Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I have a petty problem stemming from a much larger relationship issue. I'm getting married and I've not bought a dress because the thought of doing so terrifies me.

I'd love to buy a colorful dress at the local thrift store and call it a day, but my mom has visions of me in a beautiful white gown with my hair and makeup done. I don't want to crush my mom's dream — my sister already did that when she failed to live up to my mom's wedding-look expectations. I feel like if I don't let my mom dress me up, she will be hurt and remind us of it for years.

At the same time, I'm just not comfortable with fancy bridal attire! How do I walk the line between my comfort and her expectations?

Carolyn says: Your birth did not start the clock on obligations to fulfill your mother's dreams. You didn't choose to be had.

She is entitled to her dreams, sure, but not to have others fulfill these dreams for her. That's just not how it works: She doesn't get a say in what you wear or how you live.

She does what she does, you do what you do, others do what they do, and we all work really hard to make the best of what we control and to love our people for who they are and how they've shaped us.

That reads like brochure copy for an all-inclusive resort called Haxland. Thirty-five craft IPAs, bottomless bowls of dark-chocolate almonds, and free "Live and let live" T-shirts.


Here's what you can offer Mom: "I'd love for you to help me shop for a dress. One condition: no fancy white dress. I plan to wear something colorful and fun, maybe even from a thrift shop. If you object, then I'll find something else we can do together."

This assumes, of course, your mother has even a sliver of rationality for you to build on. If not — in general or just on this issue — then assure her you love her and want to include her, but the big dress isn't happening and you hope it won't become a problem ... and then don't discuss it again. Ever.

Let's spend a moment on "remind us of it for years": Is there any more efficient way to destroy relationships? To single out something entirely not your business, and minor at that, then harp on it for the rest of everyone's lives?

If she does try to make you pay eternally for a dress, then clearly stating your limits gives her a chance to save herself: "This is costing us dearly, Mom, in our feelings of closeness to you. Do you want to continue that over clothing, or would you rather drop it right now?"

Congratulations, enjoy that vintage dress.

Another view

If there are any disappointed mothers of grown children reading this, I'll issue a PSA: Your open disappointment has driven me to move 2,500 miles away and call you once a month. My choices were fair, legitimate, often successful, based on who I actually am as a person, and cost you nothing. I'll call again next month.

Carolyn says: Perfect. Thanks.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at