Ask Team Practical: A Wedding or an Elopement?


It’s Friday, and Alyssa has the week off (What? Yes. You get time off as a blogger). So today’s Ask Team Practical is really an Ask Meg, and we’re tackling the debate of whether to have a wedding or elope.

Ask Team Practical: A Wedding or an Elopement? | A Practical Wedding

My guy and I have been together for five years and have been through a handful of tough situations and tough conversations, and we’re both moving toward the idea of getting hitched and being married to each other. We’re working together to make our relationship a safe haven—a place where we can grow together and as individuals—something that will last for the long haul. It has been its own strange and awkward and rewarding journey, and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow our relationship and really explore marriage and what that means.

I’ve had a couple of years to think about what our wedding would look and sound and feel like. And after all of my fantasizing about weddings, after reading APW wedding graduate posts, going to weddings as a guest, thinking about money (or the lack thereof), and so on and so forth… I don’t want a wedding. I just want to be married. Is that odd? But my guy wants a wedding. He wants our families and friends to get together and party with us, to rent a cabin in the woods and fish and have bonfires and drink home-brewed beer with people we love. It sounds great, and I’d love to do those things with some friends sometime, but I have no interest in the social politics nor the traditions nor the philosophical implications of A Wedding. We’re not religious, nor traditionalists. We’re broke. Our people are scattered all over the US. I don’t get along very well with much of my family, but my mother would expect that I invite them. I’m shy, and I don’t want something as emotional and intense as my wedding vows to be said in front of a bunch of people, especially if they include random distant cousins that show up and if friends bring their dates-du-jour, you know? The idea of all that planning—the food, the music, the dress—sounds totally overwhelming and not at all like something I want to do. So: do I try to convince him that eloping is the best idea ever, or do I try to make a wedding work? How the heck do I deal with this?

Not Scared To Hitch But No Party Please

Dear NSTHBNPP,

Of course the real answer to your question is that there is no answer, other than the one you and your guy come to after lots of conversation. But. Our job is to help you think things through, so let’s break it down into helpful pieces:

What Is A Wedding?

There are a million reasons to get hitched, no matter how you choose to celebrate it (courthouse or forest bash). Here are some of the reasons that I think are the most compelling:

  • It is, to paraphrase Wedding Graduate Luis, the only time we get to have so many people we love gathered in one place, until the last party that’s thrown for anyone (and we won’t remember that one).
  • It is a time-tested way to combine two families and build a brand new family. Think of it as ritualized fighting. The difficult and painful parts of this life transition are going to happen anyway, so you might as well give everyone a time-tested and well understood way to do it.
  • It’s a way to solemnize your relationship in the presence of witnesses (you have to have at least two), or your community.
  • It’s a way to mark the passage of time. What is tradition other than a way to say, I was here, I lived, I participated? (For more wise thoughts on tradition, may I direct you to Wedding Graduate and theologian Clare?)
  • It’s a way to participate in something bigger than you. And by “bigger than you” I don’t mean “God” so much as I mean “the human race.”

Those are the reasons I find weddings compelling, whether they are comprised of bonfires and home brewed beers in the woods, or simple courthouse ceremonies with two witnesses. The trick is to figure out which of those things are compelling for you, then to build your wedding from there. Which brings us to…

What do you want out of your wedding?

The next thing you need to do (after laying on your back, staring at the stars, and pondering the why of weddings) is talk to your partner. Why does he want a backwoods bash? Why do you want a teeny elopement (please be specific with your answers).

Here is what I’ve got. Neither one of you should allow yourself to be forced into a wedding that doesn’t fit with who you are. Remember Wedding Graduate Nicole, who allowed herself to be pushed into a big wedding when she wanted to elope? She said, “I desperately wanted the courthouse wedding, but was told by many that I would truly regret not having a big party. A part of this many was my husband. If you’re really wanting the courthouse shindig, then do it. Stick to your guns.” She didn’t love her wedding (though she ended up having a blast), and she loved being married. So, perhaps that’s an argument for eloping (if your husband agrees to that).

But then there is Kayce, who said, “If it weren’t for our community we probably would have run off and eloped. I’m glad we didn’t. Our closest friends and family are scattered all around the world. Having them all in one place for a week to celebrate with us was the greatest gift and made all the stress of planning the wedding worth it.” Or Devereaux who said, “My best advice to wedding undergraduates is this: just do it. Don’t put it off because you don’t think you have enough money for a nice wedding, or because you’re intimidated by the planning, or because your family is having a hard time. Just marry the one you love.”

That’s a lot of conflicting advice, yes? So maybe the best advice comes from the long-married Adrianne, who said, “Resolve to be content.” Figure out what your path is, and then make it work for you. Or…

Make it what you need it to be.

Most important of all, remember that there is no rule about what a wedding has to be like. Don’t want to spend a lot of money? Don’t. Don’t want to invite the whole extended family? Tell your mom no. Don’t want people do bring dates you don’t know? Tell them they can’t. Don’t want to be hassled with picking a dress and planning catering? Skip it.

What is the process of getting married really good for? It’s good for making you an adult in the eyes of your community. It’s good at making you step into your own power. It helps you learn to say yes to what matters and no to everything else. It teaches you (wait for it) to say no to your mom. So just like you’ve used the time in your relationship to figure out what you need it to be, use this time of getting hitched to figure out what you need your family to be in the context of the world. Maybe that’s a family that celebrates with a small low-key barbecue. Maybe that’s a family that elopes.

But for goodness sake, if you or your partner wants to gather those you love most around you, don’t give that up over someone else’s idea of the “social politics or the traditions or the philosophical implications” of a wedding. Make it your own. That will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Luck!

Meg

****

What say you Team Practical? For those of you that were ambivalent about a big party, how did you decide what do to?

Photo: Elissa R. Photography, TX (APW Sponsor)

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com.  If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted.  Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh).  We’re not kidding.  It brings us joy.  What, you don’t want to bring your editors JOY?!?

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  • http://www.adventuresindressmaking.com Adventures in Dressmaking

    I’ve thought about this issue a lot too, and decided that our family and friends that we care about want to celebrate with us, and that community is really important to us in our marriage and our lives. I would have been happy with going down to the courthouse, then going out to a fancy dinner, but sharing the day with all the people who care about us makes it a lot more special!

    Of course, what do I know–I’m getting married tomorrow!!–so I don’t know how it will all end up! But the pre-wedding family events have been great and we feel so loved and supported.

    • meg

      Congratulations!!!!

    • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

      AAHH!! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

    • http://www.scriptinghappiness.com Jeena

      Congrats! It’s truly one of the best days – enjoy every moment!

    • Kashia

      YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    Just my two cents but it sounds like you want a party, not a wedding. Perhaps you could elope but have an epic party/reception/celebration? It would take the pressure off a bit but still allow the gathering and community that your fiance wants. Just an idea!

    • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Cass

      I was thinking along the same lines: have a surprise elopement at a party in the woods. I would probably tell my parents at least a couple days before, just so they show up. But otherwise, what a way to COMPROMISE, which is a big part of weddings, too.
      But this is a solution-oriented answer, and may not be right for you. Talk with your partner, and each others families. And if you must, put your foot down with your families, because its you and your partner’s wedding, not your parents’ wedding.

      • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty {a safe mooring}

        That’s exactly what I was thinking! Say it’s just a party for a birthday or something, that way only the people who really care about you will show up, and then boom! Surprise wedding! (This is partly based on me being obsessed with Emma Case’s surprise wedding which just sounded like the best thing EVER: http://www.rocknrollbride.com/2011/03/emma-petes-enchantment-under-the-sea-dance-a-big-fat-surprise-wedding/).

        But obviously, yes, I agree with all the advice that you guys need to talk it through and decide what will work for you. Just don’t forget that it doesn’t need to be an either/or scenario – with a bit of creative thinking, I bet you could craft something that would be perfect for both of you.

        • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

          I LOVED her surprise wedding!!

        • LanyTaz

          I was thinking this as well!!

          Invite only those you want to invite, tell them it’s a suprise, but something important (you could even plan it around a similar time as someone’s birthday so it “makes sense”), and then suprise everyone with a wedding!

          Then no one gets caught up in the , “But it’s your wedding!” arguement, and you can send out annoucements later!

          Plus, my favorite part of planning has been when it’s just my fiancee and I involved in the decision-making. I get stressed when it starts to involve others. This way, it’s all JUST between the two of you!

          Love it!

    • http://intrepidbrytani.wordpress.com Brytani

      On top of this fantastic suggestion, lots of venues have “elopement packages” that are actually like tiny weddings for just you and your immediate family (or some other arrangement of under 20 guests/witnesses). They’re typically very budget-friendly and are all-inclusive so no stressful planning!

      Or maybe the private ceremony with open reception…which is very nearly the same as eloping with a reception later. I think people would just be waiting immediately afterward.

    • Melissa

      Yep, this is what we are doing! We are eloping, but then coming home and having a reception party the following week. So far it’s turning out to be a great compromise and also a way to involve the family and friends that really wanted to help and be a part of the event.

    • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

      We struggled with the same sort of problem, although not quite- I wanted a small ceremony and a big party, and my partner didn’t know how to pare down her important family members to a a small number. I know that’s not QUITE the same as an elopment, but we tried really hard to figure out a way to have ceremony with only out 10 or so nearest and dearest and a reception with a bunch more. So, I know it’s a difficult conversation to figure out. In the end, it didn’t work out that way- we had about a 100 people there for all of it- and I’m actually glad we did it that way. It worked for us. I agree with Meg, though: you and your sweetie need to sit down and hash out your REASONS for wanting what you want, not just stating that you want it, and then come to a compromise that works for you.

    • http://marycyrusphotography.blogspot.com Mary

      This! My cousin was married a little over a month ago, and she had a very intimate ceremony with just her very closest community invited on the Summer Solstice, and then had a big shindig the following Saturday. They did also have a bit of a ceremony on Saturday, but they didn’t repeat their vows – they just included them in the program and asked people to read them silently. The Saturday ceremony was more about asking their larger community to recognize them as a married couple, which I thought was heartfelt and beautiful. That was one of my favorite parts of my own ceremony – asking our friends and family to vow to support us in various ways. I had the honor of photographing the event and I love how my cousin is grinning her face off out at all of her People probably even moreso than toward her husband. They already had their day to make vows toward each other, and that day was all about their People coming together to celebrate. It’s a viable option to consider.

      And? The party was mostly just a party, sans traditions. They had a kickass band, and dancing started impromptu when the bride was calming a sister-in-law’s fussy baby. They had hamburgers. Dancing and laughing and partying ran laaate into the night. And it was out in the woods in a rented lodge and we stayed in rented cabins. Methinks you can both have what you want, if having a party to celebrate your marriage is a compromise you wouldn’t be miserable about. :)

    • Emily

      Yes. This isn’t for everyone, but I think it can work really well for the right people. Some close friends of mine did the courthouse wedding last summer, and then planned a reception a month later. It was a low-key but very festive affair, and doing it separately from the wedding enabled them to invite fewer people and eschew the wedding traditions they weren’t interested in. It was almost like separating the ceremony was the break they needed to have the non-traditional wedding they wanted all along.

