What happens when your friend’s wedding drama isn’t “My mom doesn’t like my dress!” or “My sister is harassing me for a plus one!”
And instead it’s “My parents refuse to attend my wedding.” or “My family is disowning me for marrying outside of my culture.” How can you show up for them when you can’t relate to their cultural experience?
I’m a first generation Thai-Cambodian American who grew up in a city with a practically non-existent Asian community. Most of my friends are multi-generation Americans who are wonderfully open-minded, curious folks and have lended me their ears and several glasses of wine whenever I’d struggle with cultural-related immigrant family drama.
But when my parents refused to attend my wedding, that was a different beast. This family drama was heavily rooted in cultural expectations, Asian traditions, and all sorts of generational trauma that was difficult to begin to comprehend, even if I taught a whole college course on it. My friends wanted to help me, but since it was unfamiliar territory for them, they felt a bit out of their depth and I sure as hell didn’t blame them.
So how do you help your friend when things are that deep? Here are some things my friends did to support me during my cultural family drama.
DON'T conflate your experience with theirs.
If someone from a marginalized community feels vulnerable enough to share their experience with you, please don’t respond with “That happens in white/Catholic families too.” Be mindful that there might be significant differences between how your culture would handle a problem vs how their culture would.
DO admit you don't have all the answers.
It’s ok to also be vulnerable with your friend and acknowledge that it’s hard for you to even begin to understand how hurtful what they’re going through is.
DON'T force feed them silver linings.
- “It’ll work out.”
- “They’ll come around.”
- “But you know they still love you, right?”
This isn’t an episode of Full House where everything resolves itself in 30 minutes! Although admittedly, I like to imagine white families solve their problems similarly to the characters in Full House a la comedy of errors and slapstick humor.
DO try to ask more questions.
Try these instead:
- “What is the hardest part?”
- “What are you most worried about?”
- “Walk me through your thought process.”
DON'T be the toxic positivity fairy.
- “You’ll get through this.”
- “At least…”
- “Look on the bright side.”
DO validate their feelings.
“This fucking sucks. I’m sorry you have to go through this. I’m here for you. How can I help you get through this? What do you need from me right now?” Really, any of these together or separate work. Validate them and show them you are ready to support in the best way you know how.
DON'T suggest a heart to heart with their family.
- “Just talk to them one on one.”
- “Be straightforward with them.”
- “Speak to them as an adult.”
HA, this sounds like someone who has never had a sandal thrown at their head. BIPOC folks and children of immigrants, you know what I’m talking about.
Ready for 3 Do’s in a row?
DO offer to help in the best way you know how.
On the wedding week or day of the wedding, find out how you can help. Whether that’s setting up a table, fixing their makeup, or making sure they’ve eaten something, showing you are physically there for them goes a long way.
DO be their hype person!
Seriously, hype them up for their wedding! This is different from toxic positivity because you’re not gonna do this when they very clearly just want to vent and be sad. Very likely if they are dealing with ongoing family drama, it feels nice to hear from other people that they’re looking forward to the wedding (especially because their family’s probably not getting them very excited).
You get their wedding invitation in the mail: I cannot wait for your wedding, it’s gonna be amazing!
They show you their wedding outfit: OH MY GOD WHAT ETHEREAL BEING HAS GRACED MY EYEBALLS YOU LOOK INCREDIBLE.
You get the jist.
One more DO, and this one’s my favorite.
The BEST thing my friends could do for me during this time was encourage me to go to therapy. At first it made me sad because I thought it meant they were sick of hearing me complain about my cultural family drama. But the reality was that even though they wanted to support and listen to me, they couldn’t help me the same way a culturally-similar therapist could. And when I finally got into therapy, my friends cheerleaded the fuck out of me!
“YES BITCH! So proud of you for unpacking that generational trauma!”
“Look at you setting boundaries like a boss!”
Here’s a copy-paste you can use:
“This sounds really hard. I wish I could understand what you’re going through, but admittedly, I can’t. Have you considered seeing a therapist with a similar cultural background? They might be able to provide you with insight that I don’t have. Here are some resources I’ve found.”
And show them this extensive list of mental health resources that serve the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, put together by my friend Janette Valenzo. If affordability is a concern, read this post here to learn what your options are here.
The fact that you’re even reading this means you’re a good ass friend! What do’s and don’ts are we missing from this list?