Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Not being taken for a ride: My niece “Annie” is getting married in a few months. It’s at a beautiful outdoor pavilion that often has beautiful weddings. Our family is not extravagant, but we do like slightly nicer things than average. So far, all my nieces and nephews have had really nice weddings. Annie’s mother is probably the most extravagant of us all and has really been looking forward to the wedding. She gave Annie a sizable amount of money and Annie said that she would cover the rest.
Well, we had her bridal shower over the weekend and I found out that Annie is planning to have a bare bones wedding. She basically talked to a bunch of people and got them all to secretly agree to help with different aspects of the wedding instead of hiring people. She is planning on getting someone to grill hot dogs and hamburgers. She is planning on getting a large order of different sides from the local grocery store and serving those. Instead of renting chairs and tables, which is commonly done at this location, she is planning on taking a ton of picnic tables from the adjacent park.
Prudie, not only do I think this is going to be a disaster, but I know her mother will be horrified. Annie has always been a bit more selfish than the rest of the family. She sometimes doesn’t even give presents at events where they are expected—not even a card. I found out that she tried to talk her sister into doing almost nothing for the bridal shower except open presents, ordering a small cheese and meats tray, and giving her the rest of the money. Annie’s mom, however, stepped in and put her foot down. Annie quietly complained until we got to the presents. I’m now putting together some of the things she and others have said.
I think she is looking at the wedding as a way to make a ton of money for her honeymoon and, possibly, a down payment on a house. I understand that everybody has their own views of what they want for their wedding, but she is lying to her mother. So my issue now is two things: do I tell her mother and do I warn others so that they don’t give her the large amount of money or expensive presents that we usually give at the nicer weddings? If she was upfront about some of these things, I wouldn’t be concerned about how much I gave, but our family really hates it when people lie to get things (it has to do with our dad) and I know everybody else would be just as upset as me about the lying. What are your thoughts?
A: I think if you insert yourself into this, you’re inviting unnecessary drama into your life. Let’s take the mom and the rest of the family separately. First, I would be very surprised if Annie’s mom didn’t at least have some inkling of her daughter’s plan, not only because she’s her mom but because she’s already stepped in with the bridal shower. But let’s say she doesn’t. And let’s say that Annie has promised her a big, extravagant, expensive wedding. The question then is what will telling her accomplish at this stage? Do you expect she’s going to take the money back or demand a nicer wedding? I understand your concern, but I worry that you’ll end up enmeshed in a situation that, chances are, isn’t going to change. Annie seems to have a very clear vision for her day and her finances, and that vision will likely lead her on a collision course with her mother one way or another.
As to the family, I’m of two minds. On one hand, I understand that there’s some older family baggage that might get aggravated by giving a gift under false pretensions. So warning your family make protect their feelings. On the other hand, you seem to be operating under a philosophy of gift-giving that is transactional rather than altruistic. This is fine, if that’s the way you see the world. But warning them because of the lying versus warning them because you have a quid pro quo relationship to gifts feel different to me. Making yourself the family whistleblower gets a little close to gossip in this case, and I think that’s going to cause you more stress.
I married Kate, my second wife, 10 years ago. My teenage daughters were 17 and 19. I had been divorced from their mom for five years, and Kate had nothing to do with our divorce. My daughters never warmed to Kate, and in fact, they have always treated her rudely. Kate has been excluded from all of their major milestone celebrations: birthdays, graduations, etcetera. Kate always encouraged me to attend without her, because she has always wanted me to have a relationship with my children. Kate and I now have two children, 6 and 4, and my eldest daughter is marrying. Children of all ages are welcome at her wedding—but not Kate or her younger half siblings. I think I have reached the end of the line, and so has Kate. My daughters want nothing to do with my wife or my children. I am so exasperated with my daughters, and I don’t know what to do. They say I always need to choose them over Kate, because they are my children, and until now I always have. But now I’m actually considering missing my daughter’s wedding.