#209: My mom is pressuring me to invite my molester to my wedding, and it sucks BIG TIME.

Hello everyone. Captain Awkward here. This post involves some deeply harrowing no-good shit, so we’re putting everything behind a cut.

Also of note: This post, you’ll notice the byline above, is a guest contribution of Marie (of The House is full of EVIL BEES fame), now promoted to Private First Class in the Awkward Army. She lays down some pretty fucking awesome encouragement and support for today’s letter writer.

CA Over and Out. Take it away, PFCMarie.


I’ve recently (in the last ~5 years) come to accept that I was sexually abused by an older cousin from the time I was about three until I was probably eight. I lived with intense guilt and fear for most of my life and became very, very practiced at “not thinking about THAT, thinking about some OTHER THING” until I was probably a couple of years into college and began accepting myself as a person and enjoying the variety of pleasures, sexual and otherwise, that the world has to offer. Today, I am a happy and well-adjusted woman in her late twenties who has had the incredible fortune of meeting the most wonderful-for-me man in the whole world, and soon we will get married.
So I conquered abuse on my own! I found love! I can have sextime with abandon! I don’t have repeated and damaging thought patterns that circle around in my head in a loop of shame-ignore it-shame-ignore it-guilt-shame-ignore it, ad nauseam. It’s all coming up roses! 
Except my mom, who may or may not know about the abuse and/or the extent of it, wants to know why I’m not inviting Abuser Cousin to our medium-sized wedding and thinks I should probably invite him since I am inviting some other first cousins. Frankly, I think my mom suspected something was up with Abuser Cousin back in the day, and that’s the reason we stopped seeing very much of him and, by extension, my aunt when I grew older. I have a very vague but emotionally powerful memory of a horrible moment where my mom confronted me in our house (maybe I was six or seven?) and asked if Abuser Cousin and I did things to each other, and I just wanted to diiiieeeeeeee and I denied it all and was so ashamed of myself and just wanted it all to go away. I don’t think I made this conversation up, again, largely because I have such a visceral memory of feeling the kind of shame only a scared, helpless kid can feel, a kid who doesn’t know WHY she feels like she is the most abominable and disgusting person in the world but knows she is, somehow. 
There is also the issue that my aunt, Abuser Cousin’s mom, is a drug addict and in recent years has come in and out of our lives depending on whether she’s back with her drug-enabling creeper of a boyfriend. Fact is, I want to invite my aunt to my wedding, because I think we (we = me, her sisters, my mom, etc.) are the only support system she has and I want her to know that we are still up for helping her out if she needs it.
Over the years, I have seen Abuser Cousin at family functions, I even attended his wedding in fact, and managed to say probably five words to him the entire time. Sometimes, in later years, I have even managed to almost forget what he did to me when I see him. I just don’t like to look at him because when I do, I feel like he and I have this gross connection that is like, he knows what happened and he is the only other person in the world who knows and what does he think when he sees me? Does he totally think he didn’t do anything wrong? Anyway, I hate seeing the guy and don’t give a fuck if he lives or dies and definitely do not want him and his stupid gaze at my wedding seeing me at my most beautiful and most happy.
So I decide to definitely invite my aunt to the wedding. Today, my mom asks me about it. She then asks if I invited Abuser Cousin, as she has a couple times before. I say I didn’t and immediately change the topic to tablecloths. My mom is not at all a stupid person, and I think she knows what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, but we can never speak of it. I almost think she wants to make me say it to her? The reason why I am not inviting him? So if I say it to her, then the cat’s out of the big, gossipy family bag and I can guarantee you it will not be long before Sexually Abused Bride Does Not Invite Abuser Cousin To Her Wedding is going to be the top story any time anyone in my family talks to someone else. And THEN I will have the pity gaze, the oh-we-didn’t-know-all-those-years gaze, on me, coming from aunts and uncles and who knows who else. On my wedding day! Instead of the one asshole giving me the awful gaze, the perp gaze, I will have all these other people giving me the pity gaze, and what I want is to just not be fucking reminded of this shit when I am trying to get my happy ass married! And even if my mom doesn’t tell anyone, SHE is still going to be burdened with this knowledge on my wedding day and what will SHE think? Will she be sad or ashamed? I don’t want that for her.
I cannot think of another time at which this will be an issue ever, ever again. If I were not getting married, I am positive I would never have ever had any occasion to tell anyone about what happened to me and that is the way I would like to keep it. It literally has never come up with anyone ever in any other relationship or situation in my adult life–though I freely admit that until I was probably 17 I lived in a near-constant state of guilt and fear, much of which I believe was not helped by the fact that I was raised in a community and household that was tremendously conservative about sex as a general practice. I grew out of the guilt and fear and eventually, as I said, about five years ago was able to actually say out loud to myself: I was abused, and that is why I felt so bad for all that time, and it is not my fault.
But I don’t think I can hold out on this. Mom is persistent. Either I invite Abuser Cousin to the wedding (FWIW, my fiance and I are paying for the whole thing ourselves, so no, I don’t actually think my mom has a right to tell me who to invite but that is a whole other thing) and hope he doesn’t come and nobody makes a fuss or he does come and whatever terrible things, or I don’t invite him and it’s a Whole Nother Fucking Thing. Nobody is going to buy that we can’t afford to invite him. And my mom is not going to let up. Especially if my aunt manages to get her shit together enough to RSVP.
But here is the thing that worries me most of all, the thing that makes me think I actually cannot, in good conscience, keep this secret: Abuser Cousin has daughters. Some are little, the age I was when he abused me. Some are older. I don’t know a ton about sexual abuse, but I understand this kind of thing doesn’t just stop all the time. It’s not that I think he’s a pedophile (after all, he is I think 3 or 4 years older than me? Not sure.) but what if he’s still doing creepy things to his girls? Aren’t I morally obligated to speak up now and kind of a shithead for never speaking up before? Or maybe someone on his side of the family abused him and that’s why he abused me, so what if that person is still around abusing his kids and nobody has ever said anything so a bunch of us are all dealing with this crap now or will be in the future?
(I guess I should add that I am on the fence about disclosing any of this to my fiance, largely because apart from this singular wedding issue, it absolutely does not affect our relationship in any meaningful way–it doesn’t cause problems in the bedroom, in everyday life we communicate with great ease, we almost never fight and when we do it is in the most constructive possible way, I no longer have recurring thoughts about shame or guilt etc. and so on. He is a wonderful, thoughtful, loving and supportive man who I know would not judge me in any way and would be whatever or however I needed him to be about it, but the thing he can’t be, once he knows about it, is ignorant of it, which is how I like him to be. Does that make sense?)
Anyway. I don’t really know how to sort all this out, and I’m not really sure this is something I’m ready to talk to a professional about yet. I’ve been through brief counseling before in grad school for other stress-related things and could not bring myself to talk about the childhood abuse. Maybe that would be different now, years later? I don’t know. Guide me, please, through the stormy sea of this bullshit.

Okay, I’m going to start by saying a few things that you probably already know, but always bear repeating. Unfortunately, these are sort of amorphous emotional things, and not practical, solid tips for solving your problem, but they are still super true and super important, so here you go:

1. What happened to you was unfair, you didn’t cause it, and you didn’t deserve it, and it SUCKS.

2. GOOD JOB getting your shit together. I mean, A+ forever! Coping with past abuse in a way that allows you to live the life you want is an extra enormous pile of work that nobody should have to take on, but you did take it on, and you rocked it, so GOOD JOB.

3. You are under no obligation to tell anybody about this abuse, ever. EVER. It doesn’t matter who wants to know, or whether or not you (or they) feel like they have extra super special reasons why they should get to know. They’re not the ones who have to experience the telling of it, and they’re not the ones who have to experience people’s awkward questions, huge mistakes, emotional reactions, and bug-eyed staring once the thing is known. So, only you get to decide who knows, and there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to those decisions, only what’s right or wrong for you.

4. You are not responsible for stopping your abuser from abusing again. Not only are you not responsible, you are not capable of doing this. You may be able to do some things to make it harder for him to abuse in the future, but you cannot stop him. He is the only one who can do that. Victims are not responsible for their abuser’s behavior, whether in the past or the future. Whether or not they feel an obligation to try to create obstacles for an abuser is up to them, and whether or not it’s possible to create those obstacles is up to a world of factors that are purposefully, explicitly outside of a victim’s control.

Now that that’s out of the way! I am seeing a few separate problems in your letter. I’m going to break them into small chunks here and address them separately, because it’s very rare that we can solve a pile of problems with one solution, but it’s very common that we (me? I’m talking about me, okay) spend loads of time looking for the magic hammer that hits all the nails at once. Especially when our problems have a deadline, and especially when that deadline is a stressful event like a wedding. So, let’s separate.

Problem #1: You do not want your abuser at your wedding.

Problem #2: Your mom is pushing you to invite your abuser to your wedding.

Problem #3: You suspect your mom knows about your abuse, and is pushing you to disclose it to her.

Problem #4: You do not want your family to be gabbing about your past abuse (especially at your wedding)

Problem #5: You do not want (or are not sure you want) your fiance to know about the past abuse.

Problem #6: You are wondering if you should disclose your abuse in the hopes that it will protect your abuser’s children, or other potential future victims.

Problem #7: Should you want therapy, you don’t really know how to get there.

Here is the good news! Problem #1 and #2? Pretty easy to solve! Problem 1 is my favorite, because you already have it covered. Dude is not invited!

But now we have problem #2. This is where your many small, distinct problems start to merge into Optimus Problem, because your mom is doing Problem #2 because of Problem #3 which leads to Problem #4 and maybe #5 and #6 and you have lost your magical hammer. Let’s resist Optimus Problem, if we can (we might not be able to! That is also okay, things happen that way sometimes).

Here is why Problem #2 is more easily solved than all the other problems. Replace “your abuser” with “any given guest your mom might push at you”, and you have the same problem that everybody who has ever gotten married has encountered. You are having a party. It is an emotionally significant, potentially very intimate party, and it is all about you. It is also very expensive. You’d think everybody could understand these things but NUTS TO THAT your grandma wants to invite the pastor who baptized you and your sister wants to invite the guy she met last night and you should probably invite the organist’s son because WHY??? Because everybody feels entitled to your wedding, that’s why.

Do you know who was at my wedding? About 10 people I had never met, whose names I did not know, who were friends of my in-laws (one was their lawyer???), because it was important to my in-laws that they be there, because of reasons. My in-laws pretty much threw their own separate party (cool), during my party (not cool?), using my money (NOT COOL GUYS).

I am hoping there might be some advice for you in the comments, because figuring out ways to keep people off your guest list without an awkwardbomb going off is so unbelievably common that there is likely a world of creative solutions out there. Here’s mine: If I get married again, I am separating out the ceremony part from the party part. Like, they might not even happen on the same day. They might happen MONTHS apart. The ceremony will be small, it will look exactly how I want it, and the only people who will even know when and where it is happening will be the people I have invited. Afterwards, maybe we’ll all go to brunch or something. But then everybody has to go away so I can spend the day with my new husband. If anybody asks about my wedding, I can say, “Small private ceremony,” or “Courthouse wedding,” and flutter away.

The reception will be a party. It will be the only thing for which invitations are made and sent. At this event, my father-in-law’s lawyer can come, if it’s really that goddamn important, Dad. Because I am already married, the part that had emotional significance to me is over. Now, it’s just a party. This isn’t foolproof. It will have its problems. But it will allow me to separate out my intimate, emotional, vulnerable, important event from the event where people are most likely to act like entitled jerks and demand a piece of me. Maybe that’s a possibility for you, maybe not. Commenters! What have you done?

The main point is, treat the guest list problem as a guest list problem, and cut the sex abuse stuff out of it for now. Your mom is trying to push this sex abuse subtext — she’s trying to avoid the real issue by cloaking it in a different issue, pretending she’s talking about apples when she’s really talking about oranges. Address the apples, ignore the oranges, unless and until your mom ovaries up and actually uses her words. If she decides to only initiate the guest list talk, treat it like the banal, stereotypical pre-wedding argument every mother and daughter has — “ha ha, look at us, mom, can you believe we’re actually having the which-cousin-to-include guest list argument? It’s like I’m living in a Miss Manners column right now!” She is trying to trap you in the serious conversation net, which only exists if you believe in it — pretend instead that it is a boring wedding argument net.

The Captain has previously provided advice for training people out of intrusive questions or off-limit topics of conversation. Highly useful here! It looks like you’ve already mastered the first part of this training, which is the artful changing of the subject. Hasn’t worked! Okay, now it’s time to escalate. Develop some phrase you can broken record. The words can change a bit here and there, but say basically the same thing. When your mom brings it up: “Mom, I’ve already told you, I don’t want to invite him. It’s not up for debate. Now I have a lot on my mind with the wedding, and I can’t keep having this same conversation. I have things to do, I’ll call you tomorrow.” And every time it comes up again, “Mom, I told you, I’m not going to have this conversation over and over. Now can we talk about something else?” And if she can’t, “Okay, I told you I’m not going to talk about this again. I’ll call you later.”

In my experience, the next step is for your mom to invoke THE REST OF THE FAMILY. “But Grandma/Grandpa/Aunt/Uncle/some other nosy little shit keeps asking me WHY, and what should I tell them?” The answer is either:

“Tell them what I just told you/whatever you want.”


“Why are they asking you? If they want to know, they can ask me.”

I guarantee you, whenever somebody insinuates that there is a legion of people who just DON’T UNDERSTAND and NEED TO KNOW, call their bluff and those people will never materialize to interrogate you. The UNSEEN PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE AND ARE COMING FOR YOUR REASONS is a tactic people use to try and get you to say more than you want to say, or this indicates that the person you are talking to has much floppier boundaries than you do and lets these other family members walk all over them. I only bring this up because, with your family not knowing about the abuse, and with you not wanting them to know, if your mom says “People are ASKING”, that’s going to potentially come with a lot more panic for you. Still, just ignore it. Nobody’s asking, unless they actually use their words and ask you.

