Dear Carolyn: My stepmom wants to throw me a totally inappropriate bridal shower with her extended family. Her extended family who isn’t invited to our wedding. Her extended family who I met only at her and my dad’s wedding.
I’ve told her unequivocally no about seven times. She keeps coming back with different justifications. “You really made an impression on Great Aunt Sue so she really wants to throw one. She’ll understand when she finds out she’s not invited to the real thing.” “My sister won’t want to drive more than 20 minutes to a shower in that town so I have to host one myself.” “I’ll plan it as a surprise. That way I can just take the fall with the manners police.” And my favorite — the crux, in my opinion — “When I was single, I bought all these people presents for years. They should come to a shower for my stepdaughter.”
I’ve said no so many times and it’s just not working. Now she even has my dad telling me I should just suck it up and let her throw one, but I refuse to be “that bride.” I’m at a total loss. She is NOT taking no as a final and complete answer. Is there anything else I can do?
Yes. You can agree to the shower.
I know I know I know. “No” is a complete sentence, and boundaries are the cornerstone of happy families, and a family member using a shower to shake down her own friends is exactly as inappropriate as you say, and I’m going against my entire history of advice.
But you know what? Saying yes to the shower won’t make you “that bride.” It’ll make your stepmother “that … “ whatever. Or it could just make her one of the crowd — her crowd.
She has made it plain it’s not about you. It’s about her and her friends, and it’s not just possible but credible (meaning, I’ve seen it myself) that among her friends this is completely within the code of acceptable conduct. Chances are her crowd gathers to celebrate the life events of its children, by rules of its own, so it might indeed be your stepmother’s “turn.”
Imagine if your wedding were interfaith, intercultural, international. If she assured you that your particular etiquette concern didn’t apply in her faith/culture/country, you’d believe her and trust her to interpret for you, no?
So at least consider believing her here. A “yes” can be on your terms: say, calling it lunch with the bride-to-be; or making it a mini-reception after the wedding; or making it a theme shower that costs guests little to nothing, like recipes or advice or life-changing books. Certainly they have to know beforehand they won’t be guests at the wedding (like at an office shower, for example).
Sometimes loved ones just want to share you with their people, and in those cases it’s an act of generosity to find a way to let them. And even if she’s more about taking from than sharing with, indulging her is a form of giving. Caving doesn’t even set a precedent unless you cave again.
If you Just Can’t, then so be it, keep refusing — but before you get there, please at least consider giving your stepmom this gift.
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