Should I Push Through My Panic Disorder to Get Married in a Church?

Internet, give me strength

Bride with lei and flower crown, from side

Q: I’m getting married to my best friend, and I couldn’t be happier. We’ve been together for over five years, and during this time we got our university degrees, kick-started our careers, moved in together, and have gone on the most wonderful trips.

Despite all this, I have the most terrible anxiety. I have agoraphobia, which prevents me from being in places where I cannot easily escape. Being in such places triggers terrible panic attacks. Which are nearly just as terrible as the anticipation of a panic attack. Which brings us to our problem: the wedding ceremony. Standing in front of a relatively large group of friends and family (approximately 160) is absolutely daunting to me. Walking down the aisle and then having all eyes on me, even for a short ceremony, is a major source of anxiety.

We have a lot of people coming from out of town. I’m Italian, so there are many people in my family that are attached to tradition, meaning a Church ceremony. This is not something that would work for us. If I had it my way, I would get married outside with only immediate family and our wedding party before our reception. On a scale of one to rude-as-hell, how bad would it be to have a small, intimate ceremony, and only invite the majority of our guests to the reception? By doing this, I would rid myself of all the anxiety attached to a wedding ceremony. I don’t want to hurt anyone by not inviting them to the ceremony, which many people see as the most important part. But if we had that large ceremony that is expected from my extended family, I’m afraid it would haunt me all throughout the planning process and sufficiently ruin my day-of preparations, all because I would be freaking out about the ceremony. I’m very conscious of what my guests will think, and I am trying to make everyone happy, but I’m convinced that compromising so much to the extent that I’m vomiting from anxiety the morning of my wedding doesn’t seem fair to me.

I don’t foresee any problems for me for our reception, during which I can excuse myself if my panic sneaks up on me. I’m excited for our wedding in all other respects: our venue is beautiful, we have an amazing wedding party, our parents are supportive, and ultimately I’m super excited to spend the rest of my life with my man. I don’t want my panic disorder to ruin my wedding. Any advice on how I can manage this would be appreciated!


A: Hello! Hi! Alessandra!

For the next few minutes let’s be best friends, because I am here to answer your questions. I just so happen to be a wedding expert who also has a panic disorder. And I really have been there, done that, gotten all of the t-shirts: I’ve done all the medication options, I’ve done cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve done regular therapy, I’ve taken courses—hell, I’ve had hypnosis (we’ll come back to that). In short, while I am in no way a doctor and can in no way provide you medical advice, I’ve been around, and GIRLFRIEND, LET’S TALK.

First. You have agoraphobia. You can’t get married in front of 160 people, full stop. This is meant to be a wedding, not some sort of torture situation. Personally, I have a panic disorder related to flying, and if you told me I had to have my wedding mid-flight on an airplane, I wouldn’t get married. Because LITERALLY WHY? I mean, my heart started racing as I typed that sentence, so clearly it would be the world’s worst idea. Why would I sign up for something that sounds like the worst experience of my life, when I could just go down to the courtroom and sign some documents?

While we’re validating here, let me co-sign on the fact that the anticipation of a panic attack is almost as bad as the part where your body is convinced you are about to die. Your heart is pounding a mile a minute, you’re sheeting cold sweat, and you’re shaking, dizzy, and barely able to talk. Some mental illnesses are less physical than others. (I’ve also grappled with depression my whole adult life, and as horrible as it is, it’s not going to put me in a hospital because my heart rate is dangerously high.) But you’ve been blessed with the kind of mental illness that would likely cause you to shake, covered with cold sweat and leftover puke, while you somehow try to say your vows.

So first, NO. You are not going to have a wedding that’s going to trigger your disorder. Not just no, but no thank you.

Second, is it rude to have a private ceremony and then a big reception? Not in the slightest. On a scale of one to rude-as-hell, it clocks in at a zero, for being zero percent anyone’s business. In fact, here is a wedding where they did exactly the same thing, and how lovely does it look? Which means you can have a private ceremony and you don’t need to make a single excuse for doing so. Your guests got invited to a great party, and they can attend or not, as the spirit moves them.

