Can I Uninvite The Groom’s Family From Our Private Ceremony?

AAPW: Two's company, and his family is becoming a crowd

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW


Q: My daughter and fiancé are having a destination wedding. We invited family and friends on both sides to attend, and there are approximately forty-five people that are attending. On the groom’s side, only his parents and one friend are attending. This is a symbolic ceremony and the bride and groom were going get married before we went to the destination. No one knows this because they wanted to keep it private with just his parents and us. They asked his mother to ask her pastor if he would perform the civil ceremony here in the U.S. She did that, but now she has also invited her other family members to this ceremony because they aren’t able to attend the destination wedding. She was told in the beginning that this was to be a private ceremony. Now it seems that the groom is okay with this as well. I am personally paying for the destination wedding. The guests who are attending the destination wedding do not know that this is a symbolic wedding (something which we found out that many couples do with destination weddings). I feel that if our guests who spent the money to travel to this event will be hurt if they found out about this private ceremony with other people in attendance and they were not. Of course, I am upset and so is my daughter. It is like a feeling of betrayal to our guests. Please help with any advice.

—Upset in Paradise

A: Dear UP,

My disclaimer here is, of course: this isn’t your battle. It’s up to these two crazy kids to decide what they want for their ceremony, how much of the family will be there, and what they do about Mom slipping out invitations. I know you feel some ownership of this destination event since you’re footing the bill, and as a result, hosting. But this other stuff with the family politics and the “private” not actually being private is all theirs to sort out.

That said. I’m going to answer the rest assuming that you’re going to forward this link over to that daughter of yours, because of the wisdom and quality of the writing, etc. Of course. Why wouldn’t you.

Maybe groom’s mom misunderstood. Maybe she wasn’t told outright that the ceremony is private, meaning no guests. Yeah, it’s possible she’s just being presumptuous and pushy, but when it comes to these joint family affairs, it can be hard to parse out exactly who said what to whom and how it was received.

Or maybe this is just the only way his family is going to get to participate in the wedding. Not everyone can afford the expenses involved with getting to a destination event, and there’s a chance that this private ceremony is the groom’s family’s shot at supporting him and your daughter. In any case, let’s give mom the benefit of the doubt because why not, it makes extended familial relations easier to endure.

Now that the invitation has been spread around, this couple needs to figure out if they really, truly want a private ceremony. And if they do, whether that privacy is worth ruffling his mom’s feathers a bit (it very well may be). If so, groom’s mom has to rescind her invites. That sounds really uncomfortable, I know, and won’t make her happy at all. But citing a misunderstanding covers a whole host of wrongs, including, “In all of my excitement, I didn’t realize it was a private ceremony and that I wasn’t supposed to invite guests.” She could also offer to host her own little party to celebrate the couple for folks who can’t attend the destination wedding. Or, if your daughter and her partner want to soften the blow, they can offer to throw some small get-together as a sort of compromise.

But, based on your letter, that’s a big if (and like I mentioned above, a whole lot of not-your-place, as the mom on the other side of the aisle). From your letter, it sounds like the groom is okay with having family there. And if the groom is okay with having family there, then why was there a private ceremony to begin with? Are these two on the same page? It sounds like maybe they’re not, and if that’s the case, that explains why his mom was confused.

Even if family shows up to the ceremony, it’s safe to assume your guests won’t feel betrayed. It seems unlikely that they’d even find out. But if they do, a simple, non-gossippy, no-details, “It was intended to be private, but it didn’t work out,” is enough, the end. Pretty much everyone realizes that there are complicated logistics and family politics muddying the works of planning any wedding. And trust me that you don’t want to be the mom trashing the new in-laws.

I get it, you feel responsible for the destination event, you want your guests to feel valued, you want your daughter to have everything she wants. But you’re not responsible for other peoples’ actions (or lack thereof). These two may decide it’s not worth the fight with his mom, and just let his family come to the ceremony. It’s a decision that doesn’t involve you, and one that’s less about their wedding, more about finding their footing as a family. You’re doing an awesome thing by covering this destination wedding, and people are coming because they want to celebrate your daughter and her partner, no matter what other events are happening or who’s going to them.

If you would like to ask APW a question please don’t be shy! You can email: 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! 

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Amy March

    I think Upset in Paradise is right to be concerned about what the other guests will think. I would be really upset to find out that I had spent considerable time and money to travel to a destination wedding only to learn that the couple had actually already gotten married. And since only the groom’s parents and one friend are able to make the destination, it makes me sad that there doesn’t seem to be any spirit of “fantastic! At least he can have his people supporting him at something!” in this letter.

    I would feel like you lied to me about what you were inviting me to spend my time and money on. I understand it’s not important for every couple to unite the legal and the ceremonial aspects of a wedding, but I think it’s rude to make that decision for your guests- let them know what you’re doing, and what they are invited to, and make their own decisions about how they feel about it. This letter reads like the real upset is that you were concerned your family might not love the idea, or make as much of an effort to attend, were it not for the secrecy, and that just feels like tricking me into attending an event. I might go to see the ceremonial part, I might decide I’d rather not, but being tricked into it really rubs me the wrong way.

    • Liz

      I already know from previous comments that you and I disagree about inviting someone to a reception sans ceremony, so I’m not arguing that, why rehash the same things we’ve argued about before.

      But, I do disagree that “people will find out we lied/were sneaky!” is why this mom is concerned. The letter reads more to me like “now that this other date is becoming an ‘event’ will people be hurt that they weren’t also invited to it when others were?”

      • Amy March

        Yeah you’ve convinced me on that point. And I think it is a concern for sure. I understand that lots of people don’t view it as essential to witness the legal part, and find it frustrating that others disagree, but I think more openness about what the couple is doing and why works better than trying to hide things.

        • Poeticplatypus

          When it comes to weddings, I feel that the ceremony is the most important part. Yes going to the reception is wonderful but I agree that the ceremony is sacred and the whole purpose of that day. Granted it isn’t a pic or it didn’t happen moment.

          However the fact that the Mom of the Bride is worried about guest feeling deceived should be enough to cause pause.

