, long story). I may never know.
My primary concern is how to still enjoy my wedding next month. My mom is confident he will behave and be gracious, and she is probably right, but this outburst was unexpected so I am worried (A++ at anxiety). I also know that any conversation with my dad about this will a) not go anywhere, and b) make it take longer for things to cool down, making day-of wedding drama more likely. But I am both a strong communicator and a strong woman and it is hard to feel like letting it go is letting him win. Wedding planning has been a large source of stress for me (we had a variety of other family/friend invitation drama despite our best attempts), and this is just the icing on the cake. Right now I feel like I am going to burst into tears from one unkind word at the wedding.
I talked about this with my therapist and we are working on practicing being okay with people I care about being upset at/angry with me. I care about my parents very much, but my dad has been the largest source of wedding-related stress, and telling him that will only make things worse. I have a good Team Me in my fiancée and close friends, but it is hard to know what to do so that I can enjoy my wedding while also feeling angry.
Maybe I Should Have Eloped
Your dad gave you an (unintentional) gift with his words. I’ll explain later, when we talk about feelings. For now, you’re 30 days out from your wedding, so, let’s make lists and check things off them.
A. Choose a date, reserve a venue, invite people. DONE! You have compromised all you can and invited all you can invite. This is the final guest list, for better or worse. From this day forward I give you absolute permission to concentrate on the people who will be attending and more specifically the people you are excited to see that day, and let everyone else fade cheerfully into the general fog of well-wishers.
If your parents are continually passing on news of the “Well, I talked to so-and-so, and they are still upset about not being invited” variety, it’s okay to say “We are not changing the guest list. It’s done. If so-and-so is really that upset, tell them to take it up directly with me… after the wedding.” There is an 90% chance that So-and-so doesn’t give a shit about your wedding and your parents are using their name to chew on the drama of it all again.
B. Make sure people have places to sit and pee and stuff to eat and drink. DONE! You’re 30 days out, you have doubtless locked almost all of this stuff down. Your obligation to your guests is fulfilled. Your job from here on out is to show up and get married.
C. A ceremony of some sort with legal documents. I’m also assuming this is being handled. Great job!
You’ve done the hardest part! This event is situated on the space-time continuum and people are coming to it.
D. With the help of your fiancée, make a list of anything & everything logistical that it’s essential to discuss with either of your parents between now and the wedding. Is there something the parents are bringing? Is there transportation stuff/clothing stuff/hotel stuff that needs nailed down? Put it on the list! Is there something that isn’t really important and can be deleted from the list or solved without consulting them? Great! Cross it off the list.
E. Now, use the list and generate a cheerful, joint, “We can’t wait to see you! Here are all the last-minute details in one place!” email to your folks. From now until the wedding day, there is nothing to negotiate or deeply discuss, there is only implementation of decisions long past made: “Are you still good to pick up the cake? It will be ready at 10am that day. Let me know, thank you!” or “Don’t worry about that, it’s all handled! Just come and enjoy yourself.”
F. One of the benefits of marriage that people tend to undersell: You now have a built-in buffer and teammate and stressful-relative-switch-hitter, for life! Your dad is stressing you out right now, so, maybe your fiancée can take point. “Hello, how are you? Nice to hear your voice! Letter Writer is driving/asleep/I just pried the phone out of their hands and made them take the rest of night off from wedding crap, but I’m here! What’s up?” You can do the same with her most stressful relative. If the person is calling to be pleasant, everything will be pleasant. If the person is calling to shower disappointment on you, they can be disappointed about how they didn’t get to do that.
G. Do you have a wedding party person or gregarious friend who can be Dad-buffer at the wedding? This is not an uncommon or unusual request! Even nice families where everyone likes each other stress each other out around big life events. The designated person makes pleasant party small talk with your dad – “Your child looks great! I’m so happy for both of them! What a great party this is! What is it that you do, sir? Wow, that sounds interesting, how did you get into that?” – and you get a little breathing room and permission to relax between now and then. Your dad will most likely pull it together and behave himself on that day, so this is just a security blanket, but if for some reason he doesn’t your buffer will handle it and you’ll never even know.