If it does come up with your extended family, you should feel free to be totally honest. Agoraphobia is a disease (#mentalhealthawareness and all that), so if someone asks and you feel comfortable giving an honest answer, tell them you have a panic disorder. Tell them that getting married in a large church ceremony would give you a panic attack. It’s not your responsibility to educate folks, but if someone is close to you and you feel like sharing that information with them, it might help them understand you and your condition just a little bit more.

And finally, you need to have a plan for your reception. I’m really happy to hear that you don’t think it will be super triggering—and I suspect you have a pretty good handle on that. But it sounds like you know it won’t be anxiety free, so you should come up with a plan with your partner and loved ones to manage things the best you can. Are toasts going to make you panic? Cut them. Is a first dance with everyone watching going to be a bad scene? Get rid of it. Do you know that people may ask you to do things (kiss on cue, throw the bouquet, etc.) that won’t work for you? Have some loved ones in charge of putting the kibosh on any such requests. And if you need to have medication on hand, and make sure you have it, you should… say… not drink if you know you might need to take it. (IE: Ativan + Booze = Oh Nope.)

Since I’m here, I thought I’d offer you one final slightly bonkers-sounding suggestion (as long as we both understand I am Not A Mental Health Professional). Since you have plenty of time leading up to your wedding, you might want to try hypnosis. As I mentioned above, I have tried literally everything that there is to try in to deal with a panic disorder. And sadly, nothing has been a magic bullet, since no one will agree to just make me unconscious during a flight (WHY IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?). But of everything I’ve done, I’ve found hypnosis to be the most helpful. I googled around to find a well reviewed hypnotherapist in my area, and then agreed to four sessions in a row. I’ve since gone in for touch up sessions before flights. And while flying isn’t perfect, it is night and day from what it was. So if you can find someone, and afford a few sessions, doing some hypnosis particularly around your wedding reception might make the whole experience a little easier and a lot more joyful. I mean, it’s worth a shot, right? (Answer: only you know for sure.)

If anyone gives you even a second of shit about your panic disorder and your wedding plans, you send them to me. Because NOPE. They don’t have to live with a panic disorder, so they don’t get a say.

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  • idkmybffjill

    A+++ advice. And this line – with or without a panic disorder, totally applies: “Your guests got invited to a great party, and they can attend or not, as the spirit moves them.”.

    As long as you’re being forthright with your guests about what they’re invited to you are absolutely not being rude. People have small ceremonies and large receptions all the time!! You’re right – for some the ceremony is the most important part, but those people will live. They’re not invited, they are invited to the reception and they can choose to come or not come and none of that makes you rude.

    • penguin

      “As long as you’re being forthright with your guests about what they’re invited to”

      Seconding this.

    • Sara

      Yes! People are generally fine if they know what’s coming. You may have to doge a few rude ‘why aren’t you doing things my way’ questions, but overall, I think as long as your invite clearly communicates what exactly they’re attending, they’ll be fine.

      • idkmybffjill

        Absolutely, and that’s on them if they want to cause problems with it, then they’re the ones being rude.

    • Colleen

      My friend just had this wedding, because of an anxiety issue. Very private ceremony (only parents and siblings) with a larger cocktail party later that day. No dancing, no on-demand kissing, just one toast. People were confused leading up to the day, because they didn’t do a great job of communicating what was happening. But, once we were all there and realized “Oh, it’s a cocktail reception! This food is great; this booze is flowing; this is a great party!” no one cared in the slightest that it wasn’t a “typical” wedding. I know some people would have loved to attend the ceremony (myself included) but there didn’t seem to be any truly hurt feelings. Everyone was just happy to be there for the couple in the way that suited them best!

      • idkmybffjill

        Totally! And sounds like this could’ve been easily solved if the invite had said, “Please join us for a cocktail reception to celebrate the marriage of X & Y”! I do think it’s misleading to say “join us for a wedding!” and then not have a ceremony, FWIW.

        • Jess

          I very much like this wording.

          • idkmybffjill

            I definitely think it’s vital to be honest. Don’t say, “join us for our wedding” and then be like, “oh jk we did the ceremony earlier!” because people’s feelings will get hurt. But I don’t think anyone is confused if they get an invite to a reception. People know what receptions are! That’s what they’re invited too. Don’t wanna go if you can’t see the ceremony? No problem, you can RSVP no!

