Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Wedding of Opposites Can't Get Off the Ground
July 9, 2012 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm Dharma, he's Greg. Or vice versa. Help us figure out how to make a wedding that we're both happy with, so we can get married already!

My fiance and I are opposites in almost as many ways as you can think up - ideologically, culturally, personality, etc. We love each other very much, and somehow manage to have a really great relationship. But it seems like the notion of planning a wedding is bringing up these huge gulfs between us. The way it's looking now, either one of us will be unhappy, or both of us will. Thus far, it's delayed our wedding several months as we don't want to send dates out until we know what we're doing. Help us come up with a great compromise that will leave both of us feeling good, and able to start that year-clock ticking! (We are in NYC)

Me: Lapsed Catholic, traditionalist, ex-military, with enormous Hispanic family and host of friends. I read etiquette books for fun. I love old things, like books and churches. I want to feel like I stepped back in time for my wedding. I want beautiful and awe-inspiring pictures. I want to invite everyone and their mother's cousins to the actual ceremony, then have a smaller reception with dinner and dancing that goes all night. (I initially wanted a rifle arch, until realizing that the laws of New York would make that hard.) It's hard to find me without high heels (that sink into grass, sadly.) I want a priest to write our names in a record that's going to endure forever even after we lose our own paperwork.

Him: Atheist and anti-theist, woodsman, anarchist, engineer. Loves robots and the future and new things. His holy places are places of natural or scientific wonder. Very socially conscious - doesn't want our wedding to be tied to anything he morally disapproves of. (Which includes the Catholic Church) Small family and few friends. Wants delicious food and lots of drinks, but doesn't care about the dancing. Wants an officiant we can both respect, and something that represents both of us - taking his lack of faith as seriously as any religion.

My initial suggestion was a full Catholic ceremony, inside the church I was baptized in, with a formal and more exclusive reception and dancefloor to follow.

His initial suggestion was for us to be married by a scientist, on a cliff face with a waterfall, off the side of a highway in an area we're not allowed to legally be. Then for everyone to drive to a reception location for the party.

Help us come up with some way we both can be happy!
posted by corb to Human Relations (59 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well you know more about etiquette than I do but inviting people to the ceremony but not to the reception seems strange to me. Maybe you can start the compromise there and keep it exclusive for both events.
My wife and I used a guy who was a catholic priest but later dropped out and got married. He still held alot of the same beliefs but obviously found someone he cared about and wanted a different life. He made our ceremony as religious/non-religious as we wanted. It allowed us to have a less mass intense ceremony but made some of the more traditionalists in our family happy. Another possible compromise. You're going to have to have alot of those!
posted by Busmick at 1:04 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sorry to make it clear, we werent married in a church but it is on record forever...with our county!
posted by Busmick at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2012


Maybe you guys should break this down a bit. You could each make lists of the things you want and definitely DON'T want, and number them from most to least important. Then it will be much easier to find a compromise that works for each of you, because you'll be able to focus on the most meaningful parts.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:09 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The first thing I thought of was the Great Hall of the New York Science Museum, which I believe was featured on the Blue some time ago. It's very modern and a pean to science, but all the glass in the windows is also very church-like.

Just a thought.
posted by LN at 1:09 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My husband and I compromised on having an independent Catholic priest marry us- that is, he was ordained in the Roman Catholic church, then spun off and has his own parish that is not part of the diosciese and is incredibly welcoming and wonderful. He was very accommodating to my discomfort with certain religious rituals and made our ceremony super inclusive. Ours was in in Baltimore, but I"ve since discovered that independent Catholic churches exist all over- maybe this could work for you?

As for a venue, would something like a botanical garden or arboretum satisfy your craving for glamour and beauty, and his feelings about nature?

I would not invite people to come watch you be married and then not invite them to celebrate with you, but I think that's a cultural boundary that's in a grey area.
posted by whodatninja at 1:09 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Atheist marrying a lapsed Catholic (one month from Thursday!) here. After a lot of hemming and hawing over an officiant, we settled on a family member who is religious but not evangelical about it, as well as being an avid public speaker and a great example as a spouse and parent. We worked up a ceremony that draws on the parts of the Bible that he and my bride find especially resonant without actually preaching, or even directly referencing God.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:12 PM on July 9, 2012


This wedding is more important to whom -- you or him? I'm guessing you, from the way your plan sounds like a thing that can happen and his sounds like a cartoon he just thought of.

