Give me permission to skip the ceremony
February 16, 2018 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I have a wedding to attend of a relative I am not close to at all. There is a significant gap between the ceremony and the reception and I am not staying nearby. I would like to skip the ceremony but don't really know how big of a faux pas it is.

The ceremony is at a Catholic church (I am not Catholic) at 1pm. The reception is at 5pm. I need to travel about 2 hours to attend the wedding (public transit that only comes 1x an hour + a cab) and do not have a hotel in the area overnight.

If I were close to this person, I would suck it up and go to the ceremony, but I've never even met the groom. Am I cool to skip it?
posted by thirdletter to Human Relations (32 answers total)
Are you saying you'll go to the reception but not the ceremony? That's kind of not cool. I don't know if it's a faux pas in etiquette books, but I know I'd be miffed if someone only came to my reception and not my wedding.
posted by cooker girl at 4:09 PM on February 16, 2018 [25 favorites]

But if you're asking of its okay to skip the whole shebang (ceremony AND reception), yeah, of course it is. People skip weddings all the time. No big deal.
posted by cooker girl at 4:10 PM on February 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

It's potentially a pretty big faux pas, though it depends on your specific family. But I would consider it a bit rude to decline attending the actual wedding and only attend the big party where they pay for you to have a nice dinner. (Not that you're thinking of it that way or that that's your reasoning, just that that's one way it might look to other people).

Is there anyone else who's going to you might reach out to to ask what they'll be doing between the ceremony and the reception? Often there will be some sort of informal gathering or a place to hang out at the hotel if the events are happening at a hotel.
posted by Lady Li at 4:11 PM on February 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm pretty sure etiquette says it's ok to go to the wedding and skip the reception, but not the other way around. Either skip both (which is totally fine!), or just go to the wedding.
posted by hydra77 at 4:17 PM on February 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

If you must skip one, skip the reception. Going to the reception only would look pretty bad. Not going to either is fine.

But if this is a relative, presumably you’ll have family there. Are there people you can hang out with?
posted by FencingGal at 4:20 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

If time is a factor and the reception starts at 5pm, I would probably attend the ceremony and duck out of the reception early
posted by deanc at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

If it's a wedding where you hardly know anyone, and that will be huge (like, more 200 people at the church huge), probably no one will notice you weren't at the ceremony if you don't tell anyone. But any smaller and they'll notice, and it will look rude.
posted by lollusc at 4:25 PM on February 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Miss Manners frowns on burdensome wedding gaps like this (yes, even for Catholic weddings where later church times are often not an option), so I guess this is about how comfortable you feel responding to a faux pax with a faux pas. Frankly, I would probably tell a little white lie on this occasion about why I missed the ceremony.

FWIW, I have missed two wedding ceremonies due to delayed flights/unexpectedly hideous traffic. In both cases I apologized to the couple, in both cases they hadn't even noticed (they're busy!), and in both cases they said they were very happy I was able to get to the reception because that's when everyone gets to interact, hang out, listen to speeches, etc.
posted by lalex at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I seem to be on the outside here, but I'm sure I've heard of such a thing as there being a small ceremony (especially if church space is limited or exclusive) but huge reception. Although in that case, close family is invited to both and extended family just to the reception. But given this, I don't think it's a big faux pas, especially if you explain your transportation situation to your relative and see if s/he says "no problem"?
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:31 PM on February 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I’ll offer a dissenting opinion. I’ve been to so many weddings where I was only invited to the reception and not the ceremony, either because the ceremony was only for close family or it was held in a different state or destination (so only family in the area or close enough to want to travel attended), that I think it’s reasonable to distinguish the ceremony as for close family/friends and the reception as more open. You’re the best judge though of whether your family would make this distinction.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 4:31 PM on February 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

If you have a closer family member (let's say a mother, or a close aunt) who WOULD notice that you skipped the ceremony, and also is attending, maybe get their opinion ahead of time. I think wedding conventions are dumb, but people have long memories. It's not even about the bride and groom, but more about the rest of the family and how much they would care. Why cause trouble for a little bit of inconvenience. Also, is anyone going that could pick you up on the way?
posted by clone boulevard at 4:39 PM on February 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Most larger weddings (over 150 ppl) that I've been to were packed enough that you could plausibly have arrived alone and a few minutes late, quietly taken a seat in the back, on the outside aisle, and nobody could say for sure whether you were or weren't there.