      And the party was still meaningful and celebratory. I don’t think any of us felt like we missed the “important” part. The bride and groom and their family and close friends still gave speeches. There was lots of laughter and love and eating and drinking. It really opened my eyes to the idea that you can keep the ceremony private (if that’s what you want, which it sounds like it is) and still have the celebrating-with-everyone part.

    • HeatherM

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Perhaps this doesn’t need to be about his way versus your idea of getting married, and more about finding the unique way of getting married that is right for you guys as a couple. You don’t have to love every minute of the wedding planning, but maybe you could find a place in the middle of all of this, where you both can come together as a couple and redefine “wedding” into the elements that both of you do want in the day.
      And by the way on a logistics note, did you know that many major cities like Chicago & San Francisco host their civil wedding ceremonies in some of their most beautiful buildings? This is what my (now) husband and I did. We had a civil ceremony under the gigantic Tiffany glass dome in the Chicago cultural center (offered by the city on saturdays for $10 more than the normal cost of your marriage license). We had 15 of our closest friends and family as witnesses, and then we took them out to a fancy lunch at the Palmer House afterward. The next day, we had a very casual party in our backyard with all of our remaining friends and extended family. I loved this because it meant my extended family drama couldn’t touch my actual wedding day much. And for as much as they brought drama into the day after party, I didn’t care that much, because it was just a party.

  • http://aroomwithaviewblog.com Anni

    I second Emma. I think if you two elope it will take all the stress off of you – but a nice compromise would be to do the celebration your fiance envisioned, in celebration of your marriage. It could be a lot more casual, and you could really present it more as a party for those you love, and the gathering of people who – Meg is spot on – won’t really be gathered in one place again.

    • Kris

      I know I would fly across the country to see a close friend get married (and I have flown red-eye 4000km for the weekend) but likely not to go to a party. It’s not that I don’t want to party with them (I SO do) there’s just something about a wedding. Maybe it’s like Meg said, the draw is the ritual of watching your loved one transition into a new stage of their life.

      • http://aroomwithaviewblog.com Anni

        I think you’re right, but I also wonder if the people who are closest would still come, making it almost more the intimate gathering that it sounds like they want?

        Either way, it needs to be something that they can both (happily) live with!

      • http://greyandshiny.wordpress.com/ Nina

        I have to second what Kris said – there is just something about a wedding that will cause you to happily board a plane across the country that a party just can’t recreate. Perhaps it’s because parties can happen anytime, whereas there is only that one day when you say your vows to each other.

        • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

          I agree as well. Perhaps it’s the “big-ness” of the occasion? And the formality? It’s culturally built up to be a big, big deal (which it is) and so I don’t know if I would travel a far way to be at a party that wasn’t also the ceremony. It would depend on the person, I suppose.

          • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

            It would depend on the person, I suppose.

            Yes. If either of my two best friends were having a big party in a different state, I might opt to go. But a “regular” friend? I have work and a family (including a child) and money is tighter than we’d like. I don’t think I could justify a trip out unless I knew it was for something as big as a wedding. =/

        • http://penn.typepad.com Leah

          This is my mom’s concern re: my wedding. I mentioned way downthread, but we eloped this summer yet are still having a big ceremony and reception this winter. My husband’s parents want to tell his family. My mom firmly said no. I didn’t care so much, but my mom made the argument that some people won’t come if the wedding already happened. And so I’m not going to lie to anyone . . . but I’m also not going out of my way to let folks know that we’re already married. We plan to hang out marriage certificate post-winter, so the truth will out eventually. If folks are upset, I figure I will explain my reasoning — this summer is our legalversary, and winter is our anniversary and our joining together religiously and community-wise.

          • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

            Hm. I think if you are having a ceremony and a reception, and not just a reception, I don’t really think it matters all that much. It’s the ceremony that people want to be there for, and if you’re legally married already, so what? The wedding hasn’t “happened” yet- at least, not this wedding. The public recognition and witnessing is really important, too. And the people who love you will probably see that- I can’t imagine getting upset if one of my friends had gotten hitched at city hall, but then wanted a community and religious event to mark the occasion. I say, go for it. :)

          • Steph & B

            All of my guests felt exactly the same way that Helen just said. So we were legally married and had a legal ceremony. But we hadn’t had a wedding ceremony with our community there to witness, and they were all thrilled to be there when we had one. Nobody thought less of the ceremony or cared one bit. Even my dad cried and said it was beautiful and he was the only one who went into the wedding telling me that it was going pointless (since I was already legally married).

      • Laura

        That is exactly why we are having a wedding instead of going down to the courthouse with our parents and then having a big party with everyone afterward. Almost every single person on my half of the guest list lives at least 600 miles away, and I felt like it wouldn’t be fair to expect people to come from so far away and not actually see me get married.

      • LBD

        I’m doing this. My friends and family know that I’m not an in-front-of-everyone kind of person. Some of us just are that way. We’re having a party after our small family-only thing mostly because all our friends are scattered to the four winds and wedding receptions seem to be just about the only time everyone has a good excuse to get together these days.

        As it’s always said, it’s not about me. It’s about my community. And they just need an excuse to get together. And because they love me and my boy, and understand us, they’re good with it. This, for us, was the compromise that works. I wanted to be able to be open and honest with my boy in my ceremony, and there was no way I was going to be able to do that in front of more than a handful of people, yet I didn’t want to deprive my friends of a good excuse to see each other again, and was excited to share our fair city with them.

        So all I got to say is, if your friends understand you and love you, they’ll accept whatever you decide to do. The ones that matter anyways.

        ONE WEEK TO GO!

        • Amandover

          Best wishes this coming week!! It’s gonna be great. Enjoy it!

      • LW

        “I know I would fly across the country to see a close friend get married (and I have flown red-eye 4000km for the weekend) but likely not to go to a party. ”

        As someone who eloped and had a party after (well after) I found this to be very true. A few people who we would have liked to be there were unable to come, however had it been for a wedding, they would have come.

        I understand completetly and wasn’t upset, since the elopement was our choice, however it is something to consider.

      • Liv

        I think for the whole surprise wedding thing, if there’s close friends/family you really wanted there, it’d be wise to let them in on the secret. Even best friends can’t always fly across the country just for any party, and I think they’d be bummed they weren’t there because they didn’t have all the details.

  • http://lizprocrastinates.blogspot.com Liz

    I don’t think Alyssa mentioned, but one thing that has really struck me with the multitudes of weddings occurring in my family is this:

    Our wedding ceremony will be for us, but our reception will be for our friends and family too. They want to celebrate with us, and spend time with each other. My parents and aunts and uncles have been so happy to attend my cousins’ weddings and see each other on a happy occasion (as opposed to recent funerals). I want to give them that joy too.

    Obviously, every family is different, and you shouldn’t plan a reception you won’t enjoy, but I thought I should add the “for other people” to the list.

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      My dad’s family went a really long time without a wedding and last summer my cousin got married and it was so wonderful for us all to breakout of our typical family gathering mode and have a PARTY. It was so festive and wonderful.

      And suddenly, that wedding just seems to be the beginning. Another cousin is getting married this September and next September it will be ME! I’m so excited.

      Of the advice seekers concerns I totally understand the issues surrounding money. As much as everything I said above holds true, a chunk of the drive behind our planning a destination wedding is to keep the size under control–my closest cousins will come but those I haven’t talked to in years? Yeah, they probably won’t make the trek. (But if they do, it might mean I need to reevaluate how I look at that individual relationship…I might be missing out on something awesome!)

    • meg

      MEG mentioned.

      • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

        Hugs Meg. We all love your writing. (And yes, you sound nothing like Alyssa. You both have fabulously recognizable writing voices.)

      • http://lizprocrastinates.blogspot.com Liz

        Ach, I’m sorry! That’s what I get for trying to comment quickly at work.

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      My family only really gathers for weddings and funerals, and trust me when I tell you I`d rather seem them in a party glass with a drink in hand then in black with tissues.

  • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

    I instantly thought of Holly – who did both elope & have a family wedding. I think she discussed it so eloquently and beautifully.

    My best friend wanted a wedding. Her husband did not. They ended up having a small ceremony in the Gem Hall of our Natural Science museum & a reception at our favorite jazz bar downtown. There were maybe 60 people, minimal dancing (mostly by the five of us who can’t help but bogey to a good beat), and it was both intimate and private.

    He is very intimidated by large crowds, but was able to relax and enjoy the day they built together – because he was involved and able to say “yes” to things he liked & “no” to those he didn’t. And in the end, they were both very happy with how it turned out.

    I firmly believe a middle ground is possible, even if it’s having a private ceremony followed by a weekend of fishing in the woods with your closest friends.

    FINALLY. NO, you aren’t odd for just wanting to be married. My best friend often felt that way as well. She got nervous at the thought of a wedding in front of people, but absolutely couldn’t wait to be married. She initially wanted to skip it. You aren’t alone :)

    • Amy

      To this day I still insist that as lovely as my wedding reception was, I would have much preferred to just get married at City Hall or at home without all the hoopla.
      My husband wanted a big wedding as did my parents, and there is something to be said about gathering the generations and far flung family together to celebrate. But just know that you are not at all weird for not caring too much about the pomp and circumstance!

      • Melanie

        Thanks, Amy and Melissa :)

        I think just hearing each of you say this helps keep me optimistic.

  • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

    We never really thought it was an option, coming from very distant countries (Argentina-Serbia). The logistics and the expense of it all made us decide against it, but we both were on the same page from the beginning. We had agreed that if one of us wanted the party, we would have managed somehow because we thought that it was important for both of us to be truly happy on our wedding day (be it a simple civil wedding, a huge party or something in between).

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com Jo

    We both wanted to elope (end up married but no wedding!) but allowed the community bit to get us into the wedding. Overall: very fulfilling. We really tried to focus on that for the wedding, and succeeded.

    My only advice is for both of you to write down the most important things about what you want, really distill it. If you want to be married and not wedding-ed, why? What are you hoping for? Is it to have a private moment and no fuss/awkwardness? If he wants the wedding, does he want the joy and the community? I wish I’d been able to do this a bit better, because the things that we knew we wanted (private bits, lots of joy, focus on community) we made happen through design and scheduling. The things I wanted but didn’t plan for didn’t happen. Our wedding ceremony was VERY much us and not traditional at all. I do a bit regret not waiting til we could comfortably pay for a photographer, and it was VERY hard for me that he had almost all of his people and I had a fraction of mine who are scattered and couldn’t afford to come. That’s the only reason I would have gone for a long engagement, so that people could have started saving and made it. Also, you don’t have to invite anyone you don’t want to. It’s your celebration. (Sometimes people will surprise you and step up, but you know best of all if this is possible). We said our wedding vows without a mic, and most people didn’t hear them. We also took a few moments alone pre and post wedding to say very deep things to each other. I didn’t even notice the people, and I was expecting to be terrified.

    You can also make an elopement work the same way, just emphasize the bits that are important to you each and make them happen.

    Long winded comment to say: good luck!

  • http://dearwedding.wordpress.com/ Andee

    I tried to side step the whole becoming and “adult” thing by planning a very small, non-wedding sort of thing but then we bought a house and all the drama, family negotiations, boundary building, and telling mom no came rushing in.

    So my advice would be to just do it because if you don’t use your wedding time to acomplish the transition into complete adulthood you’ll just have to do it later. Just make sure you do it your (both you and your fiance’s) way. Finding a common ground to have a wedding you both want is a good foundation for the rest of your life.

