When announcing a wedding is more like "breaking the news"
February 7, 2009 7:25 PM   Subscribe

I am getting married on May 12th. How do I break the news to my family?

I am engaged to a wonderful man, and at the beginning of February, we finally nailed down the date we want to be married -- May 12th. I have met his extended family, and he mine. Problem: his family loves me and is thrilled about our marriage, mine does not feel the same at all. My family is, at best, unenthusiastic, and at worst, totally opposed.

Considering how unsupportive they have been over these last several months (though I do love them dearly, and don't want to hurt them), how best to tell them I definitely AM getting married, and here is when? The kicker: my fiance and I simply cannot justify to ourselves spending the money on a wedding that could go towards our new home, especially considering that my family has been so negative about the whole thing.

Only my mother and brother live in the immediate area. What is the etiquette in this situation? My fiance and I would like to have a private ceremony and then spend the next week or so settling into our new home (we have already chosen it and gotten the paperwork started). I was thinking of sending out wedding announcements something along the line of: So-and-so and such-and-such will be married in a private ceremony on May 12th, 2009. Please join us on thus-and-such-date for...??? I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I can't let their desire to see me not marry my love control me either. If they all lived in the area, I would love to say "join us for dinner and drinks," or something along those lines, but since everyone besides my mother and brother lives states away, that doesn't seem right. Would it be better for us to perhaps take separate trips to visit our families after the wedding? Please advise on how you would handle this, and I would love to hear anecdotes about similar situations.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is eloping an option? Does your family really have to be told beforehand, particularly if they aren't invited?

They will be upset no matter what, so why give them five months to make your life miserable trying to change your mind, giving you the silent treatment, etc? Just get married somewhere scenic, or down at the courthouse, and then send out cards afterwards inviting everyone to a big party (or just announce the wedding and don't have a party, depending on your budget).

At least with the people I know, having a small and private ceremony (often far away, in Vegas or a resort somewhere), followed by a party for friends and extended family, is actually pretty normal. Some people tell everyone months ahead, and others "elope" in a very planned way and announce it afterward to avoid the whole "but why wasn't I invited?" drama that happens when some people get invited and others don't.
posted by Forktine at 7:43 PM on February 7, 2009

What is the etiquette in this situation?

I think that all you have to worry about etiquette-wise is giving your family a chance to be happy for you. Personally, I'd call them up and just tell them the news like your fiance told his--without apologies or defiance or anything negative, just "I have some big news: we're getting married!" and then you can explain the private ceremony thing if they ask if you've set a date, etc. My fiance and I had a couple of... unsupportive people in our "people to tell" list, but sometimes those people surprise you with momentary graciousness (or they don't, but you should certainly give them a chance to).

You could also do a big housewarming party once you're settled. Send invites to everyone, even the out of towners who won't come, and have them say "Anon and Fiance were married in a private ceremony on May 12, 2009. Please join us for a celebration at their new home on May 28." You may still end up with relatives who feel left out or insulted or whatever else, but really, all you owe them in terms of etiquette is the opportunity to express their happiness for you. That's why I wouldn't wait until after the wedding. That said, they're your relatives and I don't know them, so I could be basing this too much on my own difficult relatives.

And congrats!
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:44 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Should have previewed. Reading Forktine's comment, my thought would be that you need to pick which the bigger risk is: having your family harass you for the months leading up to the wedding or having your family hold a grudge against you for not telling them in advance. I have no idea which is preferable.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:46 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a somewhat similar situation. My parents were very enthusiastic; hers, not so much. (Although I wouldn't use the phrase "totally opposed" and this was more than 8 years ago and everything's cool now.) We all live in the same city. We invited our parents out to dinner. The six of us had a nice time, and when the check came, I grabbed it and said, "I'll get this...and we're getting married." My parents were super excited and hers just turned white.

I'm not sure what you can learn from that, but hey, you're going to get married no matter what. You just have to hope that you're right and they're wrong and if so, they'll come around. People tend to put too much emphasis on the wedding day itself. It's just not that important. Your plan to take trips to visit people sounds good. The person making the effort to get along is always the good guy.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 7:48 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the etiquette depends on whether you would like to give them the option to attend. If so, I think you can send invites, and follow them up with a phone call (if it is important to you), saying that you understand their concerns and that they want the best for you, this is what you've decided to do, and you'd love it if they'd attend but understand if they would prefer not to.

If you are okay with them not attending or don't even want to worry about it, then I think you can include an invitation for a celebration after the wedding if you decide to host one. Otherwise, you can always just send out announcements after your wedding.