          • laddibugg

            Yes. A lot of folks want to literally SEE YOU GET MARRIED. Not just celebrate after the fact.

          • Liz

            But doesn’t that come down to “when are you getting married,” which will be different from person to person? Personally, the legal aspect of the wedding wasn’t the meaningful part to me (though, yes, I’ll acknowledge the benefits- which is why we did it).

            Getting married before my God and community is what gave my marriage meaning. So if, like this bride, getting the paperwork out of the way beforehand was a formality that needed to happen, I’d still consider the “getting married” part the part where I’m in front of my friends.

          • Eenie

            If given the choice between watching someone sign a marriage license or recite their vows…I will choose recite their vows every damn time. The only thing the legal stuff affects is me, my husband, and maybe my parents if insurance is involved. The community aspect and being recognized by family and friends is the bigger deal to me.

          • laddibugg

            What is ‘meaningful’ and what actually ‘is’ aren’t always the same thing. If something had happened to you or your spouse on the way to the wedding you’d still have been considered married in the eyes of the law.
            There is nothing wrong with getting legally married and ceremonially married at different times, but they aren’t the same thing.

          • Liz

            I just disagree with the notion that the guests get to decide which of those is “real.”

          • laddibugg

            The guests are allowed to decide what THEY think is real, though. Your relationship and the feelings you have about it don’t exist in a vacuum. None gets to choose how you feel, but in turn you have to grant that same luxury to them. People do have the right to at least think things about others.

            We can agree that it is sort of rude for them to say anything about it, though. Either come or don’t.

          • Not really though. If it’s REAL to them, then you support them or you don’t. And if you don’t, than that says a lot about your relationship with the couple.

          • Nat

            Exactly. I had many hurtful comments about how people couldn’t make it but it was okay since it wasn’t our “real” wedding anyway. (I was married in two different countries). Funny thing was, people said that about BOTH ceremonies..

          • laddibugg

            You can support people outwardly while having your own internal feelings about a situation. I don’t have to agree with every aspect of a person’s choice to support them, but most of the time, my negative feelings need not be spoken about out loud–to them or anyone else.

          • Liz, this is true, but still, why does it have to be a secret. I don’t care either way how a couple wants to do things but finding out that I’d been lied to or mislead wouldn’t sit well with me.

          • Eenie

            I don’t think that when someone sends you an invitation to a wedding ceremony that this implies or should imply that this is the LEGAL ceremony. If people want to assume, that’s on them. It invites you to participate in the religious/community/public ceremony. There’s some other issues going on in the letter, but I think it’s fine if the legal one is a secret. This is not misleading.

          • There is definitely 100% an implication that someone is getting legally married when you receive an invitation to a wedding…unless otherwise implied.

          • Eenie

            I simply disagree.

          • Lawyerette510

            I think this assertion also is very dependent on societal norms within your community and it ignores that some people cannot be legally married, but they still hold weddings and have marriages that are recognized by their communities (see many same-sex couples in the US until this year, and actually the fight continues bc of county clerks etc; see also many same-sex couples in other countries; see also religious couples in some countries where the state paperwork exists totally separate form religious paperwork, and the religious ceremony does not suffice for the state to acknowledge the wedding, etc).

          • Another Meg

            x 1000.

          • Jessica

            VERY culturally dependent here. In many countries they are assumed to be separate events. (And with the way that some religious definitions of marriage now differ dramatically from the civil definition of marriage in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that separation emerge in the US as well, at least in some denominations.)

          • Actually, this is true. In France you must go to the courthouse independently of any sacred or secular ceremony. All the reason to clarify the situation when sending the invitations if you have guests of various backgrounds. I had a actually wedding in France for my husbands relatives and we made it very clear that we would be celebrating the union that took place 3 months prior and not sevsral hours prior.

          • Liz

            Speaking to the hypothetical I posed: I think the ceremony in front of my friends is what makes the wedding, so by inviting my friends to “our wedding,” I wouldn’t feel like I was lying or misleading them. That’s my wedding! The paperwork is… paperwork. (There are lots of random reasons people do the paperwork separately this way… insurance, military service, whatever).

            Speaking to the situation of the LW: Like I said above, I don’t think it started to be considered a “secret” and a problem til there were other guests. Then it became an issue of, “Oh crap, now there’s this whole other event we have to keep hush hush or people will be hurt they weren’t also invited.”

          • The paperwork still means something though. You wouldn’t get married for random benefits if you weren’t in it for the long run to begin with. It’s still a momentous occasion and a legally binding commitment.

          • Liz

            Yeah. There are lots of momentous occasions in my relationship that I don’t invite my family and friends to witness.

            I changed my last name because of my commitment. It was legally binding, etc. But, no one was there when I was filling out the (lengthy, arduous, annoying) paperwork.

          • Liz

            One last comment and then I’ll just have to agree to disagree because babies and other work are calling!

            If someone invites you to a birthday, and you get there only to find out their date of birth was ACTUALLY yesterday and they’re ALREADY 30!!! I mean, who cares, you don’t feel lied to.

          • Liz

            And don’t forget Jim and Pam!

          • Gah! I loved that. But they didn’t plan it like that, so it is a bit different from knowing all along…

          • AP

            I want to up vote this a thousand times.

          • Lawyerette510


          • Amy March

            Sure. What’s meaningful can differ from couple to couple. I just don’t think the couple gets to decide for the guests what is meaningful to them. If it’s not meaningful to the couple to have guests see them get legally married, don’t invite guests. But also don’t let guests think they are seeing a legally binding ceremony when they aren’t, because that might have a different meaning to them.

          • Eenie

            I don’t think guests need to know if they’re seeing a legally binding ceremony! Because the legality of their marriage does not affect the guest at all. It affects the two people getting married.

          • Another Meg

            Not to mention the fact that many couples who are citizens of different countries go through multiple weddings to make it legal everywhere.

          • And the vows affect the guests more? I don’t see the logic here.

          • Eenie

            Yes! The ceremony affects the guests! In one way or another attending the wedding ceremony is providing support to the couple and their future together in their marriage.

          • TeaforTwo

            The ceremony affects the guests in lots of ways, not just in ways that are about supporting the couple!

