I'm guessing addressing the invitation to just my dad isn't going to cut it
July 31, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I (or can I at all) not invite my dad's wife to my upcoming wedding?

So three years ago my dad left my mom after 27 years of marriage for a woman he had been corresponding with online. They got married some time last year.

I'm less angry about it, or at least I'm actively working on that. I've met her several times and it's been pleasant enough. However, I'm getting married next year and I don't want her there. Is that even something I can ask for and if so how?

One reason is to avoid drama at the event. I'm not secretly hoping that my parents will get back together--hell, I'm not even hoping for cordial. My wildest dream (which I'm enlisting basically everyone attending to achieve) is for them to not speak and stay as far on other sides of the room as the floor plan allows. I'd like to minimize the number of potential volatile situations & actors.

The other is that I'm giving it my best but it's very painful for me to be around the two of them. I understand that she's part of my dad's life now and I need to get to know her. She seems to make my father happy and I'm glad for that, although it's kind of tempered by the fact that their happiness has been achieved at the expense of a lot of pain for me and my mom. That's just how life goes sometimes, I get it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. There's nothing for that but time (an apology might be nice too but I understand I'm not going to get one) and I just don't feel ready yet.

So, can I ask her not to attend or is this unforgivably rude? If I can, how? My dad is not the best at emotional nuance and I'm afraid he'll be offended, and of course I want him to be there. I thought it might be best to try to explain to her directly but I'm starting to think that'd be worse. They are in town for the next week so this would probably be the only chance to talk to them in person before the wedding, if that's necessary. Thanks for your advice.
posted by animalrainbow to Human Relations (95 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, you cannot not invite your dad's wife to your wedding. You can invite them both or neither of them, but they are a social unit and they come as a pair. I am very sorry; I know that isn't the answer you want and I do realise this sucks for you.

If this is a priority then you need to plan a different kind of wedding, which is what many of us have done to deal with unmanageable family permutations. Sorry.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:43 AM on July 31, 2012 [49 favorites]

You can skip inviting him. But inviting your father, and not his wife, is definitely offensive. When it comes to social invitations - and especially wedding invitations - couples are a package deal.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:44 AM on July 31, 2012

If I were you, I'd elope just to escape the drama.

There's no way you can invite your dad but not his partner without it coming off as incredibly rude, and if I were your dad I'd be very offended. And if I were your mom, I might be really offended if you invited them both and they attended. Good luck.
posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on July 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

There is no way to do this without offending your father and his wife. If you can't deal with both of them being there and you don't want to be rude, then eloping is probably the only solution.
posted by amro at 8:45 AM on July 31, 2012

Yeah, sadly there's no middle ground between "bring the whole family" and "you're not invited." You can take some solace in the fact that the time you will spend interacting with any single person at your wedding, even close family, is quite small.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:46 AM on July 31, 2012

I don't think there is any way you can not invite her without leaving a rift. Consider that someday you may find to have a relationship with both of them, and when your wedding inevitably comes up in conversation, it will always feel awkward.

Think of it this way: you certainly don't have to invite them for Sunday dinner every week. But the wedding? She's invited if he is.
posted by juliplease at 8:47 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless they're a sex offender or there's a restraining order (or some other legal restriction on where they can and cannot go), there's really no way to not invite someone's husband or wife. At least not without dropping a drama bomb that will end up screwing up some aspect of the wedding somehow. It just doesn't work that way. At the absolute minimal end of the spectrum, your dad will just not go if his wife is explicitly not invited. And he will certainly be offended.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on July 31, 2012

Honestly I would give your father and his wife the benefit of the doubt. They'd know their dual presence would be received poorly.

I would straight out tell him: "Dad, I don't want to sound rude, but I don't want [Julia] at my wedding."

Be completely straight forward and honest. Say you don't want the tension her presence will bring at your wedding. Express that you understand that he loves her*, and that you don't mind her, but for everyone involved it's best if she abstains from the wedding.
posted by royalsong at 8:47 AM on July 31, 2012 [17 favorites]

You've focused all of your anger on your Dad's wife, and very little of it on your Dad. He's the one who broke his marriage vows and broke up his home.

Ultimately this was between your Mom and your Dad, it was their relationship that broke up. Your Dad didn't break up with you. As for your Dad's wife, who knows what your Dad told her about his situation when he was courting her?

You seem very intent on wanting your Dad at your wedding, but not his wife. Is there any reason to believe that either your Mom, your Dad or your Dad's wife would act badly if they were all in a room celebrating your marriage? Your Dad's wife didn't do anything to you, she had the bad luck (and judgment) to fall in love with a married man.

They don't all have to get along, but they do have to act like adults.

As others have noted it's an all or nothing proposition.

I'd sit down with your Mom and then with your Dad and his wife separately and outline the following:

"I love you and want you to be at my wedding. I know that this can be socially awkward, but since it's a very important family occasion, I want my family to be there. Can you put aside your anger and hostility towards each other for this one day?"

If you can't trust one of the three adults to do this, then the adults who are questionable aren't invited.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on July 31, 2012 [29 favorites]

It's better to go ahead and invite her. She won't just disappear because she isn't at your wedding. She'll be around for a good portion of your life, and you need to figure out how to be okay with her.

Also, I would also suggest that your anger at her is misplaced. It seems odd that you've forgiven your father for breaking up your family, but that your father's wife has to absorb your negativity. She didn't make your father leave. She didn't lure him into a relationship. Your father chose to leave and is far more responsible for the pain you and your mother went through than your father's wife.
posted by discopolo at 8:48 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not to mention that not inviting her is the kind of snub that would damage your relationship with your dad irrevocably. Unless she's Charles Manson wearing a long blonde wig, she's gotta be invited. Sorry, dude.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:48 AM on July 31, 2012

FFS guys, I'm aware it takes three to tango. Trust me, I am plenty mad at my father--hell, I'm angry enough at my mother! The difference being I have a preexistong relationship with each of them, which has involved working through some of these things. Can we drop the blamey shit?
posted by animalrainbow at 8:51 AM on July 31, 2012 [23 favorites]

It is, unfortunately, unforgivably rude to ask your father's wife not to attend your wedding.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:54 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

While I respect most of the opinions offered above, I think you definitely can not invite your father's wife. Is it a good idea? Probably not. It will probably seriously harm your relationship with both your father and his wife. However, I am of the (somewhat radical, I guess) opinion that, when it comes to weddings, the bride and groom are allowed to invite (or not) anyone they want and no one is allowed to get upset. It should be noted that this serves me well as a wedding guest, but not quite as well when I was planning my own wedding.

A lot of this is going to depend on the relationship you have with your father, but I think that royalsong's advice of radical honesty is a good idea.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:55 AM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

But... why is it fair to this woman to direct all your anger at her? You say you've worked through some of the anger for your parents, but it looks like you're just redirecting it in her direction, because she's the "safe" option, someone you haven't spent your life loving.

I think you should look at this as an opportunity to start letting some of that go. She probably isn't going away, and you'll be a lot happier if you don't spend so much energy hating someone who, after all, isn't the one who left your mom.
posted by something something at 8:56 AM on July 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

Nope, you can't not invite her. There's no way to do that that isn't incredibly offensive, and I don't even think you can suggest to your father that you would like her to skip it. You may be able to have a gentle conversation with your father about wanting to be sure there's no drama at the event, but given what you've written here, it seems unlikely you could have that conversation with sufficient grace to avoid creating an issue. I'd skip it.

