How Do You Word Invitations To A Post-Elopement Reception?

light bulbs as wedding lighting and decor

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!

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  • I think Liz nailed it. Talk it over with your loved ones who you know felt hurt – usually when we make a decision like this, those that love and know us understand deep down that it was the right choice for us to make. They’re often less surprised than they think they are. They just need a little love, honesty and time to process it.

    As for the invite to your celebration, go with something that feels like you guys. I love the idea “We Eloped!” with a graphic or photo from the day on the front (post card style). Then include the more traditional invite-wording and details on the back.

  • Corrie

    “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.”

    Best explanation I’ve ever heard. Why hasn’t anyone presented it this way before? (Well, maybe they have, I’ve just never seen/heard it.) Triple quadruple bonus points to Liz, whose advice I look forward to every week.

    • Amanda L.

      This part stopped me in my tracks. I was sitting here about to write something along the lines of ‘I wouldn’t have been offended not to be invited to your elopement, but I would have been offended about being invited to a party you’re throwing in your own honor for an event I wasn’t invited to.’ But now, I’m seriously re-thinking my aversion to post-wedding celebrations altogether. Thanks, Liz (and Corrie, for pointing it out again)!

      • Letter Writer here…

        I used Liz’s argument exactly. Unfortunately, the people who were offended aren’t as open-minded as you, Amanda. They have scoffed at the concept that a wedding is comparable.

        • I’m sorry you have to deal with that. As a friend or family member, I am ALWAYS happy to party for ANY reason in honor of those I love. Whether it’s an elopement, they finally got their statistical coding to work, or it’s a random Tuesday.

          Solidarity fist-bump, lady. We can throw a party for you in the open thread tomorrow :-)

  • Liz is right on. Talk it over with your loved ones, invite them to your post-elopement party. And, take heart- people will have tons of fun celebrating your wedding even if they didn’t get to witness it.

    We didn’t elope, but we did get married in my husband’s hometown (Honolulu), which meant that most of our friends and family on the mainland couldn’t/didn’t make it. We threw a post-wedding party (complete with “We’re married!” invitations) in our home city with food, alcohol, music, and a slideshow of pictures from the ceremony. Everyone had a wonderful time (and told us so). There may still be some people who are not too happy with your choices, but most people will be glad to celebrate with you. I don’t know if you have any pictures from your elopement, but if you do, putting together a small slideshow to show at your party with those pictures might be a fun way to make people feel a little more included.

    • Moe

      I have a friend getting married back east and even though I may not be able to be there in person I am beyond excited to be at the pre-wedding celebration she’s inviting me too. I don’t know too many people who would pout over a party with food, alcohol, and music.

  • A friend of mine recently sent out the invitation for their post-elopement celebration. It was designed with their beautiful wedding photos in several places (front and inside of the invitation card, and on the back of the response card), and said, “John and Suzy invite you to celebrate their union” with the information about the party. They were gorgeous and communicated everything perfectly. Also, I was super glad to get to see the photos from their very personal elopement, because I wasn’t sure if they would be sharing them or not.

  • Moe

    “I accept that there will be people who won’t see this as having as much importance as a “real” wedding” – I would like to suggest that this upcoming celebration is every bit real and important!! This is a big deal and congratulations!

    Oh lordy I could have written in with this question and answered it too, I lived through all of this!! Last summer we eloped, it was not planned!!! We were in Las Vegas, won some money playing poker and one thing led to another and BOOM we were married.

    Afterwards we had to think about how to proceed. I knew that I wanted, needed, a wedding. So when we began to first notify parents of the news it went something like “we got married! we’re still having a wedding though”

    There were times early in the planning when I didn’t feel like a ‘real’ bride and a friend was quick to correct me. “Oh no! You ARE a bride! People want to celebrate with you, LET THEM!”

    If there were hurt feelings at being left out they were never expressed to me or my husband. My mother didn’t believe me and wanted to see the marriage certificate before congratulating us. (you know how people are always joking about getting married *eyeroll*)

    When invitations went out they included my new married name and went something like “You are invited to celebrate the marriage of Mr and Mrs Las Vegas…” We chose to have a second ceremony complete with white dress, bridesmaids, dancing, cake, vows, everything. The guestbook was a photo story book containing photos from the Las Vegas ceremony and details about how we married, that up until then no one had really seen the pictures before.

    I think discovering the APW community and reading the expereinces of others opened up my thinking and I felt confident in the freedom to do what I damned well pleased.

    Congratulations fellow-eloper, and I hope your celebration is fabulous!

    • jess

      This is somewhat similar to what we’re planning on doing. Though, obviously, with a plan for the elopement, and no winning prize money in sight. We will be following up with a wedding 6 months later tho, which seems to be different from most commenters plans/experiences so far, so I was super happy to see your comment!

      Our follow up wedding will look more like a traditional wedding (vows, officiant) than a celebration of an elopement, though we aren’t doing things like bridesmaids/bridal party/not seeing each other before hand, so it will still be somewhat different from what some guests may be expecting. We’re having trouble right now figuring out who we tell, and when. We’re planning to tell our parents and siblings before hand, but not tell others. Which, begs the question….when DO we tell them? We are 100% confident that this plan is right for us, but would like to avoid as many hurt feelings as possible. I do love your guestbook/storybook though. I’m really keen on sharing the joy of our marriage with people, through photos or stories, but am concerned about rubbing salt in the wound.

