ASK SARAH: wedding planning woes

today’s email question made my heart hurt when i read it, so of course i’m going to give the best advice i can for laura. and if you’ve been through something similar or want to throw in your two cents in the comment section, please do!

…this is going to be a long long story – thank you for just reading it and you’re brave if you consider answering it. I’m 26 and my boyfriend is 30. We’ve been dating for about 5 ½ years… I’m ready to get married; he’s ready to get married. However, we have a lot of family baggage (and by we I really mean me). When we started dating we’d been friends for a year (co-workers – he was actually my boss but I quit before we started dating). I was in college and he was in grad school. I wasn’t really at the best place in life and wasn’t taking the best care of myself. I was drinking a lot, and wasn’t doing well in my classes. I was really depressed. Brian sort of saved me from it all, and really helped me get my act together. 

My parents didn’t really realize how bad I was doing, and they sort of realized right when Brian and I started dating. And ending up blaming him for being a bad influence – which was not the case. I’ve never been really close with either my Mom or Dad. They’re very very strict and conservative – I’m not. I just want to be happy and live a good life.

Within three months of dating we moved in together. And my parents were really upset, because I ‘live in sin’ and we have a two bedroom apartment. Seriously.  The insults have just gotten worse from there. Brian and my parents have absolutely no relationship with each other, and have only met once. Lots of hurtful things have been said, and I hate the situation that I’m in. I’m always forced to pick, so of course I pick Brian.

That’s the summed of version of the past five years. Now: I want to get married. How do I handle my family situation? I’m not close to any of my family (we moved away when I was ten). In my mind, my dream wedding is the smallest wedding ever (BTW I’m a wedding photographer) – like all I want is my two best friends (and their spouses) and Brian’s two best friends (and their spouses).  So like 10 people or less including us – or I want to elope.

Is that selfish? If I get married and don’t invite my parents I know the situation will only become worse if not ruining our relationship. It would hurt them. But how can I invite someone that’s been so negative and hurtful? Brian’s Mom and brother have always wanted to be sweet to us, but can I invite his Mom and not mine? My relationship has always been a little bit better with my Mom than with my Dad. But they’re married so I can’t invite without the other. Brian doesn’t want to influence my choice; he wants me to decide how to handle my parents. (Also, I tried talking to my Mom once and the conversation didn’t go very well.)

So my options are:

1- invite everyone and hope for the best

2- only invite a few close friends

3- elope

4- never get married and avoid this situation

What should I do? Thoughts?

My answer:

laura, i am so sad for you, your fiance and your family.  you sound like a lovely and caring person, it’s tragic that they’ll miss out on sharing your life with you because of stubbornness and a belief system that clearly isn’t working for them.

that being said, a wedding day is about making a lifelong commitment to your partner.  it’s a foundation for a marriage and for another family that you’re creating.  and having the people around you that love and support you in that is a beautiful thing.  my recommendation would be to have the ceremony with just your closest friends, exactly the way you want it.  when you tell your families you will have to downplay it all a bit, maybe making it sound like it was a last minute decision to do it that way or telling them that you couldn’t afford to do a big wedding and this was the best way for you to do it without offending extended family. 

your families may be hurt, but they have to take a certain amount of ownership of their own feelings. anyone who loves you selflessly would understand that you were doing what’s best for your relationship and creating the foundation for your marriage the best way you saw fit and would support you in it.  time will pass and hurt feelings will fade, but you will always have the memory of your wedding day, and i’ve been told by others that have been married for a long time that there are days when that memory alone keeps you going. it’s worth all of the struggle to make it as special as you can for the two of you.

lou and i struggled with the same thing: to have our wedding the way it was expected we have it or follow our hearts and have the wedding we dreamed of.  we chose to make it our own, with every bit of it exactly the way we wanted it to be. i could not be happier with our decision {full disclosure: the family that was upset moved on quickly and were able to express happiness and love for us, so we were very fortunate}.  

good luck to you laura!  whatever you do, let the friends and family that do support you lift you up and surround you in love during this amazing time in your lives, and do your best to focus on that rather than the love and support that is missing.  and congratulations to you and brian, wishing you all the best!

* photo by me for birds of a feather

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Reader Comments

  1. Boston mama|

    Dear Laura,
    Im sorry about your family issues. I dont have the best relationship with my mom either, but Ive been in enough weddings to know that sometimes they help improve family relationships. I suggest you talk to your mom about your upcoming wedding plans and gauge her reaction and support. Move on if you continue experiencing the same negativity from her. After all its YOUR especial day. Regardless of what you decide to do with your own parents; I suggest inviting your boyfriends family (since theyve been nice to you) because its his especial day too, and he would certainly appreciate having them there.
    Good luck to you and congratulation!

  2. Sasha|

    I think you need to write a letter to your Mum and Dad letting them know how you feel, tell them you are sad how things have turned out and they cant see how happy you are. A letter lets you say all the things you need to without getting interrupted and it might just be the thing. You'll feel better for being the one who has extended the olive branch and said everything you wanted to say. Then if things don't work out don't be hurt because you took the risk, sometimes family are worth the try xx

  3. Cynthia|

    Elope. There is no other way to avoid the fallout that will come with having a friends only wedding. Sadly, your parents just do not see their behaviour and lack of support as problematic – they will never understand why you didn't invite them. If you elope the focus will stay on you and Brian, your love of each other and your day will only be about the two of you. No guilt. No stress. No worries about what will happen next. Just love for each other and becoming husband and wife. Elope.

  4. Sonja|

    What a terrible conundrum you are in. I've been married for 25 years now and have an 18 year old daughter. So I can see this situation from both sides.

    First, despite all of their negativity and mean behavior, your mom and dad do love you very much. That love is probably driving their spite … moms and dads love and want the best for their kids. It might be that they have a back story that prevents them from seeing how happy you are (your relationship with them aside).

    OTOH, if they are going to be mean and hurtful to your fiancee, it is right for you to exclude them as you plan your celebration. You are creating your own family and your own future together and as an adult, you have the responsibility to take that on yourself as an independent young woman.

    I think writing them a letter ahead of time in which you are kind and gracious, but firm about what kind of behavior is acceptable might go a long way to healing this rift. Make it a sandwich … love … hard news … more love. While having your wedding without family is a perfectly wonderful alternative to the big overblown wedding, taking steps to heal the rift would go a long way towards helping you feel wonderful about whatever decision you make.

  5. katie d.|

    Make your day exactly what you want it to be. You won't regret it. In contrast, I'm very close with my family, but I still ran away to Hawaii with just 19 people and it was fabulous. I don't regret for an instant doing it my way. Keep the day to being about you and your husband and not about family politics.
    That's just my two cents. I'm sorry for your situation and hope you can all mend fences someday, but let your wedding day be only about happiness.

  6. lucy in the sky|

    I'd tell you what I would do: I would make the arrangements for the kind of wedding my fiance and I decide to have and I would invite my parents as if they were any other people. If the will attend or not, it is THEIR decision, not yours. If do not invite them, they will get hurt, so, do that and give them a chance to enjoy such a precious moment with you.
    My best wishes to all of u,