Q: My husband and I eloped last fall. Now we’re hoping to plan a celebration this coming summer. Navigating this hasn’t been easy. There were definitely people who were hurt that they weren’t included when we got married. We are excited to be able to celebrate and want to share this with all those people who really do matter to us, but some of those who were hurt are a bit sensitive about celebrating something that they weren’t invited to witness. I’m certainly in need of general advice about how to navigate this terrain. But more specifically, I’d love some feedback on how to word invitations/save the dates—how to notify people. I accept that there will be people who won’t see this as having as much importance as a “real” wedding, and I get that. I’m just hoping for a fun party without too much stress (part of the reason we eloped was because the production of a wedding was too much for us).
A: Dear Anonymous,
Take heart, Anon. Even if you hadn’t eloped, there’s a pretty good chance you’d be facing these same problems in some capacity. No matter how you get married, it’s pretty likely that someone will be offended by how you choose to include them (or not) in your wedding. This cousin wanted to be a bridesmaid, that neighbor expected an invitation. On top of that, no matter how you get married, there’s a good chance someone will think your wedding isn’t “real.” That doesn’t just go for elopements, like in your case, but for weddings in general, period. (See: same-sex weddings, weddings not performed by a priest, not in a church, occurring after a short engagement, second weddings, “shotgun” weddings, weddings that have dessert buffets instead of fancy dinners, and on.) I can’t sugarcoat this one, friends. While I wish I could offer a magical solution that prevents this stuff, or fixes it after it happens, I can’t.
There are at least a dozen newly engaged readers out there who just had a mini panic attack at their desks after reading that. Oops. Sorry guys.
I’m not saying this to scare you. Hell no. Doesn’t knowing that we’re all in the same boat, no matter our different decisions, sort of help relieve a bit of pressure? Even if you hadn’t eloped, chances are you’d be in this same spot. That’s gotta make you feel a little better? Maybe? Sort of?
If specific individuals have voiced their hurt, you can have an, “It’s not you; it’s me,” sort of chat. Choosing to elope is a big-picture decision, and I’m guessing it wasn’t made specifically to exclude any one individual in particular. It makes sense when I write it out that way, but to your family and friends who are feeling the sting right now, it’s not so obvious. Be sure to reiterate that point, over and over as needed. “We didn’t want a big wedding production,” isn’t the same as, “We didn’t want you there,” but that might be the sort of thing someone doesn’t realize until you specifically say it out loud.
If no one has outright come to you with hurt and disappointment, well, you can’t really address the unvoiced. But, you can warmly invite everyone to be a part of this important day while emphasizing 1. just how meaningful the day is, and 2. how meaningful it is for them to be there. Because YES. A party celebrating your wedding is still important, even if the vows aren’t taking place at the same time. I mean, you don’t have to be there for the move to make it to the housewarming. I’d much rather skip the graduation and just show up for the graduation party. And please tell me I don’t have to be at the birth in order to celebrate baby’s arrival. While weddings somehow give folks the impression that it’s different than all that other stuff, and they have some right to see your vows, it’s just not the case. That fact legitimately stings for some people who love you, which is hard. That’s the best I’ve got. It’s hard. So, I reached out to elopement veteran Nina (who was interviewed by The New York Times about her elopement, so she’s legit). She suggested emphasizing to hurt loved ones that the very fact you’re having a wedding celebration is because they are important to you, and you want to share this meaningful time with them.
For some ideas on how to convey that importance and invite everyone to celebrate with you, check out this recent post on elopement announcements. I really like the one that says, “You were there in our hearts.” Something that makes it clear that, “We eloped!” while also including the words, “Invited to our wedding celebration,” will make sure no one shows up expecting a vow exchange, but also adds the weight to this “party” that the word, well, “party” wouldn’t. Because, ceremony or no, this is a significant day.
If after all of your best efforts, loved ones choose not to come, sure, it’ll hurt. But don’t make the same mistake they did and take someone else’s decisions personally. Even when they’re made out of hurt or malice, what someone chooses to do says more about themselves than it does about you.
Team Practical, how have you helped guests to understand the importance and meaning of your wedding? How have you handled loved ones who were hurt by your decisions?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!