How best to plan a wedding around a loving but dysfucntional family?
March 6, 2012 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Have you had or attended a one-sided wedding (meaning only one person's family was in attendance)? Did it go okay for everyone or was it weird and sad or depressing? How did you best cope if it was your family that was not in attendance? My partner and I are in the very early stages of planning our wedding, and we're trying to figure out the best thing to do considering our current family situations.

I have always looked forward to eloping, due to having an unpredictable, drama-prone family, plus an aversion to event planning of any kind. My partner was always indifferent about elopement vs. a small ceremony. He's now leaning toward a small, family-only ceremony because his brother just eloped and it really upset his parents. Neither of us wants to hurt their feelings again.

However, I have no desire to invite my family to my wedding. My mom and two of my siblings suffer from bi-polar disorder, and the stress of big events makes them difficult to predict or deal with. My mom especially has a propensity to make herself the center of attention by snapping at people, making dramatic exits (she comes back if no one follows her to "see what's wrong"), or openly getting upset about perceived slights, even if she's supposed to be celebrating one of her kids' milestones or achievements. She spent the weeks leading up to my sister's wedding threatening not to attend for some now-forgotten reason, and then interrupted the ceremony to go up and hug/comfort (?) my BIL when he got upset talking about his late mom during his vows (granted his mom had recently passed away, and the ceremony was in a gazebo and not a more formal setting, but she just couldn't resist inserting herself). To be clear, I love them all deeply and would love it if we had a healthy dynamic that negates this concern. I now live far away from them all, and have only recently begun to feel the relief of having a break from the emotional roller coaster that is my family dynamic.

That said, I am feeling kind of sad about not having anyone there for me if we end up not eloping. Inviting one or two siblings and not my mom or the others seems cruel, so my partner suggested *only* having our moms there, which might be more understandable for those left out. I really do wish I could just invite my mom and know that she would be supportive and fun instead of an emotional drain, but that is not my reality. Eloping has always seemed like the best answer to this, but I know now that my partner would not feel entirely comfortable with leaving his own family out. They have their own issues (divorce and remarriage/kids with lots of surrounding tension), but we have already started brainstorming working around them. We have some good mutual friends, but I don't really have a best friend who could stand in for my family, and the thought of asking new, nearer friends with whom I'm not very close is even more depressing, somehow. Plus, my family would be hurt to learn they were excluded in favor of non-family.

Here are our options as I see them:
A. Invite partner's original family--mom, brother & SIL, and sister--to the ceremony. Celebrate with his dad, stepmom and other siblings at a nice meal afterwards--his idea. Send my family members each some photos of the ceremony and snazzy announcement/letter/keepsake.

B. Invite just his mom to the ceremony. Celebrate with everyone after. Send my family members each some photos of the ceremony and an announcement/letter/keepsake.

C. Hold the ceremony in a very nice civil ceremony venue that has password-protected live streaming footage (this exists near our town), and "invite" both our families and all our friends to view it. Have a celebratory meal with his family. Send my immediate family members a nice photo afterwards.

D. Convince my partner to elope anyway. Send everyone photos and announcement.

While none of these are ideal, I'm wondering which of them might result in the least bad feelings for everyone, including my partner and myself. Is there anything I'm not considering? I welcome any other ideas, suggestions or anecdotes about how to include the most people with minimal stress and drama, if possible.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My partner and I had our ceremony/party with just my family and a few close friends. He didn't want his family there for whatever reason, and it was fine. I don't think he felt any sadness over it, even after the fact.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:27 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a similar situation when I was getting married (mental illness, racism and inappropriate behavior galore!) and the way we dealt with it was by eloping. We got married in front of a judge, just the two of us. It was the best of all options for us, even though it hurt the feelings of some of the people we care most about. For me, I would rather everyone be miffed at me for excluding everyone from the wedding than have some people be EXTRA SUPER PISSED that my husband's family got to celebrate and mine did not. Everyone mostly got over not being invited to our JOP marriage, if some folks had been invited and others not, I don't think we'd all still be talking today.
posted by crankylex at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Invite his family and your dearest friends, like the people you would consider your "chosen family."

People get super hung up on the idea of symmetry in weddings, and not only is that how people end up with seven groomsmen, but it means that people end up going through weird contortions that aren't necessary. I am an only child, my husband has two sisters. We invited both of them even though it totally fucked up the numbers. (Kidding. It fucked up nothing.)

