I’m Getting Married, Mom. Please Cry.

Over lunch at a French restaurant in Washington’s Glover Park neighborhood, I told my mother that wedding planning was making me feel lonely. She nodded with understanding but expressed no interest in rolling up her sleeves to help.

She was splitting the cost of the wedding with my father, so of course that was helpful. Though more than once, in my brattiest moments, I had wondered whether it would be more helpful not to have money for the wedding, and therefore to have no wedding.

Not having a wedding would also relieve the pressure on us to enjoy my engagement as a mother-daughter pair, as there were an alarming number of parties and rituals that threw our relationship into the foreground.

At our lunch, I studied my mother’s face to see if she was about to make some overture, some passionate speech about how she was going to whip herself into planning mode, or to explain how sorry she was for being a little checked out. Her face didn’t change.

I had made a habit of studying her face lately, both in person and on FaceTime. My mother and I had been fighting all year after three decades of relative peace, including a childhood in which I got perfect grades and never broke rules and she drove me to every swim practice, chaperoned every field trip and cooked dinner every night while becoming a successful entrepreneur as a biracial woman in a male-dominated field.

We started fighting because a year and a half earlier she had sold her company, left my father, and moved to England with an ex-boyfriend from college. It was a shocking series of events, and though many tidbits had come to light that made her decision more fathomable, we were still just beginning to repair the fallout in our relationship.

She and the boyfriend recently had moved back to the U.S., to the city where I lived, but in every conversation I had with her — conversations where the stakes only felt higher as my big day approached — we had reached a sort of stalemate over the fact that I wanted to talk about my feelings all the time, and she simply would not reciprocate.

I constantly met her with new articulations of how I felt about my childhood, her marriage to my father, her evasions about what was really going on (if only to spare my feelings), and her moving abroad during a pandemic. I sought to wield my self-awareness and emotive talents as weapons that would make her surrender and return the favor. She surrendered plenty, telling me she was sorry over and over, but even as I begged for more emotion from her, all she would say was that she wasn’t wired that way.

I didn’t understand why she couldn’t learn to be more emotive — after all, I had learned. In college I had suppressed my emotional life in pursuit of good grades and extracurricular success. But in the decade since, having digested a thousand Instagram posts about the importance of self-care and boundaries and vulnerability, I had become petulantly unwilling to swallow any feeling or put any emotion in a box.

While she and I waited for our food that day, she pulled a tube of Neutrogena sunscreen from her purse and started applying it to her face. We were sitting outside on a sunny street, and even though she had her new straw hat on, she had just gotten her face resurfaced and said it was important for the healing process to avoid direct sun.

I had some feelings about this resurfacing treatment — feelings that I held back on sharing, because it’s sexist to shame people for their beauty routines. But it wasn’t the vanity that bothered me. (My mother is 60, and just an hour before the lunch, the wedding dress tailor had asked if she was my sister, instilling pride not just in her but in me, smug that at least I have good genes for aging, if not for marriage.)

It was more that when she called me a few days earlier to say that she had just come back from her spa appointment, I had to consider how much forethought had gone into scheduling the procedure exactly 30 days before my wedding. The wedding and preparing for it was very much on her mind, but her to-do list was separate from mine, which included a series of logistical and emotional crosschecks.

I needed her to proofread our place settings, not casually ask me how the planning was going like any other outsider. I needed a tearful rundown of how much it had broken her heart to leave our family, not the dispassionate details of her pores’ healing process.

When we finished lunch, I returned to my apartment and lists. I continued to avoid desserts and check the weather obsessively, long before the forecast could possibly be accurate for the wedding date. I took a lot of deep breaths, reminding myself that nobody would notice the typo on the seating chart, everyone who was coming was vaccinated, that the things in my control were in good shape.

I gave up on trying to understand my mother, deciding that further emotional labor would have to wait until after the wedding. When the day finally came, I kissed my fiancé good morning and set off for the hotel, where I was getting ready with family and friends. I couldn’t wait to see all the details I had obsessed over in the previous months come to life. I couldn’t wait to say “I do”in front of everyone I loved. I couldn’t wait to go on our honeymoon and finally get some sleep.

We primped and polished ourselves all afternoon in the fanciest hotel suite I had ever been in, paid for with the money my mother made selling her business, the business she had spent my entire adolescence building — almost in secret, it felt, since she never missed a single minor or major milestone in my life. It was only in the last few years of her tenure as C.E.O. that girl bosses and empowerment Twitter and workplace feminism had really taken off.

In one of our fights over the last year, I had asked my mother if she thought the internet had empowered her to leave my father.

She looked confused, then responded with her favorite cryptic phrase: “I don’t know.”

When we arrived at the venue, I touched up my makeup in a dressing room while my mother and sister fluttered around me. Here was the moment when it would all come together — or not. But none of the disaster scenarios I had feared were top of mind, or even in my mind at all. I had put in the work to get here, and now I was letting go.

When my mother asked me how I was, I said, “Really good.”

Later, I walked down the aisle in a happy daze and cried during my vows. The evening was filled with intimate moments not only with friends and family, but with my husband, who lit up my world that night like he had for the previous six years.

All evening I was happy, my feelings uncomplicated and pure. My mother and I hadn’t gone through some magical healing process during the wedding planning as I had hoped, but I was entirely OK. Finally, the somewhat grating concept that this was “my day” rang true.

And I realized that, for all our differences, my mother and I were alike in this experience. Because, some 18 months earlier, without fanfare or celebration, her day had come too. She must have had a million feelings and fretted endlessly as she considered whether to leave my father, but when the time came, she knew she was OK and knew it was right. She had worked on our family her whole life, and, for her, letting go of that wasn’t giving up — it was the beginning of a new phase.

I watched my mother twirl on the dance floor, happier than I had seen her in years, perhaps freer than I ever had seen her. And though I was entering my marriage as she was exiting hers, I felt that our joy came from a similar place: of being in the right place, at the right time, sure of oneself.

It felt a little like forgiveness, a little like moving on. It also felt like I was back to being an adult, separating my happiness from my family’s complicated web of relationships. It wasn’t the right time to grab my mother and have a conversation about it. The band was playing at full steam, the cake was about to be cut, and my attention was fabulously splintered. But there is more than one way to share feelings, and even with my mother far out of view, I sensed that we were finally, and completely, in sync.

Katy Gathright is a writer in Washington DC.

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