I was raised Catholic too, so I understand the part about wanting to be part of that tradition. A full mass is tooooo long/baffling for non-Catholics, but I think he should come around on your ties to your church. I mean, it's the church you were baptized in; you're not asking him to marry the worldwide organization of Catholicism. (I've seen this play out among many, many of my friends, and if your vision of your wedding is in a church, I don't know if you'll be happy getting married elsewhere. Obviously only you know this for sure.)

Agree with the consensus to not invite people to the ceremony but not the reception.
posted by purpleclover at 1:12 PM on July 9, 2012


You could have a smaller family ceremony at a Catholic church before or after your big secular ceremony and reception. I've seen at least a few couples do this, particularly when one member of the couple didn't want their large, public wedding associated with a church/religious service, but the other really wanted one at least done to have it done by a priest "in a record that's going to endure forever."
posted by deanc at 1:13 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Elope and get married in a park or on a beach, just the two of you. Then come back home and throw the party of the century. He gets small and not overtly religious, although you can definitely have a religious official presiding on the beach. You get the huge party with all your friends and family, with the bonus that you didn't spend $20,000 on a wedding.
posted by COD at 1:14 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


What do you have to have? What would you like to have? What must you not have? What would you prefer not to have? What do you not care about?

I've been to a few weddings that had a Catholic priest. One of them was a full-bore Catholic wedding including standing up, sitting down, the eucharist, etc. One of them was outdoors, officiated by a Catholic priest (who was given instructions that he could mention God four times and no more. Make 'em count, buddy). One of them was in a non-denominational church with a Buddhist minister and a married Catholic priest tag-teaming. One of them, I didn't realize the guy was a Catholic priest.

The point is, you have some flexibility here.

Personally, I think it's a little much to ask a non-Catholic to go through a full-on Catholic church wedding. What about a Catholic priest officiating at an outdoors wedding. Would he be okay with that? Would you?

When it comes to the size of the wedding, maybe you have to crunch some numbers. Big weddings are expensive. Really, really expensive. Are you sure you can afford it if you invite everyone you want to invite? Maybe you'll have to scale it down anyway.

You and he are going to have to talk it over. Starting now. Neither one of you is going to get your "perfect wedding", but both of you can have a wedding with stuff that is important to you if you talk it over and figure out what those things are.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:15 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you have two ceremonies or two officials? That way you can each have your way for part of the wedding.

My concern is, I've heard that you can't have a Catholic wedding unless both husband and wife are Catholic. Maybe that's just the German Catholics our here in MN, though.
posted by jillithd at 1:15 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I want a priest to write our names in a record that's going to endure forever even after we lose our own paperwork. "

FYI, they don't do this anymore. It goes in a computer like everything else. The paper the priest signs is the same marriage license that you'd get doing a quickie at the county courthouse.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:15 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Catholic church has a lot of hoops to jump through for a non-believer to marry a Catholic. You are likely going to have to go back to church for while at least. My wife went for the better part of a year before we got married. He may have to also. I didn't, but it was definitely encouraged. It's all about keeping the priest happy. You can't marry in his parish if he says no to you.

You'll need to to a bunch of personal paperwork, and get dispensations from the church and his family. You both will probably go through several interviews with your priest. This was the worst part for me, the priest was fairly obnoxious in his attempts to convert. I'm fairly certain he didn't mean to call me a thief and imply that I had the same moral character as a pedophile, but I'm not absolutely sure.

Finally, you'll need to take a marriage counseling class, some of which is worthwhile (here's how to communicate with each other, some things to think about finances), some of which was hilarious (the Catholic church's take on 'family planning'). A net positive, probably, but still a money and time commitment.

All this to say that make sure you have his full buy-in before choosing a formal Catholic service. There will be time commitments and a lot of patience necessary on all sides to make it work.
posted by bonehead at 1:16 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would be very surprised if you could pull off the open ceremony and exclusive reception with your extended Hispanic family. It may be a Mexican/Mexican American thing but in my experience, people will be more likely to attend the reception than the ceremony. We had guests only show up to the reception at my wedding and that's been the case at the weddings of my mexican american friends too. Just another thing to keep in mind!
posted by wilky at 1:18 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Husbunny and I wanted to elope, but our families weren't having it. His family are fundimentalist Christians, my family is Jewish, he's now an athiest, I dabble in magic.

Our Ceremony was held in the Unitarian Universalist church we were members of. We had our reverend and a rabbi do the ceremony. My mother's comment, "Boy I hope his family thinks it was Christian enough, because that was Jewish enough for me."

My point: when you get it right, everyone is cool with it.

You will be navigating these waters for the rest of your marriage, you have to get it right from the get-go.

