How can I "just do what I want" when I don't know what I want?
April 19, 2016 10:37 AM   Subscribe

How do I get married when every aspect of weddings is shrouded in complicated family and social pressure, to the point where I don't actually know what I really and truly want?

So, I'm engaged! Yay! I can't effing wait to be married to my awesome fiance, who rules, and who is the best person in the world. There ends the easy part.

Now, the hard part. I'm the only daughter in a large upper middle class Southern family. Big weddings are What We Do. My mother has been champing at the bit for me to get married and have a huge elaborate wedding since I was about 20 years old. It is literally the only dream she has ever had for me/my future life and achievements. (I'm in my mid 30s now, in case that's relevant.)

But honestly I don't give a fuck about weddings. My fiance is -- as he should be! -- saying a lot of things like, "Whatever you want, baby," and "I just want you to be happy, baby."

No family money is forthcoming for a wedding, so I can't just hand the reins to my mother and let her throw me the big fancy wedding of her dreams, show up, wear the dress, and emerge slightly embarrassed but 100% married to my amazing fiance who is the only important part of any of this, to me.

People outside the situation who have little idea about the weird catch-22 I'm in (family demands I have a wedding, won't contribute to said wedding) are throwing out platitudes like "do what makes you happy!" and "don't stress out about all this, just do what you want." But after years of general cultural expectations and specific family pressure, I have no idea what I want. Or more realistically, how to "do you!" but also not destroy my relationship with my mother and bring general dishonor* on my family. Maybe if you're from Michigan or New Jersey or something you can "just do what you want", but...???????? Also, people keep proposing having two weddings, or eloping but then having a reception later, which doesn't solve any of my actual issues. If anything I would like LESS wedding, not more wedding.

So... what the fuck do I do? How do I figure out What's Important To Me while also reconciling family pressure that goes way beyond whether to do the Chicken Dance or Electric Slide at the reception? Do I actually want to elope, or am I just being a petulant ruiner? Do I want a wedding, after all, but just need to figure out what that actually looks like? How do I get married and navigate this insane minefield of expectations?

*Used jokingly, but, like, also kind of not joking at all.
posted by Sara C. to Human Relations (85 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"No family money is forthcoming for a wedding, so I can't just hand the reins to my mother and let her throw me the big fancy wedding of her dreams, show up, wear the dress, and emerge slightly embarrassed but 100% married to my amazing fiance who is the only important part of any of this, to me."

This says it all right there. I have one word for you: elope.

Mother will get over it eventually. You're her only daughter. If she wants to see those future grandbabies she will have to! Good luck, Hon!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2016 [51 favorites]

This seems like it's usually only a big problem if your family is actually intending to pay for the wedding. "I can't afford it" is a pretty solid way to end the conversation. Big weddings cost an astronomical amount of money, right? I guess I don't understand the question. What does your family say when you tell them you can't afford to have a big wedding? Most people can only have big weddings if their parents are helping them pay for it.
posted by cakelite at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2016 [55 favorites]

I feel like the money thing makes this easier. If you don't want to/can't spend that kind of money on the thing, I mean how on Earth can anyone force you to? If they're paying, they're stakeholders, if they're not, they're...not.

I mean, what I would do in this exact situation is elope, and then let your mom throw you a party later on if she wants.

And yes people are going to talk but they'll do that no matter what.
posted by zutalors! at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you know what you want, but that what you want is impossible. You have to figure out the balance here between keeping your mom happy and having an affordable and palatable wedding.

Can you talk about this with her? Explain that you understand a big wedding is important to her and the family but it's just not feasible. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that won't be possible" is a good phrase to memorize.

Also, not sure why you're calling out New Jersey and Michigan. People all over do what is right for them. We do that by doing it.
posted by sockermom at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

No family money is forthcoming for a wedding

Then you are under no obligation to meet anyone's expectations other than your own.

How do I figure out What's Important To Me

You already did: "I can't effing wait to be married to my awesome fiance, who rules, and who is the best person in the world. "

So all that matters now is that you spend the rest of your life with the best person in the world. Everyone else can screw.
posted by bondcliff at 10:45 AM on April 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

If your mom isn't paying, then your southern obligations are over. People do not get to break one half the social contract and insist the other half be upheld.

Beyond that, the idea that your wedding is Who You Are, flash mob viral engagement to curated handmade low-impact recyclable place settings is one of the most enduring cultural weirdnesses going.

What does your fav serious but joyful party feel and look like?
posted by warriorqueen at 10:46 AM on April 19, 2016 [66 favorites]

A lot of this is putting your pants on and having the one bad conversation you are dreading.

My family is Protestant, my wife's is very Catholic, and telling them all we were getting married in a brewery by a pagan was worse in our minds than in reality. There was a moment of disappointment, a few comments here or there, but once we were there saying our vows everything went away. Everything. Be brave and speak up sooner than later about what you want.
posted by scrittore at 10:50 AM on April 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

I'm the only daughter in a large upper middle class Southern family.

No family money is forthcoming for a wedding,


The expectations of grand upper middle class weddings are predicated on family money being forthcoming. It is not, so you are freed from expectations. I know that doesn't help your feels on this, but it's the truth. Anybody that gives you guff about not having a wedding can form a kickstarter or donate to the cause if they want, but otherwise, you don't have to pay for something you don't want.

I hear you on your mom. This is more a dream for her than it is for you, and rationality doesn't necessarily enter it. I don't know your family situation, but it's possible that if she feels guilty for not being able to pay for it, she's going to take that guilt out on you. Maybe soften the blow by thinking of something special you can do with her to gently kill this dream - a local trip together, spa day, whatever things you two can enjoy and share together. Then elope or have a tiny wedding. Hopefully she'll forgive you.
posted by permiechickie at 10:50 AM on April 19, 2016 [43 favorites]

Wait, Michigan or New Jersey? What? Is that supposed to be some weird diss of people in Michigan or New Jersey because they have really tacky, shitty weddings or something?

Like others have said, I don't understand the question. Your mother is dying for you have to a giant wedding, but doesn't want to pay for it? Well, fuck that, then. Why is what she wants even as issue in that case? If it's your wedding and you're the one paying for it, she doesn't get a say.

My first wedding was a big foofy affair at a fancy restaurant. I hated it. For my second wedding, we invited only the people very close to us (which meant mostly family; I think there were 15 people there), got married at City Hall, and took the guests out for dim sum in Chinatown afterwards (we brought our own cupcakes). It was awesome. So yeah, do what you want. And if you don't care about a wedding and all you care about is actually being married (which is totally sensible), what you should want in this case is to elope.
posted by holborne at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Elope, elope, have multiple parties or gatherings afterwards in multiple venues with multiple themes for the people you want to share your wedded bliss with. You are obligated to nobody but yourselves.
posted by holgate at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

A couple of paths for negotiating the family drama:

1. If you don't want to deal with any discussion whatsoever about what the wedding should be, elope and inform afterward. Smile and say, "we couldn't afford it" to all questions and pouting. Just keep saying it over and over, alternating perhaps with "We're so happy!"

2. If you want your family there, invite them with the shortest practical notice. Keep smiling beautifully and saying, "we can't afford it" to all suggestions and pouting. Alternate with, "It's going to be so much FUN! We can't wait!"

You might also throw in a few "bless your heart"s and "that's so sweet"s with more beaming. It is important to keep beaming.
posted by JanetLand at 10:52 AM on April 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, if you think that only families in the South care about big fluffy weddings, you have clearly never been to Long Island.
posted by cakelite at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2016 [23 favorites]

I'm getting married this summer under not-exactly-similar circumstances (we don't want a big thing, her family is huge and local and would get shirty if not invited, my family is less huge but also all lives in mostly one place and would get likewise shirty, if more passive-aggressively) so here's what we're doing, in case it gives you some ideas.