          • Violet

            My sister in no way wanted the ceremony in front of a bunch of people. So just family was there for that part, and everyone else was invited to a “Marriage Celebration” reception. No one was confused, and a great time was had by all!

          • idkmybffjill

            Exactly! Extremely common, extremely doable.

        • another lady

          And, you could have the photographer or videographer have some images or short video from the actual ceremony showing on a tv or screen at the reception to appease the people who want to see the actual wedding ceremony. Or, you could just have a blanket statement at the ready, like, “we are private people and wanted to have an intimate ceremony with just a few friends/family… hope you enjoy the reception!” I have found that having some easy comebacks at the ready helps me feel less anxiety leading up to the event. as does running through the possible scenario and saying my response in my head. it might even help to write it down and read through it a couple times (CBD therapy style).

          • another lady

            on another note – you don’t owe anyone anything and you don’t have to tell them the whole 100% truth just because they ask about something. my therapist helped me with responses about certain things involving my mental health and things to say to nosey people who you don’t want to tell. you don’t have to tell them that you have agoraphobia and that having a large wedding would put you in a panic attack. you don’t owe anyone that personal answer if you don’t want to tell them (ie. nosy aunt who doesn’t really know anything personal about your life but feels the need to comment on everything!) you can just make a blanket statement and keep repeating it or change the subject (isn’t this steak great!? I love the way the decorations turned out, don’t you?) or you have the option to excuse yourself and walk away if they don’t accept you answer (especially as the bride at the wedding – “oh, I just saw long lost friend from college, better go say hi” or, “I gotta go tell the DJ to play our favorite song”, or, “I better grab my dress holding crew and go to the bathroom…”)

          • I like the idea of sharing a couple photos or video excerpt (if the LW was open to that, of course, and had someone else to coordinate the logistics of it).

        • Colleen

          Yes, effective communication is important!

      • Alexandra

        I’ve been to this wedding (or, rather, this reception). Super fun. I would have loved to see the ceremony because I love wedding ceremonies, but I wasn’t offended. Their wedding, their choices. Thanks for the fun party, was my main thought.

        • Colleen

          “Thanks for the fun party” EXACTLY!

  • penguin

    Another option would be to elope! Whatever works best for you. I couldn’t tell from the letter if the LW actually wants a wedding with a lot of people around, or if they just feel like that is what is expected of them.

    Also wanted to point this line out: “I’m very conscious of what my guests will think, and I am trying to make everyone happy […]”. Do your best to let go of this, it will drive you crazy. You can’t make everyone happy, especially around a wedding where people get absolutely bizarre (let me introduce you to my future mother-in-law). Plan a wedding (or elopement!) that will make you and your partner happy, and if you’re having any guests then be up-front with them about what will be happening at the thing they are invited to.

    Best of luck!

    • idkmybffjill

      Yes – also – it is not worth it to “make everyone happy” if doing so will give you a literal panic attack. If that weren’t situation I’d lend a little more credence to working to make others happy, for sure – but in this case… that’s just silly. It would make my MIL delighted if I would eat her “famous” strawberry pretzel dessert but I am literally allergic to strawberries so even though it would delight her I would go to the hospital and her happiness isn’t more important.

  • Stephanie B.

    Meg’s advice is spot on, as usual. There are compromises that couples can make for their wedding, like “Make sure there’s a vegetarian dinner option even though we eat meat,” and then there are compromises that couples should definitely NOT make for their wedding, like “Make myself literally physically ill not only the day of the wedding but throughout the entire planning process because family members want to witness the ceremony even though that is something I am 100% unable to handle.”

    Taking care of your sweet self is the most important thing here. Creating a wedding that is comfortable for you should be your starting point in planning your wedding. Everything else should follow from there.

    • sofar

      Exactly. I made plenty of compromises on my wedding, but, if it increased my heart-rate or made me miserable thinking about it, we did NOT do it.

      Also, there’s a big difference in a couple wanting to exclude guests from certain things because of their “vision,” and having a private ceremony because of an anxiety disorder.