(BTW, I dont blame you for being pissed, but your larger goal here, if you want an ongoing relationship with your dad, should be family comity.)
posted by OmieWise at 8:58 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

First idea: enlist other people to make sure your parents are having a good time and keeping out of each other's way... maybe your father's brother can look out for him while your mother's best friend stays by her side. Don't assign this job to your siblings as they need to keep a relationship with both parents.

Next, anticipate that there will be mixed feelings among your circle of friends and family, especially those who knew your parents over many years. Some will still be furious at one or the other of them. But others will just be happy to see whichever of your parents they've lost contact with simply because they miss their friend. Try not to let this get under your skin and, instead, view it as a distraction service as well as a means for everyone to acclimate to the new reality.

Here's a possibility that's worth considering: having your father's new wife around may be helpful. If your father is prone to outbursts, she can perhaps keep him in check. If your mother wants to rail at your father, she may resist that temptation to avoid affirming whatever bad impression she thinks the new wife carries. The best snub is always impeccable behavior.

Finally, stay focused on what matters: enjoying the day with your new spouse and celebrating your connection with each other. Build a protective cocoon and don't let the adult babies penetrate it; they don't reflect on you at all, only on themselves.
posted by carmicha at 8:58 AM on July 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yeah, sure you can not invite her. But you probably won't like the consequences (hurt father, potentially huge drama before the wedding).

If you do feel strongly enough, do what royalsong says and hope for the best.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:59 AM on July 31, 2012

If you don't invite her, I think there is a high chance your father will not come.
posted by sutel at 9:01 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I understand that she's part of my dad's life now and I need to get to know her.

If you disinvite her to your wedding (because, practically, that's how you'd have to do it -- Dad, you can come, but she can't) I don't know that you will get the opportunity to do this.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:01 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

So I'd expect people to act like adults and understand it's not about them, so I'd sit them down independently, let them know everyone is being invited and that everyone is expected to act like it's a wonderful day for their kid (you) and if they can't do that to please excuse yourself because you don't want the memory of your wedding day to be tainted by having to eject a parent. Let them know that the day is about you and your family and that needs to remain the focus.

I am guessing they will understand this approach, but I'd make sure they understood that if they couldn't keep with that program it would be really difficult and heartbreaking to you.
posted by iamabot at 9:02 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Weddings are one of a short list of things that you automatically remember for a long, long time after the event. I understand how you feel now; the question is, do you think you're always going to feel that way? 'Cause your father's wife's absence will long outlast the ceremony itself.
posted by Mooski at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is absolutely no way to do this without causing way more trouble than having all of them at the wedding would cause. If you're inviting your dad, you have to invite his wife. You just do.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:05 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of these answers miss the fact that, if the OP's new stepmother comes to her wedding, drama will unfold. It's not about being angry at the new wife or anything like that, but more of a How-Do-I-Avoid-Police-Showing-Up-At-My-Wedding?!? kind of thing. As someone with a somewhat dysfunctional extended family, I think you are not out of line for thinking about how to keep your parents in separate corners, potentially without your dad's new wife.

Talk to your dad. Talk to your mom. Maybe ask a few reliable relatives to help police the situation?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:08 AM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Could you perhaps talk to him about it, being open and honest and not angry? Tell him that you would like him there, but that it would make you very sad if you worried about your mother feeling awful the whole time. You know he didn't intend to hurt her, or you, but you can't help how you feel (maybe he can relate to "I can't help how I feel", no?). And these will be intense emotions that would color the whole event, which should be a joyful, warm beginning to your relationship with your new spouse.

Then, offer something. Maybe have dinner or an afternoon of Putt-Putt with him and his wife, where you actually *do* get to know her. Maybe there's some activity she'd like to do, maybe with a friend or two, during the time of the wedding, and you could contribute to that: lunch? spa? trail ride on a horse? kayak lesson with picnic? Planning is much more valuable than money sometimes for stuff like this, and if you go to the trouble of coming up with an idea or two that you really think she'd enjoy (possibly with your Dad's help), it might go a long way to making the rest of your life lovlier.

_Don't_ present it as a "deal" you're offering. Don't even imagine that a spa trip will in any way be equal to attending your wedding -- she might be really hurt by this assumption. I'd talk, say how _you_ feel, then when they seem to understand, maybe say something like, "I know this won't in any way make up for it, but I'd also feel sad thinking about you sitting at home alone while Dad is doing his thing, so I thought about it and hoped you'd let me set you up with lunch with your friend / something maybe you'd enjoy doing (_don't_ say "instead") / this wacky idea I had of sending you to a kayaking lesson with Donna. Maybe in a few weeks we could all go kayaking together."

This may feel like you're still being unfair to your mom, so what the heck, plan something fun for her, too. It's not about money -- if you're worried about the expense, take her to the zoo, or to some free tour of something in your area.

Good luck. Congratulations on your wedding!
posted by amtho at 9:10 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, but no: it's considered bad manners to ever invite just one half of any married (or otherwise committed) couple. Trying to do so will only end up offending both your father and his wife, as would simply not inviting either your father OR his wife. (It would also be bad manners for any guests to issue some sort of "if they come to the wedding, they I won't be there!" ultimatum.)

The only way around this, I'm afraid, is to elope, and tell BOTH your parents AFTER the deed is done.
posted by easily confused at 9:11 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just think there's a realistic way to sit down with your father, and maybe even his wife, and explain your concerns. There's a world of difference between sitting down and having an adult conversation about it then just shouting dramatically: "I don't want HER at MY wedding!" Or leaving her off the invite.

I am a little too close to this situation and maybe that's coloring my opinion. My father had an affair with a neighbor and now he lives with her. Three doors away. The divorce was ugly and left my mother completely devastated and angry. Let me say that three years is an incredibly short period of time to come to grips with and learn to accept someone who has, in part, shaken the foundation of your family. All these people telling you to accept this woman just don't understand.

If I were in your situation, knowing my parents, I would not want her at my wedding either. Not because of my feelings, but because my wedding would be marred by the unhappy currents between my parents, the neighbor, and the family members who take my dad or mother's side. There's so much more to this then just your feelings about her.

Maybe meet half way. Have her at the wedding ceremony but not at the reception. Very little interaction happens during the ceremony anyways. Or maybe do a special dinner just between your father, his wife, you, and your soon to be spouse.
posted by royalsong at 9:12 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would tweak royalsong's advice a bit, while also affirming that it's definitely okay not to want the woman at the wedding who your dad left your mom for. Social graces aren't infinitely maleable to whatever it is that other people decide to do. I would not not invite her in this particular case. However, I would be very honest with your father: "Dad, I love you and want you at the wedding, but because of the pain that was caused by ..., I need you to know that having ... there will be very painful for me, and part of me dreads seeing her there." Then leave it in his hands.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:14 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of these answers miss the fact that, if the OP's new stepmother comes to her wedding, drama will unfold. It's not about being angry at the new wife or anything like that, but more of a How-Do-I-Avoid-Police-Showing-Up-At-My-Wedding?!? kind of thing.