      • Moe

        Telling people took some thought and it was a little scary because we really had no idea how people would react.

        I was certain that Facebook would be the last place the news was shared. The both of us de-activated our accounts from our phones. Then over lunch (because eloping makes you famished) we talked over the timeline of who would be notified and when. We took turns driving home from Las Vegas while the other made phone calls to family. I have a fantastic picture of my husband on the phone with his mom and the most nervous look.

        When we got home we tried to tell as many of our close friends in person. For the most part people were stunned, then speechless, then happy. A few people were prompted to ask if I was pregnant. (just be warned, they might ask you too)

        If this is right for you, do it. There is no way to avoid hurt feelings, because there are a million different ways for people to feel slighted. When the time came to plan the wedding we discovered this. There are seating arrangements, guests lists, personal choices that will inevitably rub someone the wrong way. You can’t get around it, so might as well do what is right for you.

      • Kay

        Yes! We just had a private wedding ceremony (elopment? legal marriage ceremony?) at our city hall, but are still planning on having a “friends and family ceremony and celebration” in 6 months. Some people are confused or quietly disapproving, but most are happy for us. At first we were worried that our “friends and family” wedding wouldn’t feel as special or important or something… that going to city hall would take away from it… But I have a hard time imagining that we won’t be moved by saying our vows in front of everyone we love. And our low-key (under 5 minutes!) city hall wedding was a marker on the way.

        There are so many important moments and turning points– meeting each other, meeting family and friends, various random romantic moments, moving in together, committing to getting married, getting legally married, and then our community wedding… I think there is room for all of them without any one taking away from the others.

    • Ashlee

      Moe – thank you so much for your
      reply! My husband and I were engaged in August and decided to get married in
      the courthouse in September. This decision came about somewhat quickly, and happened
      while we were planning an actual wedding in March. I’ve looked around on other
      sites and seen some pretty harsh comments for people like me, so I am
      incredibly thankful to have found APW and your comment. I love the way we did
      everything and think it was the best possible scenario for my husband and me,
      but I started to feel badly when I read some of the things people said about
      having a traditional wedding reception after being married for a while – especially
      because our religious wedding and celebration in March will be ones with a dress,
      dancing, cake – all the typical stuff. I’m glad to know there are others out
      there like me, and I plan to enjoy every moment of these next few months. Thanks

  • lynn

    We got married in NYC because it was important to us to be married in a state where everyone can get married. We invited only our parents. We then had a weekend party in our home state a few months later. There were people who didn’t come because there would be no wedding. Did it hurt? Yes. Did it change how I view my relationships with certain family members? Sadly, yes. But the people who came–those who flew in just for the day, parents of old school friends, family from out of the country–made the weekend just perfect. And folks had such a good, relaxing time (we got thank you cards–for a wedding party!) that those who didn’t come ended up regretting their decision. I would not have changed a thing.

  • Missing someone’s wedding is not the end of the world. It’s not. I feel like I’m obviously being pig headed and argumentative, but I can’t talk myself out of this mindset. I appreciate Liz’s advice and take on this. It’s extremely generous and will likely lead to the least amount of further hurt feelings. Maybe someday I’ll be strong enough to react this way as well. Instead, I’m totally personalizing the issue and I’m seriously so angry that anyone, ANYONE would have had the gall to tell this bride they had a problem with the way she got married. To me, that’s the most selfish thing I can think of.

  • My husband and I went to a post-elopement reception for friends last year, and it was a blast. I think their invitation said something like “Join us as we celebrate the union of…” Maybe there’ll be some people who are miffed that they didn’t get to attend the “real” thing, but I’m sure that most of your loved ones will be excited and want to celebrate with you. Because it’s not about one particular day–it’s about getting together and celebrating awesome people who have chosen to form an awesome team.

  • Oh my god. This is so timely.
    We eloped on May 4th. My parents, brother, and Grandma watched on Skype and FaceTime. Aside from my husband (!!!!!) and me, there were 4 people there, physically, counting our officiant. We’ll be having a commitment ceremony at some later date (at my parents’ request) with family, etc. Interestingly, it wasn’t my extended family that was upset about us not including them in the actual ceremony. It was friends of mine who were upset that they weren’t invited to the ceremony, but WERE invited to the party we threw at a bar after the ceremony.
    This way, I now have a way to invite them all to come watch the whole thing happen again, with a different dress and no rings. THANK YOU!

    • Dude, this is a great idea!

    • But be prepared for people to ask, about the commitment ceremony, what it feels like to be married. They won’t mean to be rude, but if you’re anything like us, it will drive you batty.

      We had a tiny wedding and two big parties after. Leading up to the more formal party, lots of family members kept calling it our “wedding,” insisting we needed to do things like cut cake and feed it to each other, throw a bouquet, etc., and asking if we were nervous about the wedding. If it was an older relative whose feelings we didn’t want to hurt, we ignored the fact that we’d been married for a month and politely explained that we weren’t doing whatever thing they thought was traditional, and that we were excited to see them. If they were a relative or friend that was being pushy and should know better, we point-blank told them this was a party, we were already married, and we weren’t doing those things because they happened at our actual wedding.