  • Rose

    The guests are people who care about you, right? I mean, sure, maybe some plus ones or other odd exceptions, but mostly they’re your family and friends! Imagining a hypothetical friend or family member of mine with a similar panic disorder, the last thing I would want is for them to force themselves through a ceremony just because they thought I wanted to see it. It’s possible that you might disappoint some guests by having a small ceremony; but probably a lot more of them would be more upset/worried if you had a big ceremony and they knew how hard it was for you. Obviously taking care of your own mental health is the most important consideration here, but even if you’re worried about making people happy, a big ceremony that you don’t want to have isn’t necessarily the way to do it.

    Also, this will depend in you two as individuals, but this is definitely a situation where I think it would be reasonable to leave some of the heavy lifting, in terms of explaining however much of the situation you want to, to your partner and/or immediate family like your parents. If people are pushing or want a big explanation, maybe let someone else handle it, if that would make you feel better.

    • Sarah E

      Plus one on allowing others to explain if possible. An astonished partner (or parents/siblings/etc) who is absolutely dumbfounded by guests suggesting a large ceremony is more important than avoiding a panic attack can do worlds of good in creating the social discomfort such rudeness deserves.

      “I can’t believe you aren’t getting married in the church! It’s the most important part!”
      Wide-eyed response “Really? And practically guarantee that Alessandra has a panic attack? Gosh, I could never put her (my precious baby girl/my most important person) through something like that, that would just be cruel of me.”

      • idkmybffjill

        Oooooh great advice. And if anyone like the OP is still thinking “Ugh but what would they think!” Imagine how much worse it would be for the pearl clutchers to watch you pass out or barf up there from your panic attack.

      • Plus two. While I do think that spreading awareness on mental health is super important, in my experience there are always people who… Don’t get it. And will absolutely refuse to accept it. And will ask a bunch of concern troll-y “but what’s WRONG” (I just told you, my raging panic disorder is what’s wrong, ffs) type questions.

        If you are already feeling sensitive about your plans, let someone else field the BS for you.

        • idkmybffjill

          OH and if you’re nearest and dearest don’t get it, I say be very explicit with them. My mother in law COULD NOT understand why I’m not getting an elective C-section. She asked so many times that I finally just got incredibly explicit with her and now it is no longer a topic of discussion. If this is LW’s situation saying, “I will sweat and cry and possibly pass out and even vomit, these aren’t exaggerations” – this will do the trick.

      • Rose

        Agreed, exactly! Or even if the LW doesn’t want to explain about the agoraphobia or panic attacks, I think it would totally be fair to have the partner/parents be the ones who make the non-explanation announcement/defense. This just seems like one of those things that is likely to be way more stressful for the LW to deal with than other people around her.

  • theteenygirl

    Just here to validate that nope – you do NOT have to do the big church ceremony if it’s going to trigger you. Nope nope nope. I suffer from anxiety and I’ve found the wedding planning process to be somewhat hellish to deal with. So I’m just passing along some internet solidarity.

    • sofar

      Exactly. Learning to say, “I don’t have to do that,” was one of the most empowering parts of wedding planning to me.

      Also, LW: Don’t EVER justify or explain this decision to anyone. I found that, if there’s an element of your wedding you know will be controversial, don’t talk about it. Don’t bring it up. If you’re concerned about months of people wheedling you and asking you to explain your decision, I’d ask your immediate family and wedding party to act like the private ceremony doesn’t exist, because, as you say, your extended family is super into tradition and might be obnoxious if they find out. Only if the cat gets out of the bag (maybe your mom isn’t very discreet), you may want to say, “I have an anxiety disorder. I will vomit if I’m the focus of attention for a large crowd.” Or simply, “Our families decided on a private ceremony and a big reception.”

      While your health obviously trumps all, it’s understandable that folks who are really into tradition and community may find it off-putting that they’ll be asked to celebrate the marriage, but not be able to witness it. That’s up to them, and they can attend the reception (or not) as they see fit.

      • penguin

        I agree with not justifying or explaining the decision to have a private ceremony, but not letting guests know ahead of time that they won’t be attending a ceremony doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I would be up-front that you are inviting them to a reception to celebrate your marriage.

        • sofar

          That’s exactly what I was advising, but probably wrote my above post poorly.

          Here’s a clearer version: 1) Word the save-the-date AND invite so it’s clearly a reception-only invite “…we invite you to a reception celebrating our new marriage…”. 2) Never mention to anyone else that there is, indeed, a ceremony. Nobody who isn’t invited needs to know that. 3) If people find out about the ceremony anyway, then explain if you want.

