Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wedding Question

Harris and I are starting to plan our wedding. I never, ever imagined it would be as complicated to plan something that's supposed to be "a simple, small wedding"!

I need advice.

Background: As you might guess, my parents won't be there and I don't have a large extended family I'm close to. It's likely that the only blood family of mine that attends will be two or three (HOPEFULLY, HINT!) of my siblings. In any case, I asked my brother to walk me down the aisle (not "give me away" - just accompany me). This makes me very happy and I'm fine with keeping it intimate. Harris' family is huge! His parents are willing to pay the added expenses of adding people to the guest list and I guess I should be grateful for that and let it go. But, I really don't want this to become a spectacle. His parents and I normally get along really well but they're not understanding how awkward I would feel having 200 people on the groom's side and 10 on the bride's side.
Question: Does anyone have any ideas as to how to keep this small AND satisfy Harris' family?

Should I get over it? Am I being stubborn over something that just isn't going to matter in ten years?


  1. Could you tell them that you want the church ceremony to be for immediate family only, and perhaps they would like to throw a seperate reception in your (and Harris's) honor at a later date?

  2. I was coming to post exactly what Jessim already said. Have a small ceremony with just family and then have a larger reception. IMO, that eliminates "sides". Also, with the dysfunction on your side, I think you should be working on considering Harris' family *your* family.

  3. Small ceremony, large reception.

  4. I was *just* going to post the same thought as Jessim's .... I was in a similar situation (for different reasons) and that is how we solved my sure-to-be-awkwardness. It helped that my MIL (mother-in-law) was open to my feelings and when she (finally) understood it was not them I was worried about, but my very own enjoyment in marrying my loving husband (and his equally loving family) would be overshadowed by a tru sense of loss in not having my own family present.

    We married in my husband's best friend's house with another friend as officiant. Much later there was a large party for everyone else.
    You will need to put on your best game face and be prepared to work at winning over the ones not invited to the ceremony, but if do it well you will be forgiven.

  5. We would (and did) have only immediate family be present at our wedding. DH and I had a civil ceremony 16 years ago and the only people invited were grandparents (not many alive), parents, siblings, and adult children of siblings, plus a couple of friends and young children who were implicitly invited. My DH had far more people on his side than mine because he is one of five siblings and I am an only child. We also invited a couple of our closest friends.

    I have to say that 200 people on either side would have freaked me out. I didn't want to get married in front of anyone other than my closest friends and family (and I could cope with a few "must haves").

    I would suggest that only grandparents, parents, siblings, and siblings' children can attend the actual wedding, and then the reception is open for the other relatives.

    You aren't being stubborn unless you aren't listening to what Harris wants. If he genuinely wants lots of his family involved in the wedding then you need to explain why that is difficult for you. Chances are he is thinking "wedding - her domain, I won't say anything" until you do say something.

    Last thing - when you do get married look at each other during the ceremony. Many years ago my DH noticed that most people getting married looked at the celebrant and not at each other while they were getting married. Look at each other when you give your promises.

    Oh, and the wedding is really the least of it - the best part is the marriage. DH and I childfree by choice, atheist from birth, and happily married for 16 years.

  6. You don't have to stick to the rule of "sides" in the wedding. Just tell the ushers to seat people evenly.

    But I also like the idea of private wedding. then have everyone to the reception. You can always elope!

  7. don't do "sides." Just fill the rows. Every person who attends will be there because they care about the two of you. Weddings are for family, and they (all 200 of them, lol) will be part of *your* family.

    I'm sad that so many of your birth family won't be there. I'm sure that hurts. But fill the ceremony site with people who care, accept and support you two.

  8. I agree with those who said just don't do "sides"! You can tell the ushers to seat everyone however you want.

    If it's freaking you out to have so many people at your wedding, talk to Harris. It's your wedding and his wedding, not anyone else's. If he wants all those people there, you should try to be understanding. If not, you two can be brave together and only invite who you want there. :-)

  9. Not doing sides is fine, but even if you do sides, it's not the big deal you fear. I attended a wedding where there were 70 or 80 people on the Bride's side and I was one of four people on the Groom's side (similar to your situation, it was a screwed-up family and not his fault). The Groom didn't feel conspicuous or awkward about it, and neither did I or the other Groom's guests. Those of us on his side were higher-profile than those on the Bride's side, but we also felt kind of special. I've often had lovely memories of that wedding, and I only remembered the situation of the imbalance in the "sides" when I read this post.

  10. I agree with the "small wedding, large reception" idea. When my husband and I were married, we had parents and siblings (and a couple of my friends) at the wedding (a small, Elizabethan Anglican wedding in the middle of a snow emergency in Western NY- we got over 36 inches of snow that day!) and it was beyond perfect. I had no idea how awesome it would be, and it was way better than I thought. We ended up having a huge wedding reception later that year (on a beach in August) which was great because it was casual and not a giant drag to keep details straight, and we could focus on one thing at a time (first the wedding and later the reception) without it turning into a giant mess of plans and planners and dropped balls and people falling through, etc. Sure, some extended family members were a little put-off by not having been invited (until they realized they dodged a giant, snowy bullet) but the reception was a lot of relaxed fun, and "us." Whatever you do, make it "you guys," rather than just plodding through what a wedding looks like to everyone. <3

  11. I have a fairly small extended family; I'm not estranged from them but they just live far away and have never been a huge part of my life. My husband has a massive and close-knit family. We were simply unable (and also unwilling) to have a huge wedding and decided early on that it was going to be small (we had 36).