- We're doing a parents-and-siblings-only ceremony exactly how and where we want it (on ponies, on a mountain, with my beloved's best friend officiating by the power vested in her by the internet.)
- We're paying for a videographer and will make the video of the ceremony available to anyone who might possibly care.
- Her mom is organizing (and paying for, although it's not super-expensive) a reception here in California which is suuuper cheap, hosted at the (free to residents) community center in our neighborhood, and open to everyone we've ever met, practically.
- My mom is doing likewise in Chicago at a non-profit organization's event space, with a non-overlapping crowd. (Both sets of parents will be at both, otherwise they're separate guest lists.)
- We're flying to Austin (this weekend!) to hang out with my friends there so they don't have to travel to either location, but otherwise we've basically told all of our remote friends that we would love to see them when we can actually *see* them, they're invited but we'd rather they not put themselves out.

Basically the goal is to make as many people as possible feel welcome while costing everyone the least possible amount of time and energy, especially us. All we need to do is get on the ponies (they're Alex's and her Mom's ponies, it's not even an extra expense) and say the words, and show up to the parties. Other than vetoing dancing and expressing opinions about the menu, neither reception is our problem *at all* and that is how we wanted it.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2016 [16 favorites]

Also, I personally didn't read "Michigan or New York" as a diss on tacky weddings, but as a statement on the modern trend of "do what you want, have a small wedding or elope" as being more of a non-traditional, non-Southern thing that OP would like to participate in, but doesn't feel able to.
posted by permiechickie at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2016 [23 favorites]

How do I figure out What's Important To Me while also reconciling family pressure that goes way beyond whether to do the Chicken Dance or Electric Slide at the reception? Do I actually want to elope, or am I just being a petulant ruiner? Do I want a wedding, after all, but just need to figure out what that actually looks like? How do I get married and navigate this insane minefield of expectations?

Others above have addressed the family pressure, so I'm going to address the "what do you actually want?" bit: give yourself a little bit of space to dream (and include your fiance too!). All other things being equal, no constraints - financial or otherwise - what sounds like an amazing way to celebrate your marriage? Then do that, or pieces of that. And yeah, you might have to deal with some fallout, but this is your wedding, not theirs.

posted by okayokayigive at 10:56 AM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think I would drop the Mom Bomb first, nuclear option: "We're not having a wedding. End of discussion."

Let her freak out, stop talking to you, weep for the death of every single one of her hopes and dreams because you have no meaning as a person except to have a wedding for her to be at...

...and then let her get over it. (Don't let her fool you when she reaches the Bargaining phase, she's not over it yet.)

But in the meantime, you will have your headspace free to actually ask and answer the question of what YOU want for YOU, since you are now disowned and can do anything you want.

By the time she gets all the shit out of her system, you can then - IF YOU CHOOSE - walk it back and say, "Actually, we're doing X now probably." Or don't. But you will have drawn the line, and it's a good line to have in your life, that she has been forced to finally separate her identity from yours.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:57 AM on April 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

Maybe if you're from Michigan or New Jersey or something you can "just do what you want", but...????????

But nothing. There's nothing special about NJ or Michigan that gives people there special powers. You're making this into something super weird because you've prioritized harmony with family members who are being unreasonable/unrealistic. And local traditions. That's a choice and that is ON YOU. You can either fix that through a few tough conversations (like what is your mother going to do?) or you can let her run you into the ground with this which it appears she is already doing in your mind.

I think if it were me (and it's not because I eloped and my family got over it but they are ... wait for it. FROM NEW JERSEY) I'd have a small local-to-you wedding and let your family throw you (i.e. they pay) a big stupid wedding celebration that they set up themselves. This would also mean that local to them friends wouldn't have to travel out to see you (you're on the west coast?) and you could just basically do the Miss Manners "Sorry won't be possible" talk about the $$ aspect. Because it's really your ace in the hole. You're an adult. You pay for your own stuff, this gives you choices about what that stuff is.

Alternately there are ways to have your mom participate in planning but not have the final say on anything (i.e. you say "I have a budget of $500 figure out how we're going to get flowers out of that") and that should keep her busy because it's an interesting logistical puzzle.

You know what you want, you're just having a manners conflict. I too am often paralyzed by these things but I've become a lot happier since I've been able to realize that's what's happening and not me being indecisive.
posted by jessamyn at 10:57 AM on April 19, 2016 [41 favorites]

I just think this is more about boundaries than the wedding. I feel you on the whole But Family thing based on my experiences with my own family, and how that contrasts with more individualistic Yankee/WASP/etc mainstreamish US culture.

I blew up my own family's But Family arguments earlier this year and it sucks, you just feel this wrongness all the time, externally and internally. And it sort of gets better but not really. But it's a LOT better to just do the thing the way you want.
posted by zutalors! at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

So a wedding is when your community comes together around you to acknowledge that you have made a new family unit of you and your partner.

What kind of wedding do you want is really just answering these questions:

How much money are you willing to spend on this?
Are you doing the religious component of this ritual?
Who do you want to be there? (Who is the community that you want to acknowledge this with you).
What kind of event do you want it to be? (Party, ceremony, bbq, nice day with others)

Then calling around to all of the vendors in your area realizing that everything related to getting married is horrifically expensive and cutting down to half of whatever your initial goal was.

Then get on Pinterest and look at what other people did and see what you like.

I do agree with the other posters that if they aren’t providing money they don’t get to have an opinion. (They will have one and probably share it with you but just repeat “We can’t afford that” over and over again and think “I am a duck you are water” at them in your head until they go away).
posted by edbles at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

If your parents can't pay for a big, expensive wedding, then you don't have to have one. If it's what she really wanted for you, your mother would have saved the money for it.

You don't have to beggar yourself to conform to someone else's dream for your future, and you certainly don't do it, if you don't want it and it costs the earth.

So, here's how you handle it.

You and your fiancé plan the wedding you want, at the price you can afford. If my parents hadn't paid for our wedding, a courthouse ceremony would have been fine by us!

I too recommend eloping. Your parents can have a lovely reception, that THEY throw for you, when you return. You and the groom can wear comfortable clothing, eat tasty food and show folks your wedding pics.

I hate to say it, but I'm kind of done with the whole wedding-cum-coronation thing. Honestly, when did we all start getting above ourselves like that?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:58 AM on April 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

My mother is the oldest daughter from a large, Southern family. I get it. But her family was poor so she didn't have the Big Wedding that is pretty much expected if you're a heterosexual woman from the South. So basically, my wedding was the wedding she didn't have but wanted. I didn't want it, but...and here's the important part: she was paying for it. So I let her do whatever she wanted. It was fine.

Since your family isn't contributing money, I think you actually have it a little easier than you think. If your mom says, "We must have BIG WEDDING that costs LOTS OF $$!!" you say, "Oh, I wish we could, Mother, but fiancé and I just don't have that kind of money. *sigh*" and then go on and plan your wedding the way you want to. Or, better yet, "Bless your heart, Mother, you know that fiancé and I can't spend like that! Heavens to Betsy!"

I joke, but I'm also serious. I understand the pressure you're under, I absolutely do. But you must have the conversation with your mother that you don't want to have. "Mother, I know you want me to have BIG WEDDING. But we don't have that money. If you're not going to pay for it, it's not happening. I'm happy with a small affair, I'm happy going to the courthouse [or whatever], and I hope you'll attend whatever ceremony we decide. But the BIG WEDDING just is not going to happen."

