Category Archives: Weddings

NewHeader5

My dad is threatening to deck my mom — at my wedding!

Write for Advice

The family’s never gotten along, but I want to give my bride the wedding of her dreams.

Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, SEP 23, 2004


Dear Cary,

I’m 26 years old and divorced. I’m engaged to be married to my best friend from college, the woman I should have been with since day one. There are no snags in our relationship with each other, but I am dreading the wedding because my family is bound to screw it up.

A couple of months before my divorce, my parents announced their separation. It was widely believed, and some claim confirmed, that my dad had an affair on my mother and left her. To be fair, my mother is not a nice woman, and my dad repeatedly talks about the 29 years in hell that was his marriage.

Since their divorce was final, my mother and I have also had a rocky relationship. She feels that she was abandoned by Dad and that her children will also abandon her since we’ve already met the other woman (whom she refers to as Dad’s whore, slut, etc.).

My mother refuses counseling, which I, my brother and her entire family have begged her to seek. She thinks counseling is for the weak. She also maintains she never made a mistake in parenting us at all. At my brother’s wedding, she flipped out — chased me down the aisle, made a beeline for my dad to start something (intercepted by me), and got in an argument at the after-party with my brother. She has not guaranteed me that she won’t be as nutty and disruptive at my wedding. When I asked my father to avoid her, his response was, “I’ll make no moves to approach or contact her, but if she gets in my face, I’ll knock her out.” I wonder what the “perfect parent” guidebook would say about that.

I’m not asking for life advice. That would take you too many articles and would be fodder for the message board for ages, but how do I handle the wedding? Whom do I invite? How do I set ground rules? I just don’t want my churlish and self-centered parents to ruin my bride-to-be’s special day.

My Parents Have Reverted to Teenagers

TuscanAd_Jun13-22_2015

Dear Son of Teenagers,

Have you considered hiring security? That was my first thought. But what do I know about weddings and security? In my family, we just get drunk and fight. So I called a wedding planner to see what she would do.

“I would suggest that you hire security,” says Joyce Scardina Becker, president of Events of Distinction in San Francisco.

“I would also,” she said, “in a very diplomatic way, as a wedding planner, have a personal conversation with each of the parties individually. The stress here really is on the couple, and it doesn’t sound like the parents are acting as parents. I would tell the parent that you are going to hire security. Have a conversation with the parent, and if the parent still threatened prior to the actual wedding itself, then I would say, You know, if you really are going to hold this threat over my head, I think it’s best that you do not attend my wedding.”

As to the mechanics of hiring security for a wedding, I talked to Monica Hinojos, a training consultant at Black Bear Security. She said that not only do many wedding facilities and banquet halls require the presence of security as part of their contract with insurers, but that such requests from families, in her experience, have grown more frequent since 9/11. “He should have security there,” she said. “The physical presence of a guard — an effective guard, not one that’s sleeping or slouching — is that they deter incidents from happening. Just their presence alone. It’s called ‘officer presence,’ and it’s a deterrent.” You should also, as Scardina Becker suggested, brief security on the background of your parents, and give them photos so they can pick them out and keep an eye on them.

FranceAd2015

I would definitely take this problem seriously, particularly your mother’s refusal to promise not to act up, and your father’s vow to “knock her out” if she approaches him. “You’d be surprised how many family members are killed at Thanksgiving and things like that. Especially if there’s alcohol involved,” Hinojos said. “They’d be smart maybe not to have alcohol served,” she said, but that’s up to you.

If alcohol is going to be served, I’d suggest you not make it an open bar, and identify your mother and father to the bartender so he can go easy on their libations. (Maybe he could even water their drinks!)

This is all assuming that, after your frank talk with both of them, they promise to try and behave. If they don’t, as Scardina Becker suggested, you ought to tell them, difficult as it may be, that you would prefer they not attend.

And as to the long and complicated tale of your unhappy family and how it got that way — the full telling of which you have mercifully postponed for another, longer day — you know as well as I do that what Tolstoy said is so often quoted only because it’s so often true: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

NewHeader3

In-law anxiety

Write for Advice

I’m engaged, but I think my future mother-in-law may ruin my life. What should I do?

(Cary’s classic column from FRIDAY, NOV 7, 2003)


Dear Cary,

A recently married friend of mine told me that getting a mother-in-law is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat — either it is fluffy and sweet or rabid and foaming at the mouth. I’ve now put my hand in the hat and I think I may need a rabies shot.

I am engaged to a great guy I’ve been with for nearly seven years. I’ve always known his mother was a bit manipulative, from stories about how she and her adult sisters feuded over various social missteps over the years. There is always at least one person not talking to another. She has often snubbed me around the holidays, and she has photos of everyone else in the family on the wall but me. I am a kind person if a little reserved. I’ve never done anything against her, but I have been the first loving, successful relationship her son has had, which I think causes insecurity in her. She will often tell me that he tells her everything or that her house is “home” to him, etc. I blow these comments off.

We’re planning our wedding and I am no longer a peripheral character to be minimized, but a real threat to her power. I am not handing over the reins to her on choices to be made about the affair, as my future sister-in-law did. I’m a designer and really having a ball with it. My fiancé, says that she is just jealous and that I should feel sorry for her rather than resent her. I think she is childish and malicious. My fiancé says he is disappointed in her and wanted to call her and let her have it. I asked him not to. I don’t want a feud. I don’t want to be pulled into the messy family politics. I just want things to be copacetic, friendly.

My way has always been to be kind and to be distant, but these things still occur. I know I am going to be interacting with her for the long haul, and I need to figure out how to do it without causing myself further stress and without feeling walked on. I’ve been waking up thinking about this. What to do?

Stressed-out Bride

TuscanAd_2015Dear Stressed-out Bride,

Let us start with the facts. You are engaged to be married. Congratulations! You have been with your boyfriend for seven years and you have decided to try to stay together for the remainder of your lives. You have decided to join his family. Congratulations!

But here is a dark note: It sounds to me like you do not like his mother. And you seem to think that his mother does not like you. In fact, you seem to be battling with her, at least in your own mind, over who is most important in the son’s life. If you were not battling with her, it would not matter to you in the least that she says he tells her everything, or that she says her house is home to him. You would shrug off those comments as the loving and prideful, if slightly possessive, remarks of a mother. Yet you seem to take them as some kind of affront.

