A Badly Kept Secret Revisited: The Backlash

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Weddings are known to sometimes bring out the worst in people as much as they celebrate the highest ideals of love. Personal and family tensions can rise to the surface, people are stressed over details, logistics and finances… and small oversights can lead to huge resentments.

I’ve made several careless mistakes over the course of wedding planning, but this one oversight has the power to overshadow the rest.

M and I got legally married back in July so that the move to Singapore would be as streamlined as possible. I needed a spousal visa, and I needed access to his health insurance during the time I’d qualify as a “dependent.” We also wanted to get a head-start on the long process of changing our names and updating our legal documents and passports. We told our parents about our legal status change, and haven’t made an effort to keep it a secret–but haven’t gone out of our way to tell people either.

Well, apparently that little piece of paper we signed matters to some people.

With a little less than a month left until our wedding, I went over the guest list and realized that I still didn’t have RSVP’s from most of the relatives on my father’s side. I was getting ready to call them to follow up, when my dad told me, “They’re not coming. Apparently it made a difference to them that you’re already married.”

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Ummm…what? Expediting the signing a legal document invalidates your right to celebrate your commitment to love in front of your friends and family?

I was shocked and hurt—confused by their reaction, and a little insulted that they hadn’t taken the time to tell me in person or at least RSVP. And then I realized something. There must be two sides to this story. Maybe from their perspective, I’m the bad guy. I’m the one who got secretly married and didn’t tell them. I’m the one who was throwing a “fake” wedding, and “deceiving” people into thinking it was real. Maybe they thought it was just a ploy to get gifts. I was horrified imagining all of these things they might be thinking. But also hurt. None of those things were true. It was never my intention to deceive anyone! And to be judged without being given a chance to explain… that was cruel.

I understand that my father’s side of the family is more traditional. I wish they would also try to understand my perspective. Where I live, “pre-wedding weddings” and “post-wedding weddings” are not uncommon. People chose to engage with the legal side of marriage for a variety of reasons: taxes, health insurance, and immigration, among other reasons. People who love each other may also decide against legal marriage for a variety of secular reasons, including finances, student loan eligibility, and alimony payments. The legal world is complicated, and there are layers of complications in the bureaucracy. The reasons for choosing whether or not to marry legally may be deeply personal. Still, I’ve never heard of someone throwing a party to celebrate their change of tax status as they sign the legal documents associated with marriage. A wedding is essentially, in my opinion, about the love and commitment of the two individuals involved, and not about their legal status.

However, I know this issue matters to some people. I know, because I Googled it. I was too anxious to sleep, so I stayed up late reading threads on various message boards of people dealing with issues similar to mine. The responses were evenly divided between those who were appalled by the idea that a wedding could be any time other than the day of the legal status change, and those who insisted that the wedding should be about supporting the couple’s commitment and nothing else. I was stung by the vitriol of internet strangers who flung out words like “deceptive” and “dishonest.” One commenter suggested that “the only reason to have a wedding without a legal marriage is to get gifts and to play princess for a day.” Ouch!

You’d never say that to someone who celebrated their birthday a week or two early! Imagine someone saying, “I’m not coming because you’re already legally 50!” And you’d never call someone deceptive for not providing their exact date of birth and an apology for being a few days (or weeks) off on their invitations! You’d attend to celebrate your friend, and the important milestone in their life. Or you wouldn’t…

For the next few days I cycled between guilt (for not being more straight forward), anger (at being betrayed and ostracized by my relatives), and sadness that our relationship might never be the same again. How could I forgive them for treating me this way? How could I make peace with people who judged me so harshly without giving me a chance to explain? Would I even want to?