So, will all this work? Maybe not. That would suck. If it really does not work, you might have to start phasing your mom slowly out until the wedding. Call less, see her less, revert to email only whenever possible, or, better yet, text — hard to create a big guilt trip over text. Your mom gets to decide whether or not forcing this issue is more important to her than your wedding day. If she chooses the former, that tells you a lot about how safe you will ever be in disclosing to her, and the kind of situations she might put you in with your cousin in the future.

Okay, so, hopefully that will all stonewall Problem #2 until after your wedding. But after your wedding, problems 3-6 are still there. These problems do not have good, right solutions, because they involve abuse, and nothing is good or right about abuse. So you are going to have to find solutions that are tolerable, acceptable, worthwhile, and help more than they hurt, but they are not going to be perfect, because abuse can’t be made right. So I can give you some thoughts and perspectives, but ultimately, the solution is going to have to be yours.

Let’s start with Problem #3, which is pissing me off the most. You suspect your mom knows, and is trying to play some weird pushy game where she makes you say it. I think your gut is good on this (and jesus, your mom, I mean, come on).

Have you ever seen a tree that’s started to grow around a pole or a fence? That’s what families with abusers in them are like. Something unnatural got jammed up in the growth process, and twisted it, and the longer the growing around the thing goes on, the more likely it will be that the tree might not be able to sustain its weight if the pole is removed. Your family may “know” or “not know,” but whichever it is, abuse does not exist without leaving some marks behind, without forcing people to grow around the strangeness. Your family has learned to accept some pretty implausible explanations, and they have learned to suppress their natural alarm system. They have learned — basically — how to be lied to. This is the way they know how to live. They have learned some extremely unworkable, unhelpful, alienating, hurtful, shitty ways of dealing with being lied to. What they have not learned is that 1) problems can be solved, 2) boundaries can be set, and 3) emotions can be discussed openly and honestly. You learned those things, because you went out and worked hard on them. But they haven’t.

So, your mom is taking all those skills she learned in a family that ignores sexual abuse, and applying them full-tilt. If your mom wanted to hear the truth, she would have asked you about this in a way that made it possible for you to tell her the truth. But she has consistently set up disclosure to have huge emotional stakes that you have to shoulder. Either you are six and taken by surprise and ashamed and not sure how to talk about this, and she phrases the question as something you were maybe doing wrong, too, (your MOM, I swear to god), and her tone and body language is telling you the answer she wants, and she never bothers to follow-up even though it’s pretty plausible that a kid would lie in that situation, or you are an adult and she is confronting you in a way that threatens to turn your wedding into an emotional nightmare. She is setting up “keep your abuser in your life” as an easy option, and “tell your mother who loves you what happened to you” as the most difficult option ever, which is sort of the opposite of how this thing should go, so you can see just how hard she’s worked to twist all up around the pole.

To me, the way your mom is doing this says a lot about whether or not she’s good to talk to about the sex abuse. Because she is choosing to hit you with this at what’s supposed to be the happiest time in your life. That’s fucking mean. And that shows somebody who is not coping well with what she does know. So, you don’t want to tell your mom before your wedding? You don’t want your family to know before your wedding? Sounds legit to me, go with that.

But after the wedding? I have some other thoughts. Let me repeat what I said above: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DISCLOSE THIS TO ANYBODY. That is entirely your choice. But I am going to pitch the case of you disclosing to your fiance and possibly, someday, some members of your family.

The Captain and her company have talked about The Gift of Fear a lot on this site. With good reason! It’s a great book (except the DV chapter, which is victim-blaming crap, don’t read it). During one part of the book, deBecker talks about confronting blackmail. He comes down on the side of calling the blackmailer’s bluff. Somebody who tries to blackmail you once is going to blackmail you again, because it works. The first time, that might seem reasonable. You trade X for nobody finding out your secret, it wasn’t great, but okay, now it’s done. Except now the blackmailer has come back, and they want Y. And then Z. And then they reboot the alphabet, and it keeps going, until what you’ve given away to keep your secret is worse than the fallout of having your secret revealed, but now you get both.

What your mom is doing to you is a kind of emotional blackmail. Your fear of the gossipy family mill at your wedding is also a kind of emotional blackmail (even though some of your family may not actually know what’s going on). Either you capitulate to this demand that you have your abuser in your life, during one of the most important events of your life, or you risk a confrontation and the secret getting out. You risk everybody staring at you. You risk all the things you don’t want to deal with. But the thing is, it’s not going to stop with your wedding. If your mom is willing to push this on you during your wedding, she’s sure as shit going to be willing to push it on you every Thanksgiving. Every family BBQ. When/if you have a baby. This is a situation that’s going to keep coming up, and you are going to have to go through this grist mill every time, figuring out how to deal with it. I am willing to bet that eventually, the gossip mill of your family and whatever way your mom decides to act about this is going to be less bad than the fear of everybody finding out, and the accommodations, compromises, negotiations, and manipulation you’re going to have to endure for every family gathering in the meantime.

I’m also going to advocate for disclosing this abuse because, well, there are too many ways it could possibly come out anyway. You never telling doesn’t assure that people won’t know, it just assures that if they do find out, it will be in some way you didn’t choose. Some family members may already know what happened and, like you, they have kept it to themselves — until one day they don’t. Or, like you fear, your abuser could be abusing other children, and they come forward, and what happened to you comes out in the process. Or your abuser tells somebody. Or your mom breaks down and tells somebody. And maybe that would not be so bad, in the end! Except for one thing: your fiance doesn’t know. And if he finds out second-hand, it is gonna SUCK. I would be a nervous wreck if I had that hanging over my head, and it would make the emotional blackmail all the more salient. I mean, right now, you’re trying to avoid everything exploding because WEDDING, which is totally reasonable. But as long as your fiance doesn’t know, you’ll be avoiding explosions because MY MARRIAGE, which is also going to be totally reasonable, except it’s going to last a lot longer than riding out a wedding.

So, this is where your fiance comes in. Your reasons for not telling him makes sense. They are not bad. This is your choice. But here are some scenarios: you tell your fiance after you’re married, and he feels like you didn’t trust him. You tell him after, and he feels like you purposefully withheld this until you were married (even if he knows this is a silly feeling). You wait longer and longer to tell him, or it comes out someday — in the meantime, he has been to X number of family gatherings, where he shook your abuser’s hand, drank a beer with him, or played with his children. That is going to feel fucked-up. Even if he gets your side. Even if he loves you and sees where you are coming from, he will also see that you didn’t trust him, you hid important things from him, and hiding those important things caused him to associate with this horrible being and believe that he was all right, and that will feel awful.

But also, your fiance can be your ally here. If you tell him, but decide you don’t want to tell your family yet or ever, he can collude with you in coming up with reasons why you can’t invite your cousin to this or that event. If you go somewhere and your abuser is there, he can rescue you from idle conversation, or hugs. If you end up at a wedding crying in the bathroom because your abuser is there and today, for some reason, it really gets to you, he can bundle you up in the car, make appropriate excuses, and bring you home. He can claim a headache when you don’t want to go to the family BBQ where your abuser will be. He can be a good male role model to your abuser’s daughters. He can help you. Or, he can be one more person you have to manage this secret around. And, with how many more times contact with your abuser (or negotiating no contact with your abuser) will come up in your shared lives together, it’ll start to look less like you were withholding something you weren’t ready to disclose (reasonable), and more like you were actively managing circumstances to keep him in the dark (sort of indistinguishable from being lied to over and over?).

Now, to address you not wanting your family to talk about it. The way you put this — that you don’t want them looking at you at your wedding and telling some story about how nice it is that you overcame sexual abuse — sounds to me (I could be wrong!) like you don’t want people saying or thinking untrue, maybe unlikable, things about you. Which, no duh, nobody wants that, and, more no duh, right now some little voice in your jerkbrain is sneering about how much you care about what people think of you and that’s bad somehow. But it’s different when you’ve become a victim. If you, say, were a really femme-y person, and you loved the make-up and the high heels and the pretty dresses, you would run the risk of having people look at you and make unsavory assumptions: bimbo, dumb, slutty, etc. But if you love being femme enough, you can deal with that. And, when you don’t want to deal with that, you take the femme costume off. You are in no danger of having make-up suddenly seep out of your pores, or having your hips spontaneously generate a mini-skirt and heels. You have an identity you like, and if you can’t control what other people think of that identity, well, you can turn it on or off whenever you don’t feel like dealing with those nasty assumptions people make.

You don’t get to do that when you’re a victim. And they don’t tell you that — it’s all PTSD and “she leaves the lights on when she sleeps!1!!! soooooooo saaaaaaaaaad” and “sex problems, here, have some.” You don’t get to hear about how sick you’ll get of having people call you strong. Or having your friend turn to you during a movie with a rape scene in it, and saying worriedly, “Oh my god I didn’t think ARE YOU OKAY ARE YOU SURE I mean IF YOU NEED TO CRY!” You don’t get to be an impartial observer anymore. If child abuse bothers you, if rape bothers you, if domestic abuse bothers you, it’s all, “Well, sure, with your past…” If you’re happy, it’s wonderful that you’re happy in spite of the abuse. If you’re sad, of course you’re sad, because of the abuse. The only way to turn that identity off is to never tell. But it might seep out of your pores. It might show up suddenly one day. It might spill out, and then everybody will know, and you cannot control those assumptions (if you’re strong? SO STRONG! If you’re weak? SUCH A WRECK — there is no good middle ground) so you have to hide it, because if they knew, they’d treat you differently, they’d start telling stories about your life that aren’t true, reaching conclusions and putting narratives on you that are hurtful and limiting.

Everybody has to deal with this in whatever way is best for them. For me, it was best to disclose almost always, to tons of people, because I couldn’t stand the emotional blackmail I was setting myself up for — if they knew, they would hate you, so you had better keep quiet and act like nothing ever happened. What has helped me in disclosing is discovering that people have no idea what they’re doing when they hear about abuse. Which means I get to tell them what they should be doing. If I just disclose and say, “I was abused,” they are going to say the first thing that comes to their mind, which is usually going to be something stupid or horrible about abuse. If I say, “I was abused, I am telling you because of X, and what I need from you is Y,” then we have already moved on from the abuse into talking about X and Y. If I talk about abuse in a very sad voice, they will treat me like a very sad person. If I talk about abuse the same way I’d talk about a bum knee, people who want to treat me like a delicate abused flower first have to overcome their immense social conditioning to take cues from their environment, which I am pumping full of “this is a normal thing I have told you” cues. I learned all this from disclosing A LOT, but believe me, the first few times were nerve-wracking. Now, it really is like telling people I have a bum knee, except people don’t feel like they get to hug you unsolicited if you have a bum knee.

That’s not necessarily relevant to you right now — right now, you don’t want to tell. But I do really believe that this is going to come out one day, whether or not it’s you who brings it out. And you are going to have to face the pity-eyes. And it is going to be gross. So I think it helps to start thinking now about a back-up plan for how you’re going to deal with everybody looking at you like a victim. You don’t have control of this abuse stuff once it strikes a family, and a lot of your worst-case scenarios may happen, because you’re dealing with a bunch of people in denial, and people in denial do shitty, stupid things — your mom might keep pushing, your wedding might go off the rails in a way you hate, you might have to tell your fiance when you didn’t want to. But you know what? You are going to survive those things. One of the upsides to abuse (really!) is this: Somebody has already done just about the worst fucking thing ever to me. What the hell do you think you have on that? Awkward social gathering? Emotionally manipulative hissy fit? Motherfucker, I’ve been raped, this is not even a drop in my bucket of fuck you.

Now, as for Problem #6. 99% of what you said here is head-screwed-on smart. But I may as well tell you now, I believe any sentence that has “moral obligation” in it is trying to fuck with you. Not that I don’t believe in moral obligations. I have some! But they are obligations I have made, for myself, per my own code of conduct. As far as I can tell. The thing is, it’s hard to know sometimes whether your “moral obligation” is a value you personally hold, or actually just a socially sanctioned whipping stick that’s crept into your head.

I bristle whenever I hear the moral obligation line, because it seems to me to be the nicer, more benign end of the victim-blaming stick. Nobody’s telling you the abuse was your fault, okay, that’s progress, but if the abuse ever happens again, somehow that’s on you? You couldn’t control or stop the abuser, okay, but give it, like, ten years and you can stop him now? As if being abused is a great power that also confers great responsibility? The person who has the most responsibility is, obviously, the abuser. After him comes everybody who ever had some inkling of what he was doing — this ranges from anybody who ever heard him make a rape joke and said nothing to people who straight-up knew. They have a moral obligation to stop him. After that we radiate outwards, to a society that does not take abuse seriously. After that, only after all those people have failed in their moral obligations, do we come to you.

Of course, that all sounds nice and pretty as a philosophical bent, but the awful truth is, a victim has the best knowledge of what was done, so hopefully, their disclosure will have the most impact. So you can feel that moral obligation pretty heavy, I know. I don’t think you should do this. I don’t think you have to do this. I don’t think you’re bad if you don’t do this. But you yourself are the best judge of how safe you are. What kind of consequences do you envision if you disclose? Can you handle them? Will they be worth the relief you feel at speaking out? What if nothing happens? What if everybody ignores this, and he goes on raising his girls like nothing happened? Will that still feel worth it? For me, it would, but I am me and you are you, and you get to decide this yourself. I would like this to be a world where you can speak up about this; I think it’s the right thing, but you’re not in a right world.