Getting married in a Catholic Church is not easy. You have to do Pre-Cana counseling, and your fiance and you may have to agree to raise the kids Catholic. It's assumed that you want that too. If you don't, although it may have tons of meaning and history for you, I don't think you'll be able to have the ceremony you want. It for sure won't be the ceremony he wants.

You should blend together the things that are important to you both into a ceremony you can live with. Try a museum, or other public venue for the wedding and reception both.

Another option is All Souls UU Church in Manhattan.

The great thing about the UU is that they LOVE to do big, long wedding ceremonies. Our minister was incredibly miffed that we wanted the thing done and over with in under 30 minutes so we could get to the reception and Par-TAY!

I really encourage you to give on your side, what you envision is a bit much for someone of another faith to hanldle, let alone someone with no faith.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I love old things, like books and churches. I want to feel like I stepped back in time for my wedding. I want beautiful and awe-inspiring pictures."

"His initial suggestion was for us to be married by a scientist, on a cliff face with a waterfall, off the side of a highway in an area we're not allowed to legally be."

My arbitrary suggestion is:
1- Get married at the courthouse.
2- Spend the rest of the day visiting gorgeous old buildings and churches and have random people take your pictures as though you were tourists.
3- Throw huge, pseudo-formal party (a couple of days later) and invite everyone.
4- Have professional photo-shoot an hour or two before party.
posted by Jacob G at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think compromise in this situation is not a good thing--unless it truly is a compromise (Jesuit priest/physicist, married in a small chapel, surrounded by family, with you in a spectacularly beautiful gown, him in climbing clothes and then to a wonderful reception at a mountain estate with champagne and granola). Practically, and this may sound sexist--tell him you want the wedding you want, to button it up and be delighted you love him as much as you do. Whatever you do I wish you a good life together.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2012


You could go for Russian Orthodox--lots of smells and bells, and in Old Church Slavonic, neither of you will understand what's going on. Otherwise, I think finding some renegade priest, and a choir and have the elaborate ceremony you crave, but crafted to cut out the stuff that he dislikes. And then it's no holds barred for a big dance hall reception, with ranchera all night long.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:26 PM on July 9, 2012


To update with some answers:

He has stated he'd be (grudgingly) willing to go through the entire process to have our marriage be recognized in the Catholic Church, including the pre-Cana, but finds the actual physical church itself a sticking point. He has stated he'd be willing to be married by a Catholic priest, but doesn't want to promise God anything.

We've thought about two ceremonies as an answer, but he's also stated that he would not feel comfortable asking his friends and family come to watch him be married in a church, so it'd only be my side there.

I wouldn't want to have the full marriage mass, because I know how I've felt when I couldn't take communion for whatever reason, and I would hate to have him feel like that at his own wedding. (And I understand that if you're marrying a non-Catholic, they do a toned down version anyway.)

It's important for me that we have a separate wedding and reception site, in part because it would be incredibly expensive to invite, say, every co-worker I've ever had to the reception, and it would be incredibly awkward to say "No, you have to leave now."

I wouldn't be opposed to having the ceremony at some incredibly beautiful private garden, but the Botanical Gardens and suchlike assume you'll be having the reception there as well, and charge you an arm and a leg to do it. (I think the last time I looked it was several thousand dollars just for the privilege of getting married there.)
posted by corb at 1:27 PM on July 9, 2012


A lot of this is stuff I think you can resolve the same way everybody resolves these things, through ordinary compromise. (And this is as good a time as any to get good at it, no?) You'll work it out!

The church/not-church thing is tougher, because you specifically want something that he specifically doesn't want anything to do with, which is a little different from big-wedding/small-wedding and so forth. I guess my question to you is this: Do you really want him to participate in a religious ceremony that not only means nothing to him, but actually offends him? My feeling has always been that I'd rather enjoy ceremonies with the people who can participate without coercion. I realize that for you, you may not feel married at all unless it's in the Catholic church, and I'm very sympathetic to that, but why would you want him to stand in front of a priest and say things you know he doesn't mean? I've always felt like that wouldn't feel particularly holy to me if my faith were at issue.

I can see the compromise going lots of ways about lots of things, but I can't see insisting that an atheist essentially play-act a Catholic ceremony he's actively bothered by. That's not just for his own good, but for yours, and out of respect for the church and the priest.

Furthermore, everyone you don't invite to the reception is going to know they're not invited to the reception, whether it's in the same place or not. I concur with those who have taken the position that inviting a lot of people only to the ceremony is problematic, but if you're going to do it, I don't think having a separate reception site is going to mean that much.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


We've thought about two ceremonies as an answer, but he's also stated that he would not feel comfortable asking his friends and family come to watch him be married in a church, so it'd only be my side there.

