My dream wedding is a courthouse ceremony
February 26, 2013 9:44 AM   Subscribe

We've decided to get married. Yay! I am the female half of a straight couple, if that matters. In the near future, we want to go to our local (US) courthouse and have a civil ceremony with just a judge and our immediate families present: his parents, my parents, his sibling+partner, my sibling+partner+child. Later this year, we'll throw an informal party and invite our extended circles to that as a larger celebration/reception. Our immediate families are supportive of this plan and just want us to be happy, but I have already gotten some pushback from friends and it gave me pause. So I guess I have questions about the practicality and etiquette of our plan and... whatever else we haven't thought about. Neither of us has been married before.

The above is the 'wedding' I've dreamed of and I am thrilled to have found someone that shares my sentiment. The point for us is to get all of the legal benefits and protections that marriage entitles us to in a low-key, fairly private way. As far as we are concerned, our lifelong commitment to one another already exists outside of the public signing of the papers so this really comes down to taxes and insurance, etc.

In my head, our families would come in on a Sunday or Monday, we get married on Monday, we all go out for lunch or an early dinner, and then they all go back home. Everyone lives within 2 hours driving distance of our city and would be amenable to this plan with 1-2 months of notice.

Practicalities: We know the ins-and-outs of our local courthouse requirements. Can you share any tips or advice that FAQs on the website don't cover?

Etiquette for the attending families: Paying for the family lunch or dinner is do-able. I would really love to treat them all to a hotel stay, but we can't also afford lodging for the lot of them, even for 1 night, even if I could get a hotel willing to give us a price cut. (And would a hotel give even a small price cut for 4-5 rooms?) It'd be fine with me to just have everyone drive in for the day, but that I worry it's impractical or somehow rude to suggest. Can we just leave it up to them to decide? Should we try to arrange afforable lodging in our expensive, tourist-y city? We don't want to play host/tour-guide for the whole weekend beforehand and, while our two families are friendly, they all know our city quite well already and I can't imagine they want to take a mini-vacation together anyway.

It's helpful to note that our families can all afford a night here without real financial or practical hardship, but I don't want them to feel obligated or otherwise put out. I may be being overly sensitive to this in general because of the next part.

Etiquette for everyone else: My intended's extended circle is altogether thrilled, but I've already been surprised by a few friends expressing real dismay at our plan, even though this is something I've talked about in the abstract for years. One friend was brought to tears by the idea that she wasn't going to see me "actually get married" and I was taken aback and a little hurt. We've talked about it more since then, and I understand where she is coming from, but we're not going to change our plans. So... can I do more to mitigate that feeling for other people, or do I just need to prepare myself for more blowback?

I had planned to call each of the people in my life who would be invited to a more traditional wedding and share the news with them, like, "Hey, we're going to the courthouse on X day! Since that has to be a small shindig, we're having a party in Y months and I hope you can join us then." The intention behind that was to make sure that the people in my far-flung tribe all know I'm getting married and don't just find out about the courthouse trip via a Facebook name-change or through gossip. For context: When I say far-flung, I mean it. My support circle is powerful, but not very inter-connected and not very large, and all over the country/world. The people I will be calling are basically extended family that I only see at weddings and funerals anymore, and friends from disparate points in my life. Many of them probably won't be able to travel to the later party, though I'd be thrilled if they could. Is there more I could or should do? Or, maybe, less? Is calling weird/weirder than emailing? Are there other, better ways to share our news?

I guess I'm questioning everything now. So if you can share any wisdom you've gained from having, or witnessing, or not having been invited to, a civil wedding ceremony at a courthouse, I would appreciate your insight.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (53 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Your wedding is your wedding, and your families are behind it. Any of your friends giving you grief for not having your wedding in exactly the way they want it can go fuck themselves, and you can tell them I said that.

I mean, sheesh. If they want to go to a big happy foofy church shindig thing they can throw themselves their own damn wedding and do all that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on February 26, 2013 [60 favorites]

Your wedding is the kickoff of your marriage, not a performance for your friends and families. If you want a sweet courthouse wedding followed by a party for extended family and friends, that's the wedding you should have. I married last August and my husband and I decided to elope, along with his 11-year-old daughter. Maybe a family elopement isn't the right choice for everyone, but our three-person wedding was the perfect choice for us.

Congratulations on your wedding!
posted by missjenny at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Seconding do what will be meaningful to you, and intimate has a lot of appeal.

One factor to consider is how many of your friends are local. That is, while I've frequently travelled for weddings, I haven't so much for the just-a-celebration events, so you might lose some people under your current plan. And it does feel neat to look out and see everybody you care about sharing your moment.

But in the end, you guys know yourselves. Your immersion in the event and your memories of it are all that matters.
posted by acm at 9:52 AM on February 26, 2013

Oh the other note is that we used some of the savings from having a big, traditional wedding and splurged on a really great photographer. Our photo team did a beautiful vintage-style Super 8 video of the wedding and scored it with great music. I almost didn't spring for it, but my husband pushed me to and I'm so glad I did. Everyone we've shared it with loved it and almost every person said, "I feel like I was there with you."
posted by missjenny at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your wedding is your wedding

Quoted for truth. Other people don't like it? Bummer. Tell them they're free to dress up and bring an ostentatious gift to the party.