Okay, Problem #7. I’m going to go back to “I think you should tell your fiance,” if only because it’s going to be a little harder to end up going to therapy if you haven’t told him why. But, before you get there, you could maybe consider calling a rape crisis line? I know, I know, this happened years ago, aren’t those lines for people who got raped, like, yesterday. Nope! They are for everybody who ever experienced sexual abuse. They are gonna get it. And they are not gonna tell anybody. So you can practice saying, to another human being, what happened to you. You can practice maybe crying about it, if that happens. You can practice hearing sympathy from other people, because that’s hard sometimes. And you can even talk to them about all this — about how frustrating it is to have your mother pulling this shit before your wedding, about how you don’t want to tell your fiance, about how you feel morally obligated to out this guy. They may not have any solutions, but if you’ve really been going this alone this whole time, girl, you need to bounce some ideas off another human being. You need to hear from somebody else how normal all your feelings are. You need to know your problems exist somewhere other than your head and heart. And if after you’ve said this out loud a few times, you feel like you want to talk about it some more, therapy is great! I have gone to therapy off and on — sometimes I really need it, sometimes I really don’t. Maybe you really don’t right now. That’s cool — but make a Plan B for when you do need it, so you don’t get there and then start thinking, “Oh my god, I can’t do this.” Because that is another awful truth: when we need therapy the most is when we are the least equipped to go out and get it.

Honey, you are pretty cool. Seriously, you have got most of this down, and the stuff you haven’t got down is because it is all fucked-up. But I am here to tell you that you will also be cool if people know what happened to you. You will also be cool if you need to get all upset about it again. You will also be cool if you point out to the tree that it grew around a pole. You will be cool if you are strong and you will be cool if you are weak. You will be cool no matter how all this goes down. You are going to get married, all this will pass, and you will go on rockin’ it the way you have been.


125 thoughts on “#209: My mom is pressuring me to invite my molester to my wedding, and it sucks BIG TIME.

  1. Brilliant response from PFCMarie, and LW you sound like a comprehensively kick-ass lady.

    I can not even begin to imagine even having to *think* about inviting your abuser to your wedding, but if I could share my rule-of-thumb I used to invite people to my wedding (as I agree that you should treat this like a regular guest-list problem until the wedding is over with)

    I belong to a fairly large community of music fans and we all “knew” each other on and offline from being at the same gigs ever weekend, so when my wedding rocked around I had heaps of weekend-BFF’s come out of the woodwork straight faced expecting to come be fed and boozed by me. I didn’t even know some of these people’s last names.

    My rule was, if I did not have their personal mobile number, they weren’t a big enough factor in my life to really need to come to my wedding. Husband & I combined ended up with 50 folk, family included, all of whom were actually actively involved in our lives and stoked to come party with us FOR OUR HAPPINESS, not just because it was the free gig that was on that weekend.

    I know some can’t really draw a ‘mobile list’ (maybe you have everyone from your entire 578 Facebook friends in your phone, including those from primary school? Maybe you really love your Uncle Ben but he thinks space aliens live in technology and won’t use mobiles at all?) but it might make it easier to frame it in a “only people actively involved in mine/Husband’s lives RIGHT NOW” to your Ma, without having to explain why some members of your family AREN’T (because that doesn’t change the fact they are Not Invited.)

    (p.s. the trick we used still wasn’t foolproof – one of my ‘mobile-approved’ friends invited someone from the aforementioned music scene, who asked me mid-afternoon of my wedding if her boyfriend and his friends could come because they are just down the road. WTF?!~ )

    1. ^sorry, forgot to mention (that was longer than I intended, urk!) – the ‘mobile numbers’ list included my family, not just weekend-friends. Aunty-Lives-In-Queensland? Love her to bits! Was Not Invited.

    2. Thanks for this perspective. One trend I see in wedding planning (and wedding advice columnist questions) is where certain people in the family (often the parents) decide to use the wedding as venue for Performing Our Family As We Want To Be Seen/Wish We Actually Were and this always leads to tension, expense, and badness.

      My best friend worked as a caterer/bartender for a number of years and once described weddings as “People pretending to be rich people for a day.” There’s so much there to unpack about family relationships, money, social class, what celebrations mean/should mean/actually mean, who is included/excluded, pressure, planning, body issues, wanting to do it the “right” way, conflicting dreams…even without deep dark secrets that everyone sort of knows but pretends they don’t know.

    3. Seconding your invitation strategy really loudly! We had a lovely small wedding, invited around 35 people we were actively talking to/interacting with, 20 showed up (we’ve got peeps across three continents, so the absences were unsurprising), 5 surprise guests my wife was really close to who hadn’t been in regular contact, and we had a marvellous, non-douchey time. ^__^

  2. You are totally A+! I cannot talk on anything else (except A+ you!), but I can talk on NOT INVITING PEOPLE TO BIG PARTIES AND THEN NOT TELLING PEOPLE WHY.

    I had a plan. That plan was based on my ability to derail. I had a conversation that looked remarkably like this several times over a two month period:

    Friend/Family/Loved One: Why aren’t you inviting X?
    Me: Because they don’t know how to fold origami penguins. You know how to fold origami penguins, right? I have to fold 700 of them by next week.
    F/F/LO: No seriously.
    Me: I am serious. Here is the paper. The secret is firm lines. Do you need me to show you how?

    This was tiring but effective, and also coincidentally got things done.

    The only thing I would change now is that I would incorporate Silence,* the importance of which I have learnt from Captain Awkward.

    *silence as a tactic, not the Silence as in silence will fall.

    1. “*silence as a tactic, not the Silence as in silence will fall.”

      Hello! That was beautiful! May I shovel your driveway on blizzardy, icky mornings?*

      *since “have your babies” just feels creepy to say.

  3. I can’t speak on the rest (LW, you have my congratulations for your upcoming wedding and sympathy for the situation you are now in!) but this is how I handled the wedding situation.

    Husband and I were together for 6 years before we married. I felt this was more than enough time for me to have met everyone in his family that mattered, so I instituted a rule: If I have not met them at least once, they are not invited. We wanted it to be a close, intimate wedding.

    Another thing that really helped: I specifically chose a smaller venue that could only *physically* hold a certain number of people. So when I got the “but WHY aren’t you inviting all of your coworkers?!” I was able to point to the venue: not enough room, sorry! LW, not sure if you could invoke this (hell, you could even lie about it) but it really helped me, and people seemed to let it drop from there.

    Good luck!

  4. Well… luckily, I got married without my abuser being involved. (Actually, I think my wife would probably have strangled him if he had shown.) Equally luckily, I was 12K kilometres from where he lives, and getting secretly-from-most-of-the-family gay-married, so he doesn’t even know. So I don’t know your situation, exactly.

    The one I do know is the one where people are pressuring you to Talk About It. The Shutting Mom Up conversations went like for me:

    Mom: *sideways mentions the abuse*

    Me: *blank look* Why do you want to talk about this?

    Mom: *offers reason*

    Me: Hmm. What do you think it might be?

    Mom: *offers thought process*

    Me: *comments on her thought process*

    Conversation thus successfully diverted to her question rather than poking around in my trauma. Adapting this to your situation, a sample conversation might go:

    Mom: So, about Cousin H…

    You: What about him?

    Mom: Well, about inviting him to the wedding…

    You: I’m not.

    Mom: But (insert person who keeps asking her)! But (insert their objection)! But (insert social code)! But (insert family obligation)!

    You: Tell them to take it up with me. This is my wedding.

    Mom: They’re all going to think you’re a meanie!

    You: Then I guess they can avoid the meanie’s wedding. Wasn’t I a nice girl to warn them of my mean meanie-ness?

    …yes, I know this is idealised and it is always going to be messy to have the actual word-dances. But having three standard sentences and sticking to them was how I survived a series of lovely conversations about whether my sexuality meant I was a pedophile or whether I was bisexual because I’d _been_ abused, so I can strongly recommend it as a tactic.

    Also, about your mother being burdened with knowledge… http://faithallen.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/feeling-responsible-for-others-reactions-to-your-abuse/ this says everything better than I possibly could. I felt incredibly responsible, both for protecting myself and protecting others, the whole time it was going on. I tried my teenage damnedest to protect others from him, succeeded somewhat, but I couldn’t do perfectly because I was a kid. I think I stopped the day I looked back and went “hey, nobody was protecting ME. That’s fucking fucked up.” …and that day was over three years from the last incident, so. It takes time to get rid of that sense of responsibility. Of course, making the victims feel responsible for Keeping The Peace is how this shit spirals up and up and up…

    See also: http://narcissists-suck.blogspot.ca/2008/03/high-price-of-peace-at-any-cost.html you kept the peace at any cost, because you were little and scared and hurt. It’s all right to let go, now. Perhaps it’s brutal, but… if she burdened you with abuse she didn’t protect you from (and if she’s suspected all this time, it’s incredibly abusive that she’s pressuring you to Shut Up And Take It all over again), she gets to be burdened with the knowledge that the abuse happened. Too bad, mom.

    (I am aware that last sentence is partially my bitterness, but I had to work through this to be able to tell, and I’m still strong on this point.)

    1. And, because I didn’t want to put this in with the bitterspew up there…

      Congratulations on your wedding, LW! Grab your happiness with hands, legs and teeth ^__^ You sound like a lovely person.

    2. I’m going to second the comment about feeling like it’s your job to keep the peace. It’s not. It’s impossible to make both your mother and yourself happy (she wants I Did Not Fail in My Duty as a Mother, you want I’m Not Miserable at My Own Damn Wedding). This is when you pick yourself and be as grumpy and selfish and “unreasonable” as you need to be.

      I also heard something in your letter over and over again that sounded like my own experience: I am totally recovered from this abuse because I have a healthy relationship with my lovely fiance and I can have all the fun, hot sexytimes I want. This is awesome and something you should be very proud of. However, recovering from sexual abuse is about WAY more than sex or sexual relationships (and I hate to even use the word “sex” in this context because it implies consent and there wasn’t any of that). There are lots of other ways sexual abuse manifests in your adult life, like feeling responsible for your mother’s feelings and like it’s your job to perform the Happy Family even when it makes you miserable and no one else seems to be making any effort.

      If you do choose at some point to go public, I also want to share that it can be totally empowering and freeing, when you are ready for it. When you’re certain that it’s not your fault and it was screwed up and the people around you failed and the person who did this to you bears 100% responsibility – man, it’s really great to stand up and tell your truth. I have a big ol’ web page archived forever on the interwebz about the abusers in my family and it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling every time I think about it. But that’s a loooong way from now and very unlikely to be something you want to do before the wedding. I just want to give you a ray of hope that some day you might even feel good about people knowing instead of pure dread of people giving ham-handed sympathy. (I like the advice to tell people how to respond in the same sentence that you tell them about the abuse – works for me.)

      1. Seconding your comment right back!

        Sex was never a problem for me (but then my molestation wasn’t that intense either), and I think I basically Decided that I was not going to feel guilty about what some asshole was doing to me, so I seem to have avoided that pitfall.

        But the keeping of the peace, with the further abuse that ensued because I was occupied with being normal and my molester was occupied with molesting me and everyone else was occupied with ignoring the look on my face while he groped me where anyone could see, if anyone bothered to? That fucked me hard. And oh, the beating up on myself because I told…because I didn’t protect the others well enough…because I didn’t take care of it well enough that my family was never Bothered By Hearing Details… that shit’s taken me 5 years to work through (it’s about six since I told). And frankly it’s been the part that really hurt. The massive sense of responsibility and never ever Bothering Anyone has led to the real areas of Fucked Up in my life. And I see that in you, LW, which is why my original post focused on that.

        It is not your responsibility to ensure your mother never has to deal with sorrow and shame. It sounds like she’s using your drive to placate (classic survivor sign, that, you are so not alone in it) to beat you over the head with the abuse without ever acknowledging it. Fuck that. If she wants to make decisions that ignore your abuse just so that SHE can have smooth relations (not even not-bad, just smooth) with HER side of the family (which is only one-quarter of yours, between you and your fiance’s), then she can deal with hearing about what decision she’s asking you to make. I fully support your decision not to tell anyone else (though I second vaurora that it is incredibly empowering), but your mother sounds like she knows and she’s manipulating your desire not to talk about it to force you to put up with him.

        And that shit’s goddamn right abusive.

        1. Her mother’s feelings shouldn’t even register. That woman just needs to back off and make things easier for LW.

          1. Totally agreed. My experience, and some of the other survivors’ I know, though, is that not registering the emotions of the “chief” parent (the one who has most emotional control) is sort of the last step in detaching, and LW probably isn’t that able, from what it sounds like. D: Your advice is spot-on, though. >.> Reminds me I still have to work on that.

        2. Yeah, that Not Wanting to Bother Other People feeling is a pretty common thing, even in more mundane scenarios. I mean, I’d have panic attacks one night and sleep in the following morning, and when my friends would ask me why I didn’t wake up on time, I’d give some bullshit reason about my alarm clock. Even though talking about it makes me feel better, and my friends are ok with that.

          With family, of course, it’s different, because you don’t choose your family. Family members can be really shitty people sometimes.

          1. I’m glad somebody else brought this up, because it completely blew by me. I’m somebody who has coldly and completely cut off people in my family before, including parents, and I’m quite capable and comfortable with doing that (not, you know, overjoyed to do it, but when it reaches that point, I’ve got no hesitations about it). I know that’s not the case for a lot of people! A lot of people have totally legit needs and reasons to stick it out with less-than-not-abusive parents. I don’t really emotionally *get* that, because it is so far and wide from my experiences, but I intellectually get it — I know that’s a thing, and it’s reasonable and not-cool for me to be judgey about. So I was trying REALLY hard here not to tell LW, “FUCK YOUR MOM, seriously!” and respect that she loves her mom and wants to maintain a relationship there.

            But you guys are so right about how easy it is to fall into the protective, managing emotions role in an abusive family, and/or a family wherein somebody is abusing anybody else. I was talking with my mom once (we are now cool, after some years of NO I WILL NOT TALK TO YOU UNTIL YOU GET YOUR SHIT RIGHT), and we were sharing, from our perspectives, the memory of when she and my dad told me they were getting divorced. She remembered me looking really upset and crying. I remembered being glad! They fought all the time! They were horrible around each other! They told me they still loved me and I’d still get to see them, but they wouldn’t be living together and screaming at each other anymore! What’s not to love? But I remembered both of them looking so worried and serious, so I thought, okay, I’d better cry now, that seems like what they need me to do.