I think that's your answer. You can even do it the day before, so your family can feel like they're part of the "in group" going to the "real" wedding. Or that can be the place for your guests who can't go to the reception to attend.

There are no real "compromises" to be had here. Either one or both of you is going to have to suck it up at some point during the marriage process, either because one of the ceremonies, the reception, or some combination of things is going to be something that causes one of you to think to yourself "I would never want this associated with my wedding!"

This sort of thing usually works best when one of the partners is apathetic about religion, not anti-religion. When one partner is nominally religious but attached to the culture/vision of having a "traditional" ceremony, and the other partner is out-and-out anti-religious who wants a self-consciously non-traditional ceremony, you're going to have a formula for stress and unhappiness. But it's only one day. Just make sure you both look respectable and that his suit fits. Nothing worse than a groom wearing a suit two sizes to big for him and the wedding guests end up looking more well-put-together than he does.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't invite anyone to the weddding you wouldn't invite to the reception. It's rude.

Don't invite random people to your wedding, like co-workers, friends of friends, etc. First of all do you honestly think that people love weddings and/or love you so much that they want to see you wed, without the benefit of open bar and cake?

Hells no!

You invite people to the wedding who are members of your family and very dear friends. And then you draw the line.

You can have a pre-wedding party, or an after honeymoon party, but for heaven's sake, don't invite people to get dressed up, buy you a present and then not feed them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:41 PM on July 9, 2012 [38 favorites]


It's important for me that we have a separate wedding and reception site, in part because it would be incredibly expensive to invite, say, every co-worker I've ever had to the reception, and it would be incredibly awkward to say "No, you have to leave now."

Being invited to the ceremony and not the reception is pretty awkward in all but limited circumstances. And to be blunt, your co-workers don't want to sit through a Catholic wedding and then just go home; if they don't matter enough to be invited to the party, you can probably just skip the invite entirely and let them enjoy photos on Facebook.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:41 PM on July 9, 2012 [23 favorites]


If the physical church is a sticking point, you can get married elsewhere, and just have the marriage formally recognized after the fact in the church. You'd probably have to find a sympathetic priest to do this if your spouse is not willing to actually convert. (My husband and I did this after we got married in a non-church location by a non-Catholic family member.) If you prefer to have two ceremonies, you can probably do that too, and just invite your family to the church one and everyone else to the non-church one.

I have to agree with the chorus of people saying that inviting people to the wedding and not the reception is tacky at best and rude at worst, especially if you are thinking of inviting "every co-worker you've ever had" to the ceremony and not the reception. The other way around, having a small ceremony and a bigger reception, is much more common and accepted. If you want a big party with everyone you've ever known, throw a party later on for those people, but don't just invite them to the ceremony and send them on their way.
posted by bedhead at 1:45 PM on July 9, 2012


You can't invite people to the ceremony and not the reception. It's terrifically rude. The ceremony is the part people suffer through so they can party with you at the reception. If you invite everyone in the universe and have a super-fancy reception, you are going to pay a lot of money. If you can't afford to spend that much, you either need to tone down the reception so it's less fancy, or you need to invite fewer people. It sounds like you can EITHER have the picture-book wedding of your dreams, OR be surrounded by the people you love.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:45 PM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't invite anyone to the weddding you wouldn't invite to the reception. It's rude.

Indeed. If someone is not close enough to you to rate an invitation to the party, they're not close enough to you for your wedding ceremony, especially without any of the attendant socializing and partying, to be important to them.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:45 PM on July 9, 2012


It's important for me that we have a separate wedding and reception site, in part because it would be incredibly expensive to invite, say, every co-worker I've ever had to the reception, and it would be incredibly awkward to say "No, you have to leave now."

Speaking as a guy who has been to co-worker's weddings - I'd have been pretty offended if I were invited to the wedding and not to the reception. On the other hand, if you tell me "Aw, Lurgi, we'd love to have you, but we just don't have enough room. Sorry about that" I'd shrug and go about my business. I've been married. I know about wedding party limits.

Honestly, I'd probably be relieved. It's not like we know each other that well.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:45 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, to answer the "ceremony but not the reception" thing: this is something I'm actually pulling from etiquette books, and past practice with people in my family, so it's not just something I'm pulling out of my hat. (Said etiquette books also explain the precise way to print up reception cards! So handy and awesome. Yes, I'm a nerd.) This may, however, be a thing that generally only works with church weddings, where everyone kind of is invited by virtue of it being in the church. I've never seen it done with non-church weddings, but I can also count the amount of non-church weddings I've seen on half of my hand, so I'm really unfamiliar with etiquette in that respect.