We know the ins-and-outs of our local courthouse requirements. Can you share any tips or advice that FAQs on the website don't cover?

Nah, those things are pretty standard-issue. You might want to go to the court some time and talk to the clerk or whomever handles weddings and make sure everyone understands that you're going to have slightly more people than usual, but it's not that unusual.

(And would a hotel give even a small price cut for 4-5 rooms?)

Give it a try. All they can say is No.

It'd be fine with me to just have everyone drive in for the day, but that I worry it's impractical or somehow rude to suggest. Can we just leave it up to them to decide? Should we try to arrange afforable lodging in our expensive, tourist-y city?

Yes, and yes, but not too hard. Paying one's own way to a wedding is pretty standard, especially when you're going to the actual place that the couple lives.

My sister-in-law did just what you did recently, and the party was fantastic and tremendously more fun for everyone (her especially) than a standard-issue ceremony-then-reception would have been (my 7-year-old daughter got to run the snowcone machine and my 6-year-old son got to whack the hell out of an Angry Bird piggie pinata, so it was the best party ever as far as they were concerned).
posted by Etrigan at 9:54 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Your wedding is your wedding, and your families are behind it. Any of your friends giving you grief for not having your wedding in exactly the way they want it can go fuck themselves, and you can tell them I said that."

This, so hard. I would suggest maybe telling your wider circle of friends about the courthouse marriage afterwards. Not in a secretive way but "Hey! We just got married in a small ceremony at the courthouse! We're having a party in a few months! You're invited!" -- that sort of nips any problems anyone might have in the bud.
posted by wrok at 9:54 AM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

One friend was brought to tears by the idea that she wasn't going to see me "actually get married"

"Muffy, While we aren't Big Wedding People, it makes us happy to know you are part of our life as a couple. Even though we aren't having a big wedding, we will be hosting a party to celebrate the beginning of our life as a couple and are excited to have all of friends there."
posted by pointystick at 9:57 AM on February 26, 2013

We super-duper eloped: as in, didn't even tell the families* for six months, had a friend become an online minister to sign the paperwork. I totally recommend it. One friend -- the guy who introduced us -- gave us grief because he heard about it through a mutual friend, but it was pretty low-key grief. (Voicemail: "So I heard from [X] that you kids got married. What's up with that?")

IMHO the important thing is the being married, less so than the ceremonial stuff. And it sounds like you guys are pretty clear about what you want, so go for it!

As for the family hotel stuff: maybe talk to the family who would be coming, and see if they'd be planning on staying over. With a two hour drive, some might want to just go home anyway. Six people is a small enough set of folks that you might as well just ask.

* My mom was hilariously low-key, and IIRC, my sisters were also kinda "well, cool, congrats I guess." His parents were darling; his mom even said "I want you to still think of me as a friend and not a mother-in-law."
posted by epersonae at 10:00 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, if that is what you want to do for the sake of fulfilling your own wishes, then so be it. But if it's for cost saving reasons or to get married as soon as possible, I'd consider just having everyone at the wedding all at once if possible. I'm just speaking from my own experience...we got married at the courthouse and figured we'd throw a big reception later down the road for our friends and fam. The thing is though, life got in the way, moving, pregnancy, returning to school, etc. So that's why I'd say just wait until you have enough saved to have one big ceremony. From what I've read in your question, you don't have a reason to hurry. On the other hand, you're perfectly free to do things however you want to. If you do proceed with the court ceremony be sure to make some concrete plans for the informal party, meaning the date, venue, etc. Don't just make it an abstract concept that will happen at some undefined point in the future, or else it will surely get lost amidst the busyness of life. In any case, congrats and all the best! :)
posted by Cybria at 10:00 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wedding was even smaller than yours, we didn't even invite our families. And everyone was fine with it because they knew it was exactly what I wanted. And they knew that because I told them all in very clear terms, e.g. "We got married last weekend at home with no one invited and it was perfect and exactly what I wanted, isn't that great?". So I think you need to be as clear, particularly the ending on a question thing because it's difficult to come back from that with tears and shit. Beyond that, let your friends deal with it however they want and if you get more reactions like that just look puzzled, say but it's perfect and exactly what I want, and just wait for them to realise how crappy it is making it all about them instead of being happy for you.

As for the accommodation stuff, I'd leave that up to your family to decide and pay for themselves. That's what you'd be doing for a larger wedding anyway. Invite them to what you want them to come to, they'll sort out the details from there. If they ask for help and advice you can discuss it with them, but don't go into it assuming it's your problem because it's not.

For far flung friends etc you can send a semi-formal announcement card to let them know. There are questions about how to do that without making it look like an invitation. I'd be a bit worried that people think you're inviting them to the ceremony when you ring up and tell them, particularly with the script you have up there. So if you do do it by phone make sure you get to the bit about inviting them to a party later on really early in the conversation, before you give them specific details about the ceremony (or even instead of doing that), otherwise someone is sure to be awkward and start planning to come to the wrong thing.

And really, screw your friend for making your getting married all about her and her feelings.

And congratulations!
posted by shelleycat at 10:00 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having a wedding with "just close family" is totally, utterly normal. I mean, if you stood up at any of these friends' weddings for them, I can understand them feeling a little left out, but for heaven's sake, they don't get to SAY THIS TO YOUR FACE.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 10:01 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your wedding is your wedding is your wedding. Sounds like you know what you want. Friends might want more, but when it comes they will be happy. (Maybe get some close friends to tell the naysayers to shut it?)