      Navigating these parties was an emotional mine field, but I think we succeeded in mitigating any hurt feelings by the end of it. Good luck!!!!

      • Our commitment ceremony/party will be happening at least a year after our wedding happened. Which is good, because people will have a year to get used to the idea of us already BEING married (family is already sending us wedding gifts (read: checks) addressed to J & J HisLastName) and also because we’ll have time to figure out what we want and don’t want, what we’d like to do and wouldn’t like to do.
        And since we didn’t have a cake last month, we get one next year! Yay! Cake!!!! But yes, I’m girding myself already for the onslaught now. :)

        • Honestly, I would have LOVED to have a second cake! I have never turned down cake in my life! We were just running into certain people acting like our real wedding never happened, and trying to turn the party into the “normal” wedding they wished we had. Families!

  • People who love you want to celebrate your marriage, and if you give them the chance most of them will jump on it.

    We had a semi-planned elopement last summer and possibly the biggest point of contention was that we did not want to throw a party. Period. Most of the people who matter to us were happy for us, and the biggest question was “when’s the party?” Standing our ground on the not having a post-elopement reception was not always easy.

    You can’t please everyone and some people are going to be upset no matter what you do.

    What you can do is find ways to soothe the feelings of those who matter. If you know your best friend is going to be upset that she wasn’t told in advance, find a way to share those memories with her and trust that your friendship can stand not being at the wedding. On the other hand if an aunt you haven’t talked to in a decade is up in arms about the situation, or one of your husband’s cousins that you’ve never spoken to before has a snide remark? You get to decide how much that bothers you.

  • Lizzie

    My husband and I quasi-eloped in December–we invited our parents and siblings to our tiny ceremony since we figured that if we didn’t, we’d never be forgiven. Then we had a “wedding celebration” in April and invited EVERYONE. No one said (to our faces) that they were offended at being invited to the party but not the legal ceremony; I think it helped that at the party, we had a ring warming with formal vows before dinner was served. That way our extended families got to feel like part of our union, and all our guests got to witness something solemn even though it wasn’t legally binding. So I recommend that approach to anyone if it’s right for you.

    Trickier, though, are my own feelings: I still prickle with resentment when people congratulate me for “getting married” in April, or as “how it feels to be married now.” I want to point out that we’ve been married since December, but being too insistent about that might make people feel like they missed out on the “real” event. I’ll be struggling with this for a while, but the whole process was well worth the struggle.

    • jess

      Oh! I just asked a similar thing below you!

      As I mentioned in my comment, I’m thinking of our ceremony with all the people to be our wedding, and our pre-elopement to be our marriage. Still not sure if that’s right or not.

      For those who weren’t at the elopement, did they know before the wedding celebration that the elopement had happened?

    • Morgan

      Wow.. my partner and I are doing almost the exact same thing. We’re having a tiny ”elopement’ in November with his immediate family and my closest friends. We’re planning on throwing a party in April next year to help those that missed out feel a little included.
      Of those that we’ve told the plans to, only one friend has expressed extreme disappointment and the way we’re doing things. Everyone else has congratulated us.
      It seems that there are a lot of married couples who wish they could have done exactly what we’re doing and a few more engaged couples wishing they could do the same thing.

      Neither of us wanted to plan a big day, but we didn’t want everyone to miss out .. this seems like the best option. I’m so glad it worked out for you! Fingers crossed it works out for us too!

    • Val

      Hi, we’re doing something similar but I’m now struggling with how to word an invitation to the cocktail reception that my parents are throwing us that will be a month after our small, family-only destination wedding. Any thoughts?

  • jess

    Somewhat related question. My fiance and I are planning a wedding for next May, but we plan to get married this fall (tax/insurance/next of kin reasons).

    We’re planning to make a nice little trip of it, get married in a different city’s city hall, have a photographer (Emily that’s been plastered all over APW lately is high on our list), but not tell anyone at the time besides our siblings and parents. Thinking about it now, I realize this is technically an elopement, but, up til now, we haven’t been thinking about it that way…just that we’re planning a wedding for spring and a marriage for the fall before. We will be having a ceremony/vows at our pretty non-traditional spring wedding, because the community aspect is important to us, but so is insurance and being tied to each other now in case any health issues or other things come up.

    So, to the real question. Do we tell people at the wedding? After? Never at all? Our parents will be told before hand, but what about extended family or friends? I would love to share the happiness from the fall with those attending the wedding in the spring, but I don’t want anyone to feel cheated or offended. I also really don’t like the idea of keeping that a secret for forever. Thoughts? I know some of you have done this setup before, because I’ve read comments from you on other posts. :) How did your news go over with others, if you shared it?