(Etiquette books that separate church ceremony from reception stipulate that the reception is a social occasion, where the church ceremony may not be.)

From the etiquette and culture I'm used to, it's an enormous slight if you don't invite people to the ceremony - because the only possible reason not to invite them to a church where their attendance doesn't cost you a dime and where random churchgoers may attend is that you just straight up don't like them.
posted by corb at 1:50 PM on July 9, 2012


My brother is an atheist, and his wife is a devout Catholic. They were married in a Cathedral in Rome, by a Cardinal, with a signed proclamation from the Pope presented at the ceremony.

My brother deffered to her wishes at the ceremony, and she deffered to his at the reception. He is a world class swing dancer, and he was permitted to have several other female dance partners at the reception. They did rehearse own their somewhat simple dance.

He met with the Catholic counselors and told them his position, and sought the correct attitude that did not compromise his beliefs. Basically, he had to agree that the kids could be brought up with his wife's beliefs, although he would not hold his tongue in expressing his own.

This was made much simpler by the fact that he had once been Baptised, although he never had any faith. But he was a good sport, and went to the counselling sessions. He also extracted from the counselor the edict that there were certain , umm, wifely duties expected that he had not enjoyed before marriage.

But the general theme was that it was up to him to reconcile his beliefs in an honest way so that his wife could have the wedding she wanted.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:51 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my experience, it is very difficult to get permission to have a Catholic wedding ceremony anywhere but a Catholic church. My cousin wanted to do this and was told she had to get permission from her bishop, who was not likely to grant it (it had to be "because of grave circumstances").
posted by aviatrix at 1:52 PM on July 9, 2012


Another vote against "ceremony only" invitations. That's so unusual in the US that you may encounter well-meaning people just coming along to the reception because they assume they are invited.

Sometimes in other countrie,s people have a wedding and a limited reception, and then like a dance party that night but the two are totally separate events, not in venue alone but say morning/evening. I believe the latest UK royal wedding was like that. Even that could be confusing in the US.
posted by BibiRose at 1:57 PM on July 9, 2012


You should also know that while I am ABSOLUTELY SURE it is not your intention, there will be people who will interpret "feel free to come to the ceremony, but not the reception" as "please give me a present."

I am not saying this is what you're doing -- I'm sure it is not! -- but you should be cognizant of the fact that this is how a lot of people interpret giant guest lists for ceremonies and not receptions. I know, because I've heard them talk about it. It can unfortunately be misapprehended as a gift grab, despite your intentions to the contrary.

As for the etiquette of it, my understanding is that traditionally, you can indeed leave a church wedding essentially open to anyone who is welcome in the church -- in fact, that's the way it used to be done, that the wedding was just a church service where the community was welcome, and the reception was all you sent invitations for.

But I don't think that applies to weddings outside churches, and I maintain that you risk being misunderstood as wanting gifts when you invite every co-worker you've ever had. But of course, this is all so steeped in culture and tradition that your mileage emphatically may vary.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:57 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This may, however, be a thing that generally only works with church weddings, where everyone kind of is invited by virtue of it being in the church.

Right, because you (hypothetical you) are a member of a parish, and it (was) expected that your wedding would be observed and celebrated by other members of the parish - not necessarily random co-workers who not only don't go to that church, but may not go to church at all.

The point of etiquette (you already know this!) is to make other people comfortable. If your guest list has, say, a ton of people on it who don't go to your church or any church, then inviting many or some of them to just the ceremony but not the reception is not going to be understood in the way it would be by people who are familiar with the custom. You will make those guests feel weird and uncomfortable, which is exactly what etiquette is supposed to prevent.
posted by rtha at 1:58 PM on July 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


Would a large and beautiful building that was not a church meet both your needs? We were married in City Hall (in San Francisco) and it is a beautiful Beaux-Arts building. Is there a library or museum or other building that would be something sciencey enough for him but ancient and resonant enough for you? Can one get married in the Natural History Museum?
posted by gingerbeer at 1:58 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: inviting people to the ceremony and not the reception--this is one of those situation where etiquette books may not accurately reflect the full realities of contemporary social mores. I can understand that your family may have done this in the past, and that some books may recommend it, but I have to agree that this would come across as really rude and somewhat odd to those who would definitely notice that they were only invited to the ceremony. I was raised in a Catholic environment traditional weddings, if that's relevant, and I definitely would not do this for fear of offending my guests. This goes double for professional colleagues who you do not care to offend.
posted by anonnymoose at 1:59 PM on July 9, 2012