(on preview: people not from the South or who do not have deeply entrenched family ties in the South simply don't get the pressure you're under. I get it. You can do this.)
posted by cooker girl at 10:59 AM on April 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

Oh, and here's what you say to your parents. "Mom and Dad, we love you very much. A big, expensive wedding is not what we want."

Then plan the wedding you do want.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:01 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

What does your family say when you tell them you can't afford to have a big wedding?

So, here's the thing. And this may be a bit of a buried lede. My parents are divorced. When I say "can't afford" to my mother, she starts in on how it's my father's traditional duty* to pay for his only daughter's wedding. But my dad knows about my general Big Fancy Wedding aversion and shouldn't be on the hook to fulfill his ex-wife's wedding-industrial-complex fantasies.

Another popular response to "can't afford" from my mother is "but you wouldn't want to regret not doing x". Where x can be anything from having a wedding in the first place to wearing designer shoes, depending on the topic of conversation.

Also, the bottom line is that we can probably afford *some* kind of wedding. Right now the tentative plan is a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church. We're not completely destitute, we just don't have the $30K that all the traditional wedding trimmings cost.

*see above re besmirched family honor and semi-seriousness of same.
posted by Sara C. at 11:01 AM on April 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

Also, if you think that only families in the South care about big fluffy weddings, you have clearly never been to Long Island.

Quite. I went to a New Jersey wedding that was a giant simmering cauldron of obligation and social signalling and whatnot, so it's not just Southern folkways here. The re-railing point here: One Of Those Weddings can become a way of assembling a slightly cramped and very expensive box and cramming yourself into it, when the actual marriage is about getting out of that box.
posted by holgate at 11:02 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Imagine you are getting married in your perfect wedding, with no financial constraints or distance constraints or time constraints -- who is there with you? If it's just the two of you, elope. If it's your whole extended family, then progress to the next question: What is your realistic budget?

Then find something fun to do that suits that budget. Barefoot backyard pizza weddings are just as fun as fancy country-club dos. -- "Right now the tentative plan is a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church." sounds absolutely ideal, your family will love it.

Leave your mama to her drama and just IGNORE. You won't care about the shoes in five years. You just won't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:03 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would start by thinking about the weddings you've been to and what you liked and didn't like about them and ask your fiancé to do the same.

I was lucky in that I didn't have to deal with a lot of family baggage around wedding planning. But there were some things that, according to my dad, we had to have (a town car and driver :-P). But he just told me about that a few days before and that was that.

As for "but won't you regret it if you don't xyz," you learn to say, "honestly, I really don't think I will and if I do, it'll still be okay." And mean it.
posted by kat518 at 11:06 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wait, Michigan or New Jersey? What? Is that supposed to be some weird diss of people in Michigan or New Jersey because they have really tacky, shitty weddings or something?

My point was that, if you're not from the south, this stuff can seem really easy because for the most part people are pretty laid back about weddings and it's not some Grand Important Tradition that must be upheld or else.

Every single one of my friends who is like "oh just do what you want, don't worry about anyone else" is from the north, where that's an actual option.

Threadsitting complete.
posted by Sara C. at 11:07 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do I figure out What's Important To Me while also reconciling family pressure that goes way beyond whether to do the Chicken Dance or Electric Slide at the reception?

You may enjoy reading A Practical Wedding (subtitled "Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration"). I found it a great starting point for conversations about our ceremony.

There's also a related website,
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:07 AM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, the bottom line is that we can probably afford *some* kind of wedding. Right now the tentative plan is a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church. We're not completely destitute, we just don't have the $30K that all the traditional wedding trimmings cost.

Would she feel better if you gave her some sort of job related to the wedding? Maybe she just wants to feel more involved?
posted by zutalors! at 11:07 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Okay, well, that does change things.

But not in the way you think. Your dad is behind you. He gets that you don't care for the whole wedding thing and he's fine with it. Your mom doesn't get it. That's okay. She doesn't have to get it, she just has to go along with whatever you decide. Also, she doesn't get to use your wedding day as a way to get back at her ex-husband. That is super gauche.

Have a sit down with your mom. Be the grown-up. No one ever died from regretting not having a super big fancy wedding. Tell her that it's not what you want and it's not what you're going to do, and it's not what you're going to force your father to do just to make her happy.

If she can't let it go after that, you pull the "I'm not talking about this anymore" thing any time she brings it up. Over and over and over til she finally stops, or until the wedding is over.

Reserve the right to "Bless your heart" all over her. I give you permission!
posted by cooker girl at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

Right now the tentative plan is a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church.

This sounds like every great wedding I've ever been to. Do this.
posted by bondcliff at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2016 [22 favorites]

This says it all right there. I have one word for you: elope.

Mother will get over it eventually. You're her only daughter

No disrespect, but I've seen this from the other side, and I disagree. My sister did a planned, announced elopement where no family was allowed. It was her day and her wedding and all that.

Mom said she was fine with it at the time, and she will still say she's fine with it, but... she's really not, ten years later. This was especially true after Dad died, and she's both sorry for herself and sorry for him that they never got to see their little girl get married.

These are powerful feelings which aren't going to go away. I would suggest not cutting them/her out by eloping. Small scale and limited -- absolutely, so long as she's involved and can dress up and show off.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

Okay, well, that does change things.

But not in the way you think.

Was coming here to say what cooker girl said this is GREAT NEWS.
posted by jessamyn at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2016

Congratulations you two!

When discussing legal marriage with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, I broke down the idea of marriage into all of the things that it could mean (a list I've shared before) and we talked about which items were important to each of us to help us make a decision. I think you can do the same thing with the wedding to see how you feel. Is it:

- a public exchange of vows
- the first formal presentation of the two of you as a Married Couple to the world
- a big, awesome party that everyone will always remember
- a reason to have beautiful pictures of the two of you dressed to the nines
- an opportunity for your families/loved ones to meet each other
- a happy occasion to bring your families/loved ones together in a world that doesn't allow for a lot of that
- a really special meal/bar/music experience
- a way to share your lives/your city/your aesthetic with your guests
- a real social obligation that you can't/won't accept forgoing
- just a step towards being married already

Surely the list of all the things weddings can be is endless, but once your narrow down what the two of you want this wedding to mean for the two of you, then you know what kind of wedding you have.

Eloping without my immediate family there was a non-starter for me but the rest of the stuff on that list really didn't matter to us. Our wedding was us + immediate family at the courthouse on a rainy Monday, a nice lunch downtown, and personal calls/emails from me to my extended family to let them know the deal before they got the marriage announcement and saw my Facebook name change, etc. My extended family is small and not as hard-core as yours sounds about the wedding thing but I knew some of them might be disappointed about our choice. I think it helped that I reached out and shared our thought process one-on-one.
posted by juliplease at 11:09 AM on April 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

Another vote for eloping. That we did 24.5 years ago and neither one of us has ever regretted skipping all the wedding drama. We flew to HI, and spent a week, getting married while we were there.
posted by COD at 11:17 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, first of all: take a deep breath and just enjoy being engaged to a wonderful person..... Lovely, isn't it?

Next: who would you like as your celebrant? A minister, the friend who introduced you two, the dude who works in your favorite coffee shop? Ask them if they'd be willing to marry you. Got a celebrant now? Good, on to the next step!

Pick a date that is convenient for you and your celebrant, maybe a Sunday so you can make it 'dressy', and invite your various parents/step-parents (maybe also grandparents if you wish but no one else) over to your house for lunch. Set the table the night before; have the meal catered if you want, but keep it low-stress. Maybe add a few wedding-type decorations to your backyard or living room, if you want to hold the actual ceremony at home; otherwise, surprise your parents etc. with a trip down to City Hall or a judge who has pre-agreed to marry you in their chambers. Go home with guests for lunch.