    • Natasha

      I originally planned to do something similar to this, but it didn´t end up working out exactly – probably because I wasn´t actually planning the wedding while planning the elopement! But I thought that what I would do was to keep it a secret, and at the wedding with everyone, have photos on the table and a slideshow of the original wedding to share with everyone, kind of a ´suprise!´ That way they could still share in the original moment without feeling cheated because they still got to witness the second one.
      I also know that although I had decided beforehand to keep it a secret, once we were actually married I wanted to shout it out to the world :) So keep in mind that your feelings about keeping it a secret may change after your first ceremony! :)

      • jess

        Hahahaha. Shouting from the rooftops is a concern of mine as well. Our wedding plans are already in motion, with a date/venue set and caterer in the works, so that will be happening if we end up telling people about our pre-marriage or not. :)

    • Amy March

      I think you should tell people. No one likes to feel lied to, which is how inviting people to a wedding when you are already married may feel. And, sure, some may have hurt feelings, but you can’t control that. You can control being upfront with how things are going to work for you.

    • Rebecca

      I don’t have any hope of this argument persuading anyone who’s bound and determined to be upset, but I think there is an argument to be made that being married legally, socially, and/or religiously are in fact different things that sometimes get grouped together. The legal and religious marriages, for example, get split up all the time in some countries.

      We did our legal marriage last December for tax reasons, called it an elopement, and then had our social wedding/ marriage in the spring. We wore rings after the elopement and presented ourselves as married, told anyone who asked/ needed to know, and still called our spring shindig a wedding, since we considered that the point where we’d be married in the eyes of our family/ community.

      This mostly worked for us because we had a small spring event with mostly family, none of whom we live anywhere near, so to them the spring event was the first time they really saw us as married anyhow. Mostly our families were proud of us for keeping money away from the IRS, and happy to have a chance to celebrate with us. Ours is a pretty laid back crowd, though, so YMMV.

      • jess

        That’s essentially our point of view and plan too. So far, the family has been pretty low key in terms of everything, so I’m hoping that it carries over to this as well.

        So yay! Thanks for your thoughts. :)

        • Rebecca

          I would add that the spring ceremony wound up being a big emotional thing, especially for our parents, even though they knew we’d been married for a few months- seeing us say the words to each other in front of them was still a big deal, which made it super worth it to me.

    • Brenda

      We did this too, for visa reasons. The legal ceremony was in January, with just a few friends, no family, present. The wedding will be in July. We told all our families what we were doing and why we had decided to do it this way, and they were all happy with that. Among less close family members, we haven’t specifically told them, but it’s not a secret, so they may or may not know. Although we do refer to ourselves now as married, we have downplayed it by not putting anything about it on facebook (facebook still says Engaged), not wearing rings, and being very clear to ourselves about what’s already happened at the legal ceremony, and what’s happening at the wedding and why.

      We view it as a two-part wedding – part one has happened, but it’s not complete until part two.

      We are having a proper ceremony with rings and vows (neither of which we did at our legal ceremony), so this will not be a repeat of something that has already happened. However, we specifically worded our invitations to say “please join us as we, xx and xx, exchange vows and rings”….. which implies wedding but is literally what will be happening. We’re also planning on mentioning the first ceremony during our ceremony, and maybe having some photos from it, since most people haven’t seen them.

      So far it seems everyone is happy and respectful of our decisions.

  • Natasha

    I´ve been married over a year and a half now (we eloped) and am coming to the realisation that we may never have a wedding celebration party! For us it´s a little more complicated though – our families live in different countries on completely different sides of the world and there is no possible way for us to include everyone we would want to include (partly the reason we eloped in the first place!) The same with our friends – spread over so many countries and continents that there would always be someone missing, someone left out.

    I had thought that one day, we might be able to have a celebration with the white dress, etc etc but we´ve decided that we don´t want to have a ´pretend wedding´ as it would take away from the actual ceremony we did have. It may have been short, we may not have had any family with us (just 2 witnesses!) but it was still perfect because it was our promise to each other – which, really, is what it´s all about anyway!

    Now I´m starting to think that maybe we should wait, say 5 or 10 years, and have a huge celebration (or 2, one in each families´ country) then! I feel like so much time has passed since our original wedding that it would seem a little silly to throw a party for it now.

    • B (the other one)

      My boyfriend and I have decided to elope for that reason as well. The logistical and financial nightmare of trying to plan an event for friends and family in 4 countries and 2 continents is just too much. We’ve already let our immediate family know that that’s our plan and hopefully we will be able to one day have a party in one country to celebrate. It does make me kind of sad sometimes to think that we wont get to have the wedding and the party and the dress, but it would be even worse to have that and not have everyone we love be able to come.

      Plus, since we are living in Europe now, I can’t get it out of my head how romantic it would be to run off to Paris or Venice and elope one weekend!

      • Dawn

        I know this is a very old thread, and that this conversation is tangential to the original question, but I feel compelled to provide a different perspective for any future couples dealing with multiple countries and the reality that not everyone will be able to come to a potential wedding.

        We had immediate family in 4 countries on 3 continents. We had people come -and important people unable to come- from literally the other side of the world. For us, having a wedding and inviting these people to witness and celebrate was very special. It was definitely worth it to have those who could come be with us, even though some people we would have loved to have were not able to be there.

        This is all very personal and specific of course, and everyone has to work it out. But for us it would have been worse to have no one because it was impossible to have everyone.


