Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Making your choice is but half of courage: You have it own it
Atlanta: My wonderful boyfriend and I have decided to get married. Next Tuesday. At City Hall. Neither of us can stomach the idea of a big show and feel it is really a private matter — the rest of the marriage is when other people get to butt in.
My parents are going to be upset. Really upset. I'm the only daughter, and my mom has been making noises about how much she's looking forward to planning our wedding and when are we going to get engaged already? This is exactly why we're doing it the way we are.
Is there a good way to handle this? We are going to my home soon, and I planned on telling them then. In person, with enough people around that there hopefully won't be a scene. Am I being a coward?
Carolyn: Yes. You're being brave in taking steps to live your life on your terms — but your courage runs out when it comes to owning it.
Don't sneak around like naughty children, don't hide behind a crowd when you tell the truth, don't present the truth to Mom as a fait accompli. All of those choices are setting this up to be an act of bad faith.
Please talk to your mother, face-to-face if possible, and be prepared to say, "Mom, you've talked about planning my wedding for as long as I can remember. I wish I felt the same way, but I don't want a big wedding. And so I am not going to have a big wedding.
" 'Guy' and I are going to get married on (date here) at City Hall. If there were a way for both of us to have what we want, then I would do it, but since our desires are so far apart, I have to go with what's right for Guy and me. I know this will be hard to accept, but I hope you will also find a way to be happy for us."
It's not a very original speech, and there's a reason for that. When you choose to act against a parent's wishes, you need to hit certain specific key points:
• Acknowledging their position.
• Showing you care about it even though you disagree.
• Laying out your priorities and course of action.
• Demonstrating your resolve.
• Opening the door for peace.
It can help, too, to offer some form of compromise — namely, to invite your parents to give their blessing to this choice by being present at the wedding as witnesses. That's your call, because it depends on their ability to play along — and your ability to say, "We've invited you as a witness, and nothing else, which means no catered lunch afterward" (or wherever you want to draw your line).
If you really, really can't trust your mom not to show up with Aunt Mary, Cousin Lou and a tray of Swedish meatballs, then, yes, she's leaving you no choice but to tell her either after the fact or without naming the date or location.
Still, don't use the hide-behind-a-crowd option. That usually just makes people feel even angrier about the controversial news. Tell her privately. Don't escalate where it's still possible to manage, contain and divert.