    • Cass

      This was a big concern of my husband’s before we got married. We’re both under 25 (if you’ve read the Parker-Pope APW book club read, this spells D-O-O-M). So we ended up with a long engagement, where we both spent a lot of time together, but also a lot of time apart, giving us that opportunity to become adults before the wedding.
      It’s an on-going process, with some reversion, and growth.

      My main point: transition needs to take place before, during, and after the wedding.

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      Yes, I agree. As I was planning our wedding and trying to figure out the boundary building stuff, an already-married friend told me that she went along with her mother’s wishes for her wedding to avoid conflict, but later when she had kids, she then had to create some firm boundaries and say “no” and deal with the repercussions of it all anyways. So she suggested doing it sooner (in my case, with a wedding) instead of trying to avoid it, because it will happen sometime regardless.

    • meg

      Agreed. You have to do this stuff sooner or later (because if you don’t separate your new family’s needs from your family of origins needs, danger looms), so a wedding is a good time to do it. Sometimes I think this is why families fight over the decision to elope… because they missed the wedding fighting, and the grieving/ separation, so they have to process those emotions. (Which, for the record, I think is a fine way to do it too, though you should probably expect the fights.)

      Waiting to have these fights with your mother / mother in law/ etc after the kids come sounds HORRIFIC to me, however. But that’s me.

      • Cass

        The “after the kids come” situation happened to my brother in law. It was sad, and grandma tried for a long time to essentially take the kid from my BIL because she didn’t recognize him as an adult or recognize that he has a new baby family.
        This was an unfortunately predictable situation. And as humans we have the ability to predict outcomes precisely so we can avoid huge problems! Trust your gut.

      • anon

        it also depends on the family too though – we never had to deal with any of these things around our wedding, and to be honest I can’t remember ever having to deal with this. I though my Mum had a really overbearing mother so she has always been very careful to not be anything like that with me.

        • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

          Which I think can give those of us with overbearing mothers hope that we don`t have to turn out like them!

          (We had zero issues with my inlaws, because they are lovely and respect boundaries.)

      • Steph & B

        When I told my mother-in-law that I wished our wedding had had less family drama and fights, she looked at me and said, “That’s what weddings are for.” Weddings are a place for old fights and new. She also told me that weddings were a place where everyone figured out how they were going to mesh with new families and how they were going to come together. Although I’m sure she said it better than that.

        • meg

          Wise words.

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      You really have to do it at some point. Maybe there’s some more in store for me during the wedding planning but for us it happened at least in a small way when I put my foot down last Christmas and said we weren’t coming home.

      We’d purchased a house and had plenty of work to do to make it livable, plus it was Forrest’s turn to decide where we went for the holidays and he chose home, OUR home. It was hard for my family to see us a our own family unit who will celebrate things in our own way (which will be back with my family this year). Whether that was a big or small step on the way to separation remains to be seen but I’ve proven I can tell my mother no.

  • Melissa

    I thought I was too shy and private for a wedding. I thought my extended family wasn’t the right kind of family to have a “real” wedding. I thought I hated traditions and rituals. I thought I’d feel like I was acting in a play, a play involving public kissing and judgment, in front of everyone I knew. I thought mixing friends and relatives would just be weird. I thought the stress would make us unhappy. I thought I would have a bad time. I thought we couldn’t afford it.

    I did have a wedding. The only one of the above statements that came true was that the stress did make me unhappy – but the day of was a blast, so much more fun than I expected! There were so many special moments, and I am proud of myself for saying no when I did and saying yes when I did. In retrospect, the wedding is extremely meaningful for me. Good luck in finding the balance that is right for you.

    • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

      Interestingly, we couldn’t really afford it and we didn’t really like a lot of the traditions, either (just to pick a few from your list), so we did it VERY inexpensively (read: basically we did everything ourselves and rented a community center instead of a venue that cost thousands of dollars) and picked and chose the traditions and rituals we liked. Your wedding ends up being what you make it. :)

    • http://explainingitall.blogspot.com Clarissa

      Thank you for this comment. It gives me hope!

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        You can cut SO MUCH out and still have it count as a wedding. Cutting everything we didn`t like or need saved us time, money, our sanity… Despite skipping a ton of the `usual` stuff, it was perfect and us and a lovely wedding and we got what we needed from it: to be married and to celebrate with our loved ones.

        • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

          That moment when you realize the stuff doesn’t matter – because it’s all about the uniting of two people who are crazy in love and want to grow old together?

          Priceless.

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    What if you do the “civil/legal” part of the wedding all by yourselves, with only the witnesses. (That way you don’t have to say your vows in front of lots of people) and then have a party to celebrate and commemorate it, maybe even a while after? And you don’t have to do the white dress, or any of the supposedly traditional things that the WIC dictates. Just follow your heart , talk with your fiance and find a way to do something that feels right for both.
    But like it has been said, take into account your fiance because perhaps for him the “public” part of the wedding and the community celebration is really important, and it should be respected too…

  • Alana

    This is not an answer really, but a connected question. I definitely still want an ‘event’ (albeit a small one, around 45 people) for essentially the reasons you mention in this post. But what confuses me is that, like NSTHBNPP, I spent ages when pre-engaged devouring wedding blogs and delightedly dreaming away on all the trivial extras. I mean, the fact that I am MADLY in love with my honey and utterly sure about marrying him provided much of the gooeyness. But on the details front, I also loved it! I’ve always loved event planning, flower design, decorating, paper goods, fabulous dresses – all of it – and I couldn’t wait to plan my own wedding! It was seriously my favourite hobby. :P

    But now that I’m actually doing it, I… just don’t care that much…? I mean, I still use it endlessly for procrastination purposes, but I don’t feel all giddy and excited about the ‘wedding’ part. All I care about now is the emotional side, marrying my darling, feeling the love all around, all that good solid APW stuff. And I know this is the really important stuff so it’s all good… but since I only get to do this delightful thing once, on some level, I can’t help but feel I’m missing out somehow, on the giddy fun of wedding planning? Why was I so into it before I was engaged, but now I’m not really getting the same kick out of the fun trivial aspects? I KNOW it’s not any doubt about the marriage, but I guess the fact that I’m planning from abroad, far from my friends and family doesn’t help…

    I just wondered if this dwindling of ‘wedding’ enthusiasm (as opposed to enthusiasm for MARRIAGE!) upon being actually engaged is a common phenomenon? What’s it about? Is it as simple as reaching wedding detail saturation point too early? :P

    • Rasheeda

      I can’t speak for everyone but I can tell you my experiences…I went through phases. The pretty mattered for a minute and then I couldn’t be bothered. I was so into the marriage portion, the meaning, the vows and then I wasn’t for awhile. On the wedding day, the ceremony was my FAVORITE part but I loved looking at all the beautiful things I created(DIY and Paid for too). Now after the wedding, the emotions in the photos and the feelings inside me matter more than the pretty stuff but I still have them littered around my house because what I made for us still holds that symbolism a bit.
      I hope it makes sense what I am saying. Don’t be too concerned if you are over it, move on to the next thing that excites you, You might just get it back later, but it will develop over time.

    • http://dylanandsarah.com Sarah T

      I’m in very much the same boat… I don’t know if it’s common, but I understand.

      I didn’t look into weddings at all until about two months AFTER we got engaged, and now it’s a year post-engagement and we’re getting married next month! I do think a large part of it is planning a wedding without the community. We’re getting married in the city I live in, where the boy used to live too, and where we met. But he moved to a different state for a job (this probably spurred the engagement on, realizing we actually wanted to be together), his parents are in yet another state, and my parents are in a different country altogether. At the beginning I had wonderful fantasies of letterpressing all the paper aspects because I know how, lovely paper lanterns for ambience, putting together favors from the boy’s cousin’s small business… But as APW readers know, DIY is hard anyway. DIY where it’s really just you is lonely.

      And then I feel like what’s really important is that we get married, which it is. And when it’s so difficult and there’s so much else that’s actually necessary (food! transportation! aah!), I can’t get excited about the other stuff.

      • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

        I was in that boat too Sarah, and you know what saved me from despair? The lovely APW ladies on Twitter! I joined up just to be with them (nerrrd alert!) and we invented the Society of the Traveling Brigade of Cyber Bridesmaids (on twitter, #TBCB) and it was awesome! We skype crafted together, and talked and hung out and it made the lonely wedding planning process a lot less lonely.

        Which is to say, “Wanna come over?”

        • http://dylanandsarah.com Sarah T

          Um. Yes please. I think I found you on Twitter!

    • meg

      Yeah, I think it’s a really common phenomenon. I totally went through that as well. Trust me, it won’t take away from the wonderfulness of your wedding!

    • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

      I went through phases, too. I never really even thought about weddings before I met my wife, and then we got engaged and I thought about weddings ALL THE TIME, and then I got sort of sick of DIY stuff there in the middle when it was just us and it was sort of lonely. So, doing the “fun, trivial” planning can be really difficult by yourself. It’s rough. But in the end, it’s the marrying part that is REALLY important, and the rest of it will be fine! It’s good that you seem pretty on-track about that, at least. ;)

    • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

      I think it’s fairly common! I *hated* planning our wedding, *loved* getting married, and now love helping friends plan their weddings. I don’t think it’s so much about being over-saturated with details as that when it’s *your* wedding, you’re dealing with all the emotional stuff, the leaving-and-cleaving, the negotiating boundaries, the examining of feelings. That deep stuff can be exhausting (in good and bad ways) and can leave very little emotional energy/enthusiasm for details. At least that’s how it was for me.

    • LBD

      Same here. Loved looking at blogs and imagining the crazy awesome things I would do before I was engaged. Then I got engaged and I have hated most every moment of wedding planning. Okay, dress shopping was fun, I did like that part. But holy bejeezus I cannot wait for it all to be done. I threw SO MANY THINGS by the wayside that I totally thought I was going to do because I just hated it so much. As my wise auntie said, no one remembers the centerpieces in five years, but they’ll probably remember the good time spent with friends and family. So yeah, do what you need to do to keep sane.

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      Don’t make yourself crazy and read too much into it! I personally experienced next to zero wedding planning giddiness (tho I did look at blogs and the like before being engaged). Most wedding related stuff seemed like a chore, seriously. But in the end out wedding was our wedding, we had fun, and we’re never doing it again :)

    • A A

      Ha–I’m glad to read these comments because I went through something like this except that we are not engaged yet. I think the excitement over finding “the one” led me to stalk wedding blogs and fantasize over our wedding that will some day happen. I had a whole event planned out in my head. Then I realized that my energy is probably better spent preparing myself for the marriage part–like finishing grad school and figuring out where our lives would lead us or figuring out how to raise kids in an interfaith household–you know, the hard stuff instead of just the pretty things. So I’ve dropped my wedding blog stalking because they mostly just make me want to gag. Except for APW, where it’s more than just pretty things, but a lot of wisdom about life and relationships!! (and still good for procrastination…)

  • http://nickandnoragettingmarried.wordpress.com Annie

    Elopements are a tricky issue. One of my closest friends eloped and honestly, I can 100% see why. She’d always said that she wanted a very small wedding, but considering her family and her sister’s wedding, that wasn’t likely to happen. She and her husband had a lovely day by themselves, and I was super happy for them. That said, it did cause a lot of drama with her family. They were very upset they weren’t invited/informed until after and it’s taken a while for things to cool down.