Btw, I'm sure you're coming from a good place with this idea, but I still think it would really hurt your guests' feelings.
posted by anonnymoose at 2:00 PM on July 9, 2012


There are limited circumstances in which I think you can get away with ceremony-only invites: first of all, they are informal-- there isn't a written invitation, you tell someone, "we have having a smaller-sized reception, but our ceremony is at place X at time Y. Feel free to come for that!" Second of all, they work best when they're extended to other church members or people who live quite near by and are already in the neighborhood. But you can't really invite someone to go out of their way to attend a wedding they aren't technically invited to.
posted by deanc at 2:01 PM on July 9, 2012


Are these the people you are considering inviting?:
I really, really don't want to invite most of these people. Some of them I actively dislike, and some of them I just don't feel like buying dinner for, much less inviting them to my wedding. Some of them have problems with inappropriate socialization, that don't appear on the internet, but mean I really, really don't want them there.
posted by acidic at 2:02 PM on July 9, 2012


It's really the lesser of two evils here. Some co-workers who are not invited may have their noses out of joint for a bit. If you do the ceremony-only thing, it's going to seem weird enough that people will be talking about it, possibly for a long time. I also think it would be somewhat legitimate for them to be hurt, paradoxically more so than not being invited at all. A co-worker who expects to be invited to your wedding has got to understand that a lot of people's guest lists are just not big enough. Getting a ceremony-only invite? Feels like being thrown a crumb and some people absolutely hate that feeling.
posted by BibiRose at 2:09 PM on July 9, 2012


You should also know that while I am ABSOLUTELY SURE it is not your intention, there will be people who will interpret "feel free to come to the ceremony, but not the reception" as "please give me a present."

Oh wow, thank you! You're right, that is something I had not even considered as a possibility. Is there any way to avoid that, or is it a thing you can't really fight because it's just assumed?

Second of all, they work best when they're extended to other church members or people who live quite near by and are already in the neighborhood. But you can't really invite someone to go out of their way to attend a wedding they aren't technically invited to.

Are these the people you are considering inviting?:
I really, really don't want to invite most of these people. Some of them I actively dislike, and some of them I just don't feel like buying dinner for, much less inviting them to my wedding. Some of them have problems with inappropriate socialization, that don't appear on the internet, but mean I really, really don't want them there.


Yes, I would never expect people to actually travel for ceremony-but-not-reception, and I'm not considering inviting people I don't want around. To clarify, I think I was thinking more that this would apply to say, people from the neighborhood, or people I work with close by, or my mother's friends, or people who used to work with my dad.
posted by corb at 2:11 PM on July 9, 2012


Would a large and beautiful building that was not a church meet both your needs? We were married in City Hall (in San Francisco) and it is a beautiful Beaux-Arts building. Is there a library or museum or other building that would be something sciencey enough for him but ancient and resonant enough for you? Can one get married in the Natural History Museum?

Hmmm. Maybe! That's a definite possibility. I would definitely feel good about being married in a really old library (as long as it had enough space!) I just looked up the Natural History Museum, and apparently it's 15,000$ just for the wedding itself, leaving the reception and food out. I think it's possible that museums in particular may ratchet up the price so that they keep out people they think might mess with the exhibits.
posted by corb at 2:15 PM on July 9, 2012


Why not mix the two? Find the commonalities.

Try a Charles Darwin, outdoorsy 19th century scientist thingie. Mix together the Victorian with the natural. Check out some paintings by the Pre-Raphelites for inspiration.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:17 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I would never expect people to actually travel for ceremony-but-not-reception, and I'm not considering inviting people I don't want around. To clarify, I think I was thinking more that this would apply to say, people from the neighborhood, or people I work with close by, or my mother's friends, or people who used to work with my dad.

For better or worse, standard American wedding practice is that if you're invited to the ceremony, you're invited to the reception too. Think of it this way: You're invited to a wedding, which is a big party to celebrate the start of a marriage; this kicks off with a ceremony but that ceremony isn't the fun part that everyone's really looking forward to.

And, frankly, when I've attended the weddings of people who are not my close friends or family, the ceremony is painfully dull because I don't have the strong emotional connection that makes it all meaningful. It's just a couple of nice folks saying things to each other - and then I get to go to the reception where I can say hi to people I haven't seen in a while, and have some drinks, and a nice dinner, and dance with that cute sister of the bride who has a boyfriend back in Cleveland but it's fun to have a dance partner.