Send guests home after lunch; take nap if desired. Leave for honeymoon the next morning. Have a wonderful life.
posted by easily confused at 11:17 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The wedding is about you and him, but it's not only about you two. It's entirely reasonable to consider your mother's feelings, even if she doesn't have money.

To the extent you want to do that, you have to have a honest but sensitive conversation, saying that you're willing to adjust plans in ways that you might otherwise not prefer because you understand it's important to her, but that 1) you and your fiance will make the ultimate decisions, and 2) there are financial constraints. It sounds like you can loosen the financial constraints if you're willing to ask your father. If you do, you can tell him that it's for the wedding you want. You don't have to tell him that, in part, you want it that way because it would make your mother happy.

In other words, decide how far in her direction you want to move - 0 percent? 1 percent? 90 percent? - and then tell her that.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:19 AM on April 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, the bottom line is that we can probably afford *some* kind of wedding. Right now the tentative plan is a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church.

Sounds pretty rad, you should do that!

You aren't going to be able to make your mom happy. Its also not your job to make her happy. That's her job. Societal and familial pressures like that should be the first things to be blown the fuuuuuck up. These are important boundaries, and part of why getting married is kind of a pain in the ass sometimes. Drawing that line up between your family of origin and your family of choice can be really important. My wife and I found that not drawing some of those boundaries up around the wedding bled over into our personal lives for years to come with really important things we did give a shit about. It lead to worse confrontations with family members about much more serious topics down the line. Had we drawn those boundaries earlier, some of those other life choices might have been met with far less criticism and involvement from our families.

Someone's gonna be butt-hurt no matter what you do. Just get hitched and live a good life.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:23 AM on April 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

Mazel tov! OK, buried lede or not, you still can't afford the wedding on your own, and it's not for her to say who else should pay for it. You are totally in your rights here. As far as regretting not having the big society wedding, I bet just as many people regret having one later when they are broke and could really use the money it cost.

But in your shoes I wouldn't use "I can't afford it" as the ultimate argument, in case she somehow comes up with the money. You don't want the big wedding; it's not right for you and the fact that your mother can't pay for it is just another one of the things lining up against it. If-- just guessing here-- this is about the divorce and your mother feeling generally disappointed and somehow craving the validation a big wedding would provide, I do have some compassion for your mother but the wedding isn't really what she needs. Your back yard, food truck wedding can be just as life-affirming, if not more so.
posted by BibiRose at 11:26 AM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

If part of her hang up is preserving tradition, isn't part of tradition about showing off? Can you approach it as this is how people show off now, by having unique, quirky (in your mother's view) weddings that let you show off how creative you guys are? (If you want to do the back yard wedding vs just eloping).

Depending on how much you trust her/like her taste, you could then enlist her to help with decorations (here's the budget, these are my colors) or creating the invitations. Then she gets bragging rights about how creative and thrifty she is, so she's now on your side. This also helps her feel involved which may be another reason she's pushing this.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:29 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

> Every single one of my friends who is like "oh just do what you want, don't worry about anyone else" is from the north, where that's an actual option.

It's still an option; it's an option for literally everyone getting married, if they are willing to bear the consequences of their decisions. All decisions have consequences.

So, if you have the Big Wedding that your mom wants (but can't help with financially), the consequence is you have to have conversations with your dad about uncomfortable financial stuff, and have a big to-do that you don't seem to want, and have whatever wedding-related drama your mom may bring to it. That is an option.

If you have a not-big wedding (that is, one you and your fiance can pay for yourselves), then you have to have uncomfortable conversations with your mom about why and how you're not doing the things she wants the way she wants them. There will be fallout, and that is a consequence. You also get more of a ceremony you want. So that's another option.

Stop framing this as something that is literally impossible, like perpetual motion, because it will block you from thinking creatively and talking compassionately (but firmly!) with whatever parent you need to have that kind of conversation with.

As for sussing out what you do want, think about weddings and other big parties you've been to: what did you like about them? Get as nitpicky and detail-focussed as you like and steal all the good bits from here and there.
posted by rtha at 11:29 AM on April 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

My fiance is -- as he should be! -- saying a lot of things like, "Whatever you want, baby," and "I just want you to be happy, baby."

I don't actually think that is what he should be saying, he's just leaving all the pressure and responsibility on you to make what feels like a really big decision. You both should bring your thoughts and opinions and desires to the table and come to a decision together, that you are both happy with, and then you communicate that to your mom. Others in the thread have spoken really well to the other aspects of your question (don't have a wedding you can't afford, do clearly communicate and set expectations with your mother when your decision is made).

Congratulations and best of luck!
posted by JenMarie at 11:33 AM on April 19, 2016 [40 favorites]

. My fiance is -- as he should be! -- saying a lot of things like, "Whatever you want, baby," and "I just want you to be happy, baby."

That's not really "as he should be" because I am pretty sure that he has a bunch of assumptions that he doesn't even recognise. He probably has a mother too, who might care if she gets to attend the wedding or not. He probably has some weird prejudice that will only manifest when you announce that you are exchanging rings naked from the back of a zebra in Central Park. Make him have some useful thoughts, not abdicate all responsibility and effort to you.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:36 AM on April 19, 2016 [31 favorites]

Others have covered the family/money thing, so I'll just weigh in on the "how do I know what kind of wedding I want when the issue is clouded by so many other things?"

We had a similar problem, and solved it by thinking about what kinds of parties we most liked to attend (and throw) and just made that kind of party into a wedding. For us it was a fish fry and a bluegrass picking party, very casual, daytime. We had gone to a similar party a year or so before and said to each other, "this is the kind of event I love most in the world" and that kind of event became our wedding.

It sounds like your backyard/Spotify/food truck idea is Your Kind Of Party, so you're set! If it's not, change it!
posted by pipti at 11:41 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

As someone who had a "big" wedding (140 people is "big" for some, but "medium" at most for others), who loves attending big weddings, and is still unreasonably saddened by not being invited to her BFF's tiny wedding, my instinct was to tell you to elope or have a tiny immediate family only wedding.

Why? Because the only thing that you seem to really know you want is "If anything I would like LESS wedding, not more wedding." And, because the people who are putting the pressure on you to have the big wedding aren't offering to pay for it, and weddings are a huge expense and I promise you that you and your fiance can find better ways to use that money if having a big wedding is not important to you.

But, given your updates and what you're really asking:

But after years of general cultural expectations and specific family pressure, I have no idea what I want. Or more realistically, how to "do you!" but also not destroy my relationship with my mother and bring general dishonor* on my family.

I had this whole paragraph written about how talking to your mom could kill both birds with one stone (i.e. you could bring up your money (and other) concerns, and she could agree to pony up) but I read your update about the divorce and "well, it's really your Father's responsibility to pay" and, well, I hope that doesn't feel as gross to you as it does to me (who also had to navigate divorcing parents during my wedding), because ick.

I think, a different tack for you could be to actually stop worrying about what *you* want, and start thinking about what it would takemake the people who you love happy. I say this NOT because you'd be selfish and horrible to focus on what you want, but because you've put a lot of thought into it and you haven't yet figured out what you want.

Your friends and your dad are trying to be loving to you by telling you to "to what you want" or that they don't care if you elope or whatever. Your mom is being unfair by laying on the "you'll regret it" nonsense. But your mom in some ways is being the most honest, by saying that what she wants for you is a big princess wedding with flowers and champagne and a cake. I betcha that your friends would also love the chance to party it up with you guys, and your dad would be honored to get to walk you down the aisle (if that's what you're into).