            I had always remembered that as a sort of funny story about parents being so wrapped up in adult drama that they didn’t get the kid’s perspective of “this is all okay.” But my mom immediately said, “Oh my god, what a sad story. You’re six years old, and you’re already feeling like you can’t show us your real emotions, you have to show the emotions that will protect your parents instead. We adult child’ed you SO hard.” And it’s true! My family was like that. My emotions could cause fights. And by that I just mean, if I looked sad and my dad didn’t want me to look sad, he would start yelling at me, even if I was doing nothing wrong, just sitting there with a sad face. So my emotions had to be the right emotions, and I couldn’t display the wrong ones, because some of them were just plain Wrong Emotions (manipulative! passive-aggressive! provoking! power struggles! all that with your sad face!), and some would destroy this fragile balance of “we’re normal, right?”

            You guys are spot-on, I would not at all be surprised if some of this emotional caretaking of adults and repression of feelings that would disprove the narrative of a happy family is going on. I mean, that’s what keeping an abuse victim quiet is about, right? It’s saying, “The way adults would feel about you being abused is more awful than the way being abused feels.” It’s the parents telling the victim, one way or another, that the parents are too weak to handle this pain, so you must handle yours AND theirs, or be somehow responsible for your mom crying. And it’s saying that the family is normal and okay until the abuse comes out, which means the family was normal and okay when the abuse was happening — so the family becoming abnormal is the fault of the person who lets the cat out of the bag.

          2. Ugh, yeah. When I was having panic attacks and just gave up sleeping at night for about five months as a bad plan, only my wife (my girlfriend then) knew what was going on. From everyone else’s perspective I just turned into MegaFlake.

            Nowadays I just tell people “I have anxiety issues that are causing me X problem, and Y accommodation is what I need to have/make”. Suddenly, I have a better reputation AND a support system. *sheepish*

          3. pfcmarie, thanks for that. You put into words exactly how parts of my childhood were, too. It didn’t matter that I was upset or feeling hurt. If I tried to express it, it’d hurt dad, and THAT was WRONG. I knew exactly how screwed up that was and could have articulated it if I’d been given the chance, but I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet and still needed daddy’s love as a prerequisite to survival, so what did I know?

            The best part is that the bastard still plays this game even while ‘apologizing’ and ‘reconciling’ for his past behavior. Even when he’s saying ‘I screwed up and hurt you’, I’m not allowed to show that yeah, it hurt. I’m just supposed to stand there and grant him forgiveness so that he can feel better. Needless to say, I have as little contact with him as possible.

  5. “Honey, you are pretty cool. Seriously, you have got most of this down, and the stuff you haven’t got down is because it is all fucked-up. But I am here to tell you that you will also be cool if people know what happened to you. You will also be cool if you need to get all upset about it again. You will also be cool if you point out to the tree that it grew around a pole. You will be cool if you are strong and you will be cool if you are weak. You will be cool no matter how all this goes down. You are going to get married, all this will pass, and you will go on rockin’ it the way you have been.”

    Yes, to everything said both in response and the comments.

    LW, I think telling your future husband is a good idea. He sounds like a great guy, and I don’t think it would hurt for some support especially when dealing with the feelings surrounding your cousin’s children. I wholeheartedly agree with PFC Marie that you are not at all responsible for stopping your abuser, but I can understand that those feelings just don’t go away because you can rationalise them in your head. I can see this causing future upset for you and having someone to vent to can only help. But this has to be on your terms and when your ready.

    Good luck and congratulations on your wedding and for sorting through some very tough personal problems on your own. I don’t want to say your are so strong and brave, but dammit you are, not because your an abuse survivor, but because it takes real strength to sort out your own mental health, and your now reaping the rewards. There are great scripts all over this website for shutting down conversations if it should get to that with your Mom, but PFC Marie was spot on with just treating it like every normal wedding conversation.

  6. I’d tell her that you are not inviting him and that she is never to mention it again. If she brings it up again, interrupt her and tell her it is not up for discussion.

    I was molested so I will leave a thoughtful answer later about the complicated stuff/

  7. Oh boy, did this one hit home for me.

    Alright, I agree that you do not have to explain to anyone, mother or no, /why/ he’s not invited. I only invited about ten people to my wedding and I got that question a lot and every time I just said things like… I want to keep it small (to more distant relations) or I don’t want X there, and it’s my wedding so I get to have who I want there (to closer ones). I learned this important thing that someone was going to get mad about the guest list no matter what I did, but I was determined that it wouldn’t be me because… my wedding.

    But I was very very very very adamant about not wanting my own set of abusers there to the point that it turned into yelling matches with my own mother several times during the planning and led up to the wedding.

    She invited them anyway? I didn’t know until I walked down the aisle?

    And logically, I know why she did it, because it was a family social-political nightmare looming over and she knew I wouldn’t take the “high ground” for the sake of the status quo, so she did it for me. (And yes, she knows about the abuse. It wasn’t sexual, like the LW’s, but abuse). Things were not OK between us for a long time.

    But I only relate this because you know what? I largely ignored them and let the day be about me and the man I love and us starting this life together. And them being there didn’t ruin everything. So I want to assure you, however this works out for you, if he comes or doesn’t, if you tell or don’t, you’re going to be standing there with this lovely fiance of yours, stepping out onto this wonderful life ahead and that’s going to be great no matter what your family does.

    That said, though, I am all about you having the wedding experience you want /and/ I have Very Strong Feelings about not having toxic people involved in my life, so just be firm. I don’t want him, he’s not invited, if you can’t stop asking me about this, I can’t speak to you right now. The end. What she does from there, you can’t control, but you’re under no obligation to 1) invite him or 2) tell her why.

  8. I will leave the abuse part of the situation to people with more knowledge and experience (except to echo the sentiment that you are totally awesome for working through it). As far as weddings, my husband and I did separate ceremony and reception thing that Marie suggests. I am really glad we did it! We had the ceremony at City Hall with one close friend as witness, and the friend took some photos, and then the three of us went out for Korean food. It was exactly what I wanted. The reception was terrible: my mother announced that I was Mrs. Husbandsfirstname Husbandslastname (actually, I am Ms Myfirstname Mylastname and I told her this repeatedly, so she was wrong on all three counts), and the band ordered us around, and my entire family asked me invasive questions about my reproductive plans. But it was much better than it would have been if we’d let the terribleness bleed over into the ceremony.

    Congratulations. I bet you are going to have a fantastic married life. It’s hard to imagine a wedding bad enough to outweigh the goodness of a fantastic married life.

  9. Make getting those invitations out your number one priority! Once you’ve mailed out the invites you have a whole raft of reasons why Abuser Cousin isn’t invited – “we already mailed the invites”, “we’ve already paid for the meals”, “we’ve already done the seating plans”, and of course “oops! too late” – all super legit reasons why X isn’t invited which don’t even touch on icky things. Bride reasons.

  10. Nothing really to add to Marie’s really spot-on advice, but I did want to say congratulations on your impending nuptials, LW. You really do sound like a lovely soul and I wish you all the happiness in the world.

  11. I would really like to echo Marie’s comments on disclosure. This is your news, you get to decide who to share it with and it it absolutely okay to lie, omit, avoid in order keep it to yourself if you want to or need to.

    Marie does come on a bit strong with the telling your fiance bit. Your fiance has no right to ever feel like he is entitled to that knowledge, nor does he have a right to any other reaction than, “I love you, tell me what you need from me to help you”.

    But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have someone on your side, helping you when you need it. May not be your fiance, could be a close friend, could be a therapist, could be someone at a support group. What I do know is that NEVER telling anyone takes an emotional toll and compounds the sense of isolation. Never telling anyone allows THIS GREAT BIG SECRET to hang over you and lets your jerkbrain to hold you back from checking in with other people when it tells you horrible stuff about yourself.

    Ok, now weddings. My fiance and i have a 6-month policy. If a family member or friend has not made an effort to see us or contact us in the last 6 months, we’re not inviting them. Its simple, that way only people we know really care about us enough to make an effort for us will be invited. Its also easy to explain to family: “Mum, I’m not inviting Uncle Bob because he never makes any effort to see us.”

    Also having a small wedding or restricted venue helps keep unwanted family out. AND being very very clear about parent’s roles in the wedding – giving out small, defined tasks helps with this: “Mum, I want you to organise the bridal shower, women only!” or “Mum i want you to organise the catering and cake”. That way whenever you see her, you can talk to her exclusively about that task and hopefully she’ll be so consumed with that task (you can manage her so she’s consumed) she will forget about the invite list. Or another idea – invite the aunt to a bridal shower or tea party and not the wedding & then you can explain away your cousin’s lack of invite in the same way you do hers, you want it to be a small intimate wedding with close family and friends.

    1. I must say I agree with this. LW is under no obligation to tell her fiance until she is ready to do so, and that may or may not be now. What she COULD do, if she is not ready (and honestly, there may be so much going on right now that it’s not the time until after the wedding) is tell him that she has very important reasons for not wanting the abusive cousin at her wedding and that the most wonderful thing he could do right now would be to not ask her why but to run interference between her and the family about it. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else to take on the dealing-with-your-family job. It’s his wedding, too! I asked my husband to coordinate with my mom on music stuff because I could not handle it at the time and they did a fantastic job.

      1. LLB and xenu01, I think the LW would be well advised to take PFC Marie’s suggestions into account, even though she of course isn’t obligated to disclose the abuse to her fiancé or anyone. I think the distinction between the two perspectives is the distinction between how the fiancé SHOULD react, and how most humans WOULD react.

        Ideally, he would be supportive and react in whatever way is most helpful to the LW – and it sounds from her letter like he might be, and she is the best person to judge because she knows him and we do not. I think Marie’s points are worth considering, though, because they could apply to how the fiancé might feel even if he knows those feelings are irrational.

        This goes back to something I think other commenters have mentioned, which is that survivors of abuse keep having to deal with the consequences of that abuse, which they don’t deserve at all. The fact that the LW deserves absolute support from EVERYONE does not change the fact that she obviously isn’t getting it from her mother, at least, and possibly will not get it from other people in her life.

        Personally, when I’ve had to decide whether to have difficult conversations that scare me, I’ve found it helpful to consider things like the points Marie suggests, because I feel more in control of all the possible outcomes if I am prepared to deal with them, however unlikely they may be.

        Anyway, my two cents, and the decision is of course entirely up to the LW, who is the best judge. LW, I wish you the best luck and support and wonderful people in the world.

        1. Also also, just wanted to note that it’s awesome to see PFC Marie answering letters now. I have really enjoyed and appreciated your insight in comments, Marie! (I mostly lurk, but hi! I think you’re great.)

  12. Pretty much what PFC Marie said here, LW. And many, many Jedi hugs to you.

    Also, I can totally understand why you’d rather not disclose to your fiancee. I can also see why disclosing would be a good idea. But I won’t tell you what you should do on that score.

    I hope you have a fantastic wedding and a wonderful life with your partner.

  13. I think Marie’s advice pretty much covers it all. I just want to second (or third or fourth? I think other people already seconded it?) the tactic of treating your mom’s invitation discussion like an invitation discussion, and not like an abuse discussion. When you try to address the subtext that a person is probably saying, you often get into weird power games, and if you get upset about it, they can always fall back on the defence that they actually didn’t mean any of the things you think they meant, and you’re just being paranoid. So definitely deal with Problem #2 as though your abuser is any other family member that you don’t want to invite. This also gives you more control, because it lets set the terms of the discussion/argument.

    1. This. THIS OMG. I advocated just bringing it up, looking her in the eye and going “and that’s why, so deal”, but this works too. Staunchly refusing to address the reasoning and turning it into a “I can invite or not invite people to my OWN wedding that I am paying for MYSELF, thank you” discussion leaves your mother without grounds for further talking.

  14. Ok, this is something I have some experience with. I can only present what happened to my family as one point on the spectrum of things that can happen when a family finds out there’s sexual abuse happening to one of the kids, but I think some darker possibilities need to be acknowledged here.

    So, my grandfather did some bad things mostly to my cousin (my favorite cousin, who is amazing and a better person than all of us, really), but when she came forward I immediately had to move some of my own experiences from weird/uncomfortable/accidental? column into the abuse column. But what happened to me was minor compared to what she went through and I never had trouble dealing with that. What was the most difficult for me though was the trauma of watching my extended family basically punish my cousin for telling what happened to her. At first they disbelieved her, but faced with undeniable facts they switched to downplaying her experiences and made the whole thing all about how she is tearing the family apart with her being abused and all. My parents were total heroes at least, but no one else could manage to keep the focus on how they could help my cousin, a teen who was having a really rough time, for more than about 30 seconds before going back to how difficult this revelation was on them and how we should all just forget about it and pretend nothing happened because, really, it wasn’t that bad and my cousin is just being dramatic and difficult and dealing with things is too hard anyway!

    What I mean to say, LW, is that I do not know your family and how they would actually react, but sometimes these things get really messy in ways you would have not guessed and you should be prepared for those scenarios. Some people might not believe you, or think you contributed to your own abuse or are just being dramatic for attention. Some people might get mad at you for shattering their worldview (What, a molester in my family?!) and that’s their primary reaction. If your cousin is already marginalized in your family and you are well liked you will certainly have a leg up – my grandfather held a lot of power in my family and my cousin was depressed and using drugs and acting out at the time (never mind that was a direct result of abuse that was still going on) and that stacked the deck against her… even though my grandfather was known to have serious sexual boundary issues.