In short: If you want a huge wedding, make it huge. If you want it small, keep it small. And if it's a tradition in your church or larger faith to formally invite people who'd 'be there anyway' (eg, members of the church), go right ahead and do that in the way that your tradition guides you. But inasmuch as what you're doing is an American Wedding, an invitation should be to both the ceremony and the reception.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:22 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh wow, thank you! You're right, that is something I had not even considered as a possibility. Is there any way to avoid that, or is it a thing you can't really fight because it's just assumed?

Sure, invite them to the reception. The intimate reception for just close family and friends is the rehearsal dinner. The wedding reception is for all the wedding guests.

The etiquette you're citing for ceremony-only invites does not apply unless a significant portion of the church congregation is expected to show up at your wedding without needing an explicit invitation.
posted by desuetude at 2:27 PM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


You can't have people coming to just the ceremony but not the reception. A) People would get offended by this, and B) this is not a socially acceptable thing to do regardless of what etiquette book(s) you read.

My initial suggestion was a full Catholic ceremony, inside the church I was baptized in, with a formal and more exclusive reception and dancefloor to follow.

His initial suggestion was for us to be married by a scientist, on a cliff face with a waterfall, off the side of a highway in an area we're not allowed to legally be. Then for everyone to drive to a reception location for the party.


Marriage is about meeting in the middle. You will literally be compromising on issues for the rest of your life. It's surprising to me that some people start the rest of their lives being such goddamn sticklers for what they must have, even at the cost of their partner's values/morals and/or high financial cost. Get married in a UU church with non-religious vows, invite the people you want to both your wedding and your reception, and have a nice life. If you die on this hill, what's left after that? It's really that simple.
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:35 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


If a ceremony is at a church, you can't invite or disinvite people. This is because it is not your house, it is a house of God, and so therefore not your call who is invited. All you can do is let people know when it is. Strictly speaking, church weddings have announcements, not invitations; the reception card is the invitation to the reception. You can't invite people to a church they'd otherwise have no reason to go to and then not invite them to the reception. Even if this was ever done, it's not done now and will cause hard feelings.

In terms of alternate locations: you can look at University chapels, which can be beautiful but not tied to a particular branch of Christianity. You can look at natural history museums, or libraries, or observatories. If you include (or memail me!) your location, I can look up some awesome but unusual locations.
posted by KathrynT at 2:36 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


For better or worse, standard American wedding practice is that if you're invited to the ceremony, you're invited to the reception too. Think of it this way: You're invited to a wedding, which is a big party to celebrate the start of a marriage; this kicks off with a ceremony but that ceremony isn't the fun part that everyone's really looking forward to.

Okay, looks like consensus is that American weddings are focused a little differently than weddings I'm familiar with (which, to be fair, mostly were planned and participated in by people who spent most of their lives Not In America). I'm more used to the wedding being the ceremony, with the reception being optional, but it seems like this is Not Done, and if this many MeFites would find it offensive, I'm sure I would wind up accidentally offending a ton of people I don't want to offend.

That resolved: any places to hold the ceremony that might satisfy both of our requirements? (I imagine we can probably agree on the reception)

If you include (or memail me!) your location, I can look up some awesome but unusual locations.

We are located in NYC.
posted by corb at 2:45 PM on July 9, 2012


You could do it at the NYC Ethical Society. Their website talks a lot about receptions but I'm sure you could hold the ceremony there instead. They have people who will marry you, too. Two of my friends were married by an ethical society dude.
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:55 PM on July 9, 2012


My husband and I were married in a non-denominational chapel at his university. It looked like a chapel, but was not Christian or any other faith: it had scholars in the stained glass windows. This sort of place might suit your fiance.
posted by jb at 2:55 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the etiquette and culture I'm used to, it's an enormous slight if you don't invite people to the ceremony - because the only possible reason not to invite them to a church where their attendance doesn't cost you a dime and where random churchgoers may attend is that you just straight up don't like them.
posted by corb at 4:50 PM on July 9 [+] [!]


It seems to be more common in North America these days to be invited to a reception and NOT the ceremony - perhaps so people can have small ceremonies at court houses, etc. My husband's cousin is marrying for the second time, and we have only been invited to the reception. Ironically, I think that I would prefer to witness the ceremony (ceremonies are very important to me) than go to the reception, but I have never been invited to a ceremony and not the reception.

In the UK, the limits on marriage venues also means that people who want non-religious ceremonies tend to marry at the county hall, whose chapels are very small. So again, a friend of mine had 50 family and friends at her ceremony, and 200 at her reception (including everyone from the ceremony). 50 was the top number she could invite to a non-church wedding in our town.