    I wonder if the balance comes at having a private ceremony (another set of friends did that) and a small reception afterward. There’s no reason to invite second-cousins and their random dates. It can still be an intimate experience even with the party.

    • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

      We didn’t strictly elope, we got married in another country (we come from different countries,were living in a 3rd one and got married in another one-I know, a mess!) and everybody knew we were getting married and the reasons behind not being able to do a reception (or two). Both our families were with us in spirit, and when we travelled to our respective countries together, we organized a lunch to celebrate. Low key and simple, yet full of love. That may also work.

      • http://nickandnoragettingmarried.wordpress.com Annie

        Good suggestion! I think “Low key and simple, yet full of love” is something NSTHBNPP should strive for.

        My cousin did something like that as well, actually. She and her husband got married in Greece, but it wasn’t a big secret elopement.

        • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

          I think SECRET elopements is where feelings really get bruised. I know there are a plethora of reasons for couples to just run off & do it, but all the people who love and care can feel offended (and generally do) if they aren’t given the chance to be included and shower the new couple in love.

          I agree: if you are going to do it, let people know.

          • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

            I agree. Loved ones need to be included, to be able to attend at least in spirit, to feel a part of it.

          • LW

            As someone who had a secret elopement, I think the secrecy of it is what hurts peoples feelings. However, it doesn’t always hurt everyones feelings. After we told people everyone seemed truly happy for us and not at all hurt. Only one person (my dad) was (or at least let us see that he was) very hurt. And that did take some time to heal – but it did.
            The trick I see with non-secret elopements is how does it not spiral out of control? I imagined tellimg my parents what we were doing and then having to tell my brother, then my best friend, then cousins etc. And the next thing we are hosting a 175 person wedding.
            I guess this is where the adult part comes in (and I admit that for me personally it is hard to be an independant adult around my dad) and you decide what you decide and put your foot down if/when it does start to spiral. I personally didn’t feel like I could do that, which is why we eloped secretly.

          • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

            The good thing about a wedding/getting married is that each couple can make it differently. Each family is different, each couple is different and it is for those involve to find out what works best for them, all things considered. I can understand secret elopement, we told our families very little before the wedding but we decided not to tell most of our friends. Only very few people knew we were doing it, the rest found out when they received the pictures of the wedding by email, the following day, with the big news.
            Since we were both living outside of our countries of origin, that made it more tolerable for everybody, I believe, even though some people were disappointed (not family members, who were always very, very supportive).

          • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

            The one thing I’ve seen mentioned a lot from people who are planning/had a secret elopement was they told “a few people who really mattered”… be it 2 or 10. Really, I think that’s all you need to do. I never intended to imply you must tell the entire world you are about to run away to the Himalayas for a mountain top wedding.

            And some people may not care. And some people may opt to be thrillingly happy instead of disappointed. It all varies, I understand. But if you take a non-secret vs secret elopement, I still believe more people are hurt by the secret than otherwise.

          • Steph & B

            Or if you want the secret bit, call people right afterwards to let them know you did it. And have pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. And maybe hint that you are thinking about it to your parents so you don’t blindside them.

            All speaking from personal experience. I put off telling me dad because I knew he would freak out. But he was hurt the most over the fact that I didn’t call him right away after it happened (hindsight really because he probably would have flipped out either way).

  • Hillary

    Talk it through and try to envision how you want to feel on that day, both as individuals, and as a couple. We knew that the wedding ceremony was going to be a very private and emotional experience for both of us, and wanted to share that with only the people in our lives that we already share deep friendship and confidences with. Saying our wedding vows was one of the most intense, intimate and freeing experiences of my life, and I can’t imagine that it would have been the same if we hadn’t listened to our reservations about having that experience in front of a crowd. After spending a morning browsing around the farmers market, we were married in our living room, by two of our friends (a married couple), with 4 witnesses. It was a five minute ceremony, followed by an afternoon of laughter, beer, pulled pork and ice cream pie. In addition to strengthing our bond by being married, I think it also strengthened the bonds of our friendships, in sharing that experience with our closest friends. Afterward we called our families to share the exciting news, and left for our “mini-moon” that night. Two weeks later had a dinner and dancing reception in our backyard, complete with a tent, string lights, a long white dress, and all the Sinatra we could handle! It was fun and romantic. For us there was a strong dividing line between being present for the ceremony, and the intensity of that moment, and wanting to really party down with our families and larger group of friends.

    • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

      That’s amazing! I think that sounds like such a wonderful choice. (And beautiful. Tents and string lights= awesome!)

  • http://www.easilyunclose.blogspot.com lmba

    I just want to say that I TOTALLY FEEL YOU on the not wanting something so personal to be displayed in such a public way. I felt this way for months and really wanted an elopement. And then my mom cried for three days straight when I told her. That triggered the realization that this was incredibly important to people besides me and my partner, so we ended up having a wedding with a bunch of people watching. And all my anxieties about being “exposed” to a crowd in this amazingly personal and transformational moment? Nothing materialized – no nerves, no embarrassment, no awkwardness. I walked down our makeshift aisle in a state of total calm and happiness (and shivering – it was freezing). So I just wanted to offer up that although RIGHT NOW you feel totally overwhelmed by the huge and private nature of what you’re doing during those vows, you really never know how you will feel when you are in the moment, and you may not be able to plan for it at all. MAYBE you will feel totally uncomfortable with all those eyes staring at you. Or maybe you will feel bold-faced and proud and eager to sashay down the aisle and flaunt your gorgeous man to all your friends and family. Or maybe you will feel calm and quiet and composed, and all those other people won’t matter much. I’m just saying that no matter what you think you will feel in that moment, when marriage flows over you like a dam breaking, you may not respond the way you anticipated.

    • Melanie

      Wow. Definitely words to remember. Thank you.

  • http://greyandshiny.wordpress.com/ Nina

    I want to ‘exactly’ this a thousand times:

    “It is a time-tested way to combine two families and build a brand new family. Think of it as ritualized fighting. The difficult and painful parts of this life transition are going to happen anyway, so you might as well give everyone a time-tested and well understood way to do it.”

    This is so incredibly true – ritualized fighting! And until recently, I’ve underestimated how helpful it is that weddings are “well understood” (relatively speaking). When it comes to elopements, the script isn’t as clear for the community or the couple. So I would say if you go that route, it helps to have some of the same conversations with your community as you would if you were having a wedding. This is a life-transition and eloping doesn’t necessarily shield you from all that it entails.

  • http://onwardfulltilt.blogspot.com/ Caitlin

    I don’t think I have anything new to add but still wanted to comment because I really connected with your question and loved Meg’s response so much. This is a tricky one, but all of the suggestions above about really thinking about what it is you want and don’t want and working from there are all good ones. I will second (or 5th and 6th as seems the case) the idea of a small private ceremony where you don’t have to say the vows in front of a large audience and then a celebration sometime afterward. The celebration doesn’t have to include a fancy dress or catering or details or planning, it could just be a laid back party where the people you love get a chance to show you how much they love you. Which is an amazing thing and doesn’t happen too often, or ever. It doesn’t have to fit any norm except the one you see for it, no second cousins or random dates, just who you want to celebrate with. I understand the case for not doing this as well, and know it’s a tough decision for you, but I just wanted to add to the sentiment that a wedding can be exactly what you want or don’t want it to be and there are no rules (take THAT WIC!).

    • http://www.livingindaydreams.wordpress.com Edelweiss

      The funny thing is – a small ceremony isn’t the magic answer either. My friends did a small ceremony and a larger reception (slightly larger, about 40-50 people). The bride was surprised by how uncomfortable she ended up feeling during the vows. Without having more people around it was an incredibly intimate moment and she felt embarrassed being that intimate with her groom in front of her parents and a couple of friends. She loved her wedding, but at the end of the day shoe would have rather gone more people or no people on the vows.
      This is all to say asking the questions Meg suggests and really thinking through the “why” behind the answer is important. But hey, no matter what, you’ll be MARRIED! and it’s awesome.

  • Sarabeth

    We did what several folks above suggested – got married with just our parents there, then had parties afterwards to celebrate. Three parties, actually, due to the dispersal of our friends and families across several continents.

    Pluses to that: my mom got to throw the “wedding” she wanted as the party for my family, without any stress to me, because it wasn’t what I though of as my wedding so I didn’t care about controlling the aesthetics of it. Most of our families and friends could pretty easily make one of the three parties (rather than asking some folks to spend thousands of dollars on plane tickets). We got to throw a party for our friends that was pretty much exactly what your fiance wants: cabins, swimming, bonfires, beers, no pressure from our families to do something more traditional.

    Downsides: giving up the chance for friends and family from different parts of our lives to get to know each other. Not having most of our family there to actually watch us get married, which felt like a bigger loss than I expected it would. Planning three parties means getting to do three seating charts, etc.

    I don’t know. We did what we did largely in order to comply with immigration requirements, and salvaged as much “wedding” as we could from the bureaucracy. If I could have, I would have had the one big party, but what I did get was more than enough.

    Your question, though, sounds like you have a stronger sense of what you*don’t* want than what you *do* want right now. And you need to be working from a positive vision rather than a negative one in order for this question to resolve itself for you.

  • http://amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com LPC

    Ritualized fighting! Truer words were never said.

  • anonymous

    Oh good lord I know what you’re feeling.

    My husband and I eloped in April. We were planning on keeping it secret until next May, when we would (still will) throw a huge party in Oklahoma for my family (My mother is one of seven. My dad is one of three and remarried. We’re the fractal family that keeps getting bigger and bigger and inventing new words for “really distant cousins”).

    And you know what? After I was struggling and struggling for two to three months planning with my mother, trying to pretend like I gave a shit about themes or table runners (no offense to those who do! Just never floated my boat) I finally sat down and had an adult conversation with her and she and I both realized I honestly thought everyone cared more about the party than what I really wanted (which was to not have any guests, no one to mess up vows in front of, to just be close to my partner). We have everyone’s blessing now, but we’re STILL lying about our anniversary date for reasons of family politics. Why? Because my life is messy. Someday we’ll laugh at this. Or we’ll be dead. But either way we’ll be married. I think the most profound thing I learned is that any lying you do, or any mistake you or your family makes in conducting themselves related to the wedding will not solve any problems… nor can you make yourself believe eloping is really the ticket item that caused major familial upsets. I guess I’m trying to say it takes two to tango. And fuck it, life is short. Try to be kind to your family but honor your heart.

    So things will work out. If you’re like me, a chronic people pleaser but also TERRIFIED of being the center of attention, have faith people who love you and deserve your love in return will most care about your sanity. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can love your family and want to honor them even if history leads you not to trust them. I think if you proceed with caution and compassion, eventually you’ll know what to do.

    • Steph & B

      Ug I definitely know how you feel about the family drama bit. This was the main reason I dreaded the wedding. And we ended up eloping (in April too) because I was dreading everything about the wedding, which was not fair to my partner at all.

      There was drama when the wedding finally came around. My parents weren’t at each other’s throats, which was a nice surprise, but they united in their combined dislike of my partner’s parents (who are hands down some of the most wonderful people that I know). And my dad was pretty moody through the entire weekend. But everyone deals with family drama.