In the planning of the wedding, you talk of being a threat to her power, and this seems to please you. You are “having a ball.” While actively trying to thwart her, you say you just want things to be copacetic, friendly. You want to triumph, you want your own way, you want to be recognized as more important to the boy than his mother, yet you want to achieve these things while remaining kind and distant, not feeling stressed out or walked over.

Well, these sound like troubling, hostile and contradictory wishes, and you simply cannot have it all these different ways. If you aspire to appear kind and distant at the same time you are battling for what you want, you will be forced to take secret actions to undermine others; this is what is known as covert hostility, and it has a corrosive effect on families. It requires battling parties to be labeled as right and wrong; it pits contradictory narratives against each other; it forces loving members to choose sides against each other. In doing so, it tears families apart.

So I think, in your approach to entering this family, and in planning the wedding, you are in the wrong. I think you should abandon your own agenda and replace it with an agenda whose goal is harmony in the family. The purpose of the wedding is to bring to families together in harmony. The way you achieve harmony is by gracefully accepting the wishes of others. Where necessary, you can negotiate and compromise. But harmony, not victory, is the goal.
If there are elements of her plan for the wedding that you disagree with strongly, it’s your duty to tell her directly, to her face. Tell her your opinion. You have the right to be heard. Then try to arrive at a compromise.

It sounds as if it has not yet clearly been spelled out who has the final word on various aspects of the wedding plans. This really should have been spelled out already, but I understand that weddings are not controlled by statutory authority; they are always to some extent collaborations. In this case, you need to concentrate on figuring out who has the authority for what, because you are starting from a bad place already, in which there is ample mistrust and personal ambition.

FranceAd2015

After you are married, you must realize that it is not necessary for you to like everyone in his family, or for everyone in his family to like you. It is easier for families to gather amiably on the holidays if everyone has at least a passing appreciation of each other, but it is not necessary. All that is necessary is for you to behave with a modicum of decency. This is required of you no matter how others treat you. It doesn’t matter if you think his mother doesn’t treat you well. You must still treat her well.

So while I understand what you say about your feelings, and I empathize with the pain you are in, I cannot fix your feelings. All I can tell you is that if you give in to your feelings of resentment, if you take secret pleasure in thwarting the efforts of others, you are going to make it that much harder to get along with them in the future. So I would advise you to be as saintly as you possibly can be throughout the planning of the wedding. Where possible, give in. Concentrate more on joining the family amiably than on having a perfect wedding.

If none of this is to your liking, perhaps you should reconsider getting married. It is going to be the same way after you are married, only worse. You are not always going to be pleased; at times, you will feel as though others view you as a servant, or an object. You are going to become your husband’s wife. You will not always be the center of attention. Not everyone will think you are as clever as you believe yourself to be.

As to your future mother-in-law, you have to stop struggling to control her behavior. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be comfortable around her. She may genuinely dislike you. She may see through your kind but distant mien, behind which lies an air of superiority; she may see through your belief that you’re the best thing that ever happened to her son, that you are taking him away to an environment so much more refined, and better designed, than the one she raised him in. Just because people are manipulative doesn’t mean they’re not perceptive. Even if his mother doesn’t consciously know why she doesn’t like you, she probably senses that you don’t respect her and it galls her.

So try to find some things about her you genuinely like and respect. Don’t be afraid to disagree with her, but choose your disagreements wisely, and be willing to give in. Otherwise, if you do become her daughter-in-law, you’ll be in torment the rest of your days.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

NewHeader3

More on my great big Muslim Jewish atheist wedding

Write for Advice

Hi Cary,

I hope you’ll remember what this is about. I wrote last year about falling in love with the wrong person at college, an atheist Jew, the polar opposite of what my conservative Muslim family has always wanted for me. I wrote about worrying about telling my parents, and how’d they react and whether my relationship with my partner would succeed.

I told my parents last year and they reacted surprisingly well. No anger, no yelling, certainly none of the violence some commenters thought I’d see. They were surprised, and asked for some time to consider it. Eventually, they refused ‘permission’ for me to marry him, or at least said that they couldn’t give me their blessings because even though he has converted to Islam, he only did so for me and would probably not be a real Muslim. More than that, I think my dad worries about what people are going to say, and that they’re going to gossip about us and my family. I spent 6 or 7 months trying to get my parents on board at least agree to come to my wedding, and my dad took some strides towards coming around in that he talked to some people who have been in similar situations, but seemed reluctant to go further than that. His response when I asked him seemed to be ‘I’ll deal with it soon’. One day, after a few months of this, I kind of snapped and sent an emotional message about how I felt stuck, and I wanted to move on with his blessings, and would he please consider that this is what is right for me. He responded by calling my mom and relented: I could marry him, but it would have to be after my older sister got married so it wouldn’t affect her prospects. There will be a small ceremony in the U.S. at some Islamic center, but only my mother and one of my siblings will come, and my father won’t participate.

My sister sent me some texts about this, saying that I couldn’t have both my family’s support and this marriage, and I’m heart broken because that’s what I came home from college to get. I wanted to spend my time here to show them that I am still committed to my heritage and beliefs, and that I wanted to include them in the process as much as possible, that this isn’t an attack on them but a decision for myself that I am sure is right for me. I can’t imagine a wedding without my family, but I don’t know how to get them on board beyond keeping the dialogue going for the next six months or so that will inevitably pass before I can begin to plan for my wedding (my sister is about to get engaged to be married). I’m heartbroken because my parents are mad at me, and I feel a little guilty because I feel like a terrible daughter.

Thanks for listening.

Love’s Got me Looking So Crazy Right Now

TuscanAd_Jan2015

Dear Love’s Got me Looking So Crazy,

I’m sorry to hear that your father is being intransigent. I answered your original letter on Sept. 13, 2013, a few weeks before I left Salon.

As this commenter says (there were 135 comments to the original), I really didn’t give you an answer, in the sense of concrete instructions on how to proceed.

I didn’t know what you should do. I still don’t. That’s not unusual. It’s just honest.