Parent logistics stuff, solved! We’re almost there! Let’s talk about enjoying yourself.
H. Make sure that on your wedding day you and your fiancée have some time that’s just by yourselves, for yourselves, with no one looking at you. The great Offbeat Bride team has some pieces about how to implement this:
1) “Introvert wedding survival tips and weddings for shy people”
2) “Avoid wedding day memory loss: How to slow down and actually remember your wedding.” If you’re only finding that site 30 days before the big day, I’m sorry! It helped me so much.
What I’d add to Offbeat Bride’s lists for introverts:
3) Give your eyes breaks. Our ceremony was probably 10 minutes long? Turns out that is much too long to look deeply into into someone’s eyes, even the eyes of your favorite person. Just know that going in.
4) Talk to your photographer. I don’t know if you have photography anxiety, but I do. Our photographer knew and he was great at gently and quickly getting the stuff he knew we’d want someday. He made it fun and low key and gave me breaks and I didn’t feel surveilled or pinned down by a lens the whole time. Your photographer wants to know the bare bones of awkward stuff like “Spouse’s parents are divorced, so, we’ll definitely take some with both parents but make sure we get some with Just Mom and Just Dad.” A pro will take all this in and make it go smoothly. Also, you do not have to pose for pictures with every single person who came to your wedding. Have mercy on yourselves and all these people, let them get to the buffet and the having fun part.
5) Let your officiant officiate. We…okay…I…wanted to go no-cameras (except for our pro) during the ceremony itself. If I’d told people that ahead of time I’d have heard a whole bunch of jibber-jabber about it but having the officiant spring it on people right before the ceremony meant nobody could grumble at us where we had to listen to it.
Okay. Now is the time in this list/pep talk where we address what your dad said:
“You have made a lot of choices about this wedding that your mom and I would not have made and you just have to live with the fact that you can’t make everyone happy.”
He meant it as a “neg.” He meant “you’re gonna have to live with my/our disappointment.” He meant it to get you to apologize for something or give in on some point of negotiation (or to stop insisting on making yourself happy).
But the words say: “you just have to live with the fact that you can’t make everyone happy.” And these are true words. These words are a gift. They can be a shield, or they can be ammunition. As in, the next time he’s a pill about something wedding-related you can remind yourself, that hey, you can’t make everyone happy, and some people might be disappointed no matter what you do, so stop trying to win their approval (INCLUDING YOU, DAD). He probably will never apologize or get it and things might stay a little strained for a while. But you have a secret weapon when things get tense, and that weapon is “Hey, Dad, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll think about it!” (You will think about it, and quietly not take the suggestion).
He’ll grumble, and you’ll say, “Dad, I know that’s not what you want to hear, but like someone very wise once said, I have to stop trying so hard to make everyone happy.” He’ll grumble more – he didn’t meant that you should stop trying to make HIM happy – but you can smile and keep saying “Thanks Dad! Those were really wise words, you helped me a lot. As long as fiancée and I are a team, we don’t have to make everyone happy,” and eventually he’ll STFU. Weaponized filial piety as judo, where you use your opponent’s strength and aggression against him.
It’s not the job of your wedding to make everyone happy or to express your exact social class markers and culture and perfect taste with just enough individual touches to feel really authentic and just enough tradition that it will still be recognizable to the olds as a wedding. It’s not your wedding’s job to spackle over the awkward patches in your family, to make up for lost time, to bring you all closer together, to make the unsayable sayable, to provide reconciliation and catharsis. It’s not your wedding’s job to be your happiest day of your life or to live up to some fantasy. It’s one day, hopefully a happy one, in a hopefully long and happy life.
OK STORY TIME in the style of bitchesgottaeat.
