Family Ties... Again
November 12, 2012 8:09 PM   Subscribe

My Mormon parents won't let me bring my lesbian partner to my brother's wedding (and other big events in our lives). How do we get through this?

Natasha and I live together in Salt Lake City. We've been together for just over a year now and I love her. My partner and parents have met exactly once. My parents are Mormon, and live an hour away.

Since I wrote this question my brother has met the girl of his dreams and they are getting married this weekend. In addition, a bridal shower for my brother's fiancee has come and gone, and my grandpa died two weeks ago.

Navigating this zone of family events has been difficult because these are all events I would want my partner to go with me to, but she is explicitly NOT invited. When I wrote the question in June, I was just thinking of Thanksgiving and the Fourth. I wasn't thinking about the Big Events (i.e. Funerals and Weddings). Silly me.

About a month after I wrote the question to MeFi, my parents and Natasha met for a brief dinner and had a pleasant conversation. It went well enough. They told me later that they thought she was charming that they could tell she made me happy. I took this as a step in the right direction but it was the last direct contact they have had since then.

Since this meeting some events have taken place.

In October, there was a bridal shower for my brother's fiancee that we were both invited to by the fiancee. My mom called me as Natasha and I pulled into the parking lot at the bridal shower. My mom told me Natasha was not welcome. I told her Natasha was invited by the hostess, as I was. Despite her protesting, we went in, had some cider. My mom sulked at a table. We hung out with my sisters and then we left.

Fast forward another month. There was a funeral for my mom's dad this past weekend. My mom told me my partner was not invited. Natasha offered to drive me out of state to the funeral, so I wouldn't have to drive in the same car as my mom- even though she wasn't invited to the funeral. It was hard to walk up to that casket alone.

I don't want Natasha to go where she's not welcome. I don't want her to feel she's not accepted. Plenty of people love us and think we're awesome. But we need to be present when Life Events happen. I don't want to endure Life Events alone without my partner.

TLdr: My brother is getting married this Saturday. Natasha is not invited to the wedding. I am aware that my parents' viewpoint is shocking, outdated even for most Mormons, and just plain tacky. My partner comes first, and my parents' homophobia is ridiculous. I am going to the wedding to support my brother and his new love.

1) What mantra can I repeat to people to explain my mom's bad behavior?
2) How do we get through this?
3) Any advice for the future?

Thank you.
posted by timpanogos to Human Relations (39 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where do your brother and his fiance factor into this? Do they want Natasha there?
posted by radioamy at 8:14 PM on November 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

Your brother gets to decide who goes to his wedding, not his/your mom. Ask him if Natasha can go. If he says yes, then she is invited. If he says no, you've already answered the question: Your partner comes first. So don't go to the wedding.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:15 PM on November 12, 2012 [106 favorites]

You're not responsible for your mother's behavior.... you don't need to explain it.
posted by HuronBob at 8:16 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I repeat to people to explain my mom's bad behavior?

"I really don't know what's gotten into her" then change the subject.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

If your brother and his fiancée have invited you, go and do just as you did at the bridal shower. If not, don't go without Natasha.

Does your father have a voice in any of this or is mom the only one protesting?
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:30 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding croutonsupafreak so hard right now.

If your brother wants her there, bring her. Let your mom sulk. If not, your family must understand that disrespecting your relationship is disrespecting you and that you simply will not tolerate it or interact with them.
posted by amaire at 8:30 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm going to say this from some personal experience having been deeply in love with the daughter of a very successful mormon family (father was CFO of many fortune 500 companies)

Don't go to the wedding.

Leave the church.

Be strong.

If you stay, please understand that you will ultimately silence your voice and lessen yourself. They will never accept you as you are during these best years of your life, and if sometime way off in the distant future, the Mormon Church changes, you will be welcomed back.

In the meantime, this is the one life you have to live, and your youth is fleeting. Do not waste it on a people who will not respect or cherish that.
posted by roboton666 at 8:39 PM on November 12, 2012 [20 favorites]

Ask your brother and your sister-in-law what they want, and abide by that.