            In the Anglican wedding ceremony, one of the prayers that I love is “may all who witness these vows find their own loyalties confirmed and lives strengthened.” It was one of the reasons I wanted a traditional ceremony and traditional vows: we were joining into an institution that was bigger and older than just our marriage, and getting strength from that. And I love going to other people’s weddings (particularly, but not exclusively, ones that use the same vows and ceremony that we used) because they remind me of what we promised and what we continue to be a part of.

          • Liz

            In many cases, folks are saying vows in front of their guests as a sort of, “You guys are hearing me promise this, now hold me to it!” sort of way. Not everyone sure, but many people see vows as a promise you make in front of your community to involve them in that promise as witnesses.

          • you still have to say “I do” in a strictly legal ceremony. At least in all Canadian jurisdictions that I know.

          • laddibugg

            I do agree that I don’t think you get to decide what’s meaningful for other people, but I’m on the fence if you really need to tell guests you went to city hall last week. I think that is just a recipe for disaster.
            But this letter isn’t about going to city hall. It’s about people being put into a position in where they can feel like they are in ‘A’ group and ‘B’ group.

          • Jessica

            Yes — it seems like the couple’s original plans were private legal paperwork filling-out, and public commitment ceremony. And while the size of the guest list doesn’t determine the importance of an event (as in, eloping with 2 people is just as valid as a 200+ person wedding), some people tend to perceive the importance of events based on who else is invited. So now it’s starting to look like a public legal ceremony and a public commitment ceremony, and that does seem like a bit of an overlap.

            For the couple involved, I wonder if there’s any way to step back and re-evaluate their wedding plans. It sounds like they might need to determine the values for their baby family and how they’re going to incorporate their families of origin. Or maybe their decision is that they’ll have one ceremony that the groom’s family can attend, and another that the bride’s family can attend, and anyone who feels bad about not being included in the other ceremony can just suck it up. Wouldn’t be my personal decision, but if that’s the way they want to solve their logistical dilemmas, who am I to disagree?

          • Lawyerette510

            Out of genuine curiosity, do you ask the couples whose weddings you attend if the ceremony you’re witnessing is legally binding? And why is it the legally binding part that holds such significance to you?

          • Amy March

            Of course not! There’s a huge difference between having opinions and discussing them and interrogating your friends. I assume when my friends invite me to a wedding they are using words they way the are customarily meant, and are in fact getting legally married. I don’t go sleuthing court houses to make sure that assumption is true not do I ask them.

            I view marriage as a commitment that comes with social, religious, and legal rights and obligations. It’s a very special moment for me when you become legally bound to each other. The religious and social commitments couples make aren’t universal, but moving from being legally single to legally coupled is, and that step is what I’m honoring when I make it a priority to attend a wedding. Personally, if I ran down to the courthouse and signed the papers, I would consider myself married. It would be sad to me to not have family there, and I’m sad to miss that moment.

            I’m not insisting that all couples must get married in the same way, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to decide that you value things differently and therefore all your guests must too.

          • Lawyerette510

            Fair enough, thanks for the additional insight.

          • wendy

            I’m with you on the legally binding aspect having a lot of meaning and significance – hell, that’s a big part of why the Supreme Court decision mattered so much! Getting legally married in front of my family and friends was a BFD.

            (Not to say that couples can’t get legally married before the big ceremony – I’ve been to plenty of those and I think everyone should do what works for them! Just a caution that saying the legal aspect is “just paperwork” or not as important as the community ceremony could be read as minimizing something that is really, really important and meaningful to a lot of people)

          • MABie

            You’ve hit the nail on the head about what kind of bugs me about people saying “it’s just paperwork.” On one hand, yes, it is; and when same-sex couples couldn’t get legally married before, they were still married in their hearts.

            On the other hand, the statement that “it’s just a certificate” fails to recognize that paperwork really is EVERYTHING. I’ve had marriage rights for 8 weeks now, and being able to get legally married in 2 months means everything to me. We briefly considered going to another state and getting legaled prior to the wedding, but now I’m glad we didn’t. For me, the fact that our ceremonial wedding is also going to be our legal wedding is incredibly powerful.

          • Liz

            But apart from hypotheticals and “the meaning of marriage”… for this particular couple in this specific letter, the paperwork IS just a formality, a separate step only because it’s necessary that it be so. I think we’re losing sight of the original question at hand.

          • Amy March

            I think that’s actually partly why this particular situation bothers me so much. It doesn’t seem like this couple views it as a paperwork formality, since they invited their parents and arranged for his family’s pastor to perform the ceremony.

          • Liz

            Interesting! It sounds to me like they’re only doing it separately out of necessity, and tried to add meaning despite that. But I can also see how you’d take it that way.

          • Exactly!!! Why make a stink about it of its just paperwork. Clearly it’s not for them.

          • Sara

            This is totally valid, but I think it is also not a reason to shame couples who need to do things in a different order (for visa reasons, health benefits, wanting an officiant who isn’t legally qualified, getting married in a foreign country but wanting a domestic marriage certificate, or whatever other reasons). I’m not saying you are doing that! But this discussion started with people choosing to feel offended because the couple wasn’t able to make the legal and ceremonial aspects happen at the exact same moment. Ultimately, FOR YOU it is an important aspect of the marriage ceremony that the legal part and the public/ceremonial part happen at the same moment, which is awesome and I’m really glad you are able to make that happen (so glad!)! But that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for every couple, or that guests have the right to complain to them if they do not make that choice.

          • MABie

            I didn’t say it was a reason to shame anyone, and I didn’t say that having a combination legal/ceremonial wedding was the right choice for everyone. What I said was that the statement “it’s just a certificate,” when used broadly, is incredibly minimizing to those of us who did not have marriage rights prior to June 26th.

            I completely agree that it is a deeply personal choice, and nobody has any right to tell anyone which wedding, legal or ceremonial, is the “real” one. I believe that the LW’s daughter and her fiancee are 100% within their rights to get legally and ceremonially married at separate times. About half the married people I know have done this, for one reason or another. It seems like it’s more common than not. And like I said, we considered getting legaled separately from our wedding on two occasions (once a few months ago, and once on June 26th), but didn’t end up doing it. If anyone had tried to tell me we couldn’t have our October wedding after getting married legally, I would have told them to shove it – and maybe not so politely. (And actually, my fiancee’s mother did try to tell us this, which is…definitely a story for another day.)

