- 6 years ago
- Wedding: August 2012
Hi everyone! I have to write this down somewhere because it’s physically exhausting me to be carrying around all this sadness and emotional confusion. If you have any advice, I would love to hear it.
FH and I are getting married in 6 weeks, and my normally-close family is on the edge of a meltdown over it. The argument that got us to this place was over cake. (Cake! Cake! I can’t believe we’ve even gotten to this point.) But seriously, it’s threatening to ruin my fiance’s relationship with my mom and seriously damage my own relationship with my her, and I don’t know how to untangle this.
The absurd basics of the argument are this: my mom, who is paying for most of the ceremony and reception, does not like the two flavors my fiance and I picked out for the wedding cake. Emotionally exhausted after a similar argument over invitations, I asked my fiance to handle the discussion with her, since he loves sweets and cares a lot more about this than I do. This was a mistake.
My mom, who is extremely type-A and can be terribly passive-aggressive, alternately ducked discussions and stonewalled him for weeks (“nope, we’re not talking about this now, I need to do more research,”) then basically declared that she was going to order a plain cake (her preferred flavor) from the baker. My fiance asked me to get involved again, and after a lot of discussion we decided that this was something we really wanted to be intimate and special and “us,” and that we were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to pay for the cake ourselves so my mom didn’t feel used. Because fiance was about to leave town for 4 days, and because we didn’t want to make the cake a bigger deal than we thought it should be, we told my parents what we hoped to do in what we thought was a really respectful email. In retrospect, this was another giant mistake. We should have waited to talk about it in person.
While my fiance was out of town, my mom cornered me in private to tell me she’s extremely offended by “his” email, extremely offended by our behavior, and that our choice in cake is “tasteless” (it’s white, with fleur de sel caramel, buttercream, and little chocolate crunchies – not that it matters). She told me over and over that she’s sure my fiance thinks this is some “big win,” but in fact it’s a “big loss.” When I asked her to clarify what that meant, she said various dramatic things about how her closeness with my fiance was now ruined forever and she never wanted to consult with him about anything ever again. She told me she hasn’t slept in two days because she’s so angry. She thinks that we’re completely ungrateful for everything she’s given and that she can’t believe we would ever write her an email like “some lawyer.” (The email was carefully worded, for sure, but only because we were so scared of how angry she would be.) She made me burst into tears and then *still* kept going. I spent all of that day sobbing.
Of course, this is not really about cake. This is about decades-old family dynamics, which is why it’s so difficult and painful to deal with at what should be a happy time. More on that in a sec, but first: lest you are getting the opposite impression, my mother and I are actually very close–normally–and I respect her a lot. She’s loving, attentive, gossipy, fun, extremely successful in her career, and quite wealthy by money she earned all on her own. She’s just…completely off her rocker right now. Or maybe I am. I’ve lost all my bearings.
My mom is not a single mother. My parents are still married, but their dynamic is highly unusual. My mom makes much, much more money than my dad and is far more extroverted. He’s one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet but is conflict-averse and extremely shy, and for most of my parents’ marriage he’s basically gone along for the ride. In these wedding talks, he’s been a total nonentity.
My mom grew up as a kind of child-parent in a chaotic, somewhat neglectful home, and although she is a kind, well-intentioned person, she is absolutely maniacal about control. The primary way she expresses this is by showering me and my sister in generous gifts and help, then becoming furious and saying we’re ungrateful if we disagree with her down the line, even about something minor. A good example is that when I was in my early 20’s and moving to a new place, she spontaneously wrote me a check for my first month’s rent, saying I’m sure I could use the help (and she was right). A couple of day later, we were bickering about which parking lot to choose for a movie–seriously, that–and after I “won” the argument, she turned to me in a fury and said “After EVERYTHING I’ve done for you, EVERYTHING I’ve given you, paying your first month’s rent, you won’t even do ONE THING I want.” It was nuts. We were seeing a movie she wanted to see.
When my fiance and I became engaged, she immediately volunteered to pay for the wedding. (Obviously, obviously we should have turned her down. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and I have to say it’s this planning process that’s really crystallized the unhealthy dynamics in our relationship for me.) We accepted, because that freed up our savings to put a down payment on a house, and we bought one just last month.
At every step in the planning process, my mom has dragged her feet, called our preferences tasteless, told me I was spoiled, a Bridezilla, and a bully if I wanted something different than she did. I wanted a wedding in a local park–she said no. I wanted invitations with an art deco design–she said no, it was “her” invitation since she was throwing the party. I wanted to put “black tie optional” on the invitations–she said that all of our guests would be resentful and disgusted because I was “making” them get tuxes.
On most of these issues, we’ve sort of compromised–and by “compromise” I mean she’s gotten 80% of her way–and I’ve come away from the arguments feeling manipulated and sad. My fiance has never understood why I “care so much” about little wedding details, but he finally got it with the cake, an issue HE cared about. He’s from a similar chaotic/neglectful background to my mother’s, and so they’re now circling each other with knives drawn and I feel completely powerless and gross and sad. Like I’m never going to be my own person.
Uggh, I’m a professional writer and embarrassed by how choppy and long-winded this is. There’s all sorts of other context I could throw out, but I’ll stop. My mom and dad are coming over for dinner tonight to hash this all out with me and my fiance, and I’m just not sure what to do or say. Help?