If they want to include Natasha and she wants to come, bring her. And just ignore your mum's sulking, as you would any other childish tantrum.

Your mum's bad behavior is hers to explain or not. Do not let her become the gatekeeper of your other family members' invitations. Do not let her shenanigans keep you from participating as much or as little as you choose in family events to which you and Natasha are invited.

A therapist can help coach you in finding strategies to choose disengagement with your mum's antics.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:40 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed with croutonspeak. If the host invites Natasha, you both go. If not, you don't.

As for funerals, they are more or less public events. Your mother really has no right to "invite" or "disinvite" anyone. And from what you're describing, it sounds as though she is the only person in your family who has problems with your girlfriend.
posted by tully_monster at 8:43 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

If your brother and sister-in-law-to-be ask that you not bring Natasha to the wedding because they can't cope with your mum's childishness, maybe arrange a special dinner for the four of you later?
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:45 PM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

3) Any advice for the future?

I'd say to think carefully about whether your parents have the standing to invite or disinvite you from events with your partner. You seem to have appropriately stood your ground over the bridal shower, but what about the funeral? Unless it was a private service, it may have been your mother's father, but it was still your grandfather, and anyone off the street could have walked in there with whoever they wanted.

Consider whether you're playing into a dynamic where you're agreeing to treat the subject as though it's up for debate. Can you simply tell your parents, "That's out of the question." when it comes to not attending with your partner, and reframe the issue as though it's them who are making the scene?

Like, "I'm going to be at the wedding with my partner, and I'm sure my brother would appreciate it if you could show some maturity and not sulk, because this is a very important day for him."

Also, you may want to consider the advice I passed along from Dan Savage in the last thread you asked about this.

Again, I'm not gay, but trying to wrap my head around having my family disinvite a significant other from anything really doesn't compute. Maybe it's straight male privilege talking, but I'd probably refuse to go, and inform the family member in question that my absence was going to underscore their toxicity and close-mindedness to everyone there.
posted by alphanerd at 8:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm going to say that the way mormon families work, you can't really say "the brother wants her there, who cares what the mom says!" The matriarch and patriarch are so powerful, and many times there are these deep economic and psychological hooks into the children's lives that work in ways that people outside the mormon church have a difficult time understanding.

You can't just blow the mom off, is what I'm trying to get at.
posted by roboton666 at 8:50 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

How does Natasha feel about the Mormon Church? How do you? I notice that you say that both your sets of parents are Mormons, but this doesn't address your or Natasha's relationship with the Church. Avoiding it and not saying anything? Jack Mormons? Formally forsworn it, off the rolls, and the whole bit?

If you don't hate it absolutely, and Natasha doesn't hate it absolutely, I'd suggest going to church and seeing if she's willing to get dragged along into Relief Society and the whole deal. When she's an entity that your mom is dealing with more often and seeing in person, it might be that it's harder for her to turn away from it.

If either you or she are turning or have turned away from the Mormon Church, this might be part of her concern. Not saying it's right, or good, but just saying it might be what is.

I would try having an open conversation about this. "Why don't you want me to bring Natasha?"
posted by corb at 8:51 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Again, I'm not gay, but trying to wrap my head around having my family disinvite a significant other from anything really doesn't compute

This kind of thing has happened in my circle of friends and their families because of religion, or class (person's partner is too poor, or not the right kind of rich, etc), race of course, and as far as I can tell simple personal dislike. In all of these cases I think the proper response is the same; if my partner isn't invited, I'm not invited either. I totally agree with croutonsupafreak's take on this.
posted by hattifattener at 8:53 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say your mother won't let you bring Natasha. I say, what, exactly, can she do to stop you? As long as your brother's cool with it, your mom's problem is your mom's problem, not yours.

I think you need to talk to Natasha about this. I personally think that it's important for you two to take a stand for your relationship (and more generally, for you to take a stand for who you are), but only if she feels ok knowing that it might be unpleasant, and that your mom might even be unwelcoming, and that it's ultimately up to her. You also might want to work out a plan for how you'll cope as a team with unpleasantness or faux pas that might come from your mom or other relatives. I also recommend an emergency exit signal that she can use to get you both the hell out of there if it gets to be too much.