If you reframe it as: I'd like to get married to my fiance in front of my friends and family, and also throw a party so that people can celebrate with us, how does that make you feel? Because those two acts: "getting married" and "throwing a party" can be performed in a whole spectrum of ways. But if you don't want to get married in front of friends and family and you don't want to throw a party -- those can't really be worked with/around, and you need to put your foot down.

How do you normally feel about celebrations? Are you guys a "go out for dinner as a couple on birthday" types? Are you "throw a potluck and invite everyone over" types? Are you "rent a party bus and treat everyone to dinner and drinks" types (or would you aspire to be that if money were no option)?

If you're the first type, then maybe eloping/immediate family only is right for you. But if you're the second and third type? Maybe having "a wedding" is the right answer, with the caveat of course that you shouldn't agree to or plan for more wedding than you are comfortable with.

Either way, I still think that answers can come from talking to your mom. Maybe she can make piece with "a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church." Maybe she can't, but she's willing to suggest compromises that don't break the bank and don't make you uncomfortable. If you bring her into the discussion, and listen to what she has to say (even if you don't actually go with what she suggests), I think you've done all you can to be respectful and loving to her. It's too bad if she has fixated on your dream wedding, without also letting you shape what that dream wedding looks like in her mind.

Congrats, and I wish you happiness with whatever you decide for your wedding, and a lifetime of joy thereafter.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:41 AM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was also going to add, it sounds like your family dynamics are a little complicated; this will probably only get worse the more complicated things get in regards to the wedding. People get goddamn crazy and unreasonable around weddings, as is already being demonstrated to a degree. This will exacerbate to unfathomable extremes.

If your mom is pitching a fit now, it won't matter if you had all the cash in the world to throw a huge wedding or not. A Big Wedding isn't going to solve the crazy. There has never been an instance ever where a Big Wedding has solved crazy. Memail me if you want an insane example I'd rather keep off the public internet.

Acquiescing to a large wedding is probably going to open up a whole other can of crazy, and if you're going to crap that bed, you gotta sleep in it.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:42 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Southerner here --

My husband and I really would have preferred to elope, but given the excitement of both our families and the probable disappointment of not having a wedding, we came up with a happy compromise to have a very small one--compared to the massive huge wedding of my younger sister two years previously which was nuts and had over 200 attendees--but done on our terms. We more or less paid for everything out of pocket ourselves because asking or receiving money would have given too much control to the people who really wanted us to have it: parents.

We got married in a public park, had a photographer friend do the wedding photos, reserved a very tiny sushi restaurant for the afternoon reception, and everyone was happy. They were happy because they were there to celebrate our marriage and this was the way we had chosen to do it; when you love your kids, you are happy to just be there and not agonizing over whether or not money could have been thrown at it. At least, decent people should be.

You plan your wedding because it is your wedding, not your mom's. If she loves you, she will be fine with that. And again, I am a Southerner too, born and bred.
posted by Kitteh at 11:43 AM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not that you are obligated to respond to "but you'll regret not doing a thing" (because life is full of paths not taken, nothing you can do about it) but a great response to that (and also a truth, if you do end up sad one day about your simple wedding) is "maybe we'll be able to afford a prime blowout on our 10th if we really want one, and at that point we'll have earned it so..."

The truth of the matter is that, while your wedding day is (hopefully) cool it's only one snapshot in a life of pictures. With any luck, it's hardly the best day of your life. And by the time you've been married 5, 10, 15 years there will be hugely important people in your life you won't have shared that day with because you didn't know them then, and circumstances in your life you won't have acknowledged or honored because they hadn't come to be yet.

The only "doing it wrong" that has long-term consequences is getting into debt you didn't really want to take on or marrying someone you don't want to marry. Obviously you hope this isn't such a disappointment for your mother that she choses to not have a relationship with you anymore, but if a wedding is enough to do that, it was going to happen over something eventually.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:45 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The thing about weddings is that you're pretty much guaranteed to piss someone off somehow no matter what you do, so you may as well prioritize what's important to you and your fiancé and what's possible given your budget.

My parents are divorced.

Your mom's feelings about your wedding might actually be deeply rooted in her own marriage/divorce and the cultural context in which it occurred. She might be working out some stuff about her own life vicariously through you, and the decisions you and your fiancé make about your wedding plans will not actually change a thing about how she feels. It's probably not actually about you guys at all! In this sense, you're off the hook trying to make her happy, because you probably don't have the power to do that no matter what you choose.
posted by jesourie at 11:45 AM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Whoa, why are people piling on? The commenter reactions are a little harsh. I am from the South. My parents are divorced. I understand (not perfectly, of course) where you're coming from.

Here is what I'd do. Figure out how much your father is prepared to reasonably, comfortably, happily contribute. Same from yourself, your fiance's family, etc. Then, using the location most favorable to your mom (your hometown?), ask her if she wants a tiny, elegant affair that is up to class standards but doesn't include everyone, or a large, "bohemian" gathering that is more minimalist but includes everyone on her list. You get to tell her that giant AND elegant can't happen together. She has to pick one. There are ways to make the big version classy. She can blame the simplicity of the big affair on you--"Sara C. wanted it her way"--if she wants. Or maybe she'll go for small and elegant.

Good luck! We never made it legal, but I had to navigate a version of this when we were thinking of getting married. I feel you. Best wishes!!!
posted by 8603 at 11:46 AM on April 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I gave each family one "must have" for the planning, so that they got to make sure that the most important aspect to them of a wedding was in my wedding. Can your mom narrow it down to one (or even three, or whatever) "must haves"? I wouldn't agree to automatically include them until you hear what they are, but it might help you better narrow in on what's actually important to her.
posted by lazuli at 11:48 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

First off, best wishes for a lifetime of happiness together. Marriage is AWESOME, and I'm thrilled for you.

Weddings, well, weddings often suck rocks. But weddings are just things that get you to an awesome marriage. Like the shitty middle-seat flight that takes you to your fabulous vacation, weddings are something you get through to get the good stuff.

I get how every Southern mama wants to have a big wedding and the tradition of it all. (Why do you think we deb? Cotillion is just wedding practice!) You don't have to do any of that. You are a grown-ass woman who can say no to her Mama.

Decide what you want and then set a boundary with your mom. You'll get a hundred responses in this thread, but ultimately it comes down to your readiness to tell your mom what your limits are.
posted by 26.2 at 11:48 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also come from a background where it's hard to say no to the big wedding because it's a reciprocal social obligation among parents who want to return the hospitality of their friends' kids' wedding. So I do understand the pressure your mother may feel under. Not giving a big wedding may feel a bit like suddenly not giving Christmas gifts when everyone else is still dong it. I know my mother wound up apologizing to people that I didn't have that kind of wedding, and my parents actually threw an engagement party kind of as a substitute. That part is hard but honestly, taking part in the whole big social wedding thing unless you really have money to burn is way too big a burden.
posted by BibiRose at 11:53 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, come on, don't elope. That's just a big f-you to your parents, and I didn't see anything in the question that suggested they deserve that.

You just need to sit down with your mom and tell her the truth. "I know you think Dad should pay for a fancy event, but frankly I don't want to ask it of him, as this sort of event isn't what I want. It's not worth the trouble and it's not worth the expense, even if it isn't my expense. I want X and that's what we're going to do."

Now, as for knowing what you want: sit down and write it out. How many people do you really want? You may be surprised, once you write out who you really want to invite, that it's not that big a group. What will make the day a happy celebration? (Eg for me, designer shoes were not it, at all; but in retrospect I do regret not having my makeup done professionally, because I didn't know what I was doing and wound up with terrible raccoon eyes. So that was a silly economy for me to make. But I don't even remember the food, so whatever it was must have been fine, and I think it was on the cheaper end. And I wish I'd sprung for a band.) And, crucially, how much money do you actually have to spend?

