My brother has been engaged twice (first time: too young, second time: excellent decision) and both times he called my parents and then me soon afterward to share the good news. That second time, we were thrilled. It wasn’t a complete surprise, but it was welcome news that heralded a whole new chapter in his life that we were eager to celebrate.
“So it’s, like, official now,” I said to my girlfriend after we got engaged. “Yep,” she said. And then a wisp of dark cloud rolled over us both, as we faced the challenge of telling our families. I thought about putting it off, but I knew that would just increase my anxiety. So we made a plan: we’d go home, we’d text our families, we’d change our facebook statuses, and then we’d go to Costco (que romantico). That’s what we did.
Sitting knee to knee on our little patio, we pulled out our phones. I took a picture of my ring and sent a group text to my brother and mother. My mom responded “wow” and a little later added a “congrats” and asked about a date. I think my brother said “congrats”, but I didn’t hear anything more from him for days. I didn’t hear from my dad for weeks, but in retrospect, it was a dumb move to not have texted him too. In the moment, I knew he’d see whatever I sent my mom, but later, I realized he may have felt left out. I ended up calling him a few weeks later and we had a nice chat about work and the health of my car and the other things we talk about and at the end of the conversation, he said he felt badly that he hadn’t congratulated me before.
But why did I bother with texts at all? It would have been just easy to call everyone, right? eeeeeeeeeeh. I didn’t want to hear my folks’ reaction in real time, because I strongly suspected (in fact, I pretty much knew) that they wouldn’t consider this great news. This wouldn’t feel like a beginning to them, like my brother’s engagement did–it would feel like an end. I just didn’t think I could take listening to a pregnant silence after I said the words that ordinarily cause a rush of joy. So I texted and I told them that it was going to be a “low key announcement”, because I wasn’t planning on doing a whole round of phone calls to family members.
I did post a picture of my ring to Instagram and seconds later, one of my younger cousins called, congratulating me with breathless excitement, saying over and over how happy she was for me and my partner. After a couple of minutes, she said she’d let me go, because she knew there were probably lots of other people who would be wanting to call me. Her kind words stung, because I doubted that was true. Although, almost instantly, me and my partner’s instagram and facebook posts were flooded with congrats from our friends and more of my cousins.
We got engaged on Super Bowl Sunday (coincidence) and had plans to BBQ at my cousin’s place that evening (I have lots of cousins, in case you haven’t noticed. Every once in a while I make my girlfriend repeat the phrase “cousins are important”, just so we stay on the same page) and they made the evening feel like a special celebration for us. We got more texts and emails from friends over the next few days, so our engagement was greeted joyfully by the people who know us well and love us and the people we know well and love.
Two days later, I got an email from my mother. In the intervening time, I’d emailed my grandfather and two aunts to tell them the good news. In my mother’s email she said she’d heard about that from them and didn’t realize “the news was already going beyond the people on Sunday’s text.” “You are in the middle of your life, and we are in the middle of ours,” she said, and explained that right now her attention was being divided amongst other bits of family news and she was doing her best to give everything its due now that there was also “an engagement we had no idea was in the works.” She went on to stay she really was happy for us and she loves me, but the darker tone of the beginning of her message diluted the value of the kinder thoughts.
For one thing: my girlfriend and I have been together for 8 years. Is it really that surprising that we’d been thinking about marriage? I feel like a more common response to that scenerio is “finally”, not “so soon?”
For another thing: I don’t remember my brother being cautioned that his good news must share mental space in our parents’ minds with a grandparent’s medical ailment.
So yes, the reaction I feared would come is basically the reaction I got. It really harshed my buzz at the time and the harshening took me months to shake off. I couldn’t completely enjoy all the congrats we got, because I knew my mother wasn’t a part of that excited crowd. I kept telling myself to look at what we were getting instead of what we weren’t getting, but my mother’s opinion wasn’t always a hurtle I could leap over.
I worried that I wouldn’t enjoy any part of the wedding process, including the big day itself, because I would be distracted by my mother’s disappointment. I’m not worried about that anymore. My mother seems to have softened up a bit and she’s gotten to know my girlfriend better over the past months. I’ve gotten better at exalting the good and diminishing the bad when it comes to the opinions and reactions of others. And I’ve looked at lots of photos of happy gay weddings to continually remind myself that such a thing is possible.
There is no question, I have it much better than most. My parents have never even hinted that they wouldn’t come to the wedding, and they offered to help us pay for part of it. Mine isn’t a horror story and gay wedding horror stories are a dime a dozen. Our day is going to be filled with love from friends and family spanning generations. That’s a beautiful thing and I’m looking forward to it more and more.
I guess the lesson here for me, if there is one, is that even when we know a parent is holding an opinion that’s off-base, unwarranted, or just wrong, the opinion can still exert a lot of power, just because it’s from a parent and, in some ways, you never stop being a child.