Carolyn Hax is on leave. This column originally ran on Oct. 3, 2008.
Dear Carolyn: I have never been a drinker. My mother and two groomsmen have drinking problems and I do not like to be around them when they drink. My fiancee’s family has about half a dozen people who get falling-down drunk at most weddings. The all-time loveliest, happiest, coolest wedding I ever went to had zero alcohol on the premises. I casually mentioned this to the bride and her family.
They tried really hard to be civil, but it was a thinly veiled combination of ice storm (father-in-law) and hurricane (mother-in-law). I didn’t even get to explain my reasons before my fiancee left the table desperately trying not to cry. I did explain in an e-mail after everyone had cooled off for a few days.
I am paying for the food and flowers. My parents generously offered to pay for the ceremony site. The in-laws-to-be offered to split the alcohol tab with my parents and me if we had an open bar. I strongly prefer zero alcohol. My parents talked me into a conciliatory gesture — buying beer and nice wine. The in-laws-to-be were really upset that I would consider something short of open bar from four in the afternoon until two in the morning.
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My fiancee is miserable and frantic unless everyone is really happy. I do not want to bring up a point of disagreement unless I have a solid, smooth solution.
Muddled in Madison, Wisconsin
I’m flirting with self-parody here, but I’ll say it anyway: This is not about alcohol at weddings!
Really. You’re trying to keep everyone from drinking, and your fiancee is trying to keep everyone from fighting.
Dry wedding = flask smuggling.
Trying to please everyone = pleasing nobody.
Assuming responsibility for others’ behavior = carrying the family baggage. Both of you.
Apparently, you both come from households where alcohol got the last word. That’s a famously difficult emotional legacy, even when the drinkers have long since gotten help, which the drinkers here apparently haven’t.
The resources for families are famous, too, Al-Anon foremost among them. Less obvious is when we ourselves might benefit from them. Please consider a meeting to see if it helps your perspective on the open-bar debate. Or just browse the website: Al-Anon-Alateen.org.
If family pressure is indeed enough to make your bride “miserable and frantic,” then marriage might be premature. I realize my floating the idea might also be premature, but please be open to this possibility: If she lacks a healthy sense of self and of boundaries, negotiating marriage might only add to her strain. Even marriage to someone who really cares about her.
As for the wedding itself, you probably know in theory that you and your fiancee alone have the last word. So, put it into practice: Tune out everyone else and then figure out, together, how to meet each other halfway.
It’s actually great practice for all your decisions as a family, distinct from your parents and hers: Discuss your way to that agreeable point between both of your desires, commit to it, and then show unwavering support for each other in your decision. No one can mess with that, no matter who stages what scene and why.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.