This is a very important point I think.

How about, you invite one parent (say Mom) to the wedding and another (Dad + wife) to the reception, so they're never in the same room as each other. AND you sit down with all of them separately beforehand and tell them exactly why you are doing this. Perhaps they will agree, in which case you can have your loved ones with you on your special day and know that there won't be drama. Perhaps they will protest and promise to behave. See, at the end of the day I'm sure your parents love you and they won't want your wedding day to suck for you. So that's always a possibility. In which case, hold them to that promise then, and invite all of them.

I have been invited to "only" the wedding and "only" the reception on separate occasions and I don't think it's particularly weird. Anyway, so that's one option for you. Good luck!
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:14 AM on July 31, 2012

I just want to say I completely understand why you feel this way. I don't think it's irrational and I don't think it means you are piling all the blame on your father's new wife.

However, I agree with everyone that you have to invite both your father and his wife or neither of them.
posted by sallybrown at 9:17 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm afraid I'm not seeing an elegant way of inviting your father without inviting his new wife.

However, you say that you would prefer that your mother and your father stay on opposite sides of the reception hall and avoid each other, and it strikes me that if your father brought his wife along, that may actually help bring about that exact thing.

It also strikes me that you could take each of your parents aside and say "look, I am planning on inviting [other parent] to this wedding, and just wanted to feel you out/brace you about that." That's an act of kindness for each of your parents -- okay, they probably sort of expect that you're planning on it anyway, but at least it makes this official -- and it'd serve as a subtle warning to them that you want them to be on their best behavior. And for your father, it'd be a reminder that "oh, wait, yeah, [mother] is actually going to be there at the wedding, and it may spur him to leave his new wife home on his own. (although, this is kind of unlikely.)

If you have a sibling or close relative that could keep an eye on your parents for you and run interference if it looks like things are getting tense between them so you don't have to worry about it, this may also be a really good idea.

Good luck. This is what taking the high road looks like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I invited my father and his wife. Was not happy about it, but my Dad surprised me and told me that his wife was uncomfortable traveling such a long distance (500 miles is a long distance?) for such a short period of time and would not be able to attend. He hoped I would understand. She didn't wnat to be part of any drama as much as I did not want her to be. Maybe your dad will surprise you. But, you need to find out by inviting them both.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:19 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why not call up your dad and discuss this with him? You can say "Dad, I'm making up the invitations now and I'm kind of stuck on yours... I would love to have you there but Mom and the rest of the family will be upset if NewWife is there." you can then continue to say "what do you think I should do?" or "do you think NewWife would mind not coming along?".

Does NewWife know that people do not want her at the wedding? If so, maybe she won't attend. Why would she want to go to an event that she's unwelcome at? You're going to come off as rude to someone whether it be to your mom for discounting her feelings and inviting NewWife or dad for not inviting NewWife, so might as well just do what makes you happy. And yes, people usually go to these events with their SOs but being apart for a couple hours won't kill anyone. And not everyone likes attending weddings either!

Address the invitation to both your dad and his new wife after this phone conversation, with the expectation that NewWife will not be RSVPing.
posted by lovelygirl at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

There is no way to not invite your father's wife. Full stop.
posted by ellF at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2012

I'm going to go against the majority and say that I think it's fine to just invite your father and not his wife.

I mean, it's not really "fine" but I think it's understandable. There would be hurt feelings, but I think it would be worth it. If your father expects you to forgive him for leaving your mom, then I think it's fair for you to expect him to forgive you for not inviting his wife to the wedding. If you have an honest conversation with your dad about feeling that this is the right decision for you, it's up to him to take it well or offer some kind of compromise.

That said, if you do choose to invite both and both of them come, things like this usually go better than you would think.
posted by smirkyfodder at 9:22 AM on July 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

A good friend of mine did not attend her husband's adult daughter's wedding because the mother would be present and it would give rise to unneccessary drama. She chose not to. Is there anyway to communicate this nuance to your stepmother?
posted by infini at 9:22 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's your big day you should be allowed to have it your way, if your father can't deal with that then he shouldn't be allowed to come (I personally would seriously reconsider how much I wanted him in my life if he didn't get that)

I think your best bet is to tackle the problem straight on but I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts he'll catch hell for it from his new wife if he agrees to come without her, I picture lots of shouting on her part about how your mother is behind all this! Possibly it would be best to ask your dad to pretend it comes from him, that he's concerned your mother will cause a scene and he doesn't want to spoil your big day?

Longshot idea: Have you picked a date yet? If not can you pick one that would conflict with another of her plans? (warning: may backfire if she picks your wedding)

Longershot: Could you somehow engineer something else she'll have to do on the same day?
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 9:24 AM on July 31, 2012

Is there anyway to communicate this nuance to your stepmother?

I think this is what I was actually asking for advice on.
posted by animalrainbow at 9:27 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parents were in the middle of a very messy divorce when I graduated from college. I attempted to hold 2 graduation parties to avoid the drama. It was a terrible bomb that created years of animosity from every angle.

You have to invite both or neither.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:27 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the drama perspective, I've had some friends go through this exact scenario and after thinking about it for a while, this was my conclusion: "Dad, I don't want any drama between you and mom. It's MY day. If ya'll can't behave yourself, consider that for future endeavors (eg, birth of grandkids), your attendance will be in jeopardy if you cannot leave the drama at home." Same caveat for the wife & mom or whomever else.

No matter how the wedding goes, there will be reasons for your mom and dad (and his wife) to potentially be in the same room. And the drama will still be a very real possibility 1, 5, 10, 20 years down the road. Start setting the expectations now.
posted by jmd82 at 9:33 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Inviting your Dad but not his new wife will not reduce drama but will guarantee it. It gives him leave to be pissed about the whole affair. This is this course of action is probably the opposite of what you want.

Either invite him and his new partner or don't invite them at all. You can seat them well apart from you mother and her family, you can delegate a trusted, stable friend to mind them, you can tell your dad that he and his new partner are on thin ice and need to be quiet as church mice, but you can't tell him not to bring his wife unless you are looking for a fight and possibly a long feud.
posted by bonehead at 9:35 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this is what I was actually asking for advice on.

Depends on your stepmother and your father's personalities. Will they appreciate it if you get real with them and say something to the effect of "Hey, can we sit down and address the huge elephant in the room? This family dynamic is relatively new and emotional enough that I am afraid it will derail my wedding and it is causing me an intense amount of stress. I would love to celebrate with you also, but can you and I do it at a different time?" Would they anticipate that and appreciate your honesty? Or will they be caught off guard, hurt, and offended?

An alternate approach would be to go to your mother (and maybe other family members), tell her you love her, and then ask her to do as much as she can to be the bigger person for just the day. She doesn't need to shower your father and his new wife with kisses, but she can at least do her best to disengage from the situation, stay on the other side of the room, and put on a happy face for you.
posted by sallybrown at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2012

A good friend of mine did not attend her husband's adult daughter's wedding because the mother would be present and it would give rise to unneccessary drama. She chose not to. Is there anyway to communicate this nuance to your stepmother?

