Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My partner and I have lived happily together for the last five years, and now that it’s finally legal for us to get married in our home state, we’re ready to make it official. We’ve already set a date, booked a place, and mailed the invitations. There’s just one invitation we’ve yet to send: the one to my parents.
As God-fearing Christians, they’ve never “approved” of my being gay, and while they’ve never been outright mean to my partner, they’ve never opened their arms to him either.
Because of this, we haven’t had much of a relationship over the last several years, but they are my parents. So should I invite them to the wedding?
Wedding Day Blues
Dear Wedding Day Blues,
Congrats! I am so very happy that you are now able to participate in an institution that should have been available to you from the moment you were born. I am ecstatic that you are now legally able to proclaim your love for your partner, though I would also like to apologize that this moment did not occur until June 26th, 2015, which is less than one month ago and also approximately 20,000 days later than it should have been. Still—I am very, very happy for you.
Taking part in a wedding is a joyous event, but planning a wedding is a screaming nightmare. The pressure of planning what is supposed to be one of the most major special important days of your life rattles the steadiest of us.
My husband and I planned our wedding in four months and really didn’t care about most of the details. I kinda wanted fun dance music at the reception, was probably going to make a TARDIS card box, was fairly certain that gerber daisies would make a kick-ass bouquet.
But even while actively trying to maintain a “whatevs” attitude I began to crumble under the pressure of the wedding planning process. The crushing volume of decisions that needed to be made caused me to experience acute decision fatigue. I started tearing at sheets of my bed while I slept. I would drift off, reach unconsciousness, and then grasp at my bed with both hands. I would wake up on a bare mattress, the fitted sheet tightly knotted underneath my body. My partner suggested that we start duct-taping mittens to my hands. But the real solution was to stop wedding planning. The day after the wedding I slept soundly, my hands finally at rest.
Weddings are supposed to be joyous confections with happy whipped cream and a sprinkling of “OMG THE BEST.” So why is planning the happiest day of your life the actual worst? Because weddings aren’t events. They aren’t a ceremony followed by a cocktail hour followed by a reception with dinner and dancing and your uncle getting uncomfortably drunk. Weddings are actually feelings. A big, heaving, sobbing ball of feelings rolling straight at you.
For your wedding you’re supposed call everyone you love to assemble in one room and celebrate your life choice. There are few moments in life when we ruthlessly and publicly pick who’s most important to us in our life—creating a guest list for your wedding is one of those moments.
But what if you don’t like the people you love? What if they don’t want to celebrate your life choices?
A wedding is supposed to be memorable, which means that it will be remembered, which means that there will be pictures. Why does the wedding party devote so much of this important day to recording images of them all standing in various configurations? Because this way, years in the future, the married couple can look at the pictures and remember what they weren’t able to see at the time. Dad’s giant smile. The flower girl crawling under a table. The way Mom tilted her head or the way you laughed at your sister’s rude joke. The pictures help you remember, and eventually they become most of what you remember.
I’m a few years out from my own wedding and there are folks I dearly wish I had invited, whose faces I long to see grinning back at me in our pictures, and there are folks that I have cropped out of our pictures. It’s hard to get a guest list right.
Close your eyes. Cast your mind into the future—five, 10, 20 years out. Think of yourself, older, in a cardigan, in your living room, on your couch, looking at pictures of your wedding day. Do you see your parents? Do you see their absence? What do you want to see?
You describe your parents as having been cold to your partner and, I presume, cold to you. If you invite them, they may or may not come. Them refusing your invitation may sting as much as the first time they rejected your sexuality and, by extension, you. Your parents attending your wedding and not fixing your relationship at all may also sting like a sudden blow to your nose. But their reaction to your invitation, and their possible behavior at your wedding, are both wholly out of your control.
What is in your control? Whom you invite to share in your joy.
Invite your parents. Invite them to share in your wedding, your life, your partner’s life. Invite them and give the them the chance to attend, to apologize, to make amends. Invite them despite the heartache that may ensue.
We would all be much happier if we just got the hell out of our own way and allowed for the possibility of what we actually want. You want your parents to attend your wedding. You want them to attend and through their presence show that they missed you and they love you and they accept you and they are sorry for how they treated you. And that will never ever happen unless you create a space in which it is possible. An invitation to your wedding is that space.
Invite your parents. Give them the gift of a possible future with you. Give them the opportunity to change.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.