  • I get anxiety but not related so much to being in front of people, and it’s pretty mild all around. Still, damn: 160 people is a lot. You do you.

  • emilyg25

    I find that a lot of folks with anxiety are big-time people pleasers, but girl. How your relatives feel about your ceremony is not your problem. Find your allies who understand that agoraphobia is a real disease and no one should have to vomit on their wedding day, and then try to shut out the rest of the noise. If you’re not currently seeing a therapist, one might be able to help you negotiate around advocating for yourself and help you keep the right perspective.

    • idkmybffjill

      And if you need a people pleasing excuse – no one will be delighted to watch you have a panic attack at the alter. If you’re worrying deeply about pleasing people – it will please them to not watch you have a panic attack on your wedding day. Whether or not they grasp that depends on how understanding they are – but you can rest assured that you’re doing them a solid too.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    I photographed a small, intimate wedding on a beach. It was followed up with a much larger, super fun reception party (where you could pet stingrays!), and everybody danced and had a great time and everything was lovely. Be true to yourself, and you do you.

  • sara

    This is great advice. The main thing I would add, though, is to let people know ahead of time, ideally well in advance of when they need to RSVP/purchase tickets. I would not at all be bothered to be invited to a reception/party-only wedding, but I would be sort of peeved to show up THINKING I was being invited to a ceremony and then a the last minute realizing I was not. Additionally, if the trip was going to be a major cost, I would probably be less likely to do it for the party-only version (sorry! But I think if you are asking people to make a major outlay of cash, it’s important to be honest about what they will be getting.)

    • idkmybffjill

      Added bonus to being upfront about it – if there are such people in your crowd who wouldn’t be interested in coming just for the celebratory part – smaller reception for you!

    • sofar

      Yes. Clarity is key here. A simple wording change (instead of “wedding,” say “…invite you to a reception celebrating the new marriage of [couple]. Cocktail hour: 5pm, Dinner: 6pm”)

      A friend of mine was just telling me how he was hurt that he had traveled out of state to what he thought would be a wedding and then found out he was invited only to the reception part. It seemed the couple had printed out two versions of the invitations with different start times, but no difference in wording.

      • Lexipedia

        Yes. Maybe even don’t print invitations for the ceremony part? That’s just asking for someone to accidentally see them. If it’s that small then just invite those people individually.

        • sofar

          Totally. Private ceremonies should be small anyway, so that word of mouth suffices.

    • Amanda

      The thing is, people don’t read. I had to explain to strangers at the wedding reception of a guy I’d met once and a woman I didn’t know that yes, this was the reception and the ceremony had been private. I was like, people just read and also listen to the words people tell you. I knew because he told us over breakfast while staying with us. Granted, I don’t know how many others he told, but he was very candid in general.

      Also, though, no one was upset even if they were needlessly surprised. They just got appetizers sooner than expected.

      It was actually kind of cool to see the couple right away as the entrance line was also the receiving line. It felt really cordial.

  • Lexipedia

    Don’t subject yourself to something that makes you legit miserable on what is supposed to be a day celebrating your happiness. Your mental health comes first, and as someone who has a pretty severe phobia I +100 Meg on this one – if getting married forced me have the thing I’m terrified of as part of our wedding in any way we wouldn’t be having a wedding. Full stop.

    How open have you been with your extended family about your mental health struggles? Is this something that they know about? If so then I would hope that they totally understand why a private ceremony is the best choice for you, or fuck them and their feelsies if they complain. If not, you don’t owe them an explanation but something simple and vague may be helpful. If anyone asks “Alessandra and FH are choosing to have a private ceremony prior to the reception because that will be most comfortable and meaningful to them. We hope you’ll respect that and joint them for a kick-ass reception to celebrate this next step in their lives.” Also, have you sent out invitations yet? If not I’d definitely word them as others above have recommended, inviting them to a “reception celebrating your marriage” or something like that.

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  • Amy March

    Having a small private ceremony and a large reception is not rude. In fact, in that situation, the smaller the better. 20 people at the ceremony and 160 at the reception I think is easier for people to understand that 60 and 160- easier to understand you didn’t make the cut to something very very small.