In your 2013 letter it sounded as though he was going to pretend to convert. It now appears that he has indeed converted to your faith. You are going to go ahead with the wedding. You are going to live in the United States.

Well, congratulations. I hope you will keep us informed. What interested me in 2013 still interests me: How we Americans perceive your situation, and the story we tell ourselves about what you say. I still think I said some interesting meta-things:

This is the kind of story that Americans love. But underneath the happy American myth of blending cultures is the dark fact of sacrifice and loss. … Yours would be an unusual marriage but such marriages fit the American mythos. Consequently, you would have many people on your side — people who believe in the virtue of blending cultures. We are charmed by the idea of Muslims at bar mitzvahs and so forth. We think it’s cute. In other words, we don’t get the dark side of our own mythology.

The dark side of our mythology of self-reinvention is the charge of unseriousness. I mean, all the real cultural and psychic differences we overlook. Our silly millennial hope. Our political and economic evangelism. Our brittle, anxious faith. All that stuff. All that stuff that if you know what I’m talking about you know what I’m talking about.

I can say this, though: Here in America you can be married and forge your own life. Psychologically, you can’t escape your past or your families. You can’t escape who you are. But you can arrange the material conditions of your life together. You can choose what religious services to attend, and what to tell your children about what you believe. You can choose the schools your children go to. You can choose what to wear on your head.

Good luck. Please keep us informed!–Cary T.

FranceAd2015Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

NewHeader3

My great big Muslim-Jewish-atheist wedding

Write for Advice
Cary’s classic column from  THURSDAY, SEP 12, 2013

Can a devout Muslim and a Jewish atheist have a happy marriage?


Hi Cary,

I was born in the States to a conservative Muslim Indian family. My mother, younger brothers and I moved back to India when I was around 11, while my (very religious) dad stayed on in the States as a small business owner and came to see us three to four times a year. I came back to the States when I was around 18 to go to a small liberal arts college in the Northeast, graduated and moved back to India with my mom and brothers.

Although I didn’t realize it growing up, I was in the middle of a hot identity mess. While I have an American passport and have somehow retained the accent I had growing up, I’d always considered myself more Indian than American, and felt distinctly out of place in “white” cultural settings. I have a lot of white friends — black, Filipina and Asian too for that matter — but my closest are a group of brown girls at college who are similar to me — they have parents who grew up in Pakistan/Bangladesh and moved to the States and raised their kids there. The only difference is that they stayed there, and don’t really have meaningful relationships with people back home — “home” for them.

This is confusing for a lot of reasons to do with identity. Add to the mix a headscarf and a definitive non-Muslim boyfriend with whom I fell in love and it is all the more tricky. We decided to stay together and do the long-distance relationship thing after I moved back to India with my mom because we love each other, because we want to make this work, even though the only way for this to function with my parents’ blessings is for him, a raging Jewish atheist, to convert to Islam. And believe it or not, he’s learning. Semi-enthusiastically and slowly, but he is learning. And for his part he’s agreed to go through the motions and participate in rituals so long as our lives afterward have minimal interference from my family, which I imagine to be the case judging by the level of involvement my parents had and have in my younger brother’s marriage (he married quite young by choice). They are very hands-off once we’re out of the house. I eventually met his parents and we got along well although they were initially horrified at the idea of their son being with a Muslim. I think they’ve accepted us, and have an idea it’s serious.

Yes, it’s serious. We’ve talked seriously about marriage a few years down the road — he’s in the middle of applying to Ph.D. programs, and I want to start an MFA. He also wants to wait till he’s of a socially acceptable age in his family to marry. I don’t really have the luxury of time (my parents made me consider a total of four proposals while he and I were dating and they’re not slowing down). We’ve talked about telling my parents at the end of the year and when he’s learned enough to convert to Islam.

There are obviously a number of problems that I need to address, like, for instance, the ethics of this man pretending to be a Muslim so that he can marry me, the strain of the compromises we’d be making on us individually, and on myself — I’d have to leave my mental health nonprofit plans (inspired by own bouts of depression and rage during our relationship) in India behind to settle down in the States and give up ever really living there. He’s made it clear he can’t, which makes sense — it’s not politically very safe for a Jewish man to be married to a Muslim girl from the hood, ya know?

I’d have to make some lifestyle changes as well. The most important to me is that I dislike alcohol for religious reasons and he likes his occasional drink. He’s very controlled when he drinks, so I don’t ever mind if he does when I’m around and I’ve agreed to continue that policy. But truthfully I don’t know if I can live my married life rejecting a value that I grew up so observant of, even if I’m not quite as religious as I used to be. Not to mention that I’d be married to a man who doesn’t have any kind of religious ideals besides his cultural values, which are very different from mine. He says he’ll fast and pray with me, but how long can I realistically expect that to last? This strikes me as vaguely hypocritical at least — I’ve compromised other values by the sheer fact of dating him and I am in practice not very religious at all despite what the headscarf might imply — but I do believe in God and I am attached to my faith and culture.

Now, our relationship is wonderful. Despite being from such a radically different background (or is it really all that different? I spent my formative years in the States after all), and his belonging to the “white” culture at the school I spoke of earlier, I was instantly comfortable around him. Even though we had different tastes in everything, we’re similar people in personality and we connected, and expanded our interests to learn about the other. We’ve also had major trouble, and I had my serious doubts about him earlier on when he was more self-absorbed and less communicative, but he’s changed a lot, and he’s put up with a lot of my own flaws. Also remarkable about him is how he handled my depression when the first symptoms emerged and I started seeing a therapist. Despite having no exposure to this from within his own family, he didn’t scarper as I was afraid he might, and is supportive and involved in my treatment.

The best way I can describe it without going on for pages at length is that we’ve been through a lot, enjoy each other’s company immensely, have changed and grown a lot from our experiences together, and are deeply committed to one another. And from another perspective, the people who know me best and have watched my relationship with him evolve think we make sense together. His friends apparently really like me as well. And no man I’ve met since has made me want to put everything on hold to spend the rest of my life with him.