My husband and I got married in a town that was not where either of our parents lived, and I wanted to keep the wedding small for costs and not invite parents' friends, so we told both sets of parents that they were welcome to have a reception/get together/barbeque (whatever they chose) in their towns if they had people they wanted to invite, and that worked out well.

As an aside, my parents have never reacted well to things prior to them happening (going to college out of state, my first car, my first apartment, me quitting sorority, me moving in with my now husband prior to marriage, etc), and they've always adjusted and been supportive after it was a done deal and no longer up for discussion, so I hope it is much the same for your parents.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:56 PM on February 7, 2009

I think it's fine not to have a big wedding, but there is something you should consider - it doesn't cost any money to just invite your immediate family to stand beside you at the registry office, courtroom, etc.

My father didn't invite his parents to his second wedding - I only got to go because I happened to be home when he phoned my brother (who was to be a witness) about it. And it really upset my grandparents that they missed it, and I was angry that he had not thought to include me. It's not about the party, or who they are marrying - I met his fiancee for the first time that day (delightful woman). But it's about seeing a close relative go through a life-changing event. Even if I hadn't liked my dad's fiancee, I would have been very upset to miss their ceremony.

I guess I feel that when it comes to your parents and your children (and maybe siblings depending on the relationship), you really ought to give them a choice about not seeing you get married. You can tell them that you aren't doing anything other than getting married (no party, etc), and that if they are going to be unpleasant you will ask them to leave, but please offer them the choice of coming (if they will behave properly).

If you are worried they will try to organise a wedding for you, you could always
a) accept, if they pay or
b) invite them to the registry office only a few days before.
posted by jb at 8:04 PM on February 7, 2009

An ex of mine had the problem after she and her fiance started planning a fairly big, open wedding that one of the families involved became a big pain in the arse about it all; in the end they went for a simple, very closed formal ceremony and a big, cheaper party for well-wishers.

I've had a few friends who have gone the route of tiered weddings; a very small (often immediate family only) formal ceremony, a small formal dinner (immediate family and a few friends), and a big party in a cheap hall for everyone who wants to show up and be well-wishers.

I would be inclined to go that sort of route for what you're talking about - in the case of friends, everyone I know who's gone with some sort of variation on this plan has certainly had no problems from friends. Give your family a chance to come and wish you well, and if they want to be drama-llamas, it won't affect the core ceremony.
posted by rodgerd at 9:05 PM on February 7, 2009

Here is a story that may help you to understand the position of your family. It is about me and my brother, and a girl he met at a camp a few years ago. I knew the girl before he did, and didn't like her at all. When my brother hooked up with her I thought he was a complete idiot for a lot of reasons that we won't go into here. I was not the only person who thought it was a bad idea. My family, all of my friends, and all of his friends too all had to cringe a little.

My family and I tried to be supportive, but he obviously knew we didn't like it. So when he did get engaged, he didn't tell any of us. He sort of tried to hide it, and he never officially made announcements. I didn't even find out about it first-hand from him! That hurt... I couldn't believe that he wouldn't even tell his own brother that he was engaged... I had to hear about it from someone else. I kept waiting for him to call me and make the announcement, I thought maybe he was busy... but as the months dragged on he still did not bring it up, even though I saw him many times.

I can understand how you might have the urge to try to cushon the blow, or delay the news, or do something crazy, but honestly, the best thing to do is to call everyone in your family directly, and as soon as possible, and tell them. If you don't it will just add to their unease and their feeling that you're not doing things right. When my friend got engaged, he called me less than an hour after it happened and I congratulated him. Yet my own brother couldn't call me and tell me--that is evidence that something's wrong. Don't make your family feel that way: do it the right way.

Because once I knew my brother was getting married, I really wanted to be happy for him, and I really tried hard to accept his girlfriend. If you tell your family it will give them time to emotionally accept that this is what you have chosen. They want the best for you, and they know that this is out of their hands. After they accept that, they will still want the best for you, and they will want the best for the *both* of you. Really, the will! If you give them time! If you keep them in the loop and don't make it all awkward and guilty.