    • idkmybffjill

      Completely agree!

    • another lady

      also, having a very small wedding and very short and small reception is also an option, I have a friend of a friend who recently got married (after 10+ years of dating – because he had such anxiety about the actual wedding part) and they just have a very small (maybe 15 people) wedding and quick dinner reception where they basically eloped with a couple close family and friends in their home town. it worked for them and was doable for him. they also told people to keep it a secret until after the event as to not spike his anxiety. they later sent out announcement cards with a picture and a statement like; “Ben and Cathy go married on June 25 in a small ceremony in the park. They are so excited to be sharing their lives together forever!”

    • Kate

      I just had the best or the worst idea for LW problem: she could online stream her wedding to her guests in the reception venue!
      She would get married wherever she wanted with just a few people (like just the parents – the key would be that) and all the guests would be in the reception venue. So everyone could witness the ceremony and not complain about being excluded.
      But this is just an idea, I think not doing this is more than perfectly reasonable. And no one should complain about not being there. It’s just if the LW and finacé were really keen on having everyone there to share the moment but couldn’t.

      • Amy March

        I’m voting worst idea. I just don’t think people have much interest in watching a wedding unless they are there is person unless the LW is Meghan Markle.

  • Emily

    Girl, you got this! Also, props to you for recognizing the problem, and searching for solutions early on!

  • AmandaBee

    To any question that starts with “should I push through my panic disorder….?” my answer is no.

    By all means, with treatment, you can stretch some of the boundaries that you create to manage your panic disorder. But “pushing through” something that puts you into a legit panic is really not healthy, wedding day aside. Like, I’m terrified of heights and would never have a mountain-top wedding, pretty as that may be. If crowds make you panic, it is worth it to find a way to get married without a crowd.

  • CNA

    I agree with 100% of the advice above. You KNOW what’s going to happen. Now is not the time to hope that you’ll turn into a different person just because it’s your special day.

    I say that because I KNEW that I would have a panic attack if I had a big first dance, threw a bouquet, or if people did the ‘glass clink to make the couple kiss’ thing. Absolutely knew it. I cut out the dance and the bouquet toss, and somehow thought that I would be fine during the glass clinking and that it wasn’t a big deal, and I would just be so happy that I’d get through it.

    Guess what? People clinked their glasses, I had a panic attack, and my dad had to go around to all of the tables and tell people to stop, on pain of seeing the bride cry. It didn’t ruin the wedding, and I’m not sure how I could have prevented it, but the point is that I KNEW in advance where I was going to have trouble and that’s exactly what happened.

    There will be enough unexpected stress. There’s no reason to make your wedding something you’ll dread.

    • idkmybffjill

      oh mannnnn that is awful! I have no idea how you would’ve prevented that either. I’ve never seen that happen at a wedding – where are you from? I hear about this tradition often but have never seen it in action.

      • Eenie

        It’s definitely a mid west thing. Might be other places too.

      • Amy March

        I see it all the time on the East Coast.

      • Eh

        This is common where I am from too. My husband and I prefer to not be put on the spot, especially to kiss. I could handle first dance and other stuff like that because I planned it and could prepare mentally for it. Not knowing when people would clink glasses would cause me anxiety. Our MC announced that we would not kiss if people clinked glasses. No one clinked glasses, but if they had our MC would have shut it down.

      • Lena Mattsson

        Ok, so I have recently learned about another similar tradition that is even worse. Here in Scandinavia it is common to clink glasses whenever the bride or groom leaves to go to the bathroom, and everyone of the opposite sex rises from their chairs and forms a line to kiss the bride or groom still sitting down on the cheeks. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? The horrors. I have personally seen this happen at every wedding I attended (except one same sex wedding), and one of these weddings had 160 guests.

        Everytime, I hurry to go to the bathroom myself because I will not partake in this. My fiance hates it as well, and does the same. Now that we are planning our wedding I might have told him that if he need to use the restroom during the dinner, I will force him to pee in a bucket underneath the table. He will not leave me alone in this. No way.

        • idkmybffjill

          What?! Nope.

      • CNA

        East cost of the US. Definitely a thing at all/ most weddings that I’ve been to. Not a good scene for shy people. The Scandinavian thing sounds much worse though!