We did a courthouse wedding - no family, one friend. It was what we wanted. The wedding room was big enough to accommodate a fairly large crew (~30 people?). You should check to see if there's something like that. The wedding before us had about 10 people, the one after us was quite a large group. The people there have seen it all. You might want to check about the wait times and see what you might have to do in the interim? We waited about 45 minutes between filling out the paperwork and the ceremony. That was a little annoying but whatever.

As for telling people, I think after the fact might be easiest or with the invite to the celebration. We called our families afterwards and then posted a picture on Flickr. That was it, but that was us.
posted by kendrak at 10:01 AM on February 26, 2013

Remind your disappointed friend of how much money she'll be saving on kick-ins for your bridal shower and a bridesmaid's dress.

(Seriously, I love the people who have asked me to buy them, but bridesmaid's dresses are effing expensive.)
posted by BlueJae at 10:13 AM on February 26, 2013

As for the hotels, if your family hasn't asked you about it, and you can't swing it financially, don't worry and don't say anything about their travel arrangements. They can do whatever they feel comfortable with. I would never expect anyone, even a close family member, to pay for my hotel. Paying for the meal is good, though.

For sharing your news, I would do it in whatever personal way (call, email, note, in-person visit) you feel is best. I like the suggestions others have given above about keeping it positive. For your friend who got upset, you can always tell her that you're touched that it means so much to her to see you get married, and you can't wait to share the pictures with her and have her come to the big party.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:16 AM on February 26, 2013

Your friend's reaction is kind of strange. Maybe she was looking forward to being your bridesmaid and doing all sorts of wonderful things for you.

If that's the case, then you can hit her up to plan a bachelorette party and/or bridal shower. It will require zero planning on your part, and all you have to do is attend and have fun.

But still, this is your wedding, and you can do whatever you want to do. I was just giving you an option in case you wanted to appease your tearful friend.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:18 AM on February 26, 2013

Many courthouses have metal detectors and security lines. Allow enough time to get through them and don't bring anything that might get confiscated (e.g. the pocket knife you always carry).
posted by rtha at 10:19 AM on February 26, 2013

It may sound silly, but in all likelihood, no matter what wedding you have, someone will have a suggestion or criticism about how they would have done it. This is because many people have ideas about how their own wedding will be like, or how it should have gone.

With that in mind, I'll echo the sentiment that you should do what you and your SO want to do. My wife and I had a vaguely monster themed wedding, with custom zombified versions of us as wedding toppers on a graveyard cake. The other cake was a volcano, complete with dry ice "smoke" and real gooey lava flowing out of it. It was a BLAST! And it was ours.

Don't stress over the initial hotel stay, especially with people only traveling a few hours for a mid-day quick event and a nice meal. Think of traditional weddings: how often do the guests get free hotels along with their free food? Rarely. Don't stress on it.

As for the follow-up invites, I'd suggest sending out invitation cards. For my wedding, we made our own designs and had an online company print up cards. If you go the DIY design route, skip the "wedding invitation" options, and find anywhere that prints cards on demand. Add "wedding" to the description of anything, and you're likely to increase the price for no real gain. Again, if you're designing your own cards, or at least getting something with a custom message, you can craft your own message. You can tell people you had a quiet little court house wedding for close family, and now you want to party with everyone who wouldn't fit into the court house. Then you avoid any on-phone grief over your choice to have a wedding different from someone else's imagined ideal, and the message can sink in before they respond.

You can send the cards out early enough so they'll arrive a day or two after your wedding, then post wedding pics online a week or so after the event. That way, people still have the chance to see the mail before the Facebook update. And with a small enough gathering, you can get everyone to swear to online silence for a week.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:25 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regarding your concerns for the court house, you can chat up the people who work there, or sit around and watch people for an hour. Unless it's a really quiet court house, you're likely to see a wedding. I worked across the street from a court house and had occasional business inside, and I've seen a number of wedding parties congregate there.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:26 AM on February 26, 2013

I definitely think that your wedding is your wedding and you should do what you want, so I encourage you to go forward with your plan.

That being said, my very close friend had a wedding with only family invited, and I have to admit that, at the time, it hurt my feelings. This was in large part due to the fact that she and I had been single together for a long time, and then then she met someone and got married and -- while I was thrilled for her -- I felt left out.

That doesn't mean that your friend was right to bring it up with you, but if you can, try to be sympathetic, and maybe make an effort to show her that she means a lot to you in other ways.
posted by cider at 10:28 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get married exactly as you intend, with your families. When you are married and have picked a date for your party, send out "We eloped! Come help us celebrate!" invitations. In between, you may want to tell your closest friends right after the courthouse so they don't feel excluded.

Don't worry about the hotels; it's a lunchtime thing with plenty of time for folks to drive in and out, and they are all grownups who can make their own plans as they prefer.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:38 AM on February 26, 2013

The etiquette of it is that it is rude for anyone to criticize someone else's wedding plans. Your friends are allowed to have their feelings, but they are the ones breaching etiquette by second guessing you.

Have the exact wedding you want. Have the exact celebration you want. Mazel tov!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Get married the way you want to. If these people are real friends, they'll stop being so butthurt about it and start celebrating your love.