          • Liz

            I think it’s important to note that those statements in this thread have been made in the context of personal meaning, not general.

          • Nat

            Yes! My husband and I were common law about 2 years before our wedding (in our chosen home country). Had we lived 50 miles north of where we did for the previous two years, we would have been common law a year before that. We had two different religious ceremonies in two different countries each with their own paperwork. One ceremony was actually on a different day than the legal paperwork because of the rules of that country.

            If you ask me when I was “actually” married… I honestly couldn’t say. For us, it was the day we said our vows in our chosen home, in front of our friends and family.

          • AP

            What about celebrating before the fact, though? I know people who have their destination weddings, then make it legal at the courthouse when they get back and invite no one, because to them that’s just the paperwork part. To me a lot of the disapproval stems from “but you were ALREADY married when you had the ceremony so it’s NOT REAL.” My best friend got legal-ed about a month before her wedding for insurance purposes, and when the groom’s mother found out, she actually referred to their wedding as a sham. I just do not get this mentality.

          • I don’t think that the majority of us are disqualifying any of the above milestones. There are many practical reasons for getting legally married sooner (hello visas). It would just leave a bad taste in my mouth to hear about it through the grapevine after the fact.

          • AP

            I agree that the hiding of it is the part that makes it complicated. For ease, I guess a couple is left with two choices- be completely open and transparent and let guests decide for themselves if they want to attend, or do it in complete secrecy and take it to your graves.

          • Poeticplatypus

            I know that for me this all goes to my cultural views. There are couples that have a courthouse ceremony and either the same day or next day have a ceremony in front of friends and family.
            However it is mentioned that the couple has already been married and they don’t sleep together in the situation that the second ceremony the next day.

            So for for me the whole idea that a couple feels the need to hide their marriage is sad to me. It’s sacred. You picked this person to be your person, your family. So why make it a secret it feels disrespectful to what you vowed.

          • Eenie

            Yup. I really really wanted to elope and be done with it. I backed down and we’re having a ceremony and reception. We are getting it legalled the day before because I want the mutual friend who introduced us to officiate, and she can’t legally do it unless she takes an online course which cheapens the whole experience for me. It’s going to be just us because this is not the ceremony. It’s the signing of the papers.

          • AP

            Sigh. Eloping. The ghost ship that didn’t carry me.

          • Eenie

            I tried so hard to get the fiance on board with eloping in the months leading up to the engagement. No dice. Then we started planning a wedding AND telling everyone about said wedding. Two months in he asked if it was too late to elope. I would have smacked him if it wasn’t over the phone. The biggest and most worthless I TOLD YOU SO.

          • AP

            HA. That is OUR STORY VERBATIM.

          • Eenie

            As much as I really wanted to elope, it will be fun to have so many people in the same place at the same time. I’ve made peace with the decision.

          • AP

            Me too. And I am really grateful to be sharing this wedding experience with him. It’s been fun for the most part.

          • MABie

            Yeah, me too. We’re about two months away from our wedding, and even though I’m sure it will be nice (and I’m doubly sure that it has cost me a shit-ton of money), I still wish we could have eloped. It was never really on the table for my partner, though.

          • Lawyerette510

            This mentality is so strange to me. There’s the legal commitment and the commitment to the community (such as a ceremony after the courthouse, or after a private ceremony) and the celebration with the community. It’s the potential for three separate things, so what if the legal one happens separately, that’s between the couple and the government.

          • SarahG

            This happened to me! We got married for insurance purposes in June at the courthouse, with our one witness being my husband’s best friend, because she doesn’t work Fridays. A few friends found out, and then after my wedding (with big, emotional ceremony that we spent days writing and arduously planning) my dear close friend and cousin got so upset with me because someone had let it slip that we got legally married in advance. I felt terrible, and also really confused, because we genuinely didn’t think it was a big moment that people missed. Other people didn’t care, but she got really upset and thought it was a whole statement about our relationship. It was the worst. I wish we’d handled the info flow better. But I would also never have had that reaction — to me, what you tell me is real, is what I take as real.

          • AP

            That’s so unfortunate and I hate that happened to you! I have to admit, I never thought there was a a debate to be had as far as guests are concerned regarding the legal vs. ceremonial aspects (religious or otherwise) of a wedding. But reading the comments here, I’m realizing a lot of people have very strong opinions about what constitutes a wedding, what information they expect from the couple getting married, and what they’re willing to attend.

          • MABie

            Yeah, I learned this lesson when we *almost* got legally married the day that same-sex marriage became legal. We ended up just getting our license and deciding to wait for our wedding (in October) to do the legal thing. But the picture of us getting our marriage license ended up being in news outlets all over the world, and the caption on the photo erroneously said that we got married. A couple of our wedding guests saw our picture in the news, reached out to us, and insinuated that they wouldn’t come to our wedding if we had gotten married. My fiancee’s parents are paying for the welcome dinner, and her mother called and threatened to withdraw their support for the welcome dinner (which we had already invited 95% of our guests to) if we had gotten married.

            I was pretty shocked. We had been engaged and planning our wedding for an entire year by that point, so I was definitely not cancelling it! I found it bizarre that people would just NOT come if they knew we had gotten married that day. And I was a little hurt by it, to be honest. Like, June 26 was a big deal…are you really going to punish me for getting married on that day?

          • AP

            WHAT. I’m trying really hard to let others have their opinions on this, but I just do. not. understand that kind of response to finding out someone you love got married.

          • Amy March

            Really? It just makes so much sense to me that if his mom was really looking forward to seeing you get married, and had been planning on that, of course she would be hurt if you just went ahead and got married without her!

    • MABie

      Yeah, I was surprised to see a real lack of empathy for the groom in this letter. I understand that this is the bride’s mom writing the letter, and she’s the one in a tough spot (or at least, she thinks she is; it’s not clear if any guests have even said anything), but it made me a little uncomfortable not to see her even acknowledge the fact that this might be happening because the groom wants some support from family/friends at his wedding.

