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.”
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.