Call a few hotels and see if they'll do rates for a small block of rooms. You might need to commit to a certain number to make it worth their while. It's very very normal to say "a block of rooms has been reserved for the Anonymous Wedding at Blahblah Hotel" either in person/phone or via invitation.

posted by Flamingo at 10:42 AM on February 26, 2013

For the most part I agree that this friend is out of line, but perhaps it's possible to film the actual I do's and then make that available to your extended network as part of the come have a party with us invite, government security being what it is this may not be possible.
posted by edbles at 10:49 AM on February 26, 2013

Yup, you get to have the wedding of your dreams.

If your friends are anything but ecstatic for you, then they've got the emphasis on the wrong part of the whole wedding idea.

As for hotels, etc. Invite everyone without offering to pay. Folks will know what they can afford. Yes, hotels do give special rates for parties such as yours. Pick a hotel that's local to you, and go in to discuss with the manager.

My parents have a Courtyard near their house and we got a $49 per night rate!

Business hotels are more inclined to give good rates around weekends.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:54 AM on February 26, 2013

Your friend shouldn't make you feel bad about having the wedding you want.

On the other hand, your friend may be really sad that she doesn't get to participate in this with you because she cares about you, so this might be one of those times where it is appropriate to be sorry that she's sad but still not change your plans. Sometimes people are clumsy when they try to tell you they love you, and you could be gracious about it instead of taking offense.

I find the "we want to get married privately because we don't want anyone looking at us but have a big party for all our friends to come look at us" thing kind of hypocritical, but to each their own. People have reasons. Do what you want. But do it knowing that you're going to surprise some people who have a different set of cultural expectations than you do, and it is both okay for them to be surprised and for you do what you want. Hopefully both sides can let the minor offenses slide.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

My husband and I just went to the courthouse one day and did it. It was just us and the court official. That's how we wanted it.

My husband's family and friends were understanding and supportive. My family and friends were upset, but eventually got over it (with time). We planned to do the informal party thing sometime later, but it never ended up happening, as I couldn't come to an agreement with my mother about how it should be handled (and this was a huge part of why I didn't want a big wedding in the first place). The only reason I was even discussing it with her was because we couldn't afford to do something on our own.

So, while I don't regret anything about our private ceremony, I do kinda feel like we missed out on a chance to get gifts (which we really could have used at the time). But it sounds like that won't be an issue for you, so, I say GO FOR IT!
posted by MsVader at 10:55 AM on February 26, 2013

Congratulations! This is the exact sort of wedding we had. Here is how we structured things:

Friday: wedding at the courthouse with immediate family only. Our moms stood up for us and signed our license as witnesses.

Saturday: Kegger in my in-laws' 8 acre backyard. Literally. Tents, soda in trashcans filled with ice, kegs, hamburgers and hotdogs and watermelon. Bonfire at night. Jeans and t-shirts. We had a cake because my mother in law offered to call the bakery to request one. Many, many people told us they loved it, especially people with small children. The kids could run around and play and get dirty and act like little kids. A few friends who couldn't swing a hotel room camped (with previously-arranged permission) on the back acre with their dog.

Payment: People coming from out of town paid for their own hotel rooms. The hotel blocked 10 rooms for us. Our parents split the bill for the tents and food as their gift to us (we had originally planned to pay for it ourselves).

Pushback: a few of our close friends sort of gently queried about who would be standing up for us; once people found out it was our moms, everyone thought it was great (I mean, who's going to argue with that?) The day of the ceremony, my brother in law argued with me from the parking lot all the way to the courtroom that if my fiance loved me, we'd have a proper wedding. I love my brother in law, but I basically told him this was my wedding and it was perfectly legal and proper. My sister (his wife) eventually told him to nicely STFU. A few people made noises about "but what about THE DRESS!", but when I pointed out that I'd feel like a giant puffy marshmallow - a giant, clumsy, accident prone puffy marshmallow - and that I was doing what I wanted, they relented. Most people just said, "Oh good, sounds like fun, when and where?"

In the end, it's about what you and your fiance want. And since this is what you want, just firmly say, "This is how I want my day to be". As for not witnessing the actual, legal act: a few friends were a bit disappointed, but when they found that it was just being limited to immediate family on both sides, that no one friend would be there but this other one wouldn't, they understood. "I'm not excluding you. We just want to keep the ceremony short and simple with just our families. I love you and hope you will come to the celebration."

As for the courthouse stuff? Make sure you get your documentation together and apply as early as possible for your license. In our state you can apply up to a month in advance. Due to some logistical issues with my birth certificate, we got our paperwork in on the absolute last day (3 days before the ceremony). In retrospect, that was a lot of stress we didn't need.
posted by RogueTech at 10:55 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

And really, screw your friend for making your getting married all about her and her feelings.

This x 100.

My husband and I got married the way you're planning to, and we don't regret it a bit. We were even more low-key (it was just him, me, and two witnesses) and I recommend it to everyone. No one listens, y'know, but I try.
posted by Amy NM at 10:59 AM on February 26, 2013

Weddings play a major part of our culture and are something to look forward to for many people. I think it's great that you want to keep your friends in mind, although I do realize that there are boundaries.