    Fast forward more than 10 years and my family mostly tried to pretend it never happened. My immediate family doesn’t see my grandfather, but the rest of them include him in family holidays and things while my cousin has to schedule her time with them around when he’s going to be there. To this day it’s still mostly her problem and not one they share. When my cousin got married her dad tried on a number of occasions to pressure her into inviting him, lumping him in with another relative with some minor sins and saying that weddings are times when some things should be overlooked. He knew full well what happened and he still thought that pretending our family was whole again was more important than my cousin being happy at her own goddamn wedding. She stood her ground and won, but it just shows how fucked up things can get with sexual abuse within families.

    And my family is not the worst case scenario by any means. But I never would have believed that it was possible that a group of non-evil people would largely choose an abuser over his victim (a kid and a such a good person!) had I not seen it with my own eyes. It was a difficult situation that no one asked to be in, sure, but they all saw my cousin as the problem for speaking out and not my grandfather for being a predator. They must really value discretion, little girls be damned.

    I think that LLB makes a good point that not telling someone can lead to the secret being a burden. IT IS YOUR CHOICE whether or not to tell and I certainly have seen the downsides of the entire family holding your awful experiences to up to judge. And you’ve done so much work on your own – my cousin was still living in a house with her abuser and needed somewhere else to go and needed help immediately. It sounds like you got this. But people who love you and don’t have some sort of personal interest in pretending your cousin is a-ok will be on your side. They will affirm what happened to you was awful and fucked up and not your fault and will tell you how awesome you are for getting on with your life anyway. And they would be critical allies should other people find out and shit hits the fan. You might not feel like defending yourself because the whole thing is so horrible and emotional, but they can carry the righteous anger to deal with things so you can step away from it.

    And if you tell anyone, you don’t have to give them more details than you want to. You are not obligated to slog through the entire experience with them just because you told them that some abuse occurred. They might ask questions, but hold your ground. It might disarm them to confess that you haven’t really talked about it even and you really appreciate their lending you an ear so you can open up a little about it. Anything that says, “I’m telling you a difficult secret; don’t mess up this moment and let me do my thing. Thanks!” should help a listener know how to react, i.e. by not asking too many prying questions you aren’t ready to answer.

    I think Marie’s and macavitykitsune’s advice about dealing with your mom is spot on, but I wanted to agree that that was the most angering part of the letter! Oh, so your mom suspects something, but opting to be manipulative over supportive? THANKS, MOM!

    1. Wait, I mean obviously being abused by your cousin is the worst part of the letter, but that’s kind of removed from dealing with your wedding. He’s not invited. But I don’t mean to downplay what happened to you.

    2. I have generally found that, when abuse gets disclosed (in my experience, in friend’s experiences, and things I’ve seen through my work), the people you expect to support you and be awesome (MOM?!?) surprise you by pulling off their human masks and turning into reptilian overlords of manipulative douchebaggery. It is mind-fuckey!

      BUT there is always an upshot. When I disclosed that my ex was abusing me, all my closest friends wanted me to go have coffee with him. WHAT THE FUCK GUYS. But then, suddenly, friends who had dropped out of my life a long time ago — who I had assumed hated me — reappeared to let me know that they left because they couldn’t stand to watch the abuse, and couldn’t save me, and now they were here and they believed me and I did not have to get coffee with that asshole, they were pretty sure. A friend of mine who finally cut off one of his parents after putting a few family secrets together and coming up with, “Wait, you’re an abusive fuck!” suddenly got contacted by estranged family members that he had always heard were horrible, hateful people who wished the family death. Turns out, they just didn’t want to be around his abusive parent! And now that he wasn’t around his abusive parent, they were like, you, come here, we have marshmallows, and stories about how much your dad sucks, it’s nice here.

      There’s a Lundy Bancroft book about children witnessing domestic violence (Why Does Dad Hurt Mom?), and he talks about how kids will make up their own explanations of things if nobody else provides them with one. And kids will almost always come up with something way more terrifying and self-blamey than the real explanation. So if, say, dad hits mom, and a kid hears this happen but doesn’t know why it’s happening, they are going to make up some explanation like, “Today I tried to turn on the stove when mom wasn’t around, and she caught me and said bad things could’ve happened — this must be the bad thing.”

      I found some version of this happening when I started spilling family or relationship secrets. I had my narrative of what happened and why, but that was based on limited details. Once I started talking, the reptilian overlords did their little shame-dance, but other people started coming out of the woodwork to be human at me, and tell me stories that explained a lot of things I didn’t know needed explaining. It wasn’t touching the stove that caused it! There was a whole world of things going on that I never knew that make what happened make so much more sense. I had come to terms with my story as I knew it, and that’s the narrative I grew up with that shaped my perspective, but it was still really nice to actually get to understand the background of the abuse, because it helped confirm for me that this shit wasn’t my fault. This started long before me, and it will keep going long after I have quit participating. I just got caught in the middle.

      Turns out, I wasn’t the only one keeping secrets, and in retrospect, it seems almost ludicrous that I could’ve believed this whole secret rested only on me. In fact, I’ve now come to believe that whenever somebody is keeping a secret, there are bound to be, like, half a dozen people around them keeping the same secret, and none of them know it, because they’re all, you know, secretive.

      So, LW, if you disclose, you may find that the people you would expect to support you are freaky shitty reptiles (MOM!!!). But you may also find that there are a lot of people in or around your family who haven’t been around or that close, because they know about the reptiles, and they will be super glad to find out you’re human like them. And they may have some valuable information to explain things you didn’t know needed explaining.

      1. Yes, that! What a great way to explain that. I too have a bunch of reptiles in my family and found that I ended drawing out humans.

  15. Dear LW,

    I literally just got married two days ago, so I remember pretty firmly the wedding list struggle.

    First, ALL OF THE HUGS. This process sucks enough as it is, and there is a giant wedding-industrial-complex that is forced down on top of you, even if you don’t buy into it.

    There are also two competing narratives going on for brides. One is, “this is YOUR DAY.” This is something everyone will repeat to you, constantly, until you kinda-sorta-maybe believe it, and try to assert yourself. The second is, the minute you diverge too much from the expected path, “this is OUR DAY”, which is going to come from parents/relatives/friends, all of whom may or may not be well-meaning — but even the well-meaning people are putting PRESSURE on you. And that sucks. (Basically, it’s your day until you do something they don’t want. Hence, case.)

    So, in my case, I have a very large family on my mom’s side who a) expects expensive religious affairs done THEIR way, b) is incredibly gossipy, and c) has a tendency toward emotional abuse. I also have a predilection toward panic attacks, especially in large groups, and yet I didn’t want the pity eyes. I wanted a tiny wedding (15-30 people) and paid for everything with my fiance. I also had a bunch of people feeling Entitled to attend my wedding — including my brother’s fiancee’s parents, who I had only met once. And all of the normal tricks didn’t work — even when I told my family that it was going to be immediate family only, just parents, grandparents, and sibs, I had a family member complaining that Fiance had more people attending than I did: Fiance has two more siblings than I do.

    How did I get it down? I did two things, both of which were slightly sneaky. On the one hand, I contacted each of my relatives who might feel offended, and I said, “look, we’re having a small wedding, we’re paying for this ourselves, please understand that this isn’t personal, we have limited space and an unlimited amount of people we want to invite, and we’re going to have a huge family party sometime in the future for the family to celebrate.” (I have no intention of hosting this family party, at least not for my wedding: I will fold it into some other big family celebration and quietly but openly underwrite the food or something.) I also selected people to be Representatives of the family, which I’m not sure if it totally worked yet: this way I got to have my favorite aunt and cousin attend without other family members being upset, and Fiance got to bring a couple of his own cousins, but it wasn’t overwhelming. I got very nice e-mails from every member of the family. They may be talking shit behind my back. You know what? I don’t care. Because if they’re talking shit, that just proves they’re not really good to me, and they’re not worth me bothering about. They get off on being mean. I don’t.

    The other sneaky thing I did, which is not healthy, but works with dysfunctional families: enlist allies. I am lucky in that my now-husband and his family are the best and most supportive people I know, and I could actually trust in them. But I also went separately to my brother, my dad, my grandmother, and my mother — listed in order of most stable to least stable — and went, “look, I really need your help and support against Person X, because you know what X wants isn’t what I want, and this is my wedding, and X isn’t as close to me as you are, and I need to feel like I can trust in you on my big day, and I want you to be there for me.” I did a bit of strategy. It’s not healthy. It was makeshift, to get me through the wedding, because my family has a lot of dysfunctionality that I’m already working through, there is and will continue to be a lot of therapy to go through, and all I needed was agreement for now. It worked, because the people who were pressuring me to be expanding my wedding (which did expand, alas) became enforcers for me.

    Marie is right: call their bluff. Call all the damn bluffs. Because they know, at some level, that they’re in the wrong, but they still want it Their Way. I called a lot of bluffs the week/end of my wedding: people were asserting power plays and pecking orders. I called bluffs. I said a lot of, “Mom, if you want (x, y, or z), how about you have your own wedding?” Nothing bad happened to me. There were no pity eyes. And if there were any, I sincerely didn’t notice, because I was with my beloved.

    On the moral obligation question: you need to look out for you most of all.

    A final note: I really, really suggest telling your fiance. I was abused as a child (mostly emotional, some not), and my husband knows everything, and it’s been tremendous for me. It was scary to tell him. I cried for what felt like hours. It took me over a year to go from saying, “I was abused,” to telling him the full extent of it. And part of it was a fear that he wouldn’t react in the way I needed him to: that he would go out and try to defend me by confronting my abuser rather than allow me to keep the peace in the way I need to. But I needed him to know both how I was and how I am, and he understands now. There will be no one who will defend you as well as your fiance will: that’s why you’re getting married, right?

    1. Oh hey, I almost missed this, but really good point that disclosing the abuse to the LW’s fiancé doesn’t have to be a categorical history – the extent of disclosure is also completely up to the LW. As is the choice to have that discussion with anybody at all.

      1. Yeah, it took me well over a year to go from, “look, I have this abuse in my past, and I don’t want to talk about it right now, but this is what you need to know ,” to “this is me and everything that is me.” And some stuff is still coming up — my mom did some things at the wedding that were triggering to me, that I dealt with in the moment calmly (possibly due to lots of anti-anxiety medication), that when my husband said the day after, “wow, your mom was trying really hard,” I went, “NO, SHE VIOLATED MY BOUNDARY KNOWINGLY AND I DON’T THINK SHE GETS A COOKIE JUST BECAUSE SHE STOPPED AFTER I HISSED AT HER TO STOP IN PUBLIC.” And he went, “whoa, I didn’t realize that was a trigger for you.” And I went, “yeah, it was, because this was a repeated issue in my childhood, and I need a bit of a break to process it, so can I read for a while?” And so I did, and so it’s good, and so now we know.

  16. I understand your need to protect the younger people in your family. If he had been older at the time I would say that yes you would indeed have a moral obligation to warn anyone who’s kids he has access to. Since he was just a kid himself he may have grown out of it and not be a pedo now. I think that he may well have been molested and that is why he was acting like that. Any idea who the real adult abuser is? Someone needs to be kept away from kids.

    I disagree with Marie on this one. If you do find out who the adult abuser is then you are obligated to warn all the parents. And if you think the molesty cousin is a danger then warn people now.(after the wedding). It will haunt you if you find out that he hurt a little girl and you didn’t even try to stop him. I’d at least tell the girls’ mommy so she can keep an eye on things.

    Good luck, it is a difficult situation.

    1. I don’t know how this comment got through moderation, but this is pretty elementary victim-blaming.

      As Marie said, there may be some positive outcomes to revealing the abuse. As the LW implied, she very well may feel terrible if it turns out the abuser is hurting other people. But that terrible feeling, if she has it, is just another way the abuse keeps fucking with her, not a legitimate reason she “has” to disclose. Ultimately, it’s her choice, and it should be about what’s healthy and acceptable for her, not an obligation to anyone else.

      The girls’ mommy cannot stop abuse from happening. The LW cannot stop abuse from happening. Only the abuser can stop abuse from happening. Suggesting that victims are responsible for abusers’ actions — past, present, or future — is a classic abuse tactic. Don’t participate in that. (Just because you’re not the abuser doesn’t make it okay to use the same abuse!logic.)

      I strongly suggest you educate yourself about the realities of abuse and how to support survivors. Resources are out there. Google and feminist communities are good places to start.

      1. Good catch – If a commenter has commented constructively before, their comments just post and don’t come up for moderation, and I’m not always watching the threads because of work and life and stuff.

        I’m leaving the comment up for now because it’s such a good example of how even people who are mostly on your side will fall into this trap. But that “how could you live with yourself if he…” is BULLSHIT and KNOCK IT OFF, FALCON.

      2. The molester’s little girls’ mommy most certainly can. You are giving the abuser way too much power here.
        The LW can’t because she doesn’t have direct control.

        I am quite familiar with the realities of abuse. Obviously none of this is her fault, I am not blaming her for any of it. I think she will feel way better if she isn’t worried about her cousins.

        1. As someone who has worked on cases in which mothers have been unable to stop court-ordered visitation between their child and the father who molested that child — no, the mother may not be able to stop the abuser. And that doesn’t even get into the psychological or physical abuse that might prevent a woman from ever going to police, or family members that give him access to the children without her knowledge, or a million other ways that men who want to abuse their children find ways to do so.

          Look, I’m with you that in general someone who knows that an adult is molesting children should report ASAP. But individual cases are way, way, way more complicated than that. If a victim doesn’t want to disclose their own abuse even where there is some chance that the abuser is continuing to vicitmize people? Well, they probably have some pretty damn good reasons for that, and it’s not your place to judge.

          1. “I’m with you that in general someone who knows that an adult is molesting children should report ASAP. But individual cases are way, way, way more complicated than that.”

            I fall on the side of reporting *to the authorities* when there is a *credible threat* to a child, for anyone. This is absolutely not the same as saying that victims are required to warn others whose children are near their abuser. They might want to, it might help them in their process, but let’s be honest — usually it’s not just the victim that knows there is a problem. It’s not fair that they have to carry all the burdens — the shame, the secrets AND the responsibility.