But even then, the reality of what I am proposing to do is weighty. Let’s not forget the religious father and relatives who might pick up on the fact that he’s not a real Muslim and reject our marriage on the grounds that Shariah doesn’t recognize a marriage between a non-Muslim man and Muslim woman? Even if that were to work, what about the reality of the lifestyle and religious adjustments I’d inevitably have to make to make this marriage work? What of our children, who will be confused as eff, caught between two cultures and worldviews? I cannot begin to imagine telling my parents that we’d need to have a Jewish wedding ceremony too, to respect his parents’ wishes, or that their grandkids would eventually probably have a bar mitzvah and go to the mosque. What of him and his potential resentment toward me for making him convert? And what of me and my potential resentment toward him when he inevitably fails to fast and pray with me? What of my scarf, and the multitudes of spiritual, social and political complexities of dating him and wearing the hijab at the same time? What of this long distance? We’ve been apart for three months, and we’ve been good with communication so far, but I’m terrified I won’t see him again for a long time, and that distance will drive a wedge between us eventually, especially considering that communication is not his natural strong point. Also consider the alternative — that if things don’t work out between us, I’d have to marry a Muslim man who’d accept that I dated a Jewish guy before I married him, and while those guys exist, they’re not exactly the proposals my religious family is drawing in. And I have no idea if those guys exist anywhere near where I live or work.

Sorry for the spiel but I’d love to hear how you wrapped your brain around this. Is this worth it? Do you see such a marriage working out without long-term bitterness and resentment? How?

Sincerely,

Love’s Got Me Looking So Crazy Right Now

TuscanAd_Jan2015

Dear Love’s Got Me Looking So Crazy,

All the problems you mention are solvable. The danger is the problems that you don’t mention because you don’t see them yet. Paradoxically, they will only appear as a result of solving the problems you do see.

Naturally, we focus on the problems we can see. We focus on the problems we have solutions for. For instance, one can accustom oneself to the use of alcohol. One can accustom oneself to new kinds of clothing and new phrases and rituals. But certain problems will arise that you are not prepared for.

One of them is the sheer exhaustion that attends solving all the problems you already see.

So you must go into this with a dual spirit: Certainty that you can solve the problems you can see, allied with complete surrender to the unknown.

I mean, it is admirable, nay, remarkable, that you have thought through this in such detail. That indicates seriousness and a capacity for problem solving. But you do not have limitless energy, nor limitless patience nor limitless tolerance nor limitless ingenuity and problem-solving ability and diplomatic skill and negotiating skill. Stuff can wear you down.

So if you do it, make it easy on yourself. Plan as stress-free and secure a life as possible. Having a secure income and a stable community will help. Being in an academic environment would probably ease things. Living in an American community where people are excited by your relationship, and interested in the intellectual challenge of it, and the problems of identity and culture that it poses would make things much easier.

FranceAd2015

Another unseen danger is your own psyche, your own dark side, your own vulnerabilities that are invisible to you at present. How well do you know yourself? What if your religious feelings are deeper and more intractable than you realize? What if his are, too?

I mean, this is the kind of story that Americans love. But underneath the happy American myth of blending cultures is the dark fact of sacrifice and loss. Because we are a nation of immigrants, we are a nation of loss. We are a nation of people who do not fully own their own land; we may have mortgages and title, but spiritually, psychologically, we do not own our own land because we took it from others; we do not own our own land the way you own your own land when your parents and grandparents and village stretch into the misty realms of prehistory.

Yours would be an unusual marriage but such marriages fit the American mythos. Consequently, you would have many people on your side — people who believe in the virtue of blending cultures. We are charmed by the idea of Muslims at bar mitzvahs and so forth. We think it’s cute. In other words, we don’t get the dark side of our own mythology.

Most Americans do not have family in India. Most Americans have not faced religious persecution. Most Americans do not have to worry that marrying a Jewish man could invite physical attacks.

So your story is attractive but you are wise to ask if it can really work. Because we all are immigrants, we all share not only discovery but loss. So your story fits here. But it won’t be easy.

You could definitely make it easier on yourselves. But love isn’t like that, is it?

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

CTFlyer200

My Scandinavian bridesmaid’s roommate is a creep

Write for Advice

 

Cary’s classic column from

He screwed my 17-year-old sister on my wedding night, and threatened to have my kneecaps broken!


Dear Cary,

I live in a Scandinavian country. I moved here a little over a year ago to be with my love and recently got married. Despite the difficulties of being from a different culture we have made some close friends. I have particularly become close to one young woman, and we spend a lot of time together, have a lot in common, and have become such good friends that I asked her to be a bridesmaid in my wedding.

My family and many of my close friends from the U.S. came over to be in the wedding, including my little sister who is 17 years old. On the night of the wedding my sister met my new and dear Scandinavian friend’s best friend of many years. He is a very good-looking and smooth-talking guy and sleeps with a different woman every night; at the time he met my sister he had a girlfriend (whom he had already cheated on and would cheat on again). He and my sister made out (running off to corners, etc.) all night long. At the end of the night as we were all leaving, my sister came to tell me that she was going home with him and with my friend (they are roommates).

I knew what was going to happen, and at that moment it made me feel sick. The wedding had been so beautiful. My family and my husband’s family had bonded, and all of the love between our families, ourselves and our friends and guests felt overwhelming. At the end of this kind of night the fact that my underage (but hardly virginal) little sister was going home with a man I knew (and she knew as well) to be a complete shark just felt like a very bad thing. I went to this man and told him, “Don’t sleep with my sister!” I did it in a very firm way, maybe even aggressive, but I did not swear at him and I did not shout. (Nor was I drunk; I had felt so stressed and had so little sleep leading up to the wedding that I made a conscious decision to drink very little.) He told me that I was being dirty, so dirty that if his father ever saw me he would have to break my kneecaps. (Yes, he said that, and not in a joking voice trying to diffuse the situation, but in a very angry voice!) When he said this it felt a bit like I had been slapped. I was standing there in my long white gown, in my veil, and had been told that, and I just felt it was very much over the line. I walked away from him and did not talk to him again that evening.

The real problem, and the reason that I am writing to you, is that my new friend will not accept that I do not really like or want to be around her sharklike best friend. She is very close to both of us and feels that it is unacceptable that I do not like him. We have had several fights about this. I do not badmouth him to her, I do not try to convince her not to be friends with him. In fact when she wants to talk about him (which she does very, very often) I in no way show my basic dislike for his (what I consider) lacking character. And I have helped her analyze him and his very strange and privileged background.