    If you and Harris don't want 200 people there, then you don't have to have 200 people there. It's the two of you getting married, not his mom, and so you get to have exactly the number of people you want.

    Talk about it with him, make a decision, and present a unified front. If you decide you want a small wedding, develop a script and stick to it. e.g. "I appreciate your support and enthusiasm, but we have decided we'd like to have a small event. We've made our decision on the guest list, thank you." Repeat as necessary. Good luck!

    If they want to throw a separate party, let them go ahead. Tell them to send an invitation and you'll show up whenever.

  12. Remember, these people are excited to welcome you into their family. They are there in love. You are important! The choice of venue, style, music, etc. is what will make it "you", and if you have control over that, who cares who's watching? Doing a private ceremony or eloping is lovely (and go for it, if it feels right!), but please give them a chance to celebrate the new family member--they want to, and there's a good reason for that. :)

  13. I agree with La Reveuse, they will soon be your family too! And definitely don't do that "sides'. Heck, my family is so large, we often are on both sides ourselves. Will your sibs bring their families? I know it's hard not having your parents there. I'm glad your brother will be there for you.

  14. The "small wedding, large reception" idea is a good one - my brother and his wife did it that way - and the "forget the sides, seat people evenly" advice is also well taken.

    As far as whether you're worrying too much about it / making too big a deal of it... I'm really torn, and I don't know what to tell you. On the one hand, it is your wedding, so you and Harris should have the deciding vote. And if having a large number of people present for the ceremony is going to stress you out (either during the wedding, or in the days leading up to it), then that's a very good argument for keeping it small.

    On the other hand, the wedding is not the marriage, and it's the marriage that's important. Plus, the wedding is, in a lot of ways, a communal celebration; it's a way of announcing your intentions to the community and sharing your happiness with the people who care about you. So it's also fair to say that it doesn't really matter, since the two of you are going to be just as married after a large ceremony as after a small one.

    (I'd intended to have a small ceremony - my wife and I, our sibling and their significant others, and both sets of parents; with the minister, it would have totalled out at twelve people. Except, my wife really wanted to invite one particular aunt... and having done so, we couldn't neglect the rest of the aunts and uncles, and in the end we sent out around 130 invitations and had around 90 people attend.)

  15. I wouldn't think so much in terms of what would please Harris' family, as I would in terms of what you want.

    The people you invite to your wedding will feel a stronger connection to you for years to come. If you like that idea, it won't be a big deal that your family is smaller. (My family was HUGE and my husband's family TINY -- we just seated people wherever to even things out.)

    If the small wedding experience itself is more important to you than anything else, that's fine too!

    This is how it went for me. At first I thought I wanted a small, simple wedding. Now I know that what I probably wanted was a small legal wedding beforehand, and a bigger church wedding.

    In fact, my church wedding really grew and honestly, I loved it -- everything was still the way I wanted it, but there were more people there to share it with, even though I didn't know everyone well (or even like everyone much). I am shy and normally hate being the center of attention, but I felt very supported (it's the only time I ever went up in front of people without stage fright!). Extended family members have said that they felt like they got to know a little bit more about me that day and that they really enjoyed it. Now I feel like these are people who are there for me (and even "there for my marriage", as the ceremony indicates), even though I still barely know them.

    So I was wrong about what I wanted anyway! But I think what made me relaxed and happy at my wedding is that I had picked out the things that mattered MOST to me and in those areas, I chose what I really, truly wanted.

    I don't know how to describe this without sounding like Bridezilla -- it isn't like a rented a castle or something -- I chose a church that was convenient for older guests and close to the reception all, etc. -- but I still chose a church that *I* was happy with. For me, the guest list was not actually one of these areas (perks of being shallow!) so even though I was sad that some people didn't make it, and wouldn't really have missed some people who were there, there was a really nice feeling that this wasn't my problem anymore?

    (The thing I really wanted were thinks that were personal to me -- a particular kind or color of flower that I'd loved since I was a small child, a favorite piece of music -- just really personal things.)

    Now, if the wedding is the first time that you are meeting the majority of Harris' family, that would freak me out. :) I made a lot of eye-contact with my favorite people while I was standing up there, and I wouldn't want them to have been lost in a crowd of strangers! That said, a typical wedding venue will not make two hundred (or the smaller number likely to actually attend) look like too large a number, unless you've found a really cute little church. I thought that my wedding of between 100 and 200 people was going to feel huge and in fact, the pews looked a whole lot emptier than they ever did on Sunday morning. Same feeling at the reception hall.

    ANYWAY. That's enough of that. I just found my wedding very empowering and awesome and I hope you have a similar experience, but one that is right for you!

  16. Harris is definetly acting as the "Whateveryouwantisfinewithme" groom. His caveat, though, is "BUTyougettotellmymom". He's really irritating me, and I've told him this, because he supports the perspective or decision I have when we're alone, but then tells his mom he understands her side too and starts telling me why his mom "has a point". If *he* wanted a big wedding, I would find a way to suck up my anxiety and go with it. Harris seems to be getting more "whatever" about it and I'm a little nervous because this is like our first big decision of the wedding. Is this going to get worse?