I think this is what I was actually asking for advice on.

The urge to arrive with your father at a huge family event, looking fabulous and 10 years younger than your weeping mother, may simply be too much for her to resist. If you're relying on her to take the high road for everyone's good, there is a very high chance you will be disappointed.

It is not that I don't understand where you are coming from. My MIL spent quite a lot of our wedding crying in the bathroom because he ex was there with his new wife of 15 years. She wasn't being a drama queen; she hadn't seen him in a long time and it was very painful. What she didn't do is cause a scene at her son's wedding.

All you can do is tell all these people that you know there will be tensions and that you are relying on them to be grownups and help make sure this stays a great day for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:37 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you on generally decent terms with Newwife? You could speak to her kindly and privately, explain that you're concerned that drama will erupt at the wedding, and ask her to help you come up with ways to avoid it.

If you make it more of a team effort and ask for everyone's thoughts about it- she might realize her absence would be best. Or she might come up with something that will put your mind at ease. Coming at her with the solution "howbout you just not come" would likely not go over well.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:38 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I will go in with the folks saying that you need to talk to your Dad about this. Be a grownup. Say that this is a difficult thing to ask but that his new wife is a pretty fresh reminder of your parents broken marriage.

It's one thing when people divorce and then move on and form new partnerships. It's another raw emotional event when people first find new partners and then divorce. I suppose not always but I'm guessing this is the case here. Your Dad formed a new partnership and then dumped your Mom. Just three years ago.

If this is a raw and painful event for your mother, then you need to have a straight up talk with your Dad. Decide first where your line in the sand is. Do not get emotional. Do not bring in other side topics. Just state your case: "For my wedding, I'd like to have both you and Mom there to give me away but I'm really uncomfortable with your new wife being there. Seeing her and Mom in the same room would be very painful for me. I think it would be painful for Mom as well though she has said nothing like that. What can we do?" Then think on his answer. If he pitches a fit, ask him to just think about it and you'll address it again at a later date.

Talk to your Mom as well. How would she feel? Would it make you feel better if you felt like she was emotionally okay to deal with her? She's mostly likely already thinking about this -- ask her what would happen if Dad brought newwife?

Ultimately, you may decide that your mother's feelings here, which mirror some of your own, trump your Dad's (if he even feels that way).

There's no "good" way to do it, there's just doing it and proceeding in good faith.
posted by amanda at 9:39 AM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're set on not inviting your stepmother, one way to approach her about it would be to blame your mother - say that you just don't know how she's going to react, and that it would be a huge favor to you if your dad's wife could not come. Obviously there are BIG PROBLEMS with this approach, but to me it seems like it at least has a *chance* of working.

I don't know what degree of volatility/fallout you're expecting to result from her attending the wedding, but I would be willing to put up with a lot at the wedding if the alternative was alienating my parent's partner (and probably to some extent my parent) forever. Do you think she (or your mother) is going to start a fight? Or is this more like "so-and-so will give so-and-so the silent treatment" kind of stuff? Because some of the drama is going to happen even if your stepmother stays home and is not offended at all.

There's also the risk that you may one day come to accept this woman as part of your family and then feel bad about not inviting her.
posted by mskyle at 9:39 AM on July 31, 2012

I did actually do this. My situation was slightly different in that the divorce was still ongoing, so my dad had not yet married my now-step-mother. The state of bitterness in my family was so bad that both my dad and I expected that my mum would refuse to come to the wedding if he did. Dad told me he was prepared not to come if she took that stand, I told him my fiancé and I had discussed it and our view was that the parent handing out ultimatums was the one who wouldn't get to be there. However she surprised us both my not objecting and only requesting that he not give the father of the bride speech.

Given the circumstances, dad, fiancé and I all agreed that having both parents at the wedding with no fights was worth the compromise and inviting my step-mother-to-be was a step further than we thought feasible under the circumstances. I do know that my dad would have liked to have her there and left earlier than he would have done to go home to her. There were a lot of compromises - I still regret not having the nice father of the bride speech I see at so many other weddings and now that I know my step-mother better I do think it would have been nice if she could have come, but it was a difficult situation and I'm glad it went as well as it did.

One side-note - we had our reception in an L-shaped room. It wasn't intended, but it was a stroke of brilliance - my parents were out of sight of each other, relatives and friends on both sides could talk to both without being seen and feeling conscious of picking/betraying sides. If you haven't picked your reception venue yet I highly recommend one with some kind of separation or broken line of sight.

I know you said you plan to get to know your step-mother, but I wanted to share a perspective from a few years down the line. I wasn't thrilled about meeting her in the first place, but now I know her I like her as a person. I'm also hugely grateful for the way she cares for my dad and makes him happy. In retrospect, both my parents were hideously unhappy for at least the last 5 years of the marriage. Dad's had cancer twice in the last three years, including being nearly dead with lymphoma. Horrible as that was, it would have been ten times worse if he'd still been married to my mum and we were having to deal with the anger, bitterness and passive-aggressiveness that were part of the marriage long before my step-mother arrived on the scene. This may not apply to your situation, but you may feel very differently about her once the anger has died down and you've had a chance to get to know her.
posted by *becca* at 9:39 AM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

I personally think that you have to invite both of them and just assign people to be in charge of making sure all the warring parties are kept separated.

Is there anyway to communicate this nuance to your stepmother?

I think this is what I was actually asking for advice on.

Having said that, I think it might be possible to have a private conversation with this woman and lay out your feelings on the matter without being dramatic about it.

What is her personality like? Is she a high drama person? Because if she is a high drama person, I don't think there is any kind of nuance possible to achieve your goal. She'll take offense, your father will take offense, and that's just going to make it harder on you. However, if she seems like a reasonable human being, you stand a better chance. She knows that the situation is contentious, and perhaps she's not interested in going.
posted by crankylex at 9:40 AM on July 31, 2012

As others have said, they are a package deal. You have to decide whether you want your Dad there enough to risk drama or not. I've been to weddings where Dad + Stepmother were not invited, it is an option. But it's a pretty thermonuclear move. If you want to move forward acknowledging things as they are, invite them both and set clear expectations that they will fucking behave or they will miss out on future events. If you are planning on having kids, do not underestimate the awesome power of future grandchildren over your parents. They act their age now or they miss out later.

Sit your Dad down and tell him that you struggled with this and tell him that you are expecting the best out of him at your wedding.

If people can't keep their shit together at a wedding, then they deserve to be frozen out. But give them a chance.
posted by ambrosia at 9:40 AM on July 31, 2012

I would sit down with your Dad and his new wife say something like, "While I'm excited about my upcoming wedding, I'm already very worried about any drama that will unfold between you and Mom. I don't want to be exclusionary, rude, or cause a rift, but I'm starting to think it would be best for everyone concerned if Stepmom skipped this particular event. What do you think?" Then listen to what they say. I agree inviting your Dad without his new spouse is not an option, but there is nothing wrong with having an honest but calm problem-solving discussion between adults. They just might surprise you. Also, if your Stepmom does stay home, it will be much easier to avoid hard feelings if she feels part of the discussion and knows you aren't trying to make a statement with your wedding. Best of luck and congrats!
posted by katemcd at 9:44 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the expected sources of drama at weddings are never the actual sources of drama at weddings.