    • macrain

      I have a very dear friend whose husband is from the U.K., and they were forced to go to city hall in advance of their wedding so he could stay in the U.S. They were legally married before the wedding, and none of us found out about it until a few years later.
      When my friends and I found out, not one of us believed we had been tricked. We all spent time and money on the wedding, and would do it again. We understood why she didn’t want to share it with us at the time, and when we expressed surprise to her about it, it was more in a spirit of, “of course we would have understood,” not “how dare you lie to me.”

      That situation was different than this one, but still- if I’m reading this correctly, the couple doesn’t prefer a private legal ceremony, but rather their destination wedding necessitates it or perhaps makes it easier. Either way, I disagree that they are under any obligation to share that with their guests.

      • AP

        Same here. Close friends chose to get married in the state they lived in together at the time. The groom’s father came from out of state to marry them, the ceremony was beautiful and one of the most memorable and heartfelt weddings I’ve been to.

        About a month after the wedding, I had the couple over for dinner and they sheepishly and apologetically told me they’d actually made it legal about a week before the wedding, because the groom’s father wasn’t licensed to perform the ceremony is our state but they didn’t find out until it was too late. They still wanted him to do it, so they went to the courthouse to make it legal. When they told me, I definitely did not feel tricked. I just felt bad that they thought they had done something to apologize for and that they were worried about what I’d think.

        • macrain

          Exactly. My friend was so torn up about it; it wasn’t at all what she wanted. I would have been floored if someone had added to her misery by being all, “you deceived me and I’m mad at you!”

    • Lawyerette510

      I’ve attended 3 weddings that each involved at least one complicating factor (taking time off work, overnight travel, plane travel, etc) where the couple was legally married prior to the wedding, all for logistics reasons. One of them I knew about ahead of time, the other two I found out about far after the fact. All 3 couples considered their public ceremony at the wedding to be their “real” wedding and their public commitment to each other. In none of those cases did I feel upset, cheated, or otherwise negative. It is not up to me as a guest to have dibs on the legal necessities for the couple to be married in the jurisdiction in which they need that legal aspect. I see nothing that makes being part of the legality significant. As a guest, I’m privileged that the couple wants to share the ceremonial part of the commitment with me. After all, the legal part is only significant to the couple and getting them the legal protections/ entitlements etc, and as a guest/friend/loved one what’s important is my supporting them as a couple, not being entitled to be involved in their legal construct.

      ETA: I agree completely with your point about it being noteable that the MOB doesn’t acknowledge that there is something to the fact that only 3 people could be at the destination wedding to support the groom.

  • I can relate. I was a bride with a very small destination wedding (under 20 guests) and the groom’s sister could not make it. For us, the most important people to attend were the immediate family. We paid for the groom’s mother to attend but his father paid his own way. While my parents paid for their own tickets and my brother and sister-in-law to attend.

    We wanted a marriage license from our own country and always planned to have a small private ceremony with our officiant. At first we did not want to invite anyone to our private ceremony (save 2 witnesses) but realized we kind of had to involve his sister in some way.. which of course meant that we had to invite the other siblings and both sets of parents. Thank goodness we stressed the officiant ceremony would be no frills (ie, we wrote our own vows and said them only at the destination wedding not at home) and those who wanted to come came but not everyone felt obligated to come to yet another spectacle the night before leaving for the “real” destination wedding. Did we invite anyone else who could not come to the destination wedding? NO. If they wanted to celebrate our wedding some other way, we left that in their hands. Truly and sincere family will not care and will show you how much they care in other ways. In this case, I could see how the groom wants his family involved in some way. This is an equal partnership and if this is how that works out, and is agreeable by the couple, then that’s their prerogative. Ideas evolve and couples mull over different avenues for sharing their wedding.

    For the mother of the bride, enjoy the time in the new locale with your new family. Not everyone has the ability to support them at their wedding, so enjoy all that extra personal time together.

    • Stella

      Yeah, I’m quite inclined to agree — we had a legal service before the religious one with the big party and I sort of ended up taking a “whoeever’s around and wants to come that’s fine” approach to it. In the first instance I had an idea of something tiny and really intimate but honestly, it’s very hard to do that sort of thing without someone feeling excluded or left out somehow (I think calling it “private” or keeping it secret somehow doesn’t help with that feeling). In the end it wasn’t a big deal, most people don’t want to celebrate the same marriage twice… .

  • Violet

    I don’t want to read too much of my own family and family’s in-law dynamics into this letter. All I’m going to say is that I can commiserate with being someone who watches their loved one have difficulty with managing in-laws. It’s really hard to see things unfold and try to figure out how much counsel you can give when asked (keeping in mind that your loved one is trying to keep up cordial relations with their in-laws, all the while you may be fuming), especially when all you want to do is charge in and fix it!

  • Laura C

    Definitely this is one the couple has to work out. Maybe the groom really didn’t want the private ceremony, or when his mom invited people it felt right to him. Maybe he’s in the habit of rolling over for her and is actually unhappy. But that’s something that they have to work out — and, as much as they have to get his mother on board with whatever their shared desires and plan are, they also have to get the LW on board.

    For the record, this is pretty much why we didn’t do the tiny ceremony I would have preferred and a party later. It seemed very unlikely it would have been acceptable to my MIL without a bunch of family there. But that would have either meant it was my parents only on my side and about 15 family members on his (minimally, with others feeling angry at not having been included when those 15 were), or else my parents and all of my closest friends on my side and him not getting any friends, just family.

    • Lindsay Rae

      I came down here to say the same thing. I think the first issue here is that (the LW says) the bride and groom decided this would be a private ceremony. Then the MIL invited people and the groom is okay with it. Plans change.. but the bride should be on board with completely changing the idea as well. Maybe they both decided it’s not worth the fight and to just let the MIL have her way. Maybe they just learned to accept that the plan changed and this is what it’s going to look like. But if they didn’t do that together… there are bigger issues than what the guests might think. [Side bar: this happened almost exactly with our engagement party.] If the bride and groom truly decide together that this is the way it’s going to be (either uninviting the guests or letting the MIL-invited guests come to the ceremony) then both moms will have to accept that.