    I spoke to his mom again last night and tried to explain to her that I want to keep it small because of my nerves and my thoughts that a big wedding means more chance for my dad to slip someone in as a "reporter". I have this, maybe paranoid, fear that my dad will crash it or send someone to crash it. It was the first time I voiced that fear and she laughed it off. I would have thought, after meeting my parents, she would have understood.

    I asked her about the "small wedding, party later" idea and she said people would be offended. I guess in their social culture, it's considered rude to have people at reception but not the wedding.

    Thank you for all of your thoughts on this. I really like the idea of not seating by "sides".

  17. Your mother-in-law got to plan her own wedding. It's your turn now. But there's a bigger issue, in my opinion.

    If you allow your mother-in-law to call the shots now, your resentment will grow over time. You will also be setting the precedent that if she insists strongly enough, you'll give in. You'd be effectively training her to push harder whenever you resist.

    In any in-law situation, there's going to be conflict, no matter how close you are. What's important is how you handle the conflict. It's important to be able to set loving but firm boundaries. How can you know this will be the last big demand your in-laws make of you? What if they want to override your decisions concerning children or a home? If your decisions aren't respected now, how will you ensure that they're respected in the future?

    With all due respect, and I say this as gently as I know how: if you aren't ready to prevent Harris's mom from taking this decision away from you, and if Harris isn't ready to take your side, then... maybe you're not quite ready to get married yet. Maybe you both need to do some more growing as individuals and as a couple.

    My opinion is based on many years of working with unhappy daughters-in-law on a couple of different forums. Many of us have discoverd, to our great distress, that in-law conflicts don't disappear after the wedding. They only become amplified with time. If your future mother-in-law can't support your wish for a small wedding, in spite of your careful and heartfelt explanations, that's a symptom of something deeper that you need to work out *before* you get married.

    Can you back off from the wedding plans for a little while? Can you postpone things while you and Harris work through this issue, possibly with the help of a trained counselor? Speaking from personal experience, it's heartbreaking when you find out the man you married can say No to his wife more easily than he can say it to his mother.

  18. What do you and Harris want? Then that's what you do. Make sure there are extra chairs and then just have a good time. STart out the way you intend to continue!

  19. I don't think it's written in stone anywhere that there has to be a bride's side and a groom's side. Maybe just position an usher at the entrance to the sanctuary to tell people "We're not taking sides today. Please sit wherever you choose."

  20. Ruth, I wasn't going to post a comment until after I read your comment above. In many ways I can identify with your background and situation--I've been in a very similar place. Here are my thoughts: lean into the conflict; don't try to smooth it over if there's any chance of lingering resentment on your part.

    Although my (very conservative) family was at my wedding, relations were definitely strained. As a result, my husband's family was more involved than my own was. We considered eloping (to avoid the hassle and the cost), but wanted to have pictures for the years ahead. So we had a simple, outdoor affair, but my husband insisted that his family would be offended if we didn't ask his brother to be the photographer. I was unsure, but went along with it (plus, it was free, right?). This was on top of pressure to schedule the wedding around this brother's schedule.

    In the end, the photos were beyond crappy. He gave us a link to look at them online, but never followed up beyond that. We were pissed, but my MIL wanted us to let it go. She said it was too late to say anything about it. I suppose the reason he didn't bother following up is because a week later he and his fiance suddenly got married in the kind of tiny ceremony we had discussed--but were discouraged from doing for HIS sake. Gah!!!

    Anyway, it's not the worst horror story ever, but I've resented those events ever since. And I kind of blame my husband for letting it happen. Although in retrospect, I think the pressure to make up my mind ASAP was probably one (of many) red flags that things were moving much too fast.

    What worries me about your situation, Ruth, is not so much the issue, but Harris' equivocation. What you describe feels SOOO familiar to me. I'm not saying that Harris isn't a great guy, but that if this isn't squared away now, you risk lingering resentment for a long time. And no wedding is worth that.

  21. re: your comment about Harris. The two of you need to have each other's back here; if he says he'll support you in whatever you decide, then he needs to actually support you. ACTIVELY. This would be grounds for a serious come-to-Jesus talk in my relationship. I realise everyone's different, but that is my experience.

  22. I never comment, but I feel I have to after your follow-up. My MIL is also "pushy," and for years my husband was of the "yeah, well, YOU tell her" school. Then we had kids, and I had to put my foot down.

    She was HIS mother, not mine, and HE had to deal with her, uncomfortable as it was, because if an edict (or whatever) seemed to come from ME and not him, then she did the whole, "Well, LISA [eyeroll] said..." And I had HAD IT.

    This is obviously a sore point with you, and it needs to be with Harris, too, and it needs to be dealt with now, not later. /end assvice

  23. And oh, yeah:

    Because it's NOT going to get better. Each decision you make as a married couple, she's going to feel she has a say in. Nip it in the bud, now.