If you do decide that the reception is getting expensive, you could make it a non-meal reception (snacks only) by having an afternoon wedding with tea and cakes right after, or just having a break between the wedding and the reception wherein the guests can go get dinner, and then come back somewhere else for drinks, snacks, dancing - whatever you want to do.
posted by jb at 3:02 PM on July 9, 2012


The way you've framed your question, it sounds like two individuals with wildly divergent tastes who have decided to plan some event together. But you're getting married -- obviously you must be together for a reason. Maybe focus on the "us" of your couple-y-ness, and build out from there, rather than comparing these two different idealized weddings and trying to patch them together.

(And nail down your budget before anything else.)
posted by stowaway at 4:43 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's fairly common at church weddings in Australia to have wedding to which everyone is welcome (my mother often crashes the ones at her church) followed by an afternoon tea in the church hall next door, followed by the reception elsewhere. Two types of invites are sent out, for the wedding, afternoon tea and reception, or just the wedding and afternoon tea. If you invite people to just the wedding, make it clear that no presents are expected.

Beware of ettiquette books. As you can see, it varies widely between cultures, generations and places. Just because the book says people shouldn't be offended, doesn't mean they won't be. Ask the people you are planning to invite, particularly older people.

I agree that you should probably give up on having a full catholic wedding, and find something with the same feel. I think a wedding should be an expression of the reality of the couple, taking into account the comfort and enjoyment of the guests. Many of the wedding "traditions" aren't.

It may also be worth approaching it as a problem solving exercise. No engineer can resist a good complex puzzle.
posted by kjs4 at 5:26 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can see the compromise going lots of ways about lots of things, but I can't see insisting that an atheist essentially play-act a Catholic ceremony he's actively bothered by. That's not just for his own good, but for yours, and out of respect for the church and the priest.

I agree with this. I'm an atheist raised by lapsed Catholics, and while attending various church ceremonies over the years, family members have demanded that I take holy communion so as to not call attention to myself. I never do, because while I do not believe in the church or its teachings, I do not feel that it is appropriate for me as a non-believer to disrespect their beliefs.

As others have mentioned, friends who recently got married in NJ discovered that it was functionally impossible to have a Catholic wedding outside of the church itself.
posted by crankylex at 5:41 PM on July 9, 2012


Take beautiful picture-book photos at the Cloisters, have your reception at the New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tryon Park. Nature, historical beauty, tasty food - done and DONE!
posted by sestaaak at 5:57 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Coming in to suggest the Cloisters as well.
posted by xo at 6:41 PM on July 9, 2012


My friends had a Catholic mass for their ceremony, and held the reception in a natural history museum. (It was awesome: a whale skeleton hung over the head table, and there was a dinosaur fossil right next to the buffet).

We had a church ceremony with a liberal Anglican priest officiating (my father) who allowed my husband to put footnotes in the order of service, so that one of the prayers had an asterisk next to "Creator of us all" that led to a footnote saying, "If we exclude the possibility of random quantum fluctuations". Etc.

This is to say: compromise.
posted by lollusc at 9:19 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist raised by lapsed Catholics, and while attending various church ceremonies over the years, family members have demanded that I take holy communion so as to not call attention to myself.

That would be absolutely wrong. If you have been lapsed or are an atheist, you should talk with a priest about the feasibility of taking confession. You must do this before receiving communion. I myself have considered having this talk, because I am completely lacking in faith, but have scads of hope and charity. My preliminary findings range from no way, to yes, because again, I was baptized at birth. Having a crisis of faith or a total loss of faith is not uncommon in the priesthood itself. But it is possible to discuss your true feelings and relate those to the differing teachings of the Church. You don't have to be play acting. If you want to play their game you must play by their rules.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:22 AM on July 11, 2012


tl;dr

If you have not attended Easter Mass for several years running, you must take confession before taking communion.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:01 PM on July 11, 2012


Thanks so much everyone! You really helped us get past a sticky situation.

What we ended up deciding to do was to incorporate historical traditionalism from my fiance's culture, so even though it's way more tradition than he'd choose, it's non-religious and still meaningful - a ceremony as ritualistic as a church ceremony, but not.

We're not getting married in a church: we're still searching for the perfect site, but at least we now have a good feeling on what type of place (we're going for beautiful old nonreligious with outdoors visible)

Much thanks everyone, especially for the healthy dose of reality I wound up needing about wedding etiquette books vs real effects. :)
posted by corb at 4:52 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Box Springs: Should I keep it?...   |  Can you help identify this old... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.