  • TeaforTwo

    Oh yikes.

    The people I really, really feel for here are the ones on the bride’s side who couldn’t attend the destination wedding. I’ve only been to one destination wedding, and I was DELIGHTED to have an excuse for a vacation with our family. But there were people in our family who couldn’t attend that wedding because they couldn’t afford it, or were too elderly/sick to travel, or couldn’t get time off work. And I think they would be really disappointed to find out that there was a wedding closer to home that other guests were invited to attend, but they weren’t.

    • Jen T

      My thoughts exactly! Are there relatives on the bride’s side in this situation? Or are the families located far apart? Is this destination equally far from everyone, or closer to the bride’s family? My brother got married in the European country his wife is from, and many of her friends and relatives from all over Europe went. From the US, only immediate family and a few close friends went. My parents then hosted a blessing ceremony and reception for our family from all around the US. Everyone was invited to both the wedding / reception in Europe and the blessing / reception in the US, and a few friends came to both.

    • Cleo

      Yes. If there are relatives on the bride’s side who can’t make it to the destination, maybe the solution is to open up the “private” ceremony to them as well, because I feel for the groom — only 3 of the destination guests are his people.

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  • MABie

    Yikes, this sounds rough. My guess would be that the groom’s family just can’t afford to attend the destination wedding, and they are too polite and/or they care too much about the bride and groom to say anything directly, so everyone is trying to make the best of a weird situation. The parts of the letter that stood out to me the most were: (1) “On the groom’s side, only his parents and one friend are attending,” and (2) “she has also invited her other family members to this ceremony because they aren’t able to attend the destination wedding.” So, in the end, 42 out of 45 guests are from the bride’s side.

    To me, that says that the groom’s family and friends probably do not have the financial means for this. That would explain MIL’s enthusiasm for inviting their family (they couldn’t participate otherwise) and the groom’s enthusiasm upon learning that his mom did so. Maybe the groom realized at some point that he wants to feel supported by his own friends and family at his wedding, and in light of that, maybe he didn’t communicate the “privacy” part as well as he could have? It seems like there are a number of reasons that there could have been a miscommunication between the groom and his mom, but at the end of the day, it’s the couple that needs to figure it out, not the LW. I think that would end up being really sticky and embarrassing for everyone.

    As for the guests…I don’t see why this couldn’t be resolved by telling any wounded guests, “Many of the groom’s family members couldn’t afford to attend, so they had a little ceremony with those family members beforehand.” I think people would understand, and if they didn’t, that’s on them, not on the couple.

    • Sosuli

      I agree! My slight suggestion would be that “couldn’t attend” would probably suffice – maybe it’s just me, but it seems a bit unfair to make statements about other people’s financial situation. I have relatives who would have financial constraints in this situation, but would be mortified if I told anyone about that, even in the most oblique sense.

  • AP

    We had a similar issue. We’re having a private ceremony, in which “private” started with the two of us and each set of parents in the Caribbean. At my mother’s request, we invited grandparents. Out of consideration for their travel needs, Caribbean island became Florida beach, about four hours from where we all live. So it’s destination, but it’s easy driving distance. We thought that was settled, BUT my grandfather somehow didn’t get the memo that it was for parents and grandparents only and invited my mom’s brother and sister and their families, who are spread throughout Texas. Fiance and I decided we didn’t want to revoke invites or embarrass my grandpa, so we extended invites to immediate family, grandparents, and aunts/uncles. What ended up being weird is that my extended family have all decided to come, driving something like 15 hours to our destination, but Fiance’s extended family, who live half the distance, have all declined to come saying it’s too far. So what we have now is about ten people from his side and twenty-five from mine at our “private” ceremony. (Which fiancé isn’t thrilled about, but it is what it is. It’s not like we didn’t invite his family, they just chose not to come.)

    To add another layer to this, our original intent was to have our private beach ceremony followed by a bigger reception two weeks later at our house (which we’ve spent the last two years remodeling ourselves, so we consider it a housewarming too.) We’ve made it plain on the invites and our website that the reception does not include the ceremony, but we will be having a wedding cake, photos of us from the ceremony, food, toasts, guest book and all the trappings of a reception.

    The part where I’m anxious is that my parents are divorced, and I am not close to my father (although I am somewhat closer to his mother and siblings.) For a number of reasons, I did not want my dad at my private ceremony, which meant I couldn’t invite anyone from his side to our ceremony (because his mother just *does not* get that my dad and I have no relationship and is constantly guilting me about it.) I have invited them all to the reception (in fact, one of the main reasons we’re having the reception at all is to make sure we include them in something) but I have told them our ceremony will be ‘private,’ not elaborating on what that means. They haven’t asked. Part of me feels guilty about knowing that their idea of private probably does not match the reality, but it’s as though the moment we invited even just our parents, things snowballed out of control. I know that if it somehow comes up, there may be hurt feelings, and I will deal that and make any amends I need to.

    So. My point in all this is that logistics are complicated. Relationships are complicated. Both of our families have their own weird dynamics. Fiance and I have one set of needs, and everyone in our respective families have their own needs too. We’re essentially having two weddings (which we’re paying for ourselves) so that we can include everyone. I guess I don’t have much advice for the LW, just sympathy for the couple.

    • Eenie

      Stop feeling guilty. It seems like you both handled the whole situation in a way that would protect you and accommodate yours guests as much as you feel comfortable.

      • AP

        Thanks for this. Family relations stemming from my parents’ divorce have been fraught for years, and my role has pretty much always been Go-Between Peace Keeper. Family events, holidays, etc. are never easy.

        • Eenie

          My goodness. I hope for you wedding some other people step up so you don’t have to be the go-between peace keeper! It is a super stressful role.

    • WOW, you have a lot of patience girl. I would have stopped this with the grandpa… A martyr I am not… Good for you though!

    • Lawyerette510

      ” logistics are complicated. Relationships are complicated. Both of our families have their own weird dynamics. Fiance and I have one set of needs, and everyone in our respective families have their own needs too.” The huge underlying truth to couple-dom, weddings, and life as new baby family spun off from the families of origin.