    I know I’m going to be bookmarking this and reading it sometime over the next year, so thanks in advance for giving me a safe landing after someone makes a snotty remark to me about our wedding.
    We’ve been engaged for over a year and have been planning a huge camp wedding next June 21st. It’s a bit of a hike for my side- eleven hour drive with no possibility of flying in. Now that we’ve tweaked our plans to include a small courthouse ceremony with basically just our parents THIS June 21st, people are getting…weirded out. It’s a legal necessity for us to be married before we move, but we are halfway to our dream wedding, and there’s no way I’m giving up that day. We’re still doing everything the same as before, except our friend who is officiating the ceremony won’t have to sign anything.
    The only thing I’ve heard so far is one person, who I’m close to, actually, saying, “you mean we have to go all the way up to Michigan for nothing?”

    So, bookmarking….and great advice. I feel better just looking at this.

  • Amy March

    I think it is important to consider in making these decisions that people do value seeing you make a binding, public, legal commitment to each other. It’s certainly not the only important thing that happens at a wedding (community! hospitality! Meaningful readings!) but it is a part. I don’t want to suggest that guests complaining about being invited to a celebration after the fact, whether or not it includes a ceremony, are justified in complaining, but I do think it takes away a piece of the package. And to insist that a ceremony that takes place after you have been legally married is the “real” wedding strikes a nerve with me- because it isn’t. That ceremony doesn’t make you any more legally married, and I think it, unintentionally, is hurtful to people who “only” went to City Hall. So- absolutely, celebrate often, in whatever style works for you, but understand that people who are disappointed may not be just trying to be jerks about it- they really are missing something.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I don’t know about offended – disappointed, certainly. Some people like wedding ceremonies. I’ve happily attended just the ceremony when I was invited to just the ceremony (not something I recommend brides do, but something that didn’t offend me). I know we got a handful of ceremony-only RSVPs because of work or health issues even though everyone was invited to both the ceremony and reception. (I assume we therefore had a handful of people attend only the ceremony, but I was kind of busy at the church and can’t say for sure *wink*)

      I also agree with the comment above about civil legal v. religious v. other kinds of marriages/weddings.

    • It may fragment the package a bit, but I think determination of what is the “real” wedding is left up to the couple in question. I know we’ve had a multitude of posts on APW about wedding graduates who didn’t feel anything different after signing the legal paperwork, but after a religious or community ceremony, truly felt married. And those that didn’t expect to feel anything different after their courthouse ceremony totally transformed the way they viewed the relationship.

      You’re right that not all guests (and not all of us here) will agree that a compartmentalized approach (legal here, community there) “counts,” but it’s not up to the guests, disappointed and hurt though they may be, to decide what’s “real”- it’s up to the couple.

      • Amy March

        I guess that’s the fundamental disagreement. I think the reason we celebrate marriage collectively, instead of moving in, merging checkbooks, or getting a communal dog, is because it isn’t up to each couple to define for themselves. It has a real, legal, practical meaning. I can absolutely see how different pieces of the package have different importance to the couple, but I don’t think they get to decide that an exchange of vows months after being legally married is the “real” day they are married, no matter how important it is to their relationship emotionally, communally, or religiously.

        • That is a pretty fundamental disagreement. I don’t want to minimize the importance of legal marriage, and to each his/her own.

          On with the champagne anyway :-)

          • KEA1

            The legal marriage date certainly has practical implications, and those are certainly important. But is it really fair for family and friends, who presumably care about the couple on a far deeper level than just the pragmatic/legal one, to care more about whether they saw the “real” wedding than they do about whether they’ve celebrated the couple’s commitment in a way that best honors the couple?

          • Amy March

            On the other hand, is it really fair for the couple, who presumably care about their family and friends, to expect those people not only to celebrate them, but to do so in exactly the way the couple feels is most important, discounting the importance their friends and family may reasonably place on witnessing a ceremony that has more than symbolic meaning?

            I don’t mean to be making an argument that it’s wrong to separate the legal vows from the public celebration, or that couples should consider their guests needs as above and beyond their own. But I think it’s disingenuous to present the issue as though friends and family are being unreasonable for being hurt.

            And I think sometimes the practical thing is to not try and justify it as just as important or the “real” wedding, but to own the fact that you have chosen to exclude people from witnessing the legal part, and that you made that choice deliberately for reasons important and valid to you, and allow time and space to heal hurt feelings.

          • Liz

            Interesting. Amy March, I was all set to disagree with you until I read your last paragraph (I couldn’t care less about the legal end of my marriage, and find ALL of the importance in the religious end).

            It seems a bit beside the point, because I don’t think the letter-writer was asking to draw a distinction between the elopement and the wedding celebration, with the latter being “real” and the former being not. The core thing there is just getting over the hurt of missing the ceremony and being invited to what amounts to the “reception.”

            The whole issue reminds me of other “hard stuff” sort of questions. For example, marrying someone your friends and family don’t think you should. Do their opinions count? Of course! But, are you a grown up who gets to make your own decisions? Yep, absolutely. To deny that there will be hurt is silly, and we can do the best we can to try to avoid that hurt. But at the end of the day, sometimes it really is in a person’s (or relationship’s) best interest to do something else. Even if it’s not ideal and has some impact on other relationships.

            I still will argue that the celebration is important. And that being included in the celebration is significant. But, no, I don’t think anyone is trying to equate it with a ceremony (legal or otherwise).