  24. I second the posters above, Ruth, that Harris's unwillingness to stand up to his mother is not something to take lightly. I'm sure he's an amazing guy, but he should have your back. Since they're his parents, he should the the one to communicate these kinds of decisions to them and not make you do it. A wedding is a one-time thing, but what about if he won't stand up to them about decisions you make as a couple in the future? There are all sorts of issues where you'll have to make your own choices and may have to defend them - how you spend your vacation time/money, whether you want to move to another city, whether you want to have kids (and if so, how to raise them), etc., so being on the same page and unified as a couple is really important.

    My favorite advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, has a few stories about sort-of-similar situations. Here's a quote from one of them, and a couple links:

    "If your boyfriend chooses not to talk to his mom, then your boyfriend will have told you in all but these explicit words that he'd rather disappoint you than upset his mom or inconvenience himself. That makes you an adult couple in chronology only -- and challenging that strikes me as a battle worth fighting, no matter where you open your gifts."

  25. While I don't think it's great that Harris is leaving you to manage your own wedding without his active intervention... it's not really a bad thing for you and your MIL to have a direct relationship that doesn't involve an awkward middle man. As long as he is willing to say (if asked), "I want Ruth to have what she likes best." -- every time, then that's probably supportive enough.

    As for you, you are perfectly capable of managing your own wedding. You are more than strong enough to be able to make decisions, even if you see that those decisions are likely to offend others. You can decide whether you are willing to offend others or not. It's your choice if you'd rather not offend them too.

    If this were my MIL-to-be, I'd be clear enough to say, "You seem to be saying that you would like to invite some people to my wedding with Harris. I think you know that I'm not comfortable with the number of people you have suggested. I know you want me to enjoy my own wedding, but when you insist on a large guest list, that takes away from my ability to enjoy myself. I know you have a kind heart, and I don't like to be pushy -- but we are simply going to have to consider other ways of doing this. 200 people at the ceremony is not OK, especially people I don't know. You can let me know if you have another idea that might work."

    This is what it means to "tell her yourself" -- you aren't going to ask her permission, or try to convince her. She doesn't need to understand why you feel what you feel. She just needs to understand that you feel it, and that you intend to do something about it.

    Then you can work out a way for her to be moderately happy while working within your limits.

  26. My wife and I married under similar circumstances. She's from an ATI family that refused to attend our wedding because I didn't ask her father's permission/blessing to marry her. By the time I proposed, her family had spent months trying to manipulate, control, and ultimately break up our relationship, so I wasn't about to give them an opportunity to spoil the proposal.

    Because she and I paid for the wedding ourselves, we decided to forgo the trappings of a traditional wedding, opting instead for a destination wedding. We got married on a secluded beach in Central America, with eight people in attendance.

    We didn't cut anyone from our guest list--we invited everyone from extended family to old family friends. But when the invited guests saw that the ceremony was to take place outside the country, most respectfully declined to attend.

    Even though my wife didn't have any guests in attendance (two of her friends had originally planned to attend but were ultimately dissuaded from doing so by her parents), she was extremely happy with the results. In fact, two years later, she still says that, all things considered, our wedding couldn't have been more perfect. We had gorgeous backdrops for all of the pictures, a stunning ocean sunset for the ceremony, and great food at the reception (at a beach-side restaurant). And it was all relatively affordable.

    Plus, getting married so far from home saved us the stress of worrying that her family might show up to publicly voice their objections.

    At the end of the day, we were together, and we were married, and that was all that really mattered. The fact that everything else went so well was just icing on the cake.

  27. Ruth,

    Congrats on the engagement. I think most of what you are going through is normal. MIL's are always involved to various degrees. I would definitely support the no sides aisle. And then I would ask yourself, what is more important? Having a small wedding or placating people. Weddings seem to bring out the worst in most people. If you have a genuine fear of a large wedding, then sit down with her and tell her you are afraid you'll pass out during your own ceremony. If you just like the idea of a small wedding, why not compromise on size and ask her to do the same. 100 people isn't small but it's not 200 people. That way she doesn't have to tell Great Aunt Martha that she's not special enough and you don't have to figure out who the hell Great Aunt Martha is.

    Try to remember that weddings are about love and should be a celebration. It's hard for people with large families because even distant cousins may be a strong part of Harris' life. It's hard to pick who gets in and who is out.

    On the issue of your dad, I would suggest having a member of the wedding party who is your designated bouncer. I performed this function at a wedding in Memphis and a blast. I got to stand at the door and scan the crowd for the Bride's father and mother. It was my job to stop them from attending. Now, ten years later, we get to look at the wedding party pictures and laugh about the person in the coat dress with the aggressive look on her face.

    There are ways to keep your father out of the picture. Don't let that stop Harris from inviting people to attend.

    It's always stressful to plan a wedding. I would try to compromising on what you can and pulling your MIL aside and gently reminding her that it's stressing you out. And that you are doing the best that you can.

    Hang in there. The dog and pony show shouldn't overshadow the marriage!

  28. I think that separating the actual rules from the cultural and familial expectations is important. My husband and I delayed marriage for years because we couldn't figure out how to get rich enough, socially acceptably thin enough, or party-ish enough to fulfill the cultural expectations as well as the expectations of two enormous and far-spread families. Then one day I caught a clue and looked up the actual rules.

    Religious: Me, him, three weeks' notice, an officiant, two witnesses, and a 15-minute ceremony.