Maybe it would help avoid hurt feelings if your invitations referred to the celebration as a "wedding reception" instead of just "party." If you say "We're getting married next month! And there's going to be a party sometime later with everyone else..." makes the party seem like an afterthought.

If your wedding party is going to be the whole shindig minus the ceremony, I would run this show just like a wedding. To explain, your invitations could say "The ceremony was held on X date with immediate family in attendance."

I wouldn't even post photos of change names on Facebook until after the reception. Again, that way, guests won't feel like your wedding is entirely over and this party is just an afterthought. At your reception you could have framed photos of the wedding ceremony on display as a grand reveal.
posted by daisies at 11:04 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seriously? You tell that friend if she wants the big wedding then she can plan it and pay for it herself. This is YOUR wedding. You do what you want, then smile and tell everyone that you loved it, and fuck them if they don't like it. It made you happy and that's what's most important. Anyone who doesn't see that isn't a very good friend.

In the unlikely event that I get married, I am eloping and NOBODY is invited. I spent two years helping my mother plan and orchestrate her wedding last September and it was the WORST thing I was ever coerced into doing. Now I hate weddings more than ever.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:08 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My bestest friend in the world had an immediate family only ceremony that I wasn't invited to in 2008. I am still sad that I couldn't be there with her.

But it is what she and her husband wanted, and (sad as I may be) I am even more happy that they had the wedding that they wanted to start off a great marriage together. Beyond my initial surprise at not being invited (when she first said small, I didn't realize _how_ small) I have never said a single word to her about the fact that I would have liked to be there. Because it wasn't and never will be my place to do so.

Have the wedding that you want. Your real friends will be happy that you did.

If you're planning a larger reception/party a few months down the road, it would be great if you had a date set and could send out invitations to the people on your "wedding announcement" list - or at least have the date so that when you call them you can tell them to save it. That way they'll know that they'll get a chance to celebrate with you. You don't have to do that of course.

posted by sparklemotion at 11:21 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

We eloped to have a courthouse wedding in another country, where neither of us have family or friends - and it was just us, and my best friend and her fiance as our witnesses. We didn't even invite anyone else. Everyone was happy and supportive for us, except for one friend who flipped out. While there were no tears, there was much head-shaking and lamenting that we were only eloping because we couldn't afford a real wedding, and how terrible and sad that was. I was taken aback, but it made sense later when she apologized, in tears this time. She wanted a big foofy wedding for herself but couldn't afford it, so she and her boyfriend were going to have to wait years and years to have their wedding. The news that my husband and I were flitting off to get married, all casual-like, made her doubt herself. People who get weird about your wedding are probably working through their own issues issues. They'll either get over it or they won't but it's not your problem. Don't let it affect your happiness.

I don't see any issues with asking guests to find and pay for their own accommodation. Every time I've traveled for a wedding we've paid for our own hotel room. It might be nice if you researched the local hotels and provided information for a few nice places at varying price points, and see if you could pre-arrange some discounts. Also, ask the hotels how far in advance guests should book their rooms. My friend researched these things for her out of town wedding and provided the information to guests via email. It was really helpful, especially the heads up to book a hotel soon. All the hotels ended up booked solid months before her wedding.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am surprised that I am the first person to go against the general tide here, especially since I generally dislike weddings and plan on personally having a courthouse / private paper-signing with just my partner if we go that route... but I have to say, being invited to the after-party to celebrate someone's marriage without making the cut to be invited to the actual ceremony would leave a bad taste in my mouth. I'm wondering if that's behind your friend's outburst that she's upset she won't get to see you "actually get married" (i.e., the important part of a wedding).

I don't know, I certainly wouldn't advise you to have a traditional wedding if you want to go the courthouse-with-family route (which I totally support), but I would encourage you to think a bit more deeply about your plan to have a party a few months later where you invite everyone to come celebrate you two and your marriage. Those two things seem a bit contradictory to me; like you want the intimacy of a ceremony that has almost no one there, but also the big community celebration and affirmation that typically come with traditional weddings. Neither one is bad but in my opinion it's poor form to try to do both, because then you're demanding the community support/affirmation from people you didn't think were close enough to actually attend your wedding.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:03 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Those two things seem a bit contradictory to me; like you want the intimacy of a ceremony that has almost no one there, but also the big community celebration and affirmation that typically come with traditional weddings.

A lot of people do that, though - one of my roommates got married in a field in the middle of Long Island with only one friend as a witness and a bartender who made himself Justice of the Peace as witnesses, and then they had the "reception" at the bar where she and her now-husband had first met. I was one of the many people invited to come to the bar but not the wedding, and didn't feel slighted in the slightest.

Weddings are as personal as birth and death, and there are many, many ways to do it. Everyone deserves the wedding - and reception -- that fits THEM.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:10 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

My husband and I were well into the planning and preparations for our traditional church wedding when, for financial reasons, we needed to go ahead and move in together. In order to reduce the drama (and oh, how much drama there would have been) from various religious family members, we went ahead and did a courthouse wedding and then held the church wedding as planned. There was a period of about 3.5 months in between the two. I had a lot of angst before deciding to go this route (I was worried about people thinking I was greedy/attention-hoggy/a phony) but in the end I was super glad we did it that way. We spared ourselves family drama, and in the end it helped a lot with pre-wedding stress.

