Dear Carolyn: Our wonderful son, 27, became engaged in June. An October 2012 wedding was planned, a venue booked, and Dad and Mom gave a very generous gift as an offset to their expenses and honeymoon.
Our son has since announced the couple will "elope" three months from now because there are unknown problems on her side of the family.
We have been very close with both our son and his fiancee and feel like collateral damage. We both decided we needed to go somewhere on his wedding day, because it's just too sad to sit home when we cannot experience the joy and love of seeing our son married to the woman he loves. We know our son is very sad about our not being there.
Taking into account that we have a great relationship with his fiancee, would it be the worst thing in the world to show up at their "elopement" destination to toast them? We wouldn't expect to intrude on their celebration but are willing to travel the many miles just to be there for that short time, take video and a be a part of the life-changing event.
And, yes, as any parent, we're a little perturbed about the money put forth for the wedding that will not happen, but that doesn't come close to the hurt at our absence from their wedding.
A: (Spit coffee, wipe screen, reread letter in open-mouth horror.)
No no no no, you should not, cannot crash your son's wedding. That would be such a brazen, self-important act of bad faith that it's conceivable your relationship with the couple would never fully recover.
You are not entitled to any piece of a child's wedding, be it as master of the originally conceived ceremony or thief of a gulp of champagne. It would be lovely to be included, of course, and you're hardly the first parent with gauzy visions of a child's wedding, of co-starring in our culture's cherished circle-of-life production number. It's natural.
But that's still not the same as a parental entitlement to be there. The couple apparently have changed their plans under duress, and your son is sad, which only underscores the need for the people who love them to be good sports about their decision. Even if they changed their minds on a whim, though, it's still their right to elope if that's what works for them.
Note the absence of quotation marks around the e-word. When you're not quoting someone, using them is a dead giveaway of disdain for the term they encase -- and even if you restrain yourself on the wedding-crash front, you still risk hard feelings for treating their choice as if it were something you found on your shoe.
You say you're hurt; I think your word choice offers you a way off your dangerous line of thinking. Hurt is a byproduct of rejection -- it's: "I didn't get cake because the person serving it doesn't like me." Disappointment, on the other hand, is: "I didn't get cake because it was gone by the time I got there."
A son who elopes for reasons unrelated to you and regrets your exclusion is disappointing you, not hurting you, no? You said it yourself: You're collateral damage. Nobody gets any cake.
Putting an accurate label on your feelings will lessen the risk you'll sound accusatory or me-centric. "I'm disappointed, but I'll support you, of course. But: There's no other solution?" His answer will tell how open he is to keeping the subject alive, in any form.
As for the money -- you say it was a gift, so I suggest you release it as such.