Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Q. No Marriage: My boyfriend and I have been together for two years and just moved in together. We’re both 30 years old and have no plans to marry. My boyfriend’s parents won’t take no for an answer, and after we move in together they asked us when we wanted the wedding. We told them we weren’t getting married, but they complained that we were being ridiculous. This crazy argument went on for a few weeks when his parents upped the crazy by a notch. They’ve booked their church for our “wedding” for next year and have also reserved a ballroom at a large hotel (deposits are due at the end of the week). They want us to decide on a band, flowers, food, etc. We told them that they can hold the wedding, but we won’t be there. My boyfriend’s mom also gave her travel agent my phone number and she’s already left a couple of messages asking when I can come in to plan our honeymoon. This is beyond weird. What else can we do to convince them that we are not getting married? My boyfriend has been as forceful with them about this as I have, so it’s not a case of us sending mixed signals.
A: I don’t have a subscription to Brides magazine, so I don’t know if they’ve covered the ins and outs of a ghost wedding. There’s probably not a lot that’s been written about the etiquette of the non-bride who is not getting married whose boyfriend’s parents have become (non)in-lawzillas. What your boyfriend does is tell his parents that sadly they will lose all their deposit money if they go ahead with this farce. If they become monomaniacal on the subject of the wedding colors and floral arrangements, your boyfriend might have to tell his parents you two aren’t communicating with them anymore until they come to their senses. If they go ahead without you, let’s hope that at the last minute they can find an engaged but broke couple on Craigslist who would love a wedding extravaganza and can step into your gown and your boyfriend’s tux.
Q. Family Secrets?: I am a middle daughter in a family of five girls and three boys, now aged 62 to 49. My oldest sister, a gifted psychiatrist with both an M.D. and a Ph.D., has had nothing to do with the family for 30 years. She did not come to our father’s funeral and my children, now in their 20s, have never met her. Our mother is now suffering from dementia and we are scrambling to afford her care. I traveled 400 miles to this sister’s city to ask for her help, and what she told me floored me. She said our father molested her and two other sisters for years. One of them committed suicide at 28 and the other, who eventually weighed over 300 pounds, died at 53 following routine surgery due to her massive weight. She says our mother knew about it, but did nothing. My surviving sister and I were never molested. The oldest feels guilty about the others’ deaths because she chose to run rather than bring him to justice. She refuses to give a penny toward our mother’s support, saying Mom is going to burn in hell for all eternity so why not let her get started early? Obviously neither parent nor dead sister can corroborate or disprove these allegations, although we may have missed some signs. For example, the sister who committed suicide left a lengthy letter with fond memories of our mother and all her siblings, but not our father. Clearly my surviving sis and I need therapy, but we’re too frozen to even do that. If our dad did this it should be made known, but how can we tell? Should we at least tell our brothers? Any help in sorting this out would be greatly appreciated.
A: As you described going for your encounter with your sister, I had a sick feeling about what you were going to discover. Your sister, the psychiatrist, surely knows that the causes of your two other sisters’ deaths: suicide and morbid weight gain, are textbook responses to the crimes committed against them. Also textbook is the mother who knew and didn’t want to know, so became an accessory to her children’s destruction. But all of you are casualties in some way of your father’s monstrosity. Your family was shattered, but all of you have lived under a veil of secrecy and deceit. Your sister, the doctor, had an inner core of resilience that got her out, and sadly for her relationship with you and the surviving siblings, she felt cutting off all contact was her only option. Of course you have been shaken to your core, and I suggest you start sorting out this new understanding of your family by calling Stop It Now, an organization that deals with child abuse. They can help you start the conversation about how to move forward and point you in the direction of a therapist with expertise. I absolutely think your brothers should know. It’s time, for the first time in decades, that your family deals honestly with your legacy. At the least this revelation creates an opening for you and your other siblings to maybe begin to have a relationship with your oldest sister and even her children. That could be the blessing to come out of all this tragedy.
Q. Not a Bridesmaid: This is trivial, but I’m struggling to get past it. I don’t have many friends and my closest friends don’t live nearby. When I got married, my friends flew from far away to be here. Now, my best friend is getting married and didn’t make me a bridesmaid. I knew she had a lot of friends, but I thought I’d at least be a bridesmaid. She brought it up on the phone and the decision had clearly caused her a lot of stress, so I let her off the hook. I said it was not a big deal, that I understood. It sounds like I missed the cutoff, and that someone from our friend group is already represented, so I’ll just be a guest. I love her and I don’t want to cause her any stress, but I am heartbroken. She was my maid of honor and now I know where I really stand in her rankings. I wanted to stand up for her, to be there for her the way she was for me. I’ve never had my heart broken, but I think it must feel a little like this. I have to travel for this wedding and I’m worried I will be crying in the pew for the wrong reason. Can you say something to help me shake this off?