I am a 37-year-old woman, engaged to my partner of six years. We are due to get married in September in an already pared-down wedding day (we cancelled our original plans when I realised how anxious and unhappy the idea of the “big day” was making me). Now, even though we have planned a small “big day” I am still feeling nervous.
I think I want to elope – an idea my fiance is very much on board with. What’s stopping me is the thought of my mum’s hurt and disappointment if she doesn’t get to see her one daughter get married. I have a complicated relationship with my mum which I have worked through in therapy and am now at peace with. However, as one of three children who have all “disappointed” her in some way, I feel I carry the responsibility to do this one thing for her. Earlier this year I told her I wasn’t going to have children – a hard decision and hard to tell her. Her disappointment was palpable. I feel by eloping I may be being selfish. Should I scrap my desire to elope to spare mum’s feelings?
Eleanor says: I’m so struck by the way you feel you carry responsibility. One of the powerful things about other people’s expectations is how worm their way into our minds. It’s all very well to say “do what you want!”, but sometimes you find you can’t enjoy the things you want when you know someone else would disapprove. When you look at your own choices, you see them partly through others’ eyes. This is why disappointment is such a powerful constrainer: eventually, it stops being just an external imposition – we learn to enforce it on ourselves.
I think it’s really worth treating your wedding as an opportunity to see your choices through your own eyes.
After all, the wedding is the beginning, not the end. If everything goes to plan, your wedding day is the first day of an arrangement that will last the rest of your life. That puts a big premium on starting as you mean to go on: feeling present for your partner, showing up in a way that makes you feel like yourself, establishing precedent for how you plan to treat each other and make decisions together.
You deserve to feel big on your wedding day. Marriages aren’t peace treaties or power alliances any more. As my grandfather, married for 50 years, once told me: the wedding is for the people getting married.
I wonder whether there’s a way to serve all those goals while also making your mum feel included. It sounds like you’re pretty clear what you’d do if she weren’t a factor: you’d elope. But since she is a factor, it’s kind to take her into account, and there are all manner of things that might complicate the decision to proceed as though she weren’t in the background – for instance you might find you spent that precious day feeling anticipatory guilt.
So is there a way to make her feel included – and discharge the responsibility you carry – without losing the core of what you want?
Could you say that you’d like to elope, but you’d like to invite her to a special dinner beforehand, something where she can make a toast and get to be mother of the bride? Could she be digitally present? I don’t usually think implied deception is a good solution, but could you elope first so that you were in fact already legally married, and then have a “celebration of our union” party for friends and family?
Don’t forget, too, that her disapproval might be worse in imagination than in real life. It might be that she’s taken aback or disappointed at first, but can eventually come around: it’s important not to let our worst fears of peoples’ reactions govern us before we’ve actually seen what those reactions are.
You’re right to want to take your mum’s feelings into account – to a certain extent. But no one, not even her, could rationally ask that you do so at the expense of your own.
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