Do not not-invite beloved members of his family to be "fair". It strikes me as a reasonable thing to not start your married life off with the drama that you know your family will bring, and unreasonable to punish his family for it. Kick off your marriage with all the people who sanely love and care for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

At our recent wedding ceremony, I had my parents, brother and two of my maternal aunts; he had his grandma and aunt's family and cousins. Then we had a potluck picnic thing in his hometown with my mother's OTHER five siblings, along with all of his local pals and extended family, including his dad, whom he hadn't seen in a good four years (he has a rather convoluted family tree). None of my dad's side of the family was invited.

It worked out well. Two things, though: first, we thought about it very carefully and discussed it with key family members ahead of time. Second, this was a second marriage for both of us, and my whole ginormous family had all come to the first one.

His first marriage was a "spy wedding" with the Justice of the Peace and a best man wearing a fake eyepatch. His friend called up and said they were in town and were they up to anything that day, and he said, "Well, we're getting married this afternoon. Want to come?" so the friend and his lady sat in the front row with their Starbucks cups and jeans.

Neither that nor my fancy first wedding lasted, so there you go. It doesn't matter. Make it about you and what's important. That's what counts.
posted by Madamina at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want to have a non-elopey wedding his family and all of your mutual friends can attend, you don't have to make it look like a traditional wedding - and not doing so totally masks over the players who would obviously be missing in the traditional setup. There is no requirement for bridesmaids or groomsmen at all. We had no bride's side or groom's side in seating. My about-to-be husband and I walked down the aisle together; nobody gave me away. (And in fact there doesn't even need to be an aisle or a walk at all.) Our readings were done by one uncle and mutual friends; his family not reading wasn't an issue. We skipped father/daughter mother/son dances.

All of this went a long way to papering over the fact that my insane, drunk, unstable father was not there and in fact, was not invited. I highly recommend it. If you don't have a cookie cutter life, don't try to cram it into a cookie cutter wedding.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:35 PM on March 6, 2012 [13 favorites]

Weddings are parties for you, not everyone else. Especially if no one else is paying for it. If it would make you feel better not to have your family there, then do it. If it would make him feel better to have some of his family there, then do it.

People who create drama will create drama without a good reason. If you don't invite them to the wedding, they'll be mad. If you invite them to the wedding, they'll be mad that someone else got a better table. Screw 'em.
posted by Etrigan at 12:36 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Another option would be to explain to your future in-laws that you hesitate to have a ceremony because of your family issues-- which are particularly unstable just now-- and to try to find a way to get them OK with only the two of you at the wedding and maybe a celebration later. Or designate one of his siblings to be represent the family at the actual wedding. Anything so they don't feel left out of the loop.

I definitely feel your dilemma. I put off getting married for years because I wanted neither to invite nor to exclude certain family members. And we did elope, telling people quite a bit later.
posted by BibiRose at 12:37 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I attended a friend's very small (20 people or so) wedding. She married a man from another country whose family was not able to be in attendance. It was a little sad because I think he would have liked his family to be there, but if you don't feel that way, then I don't see any reason to find it depressing at all.

One nice thing they did that may not apply: a large part of their wedding ceremony included some of very specific traditions from his culture. While that doesn't help you here, I do think you should work to make sure there are lots of meaningful moments that are there for you, and that represent whatever wonderful things that you bring to the union. Basically, I thought it was nice that although the event took place in the bride's family home and with only her family and close friends there, the groom's presence was deeply acknowledged.

Another nice touch: because the group was so small, the ceremony took place with everyone seated in a circle in a room, so it didn't feel like the groom had an "empty side".
posted by juliplease at 12:39 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My aunt & uncle's wedding was very one-sided. She is from Indonesia so no one from her side of the family was at the wedding, my uncle's side consists of about 100 people. They also invited about 25 mutual friends. They had a big beautiful church wedding and reception.

When people walked in the church the ushers just said, "the front row is for family but other than that sit where you like, there is no set bride or groom's side." Pretty much everyone understood that and the church was super even seating wise.