Everyone is right that your mom really doesn't get a say if she isn't paying. But that doesn't mean you can't be kind and involve her in the execution of details, once you have figured out your scale and budget and vision. Like if you can spend $x on flowers, then you can ask her if she wants to be in charge of those. But only once you know your parameters, which are a function of your guest list, your budget, and your party preferences.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:54 AM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I will second the Practical Wedding book - IIRC, the early chapters do a good job of walking you through thinking about what sort of wedding you might want if you're feeling lost and confused about what that might be. I would also push your fiance to express some preferences and take responsibility for parts of the wedding. There's this annoying cultural expectation that brides care SO MUCH MORE about weddings and thus have to take on ALL of the decision-making responsibility. But actually it sounds like you're really stressed about the decision making process, and don't necessarily have strong preferences (other than not wanting a big Southern wedding), and so I think the work should be shared more equally. It's such a cop out to say "Whatever you want, honey"! Because things like researching and selecting venues and catering and putting together a guest list are a LOT OF WORK and someone's gotta do it, and it's shouldn't all be the lady. I would sit down and hammer out a budget (perhaps with some money from your dad -- he doesn't want to pay for a big Southern wedding, but how about helping out his daughter to pay for the wedding SHE wants?). And then think about what are the top priorities for each of you.
I think A Practical Wedding suggests coming up with three (maybe three each?) that are must-haves for you. Those things, together with budget considerations, are where you want to put your love and energy and time. Other things can FEEL stressful and can legitimately take some time to organize (like picking out/ordering invitations), but you can go back to that list and remind yourself: ok, invitation font is not on our list of more important, we can just pick something and move on. The book also has some great suggestions on dealing with difficult family without totally cutting them out (I believe the blog version also has extra posts on this topic).

I also suggest clear delegation of different pieces of the wedding (with roughly equal delegation to each partner, plus delegating certain things to family or friends as appropriate to their interests and/or skills). My husband cared a lot about the music, so he took pretty much all the responsibility for that, with a few suggestions from me. I cared a ton about the desserts, so I was in charge of that. My mom cared a lot about the flowers, which my husband and I could not possibly have cared less about, so she got delegated that piece and came up with gorgeous bouquets/centerpieces. My sister is arty and loves doing craft projects, so I sent her an "inspiration Pinboard" and said she could do whatever she wanted with decorations - they were lovely! Perhaps there is some portion of the wedding planning that you genuinely do not care at all about, and could delegate to your mom so that she can feel part of the process?
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:00 PM on April 19, 2016

Also - I forgot to add that I would NOT give in to suggestions/pressure to throw extra/multiple parties and receptions as a way to "make up" for having a small wedding. I know friends who have done this, and when it was what THEY wanted because they were big extroverts and loved stretching out their wedding, it was great. When it was because of parental pressure, it was exhausting and miserable. Knowing my own personality (which sounds much like yours), I loved my wedding and had a great time that day...but I was really glad it was one day and then it was over and I could move on to happy married life. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:03 PM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Answer for your mother: "I will deeply regret starting out my marriage with someone else's wedding". End of story.
posted by Dashy at 12:05 PM on April 19, 2016 [18 favorites]

WRT to figuring out what you want, i.e., alternatives to big fluffy traditional weddings, you might also try Offbeat Bride. IIRC, plenty of people there were having unusual weddings and had to negotiate it with their families. See also the accompanying website for more on the same.

I'd try to consider this two separate problems to work though.
1) Figuring out what you both want (and personally, I'd push for more than "whatever you want babe" from your fiance - the wedding and marriage belongs to both of you and you can be each other's ally.) and
2) Helping your mom understand that you are an adult and making smart, true-to-your-values decisions is part of being the awesome adult woman that she raised you to be.

I know it will be hard but working though this with your mom is part and parcel of moving on to the next part of your life - creating your own family and traditions. It will totally be worth the hard work. Congratulations! Many happy years to you and you beau!
posted by Beti at 12:10 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't have the large pushy family (although I am Jewish so, sort of) but like you, I didn't care at all about the wedding. And I did have my own special snowflake stuff (I think all weddings do) with divorced parents who don't get along etc. Here is how we handled it:

1) I figured out what was really important to people. For my mom, it was the dress. I cringed inside a little, but I let her buy the dress, come shopping for it etc. She had no say over the rest of the wedding. But I let her have the dress.

2) We chose a destination wedding, at a location just close enough that people who really cared would come, but just far enough away that those who were not super-invested would decline. We had about six people we 'had to' invite who we secretly hoped would not come. And they didn't :-)

3) The hotel which was hosting us had numerous package deals. These included in the price all decor, basic flowers (you could pay extra for more but we didn't), photographer, officiant, music, waitstaff, everything. Other than the cost of the package (which was imho quite reasonable) all we paid for were our clothes, our hotel room and a per-head cost for food and drink consumed by our guests.

4) The hotel's banquet room could only accommodate 50 people. We had no issues explaining that to people who wanted to expand our guest list :-)
posted by JoannaC at 12:26 PM on April 19, 2016

City hall, then let people know about a month later.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 12:31 PM on April 19, 2016

Also, the bottom line is that we can probably afford *some* kind of wedding. Right now the tentative plan is a borrowed backyard, a food truck, a rockin Spotify playlist, and a friend ordained by the Universal Life Church. We're not completely destitute, we just don't have the $30K that all the traditional wedding trimmings cost.

Do you love this plan? Because I love this plan. But it is not my wedding.

I let my mother plan my wedding. MeMail me for how this generational plague landed upon me and resulted in a cathedral-length train and a cash bar! I love Dashy's answer above.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:41 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I told my mom we would elope, and she cried. I get that. I also have 3 siblings who all had pretty good-sized weddings. Mr. Meat is an only child.

We gave our immediate families 30 days' notice and told them "You can be at this courthouse on this day at this time, wearing whatever, or not, and that's cool, but DON'T TELL ANYBODY." So there were fewer than 15 people in attendance at our wedding, but dang it was perfect. Small secular ceremony (officiant wore a baseball hat!), lunch afterwards at a restaurant. His parents paid for our photographer, my parents paid for the lunch. We paid for plane tickets, license, etc. Announcements were mailed to extended family (very large extended family) after.

I HIGHLY recommend this approach. It satisfied the "need a wedding", but it wasn't a crazy affair, it was cheap, and I still remember it happily. When my friends plan a wedding, I am SO HAPPY we did it that way.

Good luck with decisions.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:56 PM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am from the South, my parents are not. I eloped. My sister was pissed. She didn't harp on it though. I think we had one conversation about that.

You having a wedding will not fix the besmirched honor of the family or something. I am sorry about your mom's baggage, but even if your dad paid and you threw a huge wedding, it doesn't make her now undivorced or something.

Looking back on it, my elopement set a precedent that my marriage was between me and him and everyone else could butt the fuck out of our private business. I think that was a huge part of why my marriage went as well as it did when it was probably doomed from the start. We were together a long time and the divorce was amicable and I do not regret marrying him at all.

If you want a little back yard shindig, that's totes cool. But if you do not, I highly recommend you make this decision independent of what your mother wants. If you do not, you may well find yourself routinely back in here asking folks how to get your mother's nose out of your marital business.

Sending the signal from the start that my marriage was not their business is one of the best things I ever did. I watched people around me deal with in-law drama and stuff that was just not relevant to my life. It just did not go on.
posted by Michele in California at 1:02 PM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

No one ever died from regretting not having a super big fancy wedding.

