I MARRIED the man I love seven years ago in front of our friends. My parents chose not to be there.
What had I expected, sitting at that cramped table at my parents’ favorite restaurant? They thought I was being a good son, treating them to dinner. I told them to order whatever they wanted, and they smiled, not quite detecting the nervous frequency that hummed just beneath my skin. I’d planned to break the news before our plates arrived, but I couldn’t muster the courage until the empty dishes and cutlery lay scattered on the table between us. The small talk had petered out by then.
“Thomas and I are getting married,” I said, at last. My mother looked down at her hands. My father excused himself.
We announced our engagement a week later while surrounded by friends we considered family. There were screams of happiness as they clinked glasses and hugged us tightly. It was a bright spot in a difficult year, one friend told us with tears in her eyes, and I couldn’t disagree.
Thomas and I began to plan the things we believed we were supposed to plan as a newly engaged couple—venues, catering, flowers—stuff neither of us cared much about. We figured we’d host an engagement party first, then schedule the wedding for the following year. It seemed like what most of our straight friends did when they got married. We were alone one night when I suggested combining the two events, surprising everyone at our engagement party by getting married on the spot. A pop-up wedding! I was half joking, but he loved the idea. We were never patient people.
We sent out the invitations. The RSVPs began to pour in, and I felt devilish knowing that people were unaware they were confirming attendance to our wedding rather than an engagement party. The guest list grew and grew while the silence from my family became deafening.
Three weeks before the event, my skin turned against me. The eczema that was usually dormant wrapped itself around my body, angry and red, clawing up my neck toward my face. I tried to soothe it with every remedy I could find, but nothing seemed to work. My dermatologist told me that flare-ups this severe were often triggered by something internal rather than external, and I knew she was right.
I reached out to my parents two weeks before the event. Perhaps they hadn’t seen the invitation. I’d spoken to them since it went out, and they’d acted like everything was normal. There was a tension between us that never used to exist, but I could tell they were trying.
I decided to let them in on the secret. It wasn’t just an engagement party. It would be my wedding.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” my father wrote back, “but we won’t be a part of it.”
Up until that point, I’d given them empathy and understanding. I made excuses for them, offered concessions. After all, this was a lot for them to process in such a short amount of time. I’d come out to them only a few months before announcing the engagement during that deceptive dinner at their favorite restaurant.
There was nothing left to give them. If I had to choose between the man I loved and the parents who raised me, it would be an easy decision and one I could live with. The itching of my skin began to soften.
On the day of our wedding, Thomas and I kissed amid roars of applause beneath a summer sky full of stars. I was present in that moment, uncaring of what came before and what lay ahead. I had expected to feel angry or betrayed by my parents’ decision, but I felt only relief. So many people did choose to be there that I barely noticed their absence amid the joy, the laughter, the celebration.
At one point in the night, while we signed the registry, I noticed that our commissioner’s last wedding was held at the rowing club on the harbor. “What a beautiful wedding that must have been,” I commented. She smiled and said the venue was indeed beautiful, but it had been tainted by an air of disapproval from the families of both grooms. I don’t know whether she said this out of generosity, noticing how most of our guests were from the same generation, but I was grateful.
I don’t blame my parents for not being there. They’ve come a long way since then, and Thomas is now considered family. I don’t feel any regret when I look at photos of our wedding night, but I sometimes wonder if my parents do. They’re entitled to their decisions, and they’re the ones who will live with the outcomes. When I think about that summer night seven years ago, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Eddy Boudel Tan is the author of After Elias, a novel about an interrupted wedding between two complicated men. His sophomore novel, The Rebellious Tide, is slated for release in the summer of 2021. He lives with his husband in Vancouver. Find Eddy at eddyboudeltan.com online or @eddyautomatic on Twitter.
Eddy – Thanks for sharing this. It’s always a challenge when a family bails on attending a wedding. Yet, you handled it with grace and allowed room for your parents to still be in your life. Good for you. On the other hand, many of us have not had that positive experience. I’m glad to know that your experience has been a good one.
Brad – Thanks for the kind words. It was ultimately a positive experience, and I’ve long forgiven my family for choosing not to take part. Their loss! I’ve learned that everyone is entitled to their decisions, so there’s no use in me worrying about things I can’t control. Writing this piece was cathartic, though.