I had finally come to terms with my brother getting married when he broke off his engagement. It was one of those "I told you so" moments, except I was not happy about it! I really wanted it to succeed, and even though every ounce of me knew it was bad (as ultimately proven) even though it was obviously a bad choice, it was his choice, and I wanted the best for him! Families are like that. I'm not saying you're like my brother, but your family may be like me, worried for you because they love you. But if they are like me, things will change after the engagement, with time. Do expect some hotheaded responses though... that's just part of life.
posted by brenton at 1:35 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might be making things worse for your future spouse by not telling your parents about your wedding plans. Not only will your parents suddenly have this person they don't approve of as their son-in-law, but adding the hurt of exclusion to their powerlessness to change the situation won't help. It's sneaky, and a bit childish. You're assuming they will make your life a misery if you marry this man. They might well surprise you. Or not. But you have to give them a chance to wrap their minds around all of this. You might tell them, at some point, that you don't expect them to come to the wedding unless they can be happy being there. That's fair. Not telling them that they're getting a new son-in-law? Not fair.

Right now, you're in the position of a pregnant teenager who's wearing big sweatshirts to hide her swelling belly, and is planning on keeping the baby and hiding the crib in her closet from her mom. At some point, that baby will come - this marriage will happen - and there's no more pretending.

They might surprise you with their acceptance of the situation, if not of your partner. They might not. But you have to give them the chance.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:19 AM on February 8, 2009

Let them know you are marrying and then go ahead and have a small ceremony. Sounds like you have practical reasons for wanting to go small that are in addition to the disapproval on one side. Either your family will surprise you and be more supportive or they will be buttheads but either way you will have done the right thing and can go on and have a pleasant wedding day on YOUR terms.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:48 AM on February 8, 2009

Though both are families are supportive, me and my partner are in the situation of having little control over when we get married (its mostly dependent on when I get a visa) Our solution to have a very small marriage with only one two guest each and no family (we are both relocating as well so most peole we know live farther away). Then in a year or so's time, when we actually have the time (and money) to face the logistics we will have a commitment ceremony, with a big dinner etc where we can invite family etc . This will be in a more convenient locaation and people will have a chance to book flights at reasonable notice etc. This is sometimes known as getting weddinged.
posted by tallus at 5:11 AM on February 8, 2009

I know my parents would be terribly hurt to not to be able to attend my wedding, even if they weren't thrilled with the man I'd chosen. If you think your family members may feel the same, invite them to come to the registry office with you and then take everyone out to dinner afterwards.
posted by orange swan at 5:37 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a similar situation to Brenton's in my family. I'm not saying that you are in that situation (I have no idea), but I will throw out that maybe you should consider why your family is opposed? In my family, we all wanted what was best for my sister (there weren't control issues or anything like that), but we did let her know that we thought she was making a mistake, because her fiance was a parasite. And just like you, her fiance's family was thrilled. She was very upset by my family's lack of support (we had really good reasons to not support it) and was going to elope (told me about it), and then all of a sudden the engagement was off, and Parasite Fiance disappeared. She is now married to a great guy, who is not a parasite. She has even said she didn't know what she was thinking when she got engaged to guy #1.

My point is, I wouldn't necessarily dismiss your family's concerns, and I would not leave them out of the wedding. My parents would have been devastated if my sister had decided to elope, rather than having a regular wedding. There isn't enough information here. Why doesn't your family like him? Is it completely unfounded, or are you blinded by love and not seeing what they are seeing? Again, I'm not saying that this is the case, but consider it as a possibility.

Good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:18 AM on February 8, 2009

Not because of disapproval but awkwardness of my recently divorced parents seeing each other for the first time at our wedding, we went for the "announce engagement and commence planned elopement" route.

Engagement was announced immediately - tears of joy were still fresh when I started calling the folks. As planning commenced, we let everyone know that we were heading to the tropics to hitch up, then we came back and threw a party for all our friends and family. See, my parents had been divorced and living 15 hours apart. Not on good terms. I really didn't want the stress of my mom freaking out on my dad at my wedding, which seemed like a real possibility. So, a party seemed like a good solution. Booze! The parents had never met, so we had a family lunch the day of the party where everyone got to meet.

Selfish, maybe, but that stupid old thing about it being "your day" worked in my favor: it was my day, so I did it my way... which was just the two of us and our officiant. I highly recommend it to everyone.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 9:14 AM on February 8, 2009

follow-up from the OP
I think I was a little unclear in my question, so I'd like to clarify a couple of points.
1. Everyone in both of our extended families already knows that we are engaged.
2. I have NO DESIRE to keep this a secret until AFTER the wedding! I am just asking for good ways to tell our families that we are going to have a private ceremony, and here is when.
Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions so far, and please keep them coming!
(Also, if I could mark a best answer as anonymous so far, I would mark Meg_Murry's idea about inviting everyone to a housewarming party! I love that idea! :D)
posted by jessamyn at 3:40 PM on February 8, 2009

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