    • CII

      From a guest’s / family member / friend perspective, I think that some people will see a distinction between the two scenarios:
      (1) elopement + reception on a subsequent date (which is what I think the original poster is referring to), and
      (2) a marriage ceremony where you invite a small number of guests + a subsequent second, larger, marriage ceremony.

      I’ve been to both types. For me, the first type seems perfectly understandable because the two occasions have different functions (first is ceremony, second is celebration). The second type is harder for me to understand because it seems like the second event is duplicative of the first.

      I’m not saying that means a couple shouldn’t choose whatever option (city hall, elopement, one religious ceremony, one secular ceremony, two ceremonies on one day, two ceremonies in two months, etc.) is right for them, just offering a perspective as to how friends and family might feel.

  • Letter Writer here…

    First off, thank you APW for running my question!
    APW is such a wonderful place, thank you all for your level-headedness and supportive attitudes.

    Unfortunately, life isn’t always so rosy, so I want to share a little more of my story.

    The particular people that we offended are my parents. Since my parents were hurt, it’s caused additional hurt for some other close family on my side who are upset with me for hurting them. I don’t dwell if any extended family or friends are disappointed that we eloped, and frankly they’ve all been pretty great. My husband’s family has been incredibly supportive and happy for us. But I love my parents and my family very much, and we’re close. It was quite difficult for a little while.

    My parents love my husband, love the life we’ve created (we’ve been together a long time). But they felt they were entitled to be present for our moment of commitment. When we called them to tell them that we’d gotten married, my father told me that he’d learn to accept what we did, but that he didn’t feel he could celebrate it.

    So we waited a while before bringing up the idea of a party. Fortunately, my parents are getting on board with it now. But it’s been touchy at times. My husband and I are throwing it ourselves, although it’s worth noting that we’re doing it with money we’ve gotten already as wedding gifts, including from my parents.

    Liz, I just want to say that I complete agree that the words about how ““We didn’t want a big wedding production,” isn’t the same as, “We didn’t want you there,””. Unfortunately it can take a long time for some people to understand that.

    Anyway, some great thoughts here from Liz and all these comments. We’re in the planning stages right now for our celebration, so here’s hoping it ends up going smoothly! At this point I’m feeling really good that it’ll be a great time.

    • Moe


    • rys

      Congratulations! I’m glad to hear that things are starting to smooth out.

      That said, I can understand your parent’s position — using Liz’s analogy, my parents would be incredibly hurt and very upset if I invited them to a graduation party and not graduation itself. Frankly, I care a hell of a lot more about my dissertation defense (sometime next year, fingers crossed) — which they recognize is a big deal but isn’t meaningful to them — but I will go through all the graduation ceremonial things, the processionals and hoodings and talks and hoopla that doesn’t matter much to me, because that means a ton to my family, all of whom have supported me tremendously. A party alone doesn’t convey the gravitas of the moment, and that may be what parents, not to mention others, want to experience or at least have a taste of in this case as well.

      This is not to say you shouldn’t feel aggravated or frustrated by your parents’ response, but I do think that family and close friends are invested in us and taking their feelings into consideration is important, even when that means modifying things to address their needs too. It sounds to me like they feel they missed out (a more charitable reading than entitlement, though only you know where that line is), and a party–awesome as it surely will be–doesn’t feel as big or momentous to them. Maybe you can incorporate some ceremonial elements in the reception? Perhaps there are other ways to address their feelings/needs so that the reception feels like more than just a post-facto party?

    • Newtie

      I’d like to ask, because I’m genuinely curious and I’d like to understand: if you didn’t/don’t want the production of a wedding, why are you throwing a party? How is it any different?

      I’ve heard this sentiment many times from friends who have eloped, and I never want to ask them to clarify because I worry asking makes it sound like I question the legitimacy of their choice — and I don’t at all. But I also don’t understand this choice and I’d like to – so if you have any insight I’d love it if you’d share it!

      I can completely understand wanting to elope and have no reception, or elope because you want a private wedding but still have a reception because you want to celebrate with friends and family.

      But I don’t understand eloping because one doesn’t want the “hoopla” of a wedding, and then going ahead and having the hoopla later but calling it a “party” instead of a “wedding.” Isn’t there the same amount of hoopla either way? I mean, it’s not like witnessing the vows is the “production-y” part of a wedding, or the expensive part, or the part that difficult to plan. If one wanted a low-key, informal celebration of one’s marriage, couldn’t one just do that as a wedding? Why does having an elopement and then having a reception save one from the production of a wedding, since it is essentially the same thing but without anyone witnessing your vows?

      Again, please know I ask this only because I am sincerely curious and have wondered about this for a while – I think everyone is entitled to get married any way they want to, whether I understand it or not. But I would like to understand it better, if someone wants to explain. :)

      • Maria

        It’s pretty hard to explain and I’m still working on figuring out the words, so bear with me…

        One of the biggest things for me is that a wedding and a reception are two entirely different things, one of which is extremely emotionally intense (wedding) and one of which is basically logistics (reception) and planning them simultaneously is much, much harder than planning them one at a time. Making a butt-load of logistical decisions while dealing with a huge emotional thing (even if it is a happy, joyous emotional thing) is way, way harder than making a bunch of logistical decisions without added emotional stress. And even when they are good/awesome/giddy-inducing, intense emotions are stressful and make it harder to think rationally.