She has been trying very hard to get us to become friends again. She has started bringing him over (twice during this last weekend) trying to get us to hang out together. When we do so, I am very friendly and frankly quite fake, and I really don’t want to hang out with him. In fact I would rather that my friend would not come over at all if she wants to hang out with him. His affectations, which didn’t do much for me before the falling out, are just ridiculous to me now. My husband doesn’t like him either.

However, I do feel very, very close to this friend. She has made life here so much easier for me, making me a part of her life in a way that few Scandinavians are willing to do (besides, of course, my husband). She and I love to sit and talk for hours about life and literature and politics. I really hate the fact that this could have an impact on a new and important relationship in my life. I also hate that she is trying to force me to be friends with this person. She has asked me several times, “But you like him again, right?” I have answered yes, because when I told her several weeks ago that I didn’t want to be friends with him and didn’t like him she became very angry with me. However, to me this issue is not going away as fast as she would like it to.

I can not figure out if this is my problem or her problem. I don’t want to lose someone whom I like so much, but I’m not sure how much longer I can hold my tongue.

Confused and Abroad

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Confused and Abroad,

I think he did a terrible thing and you are quite right to despise him. What a despicable act! Not only to defy a bride’s wishes on her wedding day, to sleep with her sister against her clear entreaties, but to threaten her? To suggest that he’ll have her kneecaps broken? That is beyond the pale. I don’t see how you could expect to get over such treatment and come to be pals with this guy. You need to be true to yourself. I would not let him in the house again. If it means losing this friend, that is the price you have to pay for being true to yourself.

But perhaps it doesn’t mean losing this friend. If they are roommates, they will probably not be roommates forever. Your social circle in this Scandinavian country, I’m guessing, is fairly fluid; your friends are young and subject to changes in their living arrangements and their loyalties. So if you end up having a longtime friendship with this woman, she too may come to see that her friend is a jerk. In the meantime, you have been pretending; you have not been true to yourself, and that, I think, is destructive to you. I’m sure there are reasons — you are in a foreign country and you are grateful for the society of the natives, you don’t know if your standards are right or not. But the reasons do not seem sufficient. What this man did, it seems to me, showed great disrespect to you. I think you should stay away from him, and make it clear to your friend that, however much you like seeing her, you do not want to see him.

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

 

WhatHappenedNextCall

CTFlyer200

Can I skip my friend’s wedding?

Write for Advice

 

Cary’s classic column from

I can’t afford to go plus I dread seeing my mean, stupid ex and his shiny new whatever


 

Hi Cary,

My question is simple, but the back story is complicated. A very good, old friend of mine is getting married this fall. She and her fiancé have communicated that they want me there. In fact, it’s been implied that our friendship will be compromised if I don’t attend.

There are two reasons I am very hesitant to go. The first is the money. I have to fly across the country and pay for a few days at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Money is tight, and this will set me back hundreds of dollars. I live paycheck-to-paycheck right now.

The second reason is, my ex is going to be there. I was in a long-term relationship with a man. We had a long engagement (too long, in hindsight). We moved across the country together. Right after we moved, he suddenly broke up with me. Turns out, he met someone else immediately after we moved. A month after he dumped me, he married this other woman.

I’m still picking up the pieces of my life after the breakup. It devastated me emotionally and financially. I basically lost everything. If I go to my friend’s wedding, my ex and his new wife will be there. I haven’t seen this woman face-to-face. And I am almost certain I will cry.

I don’t want to make a scene at this wedding. I want to go — it’s important to me to be there. But I don’t know how I could spend hundreds of dollars I don’t have, only to be hurt and humiliated in public.

I’ve tried to talk to my friend about it, but she just keeps telling me how much she wants me there. I don’t want my friendship to be compromised. But I also don’t want credit card debt.

Should I Go?

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Should I Go,

Sometimes you get to do things for your own dignity. Sometimes you get to comfort your own soul, and tell your own soul, You know what, I’ve put you through a lot, and made you insecure and uncomfortable, and I know you are still hurting and you are going to be dreading going, so I am not going to force you into it; I’m going to wait for you to say OK.

So you talk to your soul like your soul was a kid you are taking care of. And you don’t drag her by the arm into the department store; you don’t shove her into the pool or into the classroom; you wait until she, of her own volition, indicates that she is ready and can prepare, on her own time, to walk in there on her own, and when she does she will show surprising strength because she has had time to heal. And you don’t assume that she will be ready when it’s convenient for you. You wait for her. You wait.

I have a feeling she’s not ready yet and that is fine.

You are still wounded. The wound is still fresh and might be reopened by an encounter with the same knife that caused it. You don’t have to risk that. You can give this wound time to heal.

You don’t have to go.

I mean, nobody’s stopping you. But you don’t have to. And it might be a good opportunity to get real with your friend. Has your friend asked you how you feel about the prospect of seeing your ex? Has she expressed any concern for your feelings? Or is she thinking only of her beautiful wedding and how special she’s going to feel having all her friends there?

This may be a good time to write your friend a letter and tell her how you want to remain friends but right now you have to take care of yourself.

You don’t have to be there for every Kodak moment. Some Kodak moments are best left to the photographers.

Don’t worry about regretting your decision. Instead, ask yourself what you want to take with you into the future. Do you want to take with you the debt you incurred because you could not say no, and the humiliation and anger you felt seeing your ex with his new wife? Or do you want to take with you the confidence that you can say no, and the money you saved, and the relief you feel knowing you did not have to see your ex?

What would you like to remember? Would you like to remember how you sort of knuckled under at the last minute and put yourself in debt and showed up just because? Or would you like to remember the courage you showed in making a hard decision that was best for you, and how this time you showed up not for somebody else in a distant town but for yourself, here, where you live?

You can fill your future with every imaginable item, or you can bring into the future only the things you want to bring into it, building your future like a house, furnishing it with sacred objects and memories.