      So, don’t despair about your wedding. And if keeping your real anniversary date a secret is what’s weighing on you, don’t keep a secret anymore. Just tell everyone. We did. My dad lost his brain and said a whole lot of really hurtful stuff, but by the time the wedding rolled around, he got most of it out of his system. And his reaction was really more about something else than about us eloping. He was really the only one who was upset about it. Everyone else was really really happy and really supportive. Sometimes it’s just best to rip off the band-aid and give people who will freak out time to freak out (and if they don’t want to come to your wedding, that’s just one less person you have to worry about). And your marriage shouldn’t be kept a secret like it’s something shameful and like you did something wrong. It should be celebrated. And in the long run, when the truth comes out, which it usually does (I mean you do have to record your legal marriage date on all your documents), people will be more upset that you hid it. Of course, if keeping it a secret lends to the romance of your marriage and it’s not bothering you then don’t worry about it. Just don’t keep your marriage a secret because you’re afraid that it will create drama.

      • http://www.livingindaydreams.wordpress.com Edelweiss

        I sooo needed to read that. Thank you.

  • http://penn.typepad.com Leah

    I went with both! Well, I’m going with both. We eloped this summer with his parents, my parents, and a friend (also the photographer). It was excellent. I’m a little ambivalent now about our December wedding . . . but I think it will be fun. My guy really wants the community celebration aspect of it. I too have some family issues and am outgoing but don’t like to be the center of attention (I am a behind the scenes kind of gal).

    Eloping was nice. It grounded me and centered me. Our ceremony was 5 minutes, so it was simple to write. My dad did the wedding (he’s a minister), which was what I’ve always wanted. I got my outdoor wedding. And now I can do the thing my partner really wants (church wedding, big reception), and my dad gets to be just my dad then because our priest friends are officiating. I think I’ll be more with it for the December ceremony/reception because I don’t have to focus on the enormity of the commitment. We technically eloped for work-related reasons (long story), but now I’m glad for personal reasons.

    Short answer: talk with your partner. Examine your feelings. Find a middle ground. and it is totally okay to go elope with a small group and then have a reception. Or invite everyone to the lake cabins for a fun weekend and make a little ceremony just a small part of that. There are ways to make it work for you.

    • rachel

      I went with both too and the elopement we did a month after we decided to get married and the wedding was about 1.5 years later.
      The elopement we didn’t tell our families until after it was done because we didn’t want them there and our wedding was a great celebration of love and life and all of that jazz. Both were uniquely us. And i won’t do it different.

  • Kathleen

    “It teaches you to say no to your mom.”

    This.

    As a wedding undergraduate, I’m still working on that. For example, my mom recently ordered a bunch of personalized gift bags for out of town guests, which I told her I didn’t want to do. Especially because apparently the first thing one puts in such bags is bottled water, which, in a perfectly nice hotel, seems like a really dumb and wasteful thing to give people.

    Well, that was neither here nor there. End rant. But Meg, as always, thanks for the thoughtful perspective on what weddings are and what they teach us.

    • Marina

      It also taught me to not take responsibility for my mom… I eventually decided that some of the stuff that was important to her and not to me was Her Stuff. She could freak out about paper plates vs china if she wanted–it wasn’t my responsibility to control her emotions or actions.

      It’s tough with a wedding because there’s not really one host. Even if only one person is paying, the wedding reflects socially on both the people getting married and their parents. So everybody wants some control over what that reflection is.

      • Kathleen

        Good point. I think the tough part is figuring out what’s actually important enough to take a stand on and what to let go.

        • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

          This. Sometimes, being a grown-up means letting your mother-in-law buy the favors that you find completely unnecessary because they are super-important to her. :)

          • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

            Yes! Which is why liberating yourself from caring about things that aren’t important to you, your spouse, or your day will make things infinitely better.

            I’m opposed to wedding favors. We provided excellent food, an open bar, and a great band for dancing. I didn’t want to shell out another $$ on gifting things to guests. Wedding’s aren’t about STUFF, but PEOPLE and LOVE. However, my mom really wanted favors.

            So I just turned it over – and she spent two hours the night before the wedding with my uncles & sister, assembling the favors – while I went home and went to bed. Everybody wins.

  • Seraphine

    My fiance and I both wanted our closest friends and family to be there, but we’re introverts and didn’t want to be stressed by having to invite (and then talk to) loads of people. So, we decided on a very small list of people who be invited, and then we made this clear when we talked to our parents. My husband and I ended up inviting a few more people than we originally planned, but only after talking it through with one another and realizing that since most of my aunts and uncles wouldn’t come, inviting them would be a good idea for a number of reasons (it allowed my grandmas to come, and it made our mothers happy). But if we had felt we needed to hold that line, we would have. In the end, I think we had 37 total people, including the two of us.

    And Meg’s advice to “Make it what you need to be” is exactly right. My husband and I did a number of traditional things, though admittedly, initially I didn’t think I wanted to do these things. But there were still a lot of traditions that we just didn’t want to worry about–for example, we didn’t have a bridal party, I didn’t have a bouquet, and we didn’t have dancing (I just really wanted to talk to all the people who came a long distance and who I don’t get to see very often). Basically, if we couldn’t think of a reason we wanted something as part of our wedding, we just didn’t do it. And in the end, our wedding was intimate, beautiful, and relaxed–which was perfect for my husband and I.

    • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

      I agree. We didn’t have a first dance, or matching bridesmaids’ dresses, or the garter business, or alcohol (at our afternoon dessert reception), or wedding “colors.” We also had our wedding in a secular space instead of a religious one. People thought some of that was really weird when we were planning the wedding, but on the actual day? I don’t think anyone even noticed. It was a wonderful, wonderful day- and perfect for us, because we stuck to what we wanted and didn’t include anything that was meaningless to us.

  • Meli

    I’ve struggled A LOT with this question too. In the end, I decided to have a wedding/party (it will be next May) It is a little more traditional than I anticipated and I am getting caught up in little annoying things I didn’t want to. I’ve certainly caved into family pressure and accepted certain things I didn’t want…just to avoid controversy. The reason I went for it is that I decided I did want to celebrate with people I love. There are worse things than celebrating love and happiness, no? :-)
    I think it’s good to ask yourself if you have any desire to celebrate the love you and your partner have with other people. If you do, throw yourself a party with all the fuss or none of it! Why the heck not. You can always do the ceremony privately.

  • Marina

    If the planning the party part of it (food, music, clothes, decorations, blah blah) sounds totally overwhelming, maybe your partner would want to be in charge of that? Orrrr maybe if you ask your partner to be in charge of that he’ll look at it and agree it’s totally overwhelming and decide he wants to elope too. Orrrrrrrrrrrr he’ll come up with a party plan that doesn’t include half the things you would have included, but is way less overwhelming and leads to a party that’s just as fun. Who knows, right?

  • clampers

    Definitely convince your man to do it your way. :)

    Seriously though,do it. We had a super-small wedding. 10 guests, only immediate family members. No music, no big flowers, no gown…the wedding was in the morning at our little church, we all had lunch together afterwards and then my dude and I took off for our honeymoon that afternoon. It was casual and easy. No meltdowns, no existential crises. (I totally hear you on the “overwhelming” bit…)

    Then plan some other type of party where everyone gets together to do bonfires and cabins and beer. A couple weekends after the wedding.

  • Harriet

    My now-husband and I were in a somewhat similar situation, in that we wanted a party but not really a wedding! We decided on a tiny courthouse ceremony (as in, meet the judge with immediate family and a few very close friends) followed by a small (50ish people) and very simple party (we rented a tent for my parents’ backyard, had a local, cheap restaurant cater buffet-style, got beer and wine, and I made a bunch of cakes because making cake is my idea of a good time). We had a great day–it was not the greatest party of my whole life, but it was a unique and lovely experience to have so many people from different parts of our lives celebrate with us. The ceremony was wonderful–we had no control over what words were said, but we lucked out with a great judge, and the intimacy of the ceremony was very important to us. We had some difficulty with explaining to people who weren’t invited to the ceremony because the city had a strict limit for the number of people we were allowed to bring with us. Some people were hurt/offended, I cried about it but knew we were making the right choice and stuck to my guns. They got over it. In the end, I’m really glad we had this experience of deciding what we, as a new family, wanted and needed, thinking through our choices, and defending them. This was a gift the wedding gave us.

  • Julie

    We had planned to quietly elope. However, as we started talking about it, we learned that the kids really wanted to be involved. So our quiet elopement evolved into a very small wedding, because we learned that (in this case) it’s not all about us.

  • Karen

    I am like wedding grad Nicole. I wanted to elope and was told that I would regret missing out on a wedding. I didn’t love my wedding. I didn’t even like my wedding. But my husband wanted a wedding and he felt his family needed a wedding to feel included and be given the opportunity to support us. Do I still wish I had the elopement I wanted? Yes. Do I wish we did some things differently? Yes. But am I glad that I had a wedding that made my husband happy? Definitely. It mattered more to him and when I look back on that day I try to remember that and think about it in a positive light. And, hey, it was the day I got married and getting married was one of the best things I have ever done.

    • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

      I really loved this: But am I glad that I had a wedding that made my husband happy? Definitely. It mattered more to him and when I look back on that day I try to remember that and think about it in a positive light.

      It seems like that gets overlooked a lot. Excellent point – thank you for that.

  • katieprue

    I didn’t really ever want a wedding (public + katieprue = awkard meltdowns) but I’m warming up to it. Like Meg said, you’ve really got to poke at your inner self and answer some tough questions. For me, it ultimately came down to the fact that I was letting my fear of letting my true self show be the reasoning for avoiding a wedding. But in my little heart, I knew I’d regret it 50 years down the road if I didn’t at least take part of some of these traditions of marriage. I love the idea of elopements (so private, secret, sex-ay!) but for me? It would have been just hiding from reality and completely selfish. Of course everyone has different circumstances, but in my world? There is no reason to elope. Our families are nice. They love us. Most of them are pretty non-judgey and we are good about setting boundaries when we need to. If you want a wedding (marriage celebration, rather?) to come together, it so will. I’ve already been blown away by two extremely generous offers from the most unexpected family members, not to mention that I’m making a list of things to ask our talented family members to help us with.

    Just don’t hide from what you really want, and stick to your guns. Even if it does end up being an elopement! Get your reasons, write ‘em down, and (as I told my fiance I was doing the other day) take that wedding out back and show it who is boss. An elopement is still a wedding, no?

    • meg

      I think letting your true self show is maybe the WHOLE real reason of a wedding… (which is of course scary in the lead up, and then pretty amazing and wonderful and freeing).

  • Steph & B

    NSTHBNPP, I was in the exact same situation. I wanted to elope for all the same reasons as you. And my husband wanted a wedding. We had a really hard time deciding what we wanted to do. In the end, we essentially had both (which really wasn’t our plan starting out, it just kind of happened that way). We got married legally two months before our wedding, and we still decided to go through with our wedding, however. There were a lot of reasons behind both decisions and there was some backlash as a result of those decisions, but I won’t get into that now.