This. 100 times this. People do regret debt, like to divorce sparking levels.
posted by French Fry at 1:08 PM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


The things about weddings that I've heard people deeply regret are:
- blowing $30-50K+ on one day
- having relationships get damaged and estranged because of wedding expectation and drama around planning
- not enjoying their actual wedding because they were so stressed and burned out from getting ready for it
- being in debt because of a wedding
- having weddings that satisfy the wedding fantasies of other people at the exclusion of their own wishes

And, while there are people who may have regrets about eloping, having a very small wedding, having a non-traditional wedding, or having a courthouse wedding, I've never heard anyone in my extended circle regret those decisions. So, there's that.

If your mother has built her every hope and dream on a very expensive fantasy that is not at all realistic, that's not your fault or responsibility. It's her folly. You do not have to indulge it. Even if you're from a culture where these fantasies are encouraged.
posted by quince at 1:14 PM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

How do I figure out What's Important To Me while also reconciling family pressure that goes way beyond whether to do the Chicken Dance or Electric Slide at the reception?

My sister was in a similar boat. One thing that worked for her is finding one of those megalong wedding planning checklists (the kind that has hyperspecific things like "order flowers for the cake table" on it) sit down and seriously go through it one by one, crossing out everything that you do not care about (like flowers for the cake table, who gives a shit). Those lists, like wedding planning, are overwhelming, but it will help you sift out the things that matter to you from the things that don't.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:17 PM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

What about having your ideal "food truck in a backyard" wedding, but set aside a small budget to dress it up as a big fancy wedding. Like, enlist your craftiest friends to absolutely plaster that backyard in mountains of tulle, ribbons, huge tissue paper flowers, a million twinkling lights, dollar-store fabric flowers wound around every tree branch. And get your buddies to agree to wear the biggest, fanciest, pouffiest thrift-store dresses they can find. Go so over-the-top with the decorations that you get the big wedding feel, without the big wedding budget. (Also, if there isn't some sort of patio area in your backyard, and you want dancing, rent a dancefloor or throw down some sheets of plywood, dancing on grass is asking for twisted ankles)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:19 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Questions for you...
do you want to say your vows in public?
do you want a religious ceremony?

picture you and your fiancé looking at each other, about to get married...
where are you? in a church? office? outside in a remote area? in a friends' backyard?

list out people that you really want to be there--
how many was that? Times that number by 10, by 20--how do you feel as you increase the guest list?

how fancy/formal do you both typically like to be dressed? do you enjoy formal gatherings?
think about the best wedding you've ever attended--why did you enjoy that wedding?
hopefully, you can start to define your parameters, refine them as you figure out your budget, consider any offers of help from friends/family, and adjust accordingly.
posted by calgirl at 1:21 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that when Mom thinks of a big wedding with all the trimmings, she pictures certain specific moments, like buttoning your dress, standing in a receiving line, visiting tables full of relatives? Maybe you could find out what these moments are and, if they are valuable to you too, figure out a way for them to happen within your means. I guess what I'm saying is if you're lucky, "big wedding" for her is shorthand for "collection of traditions" rather than "display of wealth."

An opinion on budget: I think it's better to have a cake-and-punch reception for everyone who's important to you than serving dinner to a group you've had to regretfully limit to the size of your budget. As a guest, I would quite enjoy the former.
posted by lakeroon at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Start with the bare bones. For instance, ceremony plus wine and cheese reception. Add only what you come to want.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was in your shoes when I got married. Mom (southern junior league all the way) had a ginormous wedding with dozens of bridesmaids and custom-made dresses and media coverage, ffs. I did not want, nor could she afford post-divorce, anything of that nature, but I still got a lot of family pressure to do a big thing.

So I sat down and thought about the different moving parts to a celebration (ie. food, dancing, fancy dress, attendees, venue) and how important and not-important to me each were.

First, I decided that I did not want a 200-person wedding, but rather wanted to ensure that I got to spend time with the 20 or so people in my life that I really care about. That eliminated a wedding in my home state, which, as you know Southern culture dictates, would have involved inviting every cousin to the 5th degree and their hairdressers. So, ok, decision #1 made - the wedding would be 'away'.

Then I thought about what I wanted the pictures to look like, both the background and myself. The vision that kept coming back to me was myself in a flowy dress with my hair down and bright green and flowers everywhere. Once we confirmed that our closest family and friends would make the trip with us, decision #2 was made - destination wedding to an island.

Then it was just the little details. I sat down with my mom early on and set a budget (mine was under 10k) It is all super overwhelming, but if you can settle on 1 or 2 factors that are the most important, and plan around that, I think you will find that it is possible to manage family expectations and figure out what will make you happy. Good luck with it all, and if you have any questions about island weddings, MeMail me. :)
posted by tryniti at 1:42 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Even if your mother WERE paying for this, you still get to decide what you want to do. Money doesn't equal control over your life.

Look, the way my family is - well it's probably a total 180 from yours. However I'm no stranger to controlling family. I had to learn to set boundaries even if it hurt feelings to protect my own and my family.

And this is going to come across as more... tough love than I want it to be but you're a grown up. You have to learn to tell your parents "No." She's not going to ground you. You aren't going to get your toys taken away. If she has a problem with what YOU want to do with YOUR wedding, that's on her. Not you. I mean don't be a total asshole, but have the wedding you want.

If there's any time in your life where you get to say "I am an adult. This is what we want" It's when you're starting your life with your chosen family - your spouse.

Courteously talk to her. Say, "Look, this big wedding thing isn't for us. What are the most important aspects of this? Is it the family getting together? Is it taking photos? Is it a big party?" Figure out the core of what you each want and then decide what you can fit into your plans. Try to compromise but at the end of the day, it gets to be what you want. Even if that means driving to Vegas to elope.

I'm no stranger to this. I had a small courthouse wedding with immediate family followed by a dinner and a week of my in-laws visiting our town. Most people - including family that I explicitly kept in the dark - found out that I got married via Facebook and subsequent snail-mail announcements. Some of them were pissed and passive aggressive, but that's on them. I wouldn't change what I did for anything. It was simple with low to no drama.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

You and your fiancé already have the families you grew up in, but the thing to remember is that your marriage is really a declaration by the two of you that you are starting your own family of just two, and it's going to be the best goddamned family ever.

Starting your own family means that the two of you get to establish the culture and rules, as informed by your respective experiences growing up; the best relationships (IMO) incorporate the things that worked in each party's original families, and jettison the stuff that didn't. Your mother is not being reasonable in this situation, and given that your own inclination is a much smaller/lower-key event this is your opportunity to set a precedent, as Michele in California put it in her excellent comment.

The people in this thread who have read and understand the situation are not being flip or glib when they say "do what you want." This is not going to be an easy conversation/confrontation to have with your mother, if you decide to have it. But ultimately your wedding ceremony (whether it's at city hall, in a friend's back yard, or wherever) should be about the celebration of your relationship to your fiancé. It should not be about your mother or her daydreams and expectations.

(All of that being said, I do agree that your fiancé does not get to skate through this by saying "Whatever you want!" or "Whatever makes you happy!" He means it with all his heart and has the best intentions, but it sounds like you need his input and perspective to help you figure out what "Whatever you want" and "Whatever makes you happy" means in this case. You guys are a kick-ass team about to go gallivanting into the future together, so he has a vested interest is in this too. Make sure he understands that!)
posted by usonian at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hate to say it but this is only the beginning. Wait til you decide to have a child! Then there will be all sorts of traditions that are meaningless to you, e.g., naming the child after a certain relative, showers, a christening, etc., etc. What I'm getting at is that becoming an adult with your own family is going to involve a certain amount of conflict with your parents. Probably the biggest fight mr. tuesday and I ever had involved where to spend Christmas. It was really, really hard to disappoint my parents and tell them that we wouldn't be seeing them for the holiday. But you know what? They were bummed, but they got over it. Your mother will too. You'll need to have a difficult conversation, and she's not going to be happy, and yes, if she's that kind of person she may bring it up five years from now, but you have to stand up for what you want sometime, and it may as well be now.
posted by tuesdayschild at 4:46 PM on April 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not answering the question but vaguely related:

A couple I didn't know well (friends of friends) hosted an open invite afternoon pot-luck picnic in the same place in a downtown public park on the first Sunday of every month between May and August. They did this for a while, various friends and family would randomly drop by, etc.

