Secondary Bridal Showers and Stepped-on Toes
My brother is getting married in October. His fiance’s sister is the maid of honor, so it is her job to organize a bridal shower, which she did very well (it’s an all-out luncheon, she’s got it figured out right down to the very napkin detail, I’m very impressed). She’s inviting the women from both sides. In my family’s tradition, however, we seem to always have two bridal showers, one thrown by each side of the family. We have probably 10 women at most on our side, while they have around 60, so ours was going to be VERY small–just us, the bride, and the bride’s mother and sister, having a cookout at my aunt’s house. We also wanted to do this because some of my older relatives won’t be able to make the other bridal shower but would still like to go to some pre-wedding party.
But the bride’s sister and mother did not take this idea well. They would have been fine with it as long as it was after theirs, but that would leave us with only two weeks before the wedding, and we were hoping to take advantage of the summer weather. Suddenly, they were reacting like we were going behind their back to get out of theirs, like we were trying to convince our family to go to ours instead of theirs. Despite our insistence that of course we would go to theirs, we just always do two showers, you’ll lose 2 guests at most either way we play this, they were very upset. I even considered calling it something other than a “bridal shower” so that they would know that we weren’t trying to get out of theirs. My poor brother got caught in the middle, since they wouldn’t call us to talk about it and we don’t have their home number, and in the end he got so fed up that he just asked me and my mother to give it up. We’re lazy people anyway, so, in my mother’s words, “Oh well, one less thing we have to organize.”
But I’m still quite bothered by this. We were trying to do something to honor the bride, and instead it became about the sister’s money and time getting undermined. I don’t know the sister very well yet, but we’re going to have to soon, so the last thing I want is to step on anyone’s toes or get off on the wrong foot (or any other podiatric idiom). Plus, we have the whole summer ahead of us! Why aren’t we taking advantage of that? Is there any sort of pre-wedding party that we could throw–one that involves men and women so that it’s not interpreted as a shower–that wouldn’t be rude? Or should I just back off?
Oh God, this would sooooo happen in my family, although even I’m having a hard time figuring out which side of the fence my family would fall on — all I know is, weddings get most families offended and overly worked up.
For the record, I know many brides who have had many showers — different showers for different social circles and geographical locations, and nobody batted a single eyelash. That said, it sounds like you are dealing with a family who is hyper-aware of etiquette and trah-dish-un, and the maid of honor is clearly VERY HEAVILY INVESTED in this shower, probably to the point that it’s not even about the bride anymore. (I wonder if anyone even asked the bride what she thought of your second-shower idea? I wonder if she’s off composing emails to an alternate-reality advice columnist about how her sister has turned into a maid-of-honor-zilla and what can she possibly do about it?)
So from my limited scope of wedding etiquette and my extensive history with batshit crazy families, you have two options for a drama-free event. One is to suck it up and follow the wedding rulebook and host the best damn rehearsal dinner you possibly can, but go ahead and have it at home and invite more than just the wedding party and their dates. (Inviting out-of-town relatives to the rehearsal dinner is completely acceptable, by the way, although you should also invite the out-of-towners from the bride’s family as well… if YOUR Great Uncle Harry shows up, you don’t want the bride’s family getting upset because poor Great Uncle Milton is stuck getting hotel room service.) Yeah, maybe the maid-of-honor will turn up her snooty nose at your non-sit-down catered affair and lack of a seating arrangement, but eh.
The other option is to throw a “meet the family” kind of party at some point in the summer. Invite the bride’s whole family and yours, specify NO GIFTS and basically have the party you were originally planning (albeit a big bigger and coed) without the dreaded “shower” aspect to it. Provided the bride’s family isn’t ultra-paranoid and doesn’t think you’re still trying to get away with a Subversive Shower or something (maybe smoosh it as close to July 4th as you can), it could be a nice way for the families to meet and soothe the stepped-on toes. Even though my entire wedding was, essentially, a backyard barbeque, my parents still did a meet-the-family party to smooth over some pre-wedding drama that managed to emerge. It wasn’t a shower or any kind of formal wedding-related event, but it was fun and our families worked together on the planning much better afterwards.
It’s not clear to me whether the bride’s family is local to yours, so if they aren’t, it would be awfully nice to just have a big family get-together and have your brother bring his fiance to meet everybody in a less stressful and overwhelming environment (like say, her WEDDING). She’s part of your family now too, so I don’t see how anyone could object to you including her in a regular-old non-shower no-presents family backyard party.
Offer a toast to the couple, take lots of pictures of the families coming together and mingling over burgers and put together an album of the event for your brother and his wife. Sure, there won’t be any toilet-paper brides or Tupperware gift sets, but you can make them both feel honored and loved regardless.
Before you do anything, please talk to your brother. I know your feelings are equally hurt and it SUCKS that YOUR FAMILY’S wedding traditions have been so thoroughly stomped on, but…it’s still not your wedding. It’s his. He’s probably completely cut out of everything enough already, so if he really would prefer that you just “drop it” and not attempt any type of event, listen to him. If he thinks a meet-the-family barbeque sounds like a recipe for more drama and disaster, don’t push it. If he wants the rehearsal dinner to be wedding-party only and at his favorite restaurant, so be it. I understand wanting to accommodate your elderly relatives and feel like your family has some small presence in all this wedding hullaballoo, but the bride and groom’s wishes still need to trump yours.