I have found that people in situations such as these tend to behave well. There may very well be drama of some sort at your wedding, but I bet it doesn't come from one of these three.
posted by etc. at 9:47 AM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Honestly, if I were NewWife in this situation I would have no expectation or desire to be a part of your wedding. It's a roomful of people from your father's previous life, with many/most/all of them wishing evil on my very existence. Speak with her and your father plainly, as has been advised above, and give her the chance to make the right decision.

And if they throw a hissy about it? Well, at least you know going forward that their need to display their couplehood is so important that overshadows their better judgement. Let that shape your future interactions with them.
posted by apparently at 9:50 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you on generally decent terms with Newwife? You could speak to her kindly and privately, explain that you're concerned that drama will erupt at the wedding, and ask her to help you come up with ways to avoid it.

My friend has adult daughters as well and all the daughters are welcomed as one family to their summer homes etc and it was primarily because she was on good terms with her stepdaughter that she chose not to go. She wasn't being noble or highminded, it did hurt for her to be left out of the family function, but I admired her more for acknowledging that the wedding was more about actual birth families than her getting her spot in the limelight.

There are welcoming ways to make this easier for your stepmother, perhaps taking her out for some wedding shopping and what not and then actually bringing up your concerns about Dad adn Mom together at teh wedding and asking her for advice on what she thought you should do might help find ways for all to feel included as well.
posted by infini at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2012

If they were merely dating, then you might be able to invite just your dad. But, they're married. You either invite them both or invite neither of them. To invite just your dad would be incredibly rude and would likely only serve to further harm your relationship with your father.
posted by asnider at 9:53 AM on July 31, 2012

First, I'm sorry you're in this situation. I think you have every right to be angry at all parties involved.

There's no polite way to not invite the wife. I would send the invitation and ask her to go to lunch later that week. Communicate your fears for drama, tell her you really want all the important players there. Let her in on the secret. If she has any social graces, she will either want to conspire with you to make sure your day is perfect, or she will bow out of the wedding. Don't talk about this over the whole lunch and don't point fingers. Feathers will probably be ruffled if there's pointing. Move on to the flower arrangements or your dress or something once you've said your piece and she's reacted.

If she doesn't pick up on what you're telling her, it's time to plan damage control. Mom needs someone and Dad and Wife need someone. These someones will keep them away from each other and busy. It's a tried and true plan of attack; worked perfectly at my aunt's wedding.

I would not sit down with your dad. He sounds like my dad, who would just be terribly hurt and offended and take this as license to cause a scene. I think the key, if you decide to invite them, is to talk to the new wife like a confidant, so that she feels included in the Goings On and the decision to not attend falls on her. I don't even know why she would want to go - everyone in the room will have some amount of knowledge of the situation, right?

I really, really hope this is resolved in a good way for you. Congratulations on the marriage thing.
posted by goosechasing at 9:53 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depends on your stepmother and your father's personalities. Will they appreciate it if you get real with them and say something to the effect of "Hey, can we sit down and address the huge elephant in the room? This family dynamic is relatively new and emotional enough that I am afraid it will derail my wedding and it is causing me an intense amount of stress. I would love to celebrate with you also, but can you and I do it at a different time?" Would they anticipate that and appreciate your honesty? Or will they be caught off guard, hurt, and offended?

I like this a lot except for the "but can you and I do it at a different time" part, if only because it's a bit on-the-nose.

A lot will indeed depend on the personalities of your father and his wife, but there is nothing whatsoever wrong with you going to your father and saying, "here's my situation and I don't know how to resolve it." Even if it involves him. Even if you're an adult, too, he's still in some ways The Adult and can jolly well act like it.

I wouldn't necessarily say these specific words, but I would definitely communicate something like this: "Dad, I have a problem that you've helped to create, and you are going to help me fix it. Mom's coming -- that's non-negotiable. It is very very important to me -- I cannot stress this enough -- that Mom has a good time at my wedding. I'm concerned that if NewWife comes, Mom will have a terrible time, which will go a long way to ruining my special day. I'm not saying that NewWife can't or shouldn't come. I'm also not trying to get into a conversation about blaming you, but your divorce and remarriage has put me in a spot and I am looking to you to help me manage it. What do you suggest?"

If your Dad's an asshole about your question and refuses to suggest or consider anything, do your best to remain calm. You can say something like "I came to you for advice and I feel like you're [shouting/blaming/manipulating] me instead of helping me to sort out this problem. I'm disappointed. I feel hurt when I was hoping to feel helped. I'd like you to think about that." And then leave it there for a while.

It's okay if not everybody is happy.
posted by gauche at 9:56 AM on July 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

difference being I have a preexisting relationship with each of them

I don't see how this gets around the notion that wedding invitations are traditionally issued to couples. Have you sent invitations to your single friends "and guest"? Are you equally close to the spouses of the friends you have invited?

I'm sorry that you are having to deal with this. Fortunately, you still have several months before the event. I hope that by then everyone involved will be capable of acting like an adult.
posted by she's not there at 9:58 AM on July 31, 2012

I also think sitting down and talking honestly with each person is actually the least dramatic, most adult way of handling the situation.

In my husband's family there is a similar situation, but husband's mom is the 2nd wife. There is so much tip-toeing around sensitive feelings. All the work around on our part is just including us in drama from before my husband was born. Husband's half siblings have been dealing with it their whole lives and it is passing on to the grand kids. It is a bad cycle to get caught up in!

I hope you can be honest with everyone! Putting the hard work in now should pay off in the future (as others have said!!).
posted by Swisstine at 10:07 AM on July 31, 2012

Yes you can not invite her. My brother didn't invite my Dad's wife to his wedding and the circumstances were much better than you describe.

No hard feelings and it worked out just fine.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your revised question (How can I communicate to my stepmother that it would be gracious of her to decline to attend?) is both reasonable and smart. Here's the problem: In situations where a gracious absence makes sense, everybody usually knows it.

I realize you said your father isn't great at emotional nuance. But this isn't really "nuance." Everybody knows that having mom, dad, and stepmom in the same room is going to be awkward. Now, the fact that weddings are emotional days and how that emotional dynamic may render everyone more susceptible to volatility...that might be nuance. But the general discomfort of having everybody together for the first time isn't. It's obvious. Everybody already knows it. Just like everybody knows it's "your day," and just like everybody knows that wedding invitations can be declined.

So the trouble with communicating to dad or stepmom that you'd like her to be graciously absent is that they already know that's an option, and the gracious thing would be to volunteer before you get a chance to ask. Clearly they haven't done that. Soooo...? It's a bit like asking someone to send you a thank-you note. They have put you in a spot by not offering.

I've had several family experiences along similar lines—not identical, but similar. My advice would be to sit down with your dad, and be explicit. Try to phrase your message nonconfrontationally, but approach it as exactly what it is: something he knows already is an option and something that he should have talked to you about, not vice versa. You can be gentle, calm, and quiet while still being explicit. Emphasize that this is supposed to be your day. Emphasize that these are not, however, your problems. The correct, mature, fatherly, gentlemanly, pick-your-adjective thing to do is to solve this problem to the extent it has been imposed upon you. Honestly, in much smaller terms it's essentially the same principle as having your dad open the door for you.