      Sounds like you’re taking a healthy approach to a complicated situation.

  • Juliet

    I actually wouldn’t worry too much about the destination guests in this situation. I think the out-of-country ‘destination’ aspect makes it very easy to frame the (now not-so) private ceremony as a legal technicality to the destination guests if it comes up.

  • Cakes

    From a destination wedding guest perspective: I flew to Hawaii from the east coast for a wedding last year (i.e lots of flying, lots of money). My partner and I were invited, decided we would love to be there, decided we could afford the vacation time and cost, so we went.

    Had I found out there had been a ceremony back on the mainland and that it was attended by folks unable to come to Hawaii, I would not have cared in the slightest.

    I was there for the wedding, but I also made the decision to take a vacation, and the vacation and wedding would not have been negatively impacted to know that there was another ‘event’ prior that I had not been included in.

    I think if the couple is happy (which it sounds like we’re not 100% on that..) the LW doesn’t need to be too concerned. And if you don’t make a big deal about it your guests won’t think it’s a big deal.

    And frankly if I had had to choose between a near home ceremony or a destination wedding and I could swing the costs….I’m picking destination wedding/vacation!

  • laddibugg

    I think the issue now is that you’re having something that is still being labeled a private wedding when the usual understanding of the word private doesn’t mean a large number of folks. Right now there are simply folks who just are not invited.

  • Amber

    No matter what the circumstances, I’d be very put off if someone else started inviting people to my wedding, even without explicitly stating it was private. My fiance and I both decided that we shouldn’t be “meeting” anyone for the first time at our wedding so that really helped. And we don’t agree to send out invites unless we are both on board with the person. I totally agree with the writer, she has expressed that the only way to see this couple get married is to go on a destination wedding, which her family has agreed to do, I would feel a little upset if I went to a wedding and then found out there was a local, maybe less expensive travel option that only the grooms side was allowed to go to.

  • Mrrpaderp

    The easy way out of this mess is to throw a casual party (think: pizza lunch) for anyone who wants to attend the ceremony. Explain to the destination guests that, after receiving the RSVPs, it became clear that a lot of people weren’t able to attend the “real” (destination) wedding. To make sure everyone is included, the couple decided to host a casual get-together beforehand. The destination guests are welcome to come to the casual party too, but of course it’s not expected. Also open it up to folks on the bride’s side who weren’t able to attend the destination wedding.

    I agree with some of the other comments that LW doesn’t seem particularly empathetic to the idea of the groom’s guests being included. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the attitude seems very, how can I make sure MY event is the main focus. I think LW should be encouraging her daughter to look out for her soon-to-be-husband’s wants and needs rather than forcing the issue of having The Perfect Destination Wedding.

    • raccooncity

      Not sure what the timeline is, but it might be an issue of worrying about people backing out of the destination part to save money, or for whatever reason. Lots of destination wedding packages and upgrades are contingent on how many guests you’ve said are coming.

      Also, it might just be that weird, fanatical “equality” place that extended families get into where it’s like “Groom’s family gets this!?!?! Then bride’s family MUST HAVE IT TOO”. Maybe the mom doesn’t care about the effects to the destination wedding at all, but cares about the groom’s family getting more access to an event that she thought was elite/exclusive.

      On a personal level I eyeroll that line of thinking pretty hard, but that’s only because I am currently managing it in my own wedding to a lesser extent.

    • Sara

      I love this idea!

  • Sarah

    Hm. Regarding these comment debates over when it’s ok to have a secret/private ceremony or whether people should care whether they’re invited to that one…it’s an “it depends” situation for me. I’ve been the guests at two weddings where I have attended what I initially thought was the real/only/legally binding wedding but was in fact something else. In one situation I was totally fine with it and in the other I was annoyed and a little offended.

    In the first, two good friends of mine got married in another country. The groom’s uncle, a priest, officiated a religious ceremony in a beautiful centuries-old church. There was a nice reception at a restaurant afterwards. About 20 family members and close friends attended. Formal invitations were sent out for the destination church wedding but the couple understood that most people probably wouldn’t be able to attend. I was lucky enough to go and so loved being there and the couple also really appreciated it. However, since so many people couldn’t make it, they had a reception in their hometown about a month later that most people could attend. I also attended that. Everyone there knew that it was just an after-party and they were just as excited.

    That same couple ALSO had a private civil ceremony a few months before the destination wedding for insurance purposes. It was top-secret. It was truly just to get one spouse on the other’s benefits in time. Though legally binding and meaningful in that sense, it was not “the wedding” for them or for anyone else. Even though it was a secret and I wasn’t supposed to find out, I didn’t mind when I found out. I was able to attend what they considered the wedding, the event with the dress and the flowers and the vows and the religious ceremony and cultural traditions and cake and dancing and toasts and everything they and I considered the main event. I didn’t miss anything, and those who missed the destination part knew that they were missing the main event but at least they were invited.

    Another non-legally-binding wedding I went to was totally different. We received two invitations. One was for what we thought was the actual wedding ceremony on Friday at noon (lunch reception included) about 3 hours away at a semi-destination near the ocean and another was for a reception Saturday afternoon in their hometown. It was clear on the ceremony invitation that only close family and friends were invited, so we assumed that this was the real ceremony and that it was important to the couple that we attend. Since time and funds were limited this time (unlike in the other wedding where I traveled 3K miles for a 2-week vacation) my husband and I chose to go to the ceremony and skip the reception, thinking we were going to the more meaningful event.

    We show up at the wedding and something is off. The bride is drunk, like not just tipsy but pretty drunk. The officiant is dressed way too casual. The ceremony seemed kind of irreverent. We had to pay for our own lunch off of a limited menu and we were not told ahead of time that that would be the case. They didn’t have enough seating so members of the groom’s family who couldn’t get a seat left upset and early. It just seemed like the couple wasn’t taking the event seriously at all. Meanwhile we had taken a day off of work to drive 3 hours for it. Well turns out this wasn’t the real ceremony. They had a private civil ceremony beforehand, then they had this joke of a ceremony later because the bride really wanted to get married by the ocean but they couldn’t afford to do the whole wedding there. They didn’t tell us that. I’m fine with them having whatever kind of ceremony they want and then having a reception later, especially if budget is an issue. But this fake ceremony was insulting. If I had known it was meaningless to them (aside from having some beach pictures and possibly appeasing family members who wanted to see a ceremony) I would have gone to the reception the day after and not taken off of work.

