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Should We Tell Our Wedding Guests We’ve Been Secretly Married For Years?

Amy March and Liz face off

The only thing better than having an advice columnist is having two advice columnists… who disagree. When we got this question, we knew that we wanted to have our Ask APW columnist Liz face off with our Always A Bridesmaid columnist Amy March. They’ve historically disagreed on this issue, so we’ll let y’all be the judge. (Personally I’ll just tell you that my grandmother secretly eloped before her wedding, and she lied to her parents about it till the day they died.) See you in the comments.

Q: Here’s the thing: my “fiancx” and I are planning a wedding…but we’re actually already married. Should we announce this surprise at our wedding celebration?

Backstory: We were newly-engaged when we moved to a new city. I was unemployed and uninsured and my fiancé had a job that came along with that sweet, city-job health insurance, so instead of trying to navigate medicaid, we said fuck it, let’s get married. Back in the city we’re from, we had become domestic partners which allowed us to be on one another’s health insurance, unfortunately, that wasn’t an option available to us in our new state. We expected to get settled and married within the year, but as life would have it, that didn’t happen.

Fast forward two years later, we’re in the midst of wedding planning and trying to figure out if this is something we want to keep between us (and the two friends who officiated and were witnesses) or announce it on what will actually be our third-year anniversary on the day of our wedding. We don’t want to cause drama or make anyone feel offended, but it’d be great to be honest with everyone about this secret we’ve been hiding and share with them that they’re actually at a kind of “renewal.” These were our real life circumstances and we still want to have a beautiful and meaningful day with our loved ones. But will sharing this information ruin that?

We don’t know and go back and forth on it all the time. Help, please! Would you be pissed off or feel disrespected if this was the scenario at a wedding you attended? Or would you think it was a fun surprise?

And in case you’re wondering…already being married and planning a wedding has given us the best perspective when it comes to throwing a meaningful, budget-friendly, practical wedding. :)

A:From Liz: Yeah, I guess you could tell everyone. But you know what would be really fun? Not telling them.

Right now you’re wrapped up in worrying about how that news will be received, and frankly (like Amy March is about to tell you), some people might be peeved. Personally, I don’t think they have any right to be. When you get married versus when you celebrate getting married, that’s all your prerogative. Eloping in advance was a personal decision, one that only impacts the two of you. So why bother yourselves with worrying about what anyone thinks, or how they respond? It doesn’t matter!

In this way, you’ve sort of stumbled into a perfectly lovely little balance of having a special, meaningful moment for just the two of you. But also having a great big community celebration, too. You get both! Whether you got married before the actual wedding day isn’t anyone else’s business. So why tell them?

Team Secret Elopement!

From Amy March: First off, congratulations on three years of marriage! I am clearly the member of staff most in favor of the idea that you only get one wedding and it is when you become married, but even I’m not nearly as hard line on that as I used to be. Look, I do get it. Health insurance is a big deal. Immigration generally doesn’t care how committed you are without a marriage cert. There are legitimate reasons to have your legal marriage take place before your wedding. (I would also say, though, just get married like our grandmas! Go to the courthouse in your nicest outfit, go out to dinner, and get thyself on a honeymoon stat and move on with your delightfully married lives.).

However. I also think it is really important to understand that other people may be hurt not to have been included in your wedding, by which they mean the point in time at which you became married. And I think you know that very well, or you would have told everyone you got married when you did. I get that many people think it’s old fashioned, and all families are different, but there are a lot of mamas out there who really want to be there for your wedding, and who will be hurt not to have been included. There are a lot of grandmas thinking that not telling them you’ve been married for three years is actually lying to them and excluding them from your life.

I’m not here to convince any of you that the naysayers are correct about this! Maybe y’all are right, and this is the way of the future (and of the past, it’s pretty common outside the US in many cultures to have the legal and ceremonial parts of marriage separate). But I do think you need to accept that they are real people you might have in your lives, with legitimate reasons to feel hurt.

So no, absolutely do not announce this at your wedding as a fun festive surprise. Think about it from someone else’s point of view—perhaps your best friend, shocked she didn’t know already, sad you didn’t care to include her in the first wedding. Perhaps your grad student cousin, who actually moved heaven and earth in her budget to be there for you, and doesn’t really care that you are already married, but suddenly feels like this is not that important to you when you announce it’s actually a renewal. And certainly, all of a sudden “omg did you know?!?” becomes the go too talking point at your cocktail hour.

I don’t think you need to keep this as some sort of shameful secret you take to the grave—it really isn’t! You needed health insurance, this was a good way to do it, and you included your family and friends at the moment you decided to commit to each other publicly as a married couple. That’s still super special. But I’d encourage you to tell people gradually, individually, before or after the wedding. Understand that people might need to take a moment to deal with their feelings about this, give them the grace to do that, and know that it’s possible for something to be a terrible surprise to spring on your guests at a wedding and also an absolutely okay thing to have done.

Now on to y’all. Should they tell? Should they not?

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