Lastly, if this would be the first time mom and stepmom would be in the same room together...? (You didn't mention whether the women have met.) Super awkward and not at all an okay thing to use your wedding for. In that case, the etiquette-correct thing for all three to do (the onus shifts to mom, unfortunately, if dad and stepmom don't take the initiative) is to meet for a polite coffee, lunch, whatever several weeks or months before the wedding. They should defuse that dynamic prior to your wedding. Again...this should not be your problem, but sometimes parents let "their" problems trickle down to their kids. I'm sorry if that's what you're dealing with.
posted by cribcage at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lastly, if this would be the first time mom and stepmom would be in the same room together...?

That's correct. I've only met her twice, and her and my father live 2000 miles away from the city my mother and I live in.
posted by animalrainbow at 10:13 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I notice that a lot of the answers suggesting scripts for talking to Dad (or Dad and Wife) include something along the lines of, "I don't want to be rude, but..."

Here's the thing: it is rude. It is rude to invite only half of a married couple to a wedding, regardless of the circumstances under which they met or how much you dislike the spouse.

I don't condone infidelity, and I certainly understand not wanting one parent's affair partner at your wedding. But it would be deeply disingenuous to say, "I don't want to be rude, but please ask your wife to stay home." It would be much more honest to say something like, "I am still so angry at you, Dad, that I can't even think about your new marriage. I know that this is rude, and I'm saying it anyway: I don't want your wife there. I barely even want you there, given your behavior within our family, but I know I'll regret it if I don't invite you. I understand if you won't come without your wife, but I'm just not ready to accept her as family."
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:36 AM on July 31, 2012 [11 favorites]

If it was me, I'd be honest about the awkwardness and, couching it in terms that hold out hope for a better relationship as time goes on, I'd ask her if she could attend the wedding but not the reception. But but but! I'd use phrases like "I want to honor your place in my dads life and, hopefully, my family--but it's really awkward and early right now."

I'd offer a special breakfast the morning before the wedding or after, with you, her, dad and fiancée so that you can all "get to know each other better, as family."

In other words, I'd let bygones be bygones as part if the "payoff" to having new wife leave early. And do offer her a spa package or something. And don't let months pass before being in touch with them.

Basically, pay her off for making your wedding a better memory, by promising and then following through on having a better relationship with her in the future.

And you approach it from a one down position, meekly but honestly, because she is the one person who can fix this problem for you. And you might have to apologize for your earlier distance.

Another phrase that could come in handy "I don't deserve this kind of consideration, but..."
posted by vitabellosi at 10:40 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't have any real advice for how to deal with problem invitations (I just invited all of my difficult guests, and they RSVPed, but ended up not showing), but in terms of general crowd control and interference, do you have any talented friends or family members you could enlist to put together some kind of performance-based entertainment program during the reception, if everyone should end up coming? Not like a slideshow of old family photos or anything like that, but stuff like singing, magic tricks, pub trivia, or whatever -- scheduled sit-down activities that focus people's attention, so your parents aren't as likely to mill around the room trying to make potentially emotionally-fraught conversation with your guests.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:41 AM on July 31, 2012

And don't ignore her at the wedding. Get pics with her and dad before she leaves. And tell her it's the nicest thing anyone's done for you.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:42 AM on July 31, 2012

I think, that trying to imagine this from the new stepmother perspective, I could respect straightforwardness that didn't place blame on me. Something along the lines of:

"Dear [Stepmother], I know this is a new situation for all of us. I hope we can build a relationship moving forward. I'd really like to come and visit you in [other city] to get to spend time with you and dad. However,I'm worried that my wedding will be a complicated and stressful time to start building on that relationship. I know that navigating this situation is new to all of us, and I hope we can enjoy good times together in the years to come."
posted by mercredi at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree with the advice she "must" be invited because that is the social convention. She choose to get involved with a married man, he choose to have an affair - both of those are outside the social convention. They have to lie in the bed they made, no matter how uncomfortable it is for them.
posted by saucysault at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

There is an enormous difference between "married couples are a social unit" and "the parents of the bride are recently divorced and one of them is remarried to the woman he had an affair with." The bride's father has -- or should have -- a loyalty to his child as well as a loyalty to his new wife. He should also recognize she has a loyalty to her mother and that asking his child ON HER WEDDING DAY to take sides is cruel. Hopefully the new wife has the insight to understand how painful her presence would be rather than taking it as an opportunity to "prove" her new role.

I think you should talk with them and hope that she has the sensitivity to see how awkward this will be. But if you want permission, OP, you have my permission to ignore the "married couples are a social unit" rule (which I would otherwise never violate). There are other bonds at work here, as strong as or stronger than marriage (between a parent and a child), and there are other things at work -- deep family debates! -- than a social tolerance for someone unpleasant spouse!

Etiquette isn't about blindly following rules, especially when the rules create such a painful situation.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2012 [17 favorites]

You are making your dad choose between you and his wife.
If I were your dad, I would NOT choose you - by virtue of forcing that type of choice upon me, I would default choose against you.
posted by Flood at 10:50 AM on July 31, 2012

The short answer is "elope". In other words invite no one or maybe grab fiancee and mom one day and say "Today is the day. Hey, mom, you want to come to the court house withus and srrve as a witness?"

But I am pro-elopement anyway. I generally think a marriage is a contract between two people and other people need to butt out.

Best of luck finding an answer that works for you.
posted by Michele in California at 10:53 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

People sometimes give such strange advice about your relationship with your parents. The "It's none of your business!" flavor. Which - I don't know, does anybody actually live like that? When your parents have affairs and break up your family of origin, in whose family does that not have a huge impact on the children? You get to feel your own feelings about this stuff. Anything else makes for familial lunacy.

I think the way to go is to bring the whole problem to your dad, instead of trying to manage it all without involving him. Like "Hey, dad, thinking about my wedding is making me really stressed out. Here's the thing. It's really important to me that you and mom both be there to celebrate with me. But I'm worried that if NewWife comes with you, there will be drama and even if there isn't, I'll spend the whole day super tense and worried that people are going to freak out at each other. And I won't be able to enjoy my own wedding. What do you think is the best way to handle this?"

If a person splits up with their spouse and marries the person you had an affair with, sometimes people are going to have complicated feelings about that. Them's kind of the breaks for your dad, in my opinion. You don't have to be a flaming jerk about it, but I think that hiding these kinds of feelings and make the whole messy situation Your Problem makes you crazy. Ask him for help managing the situation his choices created. That's totally, totally fair.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:05 AM on July 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

[Constructive responses please folks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:24 AM on July 31, 2012

But if you want permission, OP, you have my permission to ignore the "married couples are a social unit" rule (which I would otherwise never violate). There are other bonds at work here, as strong as or stronger than marriage (between a parent and a child), and there are other things at work -- deep family debates! -- than a social tolerance for someone unpleasant spouse!

I think this is a good point, especially given the apparent disregard that the Father in question has showed for his marriage to the OP's mother. And as someone who had to deal with similar awkward difficulties at his own wedding, the angry, crabby part of me wants to throw my entire weight behind it because it appeals to my own sense of justice.