I realized something else, too. I used to think as family as a kind of obligation—people who would always be there for you, whether they wanted to or not, because that’s what family did. I’m not very close to my father’s side of the family, neither emotionally or geographically. I realized that I took these people for granted—and worse, thought of them as a burden. I only attended family reunions when guilted into them by my parents. I rarely sent holiday or birthday cards. I never even bothered to find them on Facebook—the only ones I’ve connected with are the ones who tracked me down. So maybe I was to blame for this in more ways than one. Family isn’t just an obligation—it’s a relationship that needs to be actively nourished. And I haven’t done that. Still, snubbing a wedding invitation is a bold statement…

It’s a lot to think about. I’m not sure what to do with this new definition of “family.” I know that the people I love and care about the most will be at my wedding—or not, if they can’t make it—but that they would never judge me for the way I chose to navigate the legal side of my marriage. Some of those people are family, and some of them are just friends, but they are the reason we decided to have a wedding. These are the individuals who played important roles in my life or M’s; and they are the ones we want to celebrate this important milestone with. At the end of the day, a wedding isn’t just between two people—it is also about the community of people who recognize and support the couple, and hold them accountable for the vows they make. And for those who choose not to celebrate this milestone in my life, I can do nothing but accept their decision and move forward, surrounded by the love and support of the people who matter most.

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8 thoughts on “A Badly Kept Secret Revisited: The Backlash

  1. So sorry to hear you are dealing with this drama at the last minute! But it’s true – on your wedding day, you will be looking around in awe at all of the people who are surrouding you in support of your marriage. Your heart will be bursting with excitement and joy and love. You will be amazed at how many people made it, and how much you love all of those people and wouldn’t trade them for the world, that you will have little time to think of the people who did not make it.

    Nobody from my dad’s side came to my wedding, and it bothers me a little, but my wedding day was perfect even without them. Yours will be too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your sympathy! I’m trying to keep everything in perspective and focus on the positive–the people who will be there to share the day with us!

      I’m sorry you had to go through something similar, but I’m glad that it didn’t take away from the experience you had!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am also sorry to hear about all of this… I think we as people overthink everything… When I was a single father with my oldest daughter, I often had to watch her leave to spend a holiday with her mother… This would make me extremely sad… that is… until I finally realized that holidays, birthdays, weddings, etc. do not happen on a specific date or at a specific time… but the moment you celebrate them… your are offering everyone the chance to be at your “wedding” and celebrate your “union”… which should not be confused with being present and witnessing legal “marriage” papers being signed… (two different things and when one looks at the big picture the “wedding” is much more important). By the way… When I got married… it was in March (United States) and my wedding celebration/reception was held in July (France)… this kind of thing is not uncommon… Please enjoy your special moment!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I can’t imagine the pain of missing your daughter on the holidays, but you’re right–the important part is celebrating together with family, and not the exact date of the holiday!

      I have a friend who celebrated her wedding three times so that she could include family from both sides of her family in three different geographical areas! To me, this kind of unconventional wedding is not at all surprising, and I love that it tells a story unique to the couple and their circumstances. However, my dad’s side of the family is from a much more traditional area with less diversity and mobility, so I can understand why breaking from tradition would seem shocking to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! So sorry to hear that. It’s harsh of them to just blatantly not come to your wedding because of that.It’s hard to “try not to think about it” because at some point, you will still think and try to understand why that kind of behavior was displayed. On a lighter note, I loved your realizations. Most of the time, I’m like that too! I will feel something and then will think something then realized another thing. Maybe that’s what sensitive people do, (sensitive as in, in a positive way) ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well that’s a bold statement on your fathers side… You know, you are right, you have your wedding because its a community of people who support and are willing to help you stay accountable to your vows… even though what your fathers family acted is something you wouldn’t do… you want people at your wedding who want to celebrate love… and you didn’t get married to shun or pull the wool over anyones eyes. LOTS of people get married for many of the same reasons you did and have a great public ‘wedding’ for the celebration of their bond. Your wedding will be beautiful and I’m sure your dad’s side of the family will see pictures and ‘secretly’ wish they were apart of those memories. Very well written post!

    Liked by 1 person

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