I mean, it’s your choice. But you can see where I’m leaning. And I’m kind of angry at your friend, actually, for not making it more clear that she knows how hard it would be for you. Maybe she doesn’t know how hurt you still are. Or maybe she is thinking of no one but herself and her beautiful wedding.

 

 

Cary Tennis Newsletter Sign Up

 

 

 

CTFlyer200

The bride kept the money!

Write for Advice

Cary’s classic column from MONDAY, JUN 20, 2005

A snafu on bridesmaids dresses resulted in a refund to the bride — but she never passed it on to the bridesmaids and the groomsmen.


Dear Cary,

A little over a month ago, I was one of eight bridesmaids in my brother’s wedding. The bridesmaids’ dresses kept not arriving at the new dates the store kept giving us, until it was three days before the wedding and the store (I’ll call it Acme Bridal) admitted there was no way the gowns could get there in time. The bride and I spent a good eight hours scouring every other clothing store within a 30-mile radius, and I finally found one that could get us all dresses in the right colors, and still do some alterations in time. The bridesmaids got their dresses, the vows were exchanged, the wedding bouquet was thrown, the couple rode off into the sunset, everything was a happy ending … or so it seemed, and still seems, to everyone but me.

In a reasonable effort to make up for their extreme screw-up, Acme Bridal refunded the bridesmaids’ money for the AWOL dresses, and then the bridesmaids used that refund to pay for the new dresses. A few days after the wedding, I got a phone call from Acme Bridal, just offering another apology and best wishes, and hoping that their compensation was adequate and no hard feelings. Through that conversation I learned that not only had the store refunded the original bridesmaid dress money, they had refunded the price of the tuxedoes for the eight groomsmen (which were also bought through Acme Bridal, and had arrived on time with no problems) and given the bride a check to pay for the cumulative cost of the new dresses we found at their competitors. So, they not only refunded the bridesmaids’ money, and refunded the men’s money, but paid for the new dresses, all before the wedding even took place.

OK, I figured, “Linda” the bride had a lot on her mind at the time, she just forgot to distribute the check to the bridesmaids. My boyfriend was one of the groomsmen, and I know for a fact that he never received compensation for his tux, though I haven’t told him about all the vanished funds. I haven’t told anyone about them, including the other bridesmaids or the groomsmen, because I’m not sure what to do (that’s where you come in, I hope).

A few days after the Acme Bridal phone call, I asked my brother about it (they didn’t take a honeymoon after the wedding). He got very defensive and said that money was Linda’s monetary compensation for all the headaches this store caused her, and that none of the bridesmaids deserved the money (it’s $165 each) because none of them helped find new dresses. That got me all riled up because, like I said, I was running around, cellphone in hand, spending two tanks of gasoline and talking to more store owners than I can remember in trying to help Linda. When I reminded my brother “Ryan” of that fact, he admitted I had been very helpful. But he said they were still paying off the wedding and they needed that money, and he would talk to Linda about it, but the fact of it was none of the groomsmen or the bridesmaids needed the money as badly as they did.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least. First, it doesn’t matter who needs it more — that money came from a source, it should go back to that same source. Let alone that by keeping this a secret, my brother and sister-in-law are doing what’s tantamount (in my opinion) to stealing from people who are their family and best friends! I brought it up with Ryan once more a few days later (despite having been in the wedding, Linda and I aren’t close. I was there as the groom’s sister more than as a friend), and was chided for being so selfish and basically told to drop it.

Like I said before, I haven’t told anyone else, in my family or otherwise, about the non-compensated compensation. I don’t want to turn this into some huge scandal over money, especially right after a wedding. Acme Bridal paid for the costs of the new dresses and tuxes and made the check out to Linda — but is it her right to keep it? I need an unbiased opinion on that, and on where I should go from here.

Bitter Bridesmaid

Connecticut_SlightlySmaller

Dear Bitter Bridesmaid,

It seems reasonable that the bride should pass the money on to the people who paid for the dresses and the tuxes. I think that would be the right thing to do. I don’t think very highly of the idea expressed by the groom that the wedding was expensive and they need the money more, so they’re keeping it. The money was intended, presumably, to be passed on to all the parties who were inconvenienced. It wasn’t intended to enrich the bride or compensate her for wedding costs in general. It was a goodwill gesture made by a business intended partly, no doubt, to protect the firm’s reputation and help it secure future business. Ideally the store would have reimbursed each buyer individually, but for one reason or another that didn’t happen. So if the store were now to contact each person in a further gesture of “goodwill,” telling them why the refund was made and asking for their future business, that would make sense. It would also put the bride in hot water. Perhaps the store thought it was more discreet to simply send the money to the bride and stay out of whatever squabbles may result.

A little more detail on the transaction would be helpful in saying exactly what should be done, but it’s not necessary to see what’s basically right and wrong here. It’s pretty clear that the bride should distribute the money. Instead, the bride and your brother seem to be doing something small-minded and selfish. Assuming the eight tuxes cost roughly what the dresses cost, we’re talking about substantial money — over $2,600. While the bride may have no strict legal obligation to pass the money on, the legal concept of “conversion” does spring to mind; she’s taking money meant for one purpose and converting it to another. I suggest you talk to an attorney, not so much because you have a legal cause of action but because your legal position will inform your ethical and moral position. A legal perspective can bring clarity to highly emotional issues. The more aspects of the situation you understand, the better you can deal with it.

There’s one other thing I would do. I would talk to the store owner again. It’s the store owner’s money. If the store owner wanted to just make a gift to the bride and groom, then fine. But if the store owner wanted that money to go to the people who purchased clothes and were inconvenienced, then I think the store owner has a right to know that the money hasn’t gotten to its intended recipients. And there are certainly things the store owner can choose to do. Maybe an owner would not want to take it further, but I do think a conversation is in order.

Ultimately it’s up to you if you want to fight about it or put it behind you. So far, I must say, you’ve shown admirable restraint. One word of this could ignite a wildfire of outrage among the other members of the wedding party. To your credit, in spite of your personal feeling of being wronged, you haven’t bad-mouthed the bride. I think you’re wise not to. In deciding what to do, it might also help to take a step back and contemplate why you participated in the wedding in the first place. You wanted to support them in their commitment, right? You wanted to step up and do your part. You wanted to take actions that would cement long-term bonds with your brother’s new family. So you did all that. You did a great job. You performed admirably. But was your heart in it? Or was it a cynical gesture? I’m not saying your attitude is relevant to the bride’s behavior. But it seems useful to review your motives for participating in the wedding, because if you take action it could have long-term implications for your relationship with your brother and his new family.

