Help! If I Invite My Brother, My Parents Won’t Pay—and Other Wedding-Season Conundrums.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 11 2013 5:47 AM

The Long Walk to the Altar

Prudie offers wedding advice on family estrangement, inappropriate toasts, and an extravagant bride, just in time for summer.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
I am getting married to the love of my life next summer, and my parents have graciously offered to pay for our wedding. But if I ask my brother's fiancée to be one of my bridesmaids, I'm worried that my parents may refuse to pay. My parents and brother are estranged, and have had very limited contact for several years. Their relationship is tumultuous, and I've done my best to stay out of it, but frequently I do something that makes my parents think I've formed some sort of alliance with my brother. These "infractions" have included attending their daughter's birthday party, taking photos with her and posting them on Facebook, and going out to dinner with them. This has caused me to also have a somewhat strained relationship with my parents for the past year or so. I want my brother’s fiancée to be a bridesmaid and their daughter to be a flower girl, but that also has the potential to cause a big problem. How much say do my parents have about our wedding? I love them all very much, but I'm at a loss as to how to move forward.

—In the Middle

Dear Middle,
As you will likely see, the people who control the purse strings have the power to tie you in knots. Maybe there’s a justifiable reason for the parental estrangement from your brother. But your parents come off in a very poor light if the problems with their son have them cutting their grandchild out of their lives—and wanting you to shun her, too. Yes, you are in an “alliance” with your brother—it’s called being siblings. and you are entitled to have a good relationship apart from whatever craziness affects his interactions with your parents. You may discover that having both the wedding of your dreams and control of the guest list are incompatible because the checkbook will snap shut if you brother and his family are included. So address this early on. Tell your parents you appreciate their offer and want to make clear that your brother and his family will not only be at the ceremony, they’ll be in the wedding party. If your parents balk, I hope you decide that the perfect dress and filet mignon are less important than the people you love. Tell your parents that if their money comes with the condition that your brother’s family be blackballed, you will put on the wedding you can afford by yourself. I hope you discover that being able to start your new life without being manipulated by your parents means that, if need be, a trip to City Hall and a barbeque is preferable to a fancy affair. Do invite your parents and tell them you hope they’ll be able to put aside their differences with their son and attend your happy day.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Can you mention that wedding toasts should not be roasts? I recently attended a family wedding and was quite surprised at a toast given by a member of the wedding party. I'm sure a number of people were just trying to keep smiling and hope it wouldn't get worse. More than the bride and groom were being disparaged, and you just don’t say things like that around grandparents. It could be that the person who gave the toast had been drinking too much and got emboldened, but who knows. I later heard a story about an inebriated best man who embarked on a story involving a trip to Paris with the groom and a prostitute and the groom got up and stopped him by saying he’d had too much to drink and would be embarrassed in the morning. I hope that there can be more awareness of what is appropriate for wedding toasts, and what is best saved for bachelor and attendants parties. Maybe we don't need to find any occasions for unkind and derogatory humor.

—Say Something Nice

Dear Say,
I agree with you that a wedding is not the time for people to hope for a breakout performance on a Comedy Central roast. Sure, the best wedding toasts are both amusing and warm, and anyone who knows the couple well should be able to come up with a charming anecdote or two that will cause laughs. But if the person giving the toast has no gift for humor, it’s better to go with sappily sincere than tastelessly obscene. After the best man or maid of honor sketches out the toast he or she should imagine saying it directly to Grandma or Grandpa. That should be enough to edit out hilarious reminiscences about sex workers, STDs, and one-night stands. Toasts tend to be remembered for the feeling they leave, not the specifics of their content. People holding a glass while holding forth should make sure they don’t become the toastmaster whose outrageous words will never be forgotten.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My husband’s brother has multiple health issues—some of his own making—and all of them exaggerated. He hijacks every conversation so that he can talk about himself and his health. His problems include mental and emotional ones, too. Family members try to avoid him at gatherings but someone always has to listen to his "organ recital.” At a nephew's college graduation party, this brother-in-law was giving his speech to a terminally ill man, who the hostess was finally able to rescue. There are two family weddings coming up this year, and we know my brother-in-law will recite his list of problems to whoever is unfortunate enough to sit near him. Is there a way to intervene without being impolite to either the BIL or his victim?