I hated wedding planning. I resented every second of it. I had no dream or fantasy wedding from childhood. I was also in pain all the time, and had weekly physical therapy for an injured knee and shoulder injury that made it hard to put on a bra by myself or reliably wipe my butt for months. My future mother-in-law was in and out of the hospital for a persistent MRSA-like infection. Would she even be able to come? I was working four little jobs that almost but not quite made a whole job pay-wise but made 1.5 jobs time-wise, now with extra commuting! Our wedding was exactly one month before Election Day, 2016. My dentist: “You’re grinding your teeth.” No shit?
I hated all the gender expectations around it, like, why are people asking me what our “theme” would be? Is it because I’m the lady? Why do I have to know this shit? (Me: “WTF is theme.” Commander Logic: “You don’t have to have a theme.” Me: “THANK YOU” Note: We did sort of end up with one? Lyrics here.)
I knew I was the one stressing MYSELF out, like, nobody was making me do this, if you’re planning a party about love you have good problems, we had survived some very hard things together especially in 2014 and really did want to celebrate with our friends and families, so why was I making it so much harder on myself than it had to be? Because my brain has a hateful shitlord lodged inside it that second-guesses literally everything is the answer to that question.
I had many conversations with my mom where she was disappointed in or unable to understand my choices (to not spend a zillion dollars that I don’t have, to not add starving myself to my already full to-do list). In one phone call she told me people in our family might not want to come if it wasn’t going to be “enough like a wedding.” She started apologizing to family in front of us when told them we’d set a date and a place – “Well, it’s going to be very rustic!” – and tried to talk us into her throwing a second fancy party where they live in case family didn’t want to make the trip here. (Note: My family is not actually fancy, this was all projection.) She was also hurt and disappointed that I was having a civil ceremony instead of faking and lying my way through a Catholic wedding and wondered aloud, on Mother’s Day, if she was a bad parent because somehow all of her kids had rejected God, or did we do it on purpose to hurt her feelings. (My suggestion that my younger brother who runs his own church called Warriors 4 Christ and sells Christian-themed camping and fishing gear loved God enough for all of us was not received well).
She did not body-police me…much…but she about bit through her tongue to not do it and would always mention conspicuously how she wanted to lose about x more pounds before she bought something to wear. Me: “Mmmhmm.” About a year beforehand I brought a $40 wedding dress on clearance (literally the first thing I saw online that met the criteria of “might fit” and “don’t hate”) that I ended up wearing on my actual wedding day (yay!) but I would have paid 10x that even if I didn’t wear it because it allowed to say, truthfully, “Aw, thanks for the offer to go wedding dress shopping, that’s so sweet, but I already have my dress!” for a calendar year.
My mom came out for a nice shower that my friends threw in the summer. It was so sweet of her to come. She helped me pick out my wedding ring. She gave me a generous gift. She also did the maddening thing she does where she walks very very fast until she’s far ahead of me and then stops and impatiently glares at me until I catch up. My knee had been healing but I re-aggravated it trying to keep up with her the whole weekend. Mr. Awkward put a stop to that when he came out with us on the last day. When she’d walk ahead, he’d stop walking and wait for her to do the glare thing. “Where are you going? Jennifer’s the only one who knows the way, so, you’re going to have to walk with us if you want to get there.” And he’d stand until she had to walk back to where we were and before we’d start off again. And you know, it turns out she can modulate her walking speed after a couple rounds of that? Who knew?
Like you, I had a lot of anxiety about would my mom freak my shit out and make me cry on the day itself. One hint of “Wait, is that what you’re wearing?” (and it wouldn’t have to be in words, it could be a look or a sniff or a sigh) and we would have deeply tested the waterproofness of that expensive mascara. One thing that helped, I guess, is that I saw her at breakfast but I didn’t see her at all during the girly-getting-ready part of the day. I had invited her to stop by our hotel room but she never came. It infuriated my wedding party ladies that she didn’t but I think it was a gift that she didn’t, the gift of breathing room.
