Published On: Tue, Nov 14th, 2023

Carolyn Hax: Petulance over plus-one threatens family friendship

Carolyn Hax: Petulance over plus-one threatens family friendship
Carolyn Hax: Petulance over plus-one threatens family friendship

Dear Carolyn: My daughter, her boyfriend and our whole family are struggling to move on after other close family members hurt us. We need help, especially me, the mom!

Background: My husband and I have three children, and my husband’s brother’s family has two. While the five kids were growing up, we enjoyed dinners together every Sunday night, shared every holiday, celebrated every birthday/graduation, went on vacation together and more. The two sets of parents retired in the same community and see each other often. My husband and his brother are very close.

Our youngest daughter was in a years-long relationship, destined for marriage (or so we thought), that ended abruptly just before the pandemic. She was devastated, alone in her apartment, city shut down, furloughed from her job, and more. A very dark time for her (and us) that both families worried about.

Two years later, she fell in love and is now gloriously happy with a wonderful man!

Fast forward to last month. Our niece in the close family is getting married at the end of July. Our daughter and her boyfriend, who virtually live together and are on the path to marriage, will have been together for 8 months. The e-invitations arrived: The boyfriend was not invited to the wedding by name (bad enough), and my daughter was not given a “plus one” (unfathomable).

My other daughter (very proud of her) immediately called her cousin, the “bride,” and it is fixed. Bride said it was a computer mistake. Crisis averted. But the damage has been done.

My problem is, if it was a mistake, then it was negligently cruel. My daughter’s feelings were not important enough to them to get it right. If it was on purpose, it was intentionally cruel. My daughter’s feelings were not important to them at all.

Either way, the feelings of our daughter and her boyfriend were roadkill in the world of arbitrary wedding “plus-one rules.”

That they would want their cousin/niece to sit alone at the wedding with no one to dance with while her boyfriend sits in their apartment alone totally and completely escapes me. We would never in a million years behave toward our nieces in this way.

Disclaimer: I said at the outset that my daughter and whole family are struggling to move on from the insult and hurt. More accurately, they have busy lives all over the country and are just glad it’s resolved. I am the only one having trouble figuring out how to deal with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, whom I see almost daily. My husband just wants it to be over without any more family strife.

Momma Bear: Find a paper bag to breathe into, then find more to do.

You wrote this answer into your question. I’m just the cantankerous messenger: You say your whole family “have busy lives all over the country and are just glad it’s resolved?” Then the busy people aren’t upset. You are.

Moreover, this isn’t just about finding something better to do than perseverate about an exclusion that won’t actually happen. There’s also the matter of acting in bad faith — but they aren’t the ones guilty of that. You are.

1. All that backstory is irrelevant to an invitation.

2. No “damage was done,” unless you take your niece for a liar and/or redefine “mistake” to include only malice and disregard. Even if your niece’s explanation was a white lie, it was an inclusive, peacemaking one.

3. You exaggerate and obfuscate at this other family’s expense, enough to throw your own loyalty to them under the kind of suspicion you’re casting their way. You say the new couple “will have been together eight months.” Meaning, five months when you got the invitation, yes? But presumably that didn’t make the actions of the “bride” (why the snark-marks?) sound bad enough. Which is actually true: A lot of five-month partners don’t get plus-ones.

Plus, “virtually live together,” my emphasis, morphs over the paragraphs into “their apartment.” Hm.

Plus you ascribe the worst possible motives to their leaving off the “and guest,” but the best possible ones — hello, “Momma Bear!” — to your handling this situation without any grace or forgiveness.

Plus evvvvvverybody’s struggling! Just kidding! I am! Everyone else is fine! You are actively making [stuff] up to make your closest people sound bad.

4. The picture you paint of your cruelly un-danced-with daughter and her beloved boyfriend all alone! at home! all day! (no friends, no hop to Lowe’s for some lightbulbs?) is sympathy-canceling in itself. The suggestion that un-paired-off people are objects of pity is simply offensive. Stag at a wedding is not Cersei’s walk of shame.

So, please. Stop exaggerating, finger-pointing, worst-assuming and single-shaming this one, quickly-remedied omission into a “Momma Bear” resentment-fest. Also see the role idleness plays and find more productive things to engage you.

As I’ve said before, even kind and generous people make mistakes in guests lists. For all sorts of reasons that make sense to them in the moment. Much more damaging than these mistakes? Keeping score at home.

An update from “Momma Bear”:

Dear Carolyn: It has been over a year since I wrote to you about my dear daughter’s boyfriend potentially not being invited to her cousin’s wedding. (He was, of course, invited.) Your answer was hilarious and spot on!

You should know that I learned a great deal from your response, and I thank you. You were very harsh on me and I was surprised — I expected, crazily, to get support from you in my absurd chagrin. I have tried in many aspects of my life since then, with help from a therapist, to look at family-and-friend and even stranger interactions in more clear, less “all about me” ways. It is working and I am happier for it!

And an update: My daughter married the love of her life, they are expecting a baby! I have lots of reasons to let go of petty resentments and embrace my wonderful extended family and friends!

This column has been updated.

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