—He’s a Gasbag

Dear Gasbag,
Keep in mind that however exaggerated your brother-in-law’s physical health problems, his mental ones sound real enough. So he deserves firm but sympathetic handling. Since you’re going to be a guest at these weddings, you and your husband should suggest to the couples getting married that you two—and you’d like some other family volunteers—will offer yourselves up for chaperone duty for your brother. A group of kind family members should then keep an eye out for the brother-in-law at the reception and intercept him when he’s gone on long enough with an innocent guest. Then during dinner several of you should take turns sitting next to brother-in-law for 15-minute intervals. You each can explain the musical chairs by saying, “Bob, it’s been too long, I wanted to sit next to you and hear how you’re doing!” Then zone out while murmuring an occasional, “That sounds awful.” This will be a better gift to the bride and groom than anything you could purchase off their registry.

—Prudie

I’ve often wondered whether grooms noticed when their brides-to-be went on rampages of self-acclamation. Then, a year ago this email arrived in my inbox:

Dear Prudence,
My fiancée and I are having some difficulties regarding budget issues for our wedding. I found out that in addition to choosing the most expensive vendors possible, she has hired a choreographer and could spend considerably more than $10,000 for costumes, dancers, dance lessons, etc. for a wedding performance piece starring her. It screams of excess and narcissism and I find it distasteful. I would be much more comfortable with a simple ceremony and reception. Where should I draw the line? My feeling is that a wedding is about a celebration of family and friends, and we should try to be good hosts, while her opinion is that this is a day for people to celebrate and focus on us. Do I have a leg to stand on to tell her I think that the dance is a waste of money and embarrassing, or should I back off?

—Subdued Groom-to-Be

I sent a private, one-line reply to the groom. Recently, I received this update:

Dear Prudie,
Your response to me was a simple, "Why are you marrying this woman?" That question hit me like a rock to the head. I tried to draft a couple of responses, but since I couldn't justify anything to myself on paper, I couldn't send something to you. We had some painful discussions about what we wanted to accomplish and how we wanted to live our lives and realized that those two visions weren't as similar as we had originally envisioned. Ultimately, we weren't the right people for each other, even though we tried our best. My fiancée and I separated shortly after I sent you the letter. While I loved her, I realized that you had pointed out a flaw in our relationship; I should have had a very clear answer to the question and I didn't. I know that I will the next time I am considering walking down the aisle.

Stop the Scourge of Wedding Presents: They’re outdated, inefficient, unfair, and unnecessary,” by Matthew Yglesias. Posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

My Big Fat Disney Wedding: I’m a tomboy, not a princess. Here’s why getting married at a huge theme park was a delightfully practical decision,” by Rachael Larimore. Posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

This Is the Last Time I Will Ever See You: After every wedding, there is a dear friend who will immediately disappear from your life. And that’s OK,” by David Plotz. Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

Click Here to RSVP: Online invites are now far better than paper. And yes, you should even use them for your wedding,” by Farhad Manjoo. Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

How to Be a Better Best Man: Flirt with the mother of the bride, but don’t grind with her,” by Troy Patterson. Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

More Dear Prudence Columns

Skin Deep: Should a husband tell his wife how he feels about her physical flaws?” Posted March 22, 2012.
My Gay Husband: He’s closeted, but I don't mind. Should I set him free anyway?” Posted March 15, 2012.
Gastric Warfare: I fear my mother-in-law is poisoning me, but my husband doesn’t believe it.” Posted March 8, 2012.
Smell Ya Later!: Should I break up with my fiance because he thinks I have horrible body odor?.” Posted March 1, 2012.

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

The Wrong Touch: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a frisky roommate, felonious family members, and friends who become lovers.” Posted April 2, 2012.
Whoa, Momma: During a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on having children after tragedy, elective surrogacy, and the demands of parenting twins.” Posted March 26, 2012.
Should I Leave My Infertile Partner?: In a live chat, Dear Prudence advises a man who wants to bolt after learning his girlfriend can’t have kids.” Posted March 19, 2012.
Sex Education: In a live chat, Prudie advises a student whose pregnant friend doesn’t know where babies come from.” Posted March 12, 2012.