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Should we invite our rude relatives to the wedding?

The question

My mother is the youngest of six children, and her siblings are loud and obnoxious, with no regard to proper etiquette. Despite that, she has happily supported their children during minor and major life events such as bridal showers, weddings, births, etc. Now the time has come for my mom's eldest son (my brother), to get married. We recently held a bridal shower for his fiancée, during which one of my mother's sisters angrily berated her for giving her bad directions, another was sour and bitter the whole time, and both gave cheap and inconsequential gifts. My mother's brother and his wife didn't even bother to show up or properly decline her invitation. My mother feels that they are not showing the same support and respect for her son as she did for their children. Now it's time to make a final decision for wedding invitations. Should she say something to her siblings and still invite them to the wedding or simply leave them off the guest list?

The answer

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Well, now (Dave says, a gleam in his eye, rolling up his sleeves), that's a tough one.

I've seen many a wedding-planning session run aground on the question of obnoxious aunties, uncouth uncles, insufferable in-laws and churlish cousins.

I recall one friend of mine who wanted to get married on a boat. But it would have meant a very limited guest list. So the question became: Who would be left off the list? Aunt X? Uncle Z? He and the bride-to-be bargained and ultimately squabbled so much over this question that the notion of a floating wedding was torpedoed and they went for a much more conventional venue. (Probably for the best. Someone from a bibulous/litigious branch of the family might've fallen overboard drunk and launched a lawsuit.)

Personally, I like small, low-key weddings. The more low-key the wedding, I sometimes think, the longer the marriage will last. I see ice sculptures, horse-drawn carriages, I think: "Uh-oh." But that's just me. Obviously, a type of wedding that works for one couple might not work for another.

Speaking of which, it sounds like the mother of the groom is the main one responsible for the planning of the wedding? A little unusual – traditionally this task falls to the bride's parents – but not unheard of: My mother was a big part of planning our wedding. But here's where I am very much a traditionalist (possibly a hidebound one): I believe weddings should be all about the bride. A wedding is the bride's day, and the extent a wedding invitee (including the groom) realizes that, and stuffs his/her drama and solipsism and peevishness in a sack in order to honour her, is the extent of that person's spiritual development, I've always felt.

So what does the bride want? I would urge you to urge your mother to consult with her on that score. Bring her in on at least this aspect of the planning. Tell your mother to tell her: "Listen, there is some potential for drama from a couple of my siblings and their spouses. As a matter of fact, they can be downright rude and suck all the air out of the room. I suppose they expect to be invited to your wedding, but they certainly don't have to be. Your call."

And if she doesn't want them, don't invite them. Hey, relative or no, being invited to things is a privilege, not a right – one you earn through being charming and grateful and polite.

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Having said all I've said above, though, I am now going to contradict myself royally (Walt Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.") and say this: I would urge your mom to urge the bride to err on the side of inclusiveness. Because these aunties and uncles sound like the type to hold a grudge – and while it is truly the bride's day, it's just a day, and what with all the goodwill and love in the air, that's pretty hard for a couple of loose cannons to ruin.

In fact, a couple of out-of-sorts characters can be part of the fun – part of the tapestry of the event. Throw in someone overly refreshed, some lateniks, sparks flying between a bridesmaid and a bachelor, some aspect of the food or the decor going wrong – and, well, it's a wedding. There's this notion that weddings should be "perfect," but to my way of thinking they're more like a snapshot of what life together might be like.

And if in future the bride and groom are going to have to learn how to manage (or avoid) your mother's surly sisters and boorish brothers, might as well get the process under way right away.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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