    • e.e.hershey

      I know it’s too late for you (and I’m sorry it happened!), but if anyone else is concerned about this, I’d consider having a little table sign that just reads something like “Our vendors request that you don’t clink your glass – thank you!”. Maybe people would miss it, but hopefully someone at the table would see it and I’d feel totally OK with blaming the “rule” on some amorphous vendor if it could mean potentially saving you from an anxious time.

      • Eenie

        I would personally find some other way to make the clinky sound if I saw this type of sign. My suggestion would be to pass the message to guests seated in various parts of the room and have the emcee shut it down if it grows to an audible level. If the couple doesn’t acknowledge it or gives our table a glare, we stop doing it.

      • GotMarried!

        also, depending on your crowd, you might end up with napkins being waved to prompt you to kiss … which doesn’t solve your issue :(

  • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

    A. Meg you are a goddess. All the hugs
    B. Repeat after me: “You do not need to do anything you don’t want to do at your wedding”. Seriously. People that love you will be thrilled to love you any way they’re invited to. People that will judge you were going to judge you anyway, so screw ’em.

    Do whatever will make this a joyful and not terror filled experience.

  • KiwiJess

    We did this too (for very similar reasons): and would highly recommend! Not everyone understood, but we were happy with how the day went and I would do it this way again for sure.

  • EE

    If you would like to be married in the Church but be married outside you can do so by getting a special dispensation from your bishop. I realize this doesn’t tackle the anxiety or whatever, but it may help calm some ruffled feathers of some family members if the religious significance is still attached to the ceremony, even if the location is not an actual church. OR you can get married at town hall which means there is an automatic cut off for how many people can show up to the actual ceremony.

  • Sarah

    This is not directed to the LW as obviously her situation is different, but to others who may have some mild anxieties about a bigger ceremony but want it anyways, a few tips: 1. My pastor read all our vows to us and had us repeat them. I did this on purpose because I totally would have forgotten them if I had to memorize them 2. We had mimosas in the bridal suite. Totally took the edge off.

  • Jan

    Coming at this from two perspectives: first, someone who has done a wedding separate from reception, and someone who has been invited only to the reception.

    I say, go for it! I LOVED my friends’ reception and while I would have loved to see their ceremony I didn’t even really need a reason for why we werent invited. As the person who has done the inviting in this type of situauin, I suggest having the ceremony on a different day than the reception. My first wedding was an intimate group ceremony, a gap of a few hours, then a large reception. At the time it was our way of marrying (ha!) my desire for a small wedding and our families’ desires for a large one. I just think in the end it was a bit awkward. My friends mentioned above got married on a Friday evening with just closest family/friends, and had a reception the next night. Much smoother!

    • Greta

      yes, I have been to a wedding where the ceremony was on Friday was just family (only 10-ish people there, I wasn’t invited) and then the reception was on Saturday with 150-ish people. It was totally great, and I honestly didn’t really miss the ceremony all that much. They had some still photos from the ceremony, but it still felt very wedding-y to me as a guest. I didn’t feel slighted in the least as a guest. But the separate days I think really really helps. That way there’s no – “wait, my invitation says 2pm and yours says 6pm, what gives?”

      • Jan

        Yes, for sure! The disparate times on invitations was not something I’d thought through, and it was a total problem. For example, I invited my confirmation sponsor (a family friend and fellow parishioner from church) to the ceremony, but invited her fully-adult children to the reception. They were (rightfully) so confused, and I didn’t hear about it until afterward! Same sort of thing happened with college friends. I felt really bad that I’d inadvertently introduced this super uncomfortable, cliquey dynamic.

  • Ella

    An idea: could excerpts of the vows, readings you used, etc., be made up as a booklet/ shared in some other (not in-person) way at the reception? This might help your traditional family feel “part of it.” The same idea could be used for speeches (booklet rather than presented to an audience.)
    If you did this, I’d preface them with “we had a private ceremony” in case people started saying, “wait, so there *was* a ceremony? I wasn’t invited.”