        There is also (and this may or may not be true outside of my own head) a different set of expectations for a wedding+reception vs. elopement followed by a reception at a later date. If anyone has anything to articulate on that front, I’d be glad to hear it.

        • Letter Writer here…

          Hi Newtie, thanks for asking.
          I think Maria did a pretty decent job of explaining.
          Newtie, I’m guessing you haven’t started wedding planning yourself yet? Or if you have, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones whose family and friends are all pretty much on the same page as you are and the planning isn’t very fraught.

          In my experience, having an elopement and then a reception is not “essentially the same thing but without anyone witnessing the vows”, as you put it. Yes, many of the logistics are similar. But it’s the emotional logistics and the negotiations with family through the planning part that is a whole different world.

          Between my husband and I, we have several very different families (including blended/divorced elements and different religious traditions), and between them many different expectations for what a wedding “should” be. When we were trying to plan a full wedding, not only did many of them feel they had a say, they also felt that they were in the “right” in ways that conflicted with not just us but each other. We could submit to one request only to face disapproval from another side. Also, my husband and I have different ways of dealing with our families, and that was causing strife between the two of us as well.

          Prior to going through this, I would have thought that those expectations simply dealt with the ceremony (which were tricky enough), but that wasn’t the case. The pressures also included expectations about the guest list, about the quality of the food & alcohol provided, about the level of formality of the meal, about the appropriate amount of money to spend, etc.

          Also, I should point out that my and my husband’s expectations and pressures are different too. This is part of what Maria is saying. When it was our wedding, we had a lot of emotion tied up into things like symbolism and what message we were sending people (from friends to family to our future children). I really wanted to have all of my important people there, and hated the idea of anyone not being able to make it, or worse that they would travel all the way to be with us and I wouldn’t get to spend enough time with all of them. On top of that, I’m nothing like a bridezilla, but it’s hard for me to believe that after putting so much money and time (and fights, strained relationships, etc) into one event, if anything had gone “wrong”, it would’ve been very upsetting for me.

          Now that we’re married, and the dust has settled, those expectations and pressures are no longer so relevant as to how we celebrate. This is just A celebration for us in our lives, not THE celebration. I’m okay if not everyone can come, and we’re planning it on a shorter time frame so there’s less build-up.

          Anyway, that was a long answer, and it’s just part of the picture, but I hope it helps a little!

          • Anne

            I think this probably depends on the families involved, too. We only had major disagreements with our parents about elements of the reception, but not the ceremony, which they were mostly willing to leave up to us. So if your families are super intense in terms of their preferences about a ceremony, maybe it’s a way of avoiding that conflict. We had those conflicts come up with the reception, so for us it absolutely wouldn’t have alleviated the stress to elope and then have a party.

  • Nina

    Thanks Liz for another thoughtful answer to a tricky question. It’s not an easy topic and everyone has different feelings on it – some of which are hard to predict.

    I just want to add one perspective – and this is really just addressing the situation where the couple wants to forgo the “big wedding production” and instead elopes and throws a low-key party afterwards to celebrate.

    Firstly, that’s totally legimate. You owe people your consideration and thoughtfulness but you don’t owe anyone a wedding. Your friends and damily might be hurt, but hopefully they’ll come around and appreciate that you DO want to celebrate with them, but in a more low-key manner.

    But on the other hand, we can’t deny that the couple is sending people a message by forgoing the big wedding production. Namely, that they don’t want a big wedding production. I think it’s understandable for people to treat it a bit differently than they would if the couple did go all out. No, it’s not an excuse for guests to be rude, but I think both sides need to adjust their expectations to accommodate the fact that it is a different way to celebrate a marriage. (This is just a general comment – not directed at the original writer.)

    • Letter Writer here…

      Hi Nina,

      I think you hit the nail on the head a bit and I completely agree with you. We certainly have sent that “message” – that we’ve forgone the big wedding production. And that’s intentional. We don’t want people to feel obligated to come, and we don’t want to feel obligated to make this event something that’s beyond our comfort or our means.

      But we DO want people to know that they’re important to us. That, like Liz said, we didn’t elope in order to exclude these people. We eloped for a lot of other reasons.

      How we officially present this to our friends and family isn’t simple. The precedent for etiquette is fuzzy at best, and I want to be sensitive considering that we have already encountered negative responses.

      • You’ve expressed your thoughts about it really well here. May I suggest a toast or thank-you speech for your guests that tells them what you’ve told us? Spoken word to everyone at once is an easier way to get your message across, and I’m sure everyone will be touched.

        You might have already thought this out, but I wanted to throw my two cents in. Best wishes for your celebration and your married life!

      • Kristen

        Letter writer, I just want to applaud you for being this conscious and conscientious of your parents feelings when navigating this scenario. You’re seriously a better person than I and I hope you can be proud of yourself for already doing the right thing: caring. I’m not sure you could make a wrong choice here as you’re already doing what’s so important, taking others feelings into consideration. It’s not the choice I would make, but I still think its a damn fine choice and I’m impressed.

      • Nina B. (from Liz’s response)

        Hey Letter-Writer!