Be brave, be strong. Whatever you choose to do, I'm sending hugs. I'm sorry it's like this.
posted by windykites at 8:58 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

What does tour partner want to do? That's a critical piece of information that is conspicuously absent from your post. Whatever your plan is, she needs to be on board with it. If you are going to invite her anyway, you both need to be on board with that. If you are going to follow your parents wishes, you need to ask is she's okay with that and not feel that you are hiding her. She's an individual with feelings, and if she is truly your partner then you need to talk about how you two want to handle this.
posted by PCup at 8:59 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

"You can't just blow the mom off"

No, you really can, unless the other family members are giving in to her, which they may not be. Natasha was invited to the bridal shower by the host, who was not timpanagos's mum. There is no Mormon rule that says people get to edit other people's guest lists, just because they're a parent.

If timpanagos's mum is the host of the wedding, then that's her call. If brother and fiancée are the hosts, and they're cool with tailoring their guest list to timpanagos's mum's prejudices, that's their call. If fiancee's parents are the hosts and they chose not to invite Natasha, that's their call.

It's only mum's call for events she hosts. (Which to me would include her dad's funeral, shitty as I think her choice was). She is not the boss of everyone else's parties; that emphatically is not the rule in LDS culture.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:00 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

Well, my experience differs from yours then, and I submit my comments as anecdata.
posted by roboton666 at 9:06 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sister-in-law's parents are very engaged, observant Mormons who live in Salt Lake, and I think they're more the norm than your ex's parents, roboton666. Thankfully! I'm so sorry you had what sounds like a painful experience with that family.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:10 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do agree that it's a context in which brother might decide to spare mum's feelings at the expense of sister's, but it's his choice to make. timpanagos almost certainly has nothing to lose by going by the hosts' wishes for each event rather than bowing to her mum's preemptive strikes; her mum is already treating her and Natasha with disrespect, so giving in to her bullshit isn't accomplishing anything.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:18 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing that your mother does not get to disinvite Natasha to an event over the wishes of the actual host, and that funerals are not invite-only events. In these cases, bring her as you did to the shower. If your mom wants to sulk rather than enjoy herself, that's her decision. Everyone will survive.

When Natasha is actually excluded by the host, don't attend. Be polite and firm and fair. "Brother, everyone else's partners are invited to the wedding, is Natasha invited?" If he says no, then say that you're very sorry, but this hurts you deeply and you'll be unable to attend yourself.

But you and Natasha can support your brother by offering to take the happy couple out for a celebratory dinner the night before the wedding or when they get back from the honeymoon or whatever.
posted by desuetude at 9:32 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If they don't invite your partner, but invite everyone else's, they're saying that you're not really invited. Instead, this imaginary version of you that is either celibate or straight is invited. That person doesn't exist and, therefore, you can't attend.

You didn't cause the rancor and therefore you don't need to defend or explain anything your mother does.
posted by inturnaround at 10:26 PM on November 12, 2012 [27 favorites]

You have to decide where you draw the line, not where they draw the line. You and Natasha aren't married, but clearly other bf/gf's are invited. Are you willing to go without her? It's not easy, and it's not fair, but your Mom is asking you to act as if your partner doesn't exist, and to act as if you aren't who/how you are. If you can do that, it's okay. If you can't accept this, then either bring her with you, or don't go, with the possible exception of going for the wedding ceremony only on your own, to be a part of your brother's life.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 PM on November 12, 2012

I kind have this issue with my family, my fiance is not allowed anywhere near my father's house because of my step-mother. So I choose to not go to his house, my dad and I will meet around town somewhere or I'll see him when he comes into my work. But I will not go out to a place where the woman I love isn't allowed. So Thanksgiving and Christmas and anything else if my fiance isn't invited I won't go. I know that's a crappy decision cuz you'll miss out on several family events and life events but it's a stance that needs to be taken so your partner doesn't feel disrespected or left out.
posted by roxiesmom at 10:39 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You go with Natasha or you don't go. Your family will not show respect for your relationship if you don't. They may not respect it even if you do, but you have to at least start there.
posted by empath at 11:21 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Time to separate from your parents.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:21 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your brother gets to decide who goes to his wedding, not his/your mom.