So if I were you … what would I do? I would talk to the store owner and talk to a lawyer. See what they say. If we’re correct in assuming there’s no legal obligation on the part of the bride, and the store owner doesn’t care what happens to the money, then it’s a question of personal ethics. In that regard I think principle is on your side, so I would make the case one more time to your brother, and perhaps to the bride herself if she will hear you out. Stress that news of this will probably leak out eventually. It always does. When that happens, reputations and relationships can be severely damaged. But if they still refuse to distribute the money, it may be more practical, and perhaps wiser, to let the matter drop.

France_Ad_fix

 

 

CTFlyer200

How to handle my friend’s engagement?

 

Write for Advice

 

 

Hello Cary,

I am writing on how to think about a new situation. Some background: I briefly “dated” a man back in 2005. It was a long distance thing since I met him on a trip in another country, so for better or worse, we were as best friends. When our relationship ended, we remained, and still are best friends. He has recently become engaged, and I am very excited for him. But now I have been dealt a difficult situation.

I don’t know, or need to know, the details of his talk with his fiancée, but he recently told me that she is not comfortable with our friendship. In the end, to preserve his relationship, he informed me that he thinks he must stop speaking to me for “a while.” He did say that he tried, apparently to no avail, to convince her that I am not a threat. Indeed, I am not because there is very little I can do since I moved from the U.S. to Georgia, half a world away from where they live.

When I heard this, I was shocked and didn’t know what to say except for a simple “ok.” We are both adults and he is free to make these decisions. I also know that I cannot control her behavior, but only how I react and feel. At this stage, I feel hurt and disappointed. It isn’t killing me, but I wonder if there is an alternative way I can handle this for myself, besides feeling like nearly 10 years of best friendship was just flushed down the toilet?

Thank you in advance for any insight you may be able to provide that can help me see this in a new light.

Suzanne

France_Ad_fix

Dear Suzanne,

I can’t tell him what to do, since he didn’t write to me. But if I were you, I would tell him that this is bogus and dumb. He should not cut off his contacts with his old friends in order to make his marriage work. In fact, he’s going to need his old friends. He’s going to need to redouble his efforts to keep his old network of friends and acquaintances together.

Today’s model of marriage places excessive demands upon two individuals to fulfill each other. As families and extended families have spread out, and as work and study require frequent travel and relocation, couples increasingly face the problem of social isolation. Two people aren’t enough for each other. They may have different social needs. He may be more extroverted than she is. At any rate, I just think this is a bad way to start off a marriage.

He and she should agree on some ground rules for his interaction with you. If they aren’t intuitively clear, then let me suggest some obvious things: You and he should not go to bed together.

No, I mean, that’s obvious. Beyond that, you should just do things together that are innocent friend-type things. Going out and getting drunk together would not be appropriate. But having coffee together, and having lunch, and attending certain social events with mutual friends might be OK.

It’s fair to ask that your relationship be appropriate. But there has to be room in a marriage for opposite-sex friendships, especially those that began before the couple came together.

If she doesn’t feel that he is capable of remaining monogamous then she shouldn’t marry him.

That’s what I would tell him. I would tell him that.

CTFlyer200

I lost my engagement ring — and secretly replaced it at Wal-Mart

Write for Advice

Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, JUN 1, 2006

Cary,

I have a problem that I don’t know how to fix.

Three years ago, a year after I became engaged, I lost my engagement ring. While I was camping with my fiancé and two friends, we decided to take a walk in the water by the beach. As a joke, one of my friends pulled me into the water, and while I thrashed around, the ring slipped off my finger into the lake. We searched, but the ring was gone.

It still makes me sick to think about it.

To cover up the loss, I went to Wal-Mart and bought an inexpensive ring that looked very much like the original. This way, I hoped that no one would learn about what had happened. I didn’t tell anyone about the loss (most of my family and friends live out of town anyway), and I asked my fiancé not to tell anyone either.

However, my fiancé confided in his sister and one of his good friends. The grapevine was efficient, and soon all of his family knew. That Christmas, in front of my fiancé’s whole family, my future sister-in-law asked me if the ring I was wearing was a replacement engagement ring. I was forced to admit that I had bought the ring at Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, the insurance for the ring came through. The amount was $900, less than half the ring’s value of $2,300.

However, the money has stayed with my fiancé. Although I’ve asked about it, he doesn’t seem interested in buying a new ring.

We are planning to get married in two months — a quiet affair, just the two of us, at City Hall. After the wedding, I don’t want to wear this “Wal-Mart special” anymore. I had suggested that we spend just the $900 insurance money on a new ring, or that he contribute the $900 from the insurance and I cover the remaining $1,400 to replace the original. However, neither suggestion seems to be the right one.

I have great difficulty bringing it up, because I feel such guilt over the loss. Should I simply let it go, and quietly stop wearing the engagement ring once we are married? We have other expenses right now — a trip overseas and home renovations — and I don’t want to add to the financial burden.

Please advise me what I should do.

Lady of the Lost Ring

OnlineAd_Feb

Dear Lady of the Lost Ring,

I suggest you sit down with your fiancé and try to resolve the emotional issues that surround the material issues. It may be that he is angry with you for losing the ring. You need to ask him, “Are you still angry with me for losing it? If so, you need to tell me.”

It was a lot of money. He may still blame you. You have to find out.

I’m sure you’ve already apologized. You need to make your apology once again and ask him to forgive you once and for all. The two of you need to agree to let this go. The ring is gone. It was an accident. It cost a lot of money. But it’s gone. Let it go.

If you don’t like wearing the Wal-Mart ring, put it away after you’re married. You’ll be wearing a wedding band then, I would presume, and you don’t need to wear two rings.

It’s vital to resolve this before you get married. The thing about marriage is that it lasts for a long, long time, and the patterns and stories you establish at the outset persist. So if this issue remains unresolved, it is guaranteed to come up later. When money is short or when you lose something again by accident, it will come up. You will realize: He’s still mad at you for that ring. Twenty years from now, it will still come up unless you act to resolve it now.