        You’re right–there isn’t really a precedent for elopement after-party etiquette, I think mostly because it’s a relatively new trend (isn’t one of the points of eloping to forgo the party?). Which I guess is why reporters call me for insight from time to time (which is weird and awesome).

        Our situation was a bit different because we didn’t host the celebrations. Our parents did. Having your parents host a reception for you after you elope seems like the ultimate blessing, right? I thought so, but even though we’ve been married since 2010, my MIL made a few snide remarks about being left out of our ceremony mere weekends ago. I kid you not.

        What could I do? I walked away. Because what’s done is done. The fact that we eloped doesn’t make me anything less than her son’s spouse, a member of their family. We thanked them profusely for throwing us that party, and gave her complete control (which is what she wanted all along), but even after all that (and almost three years), there’s still a grudge there.

        I’m not saying that will be the case with your parents–and it sounds like they’re already coming around! I just want to be completely honest and upfront about the hurt feelings. What’s important is that you did what was right as a couple (eloping), and will do your best to include and honor your families and friends in celebrating that decision. Good luck!

        • Letter Writer here…

          Nina B,

          I read your post and NYTimes article before we eloped. I wish my parents had embraced our elopement the way that yours did. My parents were not interested in throwing a party for us. They talked so much about how important it was that they “share” our life event with their friends, but they didn’t feel that celebrating it with them was important or even acceptable if they couldn’t offer the experience of being there in “the moment”. I am sad for them that they feel this way.

          But it’s okay, and this is why my husband and I are throwing the celebration ourselves. And we will invite many of my parents’ friends.

          Anyway, I applaud your attitude and am so sorry you’re still getting grife from your MIL. I suppose we may be getting comments ourselves for a long time, but I’ve learned to let them roll off my back.

  • My husband and I eloped in October, and we just had a party a few weekends ago – actually, our families threw it for us (and it’s a combo goodbye party, since we’re moving overseas this summer). Here are a few things I learned, if they’re helpful:

    – it’s good that your planning it, because we definitely had to stop our moms from turning it into a de facto wedding – they kept trying to slip in speeches, dances, etc (they did squeeze in a cake cutting – as in my mom asked me to cut the cake and took photos while nobody was looking – but that’s because I love cake).

    – Be prepared, regardless of the wording of the invite, that some people will cancel last minute for lame reasons because in their minds it isn’t as important as a wedding.

    – Someone will call you the bride all day long. Just go with it.

    – Despite your repeated insistences that there be no gifts, there will be gifts. It’s just because people love you.

    – Tons of people will come up and tell you that they prefer this to a wedding. Give them a big hug!

  • Jody

    I don’t have much to add except to say hooray for elopements! My dude and I are celebrating our one month anniversary after eloping to Kauai last month. We were going to do a party but now we don’t have the energy, and we’re just going to let people take us out to dinner individually for the next year. :)

    Some friends have the attitude that because you eloped it was all easy and you saved a bunch of money so you OWE people an amazing party after. Ironically the people in our life who have been the most understanding and supportive of our choice are our most elderly friends and relatives. Perhaps because they remember a time when elopements and simple courthouse weddings were more common.

    • Lidin Rancier

      yes! simple courthouse weddings! i’m so not for the big hoopla at all. I really frown upon people feeling that you owe them something after you and your significant other just finished making an intimate adult decision

  • elizabeth Moods

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  • ShellyK

    My husband I did not “elope.” We simply got married in another country on a beautiful beach & stayed for our honeymoon. Because we wanted to. For us. For our wedding. Because we are adults making a decision that is intimately for us and about us. We decided to have a party to celebrate with friends & family to let them know that we want them to celebrate with us, so they actually can celebrate in a formal & really fun way & be a part of this really big deal for us & about us. Guilt aside & happy for it.

    • Lidin Rancier

      this is such an awesome response

  • TLoLa

    I know this is an old post, but am in this situation and wanted to share my thoughts for anyone else who may stumble upon this. Both of us have small families. Neither of us are from where we live right now. Both of our moms are in heaven and his dad is too. So, when it comes to the wedding, the most important people there will be us. We have friends who are disappointed that they are not invited to our wedding. But we want to have a beautiful moment between us, the minister and God declaring our love and commitment to each other for life. We’ve decided to get married on the beach in Hawaii and stay there afterwards for our honeymoon. I think it would be selfish and awkward to invite people all the way there for a 15 minute ceremony, because I really have no interest in entertaining guests on my honeymoon. However, I will be more than happy to entertain them properly at a reception back home later in the year. If they are upset or offended, then they don’t know us very well. They don’t know how tough it would be to have a formal, traditional wedding with neither of our parents there and have to possibly look at empty chairs or some other memorial tribute. Instead, we’ve decided to celebrate with them afterwards and leave that intimate moment to us.

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  • Patrícia Atai

    I don’t care what anyone thinks about my decision to elope. I come from a large but terribly dense family. I don’t think it’s fair for me and my future husband to foot the bill for people I barely speak to! Why should I do that? to impress them? We all know the truth- you spend a ton of money and people talk crap about your wedding regardless. I’m over it. I decided to have a small ceremony with only the very closets of family members and friends, and then a huge celebration afterwards. If people are upset, I don’t give a damn. If I can’t register at a bank, then you can’t complain because my wedding was private. Get over yourself.

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