What we did was did the wedding on a Friday morning with a very few people (his grandparents, my parents, and two very close friends) and then we met a larger number of local friends for a fun lunch. After hanging out for a couple of hours, we secluded ourselves in our house for a weekend mini-moon and then went back to business as usual.

The only person we got any static from about it was his grandparents, who declined to attend the church wedding on the grounds that they didn't need to see us get married again. Other than that, people were very understanding- if it came up, we mentioned that we'd done a courthouse ceremony earlier for financial reasons and nobody really cared.

If you care about people possibly feeling excluded, perhaps it would help to tie the two parts together- have the reception already planned and scheduled and send invitations along with your wedding announcements? However: you do not HAVE to care about this. People will project their own issues on your wedding like nobody's business. Choosing to work your plans around a little to reduce drama (like I did) and choosing to just do what you two would prefer without reference to anyone else's preferences are both equally fine choices, and you have the right to do either one (or something else entirely.)
posted by oblique red at 12:45 PM on February 26, 2013

but I have to say, being invited to the after-party to celebrate someone's marriage without making the cut to be invited to the actual ceremony would leave a bad taste in my mouth. I'm wondering if that's behind your friend's outburst that she's upset she won't get to see you "actually get married" (i.e., the important part of a wedding).

I think a good deal of what people get upset about with this stuff is semantic. If my best friend had had a WEDDING!! to which I was not invited, I would have been very hurt. But if my best friend had signed some legal documents with her husband, then had dinner with her parents and sibling, and later had a big (related, but separate) party to celebrate this, I'd have been fine. This isn't the greatest example, but it's sort of like closing on a house, having a tiny private celebration of that event with your family, then later having a housewarming party for everyone. OK, so people don't have (god, I hope they don't) real-estate-paperwork-signing parties. But if you suggested you were having one, but then only invited people to a housewarming a month later, they might get annoyed. So, my advice would be just don't call the courthouse day a WEDDING!!.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:46 PM on February 26, 2013

One of my friends wanted to have a very small family-only wedding. And that was it. She got pressure from other friends who were SHOCKED they wouldn't be included, so added on an additional party later for everyone else not invited. But it was sort of clear her heart wasn't into planning or hosting the additional thing and, frankly, it was so not fun. I mean, I hope her friend that pressured her into that had a good time but... ugh. Not great. It just created a lot of obligation for everyone else. So don't let people pressure you into anything you aren't happy to do. It will show. I'm not all "the bride's big day, she gets to do whatever she wants" generally, but I think the scope of these things is up to you. Hold firm.

As for telling people, I would write up a "we got married!" notice of some kind - could be a fancy postcard or whatever - and drop it in the mail the day you get married. People will know soon enough. Include a note about "Awesome party to come" if you do plan to do that and these people will be invited (or two groups: Awesome party to come vs. Best Wishes Only).
posted by marylynn at 12:53 PM on February 26, 2013

Some of my good friends did a tiny wedding--just them, the officiant (a friend), and one or two other friends-as-witnesses, plus a photographer (also friend?). They told a few folks in advance but mostly kept mum, and afterwards sent out "Surprise! We got married!" postcards and emails which were hilarious and lovely, and included a selection of wedding photos. I think a few folks were put out, but everyone got over it. I felt flattered to be in on the secret (of their impending marriage), even if I wasn't invited to the actual ceremony, which was held quasi-covertly in some gorgeous botanical gardens, in an out-of-the-way nook where visitors wouldn't wander into the brief ceremony.
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:06 PM on February 26, 2013

This was basically my wedding, but without the big party after for everyone else. With few exceptions, we didn't tell anyone in advance and gave our immediate family 2 weeks notice (they are within driving distance) with instructions to not tell anyone until it was official. I told a select few friends the week before (basically the girls I would have as my bridesmaids if I had a big ceremony), and they came over the morning of the wedding to share prosecco and help me get ready (hair, makeup, etc). Then they left and it was just family. We went to the courthouse, then came back to our apartment for burgers, hot dogs, and a homemade cake. It was everything we wanted, and we wouldn't have changed it for the world.

Friends took us out for celebratory drinks in groups over the next few months (unsolicited by us, but awesome -- instead of paying for everyone's food/drinks at a big ceremony, they paid for our drinks in smaller groups where we could actually socialize with each other).

Our philosophy was - If people don't know it's happening then the most they can do is be jerks after the fact, and who wants friends like that anyway? Everyone was surprised/happy/etc, no one ended up saying anything negative (they would have if we told them the plan in advance, as even suggesting it in the abstract elicited complaints -- "but don't you want the white dress with your dad giving you away? don't you think you deserve that"-- BLAH. SHUT. UP.). Do what you want, tell them after the fact -- you know what you want, don't let people talk you into something else.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2013

The people I know who have pulled this off successfully have focused entirely on the party afterwards in their communication with friends - make that the thing you are calling to tell them about, not the fact that they will not be invited to your wedding.

You can do this one of two ways:

1. After the wedding call your friends: "We got married! It was just family at the courthouse, and now we are planning a party for March 15th, I hope you can be there to celebrate!"

2. With the party as the focus: "We're celebrating our marriage with a party on March 15th! Can you make it? We'd love to see you! The actual ceremony will be at the courthouse with just family the week before."

Basically you avoid calling people to tell them about something you are not inviting them to. It's just hard not to feel hurt when that's the main point of your call.