    Weddings are very cathartic. Not just for the bride and groom, but for all of their family and friends. We didn’t really feel married until we had all of our family and friends there to celebrate with us. And we weren’t the only ones who needed the wedding. Our family and friends needed to witness our commitment, and in their own way give their blessings (my dad in particular). That’s why weddings are so complicated. They aren’t just about the bride, or just about the two people getting married. They are about the entire community coming together. And that’s scary, and sometimes not so appealing (trust me, I was not looking forward to bringing my two divorced parents together). A lot of time and energy goes into planning and anticipating a wedding (for the bride and groom, but also for all the guests). And I think that is why weddings can feel so momentous and are so fret with positive and negative energy. A wedding brings out the crazy in everyone. So that’s my spiel in support of having a wedding.

    But I still believe that elopements can be very special too. Not only can they be incredibly freeing, but they can be incredibly intimate. There is a lot of crazy and stress that comes with a wedding, and it is nice to just cut through all the BS and politics and get straight to the point. Marriage, duh. Our “elopement,” unfortunately, didn’t feel very special. It was performed by a very grumpy old man in a hurry. And we just didn’t feel complete. We felt liberated and at ease about the wedding as a result, but we still didn’t feel like we were completely married. But I think, scratch that, I know there are ways to make your elopement special and complete. Of course that would call for some planning ahead of time, which we didn’t do and which seems counter-intuitive when you think of an elopement.

    My problem with the wedding vs. elopement argument is that the two terms are treated as exclusive: an “either” “or” type choice. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Push the boundaries of those definitions and make it into something that truly reflects both you and your partner (that’s what APW is all about right?). Make sure that your ceremony decisions are something that both you and your partner are comfortable with and can live with. And while you should always seek compromise with your partner if you don’t see eye to eye, sometimes you have to make compromises for your community as well (just don’t let those compromises take priority).

    • Rasheeda

      “Weddings are very cathartic. Not just for the bride and groom, but for all of their family and friends… They are about the entire community coming together. And that’s scary, and sometimes not so appealing …And I think that is why weddings can feel so momentous and are so fret with positive and negative energy. A wedding brings out the crazy in everyone.

      YES.YES.YES. That is all.

  • http://www.scriptinghappiness.com Jeena

    We really struggled with this issue of having a wedding vs. elopement. I lost a lot of sleep over it and at the end, I was just so unhappy planning what should otherwise be such a happy event. Finally, we decided to compromise and have a tiny wedding (13 guests) with immediate family only. We are having another party in NYC (where I’m from) this fall so that will make my mom happy who always wanted me to have a big wedding. Having been married for 1 month now, I can look back and say it was one of the best days of my life, and I love sitting around and re-live all the happy moments.

  • Melanie

    Thanks, ya’ll. I have more, but I’m in the office and need to get to work… (sneaky, I know!)

    But thanks for the words of wisdom and support. It’s nice to once again be reminded of how great this community is. And in a small way, to remember how great *people* can be.

    • meg

      Question asker in the house y’all!

      • http://webecomeus.wordpress.com Caitlin

        Holla!! :)

  • lakelady

    I’m only a few weeks out from my wedding and all I can think is that the happiest day of my life will not be the wedding day, but the Monday after. I didn’t want to have the wedding we’re having, but my fiance and family were SO into it that I caved. DO NOT DO THIS! It will make you completely miserable during your entire planning process. I wouldn’t have eloped, but would have chosen a much easier, simpler, smaller wedding at a more convenient venue with a lot less muss and fuss. Now I can barely stand to answer my phone because my family is driving me absolutely crazy and when everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited, I just smile and nod. When I’m really thinking … “Yes, SO excited for this to be OVER!” I cannot wait to be married. Being engaged has been amazing, but planning a wedding has been a living hell.

    • Rasheeda

      Let me share something with you, I had the wedding I wanted and I was still OVER IT! But I loved my wedding day and you will too (hopefully). You are in the homestretch now and as my dad says “It ain’t nothing to it but to do it”

      • http://www.scriptinghappiness.com Jeena

        Rasheeda, I totally agree. Before the wedding, I was literally counting down the days so we can be “OVER IT!” Then the wedding dame came and went so darn fast. If there is one regret I have, it would be not enjoying the whole wedding planning process more (I think this is impossible at the time that you are going through it and only can come from the wisdom of hindsight). I look back and I wonder who that crazy person was obsessing over every detail that ended up not mattering in the least bit on the day of the wedding.

  • LBD

    I wanted to elope. I don’t have a good relationship with my mother. My boy and I are also very uncomfortable with expressing our feelings to others, and a big ole public ceremony was likely to be nothing but trauma. However, my fiance is very close to his parents. His mom said, “I don’t make many demands as a mother, but I want to go to a wedding.” So, since his parents would be there, I felt darn, I guess my parents need to be there. And my only remaining grandparent. And if my mom is going to be there, I need people who can help me with the emotional mess of being around my mom. So I decided I needed some bridesmaids, and also invited my aunt who is my surrogate mother figure.

    So tiny ceremony, mostly just immediate family, and a few close-friend attendants to help keep us sane.

    However, we have many great friends who live all over the place, mostly from college, who don’t get to be in the same place at the same time all that often. Weddings have become the events that give us an excuse to do that. So, we decided to have a reception, the day after the ceremony. It’s very laid back, cocktail-style with cupcakes, in a natural history museum because the idea of dealing with decorations and details made me feel like a wild animal in a cage.

    I can tell you this, I’m glad I’m separating the family part from the friend part, though that’s not something I thought about at the time. It’s like, my family gets a day, and then the next day, I’ll have gotten the most stressful family stuff out of the way, and can focus on being with my friends who I don’t see often.

    My other recommendation is, if you’re stressed out about planning it, delegate to family/friends or find good people to hire who know what they’re doing. If you’re not excited about it, don’t let yourself be talked into some kind of DIY affair, because you’ve really got to want to do those things 100% I think to not go crazy in the process. Sure, it SOUNDS awesome and cool, and yes, it would be really cool, but man, it ain’t worth your sanity if your heart’s not in it. I can tell you this because we kind of did an about-face from something more DIY to hiring people, simply because we realized this.

    I long ago had to learn to set boundaries with my parents, so I’d say it’s been more of a process with my fiancee’s family. Even then, it’s pretty low-key. His parents hate the whole WIC crap probably even more than I do, so there wasn’t any pressure of that kind. In fact, most of the bit of fighting with his mom has been when I’ve WANTED to include some of that more traditional stuff, which is kind of funny. I’d say, the most important thing that’s come out of the process is finding out how much my “chosen family” as I call them, loves me. I’ve learned to lean on people, something that’s generally very hard for me to do.

    • Melanie

      Yep. Many head nods reading this one, especially on the DIY/DIT part, and the friends living all over part, and the, er, eccentric and often exhausting mother part. I just don’t know if I have the energy for it all.

      But since we’ve announced getting engaged, our friends have been SO EXCITED. Everyone has been happy and supportive. It’s hard to imagine disappointing so many people I love by eloping, or not involving them in the ceremony. This part is most difficult for my guy. He has a large tribe of friends (who care about both of us, and many of them are now close friends with me as well) who he wants to make part of our day.

      “My other recommendation is, if you’re stressed out about planning it, delegate to family/friends or find good people to hire who know what they’re doing. If you’re not excited about it, don’t let yourself be talked into some kind of DIY affair, because you’ve really got to want to do those things 100% I think to not go crazy in the process.”

      Yep. Trying to remember this. But our budget is so tiny…. How can I ask my friends and family to shoulder so much of the weight of planning a wedding when I don’t really want to take it on myself?

      • http://www.livingindaydreams.wordpress.com Edelweiss

        I’ve struggled with that too – and I think the answer I came to is: I’m not going to have that stuff.
        There are a ton of wedding grad posts on here about how communities rally around people and blow them away by what they get done. That just doesn’t resonate with my personal community and relationships.
        So my solution is I’m not doing any wedding-traditional stuff (I think we’re still very early on in planning) and I’m not going to feel bad about it. If I try to DIY or budget some aspects that I could get into (ie making paper cranes or fun out of town bags with bloody mary mix) then it’ll start to feel like a wedding which will open up the door for my mother or in-laws to want to add a bunch of stuff I don’t want to get sucked into. So the budget that we have is going to food, alcohol, and a place to hold people and that’s it. We’re trying super hard to just make this a party and if I regret anything we’ll renew our vows in 10 years and celebrate our love with flowers and photography then.
        As I said, this is early on in the planning process for us. I can see myself panicking 3 weeks out and throwing a few extra elements in. But I trust myself that the choices I make then will be MY choices because of the time constraint and properly regulating everyone elses’ expectations in advance. (and letting my mothers regulate their friends and sisters expectations. I think a lot of what they insist on including comes from a fear of how their peers will judge them as hosts – even though they’re not financially hosting they are still viewed as hosts because of tradition. So I feel like I need to enable them to feel free from judgment.)

        • LBD

          Yes, this. My fiance and I sat down, and wrote down what were the absolutely most important things we had to have, and then kept everything else completely optional, and, as time went on, mostly cut. We had some help from friends, but for some things, like the catering, hired people.

          If you’ve got a group of friends who already like each other and like an excuse to get together, you mostly just have to provide the space and nosh.

          A few things we did to save money, maybe it will help give you ideas:
          - No favors. Minimal decorations (instead hold event in someplace that already looks neat – museum)
          - Non-traditional venue, cheaper for events than a lot of actual event spaces. If you can find someone to offer a backyard, jump on it.
          - Limit the guest list to people we are still in frequent communication with. Also, we were paying for it, so didn’t feel obligated to invite much extended family / parent’s friends.
          - Cocktail reception instead of full meal, and we were looking for more simple appetizers, so we didn’t need to hire a high-end caterer.
          - Soon to be brother-in-law is studying to be a pastry chef, and was really excited by the idea of doing our cupcakes as a present to us. Helps build his resume, and we get delicious cupcakes. So, he’s not just helping us, he’s also getting valuable experience out of the deal.
          - Beer and wine only, hard liquor drove up the bartender fees by a lot.
          - Mostly skipping flowers. Getting dahlias in bulk, sticking them in some thrift store vases, and that’s about the extent of the decorations we’re doing. Bouquets will be acquired from the farmer’s market.

          You don’t have to do crazy DIY stuff to save money, just change your expectations to focus on the things that matter to you most. And do your damnedest to not compare yourself to people that had the luxury of a bigger budget.

      • Steph & B

        No matter what Melanie, if your friends love you, they will support your decision and be happy for you. They may be a little disappointed to not be in on the fun, but they won’t stop loving you and they will find ways to celebrate your wedding and commitment in other ways. And that’s because they are your friends. You guys chose to get to know each other and love each other.

        As for your family (I’m thinking immediate family here), they love you and, in the end, they will support you even if they give you a hard time at first. Family is always trickier than friends because, let’s face it, we can’t pick our family.

        The best thing you can do is just be open, honest, and firm in your decisions.Make your stand as a couple and all that. And support, if waning at first, will come. And in the meantime you have all the support from the APW family. We don’t care what you do as long as you are happy.

        Oh, and speaking as someone who went down the DIY rabbit hole, making paper cranes was probably my most therapeutic and favorite project. I didn’t make it anywhere near 1,000 cranes, but I had a blast doing it and they make great holiday tree and home decorations.