Just don't make a big deal of it, and, if asked, say "oh yes it was lovely, I left right after" to explain your absence in case they take a large group photo on the steps of the venue.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:52 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nope. You can skip the reception but not the ceremony. If you do decide to just go to the ceremony, please let them know on the RSVP that you will be attending the ceremony only so they don’t pay for a plate for you at the reception.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

This happens at bar mitzvah's all the time. Ceremony Saturday morning, party Saturday evening. Lot's of people skip the ceremony. At my wedding, even though they were consecutive, and in the same building, I think there were folks who skipped the ceremony. We did not give a shit. It is not like they are going to be taking attendance. If these people are very formal and will stand on ceremony, I would consider talking to them about it, but if they are relatively chill, RSVP, yes, if anyone asks tell them you are going to both, and then the day of, if you still do not want to rally for both, skip the ceremony and tell people if asked that you had travel issues.
posted by AugustWest at 5:23 PM on February 16, 2018

I feel like this is only an issue in a cumulative way. The couple is going to notice if most people skip it, not if a few people miss it. If they aren’t expecting this to happen, they’re not being that realistic.

I vote do what you want and give a nice gift.
posted by vunder at 6:10 PM on February 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think it's a pretty big faux pas. If you can only attend one, make it the ceremony. Could you skip it and not have the couple notice? Yes, especial if it's a big wedding, but will someone else notice (say mother of the bride or friend you have in common) and have it get back to the couple later? That's much more likely and you don't want that to be how they find out.
posted by Jubey at 6:26 PM on February 16, 2018

You make it a point to call out the long commute, but it's not clear how that factors into your decision - you would still have the same commute time even if you attended only the reception, no? So I'm assuming that it's the time gap between making it impractical to go home.

In this case, I would consider the other family attending. Are there other family with whom you are close, who you are comfortable hanging out with? Why not join them in the gap? Given your travel situation I'm sure that someone would understand your conundrum and invite you to join them for a beer or hanging out at the house/hotel for a couple hours. Go hang out and enjoy the company of your family.

On the other hand, if you have no such close connections, then going to the reception is going to be just as boring and lonely - if there's nobody you can hang out with in the middle, who do you plan to hang with at the reception? Everyone's different but I would most certainly not enjoy being a wallflower at a wedding reception, especially if I was not close to the couple. In such a case I would skip both, send a nice card and gift, and spend my Saturday doing something constructive.

In the event you've already RSVP'd, I am not socially adept in such things and can't say I would have considered it a faux pas, though that seems to be the consensus. I think in this case it would depend on how the family would see such a move, how big the wedding is (how easy it would be to notice your presence, or lack thereof), and how much you care if someone notices and thinks poorly of you for 30 seconds.
posted by SquidLips at 6:50 PM on February 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went to a ceremony and reception with a long gap recently-ish, like you with a long drive.

It was my husband’s friend/coworker who was getting married, and my husband wanted to skip the ceremony, but I was shocked! and I said, “We have to go to both! You can’t just go to the reception, it’s rude!” But let me tell you, there were a hell of a lot of people at the reception who were not at the ceremony. I wish we had just gone to the reception. I guess it’s a know your crowd thing.

We went to Ikea in between. It was a long-ass day.
posted by mskyle at 7:13 PM on February 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

You may all now see why I am so conflicted. I am thankful for the reminder of church steps photos, as I think that may be a place where my absence would be noticed. Damn.