One Sunday, they stood up and announced: "We have a special surprise today."
A minister and some cake appeared, and vows were exchanged.

Best Wedding Prank ever.
posted by ovvl at 4:47 PM on April 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I wish I could give you a hug right now. And I really recommend you read A Practical Wedding. In the book, the author explains how backyard weddings are really more traditional in America than church weddings or ballroom receptions. The site has awesome tips for making your wedding what you genuinely want and not paying out the nose for it.
posted by Pearl928 at 5:35 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

All my recently married or soon to be married friends have had destination weddings for this exact reason. Make it a vacation, keep it small, and maybe have a big party for your friends when you get back. Doing it in Mexico, or wherever, is a great excuse to not have to invite your mom's cousins you haven't seen since fifth grade.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:35 PM on April 19, 2016

The first thing that popped into my mind here....if your family isn't contributing a large sum of money...they get no say. I have no regrets about the small, cheap wedding we had. Both our parents paid for it. Instead of having a crazy expensive wedding...we had a super nice honeymoon and bought a house. Bottom's your wedding. Do it how you want. Spend what you want. End of story.
posted by ljs30 at 5:36 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You buried the lede in Australia.

(And you do know what you want to do, it's in one of your updates.)

You're a mid-30s lady? If your mother wants to club you with her version of tradition, this "Big Weddings are What We Do" dogma, return her serve: your parents' Big Traditional Do ended in divorce. Having provided that fine example, divorced parents with marriage-age children should have no expectations those children will wed AT ALL, much less unpack all the baggage your mom is hauling to your table (big, bigger, biggest wedding; ex is footing the bill, and you, daughter, get to negotiate my demands; I refuse to be reasonable!; plus "besmirched family honor," ye gods). You're getting married, period. Yay! She's invited, of course, and will look lovely in her likely location-inappropriate, over-the-top mother-of-the-bride gown.

Bottom line, congratulations. Seriously, have your fiancé weigh in about his preferences (as well as his family's possible expectations, so they'll be no surprises there). Pay real money for a photographer. Don't let anyone guilt you, not without considering guilting them right back, however backhandedly-politely "Southern" you want to go about it. Lyn Never was a lot nicer about this, above: "But you will have drawn the line, and it's a good line to have in your life, that she has been forced to finally separate her identity from yours." +1 for Dashy's answer, too.

[Source: I am from a dramatic, big-wedding NY family, while my former fiancé hails from the Midwest and has normal relatives. My divorced parents truly loved him, were excited for us, and had a million, often-vocalized expectations for our wedding that did not fit with our lower-key vibe whatsoever. Notice the 'former'? Wonderfully polite fellow, my ex; took him years after our engagement ended to mention that my family, though he loved them, was "kind of overbearing," and that factor did make him "worry a bit" about the course of our future together. Sara C., you've been familiar with your mother's expectations in this area your entire life, but now rubber is hitting the road and your beau is a novice where this ridiculousness is concerned. Elope if you gotta.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:02 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


My wedding was truly one of the best days of my life, and I would not have said I cared much about weddings before. The A Practical Wedding blog was my bible and I even found my photographer through the site.

I had some idea what I wanted from attending other people's weddings, but I had more of an idea what I didn't want, which was an utterly generic wedding. I also didn't want to travel, spend a lot on wedding cake and flowers and stuff that just didn't matter to me. My husband and I priorized the things we cared about (which are basically the things we care about in life): food and music. I fell in love with a venue and luckily we could bring in our own catering, so we had amazing food that was incredibly cheap for a wedding. I wanted photos but didn't really care that much, so I hired someone young and pretty inexpensive, and she was incredible. My dress was essentially free, but I bought crazy shoes, and my friend cared about decorations so we did them together. It was totally worth it and totally fit our personalities. It was not perfect, something always goes wrong, but I was completely satisfied with the whole thing.

Here's the thing though - none of those details really matter: The single most amazing part is being in a room full of people who love you and your partner and to feel that energy. That feeling is why it was a wonderful day, so the most important thing in my mind is to have the people you love there.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:15 PM on April 19, 2016

If you can't talk to your Mom about the cost, just tell her, "Mom, this is what Fiancé and I want. Really and truly. You got to have your wedding, and now we're having ours."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 PM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

So I eloped and my mother never got over it and yet I would still do it again, not because I wanted to hurt her feelings but because that was how I envisioned my ceremony. I am not at all suggesting you elope because that doesn't sound like what you'd like to do, but I would just like to point out that whatever you do decide, make sure it's really what you want because you're going to have to defend it forever.
posted by crankylex at 8:27 PM on April 19, 2016

I'm a Michigander married to a southerner and I busted out laughing at Maybe if you're from Michigan or New Jersey or something you can "just do what you want." That it fits my experience 100%. All the wedding pressure came from his (southern) side of the family. They were so shocked that I was in jeans till 15 minutes before the ceremony, till I put the dress on, zipped it up, and walked down the aisle.

After 17 years of marriage, I have found that "country charm" seems to be the sweet spot between southern fuss and northern no-fucks-to-give. I think you could choose an inexpensive venue outdoors and foof it up with flowers and ribbons and mason jars and shit. You could put your mom in charge of favors or decorations or something. If she's anything like my mother in law, she just needs something to get agitated about, and it's easier to provide it than to try to talk her out of it.

Also, my experience is that weddings bring out the crazy, so just hang in there and get through it. I've found that babies bring out a temporary sanity bubble in families, so if procreating is a plan, you at least have that to look forward to.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If nothing else, this thread has helped me gel onto what I want as I find myself rolling my eyes at every mention of wedding favors, caterers, mason jars, bridesmaids, tulle, etc.

Less snarkily, I had a big talk with my fiance after work last night and we've agreed to circle the wagons around the backyard idea, with a much smaller guest list. And no mason jars. I've tentatively told my mom that she can throw a big southern family shindig for us on her turf if she wants, after the small intimate casual affair we've decided on.
posted by Sara C. at 12:40 PM on April 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

Everyone else has already covered any answer I could give you; I just wanted to say that you are not in any way wrong or bad for caring more about being married than getting married. I just got married (after nearly 40 years of swearing I never would), and i was a wreck about the idea that i had to have a "wedding" at all. Honestly if there were some way we could've done it without anyone else involved, just waving a magic wand or something, that would've made me happy. As it was, we didn't quite elope, but we had a super low-key ceremony in a public park. There were eight people there (including us and the officiant), and we'd picked the spot out two days before the wedding. Our only expenses were the license fee, the officiant's fee, and $20 for some flowers I wanted. We're going to throw a couple of big reception/parties, as time permits, for all our friends to come spend time and congratulate us.

And when people tell you it's going to be the "best day of your life", feel free to give them a look of consternation, because they're Doin It Rong. My personal hope is that my wedding day is one of the least happy days of the rest of my life, because i want all the days of being married to be better, you know?

TL;DR: you're great and you should go with your gut about doing something small and low-key. And i wish you many, many years of much happier days than your wedding day! <3
posted by adrienneleigh at 11:04 PM on April 22, 2016

« Older Intellectual property of public lectures   |   Was my great-grandfather a cross-dresser? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.