    Secular: Me, him, our signatures on a form that proved we knew what we were doing, a three-day wait to prove that we weren't drunk when we signed the form, an officiant who was literate enough to fill out his own simple form, and a small amount of money.

    Everything else was a matter of expectations we couldn't fulfill. So we ditched everything else.

    Jenny Islander

  29. Ruth, congrats on the engagement. My suggestion is this: since you come from an unconventional background resulting in unconventional non-attendance of your family, make this an unconventional wedding. You are a unique gal, precious and determined. Rise up, oh though Razing Ruth, and find what you want, find your voice, be unique.

    Present it to your future MIL as such: this is not a normal wedding because I don't have my family support, so I am going to have to do things in an unconventional way. I wish we could invite all those people you want, and I would love to meet them sometime, but in a more intimate environment when I'm not on the spot, in the center of attention, the reason for the events. Perhaps small intimate "parties" throughout the next couple of years would be best and that way, I can enjoy getting to know them all the better rather than at a hustling bustling reception. Please, MIL, do this for me and I'll make the effort to meet them all later. MIL, I love you and am so glad you will be a permanent part of my family, but I'm wigging out as it is, and I need to not stress about this because of the lack of support behind me on my side.

    Ruth, what is it you envision for your wedding and reception? I had a tiny wedding at my sil's home in the country because my mother was non-supportive. Our only photo of her is helping cut the cake for guests - my MIL tried her best to get my mom into a photo and that's the best she came up with for my scowling mother.

    Just recently, 30 years later, my only friend in attendance commented that she often tells the story of my simple, lovely wedding (and she's a pastor's wife).

    Please do what will make you feel is right for YOU on your wedding day. You will never regret it. Perhaps you can have the wedding in future MIL's home or garden? That way, with the intimate setting, your folks will be very hard pressed to send in a spy.

    Wait until it feels right, Ruth, and don't let anyone pressure you into doing what feels wrong or uncomfortable to you. Your wedding, your wishes ought to be respected.

  30. Yes. A wedding is not the appropriate setting to meet people for the first time. Exchanges of letters or e-mails or informal get-togethers are better. It is also not appropriate to attempt to discharge one's social obligations by inviting people to someone else's wedding. Not that your FMIL is necessarily doing that here, but it has happened.

    Remember: A wedding is an occasion when you and your fiance get married. You acknowledge your understanding of what marriage entails and you declare before witnesses that you are entering marriage. Everything else is an extra.

    My husband and I delayed marriage for years because we thought we had to do a whole list of things that would have left us frazzled, sick of company, publicly embarrassed, and in debt. But we decided to take care of ourselves first and let other people decide whether to be outraged or not. We refused to accept blame if they were. I had spent most of my life being terrified of other people's disapproval and I was sick of it. I did not owe other people the wedding of their dreams. Neither do you.

    Jenny Islander

  31. For a different perspective on whether or not to have a big wedding, you might want to watch the movie, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

  32. Consider his family as your family and enjoy the day. In the grand scheme of things, it's really not important that your blood family in attendance is far less than Harris'. Let them become your family.

  33. Ruth, I agree with the people who said that you need to examine your relationship with Harris before going any further. In marriage, the bride and groom are to leave their parents and cleave to their spouse. If Harris cannot put you and your wishes first, he's not ready to get married.

    How you do the wedding isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But if your future husband cannot support you and your wishes, he doesn't need to be your husband.

  34. Ruth,

    I had just the opposite. I have a large Italian family. It was really important to me to have everyone there. Hubby's side was very small (<10 people). Then we had some mutual friends. (approx 200 people at the reception) They all came to the church and reception. (Actually, some people came to the church who were not going to the reception. This is common in a Catholic Church where the church part is not invite only) Hubby's (and family) were initially a little "shell shocked" at the idea of so many people, but everyone ended up having a good time. Remember, Harris's family is now your family too (at least that's the way it is with my family). It sounds like family is important on Harris' side. Don't be scared - they are there to celebrate with you.

  35. I'm sorry this is turning into such a stressful event for you.

    I second the idea of taking some time out with Harris to discuss the issues that are arising here. It is him you are marrying, not his mother, and yet he doesn't seem to get that.

    You had some relationship counselling before - could you get the same kind of help again?

    You have done so well and come such a long way, Ruth. In many ways you are probably a lot more independent and mature than Harris.

    It may be that Harris has some more growing up to do before he can truly leave his mother's influence and join with you in marriage.

    A more radical suggestion: do you have to get married before living together? Could you spend time living as a couple for a year or so and get to know each other, (and meet Harris's family more slowly), before deciding whether you are truly ready to commit to him (and them)?

  36. Darn it. It ate my post!

    It's yours and Harris' day. Not your mother-in-law's. Stay firm to what your wishes are. As soon as you accept your in-laws paying for certain things, you accept the strings that come along with them. Talk to Harris and present a united front about it.

    If it is important to your mother-in-law for you ot meet all of Harris' family, I suggest they hold a family reunion in the near future. A wedding is not and should not be a family reunion party.

  37. Harris needs to cut the cord and grow up.

  38. Harris's mom seems to be interfering quite a lot in your relationship. Didn't she gatecrash the family meeting you had in the summer? Now she wants to invite 200 of her friends/family to your wedding?!

