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‘Potential minefield’: My daughter’s getting married but I can’t face her father

My husband and I divorced 10 years ago. It wasn’t bitter – he left me for another woman – but, in retrospect, my husband’s behaviour over our 30-year marriage has resulted in me holding no warm feelings in that direction. We’ve had no contact for years and I last saw him at my daughter’s graduation. It was not a happy occasion. Our daughter got engaged at Christmas and I am now faced with being “mother of the bride” and I really don’t want any part of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter, we have a warm relationship and I really want her to have a memorable wedding. For the right reasons. But I’m not sure I can put on a brave face and face my ex, his new partner and all his family. Some people I’ve spoken to say that I’m being selfish. Others understand my reservations. How do I tiptoe through this potential minefield?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sentence do a faster 180 than “it wasn’t bitter – he left me for another woman”. That turned so fast it left smoking rubber on the road.

Let me say something that’s allowed to be true: you’re bitter. How could you not be? Mistreatments can take years to bear fruit and when they do it is mighty sour. We spend so long telling ourselves that what happened wasn’t that bad, because if we let go of that story we’ll have to hear the other one; the painful, simple one where we got hurt and didn’t want to be. When we finally hear that story, we uncork years worth of anger and pain and frustration. It’s not an insult to you to say you’re bitter; anyone would be. You’re allowed to let those feelings roar a hole through you and scream through its ragged edges.

But giving yourself permission to feel how you really want to is not the same as giving yourself permission to act how you really want to.

Sometimes when people write to me I have the enviable job of being a marshmallow in glasses who gets to say “you’re right about this, and you should just put a blanket over your knees and sit there and be right”. Other times – and this is one – it doesn’t actually matter whether we’re right. This is the regrettable bind of maturity: the minute you live long enough to work out what you really feel and want, you’re no longer young enough for what you want to be all that matters.

I know you’re hurt. But this is not, ultimately, about you. This is your daughter’s day. And the question about what you can face has to fall in line behind the questions about how you’ll affect her with your decision. That doesn’t give us the verdict right away; it doesn’t mean “just go”.

It might mean you shouldn’t – maybe you’re not confident enough that this ex won’t push you to tears or to a fight, and the fact that you can’t rule that out means you shouldn’t go. But whatever you choose to do should be for her sake and with her input.

You can let your daughter in on how you’re feeling. You can authorise her to be candid right back at you about whether she needs her mum there on her wedding day, or whether she’d be just as happy with a nice toaster. But you may just have to do what so many of us have done in the long and venerable tradition of feeling weird around an ex at a wedding: look good, stay away from the bar, and remember that you’re doing this for someone else.

Your daughter is starting her own marriage, and like all marriages, there will be times when it’s hard and lonely. Let her have the first day of it in bliss, whatever that looks like for her.