  • IrisS

    Meg’s advice is so spot on. This WAS my wedding, just a few weeks ago. Flip the situation with us– my now-spouse deals with intense social anxiety, and I’m an introvert who does crowds in moderation, and we planned our wedding in such a way as to maximize our ability to be emotionally present during our own wedding experience, because the alternative looked like gritting our teeth and suffering. Tiny ceremony with immediate family and a few friends? Check. Reception (the next day!) with +/- 100 people? Check. We told our nearest and dearest that there would be no toasts at the reception, and had a DJ and DOC who carefully controlled mic access. We did a food truck reception with flexible mingling and no assigned seating. No planned first dances– basically we kept the ritual aspects present in the ceremony, and the reception vibe was a party where we felt like we could be among our loved ones, instead of on show for them. Things we also nixed: rehearsal dinner and day-after brunch, because a wedding was really enough for us, but we encouraged our family (some of whom had traveled in via plane or road trip) to take advantage of their weekend proximity, and to plan their own get-togethers (spoiler alert, they totally did). Because we were very clear in what our plans were, nobody expected us to show up at any of these other things. We’ve heard zero negative feedback, but we did hear a lot of positive feedback about what a chill experience it was, how much fun people had hanging out with less of a formal reception timeline, how it worked out well for our child guests, etc. FYI, there was some pushback in the beginning– but we calmly stuck to our wishes. It helped that we were largely planning it ourselves, and the help we were offered was very no-strings attached- but we intended to plan an event that was healthy for us, even it that meant funding it ourselves or having a much simpler party. We simply said that we were “marrying in a private ceremony” and looking forward to celebrating with all of our family and friends. Honestly, it all went so well, and we both were able to really be present, and I have zero regrets about doing it this way.

  • MKL

    I completely agree with everybody else so far – your mental health that day is SO important and you want to be able to be present for the ceremony. One option that you could consider is taping the ceremony, which in addition to being a nice record of it for posterity, could be sent/shown to relatives/friends at a later date – popcorn and movie night perhaps? You could even, if you taped it yourself or had a videographer who would be okay letting you have the rough cuts asap, have it playing in a quiet corner of the reception. Different scenario for us, but we’re having our wedding in Scotland (where we live) and a big party back home where my parents live a few weeks later. A lot of people weren’t invited to the Scottish wedding (and a lot more weren’t able to afford it) but their big thing is wanting to see the ceremony (even after the fact).

    • penguin

      I can’t speak for the LW, but I would think that if they were anxious about people seeing the ceremony in person, it would be even worse to have it recorded for people to watch over and over again. We’re having everyone at our ceremony (and no videographer), and the idea of it being recorded makes me really really uncomfortable.

      • idkmybffjill

        I love attention and didn’t want a recording. I knew if I could watch I’d sit around and be like, “omg I sound like Minnie Mouse, why did I make that face”. and I would fully DIE if I had to watch other people watching it with me. Nope forever.

      • I like the idea of photos better than video because I don’t love hearing my voice recorded. Or perhaps video with no sound, but not sure who who would want to see that… As a guest, I would totally be into seeing a few photos around though because I would be curious about the wedding and just excited for them!

    • Amy March

      If you don’t want me to come to your ceremony I don’t want to watch it later.

      • idkmybffjill

        Yeah… this would get serious side-eye/stank face from me. I guess no biggie if it was emailed out… but if it was playing at the reception??? I’d be like… why. A reception can just be a reception.

      • another lady

        I have been to wedding receptions where they di this and it was not a problem and people seemed to enjoy it. the weddings were elopements and people did express interest in actually wanting to see the actual beach ceremony. those that didn’t, did not cause a scene or say anything negative at the time.

  • another lady

    I went to a friends wedding where the bride was nervous about saying the vows in front of everyone, so they just had the pastor say something like, ‘the bride and groom want to keep their vows private and personal’ then, they turned the mikes off and whispered their personal vows to each other. it was actually very sweet and a way to get around the anxiety of messing up the big performance part of the ceremony. (not sure if this will help Alessandra, but could help others.)

  • Celesta Torok

    My husband has a panic disorder as well; outside wedding in the fall was the way we went. He was able to push through a lot, knowing that no matter what, it was going to be an anxious day (for both of us), but at the end of everything he said it was the best day of his life and he had an amazing time. So, let yourself make arrangements and allowances that will make you as comfortable with the day as you can. Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinion (they’ll have them no matter what you do), and have the best day! Congrats to you!