Dear Carolyn: My fiancé and I are getting married in my family's hometown and my parents are hosting (and paying for) the wedding. My family are minimal drinkers though not opposed to some drinking. My fiancé's large extended family is accustomed to weddings with full open bars.
My parents' initial desire was to serve beer and wine during cocktail hour and dinner, and they have increased that to supplying beer and wine for a full reception and adding one cocktail option.
This compromise has not been sufficient to my fiancé's parents, who have repeatedly asked to pay for the open bar, though we have tried to explain that isn't the tone of the event my family is comfortable hosting. My preference is some limits on alcohol for guests and to avoid heavy drinking at the event.
My fiancé would like to avoid conflict. I am inclined to make sure my parents are comfortable hosting, and I feel they have compromised significantly, though I am not sure where the appropriate compromise is.
Carolyn says: Your parents' compromise was generous and completely appropriate. Hold to it. People pushing that hard for hard alcohol are exactly the ones to stand up to.
They're also the ones to bring their own supply, so notions of setting limits on heavy drinking often turn out to be quaint.
There was nothing wrong, to be fair, with their initial offer to finance an open bar. Having one isn't the loose thread dangling from the sweater of civility. Plus, cost is as common a reason as any for not having one, so it was worth a try.
But no meant no and there's a lot wrong with a family that doesn't take no for an answer.
Yet none of their trespassing alarms me as much as this:
"My fiancé would like to avoid conflict."
As would every single emotionally healthy person on Earth, hello. Who wants to take a stand knowing it'll start an argument? Who wants to challenge their parents on a pet issue, especially right before what is meant to be a happy occasion? Who wants to find out the people they love are more interested in their drinks than in humoring their son and his bride-to-be?
Whose first choice is it to be on the receiving end of anyone's disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, contempt?
Taking a position we know will be unpopular is hard for all of us.
That's why the willingness to do uncomfortable things, in service of higher priorities, is a minimum requirement of maturity. Nobody wants to floss their teeth or get colonoscopies or pay taxes, either, but they're all things that responsible adults do because they'd rather not find themselves toothless or metastasized or on bridges no one maintains.
If your fiancé doesn't see your and your parents' stance as valid (and challenge it accordingly); or have the wherewithal to stand up to his family (or anyone else) on this (or anything else); or grasp the importance of having priorities beyond one's own comfort; then you can safely anticipate your entire marriage will be under the influence of his family. Not just over alcohol, though I suspect because of it.
So the compromise is fine — but your fiancé's ability to engage under pressure in general is the make-or-break issue at hand.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org.