        • Alana

          I’m Australian who has lived in England and now lives in the Netherlands, and, frankly, in none of those countries is it expected to have anything more than a venue, food and booze, some flowers and maybe a dancefloor. So much of the stuff that seems WIC-mandated in the blogosphere (including favours, OOT bags, DIY ‘details’ like signs, wedding showers, save-the-dates) is pretty rare outside of the US, so don’t worry too much about skipping it!!! It’s all relative :)

  • Julia

    I can see where you are coming from, but personally, I just love the idea your fiance suggested. A weekend in the wood with all your favorite people? How great would that be?! Your wedding should be a reflection of both of you. That means you don’t have to invite your extended family if you don’t want to. On the other hand, if having people around you is important to your fiance, that should be a part of it too. Only the 2 of you know how that will end up.

    Just my 2 cents on it – I’m a very social person and I can’t imagine having a wedding without a ton of friends and family, but that is me and I recognize that. What struck me in the answer Meg wrote was:

    “It’s good for making you an adult in the eyes of your community. …It helps you learn to say yes to what matters and no to everything else. …use this time of getting hitched to figure out what you need your family to be in the context of the world. Maybe that’s a family that celebrates with a small low-key barbecue. Maybe that’s a family that elopes.”

    We are doing a big wedding, which works for us. But the part I didn’t count on by inviting everyone is just how much people want to be involved. We are involving friends and family for the cake, photography – even the morning after brunch! It literally takes my breath away when I think about how generous people are with their time and money. As I’m packing up for a weekend at my uncle’s house to celebrate with him and his wife since they won’t be at the wedding, I’m blown over by how they are hosting my whole immediate family and their families – 10 adults, 3 kids in all. But the closer I get to the wedding, the more I realize weddings are about the couple, but also about the community they are a part of as well.

    Eloping is great! But don’t completely shut off the idea of having some sort of party/reception/something to give you friends and family a way to show you their love as well. Even if it is 100% un-wedding-ish!

  • secret reader

    gonna dork out here for a second because I was a cultural anthropology major in my undergrad days. but anyone interested should read up on the anthro/psych concept of liminality and liminal events/rituals/ceremonies, sometimes also called rites of passage — which should sound familiar! Alyssa (knowingly? unknowingly?) has already hit on many key points of the concept. but it’s one of my all-time favorite social science ideas. it’s why I love weddings and many other ceremonies.

    for real, do some google investigation, because I have a feeling many members of Team Practical already know a lot about liminality, even if they don’t know that they do! the basic gist is that we all go through life transitions that are gradual, fluid, or ambiguous, and that ambiguity is stressful. so society collectively comes up with these ritualized activities to help us pass smoothly from one life category to the next, in the hopes of minimizing the angst of the in-between. it also gives a name and a face to the in-between (hello, “engagement”) in an attempt to make that less scary and void-like. in reality everything is still gradual, but the ritual helps everyone in the community recognize the transition taking place, so they have the space to acknowledge (and usually celebrate) what would otherwise be too slow and/or non-black-and-white to specifically mark. there’s also lots of stuff about how when you’re in this transition, you’re removed from the structure of society, which allows you to focus on who you are as an individual.

    oh, and to get even further into “whoa, I already knew this, but it explains so much!” territory, many liminal events from different cultures follow a similar pattern. most usually involve isolating the people undergoing the transition, removing them from day-to-day life, having them perform or endure something either privately or in front of witnesses (often while in the secluded space), and then inviting the wider community to observe what has taken place.

    so clearly, you don’t need the rite of passage to get from life stage A to life stage B. (not everyone has a bat mitzvah, for instance.) but for many, the ritual is comforting and disambiguating.

    crazy, right??

    • Marina

      Have you read “The Conscious Bride”? (I think it’s listed on the APW books page.) It goes really in depth about how a wedding is a liminal event, especially for women. I loved having that perspective on it.

    • meg

      Meg not Alyssa! Y’all, I WROTE THIS, as mentioned a few times. And yes, I knowingly hit on it. It’s one of the key points of this blog I’ve been writing for more than three years and a book I wrote! But lovely description of the very important concept.

      • secret reader

        eek, sorry for the mix up, Meg! chalk it up to Friday. I figured you were in the loop on liminality. It’s a favorite concept for me for everything from weddings to camping trips.

        • meg

          Forgiven. I’m sick and cranky, and Alyssa and I don’t sound anything alike, so ;)

          • secret reader

            I think it’s actually a testament to your branding skills! In my Friday-addled brain, I just heard, “Ask Team Practical – With Alyssa!” and so I faithfully typed her name. :)

          • Melanie

            I hope you feel better soon, Meg.

            Also, I agree on you & Alyssa having totally different writing tones/styles. Uh, not to sound like I’m kissing butt, but it IS something I notice. Both great, both wise, both helpful–but so different in tone and personality.

            Why yes, I AM reading the comment stream after a couple of Sunday mimosas :)

    • Emily

      I think these are good points, but in defense of elopement, I wanted to point out that having a ritual doesn’t require a big wedding (or a small one or a medium sized one). You can get the ritual at the courthouse too — a lot of people got married that way, so you can be a part of the long history of that act. Same with Vegas.

      I think people just have different views of what is required to fulfill the ritual. Depending on your religion, your family, your personality, and your own experience with weddings, you might need as little as familiar vows. Or you might need a ketubah signing and parents present. It’s going to depend on the couple. But plenty of people who have courthouse weddings get the same benefits of a comforting, disambiguating ritual as people who have large church weddings. Depending on the couple, a courthouse elopement, because of its simplicity, might provide greater clarity than planning a wedding.

      Which isn’t to say this couple should elope — the issue seems to lie in the bride and groom having slightly different needs with regards to the ritual.

      • secret reader

        yep, didn’t want to advocate for either scenario. but as Meg said, there are humanity-wide reasons for the marriage ritual that don’t have to relate to a specific religious or cultural tradition, and I think it can be useful to think about it from an anthropological perspective to help answer the “what do we want to accomplish?” question, and then incorporate the steps of the ritual into whatever specific model you chose: courthouse, beach, woods, whatever.

      • meg

        Well indeed, that’s why I said all over the post that elopement could fulfill ritual, depending on what needs the couple had.

    • Angela

      Wow, I’ve never heard ritual explained quite that way. Makes so much sense.

  • Miriam

    One of the biggest things I had to come to terms with in deciding whether to do a wedding or elopement was a fear of stress and conflict around a wedding. I was deathly afraid that if my wedding planning was stressful or made me less than 100% happy and glowy, that meant that the wedding was wrong, or I was with the wrong person, or I was just making a giant muck-up of my life and the stress was a symptom of that.

    Then I realized – it’s a wedding, which marks the beginning of a marriage. It’s a HUGE life transition, and it makes perfect sense that there would be conflict and stress in dealing with that, no matter how happy the ultimate decision or event was! As someone who had multiple anxiety dreams about graduating from college, it was ridiculous not to expect that wedding planning might spark some similar feelings. And I would never have said “well, maybe I shouldn’t graduate …”

    So I guess the moral of my story is that some things are worth getting stressed out about sometimes. And some things aren’t. And you and your partner are the only people who can decide what those things are when it comes to a marriage.

  • Emily

    This is something I’ve struggled with as well (and, to be honest, still struggle with). It’s not a question of elopement sounding better, so much as it sounding right, for me. I mean, truth be told, a wedding sounds awesome. A party, family and friends, food and drinks, music and dancing? That’s a dream.

    But elopement sounds right. I have a big family and like the letter writer, it contains a lot of people that I don’t necessarily like very much. I live far from my immediate family, on purpose. And the baby family I’ve started with my partner is a conscious choice I make, every day. I am here because I want to be. So making that commitment just the two of us (or with just a handful of witnesses, the very close friends we see all the time, who have become our family here) feels right. I’ve already had the ritualized fighting with my family, when I moved across the country (twice) and changed careers and chose a life that no one back home would have chosen (I am maybe not very young anymore). I don’t need to do that again — I’ve made that transition. So yes, the man and me and a courthouse and dinner and drinks with our five best friends down the street — that’s all I want.

    But, suprise! We’re having a wedding. With our families and college friends (well, his) and a caterer and an officiant and all of it. The reason why? His family has never had a wedding, because he’s one of two boys and his brother is unmarried (and nowhere close to getting). I can feel the need his family has for this event, and I want them to have it. I’m no saint — there are many aspects I’m going through kind of begrudgingly (mainly the parts where we write checks). But I’ve chosen to embrace the things that are fun, that I would otherwise have missed out on. I’m springing for a more expensive dress than I thought I’d buy, I’m indulging in fun things like reception games. No, this wedding isn’t my choice and it’s not exactly what I want. But I want my future husband and his family to have the opportunity to celebrate, and in order to give them that, I’ve had to get on board in a genuine way.

    So I see both sides, and I think both choices are valid. But this is the choice I made and this is why, and I know I can live with it. I think that’s where you have to get to — the place where you know your reasons for doing what you’re doing and are comfortable with them, regardless of the final decision. There’s not really a wrong answer.

  • lovelove

    We don’t expect to keep our relationship strong and thriving without the support of our friends and family “community”, and that drove much of the decision of having a big wedding. My personal feelings were that we have an awesome bunch of people around us who support us and are there in the bad times, so why didn’t they deserve to also be there for the best times. Apart from actually being married, the best feeling on the day was sitting at the reception and seeing them all gathered to join in the celebration.

    Another friend of mine recently got engaged and has announced that she is having a very small wedding cutting out a lot of us supposedly very close friends. Selfishly or not, a lot of us now think that she obviously feels she doesn’t need our support and friendship going forward, and it has definitely had an impact on all the friendships. So that is one thing to think about.

    • Marina

      Huh. I guess I don’t really understand that–maybe I don’t place as high a value on weddings as your friend group does. It’s an important event, sure, but not important enough to end friendships over unless there are other significant issues as well. I had a relatively large wedding, but experienced the other side of it where some people who’s support I really wanted didn’t come. And I was hurt for a little while… and then I got over it, because I decided years worth of friendship meant more to me than any single day did. There an an awful lot of reasons someone would want to have a small wedding besides wanting to end all her friendships. Honestly, if I had a friendship that was contingent on my inviting them to something I felt was a private event, the “support” they might provide wouldn’t mean very much.

      • http://greyandshiny.wordpress.com/ Nina

        While I think ending a friendship is far too severe of a reaction (and I’m not sure that’s what Love above meant), I do understand some of the feelings described a little bit. Unfairly or not, when a close friend elopes, it does feel like you are being left out of a very important part of their life.

        That being said, no one OWES their friends or family a large wedding! If elopement/tiny wedding is the couple’s choice, I will accept it graciously, but I can’t help it if I also feel a little sad about it.

  • Erin

    We seem to be all missing something here – The Groom. If the groom really has strong ideas about the wedding (like mine does) make sure he does a lot of the planning too. I became a lot less stressed about it when he took ownership of all the things he cared about (food, venue, large guest list). When my mother asks me what the color scheme is, I tell here “Ask DH”

  • lovelove

    Sorry I probably didn’t explain that very well. You’re right I think this has just brought to a head other issues that were already there. And I guess our hurt is over the way she has dealt with it rather than the decision itself. It’s not a very small wedding but she’s made it feel exclusive, and the reasons given for not inviting the rest of us are trivial – eg not wanting to bother with organizing extra centre pieces for extra tables. It’s never been about wanting to keep it private, or budget issues.

