Carolyn Hax: Wedding etiquette advice on gift requests, family dramas

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 3, 2013

That time again?

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Dearest Carolyn (just sounded better): My daughter would like to request cash vs. the usual wedding gifts.

How would you go about wording this request? We are trying not to sound too harsh. I thought I read about this idea in one of your previous columns. — T.


Trying to soften me up?

Dearest T. The phrasing you seek is as follows: “The bride and groom don’t want your stuff, they just want your money.”

“Too harsh,” right? That’s the point: There’s no polite way to bill guests for liking you, pat their pockets for loose change, or coerce them into paying your bills. So, please don’t try. Thank you.

If you read about this in my column, then you read some version of this. My answer hasn’t changed; I just repeat it occasionally since the question won’t die.

When couples have a good reason not to want vases and candlesticks, then their proxies can say so when asked for registry info: “Heckle and Jeckle are combining two households/downsizing/relocating overseas, so your presence is present enough.” Because it is, right?

Or, to your friends, good ones, when they ask: “Cash always fits.”

* * *

Dear Carolyn: Two cousins are engaged. One cousin has been planning a lavish wedding for over a year, and sent out “save the date” cards nine months in advance. Cousin 2 became engaged days ago. The grapevine buzz is that Cousin 2 plans to marry in haste (no, she’s not pregnant), squeezing her affair in before Cousin 1’s wedding. I’m offended; Cousin 2 will “steal the thunder” from Cousin 1.

Am I “acting old” by being offended? I’m stressing over what should be joyous family celebrations. — Acting Old?

You are acting old, but only by inserting the “no, she’s not pregnant” parenthetical (and by putting two spaces after the periods in your letter, but I fixed that).

The rest is just fretting where there needn’t be any, and that’s ageless.

I suppose there’s the slightest of slim chances Cousin 2 is actually trying to get under Cousin 1’s skin. If she is, then, well, imagine what her marriage will be like; it will punish her for her childishness so effectively that any family censure will just be piling on.

But if Cousin 2 is not otherwise an attention-grabbing twit, then please assume Cousin 2 merely wants to get started on married life without delaying it for a wall calendar’s worth of event-planning. As long as she’s not forcing guests to choose one wedding over the other, call this a tale of two styles and raise an untroubled glass to them both.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: My fiance and I are currently in the final stages of planning our dream wedding, which we have saved and paid for ourselves.

It just came to my attention that my mother has told my older sister and her children they will be in the wedding. My fiance and I prefer a small wedding party with no children.

I have already asked my younger sister to be my maid of honor, as we are close. My older sister and I barely speak, and when we do it’s always my reaching out to her.

For the past week, my mother has been pressuring me to reach out to my older sister, who is feeling left out of the festivities. I have tried calling her on several occasions only to be hung up on. I’ve left messages without a response.

At what point do I tell my mom enough is enough, and she needs to clean up the mess she created by telling my sister and her family they all had a part in my wedding? — Over the Drama

That point came the moment you learned of your mother’s meddling. Wow.

Fortunately, the moment hasn’t passed. You still can, and must, say to your mother: “You have seriously overstepped, and put me in a terrible position. We are proceeding with our wedding as planned. I will not be blackmailed.

“Meanwhile, I’ve tried to reach out to Sister 1, and she hangs up on me. I will keep trying to repair our relationship — but because I want to, not because you’re pressuring me to, and not with my wedding as a bargaining chip.”

About that wedding. I realize having Sister 2 at your side is the way these milestone events are “supposed” to go. However, you have a fractured family, which means a public kumbaya statement to one sib is a full-face slap to the other.

I’m not suggesting you blow up your plans. I merely advise that you recognize the power of your favor and grant it with a more careful eye to family-wide cause and effect. If nothing else, there are children here who wound up on the wrong side of this mess. Take care not to let your frustration with Sister 1 and your mom seep into your tone with the kids.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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