So act boldly and with confidence now, and turn this mishap into something positive. Make sure that he forgives you, and then:

After you’re married, use the $900 to buy a fishing rod and some top-notch camping gear and go back to the same lake with your same friends.

Go fishing.

When you catch a fish, clean it carefully. Look for the ring. Then cook it over an open flame and eat it by firelight.

Maybe one day you’ll catch a fish and inside the fish will be the ring. In fact, you could make it a tradition; you could go fishing there every year, and that will remind you and your husband of your early happiness and frivolity and your early mistakes, and it will become a tradition that will help your friendships endure. This innocent mistake thereby becomes a lifelong gift.

As long as you go fishing, there will always be a chance that you will find the ring. And that will serve as a metaphor for your marriage: Every time you open yourself up to possibility, there is a chance that you will find something precious you thought you had lost. Every time you cast a line, there’s a chance that you’ll reel in a miracle in the belly of a fish.
WhatHappenedNextCall

CTFlyer200

I want a perfect wedding, but my in-laws are trashy

 

Cary’s archival column from FRIDAY, SEP 28, 2007

 

My future husband’s 38-year-old brother and his pregnant 20-year-old girlfriend: Yikes!

Dear Cary,

I am thrilled to be getting married this spring to a wonderful man. My fiancé proposed last winter, and we have been planning our wedding for over a year. This is a big deal for us. We started dating in 1999, and have lived together since 2001. We have struggled financially in the past, dealt with harrowing layoffs, college loans, illnesses and the loss of our beloved dog to cancer. Now we are finally in a place where we can have a nice wedding and share our commitment with our family and closest friends.

This should be the happiest time of my relationship, but I am struggling with an issue. My fiancé’s 38-year-old brother and best man has shacked up with a 20-year-old single mother who grates on my nerves. His brother met her through his ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s GED program. Seriously.

But it gets odder. She has just informed us that she is pregnant again, and will have the baby in time to bring him to our wedding. Now they are getting married too, possibly before the baby or immediately after. Translation: around the same time as our wedding. She keeps saying things like, “I’m not trying to upstage you guys, but we’re so excited!” She is beside herself with joy. She’s also leaving her job to go on government assistance. And she expects her new in-laws to help pay for everything.

The best man has children from his first marriage whom he has no relationship with, and is “really trying to make a go of this one.” He is very open about the pregnancy’s being an accident but wanting to do the right thing. I commend him for that; however, I am saddened and cannot process why people feel the personal need to populate the world with more children than they can obviously handle. I’m pretty sure it was intentional on her part, and she’s just a kid looking to “play house” or get a “meal ticket.”

I am also appalled that the pregnant girlfriend is so determined to interfere with our little wedding. I have been very positive and congratulatory to them, but their conduct is very hurtful to me. I know my fiancé loves his brother and will embrace his new nephew with love. We both will, but neither of us can understand their relationship. I also try to be respectful of them for my fiancé, even though it is often very difficult. Now I feel like I am involved in a “Jerry Springer” episode against my will. I just want to have a nice wedding. Does that make me a selfish Bridezilla?

Ultimately, I am not sure how to get past this. Do I have to be the bigger person at my own wedding? We weren’t planning on inviting kids, but she has made it clear the new baby will come, invited or not. I waited a long time to get married to the right person for all the right reasons. I cannot help being critical of my new sister-in-law, but I don’t want to be pushed around by a pathetic, attention-seeking 20-year-old, either. How do I deal with her without being a sucker or seeming like a total bitch by being honest and direct with her?

Baffled Bride-to-Be

OnlineWorkshopAd_generic

Dear Baffled Bride,

I must admit to you, honestly, I am very sensitive to the implications of family condemnation, of the looking-down-upon that happens in families, of “white trash” implications. I am sensitive to these things because of where I come from and what I have been through. Think of it as though I were a screw-up-type person and you were writing to me telling me that there is a screw-up-type person who wants to come to your wedding, and bring her child, and you are upset and angry about this and you want my opinion. I would say, well, as kind of a screw-up-type person myself, uh, I kind of identify with these folks!

No offense to recovering screw-ups. But I am, in my heart, that screw-up, that outsider, a person who has struggled mightily to gain respect, to live a good life, not always doing it with great grace or dignity or skill, often messing up and finding myself shamed and wanting. And yet I want to be at your wedding, too, if I am in your family. I want to be considered equal with others.

We are the scruffy ones you see at weddings off in the corners, scandalously ill-dressed, smoking or taking drugs to deal with the feeling of exclusion, trying to maintain bravado but feeling the clean and well-scrubbed scorn of the in crowd, feeling as usual not good enough, relegated to the margins. I identify with these people you would like to exclude. And in my happy little wedding movie, they get some love too. They get to feel as if they count, as if they are a part of the family too, screwed up as they might be.

That’s the happy little movie I play in my head when things get dark and tough. I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m doing OK now. I know it’s just a happy little movie in my head, and a sentimental one at that, filled with patriotic hogwash about diversity and welcoming the stranger to the table. I’m just saying that you don’t ever really know who you’re talking to. You know, how the king goes out into the countryside disguised as a beggar. You can’t tell. So to be a virtuous bride, a princess, if you will, what you do is you welcome everybody with a big, generous heart and a bride’s beautiful, radiant love.

That’s what makes for a joyful wedding, that spirit. And it comes from you. You set the tone.

A joyful wedding is a celebration of family. This future brother-in-law of yours, and this future sister-in-law, they are family. As such, they want to be welcomed to your wedding and to be treated with love. That is what we expect from family.

From the standpoint of those of us who may not live up to the standards of other more prosperous and well-behaved members of the family, that is great. At least we can be a part of something. At least we can be accepted. It means a great deal to us. You cannot know what we have been through, how sharply we ache to be a part of this family, how keenly we burn with rejection, how deep the knife cuts. You cannot know what this young woman has been through. You cannot know. All you can do is love these people and welcome them to your wedding.

Write for Advice

WhatHappenedNextCall

Newsletter_NEW_Dec13