A couple people mentioned that is was too bad her family couldn't come but all in all it was still a great event. I guess I'm just saying that it can be super uneven and people will be fine with it. Send a feeler around through his family just to warn people that your family would likely not be able to attend, then no one will be surprised when they get there. My grandmother is PERFECT for this sort of thing. Need something told to the whole family? Mention is offhandedly to her and within a week everyone will know.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:43 PM on March 6, 2012

I think to really make this decision you need to find out why his family was so hurt by his brother eloping. Was it that they didn't get to be included at all and it was a surprise? Was it just because they couldn't physically be there? Etc. Because that's going to change things. You can involve his family in your eloping plans, without having them actually be at the elopement if that would help them get over the hurt, or you could do your video option above if they want to see the actual ceremony. I would say that you could just have the ceremony with his family, but you don't seem to want that, and it seems like it would create a lot of drama with your family when it got back to them, and you seem to want to keep your family happy too (ie. you aren't in the my family is crazy and I don't want them there and I don't care what they think camp). So your best bet is to figure out how to get his family on board with the elopement/no family at the wedding thing, and go from there.
posted by katers890 at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

we were up against similar issues (except his family is basically non-existent and my family is filled with drama and mental illness and SO MANY PEOPLE). we eloped. i haven't regretted it for a single second. i think there were some hurt feelings, but less hurt feelings than there would have been if we specifically didn't invite people.
posted by nadawi at 12:47 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go with #1 or #2.

My wedding was attended by two friends and our baby. It took all of about 35 minutes then we went a nearby restaurant and just ordered off the menu. It was lovely and our families were happy for us. We wanted low-key and our families recongized and appreciated that we were adults and could do what we wanted and it wasn't about them.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:49 PM on March 6, 2012

I was the only person at my sister's wedding--no drama behind it; they just chose to get married at the courthouse on a lunch break. Our families all knew they were planning to get married some time that month and that they weren't having a "wedding". My sister called me that morning to see if I could join them, so I did. (We had a huge party at my parents' house, months later, for general celebratory purposes. But that's not the point.)

Point is--identify the people whose feelings it is most important to you to consider in your wedding plans. Tell them (in as much detail as you are comfortable with) why you will not have a traditional wedding celebration with your family and friends present. Tell them you plan to have a courthouse wedding, just the two of you, and ask how you can help them feel included in the celebration of your marriage. You have this conversation while making it clear the outer limits you are comfortable with (his mom and siblings at the actual ceremony and a celebratory meal with his more extended family). It's possible that his mom may have her own solution that is comfortable to you; it's possible that just including her in the decisionmaking will be enough. Like katers890 said, if you find out why the prior elopement was disappointing to your partner's family, you may be able to avoid hurting their feeling again, even without having to give up your simple no-guest courthouse wedding.

Honestly, I don't think it's weird at all to have just the couple at the actual wedding. Nor do I think it's weird to have just the couple and one family member or one friend. It's kind of you to remember that people want to share in your wedding because weddings (like cupcakes) make people happy. But if you're open and honest about why a non-wedding-party marriage ceremony is important to you, you allow people to find other ways to share your happiness with you.

Just express to everyone that you recognize that marrying means not only making your partner into your family, but also means accepting a relationship with his existing family, even if you are bringing everyone in to participate in the ceremony.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:49 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

ahem, where "Just express to everyone that you recognize that marrying means not only making your partner into your family, but also means accepting a relationship with his existing family, even if you are bringing everyone in to participate in the ceremony" should read

Just express to everyone that you recognize that marrying means not only making your partner into your family, but also means accepting a relationship with his existing family, even if you are NOT bringing everyone in to participate in the ceremony.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:51 PM on March 6, 2012

It's your wedding. It's about you and your partner, not everyone else. So invite the people that you want to be there when you get married.

We didn't want my mother-in-law or her side of the family there for similar reasons (mental illness, drama). So we didn't invite any of them or tell them about it. My family was there, and my father-in-law and his side of the family. Fortunately for us, no one else associates with my mother-in-law's side of the family, so they just think we eloped.

Of course, she was upset that we got married without her - it's all about her, it seems - and she threw a fit. But it was so much better than the fits she would have thrown on what was otherwise a wonderful, perfect day for us.
posted by thejanna at 12:57 PM on March 6, 2012

This is a little unusual but if you do still want to elope because you want to avoid drama, why not do that but have a video link and Skype the wedding. That way people can watch it and feel semi involved without being able to ruin it for you. Make up whatever excuse you want pre-wedding for eloping but tell them this is how they can be a part of it. Best of both worlds!
posted by Jubey at 1:03 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not quite your situation but at my wedding there were about 5-600 guests. My wife is from another country but her family and some friends were able to come (10 people). We had already had a wedding party in my wife's country and the guests may have known that. It didn't seem awkward to me.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:18 PM on March 6, 2012

Your fiancé has this all wrong, his brother had it so right. ELOPE!

