Dear Prudence

My Mom Won’t Attend My Sister’s Wedding if My Partner Is There

I want to go, but the pain that it’s causing my sister is making me reconsider.

two women cuddling while drinking wine, right, and a woman with her back turned, left
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Merlas/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence, 

My sister is getting married to the man of her dreams next year. My mom has been explicitly homophobic since I came out to her about a decade ago, but in recent years we have settled into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship. I’m married, and my mother’s demand has been to never share a room with my partner. As a result, I don’t attend “family” events if my partner isn’t invited. My mother views this as my choice—despite her choice to be homophobic. A few of my siblings say they aren’t homophobic but consistently facilitate my mom’s homophobia to keep the peace.

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My sister invited my partner and I to her wedding. She’s my closest sibling and was the best woman at our wedding. My mother has threatened to not attend, called to demand my partner not attend, and threatened to make a scene (and worse) at the wedding or persuade others not to attend. My position has been unwavering so far: We will attend, and everyone else can make their own decisions. I still believe this, but all the pain and grief it’s causing my sister is making me think whether I should just step out of this one. My sister is, thankfully, not going to disinvite me or my partner despite pressure to do so. If we don’t attend, my mom and her homophobia-coddling children can attend and be happy. If we do, my mom and potentially other family won’t attend or will confront us and try to kick us out, helping to ruin my sister’s wedding. I don’t know what to do and need advice.

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—Gay at the Wedding

Part of me wants to tell you to go to the wedding with your partner and cheerfully let your homophobic relatives die mad about it, if they so choose. But if you think there’s even a slim chance that your sister will still let your bigoted mother and team of sycophants attend too, and that there’s any possibility they’ll cause a scene or try to attack you (especially if you’re not sure you’ll get backup), then I also want you to take your own safety into consideration. This seems like a conversation to be had with your own sister, since it’s presumably in her interests as well as yours to ensure that guests can commit to not starting fights while she’s exchanging vows. It’s been a decade and your mother is still treating your being gay as if she’d just been struck by a meteorite—isn’t your sister just the littlest bit tired of tiptoeing on eggshells around her? Isn’t she just a little ashamed for not disinviting relatives who demand she adopt a “no gays” policy for her wedding in 2022?

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That’s not to say you should try to match their ultimatum with one of your own, since that’s usually a recipe for a headache, but I think you should frame the conversation with her thusly: “I really want us to be able to attend your wedding. I’m not sure it will be possible unless there’s some confirmation of neutrality from the others, that if we show up they’re not going to take our gayness as an affront or an excuse to start a fight. Do you think that’s possible?” If the answer is “no” or “I’m not sure,” you might want to rethink your plans.

Help! I Used to Claim I’m Mexican. I’m Not.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Harry Eskin on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I lived for a couple of decades in a marriage that was, regrettably, more and more abusive over time. My husband was a lot of fun when we first met, but as years passed, he became controlling, jealous, and tried to drive a wedge between me and my friends. Even co-workers were off-limits for socialization in his view (despite the fact that my job supported us both). He, on the other hand, was the life of the party wherever he went, except at home, where he criticized and belittled me constantly. He would scream at me for hours over minor infractions. I felt stuck for years, especially because he spent all our money and handled our finances, so I had to ask permission to buy anything. (I know, I know—I’m older and wiser now, but at the time I was desperate to make our marriage work.) I became his caretaker after a life-altering accident and was at his side every minute. After he died, I threw him the “life celebration” he’d always wanted, full of his friends. Many of them promised to stay in touch but didn’t, which was fine, because I barely knew them.

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It’s been a few years now, and I’ve finally developed my own set of friends and have reconnected with my family. I stay in limited touch with his family for the sake of my son, but they’re also highly dysfunctional. I often run into people who want to sit and reminisce with me about the “good old days” when my late husband was alive, talking about what a terrific guy he was. While I won’t bash him, in part because my son remembers him as a good dad and in part because I simply don’t see the point, I have zero interest in lying. He was kinder to strangers than he ever was to me. How do I graciously excuse myself from these kinds of conversations? Part of me wants to scream that I am finally happy now—but of course I’m not happy that the man was injured and died. I’d feel guilty hinting to people who clearly have better memories that he wasn’t the man they think he was.