    And Harris: he wants to start having babies as soon as you are married, but he is not grown-up enough to ask his mother to stop taking over your wedding. Will mom get to say how the children are raised too?

    Oh Ruth, I'm sorry but these are red flags to me.

    Please make wise choices as you move ahead with your life.

  39. I agree with the above anon. I feel horrible saying this, but I worry that you plunged into a relationship too quickly and too earnestly after escaping an abuse situation.

    You need a certain amount of time to get your head right after that; two or three years of solid, single work on yourself with the help of a counselor is often needed before healthy relationships can be formed.

    How long have you and Harris been together? Is it longer then two years before the proposal? If not, this is even more worrying.

    Please be careful.

  40. I totally agree that his family is your family now--that's how they'll see it. This is just the start of the rest of your life with a loving family. :) But you do have to be ok with it! Can you go through the guest list with Harris, maybe cut out MIL's friends (if any) and just keep relatives? We had to do that to some extent with our wedding (both sides were Greek & really active in the community!)

    And I'll be the TOTAL outlier and say that for us, the wedding planning was the most stressful part of the relationship, bc it wasn't really dealing with each other that was an issue--it was dealing with each other's families and background assumptions of what a wedding would be. Plus the headache of planning :) Since then, it's honestly been the bliss that it was before then--and it's not like we haven't had stress since then, with family deaths and budgets and now a rocky pregnancy.


  41. I'm sorry if this is out of line, but after reading through the previous comments, I honestly feel that there are way too many wannabe Dr. Phils replying to this blog post, trying to play amateur relationship counselor.

    Ruth's circumstances are somewhat (though not completely) unique, but her underlying problems--a soon-to-be mother-in-law who is too involved in the wedding planning and a soon-to-be husband who is not used to standing up to and/or disappointing his mother--are far from unique. The people who are talking about "red flags" and suggesting that Ruth is rushing into this marriage need a reality check--they don't know Ruth, they don't know Harris, and they don't have nearly enough information to start offering those types of assessments.

    I'm pretty sure Ruth was looking for practical suggestions for the wedding and helpful advice from married people who might have personal insight into these types of problems. I don't think she was looking for a bunch of aspiring Dear Abbys to pass judgement on her relationship.

    As a man who married his wife under similar circumstances (see my previous post about having a destination wedding), my advice to Harris would be to remember whose wedding this is and to find a way to make it work for the woman with whom he'll (presumably) be spending the rest of his life. He needs to recognize that the unfortunate situation with Ruth's family stacks the deck unfairly in his favor when it comes to wedding planning. Unlike her, he doesn't have to contend with input from future in-laws.

    With his family offering input on the wedding and hers obviously offering none, the wedding plan will tilt unreasonably in favor of what his family wants unless he takes the initiative and stands up for what his soon-to-be wife wants. In short, she doesn't have a built-in support staff, so it's his job to fill that role for her, whether that means standing up for her (to his mother or anyone else) when conflict arises or ensuring that she has a team of caring, supportive women surrounding her in the hours preceding the wedding.

    Later in the marriage, this unfair stacking of the deck is likely to once again rear its ugly head when deciding where to spend the holidays. In that situation, Harris, my advice to you is this: The fact that her family isn't in contention shouldn't mean that your family wins by default. The fact that her family never invites you to Thanksgiving or Christmas doesn't automatically mean that you must spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family.

  42. While it might be a little premature to talk about "red flags," the "common" problem that the anonymous above me points out is something that needs to be addressed now. What is most concerning to me (as a young, married woman who planned her wedding jointly with her husband) is that he is absenting himself from important decisions. This is not fair to you, Ruth. Not only in this particular circumstance (in that he ends up taking both sides and neither in the wedding-size debate) but for your future life together.

    Harris needs to step it up and be involved in his wedding not because you want him to, or because he needs to defend you to his mom, but because it is a major life event and he should be responsible alongside you. He can sort of get away with it now because weddings are "girl territory" but what about later problems like finances, when to have children, major purchases, aging parents? If he continues to say "I don't care, do what you want honey" he is abdicating his responsibility as an adult and your partner. It then gives him the power to later, if he doesn't like the outcome of something, to blame you because "you decided." The opposite of the control-freak, patriarchal authority is not "do what you want honey." It's a mature, responsible partnership.

    Honestly, I think the wedding size and seating questions will be moot in 5 years - even if you eloped, people would get over it - if (and this is the if for all marriages) you have a strong relationship and are making choices out of self-confidence and not fear.

  43. It is a giant leap in logic to suggest that a man who lets his fiancée handle the wedding planning is likely to take a back seat in decisions regarding finances, children, major purchases, aging parents, etc.

    To most men, a wedding is no more or less significant than his fiancée and family make it. If it's a big deal to them, it's a big deal to him. If they couldn't care less, neither could he.

    Unlike most women, most men spend little or no time thinking about their wedding day until they're actually engaged. And at that point, most of them are simply thinking either, "How do I make my fiancée happy?" or, "How do I make both my fiancée and my family happy?"

    In the minds of most men, decisions regarding wedding planning aren't even in the same galaxy as the same planet on which you'll find the same ballpark containing decisions about finances, children, major purchases, aging parents, etc.