We had a big wedding with ceremony, but had the "real wedding" with just two friends on our rooftop because the officiant of our wedding wasn't a legal officiant in our state. Those that knew did not care.

Friends of ours who got married privately ahead of time showed photos and had toasts at their big party later. It was beautiful and really emotional for everyone. Other friends just had a fun party with friends that was great. I would encourage you to plan the party before you lose momentum - don't forget about how great wedding gifts are if you are worried about budget. I was not super focused on gifts, but the cash and other stuff was incredibly great to help with the expense of wedding and associated wedding stuff.
posted by rainydayfilms at 1:34 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I love my friends and if invited I'll go, but if I NEVER have to go to another wedding in this lifetime, that will be just fine with me.

Blessed are the elopers, for they shall not have to put up with a shitty DJ.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

We used to get "announcement" mailings every few years from extended family that got married but didn't invite us. Maybe it comes from being a member of a ridiculiously-huge catholic-army-of-a-family, but we were never bothered and just merrily sent a card after the fact.

You can send out pretty announcements that double as party invites if you know the basics of the party, like a reception-only save the date.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:57 PM on February 26, 2013

Your wedding, your choice --- and that friend who's sulking because she isn't invited to a !!!Giant Overwhelming Wedding Extravaganza!!! can take a hike and get herself over it. This is your wedding, not hers; if she wants the overblown version, than tell her to have one for herself.

There's only one wedding I've seen that I don't recommend you copy: a girl I worked with was going to have one of those humongous weddings, the whole thing in a giant traditional church, thousands of dollars of flowers everywhere you looked, everything from dyed-to-match bridesmaids' shoes to cutesy color-coordinated party favors, tons of relatives and friends flown in just for the occasion, her grandfather (a retired minister) ready to do the service....... then they eloped the night before the wedding date..... yikes!

That's the only kind of elopement I don't recommend. Otherwise, do what makes you and your SO happy. And congrats!
posted by easily confused at 2:02 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

We got married at the courthouse without telling anyone, then told everyone, then my parents threw a party for us a couple months later which was attended by lots of family but only a few friends. My mom wanted a registry, and a photographer, and fanciness. I talked her down from most everything fancy, but still did the registry, which I really regret: the gifts were not worth the amount of time to write thank you notes or the shit we got about the "fake wedding".
posted by hydropsyche at 2:06 PM on February 26, 2013

Check out your particular courthouse.

Here in Fayetteville, courthouse weddings are held inside the county JAIL building, with all the ambience that implies (when one of our family members was married there we weren't even allowed to bring our cell phones in with us.)

So, my suggestion is to do something to make it feel a bit special for yourself. An inexpensive bouquet or something, boutonniere for your groom, whatever will make YOU feel special.

And then have your party whenever you darn well please.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:17 PM on February 26, 2013

My brother and his new wife did things much the same way you did -- they got married in the courthouse on a Friday morning with s small group of very close friends and relatives present. We went out for a lunch later in the day.

My brother was able to make arrangements with a local cafe/lunch spot to use a back room for the lunch - they were very accommodating and basically just presented the guests with an abbreviated lunch menu with 4-5 choices. My brother and his wife chose to pay the lunch bill for everyone (although others offered to help). There were about 12 of us at the wedding ceremony and about 20 or so at the lunch. Those who brought gifts, brought them to the cafe. We also brought cupcakes and champagne.

It was the best wedding I've ever been to, and, more importantly, it was just what the bride and groom wanted.

Some people WILL express concern/regret/hurt feelings. That will probably happen to matter what type of wedding you plan. That's just how these things tend to go. My brother had to be firm about limitations on which relatives he wanted to attend even the luncheon portion of the day. Eventually, everyone understood that it was, you know, his wedding, and he and his wife get to decide how that's going to go down.

TL;DR It sounds like you have a pretty clear vision of what you want and you really shouldn't have to compromise on that, because you aren't doing anything remotely rude.
posted by nuclear_soup at 5:06 PM on February 26, 2013

There's really no need to pile on the friend here. She wasn't asking to be invited to a GIANT WEDDING EXTRAVAGANZA she was sad that she wasn't going to see the ceremony, which for some (me included) is um, the most important part of the whole wedding. I wouldn't let your friends change your mind on this, but I would be sensitive, and I would definitely try to video the ceremony for your closest friends and send them a recap a day or two later.
posted by murfed13 at 5:06 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one more thing. Is your friend at all religious? If so that might explain the importance she places on the ceremony. If that's the case, I would just explain that you two don't put much importance on it, and you are just taking care of the legal stuff in a low key way.
posted by murfed13 at 5:11 PM on February 26, 2013

"I have to say, being invited to the after-party to celebrate someone's marriage without making the cut to be invited to the actual ceremony would leave a bad taste in my mouth."

As I recall, the general rule as relayed by Miss Manners and Emily Post and other Real Official Etiquette Advice-Givers is that inviting somebody to the ceremony but not to the reception is an etiquette breach and bad manners; inviting somebody to the reception but not to the ceremony is fine.