            For me, calling the state and reporting that bastard was one of the most empowering things I ever did. BUT. My experience was that the authorities were interested in a credible threat to a child in their jurisdiction. “Molesters continue to molest. He molested me. He has children in your jurisdiction.” wasn’t sufficient for them. Fortunately, the case worker I spoke to was compassionate, and without giving me details thanked me for coming forward and told me the ‘family in question was already in their system and under their care.”

          1. Dear LW,

            I really should just have shared my own experience with you in the first place rather than tried to generalize it and ended up being a dick. I am truly sorry if I made you feel bad, This if absolutely in no way your fault.

            For me the only thing that helped was trying to take some power away from my abuser. It made me feel less powerless and I got to try to help other people(as people pointed out in the thread above that doesn’t always work). Anyway, that is just me. *And I should have said so in the first place*!

            I hope you find the thing that works for you.


          2. It’s totally acceptable to say “This is where I’m coming from, and this is what helped me, maybe it will help you?”

            Way better than “How can you live with yourself if?” or “You should/must.” Thanks for clearing it up.

        2. Yeah, but you know what? None of the other adults in this situation, the ones who might know something about what has happened, have done anything at all to protect this woman from this man. If she has reservations, she’s probably right. This is not to say that she should not disclose! But she can’t even do the much-harder part without cooperation from her family, and at least one person in that family has been a complete asshole.

      3. Holy shit, I just realized that my impatience with witnesses is leaking onto the victims. I’ve been spending too much time on the prosecution/advocacy side and people are making me insane failing to help when they know exactly what is going on. This has nothing to do with the victims, I shouldn’t be letting it spill over. After 25 years I should know better. Thanks!!
        Good thing I never say anything like that to anyone in person, that really sucked, sheesh.

  17. First, BRAVA to Marie for being 100% right about everything, and LW, you are cool and awesome and amazing. Congratulations!

    Wedding invitations: All the advice to date is spot on, but I just want to encourage you to enlist someone in your wedding party to play abuser-specific-bouncer for you on the day of the wedding. That way you don’t have to worry about seeing this guy at all, even if your mom is a jerk and invites him anyway, even if your aunt is oblivious and brings him as a date.

    I had the good fortune to be able to afford a day-of coordinator (Misse was the BOMB), and she would have clipboard authoritized the expulsion of anyone I feared. But an usher or groomsman or bridesmaid – sufficiently prepared with the following words and to be labeled the Bad Mean Person by the family – can do it, too.

    “You were not invited, and this is an invitation only event.”
    “No, she didn’t tell me why, but you are not on the invitation list.”
    “You don’t have a seating card, you can’t come into the ceremony.”
    “Yes, that does sound like bullshit, but you aren’t invited, and can’t attend.”

    Good luck!

    1. A bouncer is a good idea – if you can find an ally (or hire someone specific), that could go a long way to ensure your peace of mind when you already have enough to think about on your wedding day.

      When my brother got married, he and my sister-in-law hired a security guard, in part because the area the wedding chapel was in had car break-ins from time to time but mostly because my sister-in-law’s maid of honor has an unstable/abusive ex. He wasn’t invited, but she was worried he might somehow find out where the ceremony and reception were being held and show up as a “surprise.” Happily, he didn’t show up, but everyone felt much calmer knowing that there was someone looking out for this guy.
      Of course you don’t *need* to hire security (and it wasn’t like we had a hulking police officer there; he was in a nice suit and was very inconspicuous), but having someone to fill that role might make you feel more relaxed.

    2. I considered putting something about this in there, but it was already going on forever, and I didn’t want to add more BE ANXIOUS ABOUT YOUR WEDDING to the mix. But that has been a consideration of mine, for any potential future wedding I might have. I have an abusive ex, and I could see him showing up under some pretext of “look at how romantic and accepting I am of the cute idea that I don’t own you anymore, except I do, because I’m pissing on your wedding.” I’ve talked it over with my current boyfriend (the only candidate for marriage right now), and I’ve told him that if anything like that ever happened, I would make the most ENORMOUS scene. I don’t care if my boyfriend’s sweet old grandmother is there, I am going to call my ex a worthless motherfucker and call the police if he doesn’t leave. He is super okay with this, so that makes me feel like, whatever happens, who cares if my aunt turns up my nose — I got married, my ex got trounced, my family got judgmental, and all is right with the world.

    3. We dealt with the same issue at my wedding by inviting a friend of the family who was a former FBI agent and skilled in the arts of Making People GTFO. He wasn’t close enough to my husband and I to have otherwise merited an invitation to the very small event, but he genuinely is a friend and it was great to have him there. We didn’t think it was likely that the monster in question would try to crash the party (and he didn’t, thankfully), but the peace of mind of having A Plan was great.

  18. Hi, PFCMarie and Captain and everybody, this is the letter-writer, and I just want to say thank you for running my letter because oh my god, I honestly never thought anything about my abuse/abuser would ever like, live out in the world where I could see it with my eyes, where it was not in my head, and just having it out there in this anonymous way feels like such a tremendous burden is off my shoulders.

    everyone here is the best.

    1. Hey lady, we’re happy to be the Secret Keepers of The Order for you if we can be.

      This question comes up a lot in the world, I think? And PFCMarie answered it in a way that people will be linking here forever to help other people in the same boat, and in a way that will help people deal with abuse at all kinds of family gatherings. It’s a sadly common story, and you helped other people by telling us.

    2. Seriously, good for you for getting it out there in a way you felt comfortable with. You deserve to unburden yourself and to have your experiences validated.

      You should absolutely keep doing whatever you feel comfortable with, but if having this out there made you feel better than you might well benefit from talking about it in other venues as well. Wanting to talk about it and get support does not make you weak or broken or give your molester power over you. You went through something terrible and came out an awesome and strong person, but you don’t need to go it alone to prove something. If the anonymity is helpful, I liked the suggestion of starting by calling one of the sexual assault helplines — talking feels more personal, but you’ve still got the comfort of not knowing the person you’re talking with.

      The one bit of Marie’s advice that I disagreed with was the idea of telling your fiance before the wedding. I mean, if you’ve decided to tell him then there’s no need to wait, but there’s also no need to rush. I don’t think that any guy cool enough for you to want to marry will hold it against you that you were still working through things and didn’t feel able to talk about this until sometime after you were married. I do hope that one day you will want to tell him, because you deserve to have someone on your side and your husband is kind of designed to be your got-your-back person. But the wedding is kind of an artificial cut-off to set on Disclosure Date, and I think that talking about this before you feel comfortable doing so could do more harm than good. Take whatever time you need, work through whatever other channels you find helpful in the meantime, and don’t feel pressured by external factors like the wedding or your mom. You’ve got the power when it comes to deciding when and to whom you might want to disclose.

      1. It’s funny, I’ve written a version of my letter to CA before and thought about sending it here or elsewhere, but I could never get to the “send” button. It was weird enough just seeing the words on the screen. Then the wedding issue really pushed the “send” button for me, and now that it’s out there, I feel such relief.

        I think talking to a hotline might actually be something I do in the near future.

        I have always been the kind of person that is horrified to do or say something out of turn, or act like I’m not totally 100% in control of a situation and fine with everything, lest someone be put out or yell at me or whatever–even things as simple as asking for directions, finding out if a store has a different size in a dress, shit like that. (Which I do think is a result of the abuse–I became such a pro at pretending like nothing is wrong because oh my god, everything is wrong.) And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowly conquered these things and learned that asking for help and just being like “I don’t know what to do in X situation, can you help me?” turns out to be a wonderful thing and not a horrible thing more often than not. So I think I need to apply that lesson, which I know is a good one, to this. And y’all have helped me see that.

        The fiance thing is tricky because if I were going to tell anyone, I would tell him because I trust and love him more than anyone else in this universe or any other. One of the reasons I love him so is because I genuinely don’t think he would be upset if I told him tomorrow or if I told him ten years from now, but I think when I do tell him he will want to DO SOMETHING or whatever, because he is that kind of person–so I love the advice that I can tell him about what happened AND immediately tell him, this is also what I need you to do, which will probably be “nothing, dude, let’s just have some beers.” I don’t think the time to do this is right before the wedding, but I may do it in the next year or two. I think it is something I want him to know about me so that he can be my ally, but again, I don’t want it to turn into a situation where he feels like he has to be different around me, because he does not, unless I am actively telling him “I need you to do this because I feel X about what happened to me as a kid.”

        Again, so very grateful for all the help, guys!

        1. I’ve been on the receiving end of abuse history disclosure before (that is, in your fiance’s hypothetical future position), and let me tell you: that “I was abused, I am telling you because of X, and what I need from you is Y” stuff really works. I have been a mild fixer in the past, which is closely related to do-somethingitis. But having a specific “job” to do (even if that job is just to get beers and act normal) made it really easy for me to manage my feelings about learning that someone I love has experienced abuse. Your husband’s feelings are not the most important ones in this situation — yours are — but what I’m saying is, if you have doubts about how he (or anyone else you tell) will react, that script can be mad effective at encouraging the outcome you want.

          And if what you need from him changes in the future? That’s okay too. A reasonable guy who loves you (which sounds like what your fiance is) will respond well to that.

          1. I learned how to do this with my current boyfriend. I had abuse to tell him about, and as we were together longer, more and more details would come out. And he’d handle it well and be sweet and hugs and holding, but I’d always notice that, like, a day or two later, he’d be a super crankypants. After some talk about it, I found out that he’d just be suppressing this intense rage he had towards my abusers, because that’s something you always hear — when somebody tells you they were raped, you don’t respond with, “I’ll kill him!” because that’s centering *you* in the conversation. So just like I had no idea how to talk about this stuff, or who to talk about it to, he was left with all these horrible emotions about the abuse and no idea what was the “okay” way to express them.

            For me, I really wanted to hear his “I’ll kill him” rants, because at the time, I was really having trouble feeling anger. I knew it was in there somewhere, because when I thought, “Am I angry?” I’d just go immediately numb. So hearing somebody else express the emotions I had forgotten how to experience reminded me of the ways an unabused person reacts to abuse. I had lost that, and it was really validating to see somebody express outrage for me, since I couldn’t feel it for myself. So I had to give him permission to show me his anger with each new disclosure, and because he would always get worried that something he had done had triggered me into this new disclosure, I added on a brief description of why I was telling him. So I ended up with, “I was abused in this way, I am telling you because I saw this thing on TV that reminded me of it, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I’m okay, but I just feel a need to say it out loud, and I feel totally okay with questions or any emotional reaction you have.”

            Basically, I kind of just realized that people hearing about abuse go through a sort of secondary trauma similar to mine. Who do I talk to? What do I do? How do I fix this? Why did this happen? Who should I tell? Is it okay that I feel this way? Is it okay that I’m a mess? So I thought I’d tell him the things that I wish some Magical Fairy had told me: “Hi there! You have been raped. You are experiencing this for no legitimate reason. I need you to get up, get indignant, and refuse to be ashamed. That’s the procedure.” Oh! There’s a procedure? Great, because I had no idea what the fuck to do.

  19. I’m planning my wedding right now, and I can assure you, you do not need to fear “causing a whole nother issue.” There is ALWAYS a whole nother issue. Part of what some people like about weddings is spending the six months preceding them gossiping about every decision you make. Does Aunt Belinda judge you for getting your hippie friend to officiate instead of a minister? Good! It’ll give her something to talk about with her friends. Once she gets to the wedding she will have a great time and tell you how lovely you and the groom and your hippie officiant look. Treat your mom’s invite request like Aunt Belinda’s beef – it’s fine. Let her have it.

    I’m not saying that your wedding is license to actually behave badly, but being a bride is situation in which you just can’t please everyone. Please yourself!

  20. LW: Jedi hugs. I’m sorry that this happened to you. It was not your fault.

    The Awkward Army have all been pretty awesome at answering most of your questions. There’s only two points I want to add.

    1. For weddingy crap, I would recommend you visit OffBeatBride.com which is a pretty awesome resource and community.

    2. Problem #6: You do not have a moral obligation to report what happened to you to the police, to your family, to anyone. You are not obligated. But you could, and it might be a good thing to do: for yourself and other people.

    I’mma share some super-personal shizzle here.

    My older brother (just a couple of years older) sexually abused me for a couple of years when I was a child. He was also a child. I went to the police nearly ten years after it stopped when he had a little girl of his own. He was arrested and has been charged with abusing me, abusing one other member of my family, abusing his teenage sister-in-law and possession of child pornography.

    Lots of these things sucked: finding out other people had been hurt, (wrongly) feeling like I could have ‘saved them’, dealing with the police. All about fourteen different varieties of shitty. But for myself, I feel like what happened has been validated, like my experiences weren’t just ‘something I imagined’ and I wasn’t ‘being dramatic’.

    Obviously your mileage may vary, depending on your particular circumstances/family, but I just want to say that ‘telling’ isn’t always a lose-lose scenario.

  21. I just want to address the question of the pity-gaze. As someone who was abused, and told a whole bunch of friends over time, I have never gotten anything from them that felt out-of-balance after the telling. That is, I told them because I wanted them to know that experience was part of who I was, and when it’s relevant they acknowledge it, but they don’t make it into a big thing. They also don’t make it into a small thing – everyone was really good at letting it just be what it was. I like it that friends sometimes say, “Hey, this might be triggering for you,” but not all the time; and I didn’t feel that I got majorly different behavior from them afterwards. Just caring.

    So – telling people can be great, and not a big deal! That said, I have not told most of my family yet, because I don’t trust that they have the tools to be able to respond correctly. (I have some major just-world-theory-proponents in the family.) So – you know your audiences, and YMMV.

