Dear Carolyn: My son, who is 46 and lives on the West Coast, has been in a tumultuous relationship with a woman 10 years his junior. He was married previously and has been divorced for over 10 years. He met his current girlfriend about four years ago but the relationship has been off and on, and he never failed to call and cry on my shoulder about it.
Recently he brought the girlfriend here to the Midwest to visit and announce their engagement. I got to know his fiancee and like her very much and was thrilled to hear about the wedding plans.
A couple of months after this visit, the fiancee texted that my son hadn’t worked for three months, won’t look for a job, and is hanging out with unsavory characters. She vowed she would not marry “a 46-year-old man with no job.”
I talked to my son, who was defensive as you might expect, and encouraged them to put off the wedding, get counseling and not marry until mutual respect, love and trust are assured.
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Since then, he has gotten a job, which he likes, and the wedding is back on, in California in six weeks. He said they “talked about” their issues and decided to go ahead with the plans.
I still haven’t gotten over the dismay and sadness around this scenario, and I fear he’s going down the same path he did in his first marriage. So my husband (my son’s father is deceased) and I decided we would not go to the wedding.
Am I right to make that decision? I feel terrible for not supporting my son, but I wouldn’t feel honest in celebrating something I don’t believe in, not to mention the expense of the trip.
What do you hope to accomplish by not going?
Saving money – I see that.
But the other part you cite is that you “wouldn’t feel honest.” So, by not going, is that what you accomplish – honesty? And if so, is that (and its attendant face-slap to your son) a worthier outcome than showing support, or love, or faith, or whatever your son would take away from having his mom show up?
Read this aloud in the right tone of voice and no doubt it’ll sound like a guilt trip. That’s not at all what I intend. I’m advising you to do the emotional math: Would you rather be right, or there?
You are right to question the chances of such a volatile couple. You were right about patience and counseling (though staying out of it seems wiser and overdue). You’re right to be mindful of your son’s history, and skeptical of their rush to wed.
But. Sometimes there is glory in being wrong.
In the willingness to be wrong, at least: in showing up for your son, and liking his fiancee, and believing his recent turnaround will stick, and toasting the triumph of hope, and leaving the “ … over experience” compassionately unspoken.
He did, after all, turn things around, and you can’t be sure it’s temporary until it is.
And, he’s your kid. You love him, yes? So go and say, “Your bride is lovely. I wish you nothing but happiness.” Where’s the lie in that?
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.