But at the same time, conventions are powerful, and the OP's Father and NewWife can easily use this convention to support their own feelings of being wronged, if they have them. This seems unjust: they have disregarded other conventions about marriage and in so doing have caused pain to the OP, so it feels in some ways unjust for them to be able to use this particular convention, but unfortunately I think that's how it will go.

OP, I think that the better thing is to make this your father's problem instead of yours. There's a lot of advice upthread about the conversation you can have with him, and I encourage you to pick and choose what you think is best based on your father's personality.

Also, I think (but am not sure) that you are a woman. If so, I want to suggest a tactic that you may find distasteful: going all Bridezilla on your Dad about this issue. Call him in tears about the wedding and make him understand that you are worried that it's going to be ruined because of Mom. You know how she gets, sometimes, Dad, she wants everything to be perfect and she's acting really touchy and sensitive. Make him understand that this is your Very Important Special Day And By God It's Going To Be Perfect. And that if your mother feels upset about anything, literally anything in the world on your wedding day, it will Ruin Your Special Day Forever and you Will Not Fucking Forgive anybody who makes your mother feel bad On Your Special Day. And then sweetly tell him that you are glad he's going to be there.

I suggest this because we have all been writing as though your relationship with your father was one of healthy boundaries and people owning their emotions, but it's possible that's not the situation after all. I'm not sure how I feel about the Bridezilla tactic myself, but I have seen that in some families, acting out is the only way to be heard over other people's shit. If you're in that position, and you might be now where you weren't, growing up, then you may want to consider acting out a bit to get what you want. It's okay. God knows, they've done it.
posted by gauche at 11:26 AM on July 31, 2012

Been there (a version of it) and eloped. Now that I'm thinking about it, I could also have handled a private ceremony-- just the two of us and a witness-- followed by a party to which all and sundry were invited. What was really bothering me was the notion of saying vows in front of certain people.
posted by BibiRose at 11:56 AM on July 31, 2012

One more voice that you absolutely do not have to invite the newwife (given the circumstances). Given the circumstances, it is entirely incumbent on your father and newwife to be considerate of your wishes.

Too, I like the thought of communication with the newwife (and the distance may open up a nice out.)

Weddings have always struck me as the bride's day. However you do it, make it right and good for you.
posted by ambient2 at 12:01 PM on July 31, 2012

Man, I am so surprised at how many people say you have to invite the new wife. Married couples are a social unit, sure, but you and your dad are also a social unit, and your dad and your mom are (still) a social unit (as parents), and this is a messy situation where all those social units maybe can't coexist peacefully. I do not think that you have to bow to convention if it will truly create a miserable and drama-filled situation at your wedding.

I would not just not invite her. Many people have offered good scripts for a discussion with one or both of them about the situation. If your dad and his wife are too selfish to wrap their brains around your reasons for not wanting her there, then that's their problem. They can be gracious and understanding about the difficult situation that they created, or they can be self-absorbed jerks about it. Your wedding isn't about them.
posted by Mavri at 12:22 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't believe you have to invite her. It may be a breach in etiquette not to, but I tend to think your dad and stepmom already committed a much bigger breach in etiquette by creating this situation in the first place! However, consider that your dad may refuse to attend the wedding if she isn't invited, or that they may comply with your request, but that this may further damage your relationship with your father in the long term.

I also think there's some danger of backfire in framing this as a request being made because of how hurtful stepmom's presence would be to your mother, given that they appear to have at least some history of insensitivity to mom's feelings.

Do you have a sibling, aunt, uncle, or some other relative close to your father who could possibly run interference here? All the better if it's someone generally known for having a shortage of tact. Maybe you invite step mom but ask someone else to point out the problems? My parents are divorced (no infidelity, but they still don't communicate with each other, which sometimes puts their adult kids in the middle of odd situations), and I end up doing this for my sister at times.
posted by scandalamity at 12:43 PM on July 31, 2012

If I were your dad, I would NOT choose you - by virtue of forcing that type of choice upon me, I would default choose against you.

Honestly, this sentiment almost made me cry. Maybe it's because I have a couple of girls, and I can't imagine this kind of callousness towards them by default.

If your Dad loves you, you should at least be able to have a conversation with him about how it's important in this case that he does consider your feelings, and to give them some deep thought, however it is that it ends up turning out. And it does not have to be a "forced" choosing as much as it does an honest conversation between the two of you about how this is effecting things. Even if it doesn't change anything, a general awareness of the situation can sometimes do wonders.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:31 PM on July 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

As others have said, this is pretty much the etiquette equivalent of declaring your father's new wife dead to you, and it's appallingly rude. Of course, she may not know that, or she might not care about formal etiquette, or she might be sad but understand that it's more important to have your father with you than to be strictly etiquettely correct.

But your wedding isn't until next year, so it's not like you have to make this choice now. Is there an opportunity to spend some time getting more comfortable with her between now and then? Or at least to discuss this issue with your father and understand what the likely reaction will be? Because etiquette rules are excellent for providing a baseline of behaviour for how to treat people whose preferences you don't know, but they aren't the be all and end all of conducting relationships either.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:38 PM on July 31, 2012

Something to consider: you said you're "getting married next year" --- when are you going to issue the invitations? If it's soon, then perhaps between now and the wedding date, there'll be plenty of time for all and sundry to get used to the idea, and plenty of time for everyone's emotions to chill.
posted by easily confused at 1:41 PM on July 31, 2012

I'd like to push back on the line of reasoning that, yeah, married couples are a social unit, but your dad and his wife broke up a social unit or that, yeah, it's proper etiquette to invite both partners, but your dad and his wife violated etiquette by having an affair. "They started it" is not a good standard for how to do the right thing.

Practically speaking, it looks as if Dad and his new wife are going to be a social unit for the foreseeable future. I suggest you consider having a serious conversation--even a confrontation, or series of conversations with your dad and/or his wife, to tell them about your anger and the hurt you feel about what's gone on in your family. Basically, consider letting them know that you value your relationship with your dad enough that you're willing to try, and that at the same time you feel that they both caused you enormous pain. And then, depending on how that goes, decide what to do about your wedding invitations. They don't need to go out more than a month or so in advance.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have to ask your father, so you have to ask his wife too. You are also stuck with her on the the top table, as that's where your dad needs to sit. Whether you can come to terms with the changes in the family or not, you need to declare a wedding day truce.
posted by w0mbat at 2:11 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my husband and I got married, his mother pulled one of those "well, if your father is coming, then I'm not coming"... and it devolved from there; and we decided to grab a few friends, the Dress Named Beast, and hop a plane to the Bellagio in Vegas. I called the hotel's planner in advance, and they had flowers and a gorgeous chapel design and photographer and everything was perfect. It was so much less stress for me than going through the 300+ person party where half the room hates the other half of the room because of that thing He Said To Our Sister that one time in 1970...

When we returned, we had a massive party for everyone whom we did not take to Vegas, told my mother there was an Elvis involved before we let her see the pictures (there was no Elvis, damn the luck). It was good fun, and I didn't end my wedding day by needing to hide any bodies. Which is nice.
posted by dejah420 at 2:33 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really have advice, per say, but my experience was that trying to get your parent to (in some way) turn against the person that they chose, especially if that choosing was hard won or came at some sort of loss,... well, no one wins. In a general sense, I don't think that anyone you don't want to be there HAS to be invited, Miss Manners be damned. But it will probably damage your relationship with your father and his wife in some way, no matter how you phrase it.

