Dear Captain Awkward,
I’ve met somebody lovely and we’re getting married in the summer. (My pronouns: she/her, my fiancee’s: they/them) I’m thrilled to celebrate with all my family and friends…except one person.
My uncle has mainlined Fox News for longer than I’ve been alive and has selected me, his queer, liberal niece, as a prime audience for his rants. He’s also an aggressive alcoholic who has sent me crude conservative memes on Facebook.
If it were just me involved, I’d probably invite him and assign somebody to make sure he couldn’t make trouble (or have too many drinks). But I’m marrying a Latinx immigrant, exactly the sort of person he spent my entire childhood ranting about. Our wedding is going to be catered by a taco truck. I don’t want him to say something horrible to my fiancee’s family.
I can’t invite him. My father is lecturing me on forgiveness. My mother is brokenhearted and fears this will cause a rift in the family which can never be repaired. My uncle is a proud man and will quite probably never forgive me. But the whole point of a wedding is that I’m starting my own family – and I refuse to have our first day as family marred by somebody who hates the very idea of my future in-laws.
I’m not always a forgiving person but I think this is a very reasonable boundary. Am I wrong? Is there compromise to be had? And how do I stand it throughout the months until the wedding, fighting this invitation fight over and over again with everyone my mother recruits to talk to me about it?
-Wish We’d Eloped
Hi Wish We’d Eloped:
Let’s review the situation: Your uncle has hateful views that are being used to detain, harm, and imprison people and steal their children, and he acts like an aggressive jerk specifically to you, and the rest of your family is somehow surprised that you don’t want him at your wedding? And your parents are blaming you for causing an unforgivable rift in the family if one drunk bigot doesn’t get invited, but not blaming him for being a ranting bigot in the first place? Do we have that right?
I am tired, friends.
I am tired of “keeping the peace” with xenophobia and bigotry. I am tired of the words “let’s agree to disagree.” I fear that I suggested them or words like them too many times in safer years when maybe different ones might have made a difference. I am tired of people acting surprised that there might be consequences to the way they treat their family members, that after years of making it clear that they hate everyone who is like you that you might reasonably draw the conclusion that they hate you, too. I’m tired of the people who only use their “free speech” to say the most poisonous violent possible things and I’m tired of the pretense that these people don’t fucking revel in the violence and damage that accompanies their dogwhistles. And I’m tired of reminders of how nice and good the bigots can be to the people they don’t hate, as if their “nice” means anything at all when ICE rounds up another group of terrified families or transgender people get pushed out of the military en masse. You know who was nice and polite most of the time until he wasn’t? Liesl’s useless Nazi boyfriend Rolf.
I’m tired of the expectation that people get to spew all the hate they want and you’re supposed to fight all that with love somehow, or at least offer up a rented chair and a buffet plate, for the sake of what? For the sake of a few posed photos that match the entries on the family tree? For the illusion of a single day where the idea of family cancels out other differences? Why is compliance demanded of you but nothing is demanded or even expected from people like him?
If your parents want your uncle to be included in things like your wedding so bad, why don’t they take it upon themselves to change his mind or at least get him to keep his hateful views to himself for a hot second? What are they so afraid of? Are they afraid that if they had to truly acknowledge how disgusting, dangerous, and hurtful his beliefs are that they’d have to make a choice about whether to keep him in their lives? Or are they telling themselves that it’s not that bad, he’s not that bad, that the situation is fixable somehow? Or do they agree with him?
And why is it on you? Why are they negotiating with you so hard on his behalf instead of negotiating with him to stop sucking so hard? Did he even ask them to or did they take it upon themselves without knowing that he’d even want to be there?
Those are some of the questions I have for your parents, and their eventual deputies.
You and your fiancée are allowed to want a wedding day where you’ll be surrounded by safe, loving people and not have to feel like you’re walking on eggshells scattered by the worst person in your family. ❤
Your first job is to take care of yourself and your fiancée. Their comfort level and safety, the comfort and safety of their family, comes before your Uncle in all things.