    So it depends on the context.

    I think the letter writer is in a real pickle, to be honest. I’d be annoyed if I couldn’t afford to come to the destination wedding and then I found out later that some people got to go to a local ceremony. I’d understand if someone explained how it happened, but I’d still be annoyed.

    • AP

      That second story is wild.

    • MABie

      The story of the second wedding is pretty shocking. I would have been offended and insulted, too!!

      • Sarah

        Yeah it was bizarre. We still talk about it. I was engaged to my husband at the time and about midway through the ceremony his mom turned to me and very seriously scolded me, “don’t you dare get any ideas from this wedding.” I was like oh don’t worry.

  • Sara

    Honestly, this is something you should allow your daughter to work out with her fiance. On the one hand, I can understand how the private ceremony thing that’s now no longer so private could bug some guests. On the other hand, the current destination set up does seem a little unfair to the groom. I wonder if the fact that his side of the family/friends don’t necessarily have the resources to attend an expensive destination wedding was taken fully into account in the planning? It sounds like he would like to have them there, and they want to be there, but couldn’t afford it, which is unfortunate. If your daughter were asking, I’d say to be open to the idea that a wedding should be about BOTH the bride and groom, and to be okay with compromising on things that are really important to him about the event. Since it’s you asking, I would say butt out — this is something for the couple to figure out on their own.

  • Katie

    I think the saddest part about this whole situation is that it sounds like the wedding is a family v. family situation, instead of a unifying party. One of my favorite parts of weddings is seeing two families come together to celebrate. It makes me very sad that it sounds like each family is having its own wedding, and the only commonality is the couple. It doesn’t sound like it’s actually much about the couple getting married anymore.

    • Violet

      Agreed, 100%. The options now are basically one marriage celebration for the bride and one for the groom, or also invite bride’s family to the local celebration, thus making it a double event for attendees of both on the bride’s side, subsequently eliminating the possibility of anything “private.”

    • Hannah

      Sure, I agree with your sentiment. But it sounds as though, in this case, the alternative is for the groom’s family to be absent altogether. That could be a sad reflection of their commitment to the couple, but it could also be due to any number of logistical factors. I’ve been the guest who couldn’t afford to attend the destination wedding, and I was very grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate with the couple locally.

  • emmeline

    I think the biggest problem with this picture is that the destination wedding isn’t a legal process, and it seems like the guests there don’t know this. From my experience, that’s what they’re going to be most hurt about — that they weren’t told that there is a legal ceremony happening as well. My cousin did this — got legated a year before her church wedding. It was the worst kept secret, which made it all the more hurtful for the people who didn’t know when it was revealed during the ceremony that they had actually been legally married for a year.

    • Millarca

      Yeah. I am actually finding it difficult to wrap my brain around the concept of inviting people to a destination wedding that isn’t really a wedding. However, if the people involved want to have a big party with a wedding theme and to ask their friends to go along, which will involve them spending what could be a considerable amount of money in travel and accommodation expenses, fine, but at least be honest with the “guests”. They seem to have been led to believe the destination event is the real wedding, If I was misled like that, I’d be furious.

  • VirginiaMarie

    I can’t figure out how to contact the editorial staff other than through a submission but there’s a Famous Footwear ad that is playing automatically on loud volume that I couldn’t turn off/pause/mute on this article.

  • CJ

    If a pastor is performing the ceremony, it is not a “civil ceremony,” it is a religious ceremony. Many people are going to consider that the “real ceremony.”

    If the bride and groom wanted a private civil ceremony, then they could have done that. But they didn’t. They are having a religious ceremony that is not at all private. It sounds like the MOB wants something other than what the bride and groom want. She says the bride is “upset” about this, but if this is all ok with the groom, then the bride and groom need to resolve this between them.

    I’m curious to know whose idea was the destination wedding in the first place. It sounds like the groom’s family had little or no input at all. And perhaps the groom didn’t either.

    • Millarca

      I’m curious to know whose idea it was, too. I can’t help feeling that the bride and/or her mother wanted a big production wedding at the “destination”, and that the groom might not have been given any real choice.

      I also feel that the bride’s mother has her priorities wrong. She admits the destination wedding is a symbolic ceremony, so it’s really only an excuse for a fancy wedding and a party, so in the circumstances why not cancel it and expand the local wedding presided over by the husband’s family’s pastor so the husband’s family can attend too.

      And then the bride and groom can go to the fancy destination for a holiday with her family if that’s what they want to do, and the husband’s family won’t have been cheated out of attending the wedding.

  • kirjava1275

    This is a really interesting discussion. I’m a gay person firmly on the “the legal thing is only a piece of paper” side of things, for very definite reasons. Namely, that our commitment to each other (and the significance of inviting friends to witness it) should be just as valid, just as important, just as meaningful, whether or not we can get a piece of paper saying that the state happens to recognize it too. That’s not to diminish the importance of the piece of paper! It’s important for the realities of life to have that recognized by the government, but it’s not what gets to determine whether our marriage is real or not.

    We got married by a friend with many friends and family members in attendance a few weeks ago. That’s our anniversary date, it’s where we said our vows, it’s where we got to celebrate with our friends. We did get married legally the day before though, at city hall, because we’re moving to a country that doesn’t really recognize gay marriages and we wanted to do everything as “by the book” as possible, as far as the legal paperwork was concerned (i.e. not being married by a friend with a silly title gotten from the internet). It never occurred to me that anyone would be upset by that, because I see the importance of commitment and the legal recognition of that commitment as wholly separate things (mostly as a matter of emotional necessity for coping with the old legal landscape — I wasn’t going to allow arcane laws to have any influence on making me feel like I was actually committed to my wife or not). We weren’t shy with saying we had gotten the legal stuff done the day before. Now I’m wondering if some people were bothered by that…

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