(To address questions: i was coerced into my rsvp from an overbearing uncle. Cousin won’t care if I am there but he will. I noted the transit situation because this means I will not be having lunch unless I take a cab somewhere in New Jersey I guess.)
posted by thirdletter at 7:27 PM on February 16, 2018

I'd say to skip the ceremony in most circumstances, but if overbearing uncle will give you crap for it, you should go. Where I'm from, if you have a church wedding with a big gap inbetween that and the reception, going to the ceremony is optional, especially if you're not a close relative. People would rather you go to the reception anyway as they already paid for the meal.
posted by greatalleycat at 7:51 PM on February 16, 2018

Huh. Go to the reception. They'll be delighted that you made it. Nobody will notice your absence at the ceremony (the wedding party and their families will have enough on their mind), and church step photos are reserved for family.
posted by halogen at 7:54 PM on February 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Go to the reception!
My vote is based on the fact that the reception is where the couple are able to see and interact with their guests.
In my mind the religious ceremony is for the couple and those of that religious community.
Go to the reception— mention that you couldn’t get there earlier for the ceremony if you must, say you had to work- or had to help a neighbor with an emergency. Whatever makes you feel better.
Go to the reception!
posted by calgirl at 8:06 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having been to many Catholic weddings... the big gap in between is so you can go to a bar and get pre-drunk before the reception. So that's my sage advice.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:15 AM on February 17, 2018 [22 favorites]

Don't go to events you've been coerced to attend. Change your RSVP.
posted by medusa at 6:05 AM on February 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

You're an adult.

You're under no obligation to endure experiences you don't enjoy.

Skip the damned ceremony, go to the reception, have a nice time.

Faux pas my ass.
posted by yesster at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

Why is it so important to Uncle Overbear that you be there? What will be the consequences of displeasing him?

If you were close to the couple, it might look funny if you only went to the reception. But as it is, I would suggest you're within your rights either to rescind your RSVP altogether (hey, stuff happens, eh?) or to cheerily say, "So sorry, schedule doesn't permit attending ceremony, but I'll be happy to toast you at reception."
posted by Weftage at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Catholic here that has attended many a Catholic wedding and I would say uniformly there are always more people at the reception than were at the wedding mass.

While others have outlined the strict etiquette rule about ceremonies and receptions, I think you will be ok considering travel time, the gap between the events and your relative social distance from the couple. Weftage's phrasing is perfect.
posted by mmascolino at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2018

Are you saying you'll go to the reception but not the ceremony? That's kind of not cool. I don't know if it's a faux pas in etiquette books, but I know I'd be miffed if someone only came to my reception and not my wedding.
I might be more sympathetic to this view if it were not for the weird scheduling and logistical challenges involved here.

I say reception-only is just fine. This super huge gap between the two is goofy and hostile to guests. I say that gives you a pass to choose the event you'd prefer to attend.
posted by uberchet at 10:26 AM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

From a big Catholic family and have attended many Catholic ceremonies (including my own). I would say 40-60% of people that go to the reception attend the ceremony. Reception only is fine and if anyone gives you shit you can use travel delays as your excuse.
posted by elvissa at 2:08 PM on February 17, 2018

Also had a Catholic wedding. We invited 150 people to the wedding and I think maybe 40 were at the ceremony, and the rest showed up at the reception. Attending the reception only is totally fine. Only immediate family and close friends were at the ceremony.
posted by LightMayo at 2:57 PM on February 17, 2018

In the UK, evening-only invites are pretty common. You invite people to the ceremony because it’s a public event so you might as well. The A-list guests then go to the reception/wedding breakfast. The B-list guests come along later in the evening after the meal is over, when it’s a cash bar.

The advantage is that you can invite everyone you know and it’s pretty cheap (because you aren’t feeding them or paying for their drinks). The disadvantage is that the B-list guests are hanging around with nothing to do between the ceremony and evening do. So it’s accepted that evening guests don’t usually bother with the ceremony even though they’re invited. Only Bridezillas take offence.
posted by tinkletown at 5:12 PM on February 17, 2018

This is very much culturally-mediated, so it's hard to give useful insight and advice as to whether it's a social faux pas to skip the ceremony and attend the reception. My experience is that in many cultures it is not only normal but expected that many people will only attend the reception. This is something I've personally experienced in NYC-area Latinx and Italian-American weddings. On the other hand, I've also experienced or been aware of the cultural expectation that one attend both, or skip the reception if only attending one.

Your predicament seems reasonable. Why not just ask whomever it is that you think actually cares about your attendance which one they would want you to attend?
posted by slkinsey at 5:31 AM on February 18, 2018

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