That’s what it’s like to get married without your mother – if your mother is still alive


I was sitting in the waiting area when a mother and daughter emerged excitedly from the changing room at the back. The mother looked at me and gestured to the white garment bag draped over my lap.

“Trying on a wedding dress?” she asked. I nodded. “Congratulations,” she said with a smile as they walked out the door. As I watched the two walk across the parking lot, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.

The seamstress came out and greeted me. “Anyone else going with you?” she asked before locking the door behind us.

“No, it’ll just be me,” I replied, trying to sound cheerful.

I followed her into the dressing room and quickly closed the curtain. I took a deep breath. These moments were the hardest. The parts of wedding preparation that society tells us should be done with our mothers.

I was newly engaged and estranged from my mother, and unlike every other aspect of wedding planning, there was no manual for it. Our culture tells brides it is their day, yet we have a very limited scope of what that day looks like and who should be part of it. For those of us who don’t have a traditional nuclear family, these expectations make the idea of ​​a wedding daunting.

My family life had always been chaotic and so I never thought I would want a wedding. But at age 40, after years of therapy and self-improvement, I found myself in a happy, healthy relationship with a man I loved, and we got engaged.

My fiancé was from India, where social mores pertaining to families carry even more weight and weddings are as much about the families as they are about the couple.

“Tell me about your family,” my future mother-in-law had asked mere minutes after we met after our 36-hour journey around the world. The truth was I didn’t know what to tell her.

Years later I would come to understand that she was having a manic episode and it had nothing to do with me, but at the time I was devastated. I couldn’t make sense of it let alone explain it to anyone else. Those I have told looked at me with pity; they had no idea what to say.

I looked online hoping to find advice on how to navigate the situation, but almost everything written for “motherless brides” pertained to women whose mothers had passed away. In an advice column, the author advised the bride-to-be to elope rather than having a wedding without her mother.

But for me, avoidance was not the answer. I was determined to have a wedding even if my mom couldn’t be there.

“Alienation is taboo, and talking about it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. People would give unsolicited advice like ‘Invite her! She’s coming over’ or ‘It’s the most important day of your life; you will want your mother there.’”

Getting married without a relative or members is possible, but it requires radical acceptance, a habit I cultivated in the months leading up to the wedding.

“Maybe you should think about the fact that Mom might not be at your wedding,” my brother suggested shortly after I got engaged. At the time, the thought of getting married without her seemed unthinkable. Soon after, as her behavior continued to repeat itself, I realized he was right.

My mom was going through something that made her completely unavailable to be in a relationship with me, and this made it impossible to have her present on my wedding day. Accepting this early in the planning process gave me plenty of time to process my feelings about our relationship, which was the bigger issue for me.

Processing my feelings early also made it a lot easier to deal with people and their reactions. Alienation is taboo, and talking about it makes many people uncomfortable. People would give unsolicited advice like Just invite her! she comes over, or It’s the most important day of your life; you will want your mother there.

While these kinds of comments were well-intentioned, they didn’t help at all. They spoke to the situation from their perspective – a perspective that had nothing to do with my reality. I’d watched my mom make scenes all my life, during holidays and family events, and I wasn’t willing to risk the sanctity of our wedding day to avoid the discomfort of her not being there. So I learned to trust myself and the decision I made. Once I did, I didn’t care what people thought.

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I also learned to let go of societal expectations and instead focus on what mattered to me. We’ve been told it’s our anniversary the most important day of our lives. Magazines, TV shows, and movies tell us what this day should look like, raising expectations about what we “deserve.”

Mother-of-the-bride checklists read like job descriptions, with tasks such as helping pick out the dress, helping with the guest list, supporting the bride’s decisions, “arguing” with bridesmaids. The Knot lists “Be your Rock” as one of her duties because “She is a source of wisdom, sound advice and emotional support, and her greatest job during the wedding planning process is to be the wonderful mother she has been to you all along.

These checklists reek of privileges, assumptions, and contrived expectations used to fuel the multibillion-dollar industry that weddings have become. The traditional wedding forces us to show off our relationships. We are expected to have one father to walk us down the aisle, a mother to be our everything and bridesmaids to argue. What about those of us who don’t have these relationships? Don’t we deserve a wedding?

“The idealized mother who waited excitedly outside the fitting room with her checklist to see me in my dress didn’t exist.”

I wanted a day that was authentic and true to us, something that couldn’t be found on any checklist. Re-imagining what we wanted our wedding to look like and doing away with traditions that focused on family gave us room to get creative. We wanted to pay tribute to my fiancée’s culture, but an Indian ceremony would require certain family members to be present. Instead, we opted for our twist on a sangeet, a traditional musical feast before the wedding, which allowed us to include Indian music, food and traditional dress in the evening before the ceremony.

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Not focusing on family also opened up space for friends to join in in ways I hadn’t imagined — like my fiancée’s lifelong boyfriend, who prepared food for the Sangeet, or the girlfriends who spent the morning of the spent my wedding getting ready while we sipped mimosas. I was overwhelmed by the encouragement and enthusiasm, and I felt supported and loved in a way I didn’t expect. Having gratitude for those who stepped forward to be a part of our day, rather than complaining about the relationship I didn’t have with my mom, was key.

Of course there were times when I wished my mom could have been there, like that moment in the locker room. But then I thought what that moment would have actually looked with mine mother. The idealized mother waiting excitedly outside the fitting room with her checklist to see me in my dress didn’t exist. I was there and that was enough.

It has been seven years since my marriage and two years ago my mother and I got back together. She’s in a much healthier place now and we both agree it was a wise decision not to have her at my wedding. Her absence during that period of my life gave me room to grow.

I am sharing my story and how I handled the situation in hopes it will help others. While it often feels like you’re alone, many of us are in similar situations, and it’s about time we normalize dialogue about alienation and life events like weddings to make it easier for all of us.

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