Guess what? The only two people who really matter here are the two of you. This is not a ceremony, done correctly, it's a ritual binding two lives together into one fresh and new mini family unit.

Leave out the static. Go do it together, alone, and stay in your bubble for as long as possible while you enjoy and cement your vows.

It's romantic, meaningful, and 100% joy without outside forces vying for attention. It's the only way to go. Ask me how I know!
posted by jbenben at 2:07 PM on March 6, 2012

I think you should elope.

I say this even though I know a couple who eloped because she was not close to her family and then when he didn't invite his brother there was fall-out that is still ongoing. But to be honest, I think they are very different people anyway and all the fall-out did was demonstrate that - i.e. they would eventually fall-out over something.

No matter what, you can't make everyone happy - and the only people who you should be trying to make as happy as you can are you and your partner.
posted by mleigh at 2:18 PM on March 6, 2012

Have you had a conversation with his parents? "We had wanted to elope to avoid drama with my family, but we know how hurt you were by BIL eloping. We wanted to discuss it with you, because we don't want to hurt your feelings, but we also don't want to leave my family out -- and we're afraid inviting my family will not end in a ceremony we dream of." (Obvs your fiance should lead the conversation, as they're his parents.)

If they are consulted and understand WHY you want to have no family at the ceremony, it may not hurt their feelings -- especially if you (let them) throw some kind of "we eloped!" party in their town afterwards with their friends and family, or have a family dinner party or something. And then you can always repeat with your family.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

.The only family my uncle had his first wedding were my mother and stepuncle. He wanted to include his father, but couldn't do so without letting my grandmother know.
posted by brujita at 2:42 PM on March 6, 2012

My first wife didn't want her family at the wedding so we got married with just my family (and a few mutual friends) in attendance, and it was fine. Everybody had a good time, and her family got over it. I'm not promising yours will, mind, but it can work out OK.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on March 6, 2012

Friends of mine were in a somewhat similar predicament. They had a private ceremony in the morning and then spent the day celebrating with her family and their friends. (Afternoon reception with family and friends, then party with friends in the evening.) It was relatively low-key and a lot of fun. I figured it was kinda of like picking the best of both worlds: lovely, low-drama ceremony, yet still celebrating with family and friends on the wedding day itself. Good luck!
posted by wiskunde at 4:02 PM on March 6, 2012

I go to weddings for whichever member of the couple I'm close to, or for both of them - not to do a wedding guests head count.

Invite the people you want to be there.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:36 PM on March 6, 2012

Do whatever you want - it's your wedding, you get to set the rules.

I was in a similar situation - my family is nuts, and there was NO WAY I was inviting them. We ended up eloping, just the two of us. Then we had a reception after the fact, to please my partner's parents. At the reception, it was just my partner's family - his immediate family and all aunts/uncles/cousins - and I didn't find it depressing at all. It was wonderful to not have to worry about all the crazy things my mom would do!

The bottom line is, this is your wedding and it shouldn't be about pleasing other people. This is the first of many times you will disappoint one or the other sides of the family. But that's the way it is - you & your fiance make the decisions on how your joint life will be, from now on. It's a good thing!
posted by barney_sap at 5:14 PM on March 6, 2012

One of the most fun weddings I attended was that of a couple of atheist friends from religious family backgrounds who'd been long debating how they were going to conduct their ceremony/who would be in the wedding party/what traditions they'd incorporate/etc. Come the day, the couple stood in front of the guests, made a short funny speech, and explained that they'd actually gotten married privately by a justice of the peace while picking up their marriage license a few days prior. But we were all invited indoors to the cake cutting/big fancy buffet line/reception. The entire "wedding" took about ten minutes, and the reception was awesome.

This surprise might not have gone over so well if their families weren't easygoing and if hadn't been a July outdoor wedding in the South, with the guests already melting and eager to escape into air conditioning. But it's certainly a possibility for you to have a schedule small, private legal ceremony followed by a larger reception/receptions.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:39 PM on March 6, 2012

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