divorce_cake_stockWSJ  – April 22nd – A woman writes that her daughter is receiving her doctoral degree on the same day her son is getting married. Read the article here. They set the wedding date before they knew the exact date of “her event.” The daughter wasn’t consulted. And to add insult to injury, her role in the wedding involves tending the guest book.

Sue Shellenbarger, who has the job I’d love in my next life – writing about careers and  family – consulted a family therapist and a wedding etiquette expert.

The etiquette expert says, essentially, let her vent and then “give her a hug and ask her what she thinks you should do. She may by this point be able to see that the wedding should go on as planned. If not, give her time.”

The expert does admit that “close siblings usually receive a bigger honor than tending the guest book.”

And, suggests the expert, “explore whether her school would allow a dean or adviser to confer her degree at a later ceremony the family could attend…when she looks back on the occasion years from now, she’ll be glad she attended the wedding.”

The experts got this one wrong. I think this daughter should divorce her family. Period.

The dynamics are clear. The family devalues this daughter. She’s given a minor role in the wedding. Asking for a bigger role is missing the point. Why doesn’t her brother want her to play a bigger role? Does his new wife feel resentful?

Giving her a hug isn’t going to help. And it’s insulting to ask her what she thinks and then assume she’ll agree with you.

Ultimately, though, this scenario reeks of sexism and singlism. The family was so caught up in the son’s wedding – a ritual supported by society’s customs  – that they forgot they have a daughter. They devalued the daughter’s accomplishment.

Getting a PhD is a big deal, unless she’s studying at an off-the-wall diploma mill. The PhD graduation is memorable. My PhD was from UC Berkeley and it was a beautiful day. We PhDs got our hoods first. We were recognized and our dissertation titles were read. Then we got to sit and enjoy the rest of the students get their degrees. I had a party afterward for my friends and colleagues.

PhD students often form a close cohort. The daughter wants to be around her colleagues and her professors, who won’t be gathered later. It’s bizarre to ask a large institution to create a ceremony when a family can’t modify the wedding date.

I am a little puzzled about the date. Most universities name the date quite early – certainly early enough for a wedding. The letter writer carefully says,  “The date was set and a deposit placed on the venue before we knew the exact date of her event…” but I wonder if they even asked.

Something like this happened to me. A close relative called me just a few weeks before a wedding. The wedding was scheduled to take place in a church in a major city, so the date would have been set months ahead of time. I was getting ready to graduate with my PhD and I’d planned a trip to Europe as a graduation present to myself. So I said no.

My relative wasn’t the least bit interested in my degree. When I told her I wasn’t going to the wedding, I didn’t hear from her again for over fifteen years. I never regretted my decision and I have no interest in building a relationship with this relative.

I think this daughter should read the signals. She’s the Cinderella of the family. Unless she shows up with a handsome prince, they’ll never take her seriously. And when there’s a crisis, she’ll be expected to drop everything and rush to help, perhaps sacrificing her own career. She’s well out of there.