Dear Carolyn: Long story short, my Indian parents (and by extension my sibs) do not like my significant other because he is a white, non-college-educated man. I had to make boundaries and live my own life as I see fit. This was five years ago.
During this time, my parents realized that for us to have any type of relationship, they will have to accept that he is a part of my life. It's not ideal, lots of small talk, but we are making slow progress.
My problem is my brother's upcoming wedding. In the Indian culture, there is no "dating" since everything is arranged marriages. Therefore, there is no such thing as a boyfriend. Until my significant other is my husband or fiancé, he will not be invited.
On one hand, I find it ridiculous that the man I live with and plan to marry someday would not be invited to such a large family event. However, this is my brother's wedding, and I don't have any more right to force my brother to adopt my values than my parents do to force me to live by theirs.
Normally, I would just decline to go, but this is a large family event (800-plus people) and not going will cause irreparable pain and damage with my family. I could go without my significant other, but then I feel like I am not standing up for him and our relationship. The easy solution would be to set a date for our wedding, but then I feel like I am getting married on their terms instead of my own.
He and I are 34 and 29, respectively. I feel like this is tearing me apart.
Carolyn says: Standing up for your own beliefs and honoring your family are such important goals, with lifelong implications.
It doesn't necessarily follow, though, that every decision involving them will have lifelong implications. Sometimes, an event is just an event, or a decision is just for now.
Sometimes, pragmatism is the only statement you need to make.
Where now you're thinking Beliefs vs. Family, try thinking instead: What's easiest? As in, which path has the least burdensome consequences?
From here, at least, it looks pretty straightforward. If you blow off a family wedding in a strictly traditional family, then you have, in your words, caused "irreparable pain and damage." Whether that's a fair or reasonable response on their part is irrelevant, because you have no say in how they respond.
If instead you attend the wedding solo, then you have significant, if not complete, say in how that affects your future. You can discuss it with your partner beforehand and do it only if he's in full agreement. You can make sure it's the exception, not a precedent, for how you manage your family's displeasure. You've got five years of good boundaries behind you, and an entire future of them ahead of you if necessary, to "stand up for him and our relationship."
If he's not in full agreement, then you don't go, of course, because the path you've chosen is with him. Right? Assuming a disagreement on this doesn't expose foundational problems between you.
One more thought: If you solve this by setting a wedding date, then the timing would be on your family's terms, sure, but the choice of groom is on yours — much more significant. Besides, you've already shown that you have little use for the formalities by seeing yourself as committed now, as-is, so presumably that cuts both ways.
I could even argue that you'd be calling their bluff by setting a date: "We're engaged now — I'll have my full acceptance, please." If you're not ready to get engaged, then don't get engaged, obviously; never, ever use your future as a way to score points. I'm merely suggesting that if you and he are ready, then "terms" are basically moot.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.