Ask Damon: I told my engaged son I hate weddings. Now I feel left out.
Here’s the twist: I am White. My son is biracial. My husband is an immigrant from the Caribbean and is a real loner. We do not socialize much at baseline, and not at all since the pandemic hit. My son is highly social and so is fiancee. Her family is huge, very close, very rooted in Black identity.
I feel my son choosing “them” over “us,” and that’s adding another layer of hurt on top of anxiety. Her grandmother swooned over him the first time she met him. They all just love him to pieces. Which I’m not complaining about, don’t get me wrong!
It just feels like rejection. How do I address the wedding jitters while holding a feeling inside of being rejected for being an anti-wedding person as well as a White one? Instead of who I am, which is a fiercely independent, nonconformist since childhood, highly intelligent and successful professional with a life that’s so full of joy I get on my knees daily in gratitude.
— Future mother-in-law who hates weddings
Future mother-in-law: I’m curious if you actually read the question you asked me before sending it. In the first paragraph, you reveal that you told your son and his new fiancee that you literally don’t give a damn about what might be the biggest day of their lives, and you forbade them to even share any details of it to you, and you’re wondering why you feel left out?
We don’t even have to get to the race part — I will eventually, but not yet — but it seems as if they’re doing exactly what you asked them to. You don’t want to be included in the planning of a wedding that undoubtedly will involve myriad opportunities for your families to meet and laugh and dine and bond, and so they’re not including you.
Now, to your future daughter-in-law’s family, you’re the cold White woman who wanted nothing to do with her son’s wedding with a Black woman. Even if race has nothing to do with this — it does, but let’s pretend it doesn’t — the optics here are terrible, and I don’t envy the uphill climb you’ll need to make to make amends if you want to be included in family stuff going forward.
I’m not saying you have to be Martha Stewart. I think most people, even those who want or have had weddings, agree that they can be overpriced and ostentatious spectacles with minimal impact on the actual marriage. But you’re so committed to the pretension of “free thinking” that you’re not actually thinking. If you were, you’d see there’s a world of difference between “Planning large events gives me anxiety, and I wouldn’t be offended if you didn’t involve me. But if there’s anything else I can do to assist, let me know!” and “My name is CHRIS and I don’t give a damn about THIS!”
I think your best path forward is to just apologize to your son and his fiancee for being so cold. And explain to them that it’s your anxiety about weddings that’s caused your behavior, not your feelings about the actual marriage. I’d also suggest you see a therapist to maybe help you unpack why you were so adamant about being so dismissive of their big day.
Also, are you sure your actions have everything to do with your feelings about the wedding and nothing to do with your feelings about the marriage? Because I’m not. You seem to have some anxiety about your son embracing this new Black family and leaving his White mom behind. But your fear seems to be an anticipation of behavior instead of actual behavior, because nothing about your letter indicates that your son has shunned you.
I think it would be helpful for you to ask yourself some hard questions about race and how that’s contributing to your unease. For instance, you refer to him as biracial. Which he is, technically. But historically, in America, your son is Black. That’s just how the construct of race has worked here, and it impacts every aspect of your son’s life, and I hope you realize that. Maybe you feel like him choosing a Black partner is a reinforcement of that reality and a distancing from you. The former may very well be true, but the latter doesn’t have to be.
Do you have an uncomfortable question? Ask advice columnist Damon Young, who’s comfortable with the uncomfortable.
He is the author of “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays,” which won the 2020 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He is also the co-founder of the culture blog VerySmartBrothas and was a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and a columnist for GQ. He has written for the Atlantic, Esquire, NY Mag, the Undefeated, Ebony, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Young is the creator and host of a podcast with Crooked Media.