    More likely than not, Harris honestly has no personal preference when it comes to most wedding decisions and is simply trying to keep from upsetting either his mother or his fiancée. Yes, he should probably try to make things easier on his soon-to-be wife by standing up to his mother, but that's something he may have to learn through experience.

    The reality is that a marriage is life-changing, but a wedding is not. A wedding is a "major life event" in the same way that a graduation ceremony is a "major life event"--it signifies a major change but in no way effects or affects that change. For one metaphorical blink of an eye, it seems monumentally significant, and then it never has any impact whatsoever on the rest of your life (unless, of course, you have wife, mother, or mother-in-law who won't let you forget how you "ruined it").

    It doesn't do Ruth or Harris any good to start drawing grand, unsubstantiated conclusions from one simple conflict that, in one shape or another, is shared by millions of couples each year.

  44. It might be true that men care less about the choice about tablecloth shape or the color of flowers at the wedding. But he's not saying "whatever" to those things (or if he is, it's not bothering Ruth). They are experiencing conflict with his mother that is upsetting Ruth, and part of what seems to be upsetting her is that he won't help her. She doesn't know what his true feelings are. In those times of conflict, he has to figure out what matters to him and state his opinion, they work it out privately, and then they need to present a united front to his mother (or anyone else). If he hasn't thought about wedding size before, then he'd better start thinking about it now. If he really doesn't care about wedding size, then he should agree with his fiancee in front of his mother.

    I don't think it is that big of a leap to see how someone acts in times of (rather minor) stress to how they might act in more crucial times. The fact that millions of couples share this conflict doesn't really mean anything - it's how each couple deals with the conflict that matters. Keeping a healthy relationship takes work and trust, and saying "whatever" to something that upsets your spouse is shirking that work.

    The other thing is that while a wedding might seem to be small potatoes, it is a good training ground for future family interactions - especially for a new daughter-in-law (spoken from experience here.) While a wedding certainly is a family affair, family members sometimes think that grandchildren, where you buy a house, whether the mom works or not, are also entire-family decisions. I think men are often shielded from these discussions by their wives because we tend to do the social organizing, the cooking and chatting in the kitchen, talking about family etc. It is so, so important to know that you and your husband are on the same page, on even little things like wedding size, or candy for your kids before dinner - and make sure all assumptions are cleared up. Obviously couples will disagree on some little things, but each will respect the other's opinion and perhaps defer if necessary (like it seems Ruth is willing to do in this case if it's important to Harris.)

    Marriage is a lot of fun, and I had a blast at my own wedding - I hope the same for you, Ruth!

  45. Honestly, I don't think anyone's trying to play Dr Phil, so much as they're trying to share years or decades of personal experience. Ruth's future mother-in-law is usurping decisions that don't belong to her. It's much easier to establish good boundaries in the beginning, before in-law interference becomes established and entrenched. One proof of a couple's readiness to marry is their ability to defend those boundaries, in a firm but loving way.

  46. Ruth's future mother-in-law is definitely usurping decisions that don't belong to her, and Harris should definitely support Ruth in making those decisions--I don't think anybody disagrees on those points. But the people who are saying that this somehow suggests that Harris isn't ready for marriage or that Ruth is rushing into marriage need to stop projecting their own feelings, experiences, and relationship woes onto this situation and recognize that they really don't know Ruth or Harris well enough to pass that type of judgement.

    Harris may be struggling to mediate the first real conflict between his mother and his soon-to-be wife, but that's not necessarily a harbinger of doom. These types of conflicts are typically quite nuanced and typically require experience and practice to handle well. Everyone needs to remember that Harris has already stood by Ruth through a good deal more than most engaged couples could ever imagine.

    Carrying on a relationship with someone who is struggling to overcome the trauma of growing up in an oppressive, abusive, fanatical household is no easy task--it requires hard work and dedication on a massive scale. After Harris has stood by Ruth through so much, it is simply asinine for people to suggest that his lack of involvement in the wedding planning somehow indicates he's not mature enough to get married. The people making those claims need to wake up and recognize that their window into this relationship is much too small to allow for the type of sweeping assessments they're trying to make.

    I don't know if Harris and Ruth are ready for marriage, but I do no that I'd have to be an arrogant fool to try to make that judgement on the sole basis of what I've read on this blog.

  47. Adding my 2 cents worth quite late. My husband' family is small, and had maybe 25 people that were invited on his side. My family, approximately the other 150, made up the rest.

    If I had to do it over again, I'd skip the dinner and reception, have cake and coffee after the wedding, toss the bouquet and have a honeymoon instead.

    It's nice that they want to celebrate, but draw the line in the sand NOW. The wedding is one day, the marriage is meant to be for the rest of your lives. Where do you want the focus?

    Consider or threaten eloping if you have to do so. I wish I would have.

  48. Ruth, your wedding ceremony/reception must be how YOU want, not how your future mother in law wants. I'm sure she means well but...she has to be stopped now or you could easily end up with "Marie Barone" (from Everybody Loves Raymond) running your life.

  49. Ruth, I used to do wedding photography so I've seen a lot of different weddings. They tend to all have one thing in common - stress. Virtually all of the stress revolves around things that are not remotely relevant to the marriage but they seem soooo vital at the time. My wife was given some good advice - up at the altar, just pause and look around - take it all in. It's a one shot deal and you don't want to miss out on it by getting wrapped up in the details.