Not if he's not paying for it. Look, all your options here pretty much suck. In the long run, refusing to go to events where your partner is explicitly not invited is probably the best policy.

But. It sounds like you and your parents were making some (very) tentative progress, with the meeting and the dinner. And while your mother's phone call before the shower was horrible, it doesn't sound like she made a scene at the shower itself. Now all of these things are way below the minimal behavior you should accept towards you and your partner. But it sounds like your mom has had a pretty stressful month and maybe isn't handling things as well as she otherwise might.

So don't go to the wedding if that's what feels right to you, but maybe back out in a way that doesn't provoke another confrontation, eg it doesn't sound like now is the time to force your brother to choose between you and your mother.

Also, where is your dad in all this? Even if he's not accepting per se, could he maybe nudge her along a bit?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:32 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

My rule of thumb is that I don't go places where my partner is unwelcome. Once this is made clear, it is amazing how easy these situations become for you --- the burden is placed where it belongs, on the people with the problem (your mom, in your case.)

Oh, it isn't easy to choose between your parents and your partner. But your girlfriend isn't the one forcing the choice and so...

I'm sorry you are in this situation. I lived in Utah for a time and have some gay ex- and kinda- Mormon friends. I know this can be tough. Hang in there. Family matters to your mom it seems -- if you make it clear you won't cave to her BS, she will, I hope, come around.
posted by driley at 2:00 AM on November 13, 2012

How come you haven't called your mom on this repulsive behavior yet? Call her up, insist on a face to face meeting, and insist she explain why she's being two-faced. Tell her she's losing a daughter and that you're not going to take the poor treatment anymore.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:21 AM on November 13, 2012

Did you receive a printed invitation to your brother's wedding, and if so what does it say? At most weddings, the bride's parents are considered the hosts: if they or the bride & groom extended an invitation to Natasha, then she will be welcome, no matter what your mother says. If your mother is host, then and only then can she tell Natasha not to come. (By the way, where does your father stand in all this? Is he completely accepting your partner, not happy but polite anyway, or totally refusing to accept her?)

Although funerals aren't invitation-only events, your mother, as the next-of-kin of the deceased, did have a certain right to bar Natasha; it wasn't very NICE to refuse your girlfriend, but it was her right. Natasha, on the other hand, sounds like a real keeper and a partner to cherish: very thoughtful and considerate of your family situation.
posted by easily confused at 2:48 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The wedding is Saturday; so you already know who is invited or who isn't. Your brother and fiancee have already made the guest list, and they failed to invite your girlfriend.

Maybe they did it only because of your parents, but four days before the wedding is too late to legislate this.
posted by spaltavian at 5:48 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would certainly skip a wedding from which my partner had been excluded because of hatred. I would want to make it quite clear to my partner that I did not agree with that hatred and was unwilling to condone it with my behavior, and I would want to make it quite clear to those doing the excluding that expressing their hatred toward my partner and me would result in my absence. This would be especially true if I projected this being an issue in the future.
posted by OmieWise at 6:00 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love my biological family, but my husband is my family of choice. If I have to choose between my biological family and my husband, the answer is easy. I choose my husband, always. If your parents get away with excluding your partner, while still having the benefit of your presence, you are doing it wrong. You go with your partner or not at all.
posted by hworth at 6:07 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

3) Any advice for the future?

