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Wedding planning is stressful enough if you're a totally sane, normal person with no underlying issues or personality quirks (if that's even normal). If you have some unresolved problems, though, expect the wedding process to drag them out into the light and force you to face whatever's been lurking in the back of your mind for weeks, years, maybe even decades.
I know, I'm being vague – so I'll get right to the point: the hardest part of wedding planning, for me, is accepting that I'll never have the family that I want.
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Lots of people I know get along swimmingly with their families and in-laws. They look forward to the holidays, love going on vacations together, talk on the phone, and have generally good, happy feelings about each other. As you visit wedding blogs, event websites, photographer portfolios, you'll see loads of happy, smiling, newly-blended awesome families and totally over-the-moon happy awesome couples about to embark on the happiest journey of all of their lives, together, as an awesome family (In case you didn't realize it, I am totally saying "awesome" in my head like Janis from "Mean Girls".)
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I'm here to tell you that, if that isn't the case with you – it's totally normal. And the sadness you feel when you think you're missing out? Totally normal, too.
I have complicated relationships with my family. The reasons aren't really important, but the general consensus from my professional help is that many of my family members are unreliable, SUPER overly critical (way beyond what's normal), competitive, and generally unhappy, toxic people. I grew up pretty much on my own, not being able to count on anyone but the few good friends I was able to make. While my family relationships have, overall, improved somewhat now that I'm an adult, most of that improvement has come from maintaining my distance.
At least, that was the case until I started the wedding planning.
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Initially, people were happy but things went downhill quickly. Nasty e-mails for no apparent reason other than someone feeling slighted over some totally random and small detail. Promises to help made and quickly broken. The constant criticism over every single aspect of the wedding. Overly dramatic meltdowns over minutiae like corsages and bride dolls.
In short, weddings bring out the worst in people who already sucked to begin with. No real surprise there, though it hurts.
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The biggest problem was that, in the back of my head, getting married gave me the chance to have a REAL family. One like I see in the pictures, where people are close to one another, happy to see each other, stand up for each other. In my mind, it would be a chance for a new beginning, and a chance to have something I was always missing, whether I'd admit it or not.
Frankly, I wanted a mom. Someone to take care of me during all of the stressful times. Someone I could talk to when I was ready to have a total bridal breakdown.
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If you've read my rants, you can probably surmise that what I got was the boy's family. A family that, in many cases, is just as complicated as mine. The drama is big and painful, and the criticism is rampant. They push and demand via phone calls instead of email nastygrams, like my family does, but they make emotional demands just the same.
To add even more tension to the situation, the boy's father passed away several years ago after a terminal illness, so the boy was pretty much head of his household from a young age. To say his mother has had a tough time cutting the cord is an understatement. She's only really started accepting the fact that he even moved away from home, something he did 8 or 9 years ago.
The girl who was desperately hoping for someone to fit the role of a mother got someone who, on their first meeting, said, "Back off, he's mine."
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In his family's defense, I am certainly adding my own complexity to the situation. I'm slow to trust, and they expected instant closeness. I like my privacy, and they like to share. A lot. To everyone. I've suffered from crippling social anxiety for years, and while I'm working on it, it's a problem that still rears its ugly head from time to time. Not to mention that I went into the family relationship with such high goals and expectations, there's likely no way they could have lived up to them even if they were just what I was looking for.
But, the boy had always described his family as super-loving, close-knit people who did EVERYTHING together and cared about FAMILY. When I started expressing that things did not seem to be going so well between me and them, he initially put it back on me. I didn't go see them enough, or could stand to make more of an effort. Why would they come visit us if we didn't show interest in their events? He was sure there was some mitigating circumstance that excused their behavior.
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So, I made attempts to visit, e-mail, and generally make nice. With limited vacation, I couldn't be physically present often, but I did what I could. I did have to ask for some accommodations for my social anxiety, which was REALLY hard for me, as I hate admitting I need help. Meanwhile, the boy attended numerous weddings, graduation parties, and holidays at home because his family was CLOSE.