    One thing my wife and I purposed to do with our wedding was to make it --our wedding--, meaning that we didn't want to do thing just because "this is how it's done at weddings". The reality is that without the bride and groom there, the wedding ain't happening (at least on the premises). What you want as a couple ought to carry a lot of weight. Maybe you want to do something special based on some really cool and inventive idea or it may be a matter of making adjustments due to circumstances.

    We wanted to do a few unique things - I wanted to sing to Sue a couple of songs that I wrote. We wanted to have a song and interpretive sign during the communion (something the pastor didn't think would work but he ended up really liking it). We saw some raised eyebrows and "why are you doing that?" responses, but we held out for the things we really wanted. Had to make a few concessions here and there and that was okay.

    Weddings are often a balancing act between competing interests (if not exactly conflicting ones). Parents have people they want to invite that you don't even know. They have some relative or friend who wants to sing. They want some hymn because it was played at their wedding. They want the reception at a particular hall. Blah, blah, blah. In really, if the parents are footing a big chunk of the bill (as is often the case), then it does put them on the playing field to some degree. That is where the art of balance comes in between what you truly want and what you can live with.

    For your wedding, try and size up the non-essentials and leverage them into reasonable compromises. For example, I would suggest dispensing with the "brides's side/groom's side" arrangement and spread all the guests equally throughout the auditorium. It's a relatively meaningless tradition that can very easily be adapted. Having most of the guests on one side is just going to look on photos like a painful diorama of the strain you've experienced with your family.

    Like I said, decide which hills you are willing to die on and let the rest ride.

    Jim K.

  50. Elope. As one X-ATIer to another, just elope.

    Trust me on this.

    Good luck.

  51. at the end of the ceremony his family will be your family...that might put in perspective for you...also, don't have "his" side sit on the other side from "your" side. Have the ushers escort people to their seats one side then the other so that people are evenly distributed on each side.

  52. I think people are being too harsh on Harris's mother. It doesn't sound to me like she's insisting, but merely offering to pay the expense to invite more people--knowing Ruth's family won't be contributing. I think that's a nice gesture, and don't see it as being a buttinsky. Ruth's main concern was having one side with only a few people and the other side having many. That is easily solved by not having sides.

  53. wedding is a simple one to do careful for planning. if you want a simple wedding use this wedding planner app, it will give a ideas of how we can make a simple wedding.

  54. Book Suggestion:

    I read it and it helped navigate the family stuff. To be totally honest I don't think it will help with your family - but I do think it will help you to communicate with your FMIL.

    Just as you don't want to have residual resentment from things not being your way, you don't want residual resentment from Harris in the opposite direction. Find out why he takes his moms side. It can be a passive aggressive communication method. There is nothing wrong with calling him on it. "This is not fair, first you say whatever you want babe, now you are saying that your mom has a point. Where is this coming from, and what do you really want?" Its an opportunity to communicate. Make sure to give him an opportunity to think too and even change his mind, it may not be obvious to him. My husband tries passive aggressive routes when he thinks that I won't compromise, and I do have to call him on it. Its a habit from dealing with his mom and sister. He's trying to be a peace maker - not doing a good job, but trying.

    Something to keep in mind - My extended family would have been extremely insulted if they hadn't been invited to the wedding. They all bent over backwards to go to my Brother's on extremely short notice in a different state and made it clear to the rest of the family that even a potluck reception after a JP wedding was acceptable as long as they were invited - and the ceremony was more important than the reception. Harris may have this type of family, do some investigating. If he has this type of family you have more diplomatic issues than just his mom.

    Also keep in mind that only recently have Brides had the attitude that its their wedding and they will do it as they want. The women from our mom's (I am 28) generation frequently had their wedding dictated by their moms and they are having a hard time adjusting to the fact that they don't get to plan their childrens weddings and they didn't get to plan their own either. This doesn't mean that they should plan yours, but this frequently plays a role in some of the tensions.

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  56. Read some of the comments including yours. I agree on the no sides thing. And small wedding big reception...I really do understand their position that they have family members who would be very tough to eliminate. My in-laws made necessary cuts, but they still simply had more people. I strongly encourage the no sides idea. And if possible, have your ushers (hopefully understanding friends of Harris?) be on the lookout for anybody causing a disturbance and ready to escort them out.

    I think that a wedding is a critical time to establish how the two of you will solve problems together and how you will approach your family as a unit. You've certainly heard of "leave and cleave." This is the leaving and cleaving! You are right in the middle of it and I think it's the perfect, probably necessary time to make sure that you and your in-laws treat each other like independent adults, not parents and divided children.

    I have domineering in-laws so this was especially important if we didn't want them to try to run our lives forever. We figured out what worked for us and it wasn't always pretty, but we are forever grateful that we did. For us, we listen to their concerns or ideas, discuss privately, and my husband talks to them about our decision. Typically they call him to present an idea and he either shoots it down completely or brings it to me to discuss. That keeps me from getting pressured into anything out of politeness, and keeps us from being coerced into making decisions without checking with the other person. It might be hard right now, but in the long run it is a really critical element for dealing with family, at least for us.


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