  22. After reading some of the comments, I have to say I’ve re-considered my “tell fiance before the wedding” advice. I think that’s me projecting onto this situation what I would do. I definitely AM somebody who needs artificial deadlines and boundaries to get me to do hard things. I’ve actually become pretty good at creating those deadlines for myself, like setting up a party that I want my friend that I’m fighting with to go to, so I have to call her and have an emotional/boundaries conversation with her in the next month. Stuff like that. And the anxiety of *not* telling before the wedding would just about do me in. Which probably gets into all sorts of other issues I have about commitment and honesty and what I owe other people and yadda yadda, but the main point is, LW, know that what I was telling you there got off the track of “advice for you” and became “here is a glimpse inside my head.” I still think telling your fiance about this someday is a good idea, but if you do NOT feel the immense panic/anxiety of not telling him crushing you (like I would), then you probably don’t need to do it now.

  23. Huzzah PFCM! (sorry if re-post; having some wordpress issues)

    I agree with everyone, especially with regards to telling the fiance so you have support, and also add a MASSIVE JEDI CONGRATS HUG on your awesomeness, but I wanted to contribute a slightly different perspective. Most of the people in my life know that I had some nonconsensual sex at 5 and 15. And most people are smart enough to know that a 6 year old isn’t a tramp who was asking for it, or anything judgy like that. I get a stomach ache knowing that the parents of the one who did it when I was 5 still circulate among my parents’ acquaintances, but I know they aren’t thinking about it every day.

    On my wedding day, whenever that day may come, those in the know will not be thinking about Me As Victim Of Sexual Assault As A Child. Even if maybe they did think that when I told them. (Sometimes they just have to wrap their mind around it, if you are the only juvenile victim they know.) Even if they have a list they carry around in their pocket of “people I know who were raped.” Even if it blows their mind because they know the perpetrator. If anything, they will think badly of Molester Cousin, not you. And he kind of earned that, wouldn’t you say?

    Of all days, your wedding day is a day people are defining you as You Beautiful Bride. Or Happy Best Friend. Or My Bud’s Awesome New Wife. Or Radiant Daughter. They aren’t thinking about who was or wasn’t invited; they aren’t thinking “oh poor her from 20+ years ago.” My step-mother was raped for years by her father. I don’t think of it every time I see her. I think of it if she’s talking about her father, or talking about someone at her church who is dealing with that issue. You have come so far with recovery which is fantastic, but don’t fall in the trap of letting that abuse define you, for yourself or for anyone else. Fortunately, weddings redefine you as Wife and Bride and Hostess Princess and whatever else kind of vibe you have going for you on that celebratory day.

    If you have a conservative family who would rather sweep these things under the rug, in that one sense it will serve you on The Day. Anyone who knows, or suspects, will be distracted by the happiness of the day, and gladly so.

    Personally, I would actually tell Mom if she kept needling me about Cousin. It’s a pretty water-tight reason to say NO and hold your ground. Not saying you have to, but staying silent on abuse is part of what perpetuates it, and attitudes of “if we don’t mention it, it doesn’t exist LA LA LA.” If she spreads it around, well, you can’t control that. But it might solidify your position with her rather than just “well I don’t WANNA!” And you could have more people on your side than you do now. Hopefully your loving mother will not pity you, but rather empathize with you.

    I wish you the most happy wedding day and marriage!

    1. Telling a parent depends strongly on the family in question. I told my mother that she had to accept that I was molested as a kid and raped as a teen, and I have issues I need to deal with because of that. So she could either accept it and support me, or stay out my life so I can heal.

      She decided she’d rather not have me as a daughter if I was going to be “difficult”. I gave her the ultimatum knowing that “you are dead to me” was the more likely outcome, but it’s still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t know if LW wants her mother in her life, but by forcing the issue, she might find out that her mom DOES want to side with the abuser over her daughter.

      I don’t think it’s fair to recommend LW disclose without knowing all the family dynamics and how the mom is likely to react. People will go to huge lengths to bury their heads in the sand about it.

      I haven’t had very good luck with disclosing to “friends” either. I’d recommend really knowing someone before you do. On the bright side, when I disclosed to my partners, they were nothing but wonderful and supportive about it.

      1. I also disclosed some of my abuse to friends, in the hopes that I would end up with a watertight “and that’s why I’m not going to the party where my rapist is” excuse, and they’d stop bugging me about it.

        Nope. Nope! It’s hard to believe, but nope nope nope, that didn’t even work a little. That lasted about a week, and then they started hitting me with all the minimizing and justifications they’d built up in the meantime. Oh, he’s not that bad. Oh, he feels so sorry. Oh, he just keeps bothering me about it. Oh, you know, it was maybe your fault, too? Anyway, he keeps asking me on Facebook why I won’t friend him and it’s just really awkward.

        What I did get out of that was a watertight reasoning for myself. Because even though my friends doing that shit hit me like a sack of hammers, every time I’d start to withdraw into doubt and guilt and compliance, I’d remember what I was actually saying — I’d said the thing out loud now, it was no longer euphemisms and “I can’t tell them” and secrets and confusing feelings. It was no longer, “I don’t want to see my ex at a party” vs. “You know, he’s really sorry, and it’s not like you didn’t hurt him, too” — it was “I don’t want to be around my rapist” vs. “You know, he apologized for raping you, and you probably hurt your rapist’s feelings or something.” And suddenly none of that seemed as reasonable as it used to.

        There were plenty of people who did think it was reasonable, and that’s disappointing and scary and disgusting and horrible. But saying it out loud, and being able to repeat it back bluntly — “He’s not really so bad” “You’re right, I guess I’m really misjudging my rapist based on that one instance of rape.” “That’s not what I mean!” “Oh, you mean he’s a really not so bad rapist.” “No, it’s just…” “It wasn’t a really nice rape, if you were wondering.” — helped me remember that I was not some selfish, overreacting, destroyer of the peace. I was, truly and literally, despite how unreal it seemed, surrounded by people who wanted me to have coffee with my rapist because he just kept calling them about it, you know, and they feel bad. In that scenario, I got to stop wondering if I was somehow broken or crazy — it was pretty clear where the broken people were (i.e. at a party with my rapist, and not my friends anymore).

        1. Wow! You are amazing. I love it when people don’t minimize rape or apologize for it or hide it. You rock so hard.

          I am sorry people treated you like that, it is appalling! Maybe some day people will react like they should. At least you know who your friends are.(cold comfort). I will remember this every time people start doing that.

          “Oh, you mean he’s a really not so bad rapist.”

          I will remember this every time people start doing that.

          Thank you so much!!

        2. I adore you for the strength and courage and outspokenness and general awesomeness that was that tack, and would love to shovel your driveway on a blizzardy morning ^__^

        3. Wow. That’s amazing, and a really good argument in favour of coming out about any abuse. Of course, LW, you should come out if and when it feels right to you, not because someone makes a compelling case for it.

          What would be really awesome would be if you don’t even have to explain why you don’t want to have coffee with someone/invite them to your wedding/go to a party that they might attend. I feel like we live in a culture of constant coercion, where saying, “I don’t want to do X” doesn’t get you out of doing X unless the person you say it to approves of your reason for not wanting to do it. “I don’t want to invite that person to my wedding because I don’t enjoy that person’s company” should really be the end of the discussion. Unfortunately, we live in a world where “I don’t want to go for coffee with that person because that person raped me” sometimes isn’t even the end of the discussion, so we have a long way to go.

          1. “I feel like we live in a culture of constant coercion, where saying, “I don’t want to do X” doesn’t get you out of doing X unless the person you say it to approves of your reason for not wanting to do it.”

            YES. We are drowning in that culture. I never noticed just how horribly pervasive it was until the stakes were so high for me, but once I experienced “oh you should just talk to your rapist” coming out of the mouth of a supposedly reasonable person, all the lesser forms of this started triggering me into a Hulk-out of boundary-stamping. Suddenly, the risks of not going to a party I never really wanted to go to super outweighed the benefits of keeping the social peace, because I could see the ways that all these mini-boundary violations trained the violator and the violatee to accept this as appropriate behavior.

            This also helped me figure out the kind of people I want as friends. After my abuse, I was so concerned with figuring out how to make sure an abuser couldn’t sneak into my life again, and I worked hard on myself. But then I realized, it doesn’t matter how good my boundaries are if my friends can’t manage to not Facebook-friend my rapist because it’s too awkward to explain to him why not (because it’s taken as a given that explanations will be required).

            These days, I am very exclusive with my close friendships. I really only let somebody get close to me if I know they’re the kind of person who can say, “Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.”

        4. “He’s not really so bad” “You’re right, I guess I’m really misjudging my rapist based on that one instance of rape.” “That’s not what I mean!” “Oh, you mean he’s a really not so bad rapist.” “No, it’s just…” “It wasn’t a really nice rape, if you were wondering.”

          I want to stand up and applaud you for this. Thank you.

    2. I mostly agree with you that, on the actual wedding day, people’s minds will mainly be on Oh The Bride Is So Lovely or Can We Have Cake Yet or Open Bar Wooo!, but I do think that, if disclosing to the family now would mean that the wedding would be the first time they’d see the bride after learning about the abuse, then there’s a decent chance it would be on some people’s minds, and therefore a real risk of Pity Eyes.

  24. Letter Writer, you are my doppleganger! A bit over a year ago I went through this getting married, invite or not my cousin who abused me, tell or don’t tell, dance. That part of it was exhausting (on top of planning a wedding which is bad enough). So I’ll say first: Make sure you get some you-time, to rest and decompress. If at all possible make sure you’re doing major self-care.

    Second, I’d volunteer that weddings are so major-stress to begin with that even if other people wonder about who you do/don’t invite, they’ll fill in the blanks for you. I got told at my wedding how kind of me it was to not send an invite to my cousin-abuser. Because that would obligate him to fly halfway across the country to show up. So I was being such a caring cousin to worry about him in the midst of my own wedding! (That nearly made me vomit FYI). So trust me, people will often come up with their own ideas on why you do things with weddings, and mostly they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    As to your mom, I had this fear with my grandparents. They were the ones who might have known, so they were my worry. My tactic was to preemptively keep them from being super involved in the planning (very tight knit family). It’s too late for preemptive, but I would advise phasing your mom until the wedding day as much as possible. Maybe you’ll have the side bonus of her going “why can’t I help?” as her question du jour. Then you can give her a “I’ve got it covered, thanks!” or “I have so many people who want to help, and I’d hate to make anyone feel unwanted. So I’m running out of stuff for you!” or just “It’s my day, and I need to be super anal about it”.

    Good luck!

  25. Amazingly good advice from all! The only thing I have to add that I don’t think has been covered is that even a nasty-ass narcissistic fucker like my mother–who was a goddamn pain in the fucken asse in the lead-up to my wedding–managed to shut the fucke uppe and put a goddamn smile on her face the day of, because there was a whole other family there who weren’t bought in to the bullshitte. So my point is that if you can apply the tactics suggested to keep your mother and the rest of your family off your backe until the wedding day, there is a very high likelihood that shame will keep them behaving decently in front of your fiance’s family, rather than making scenes or whatever.


    (Letter writer, here.)

    So today has been so strange because it is the first day in the whole history of my life that “I, Boots McGee, was sexually abused” has lived as a fact in the world outside my head. And I kept checking back to read all the comments and commiserate with everyone and it was just like wow, this exists. But also I thought, “Boy do I ever hope all this great advice goes to waste for me because my mother never asks me about any of it ever again.”

    Well, Fiance and I were out at a lovely dinner this evening, and what happens but my cell phone dings for a text message and it’s my mom: “I wish you would reconsider inviting Abuser Cousin to the wedding. Auntie Addict may throw a fit if she sees the other first cousins there, it will be a commotion.”

    And I just froze over my soup, like, oh my god, panic, I don’t know what to do, here this is in my face AFUCKINGGAIN.

    And do you know what I did, friends? I excused myself and went to the bathroom and logged on to CaptainAwkward.com and was literally like, what are the steps PFCMarie told me to take?! I NEED THEM NOW. And there were the steps! Because the universe is a wonderful and caring place and knew that today, this was what Boots McGee needed in her world in the bathroom at the Indian restaurant.

    And can I just say, everything PFCMarie said was going to happen then promptly and totally happened. I replied to Mom: “Abuser cousin just isn’t invited. If Auntie Addict has a fit, she will be asked to leave. If anyone has any problems with this, you can tell them to ask me directly.”

    AND THEN GUESS THE SHIT WHAT? The next thing Mom does is forward my text to someone else, probably another aunt. How do I know? Because she accidentally sent my exact text back to me, with the preface “[Boots] says: [Thing I texted].”

    Holy fucking shit, Mom, way to prove that you are exactly not the person I ever want to tell about any of this. Next, instead of acknowledging that she had done that, she texts: “Would you mind telling me what your problem with Abuser Cousin is, exactly?”

    And I was like oh my fuck, PFCMarie said this might happen! And I said, “I do not want to talk about it. Please do not ask me about this again, thanks.”

    AND THEN. AND THEN. AND THEN. She texts: “What makes you think I would try to push you to talk about something you don’t want to talk about?”

    NO I AM NOT FUCKING KIDDING YOU SHE ACTUALLY SAID THAT. Like, I think the “headdesk” intertrope is overused, but in this case, head to fucking desk y’all. Formerly, in this moment, pre-advice-getting Boots would have been like, “Okay sure Mom, let’s definitely get into a long discussion about how you’re perfectly reasonable in not seeing how repeatedly asking me a question I clearly do not want to answer over and over again would lead me to believe you might push me to talk about something I don’t want to talk about, I apologize for ever implying you are not the greatest person alive, my bad.” But post-advice Boots just replied back: “Let’s talk about fun wedding stuff instead of boring guest list things!” And Mom said: “For sure.”

    All this texting is happening, thank god, after we get home and Fiance suddenly had a giant bathroom emergency, taking him out of my immediate picture for pretty much the exact length of time it takes me to text these things. Why? Because the universe is all, “Looks like someone’s Fiance needs to disappear for 15 minutes, good thing y’all got the spicy curry.”