When we were planning our wedding, one of the books we found most useful was How to Have the Wedding You Want (Not the One Everybody Else Wants You to Have) by Danielle Claro. (Out of print, but available used on Amazon for $0.01 plus shipping.)
posted by Lexica at 6:44 PM on February 26, 2013

My small, sweet courthouse wedding was fun and easy. I also got heavy blowback from my closest friends, who wanted to be more involved. We were SURE about what we wanted and politely stuck to our plan. We are celebrating our 30th anniversary this summer. Stay positive, show your excitement, keep smiling, and make it the wedding you want.
posted by raisingsand at 7:18 PM on February 26, 2013

And this is not to change your mind, just anecdata: I'm not super into the big wedding thing, but I do have a cultural appreciation for celebrating a big beginning with friends AND I had a grandfather (I'm an only grandchild) who was quite ill and wanted to see it (tangent: both my high school and college graduations were interrupted by weird events, so this was pretty much the last Big One). He ended up being in the hospital for my wedding, but my grandmother and aunt came for a while and it was a very special occasion for them.

Anyway, I found the most attractive McVenue I could very near my grandparents' house, booked it on a Friday night (half off), spent most of my tiny budget on the room and food catered by the venue. My mom is crafty and loves a project, so even though she was taking care of her seriously ill father through all this she took on a number of decorative and dressmaking projects that could have been skipped but were nice. Some friends helped out with cakes, the sound system, getting ordained online. I hired a student photographer and encouraged my hobbyist friends to bring their cameras if they wanted.

We had the 10-minute atheist wedding we wanted. We used Nine Inch Nails and Dead Can Dance for processional music. Our friends sat in folding chairs on the dance floor and when the officiant asked them if they would support us in our new life, they said "we will." Then the chairs were cleared away and everyone ate and drank and danced the hora and the conga.

It was fun.

And it was, aside from the formalwear and the aisle, a party at which we got married. People enjoyed it, people still tell us they enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, despite a tinge of stage fright, and I do really dislike the A/B-list wedding and the destination wedding (though I do think it's the cure for crazy, if you've got One Of Those family members, so sometimes you just have to punt). If you want to have a party to celebrate the start of your marriage, I think there's something wonderful and buoyant about letting your guests truly be there at the start. You CAN make your own rules and still have that party. It's not all or nothing.

That said, you can always use the rule we did: if we don't like our simple little wedding, we can blow it the hell out on our 10th, once we've actually earned it. That way there were no regrets, we'll just do it over! Our 10th is next year, and we're going to go to Vegas and invite anyone who wants to come and if we're still really broke (didn't see that coming!) we're gonna go doubles with some other April friends at an Elvis chapel, and if we're not we'll rent a space and still get Elvis with our friends. I can't wait. You're all invited.

But both my grandparents are gone now, and while (knock all the wood) the rest of my family and all the friends are still alive, some of them have moved on. We've moved 1500 miles away. I treasure those photos and memories. It's a pretty great excuse to get everyone you love and like in a room together and share, as squirmy as it may be in the actual seconds (you don't notice, there's nobody there but your spouse and someone talking at you), a moment that profound.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:23 PM on February 26, 2013

you will be judged and ridiculed about your wedding regardless of how much or how little you spend, how many or how few people you invite, or how considerate or inconsiderate you are to other people's schedules.

People like to bitch about weddings, I don't know why, but that seems to be the way of things.

So given that, have exactly the wedding you want instead of compromising for one group as that compromise will likely tweak someone else.

You'll remember doing (or not doing) what you've dreamed of far more than what a few people might be roughed about.
posted by French Fry at 7:32 AM on February 27, 2013

I support your right to do your wedding however you want. But I am uneasy about the line you are drawing between family and friends and ask you to think deeply about whether it truly represents the values with which you want to start your marriage.

I'm thinking of the Askme question not long ago by someone who was basically an orphan without extended family struggling with what she was missing. Many people came and told her that friends can be family if you build it.

Drawing a family-only like at your wedding basically says that the bonds that matter are romantic and blood and that's it. If you actually want to have friends that come through for you, and to be the kind of friend that comes through for the real inner circle things, like long term illness and struggles and pain and bereavement, then explicitly excluding your friends from your innermost circle for the joyous times does not seem like a reflection of that value.

To be honest I would feel differently if you were doing the courthouse alone or with one friend/witness. But once you start inviting people and framing it not in terms of closeness or intimacy, but in terms of 'immediate family,' ties of blood and marriage/romantic partnership (your siblings' partners), you're making it an event to be shared and drawing some very traditional lines around who your nearest and dearest are.

I personally try to make it a policy to never take anything about other people's weddings personally. I don't think your friend had any right to hector you.

But I do think that you're making a decision that implicates values possibly deeper than a wedding, values that have to do with the whole rest of your lives, about the criteria for being an insider to your life. I don't think it's unreasonable for a friend who thought of you as being in her inner circle in terms of caring, commitment, rough times, etc, to learn from your choice to exclude her that she has different values for intimacy than you do, that your relationship does not have and is ineligible for the mutuality she had hoped for, and to recalibrate her own allocation of commitments.

Personally I hope for a world where people can and do have deeply present and meaningful friend-families who will be there 'in need' and 'in deed' - for bad times *and* god times, and where someone doesn't need to be born or romance their way into family. For me, the way you've framed your choice is not part of making that world real - it reinforces the existing status quo of valuing blood and romance above all.

As long as it is consonant with your values, that is what matters. Since you've put it out there on AskMe however, this is my two cents worth.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

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