I have not been in your exact situation before. But I am the daughter of Asian immigrant parents who have not always been approving of my partners or life choices (and those of my sister). Here's the one thing I try to keep in mind:

Try to see your parents as people instead of as your parents. I mean obviously you are related, but beyond that, well, they're just people. You're old enough that their influence shouldn't matter as much. Try to cultivate relationships which are independent of your parents with your siblings and other family members (including a relationship with your father independent of your mother if that is possible). You seemed to indicate that your sisters are accepting of your partner. Invite their families over to your house on their own. Plan events on your own terms. You can always invite your parents, but they may not come, and that's ok. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt. I'm saying that developing these other family relationships will give you the family support that you (rightfully) desire. It also will serve to maybe help your parents change -- slowly -- when they see you participating in a good way with others in the family (no promises on this last one).

The other part of seeing your parents as people is recognizing that they have a cultural history that is different from yours. Yes, they seem to be behind the rest of the country. But, clearly, something has influenced your mother somewhere in her life to have this belief. Her belief is not right, but perhaps you can have some compassion. It is difficult to live in a world that is constantly changing when you have been taught differently your whole life. In my case, I recognized that my parents were uncomfortable with some of my choices, but I tried not to get angry. I set boundaries, and I stuck to them (as people are recommending above), but I did not fight. I still sent birthday cards and update emails even if I refused to meet them at certain times. In the end, I think this lack of fighting and resentment really helped us get to the wonderfully close relationship my sister and I have with my parents now.
posted by bluefly at 6:17 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been on your girlfriend's side of this situation (pretty much exactly, but with a different niche religion replacing Mormonism). We didn't push too hard. My partner and her family cut off contact for several months; after they reconciled a bit, she attended big family events without me for a couple of years. It sucked, but wasn't the end of the world. And very, very slowly, her mom shifted a bit and became willing to invite me along. Then, once she got to know me, even more of the negativity fell away. Eight years in, she happily attended *our* wedding. I've heard similar stories from SO many gay couples.

I can only advice patience, even though I do know how hurt you both feel. Go to the wedding. You'll regret it if you don't, and it will make family ties even weaker. Leave your partner at home this time. Know that it will get better in the future.
posted by mkuhnell at 7:26 AM on November 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just for clarification, if your brother is getting married in a temple wedding, only other married Mormons may attend, correct?

So we're not even talking about the actual wedding ceremony, we're talking about the reception to follow.

Certainly, ask your brother and his bride if you may bring Natasha, if they say no they don't value your relationship, and it's not necessary for you to value theirs. If they have no objections, then bring Natasha and party down with white cake and root beer!

This is not an easy road to travel and you may find that you're negotiating EVERYTHING. It's draining and exhausting.

You never know, the church finally changed its mind about Black People in 1973, so miracles can happen.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:55 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I want to withdraw all my previous advice and give full support to The World Famous, who I think at this point has it on lock.
posted by corb at 1:39 PM on November 13, 2012

Previous advice might catch Mom on her hypocrisy concerning being a good Christian, but doesn't get to the root of the matter, which is, I believe, that she cares "what other people will think" more than the feelings of her daughter. It seems too that her acceptance and affection are conditionally dependent on her daughter being and behaving in a way that reflects well upon her. I live in SLC. This is a familiar dilemma. If I were you, I would let her know how much this hurts you, and then get on with your life with people who accept you for who you are, painful as that may be. And yeah, if bro says it's ok to go to his wedding, do it, but I'll bet that he defers to cultural pressure and goes with Mom. Such a shame. I'm sorry.
posted by Jandoe at 10:50 PM on November 13, 2012

I recently recommended this New York Times article on toxic parents to someone else with a very similar issue, and you might also find it helpful. Maybe you haven't quite reached that breaking point yet and never will. But the writer and the psychologist both seem to emphasize that one's happiness and relationship with one's partner should always come first, and that preserving one's well-being sometimes means distancing oneself from one's birth family.

Your mother is behaving in a petty, bigoted way, and to attend your brother's wedding without Natasha would reinforce perceptions -- both your mother's and the rest of your family's -- that she gets to call the shots. As a result, your brother and his wife too will end up suffering down the line, considering that they have apparently kowtowed to her demands already by not inviting Natasha to the wedding.
posted by tully_monster at 8:47 AM on November 15, 2012

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