    So he emerges from the bathroom situation, and is like, immediately aware that Things Have Happened, because I am being kind of bumbly (seriously, I was tripping over things and like, knocking my knees into tables walking around during all this, it was SUPER weird) and of course he heard all the texting because our house is made of mid-century cardboard and sticks, and I thought to myself, “I do not want to keep this from Fiance firstly because he knows me too well to believe that I am totally cool right now, and secondly because I am not totally cool right now and I think he can help me, and also, what a fucking hassle this has been to keep this secret for twenty-eight years NOW IS THE TIME.”

    And so I cracked myself open a beer and sat on the bed and was like, “In a minute I want to get rolling on playing the Mario Kart we were going to play tonight, but you need to know that my mom is awful right now and it’s because of [all of the things], and I will let you know when I want to talk about this in the future.” And he held my hand while I cried some, and then he was like, “I am going to join you in that beer and then we will play Mario Kart.”

    And we played Mario Kart and then he fell asleep just now like he always does after a serious bout of Mario Kart and didn’t pressure me to talk or say anything I didn’t want to. And I was so excited to come back here and just spill spill spill to the Awkwardverse about oh my god, sometimes things are terrible but sometimes things are so aligned, it is unbelievable. Today was an aligned day, and one that I sorely needed.

    If my letter had not been answered today, and if my mom had still sent me that text, I would have spent the whole night fighting with her about it, not wanting to talk about the abuse, and trying to hide it all from Fiance or trying to lie to him by omission w/r/t why his lady was acting so fucking weird on a Tuesday night after Indian food.

    1. First: (infinite Jedi hugs)!

      Second: “What makes you think I would try to push you to talk about something you don’t want to talk about?” —-> classic bullshit lies. I think you’ve more than one kind of abuse to deal with, Boots, and if your mother’s that goddamn invested in Addict Auntie’s shitfits she can follow AA out of the wedding and to wherever the abuser company hangs out.

      Third: You are awesome! Your fiance is awesome! ^__^ I hope you have a lovely life together.


        Good for you on all counts, LW, especially for not getting into such an unbelievably thankless and manipulative argument as that. Your mom is officially a piece of work, and I hope you manage to wed that awesome man without much interference from her selfish ass.

        1. Mostly I just disengage with these questions — if it’s reached this level, i am okay just flipping to “you don’t even exist anymore” mode and walking away in the middle of the convo. But sometimes I have made great use of asking those shitty questions right back.

          “What makes you think I would try to push you to talk about something you don’t want to talk about?”

          “I don’t know, why would I think that?”

          That can be said dripping with sarcasm, or using a playing dumb, incredulous voice. Like the voice you would use if your mom was like, “You think I’m one of the lizard people!” and you were like, “Why would you tell me I think that?” But it’s a good way to force that one question to drop, because mom can’t answer her unanswerable rhetorical needling question any better than I can, so she’s just going to move on to the next trick in her shamebag instead.

          1. Agreed! The thing is, I have generally been able to do this with other people in my life, but for some reason, I have always operated under the idea that my mom is a perfectly sane and normal and emotionally healthy and reasonable person who would never do anything weird or manipulative — which, when I write all this shit out, I am like holy god, Boots, how did you not notice that?

            But of course now I notice, flipping through my mental scrapbook of disagreements with my mom, that the process has always been:

            Me: I am upset about this thing you did or said, Mom.
            Mom: What? What are you even talking about?
            Me: (explains more)
            Mom: You are really overthinking this, Boots. You’re so sensitive!
            Me: Defensive statement.
            Mom: See! You just get defensive! We can’t even have a reasonable conversation about things. If only you could talk to me in a normal way!
            Me: Defensive statement, explanation, probably crying.
            Mom: I don’t know why you think I would ever do anything to hurt you! I have tried so hard with you my whole life! You are so spoiled! You don’t know what you have!
            Me: Comforting statement, apology.

          2. Find a book called Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Dr. Karyl McBride and see if it rings any bells.

          3. Boots, I think many of us go through that, moms are supposed to be nice. You are not the problem here. If she is making you cry she is being mean and it isn’t at all surprising that it took a while to figure that out, lots of people with manipulative parents get fooled by exactly that line of BS. My mom was all “I try so hard an you are so mean to me”. It took me ages to get to where you are in setting boundaries.

            You are worlds of awesome and no one should make you cry. Jedi hugs and mazel tov on your wedding.

            Apologies for being such an ass earlier, I hope I didn’t make this harder for you.


          4. Yes, this sounds familiar!

            Nowadays I have boundaries and tactics and strategies, and I can more clearly think confusing things through, or speak them through, or tell somebody I suspect is confusing me, “I need to get back to you about this,” and learn from their reaction (“No, we must fight NOW while I have you on the run!”) whether I have been giving them too much benefit of the doubt. But it wasn’t always that way! And in the beginning, I just started with this:

            After I see you, do I feel good, or bad?
            When I see you, do I cry?
            When I am with you, do I feel relaxed, or tense?
            After I see you, do I need to “recover” (and not in the normal introvert way, but in an extra, I-just-had-the-flu way)?
            Before I see you, do I feel like I’m emotionally “preparing”?

            I had a lot of people in my life who I assumed were all good, normal people with whom I had good, normal relationships — but I started to notice that after hanging out with some of them, I always felt like shit. So even if I couldn’t figure out why this was (you know, come up with the “good enough” reason), I started to slowly see them less and see how that felt. (Spoiler: it felt super good)

            Thinking you have a normal, sane relationship with somebody, even though you end up crying at the end of almost every conversation with them, is something most of us have done. It is weird, but it is there.


      2. I am so glad you are marrying that guy. Marry that guy!

      3. LOL spicy curry

      4. WTF your mom? WTF your aunts? Maybe you should buy them Diplomacy so they can get the weird scheming out of their system and stop trying to play it with your guest list.

    3. This right here? AMAZEBALLS.

      Hai fives all round – you, Fiance, Universe, all y’all.

      (Your mum gets there “too slow!” hand-pull-away-thing. Srsly, WTF Ma?)

    4. So good to hear from you, Boots! I’m super glad that this is working out so well for you. Hopefully everything will keep going up from here! And I think everything will, because you are clearly awesome at setting the boundaries you need. Yay!

    5. I teared up a little reading this, Go team you! The best part is once you have stood your ground once it becomes even easier!

    6. 😀

      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 !!!!!!!

      Break for your mom: D: D: D: D: D: what the everliving fuck-all I swear to god D:

      Back to you: 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 :D!!!!!!!!!!! FOREVER!!!!!!!!!

      1. Right?!

        I cannot thank you and all the commenters here enough for the words of niceness and support. My today is so much better than my yesterday because of y’all.

    7. This update makes me so, so happy. You kick ass, your fiance kicks ass, and you guys are going to have an amazeballs life together. Congrats on getting this out there, and for being the first person on earth for whom bathroom-incident-involving-spicy-curry was good news!

    8. SO. HAPPY. For so many reasons!

      You are one frillion percent amazing, and handling things with aplomb.

      Your mom! So weird and pressure-y!

      Spicy curry! Useful for unanticipated but necessary Alone Times!

      Your fiance! So great!

      Your wedding and marriage: I predict amazeballsness.

    9. This is wonderful news. I’m laughcrying a bit out of happiness for you. Also, beer, Indian food, and Mario Kart? I like the way you guys roll.

    10. OH MY FSM, you and your fiance are so awesome, I’m so glad great people such as you exist in THIS VERY WORLD. Yeah, your Mom was really dishonest, but this shows the power of calling people’s bluff. They eventually get embarrassed of their own actions, and start behaving differently. They may rationalize that they NEVER acted stupidly in the first place (you know, we have always been at war with Eastasia and stuff), but at least they stopped.

    11. Go you for how you handled it! I am cheering you on from here in my chair. Wooo!!!! *\o/*

    12. “What makes you think I would try to push you to talk about something you don’t want to talk about?”

      I don’t know



      This is why I have a (long-suffering) group of friends to write out bullshit drama and email it to, because you get such a different perspective when you see it described to other people in writing. And also, you being like “Oh man, there is so much drama in my life, let me make it sound like a funny story” and those same people being like ARE YOU SHITTING ME WHAT EVEN IS THIS. It is such a good thing.

      In summary, you go boots mcgee! Four for you, boots mcgee!

      1. you go boots mcgee! Four for you, boots mcgee!

        Aaaaand none at all for Boot’s McGee’s Mom.

        What’s got two thumbs and can’t resist a Mean Girls shout out? [right here]

      2. No, I know. You say it! You have to say it! You have to say the difficult and aggravating thing! You you you! Because I’m just going to keep playing clueless until you say it, because I want to talk about it, because then I can make you say all the right things to make me feel better, but I flat-out refuse to own this difficult conversation, and why are you being so aggro? Why? All I want to do is have a happy peaceful relationship! Do you have some problem with that, perhaps? Is there something you want to tell me? Something you might like to discuss? Hm? Hm? is such manipulative bullshit.

    13. Holy moly. I’ve had aligned days before (school closed for snow on a day when I had the worst ever cramps and way too much work to do and was just feeling overwhelmed and needing to cry all the time so I couldn’t do the work I needed to do and also go to class, and also I had a midterm the next day that I was having trouble studying for because of cramps and other work and oh my god can someone please press pause on life? Oh, thank you, snowfall, for pressing pause on life) but I have never had a day so aligned that someone’s bowel movements even came at the right time. That’s almost enough to make me believe in spaghetti monsters!

      Also, great work with all of your boundary setting and subject changing!

    14. Oh my lady, I am so glad things worked out for you so well. I’m so glad you told your fiance, and I’m so glad you stood your ground with your ma (shakin’ my head at your ma) and that you had beers and mariokart and EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL.

      Now that you’ve stood your ground, doing it again will be easier, each time. All the jedi hugs and cookies for you and your future-husband!


    16. I am so happy for you! Lots of best wishes for your you and your chap who are both evidently wonderful people.

  27. LW That was beautiful, what a great way to handle that! Your fiancé sounds pretty full of win as well.

    ROFL No kidding “4. WTF your mom? WTF your aunts? Maybe you should buy them Diplomacy so they can get the weird scheming out of their system and stop trying to play it with your guest list.”

    1. Hi! I couldn’t respond to your other comment you just left with the nice apology part so I am responding here: no worries! It’s all good.

  28. The cool thing is that every time you stand your ground and boundary-oversteppers backe the fucke offe–like your mom did–it gets easier and easier for you, until (1) it is natural for you to enforce your boundaries and (2) it is natural for others to respect them.

  29. Here I was, after reading this yesterday and getting my feelings organized – all getting ready to write a long response about my disturbingly similar experience with my only-one-instance Abuser Cousin and him not being invited to my wedding several years ago, and how I finagled it, and all that jazz…..

    Only to come here today and see that things worked out fantastically for you, without any additional bullshit extravagant finagling. AND THAT MAKES ME SO HAPPY FOR YOU 😀 High five for the way you handled your mom – seriously, boundaries are hard, and you slam dunked that shit. And ten million congratulations on feeling like you’re in a place that you can start to reveal the Icky Past Shit to your fiance… telling my husband (pre-marriage, in my case) about my situation was one of the best things I ever did, and he’s been able to offer so much support over the years, especially when we were in forced situations with Abuser Cousin and his family.

    Way to go, lady. And here’s to a beautiful marriage and future! 🙂

  30. I am so glad for you right now, Boots. So glad that the AwkwardVerse (which I only discovered two days ago) called the Universe and said, “Let’s give Boots some slack, shall we? It’s only goddamn fair.”

    May your wedding be all that you want it to, and nothing that you don’t, and if anybody crashes it, may it be the Doctor. in a Tux. With Captain Jack as his plus one. (wanna talk about a party, yo)

  31. Late to the party but happy that there is a ROCKING GOOD PARTY to join: what a stars-aligned day! Hurrah for Boots McGee!

    Can we special order Jedi-hugs to be delivered at the wedding?

    1. I’m seriously considering purging the guest list of all the “Oh, but you have to invite RANDOM PERSON” people and just posting on here and telling everyone who can get to my city for a wedding to show the fuck up.

      1. We can hide in the bushes and make a barn owl hoot every time your mom says something emotionally manipulative!

          1. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to… Okay seriously are there, like, a billion owls out there?”

  32. I got here so late that the whole happy outcome had already happened, so let me cheer for that and hoot in an owl-like manner for Mom, and just add a little thing that the whole comment thread exemplifies:

    Before you tell your abuse secret, you are The Only One Ever to Experience This Horrible Thing. And seriously, that is so awful. It’s having a waking-up-crying nightmare going on in the back of your head all the time. With bonus shushing from other people who just want to sleep, not hear about your nightmare.

    And then you tell anyway, when you have your own reason to tell. And SO OFTEN the person you tell says, oh hey, you too? Let me share my abuse story with you!

    And if I think about that it makes me cry, because WE WERE BABIES and they hurt us.

    But on the other hand, each one of us thought we were all alone, and we so are not. Each one of us said “I have to build my own foundations because nobody will let me stand in their house” and then we look around and find we are in an effing CATHEDRAL that we all built.

    That’s awesome. And terrible, but awesome too.

    1. So glad that you came here, Boots! These people are all made of 100% pure awesome, and so are you! Best of wishes to you and your most excellent fiancee for a happy life together.

      And also, JAT–this is getting put right on my fridge door so I can continue to view its total bitchen’ righteousness: “..each one of us thought we were all alone, and we so are not. Each one of us said “I have to build my own foundations because nobody will let me stand in their house” and then we look around and find we are in an effing CATHEDRAL that we all built. ”


  33. Also late to the party but I am so happy for you and how your story is turning out. You are awesome. And I just love the image of you on your smartphone in the washroom of an Indian restaurant going, what did that site tell me to do in this situation again?

    I am also glad that soon-to-be-husband reacted in such a positive way for you. Seems like you’ve made the right choice.

  34. Fantastic. I am so happy that these strategies worked for you. I am so happy to know that any strategies can work on people who can’t be reasonable. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage to the awesome guy.

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