Enter wedding planning. We discussed a wedding halfway between our hometowns, and it was "too far" or "too expensive" or "not in a cool enough location" for them. Destination wedding? As long as we paid for his family to go. When his family found out we settled on a wedding in our current hometown, where I've lived my whole life and he's lived for almost four years now, the reaction was, "Well, I guess WE won't be involved then." The only acceptable solution for them was having the wedding in their hometown, even though it would be ten hours from our home, friends, and my family.
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I suggested we have a reception in their hometown over Thanksgiving weekend, as it would be only a month or so after the wedding, and I could use the holiday to travel given my lack of remaining vacation time. The boy thought this was also a great idea, so he presented it to his family.
The reaction? "No one will go. It's the first weekend of hunting season."
We were floored.
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Accepting the fact that nothing but a local wedding would please them, we went ahead with our current plan to wed in our hometown. The boy continued to travel home for visits and weddings. We sent out our invitations, and he was hopeful they would attend after all the times he traveled back home, and because they're all so CLOSE.
His one aunt responded that she would try to come, "if [she] could get a ride." Beyond his mom and stepdad, his one grandmother, his dad's sister, and one cousin, no one else was interested. His sister and her family finally agreed to come after his mom offered to pay their way.
Meanwhile, everyone's posting on Facebook about taking trips, buying boats, going shopping, etc. My fiance was depressed that hardly anyone was coming and I was just depressed.
For some time, I couldn't express what was wrong, but I was severely upset and questioning whether the wedding was a good idea. The boy and I fought ALL the time, over pretty insignificant details, for no apparent reason. It almost tore us apart until, with help, I realized what was wrong.
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I was grieving. Grieving the loss of a family I'd never have. I'd never have someone to fit the role of mother and take care of me.
There wouldn't be happy family vacations or perfect, shining holidays.
The best I could hope for? Probably detente, though I'm still concerned the wedding and/or future grandchildren may destroy the semi-peaceful coexistence we seem to have going on right now and trigger yet another arms race.
And there are threats to upset the peace all the time. I get a nasty email from my grandmother that sends me into a tailspin. The boy's family still pushes for a grand tour of the house the day before our wedding, when I am already expecting my anxiety to be hitting a boiling point, and I HATE that they don't respect my desire to not take on any additional stress. I will believe that my family is helping us financially when the check is physically in my hand, and not a minute before, because too many promises have been broken over the years. For my own sanity, I had to ask my fiance to not tell me when his family is being overly critical or demanding, which is very difficult for him. He's had to keep a lot of things to himself that he needs to vent about, as telling me just causes even more tension and anger between me and his family. (I can only hope he found a blog of his own that allows him to guest post rants!).
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The boy and I have fought to the point of almost breaking up because, at times, I don't think I can handle not having any sort of supportive family. We had some huge blow-ups as the "no"s were coming in – he kept making excuses for his family's behavior, and I was PISSED that he stuck the blame on me when I had made an effort to visit and build relationships, and they still, in my humble opinion, crapped all over us and one of the biggest days of our lives. I pushed, more than I should, for him to admit that his super close family didn't view us as a priority. He, for the first time, admitted that the idealized image he had of everyone had blown up.
We're emotionally spent. We both have a hard time taking care of each other, because we both want someone to take care of US. After taking care of crazy parents for decades, that's pretty normal. We do the best we can, day by day, to get through it. Together.
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I'm holding on to the hope that someday – hopefully – we can make the close family I always wanted with our own children. And if that doesn't work out, we are truly blessed to have some great friends, including my best friend and her family, who have turned into a surrogate family for me over the years. Absolute worst case, there's always our therapist and better living through pharmacology (In all seriousness, though, sometimes therapy alone is just not moving the needle and medicine can really help. So, don't be ashamed to get the help you need if your pesky brain chemistry is just off.).
You can get through it and make your own happy ending. I believe that 100%. I have to.