A week before the wedding Mr. Awkward asked when we were going to have people throw rice. I was like, throw what? And he was like, you know, when you leave, and people throw rice. And I was like, um, are we doing that? And he was like, well, in my family, we make little bags of rice, and then we throw it when the couple leaves the venue, and that thing where it supposedly hurts birds is not real, so, I’d like it to be rice and not glitter or bubbles or whatever. And I was like, okay, I understand that people do that, but again I ask you, what? And he was like RICE, WHEN THE PEOPLE THROW THE RICE. FOR THE LUCK. And I was like OKAY, WHAT FUCKING RICE? WHERE IS THIS RICE COMING FROM? I SEE NO RICE IN MY BUDGET, THE ONE I LOOK AT EVERY DAY. WHO WILL BE CREATING THESE CHARMING LITTLE BAGS? and he was like My mom and sisters can do it and I’m like okay, did you ask them, and he’s like well, it’s a little late for that now, and I’m like okay, so…
…and he’s like DO YOU EVEN WANT TO GET MARRIED? BECAUSE YOU SHIT ON EVERY SINGLE TRADITION. IF NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS ENJOYABLE FOR YOU WHY ARE WE EVEN DOING THIS? and I was like WELL I DO WANT TO BE MARRIED TO YOU BUT THE REST OF THAT IS A VERY GOOD QUESTION and he was like OH MY GOD, CAN YOU JUST LIKE TRY TO HAVE FUN AND ENJOY THE STUPID LITTLE TRADITIONS BECAUSE THEY MAKE OTHER PEOPLE HAPPY AND IT’S PART OF WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE A WEDDING and I was like I AM HAVING A LOT OF ANXIETY RIGHT NOW, SO, NO, PROBABLY NOT? AND WHY IS THIS THE FIRST TIME I’M HEARING ABOUT YOUR DEEP NEED TO BE PELTED WITH GRAIN?
He stormed off and called his mom for their weekly chat.
I googled “Is rice a grain or a seed?” and “Can you die of decision fatigue”
When he came out of the bedroom after the phone call he apologized for yelling at me and for introducing changes to the wedding plan past the statute of wedding planning limitations and we both said a bunch of mushy stuff that I don’t remember and fell asleep in front of the TV.
And then a week later, we had a party where we got married at it. Everyone who came had a chair and enough to eat and drink. Our dirtbag friend taught all the 10-year-old girls to throw a real punch in case Trump won the election and they had to fight Nazis someday. My mom was pleasant and kind and after the ceremony she told me she loved what we’d done and went to go tell our officiant. She said that she could tell Mr. Awkward and I were two of a kind and she loved the way we always had each other’s backs and looked out for each other. My dad went to Extrovert Mustache Dad heaven, where it’s surprising that the collected guests did not carry him around on their shoulders singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow” by the end of it. When I see my friends now their first question is “How’s your dad? Tell him I said hi! Is he visiting soon? Can we visit him in Massachusetts?”
It was, in the end, not “just party, ugh, what’s the big deal?” as I’d said to myself for the better part of a year. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and cool to have all these different people from our lives in one place at the same time. It was overwhelming and cool to have our friends and family help us and come through for us in all these small and big ways. It was a very big deal. It didn’t hit me how big until it was actually happening, and then it went by so fast.
And now it’s over, and Mr. Awkward and I are like “Thank you for helping me lock it down before I had to learn about Tinder” and “We never have to plan one of those again, HIGH FIVE (never leave me).”
- Wedding planning CAN SUCK SO BAD. Especially if it’s not in your wheelhouse and you don’t have “eh, let’s just throw money at this problem” money.
- Eloping is still an option. You probably won’t do it because you’ve already spent so much money. But you can! As commenters suggested, maybe have a relaxed secret courthouse jam next week, or some other private ceremony?
- Weird family stuff won’t get magically fixed but people can surprise you.
- Small weddings are great, big weddings are great. I know the size of yours is freaking you out, but the benefit of having a lot of people around is that any one person doesn’t stand out that much. Also, wedding guests are extremely self-amusing.
- If you hang in I basically promise you something lovely and enjoyable will happen on that day.
Come back in a month for your official IT’S OVER high-five.