I apologise if I've missed this, but what exactly are you afraid of happening? I understand that the dissolution of the marriage and his entrance into the new one was a painful experience for you and your mom, and that these two women have never met in person, but since I'm not hearing much about residual anger (aside from yours) I'm wondering if it would be mostly awkward and perhaps painful, as opposed to some sort of dramatic confrontation.
posted by sm1tten at 2:54 PM on July 31, 2012

I would be the better person and invite her, but it's your choice. Just weigh the hurts and benefits accordingly. Say hello politely and acknowledge her, seat Mum on one side of the room and Dad+wife on the other, warn your ushers to intervene if there seems to be friction. Then you can spend as much time as you like with your Mum and be cordial, but limit your interactions with Dad+wife.

"I don't deserve this kind of consideration, but..." Why would you EVER say that to anyone? You deserve as much consideration as the next person, and saying that is passive-aggressive in the extreme.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2012

I'd like to clarify my earlier response in light of the other comments in this thread. When I say that you have to invite your dad's wife, I'm not talking about some kind of moral imperative. I think that wedding invitations, on the whole, are morally neutral. What I mean is that if you don't invite her she's going to be really, really pissed, and so is your dad. And you're going to get phone calls and things, and he might decide not to come. Basically, it's almost certain to create a whole lot of drama, which seems to be what you're trying to avoid in the first place.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:34 PM on July 31, 2012

Nthing the advice to put it on your parents to make nice. It's your freaking wedding (presumably your first), after all. I had some... delicate years with my own parents, and events that ran more or less successfully. T

he secret to success was the conversation along the lines of, "This is MY day, and I require your 100% support. If you let your feelings about other relationships affect my enjoyment of MY day, or try to put any onus on me to have anything to do with your issues, I will be unforgivably mad with you. I need 100% support, and visible pleasure from you at being in this important chapter in my life; if you can't or won't do that, reconsider your attendance because the consequences of detracting from my day will be dire. Please be courteous and respectful to everyone at the wedding, and do not let me see anything but blistering happiness from you. That will be the best present of all, thank you."

Adjust the levels of guilt-tripping/stridency/subtlety etc as required for each parent.
posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your wedding, your choices - bugger the rule book.

Do you want both your father and mother there? The advice about setting expectations (just be grown-up for a few hours for my day) is spot on. You don't want to give (or receive) ultimatums, but ask mum how she can feel most comfortable, and dad how he (and new wife) can defuse as much of the tension as possible. Treat them as adults, as parents, who still have responsibilities to you, and who will recognise the difficulties and work with you (and the other party) to make your day the success that you want it to be.

Can you visit your dad? The phone is a poor tool for this sort of discussion ...

I would hope that new wife is sensitive and secure enough to understand that her role is critical, and that hopefully she wants a good relationship with you - making some concessions, maybe a big concession, is a sign of strenth in her, and confidence in her relationship with your father.

Good luck, and have a great day!!!
posted by GeeEmm at 7:35 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

WHAT is going on in this thread?? I can't really see why there is a split. Weddings are supposed to be happy and positive. Your dad's mishegas runs counter to happy and positive for all of your guests - not just your mom. Yuck.


Given the circumstances, I highly doubt your father will be surprised if you broach the subject of invites with him.


He was married to your mother of 27 years. Surely he has some sense of compassion left for her - and you.

- You don't ask for what you want. You state plainly how things will be. Period.

"Dad. I want my wedding to be drama free. Given the circumstances, I will not be inviting (state her name here) because it will make many many people uncomfortable, especially me. I'm still coming to terms with the circumstances of the divorce and your new marriage. I do not want to deal with this issue in any way during my wedding, nor do I want my guests to be forced to deal with it. I hope you care for me enough to accept (respect?) my decision about this very important day in my life."

Your dad cheated on your mom. No "free pass" is required from you.

Surely he knew there would be consequences arising from his decision to get involved with another woman while he was married to your mother. If not, well, here's your opportunity to point out to him that there are, in fact, consequences for unkind or deceitful behavior and choices.

Don't carry the burden of his consequences, and don't make your mother or guests have to carry that burden, either. State you will not be inviting his new wife. Don't worry a bit about the fall-out. It'll be appropriate, whatever it turns out to be. You don't have to worry about this. You are in the right. Avoiding the awkward is the way to go here.

Your wedding is not the appropriate place for your father to debut his new wife, given the circumstances of the situation. You already know this intuitively. Go with your gut. State your decision plainly, and without anger or malice - but DO state your decision.

Have a beautiful and meaningful wedding that highlights commitment and happiness. You deserve this!
posted by jbenben at 12:37 AM on August 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

As you can probably tell from this thread, people have strong views about the etiquette and ethics of wedding invitations, and there are large groups of people in both the "yes, you have to invite her if you invite your father" camp and the "no, you don't" camp. Personally, I'm in the former camp, because I don't think etiquette permits you to punish people for their moral sins. But that's not the point.

The question is, do you have confidence about which camp your father and/or his wife are in? It sounds like you don't. (And what about any other folks who will know about this incident?) If not, you do run the risk that you will be seen as hurtfully rude, by him and possibly by others. The second question is: if you do run that risk, do you care?
posted by willbaude at 10:29 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'm in the former camp, because I don't think etiquette permits you to punish people for their moral sins.

I don't think etiquette requires for you to atone for them, either, by taking their issues upon yourself. I would recommend not viewing this through a lens of punishment, but rather of healthy boundaries and open discussion.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:47 PM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Something I don't think has been suggested yet, so I'll throw it out there: have a private ceremony, and 2 receptions.
posted by hishtafel at 1:02 PM on August 2, 2012

So here's what happened: against (most of) your advice, I called my dad and told him that although I respect his new life and want to get to know his wife, I was still hurting and that having her at my wedding sounded unbearably painful. As predicted, he got upset; his response was that he wasn't sure that it was appropriate for *him* to come in those circumstances, and got off the phone as quick as possible

And then a week later, he called me back and said that he had been thinking about our conversation all week. He said he was incredibly upset to learn that I felt so bad and it made him realize how far apart we had grown. He said that he would certainly be at my wedding--that he wouldn't miss it for anything--and that his first priority starting from that moment was rebuilding *our* relationship, and that he was setting things between me and the new wife aside until me and him were back on solid ground.

So yay for somewhat positive outcomes from crappy situations, and boo on all of you who value etiquette rules over actual people's feelings!
posted by animalrainbow at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Good. I'm glad that's how it went down.

And congratulations!
posted by gauche at 1:07 PM on October 4, 2012

Good outcome, probably the best outcome given the situation. Big step by your dad, kudos to him, and (I suspect) new wife.

Good on you for having this conversation, it has kick started a damaged relationship and hopefully put it back on track, as well as solved a problem for your big day.

Have a great day, and I hope your relationship with your dad builds well on this new foundation.
posted by GeeEmm at 6:03 AM on October 7, 2012

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