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—Not That Great

Something simple and straightforward like “Sorry, I don’t have time to stop and chat” or “I’m afraid I can’t discuss that right now—thanks for understanding” is all that’s required. If you feel up to light subterfuge, you can subtly indicate that the subject is still too painful, which is true and also provides you with the universally respected social cover of the grieving widow. It’s not a perfectly accurate picture of your situation, but nothing short of the exact truth is, and these near-strangers are not entitled to the details of your feelings about your marriage. He was your husband, and as his widow you do have the right to set the terms of when, where, and with whom you discuss your marriage with him. Whatever extrapolations others might draw about the nature of that pain are outside of your control and concern.

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Dear Prudence, 

I am a bisexual woman in her early 20s, and I have just started my first-ever serious relationship. It happens to be with a woman. I like her so much. We’re really compatible, and I’m so proud to call her my girlfriend. We also live in a city where we can be open and not worry too much about discrimination. Everything is great, except for one thing: I now have to tell my mother. I know she won’t react well. I’m pretty close with my mom. Normally I tell her everything, including about my dating life, and I consider her my rock. But when I came out to her a few years ago, I’d describe her reaction as something like “shell-shocked acceptance.” Ever since, she’s deliberately avoided talking about my sexuality, which has been somewhat painful but tolerable. I’ve told her about my dating life, including my frustrations and anxieties, but only regarding men. I’ve remained silent when I’ve dated women, despite how hard it was to keep my mouth shut around her, and I told myself I’d only tell her I was dating a woman if things got serious with one.

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Well, that time has come. I know I’m probably not in danger of being disowned or told that I’m an abomination. My mom isn’t a homophobe—she just would probably prefer her children to be heterosexual. So I know she won’t react well, even if she will probably eventually come to terms with it. How can I prepare myself for the inevitable pain when she reacts coldly at first? I have a bit of a complex about pleasing my parents that comes from years of questionable disciplinary tactics (the silent treatment, extreme guilt trips, etc), so this has the potential to throw me into a panic attack or a depressive episode or both. I’m dreading it, but I want to share this happy news with my mom.

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—One Foot Still in the Closet

I can’t agree that your mother isn’t a homophobe! “She won’t disown me or tell me I’m going to hell” is a miserably low bar, and while I can appreciate that you want to draw a distinction between her genteel, grimacing bigotry and the kind that results in huge denunciations or attempts at conversion therapy, it’s very much cut from the same cloth. That does not mean you have to stop loving your mother or even stop speaking with her. Plenty of people love their homophobic mothers, and plenty of homophobic mothers do eventually “come to terms” with reality in a variety of ways, some more satisfying than others. But I do think some of your desire to mitigate or downplay your mother’s homophobia is connected to what you describe as a bit of a parent-pleasing complex, as is your desire to treat her as your “rock” despite knowing full well that she doesn’t want to offer any support when it comes to your relationships with women. That’s not much of a rock.

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What might it mean to think of your mother as someone whose love you might very well appreciate and draw strength from, but you don’t rely on as a foundational, everyday form of support? What if you spent less time holding your tongue around your mother and more time seeking support from your girlfriend, from your friends, from other queer people? I think your instinct that she’ll respond with more silent treatment is likely true, so how can you make sure you have other people to talk to when she goes quiet? I realize maternal rejection can be painful, and I don’t mean to advise you simply not to care. But this distance might provide you with an opportunity to imagine a future where you still love your mother but spend less time and energy chasing after her approval, where your own happiness is not entirely contingent on whether she decides to share it with you.

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More Advice From How to Do It

This weekend I went to a party where I watched an acquaintance, “Bob,” (who is new to town) making out with “Ted.” Ted is HIV-positive and has a history of not mentioning his status to men he sleeps with. I know this because I slept with him and found out afterward (I asked about STDs before we hooked up and he said “none,” and we used condoms). I confronted Ted and he said he was on meds and undetectable, but I was still very angry about the lie. Other men have mentioned the same story.

Should I tell Bob about Ted, and if so, what, specifically, should I tell Bob about Ted? That he’s a jerk? That he’s HIV-positive? Or do I just tell Bob to play safe and hope that’s enough?

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