Friday, February 12, 2016

Engagement Complications

What follows is personal reflection, a break from serious short essays.

I'm engaged. A wedding will follow in three years' time, since I am having $20,000 in student loan debt forgiven. One of my doctors signed a form for me which I then sent to the company in charge of loan payments. The document noted the severity of my illness and why I am unable to pay off the remaining balance. The loan company doesn't want to give up that much debt easily, but as long as my income from freelancing is this minimal, I have an incentive to stay poor. Soon I will owe nothing to no one, which will be a weight off of my shoulders.

I've gotten my credit in line. My youthful exploits and irresponsible credit card binges have been wiped away. I've done all the things that responsible adults are supposed to do before nuptials are underway. I work on myself daily to manage bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and a severe anxiety disorder. These take up a lot of my time, but I manage them with the same surgical precision. I have no other choice.

I can control my finances and my relationship to an extent, but I have no control over my extended family. This is where matters get very complicated. I haven't really allowed myself to think about wedding plans until the last several weeks. The ceremony itself will be simple and to the point, in the Quaker fashion. That part doesn't bother me. When the time grows ever closer, my partner and I will placidly begin the process of preparation. I see that being a calm and relatively straightforward process.

Here's the problem. Both of my uncles are self-absorbed and not terribly friendly people. Over the years, I've tried to understand how their dysfunctional upbringing influenced their behavior. The two of them don't even bother to justify their conduct, showing a complete unwillingness to be introspective. They grew up in a family where emotional displays were to be kept to a minimum. This was the exact reverse from how I was brought up, which is part of my confusion.

I don't think it was ever acceptable for them to express their true feelings for any reason. In adulthood, I recognize that my grandmother certainly bears part of the blame, herself the spitting image of WASP depression-era stoicism. When she was still living, the two of them marched to her drumbeat, but she has been dead now for over a decade. One of her sons, my uncle, is struggling with his own slow decline, his own ultimate demise from Alzheimer's. I should be more compassionate, but I'm not.

My uncles never learned healthy ways of expressing themselves. They've certainly never taken an active role in my life. Inviting them to the wedding would imply that I want them there, and the truth of it is that I don't. When one of my sisters got married, she invited the entire clan in the hopes of securing an expensive present. No present can buy the affection I craved and needed. They have money beyond my wildest dreams, more money than I will probably ever make in my lifetime, but it doesn't take the place of genuine sentiment and tenderness. To them, things are more important than people, which is a lesson my uncles will never learn.

If I have my way, I'm bound to bruise feelings. I want to invite one set of cousins, their significant other, and their kids. That will be it. I do not want to invite anyone else from that side of the family. My uncles have never made time for me and I'm tired of being tight-lipped and tolerant for their sake. Part of being a family member is being there for the little things, even if they're comprised of quite ordinary trips to the grocery store or moments watching television together. My uncles could be coerced out of guilt and obligation to spend time with me, but that's not exactly love for love's sake.

When word gets around, I expect I will have to defend myself. Mostly I just want to be left alone. This is my day in the sun, the culmination of dreams I was beginning to worry would never come true. I will be close to forty years old by the time I actually say my vows, which is late even for these times. In the conservative South, people get married much earlier, and by now the first flood of early divorcees is leading my contemporaries into second marriages. I hope mine lasts longer than theirs did, but no one can say that I married too young.  

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