Here is one strategy and series of scripts you might be able to adapt for lots of situations where people try to negotiate with you on your uncle’s behalf:
Next time it comes up, ask: “How is any of this a surprise? Uncle has made it very clear what he thinks about people like me and people like my fiancée and their family over the years. Why would he even want to be at the wedding of people he has such obvious contempt for? Why would I ever want someone there who believes what he believes?”
The obvious attempted counterpoints are:
- “When he said that about other people he didn’t mean you, he loves you!” (Cool story, but you are not actually different from other queer people, so the effects of the things he votes for and advocates for do apply to you!)
- “He has a right to his beliefs” (But he doesn’t have a right to your compliance!)
- “But he’s family, you don’t turn your back on family.” (Isn’t it turning your back on your family when you spread hatred about people in your family and vote for people who want to harm people in your family?)
- “How will he ever change his mind if you won’t help him/be nice to him?” (I don’t know, but why is that your job, especially in the face of his bad behavior?)
You do not have to debate these points or even engage them. Try this instead:
“If Uncle wants to come to the wedding so bad, and he wants to apologize to me for all the hateful things he’s said about queer people and Latinx people over the years, he has my phone number, my email address, and my mailing address and he is free to open up a discussion any time he wants to. He should talk to me himself instead of hiding behind you. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I’ll invite him to the wedding, but that’s literally the only way I’d even consider it. If he loves me so much and wants to make things right, he should come and talk to me.”
“Until that happens, stop doing his work for him! If you want the family to “make peace,” go bother him about it! I’m not the one who made it like this between us. Every time you pressure me about this, it’s like you’re blaming me and punishing me for hateful things he has said and trying to force me to pretend I’m okay with all of it. I’m not okay with it, I never will be okay with it, and the more you try to pressure me about this the more I wonder why you are so okay with it.”
- “You’re lecturing me on forgiveness, Dad, but forgiveness is for people who apologize and stop doing the bad stuff. Uncle hasn’t apologized and as far as I know he’s still at it. I’ll think about forgiveness when he thinks about apologizing to me. Until then this is a pointless conversation.”
- “I want my wedding day to be about fiancée and me and the people who make us feel safe and loved. If Uncle’s not on that list of people for me, it didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. You do him or yourself no favors when you act like this is new or unreasonable.”
- “Did he ask you to talk to me or did you appoint yourself as ambassador? Either way, he should just come talk to me if he wants things to be different between us”
- “Right now my problem is with Uncle, but if you keep pushing me about this and refusing to listen to me, how can I hope to relax and celebrate with you? You have to let this go.”
- “You seem determined to make every second of wedding planning about my homophobic racist uncle. This is not changing my mind about him, but it is affecting my relationship with you. If you don’t agree with the hateful thing he says, then back me up and let this go!”
- “It’s very awful and embarrassing to have a brother/relative who is such a bigot, I know it’s painful! But I’m not the one who caused him to behave that way, you have to stop punishing me and pressuring me for the things he chooses to do and say. You think you’re fixing it but what you’re doing is harming me.”
After you have a conversation like this once with any member of your family, it’s time to shut it down if they bring it up again. “You already know what I think. Go bug Uncle about it if it’s so important to you, I’m not having this conversation again.” You may have to cut some conversations and visits short to maintain the boundary, and I’m sorry, it may get pretty messy for a while.
I also realize that in this scenario your uncle might actually come and talk to you. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it depends on what he says, and I’m sorry if he directs more hateful stuff your way. You don’t have to forgive him or invite him even if he does attempt an apology, you’re allowed to cross that bridge when you come to it.
In the meantime, I think it will be very useful to you to redirect all attempts at managing the situation back his way – “Quit bugging me! Go talk to Uncle if you care about this so much!” The not-so-secret secret is that the other people in your family know that your uncle is totally unreasonable and difficult, so they’re exerting pressure on you (younger than he is, female, expected to be more reasonable and compliant) because they don’t want to have to deal with him. Tough shit for them! You didn’t cause this rift, your wedding doesn’t have to heal it, and if they want to smooth things over let them deal with the person who made it awkward.
I wish you a peaceful, joyful, safe, happy wedding day and a long and loving marriage in a safe, welcoming country that cherishes you and your new family. Lately that country feels very far away but it is possible, I think, if we can stick together.
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