    Anyway what I was trying to say (albeit badly sorry!) is that you have to be prepared for feelings like these to happen. People can feel hurt, no matter what the intentions (I think this has been mentioned above in relation to elopement). I’m not saying the friendships are ended, just that they are affected. I have never understood the idea that getting married is a private matter, so I could feel hurt if someone gave me that as an reason. Doesn’t make my feelings invalid just because I have a different view.

    • Angela

      I actually loved the way you put it, and it made me see things in a different way. I think it speaks to the way we privilege the individual over the community in our (American) culture, for better or for worse. Eloping or keeping the wedding very private and not including your community is a perfectly valid decision, but it does seem odd to do that and then a year later say to a friend, “I really need some support with my marriage. NOW I’d like to include you.” Seen in this way, a wedding is a way to include your community in your marriage, in a really happy and joyous way, knowing there will be harder times down the road.

      I like it…still kicking it around in my head, since I’m the most private person you’d ever wanna meet. But thanks for this perspective.

  • Arachna

    Agree with Erin above.

    I think if you end up giving in on having the wedding that your fiance wants, don’t be bullied by social conditioning to plan the wedding you never wanted! It’s one thing to help him out and show up – another to be the main planner of an event you don’t want. If he truly wants it he’ll do the work of planning things, making reservations, and taking action.

    Emotionally it’ll be far easier on you if it’s him planning the party.

  • http://dullmoments.wordpress.com laurabalaurah

    Dear Meg and NSTHBNPP,

    All of the above wise, wise reasons describe why we had a wedding almost three months ago.

    I do remember the wedding we attended the month we decided to jump into marriage (preparations). “They look so tired,” my husband commented. “Do we really have to do that? What about the court house?”

    There is nothing wrong (obviously) with the court house. But, what transpired was indeed bigger than us, and both brought our current community together and marked the passage of time in a tremendous way.

    Also, anything you don’t like (as said in the comments above), you don’t have to have, so it’s really a time to be tremendously liberated and pow-wow with your beloved in making the first decisions of your marriage. Don’t want to have your annoying homophobic uncle at your wedding? You don’t have to! I certainly didn’t. What a beautiful time to decide what this moment (witnessed by 2 or by 60) will mean for you. F*ck– I went from shaking my head at white dresses and roses to cheering for weddings. It can happen. Luck, indeed!

    -A wedding convert

  • Class of 1980

    “He wants our families and friends to get together and party with us, to rent a cabin in the woods and fish and have bonfires and drink home-brewed beer with people we love.”

    The above description of what your guy wants sounds like an event that can happen at any time. I guess I’ll say what some others have said. Elope. And then do the event he wants. You can have your relaxed cabin-in-the-woods party without the stress of a wedding mixed in with it.

  • http://afeministfarm.wordpress.com Lisa

    Heck – have your cabin in the woods party for your first year anniversary!

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, I have to disagree with the idea that you can invite who you want. I tried this route (not including second cousins on the invite list) and all it resulted in were lots of tears and shouting between me and my mom. I didn’t want to invite the second cousins because they don’t know where I live or what I do for a living and I don’t know their last names since they have been married in the years since I moved away from my home state. I still think these are all valid reasons.

    If I had it to do over again, I would have skipped the tears and yelling and just not said anything. It was a losing battle and I lost it in a way that involved lots of hurt feelings all around. I usually never fight with my parents, and I wish I hadn’t about this.

    Despite what they say, the wedding isn’t about you. It’s a social ritual. You can skip it all the way and elope, and you can have a destination wedding ensuring some people can’t come. However, if you have it in your hometown, you relinquish control. Better to do it gracefully than to insist that it’s your wedding and it ought to represent you.

    But the wedding is only a day. There are plenty of days in your life where you do something tedious or uncomfortable for the happiness other people. Even if it doesn’t go the way you wanted, it’s still only one bad day in an awesome dress with the person you love most in the world. The marriage is for you and your spouse and it lasts a lot longer. There are hundreds of great days ahead.

    I say, just go with the flow. I should qualify this statement by saying I’m not a wedding grad because I’m getting married in October.

  • http://www.ejsisme.blogspot.com Emily

    I think the last paragraph of this post is the mantra of APW, non?

  • Anna

    My husband and I had already decided our families would kill us if we did not give them a party when we decided to elope. We had a date set, a dress, a menu, a venue and a growing guest list. I was in paramedic school at the time and had just gotten to the point of going part time in my job to be able to acomidate school’s growing time requirements. This meant that I was going to lose my insurance. School required a certain level of insurance and was going to charge me upwards of 600$/mo for it. We did NOT have that kind of cash and G had kick butt insurance through his work so we started thinking about getting paper married. We debated it a lot. Would it ruin or water down our wedding wedding? On and on. Ultimately we decided to gather a tiny handful of friends at one of our favorite pubs on a rainy January weeknight and “do this thing”. We exchanged baby vows under the light of the sierra nevada sign and signed our certificate on the pool table because somone had spilled a beer on the table table. It was one of the most wonderful nights I have ever had. We handed out boxes of Annies mac and cheese and chocolate bars as pacific NW winter wedding favors to our dear buddies who attended.
    Smash cut to 9 months later. We walked into the most beautiful summer camp dining hall covered with prayer flags, twinkle lights and lanterns. There were flowers everywhere and the warm smiling faces of our friends and family surrounded us as we stood infront of the impromptu alter of the fireplace. It was POURING outside so our riverside wedding had been relocated to the reception hall about 30min before the ceremony. We stood there and exchanged our second set of vows in front of our community and family and inturn asked them to help keep us honest and dedicated as well as remind us to have a sense of humor and lightness in the hard times. It was not a perfect day if you took it apart piece by piece but it WAS perfect for us.

    I would not change my 2 weddings for anything. Our elopement cost us 50$in beer, flowers and favors. Our wedding wedding cost us about 5k since we rented a summer camp for a whole weekend so we could play with our friends from all over the globe who came to celebrate and they would not have to spend more money on a hotel. We have sort of started a revolution in our group of friends. Everyone is now running off to the court house or hopping on a schooner to have a private “Us wedding” before the hubub of the “Big wedding” and so far, everyone agrees that it takes the pressure off the big big day and allows a sweet intimacy from the little big day that becomes untouchable by family drama or weather or any other nonsense. Just one opinion but something to think about. Best wishes!

  • Vmed

    I’m late to this discussion but want to give the perspective of the one who kind of wanted the big to do when my partner was too private for that:

    We eloped in June (elopement: run away, grab a witness, make it official). And that was awesome, it was incredible and romantic and tiny and enough. And for various reasons we had a catholic vow validation a few weeks ago with family present, which was a microcosm of what the big wedding would have been: lovely, generous, serious, and a stress circus (because you can’t change family) and a relief, but overall very nice.

    Very nice, but my husband wasn’t really there, emotionally, and I was preoccupied with my family’s needs, and you can see it in the photos: we were not as relaxed. We did not kiss with abandon, or grin huge at just each other. We were minding our “guests”- all 8 of them. And we had a great time, a really fine evening together (reservations at a fancy restaurant at the insistence of my parents, watched national treasure at our apartment afterwards, there was definitely joy that day).

    Of course there’s no way to know if we would have had the same experience had they been the very first moments of our marriage, but this is a fact: my groom was present at our city hall elopement. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • slim

    I just got married a month ago and was in a very similar dilemma. (Am shy, hate big parties, hate the WIC, he has huge family, wanted to elope…partner wanted a big wedding blow out.) Finding a compromise was difficult but we’re both thrilled with what happened. What we did enabled us to spend lots of time with people we love, and it put the focus on community and off of us. We didn’t even get a single picture of just us two at our wedding! All of our guests loved our wedding and people who weren’t there didn’t feel left out because it reflected us as a couple perfectly.

    GUESTS: We decided to have a small wedding (parents and siblings, few very close friends….no aunts, uncles, cousins, coworkers, less close friends).

    EVENTS: We treated this just like a dinner party. Location was brother’s back yard. We had drinks and hors d’ouvres with our guests, then gathered everyone together when we felt like doing the ceremony (no chairs, no aisle, no bouquet, no veil). After we sat down for dinner, had a few speeches, and then socialized with everyone until people felt like going home. No dancing, no flower toss, no posed pictures. Just great food, great company, and quiet music.

    INCLUDING OTHERS: We had a few non-wedding parties for other people who we didn’t include in our wedding. My mom had a party to celebrate with her community, his mom did the same, plus a party with coworkers. This spread out the $$ responsibility (b/c those other parties were financed by the hosts, not us). It included others. And it let us spend lots of time with individuals.

    ADVICE: I did almost everything myself and am glad I did so. Kept costs low by making priorities and stuck to them (priorites were great food and helping fund plane tickets for friends/family who don’t have travel $). And, most important, the planning time period was less than 6 months, and I highly recommend this because you can’t obsess over anything too much.

    Good luck!

  • KMS

    Thank you NSTHBNPP!!!! I thought I was the only ‘bride-to-be’ that felt that way. Hearing I am not alone really helps. I feel like every one around me are undercover WIC agents sent to beat me into loving weddings when I tell them I’m “not a wedding person”. I am a HUGE fan of APW (thank you for the sanity Meg!) and have been trolling posts, looking for someone who felt similarly to me. I have always been shy and the idea of having to share such an intimate moment as my vows in front of anyone makes me sick to my stomach. I keep asking to elope but my betrothed insists his family will be insulted if we do. He and I have been together for three years and we’ve always been able to talk our way through any problems or issues. UNTIL now. Anytime the “wedding” is mentioned I dissolve into a bumbling crying mess, and that’s NOT me. He and I are on completely different pages as to what we want and I feel like my core issues, extreme shyness/lack of interst in planning a wedding, are being downplayed to make his family happy. We’ve talked (and cried) ad nauseam about what each other want and why but that happy medium has thus far been elusive. I want everyone to be happy but I want to be comfortable at the same time. Sigh, a pipe dream? I would love to hear any updates on what you decide. Best of luck!!

    • http://www.thebourbontower.com Melanie

      Yep. I hear ya. And reading the comment stream, you and I are not alone.

      I mentioned earlier that, since we announced our engagement, our close friends (our “chosen family”) have been totally supportive and excited, which I absolutely did not expect. They know me. They know my betrothed. Most of us are broke, but they want to be there with us, and for us, and don’t expect me to leap out of my comfort zone. Remembering that has made figuring things out easier.

      So what do I want for my wedding? *shrug* I’m still working on it. Reading APW and this conversation in particular has helped. I do know that I’m working on saying YES to what I want and ignoring everything else. Saying No takes energy for me, so focusing on saying yes to the things that make me happy, and willfully deleting everything else, works so far.

      KMS, you’ll figure it out. Maybe the scared and shy part of you is twisting the idea of the ceremony into something it doesn’t have to be. Maybe the ceremony, for you, is five minutes of exchanging vows & rings in front of your guests, followed by a private half-hour walk with your new spouse in which you exchange the personal, intimate vows you wanted to say to each other. That may take some of the pressure off of the ceremony, too.

      As Meg points out regularly, you don’t need to compromise who you are, even though weddings are as much for our communities as for us. Your friends and family know and love you for who you are, and don’t expect you to conform to their idea of a wedding. If they do expect that, then maybe those people should be left off the guest list. To echo what others have said, we each have to find something that may push our boundaries but doesn’t completely remove us from ourselves. I don’t know what that is for me yet, but I’m working on it.