"Secret marriage" sounds so skeevy...
November 20, 2006 12:41 PM   Subscribe

What are the practical repercussions of getting married and not telling anyone?

My partner and I are for all intents and purposes engaged (by that I mean that we live together, we plan to get married, and people close to us know that.) We're not too wedded (HA HA HA) to the concept of heterosexist hegemony and all that; rather, we love each other very much, would like to make a public committment to each other, figure the chances of at least one of us getting a job with benefits is much higher than both of us doing so, and would like to throw a big party where people bring us money and presents. Right now we're hoping to do that last part sometime after 2008, as we're currently dirt poor college students.

However, despite all my disclaimers about wanting to get married, we're both really into the idea (found in earlier Ask MeFi posts about engagement) of getting secretly married at the courthouse and announcing it as an engagement. I think it's romantic, and me and my partner like to put ourselves into situations that make us feel like we're in secret clubs. (We'll get decoder engagement rings or something.) However, are there practical reasons we should not do this? We make hardly any money at our crappy service jobs, and only file taxes for refunds. My parents still claim me as a dependent, but it looks like my marital status doesn't matter for that. The other thing I could think of that marital status affects is the FAFSA, but as we're both under 24 it seems like being married could only help us on that count.

Am I totally missing something obvious? We live in TX, and I'm posting anonymously because my mother obsessively googles my name, email address, childhood nicknames, height, weight, and birthmarks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had a coworker who got secretly married. The main consequences were that it wasn't secret for long and we all wondered what the heck was wrong. Was he ashamed of the bride? Morally opposed to marriage? On the run from the law or in-laws? Since he kept it a secret, we never asked him.

We never found out why. You will get found out eventually and possibly viewed as weird/creepy by your acquaintances.
posted by chairface at 1:33 PM on November 20, 2006

Yea, chairface has the right idea, especially if you throw a "big party where people bring (you) money and presents" at a point when you're not telling them the truth. I'd feel let down and lied to.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:34 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

What happens after you throw your 'engagement' party (ie after you're already married) and you get all those questions asking "have you set a date yet?", etc. Just an annoyance, but you'd better make sure your stories are straight.

Also, on a more morbid note (sorry), what happens if something tragic should occur? Legally, the spouse has certain rights regarding care choices, finances etc, and parents could potentially fight for those rights if they don't know you're married. It would be a horrible double blow to find out their kids been seriously hurt AND was secretly married.

Plus, to reiterate what others before me said, if any of my friends or family pulled that, I would be hurt when i found out.
posted by cgg at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2006

I agree with ThePinkSuperhero. I went to a wedding once of a former roommate--beautiful church ceremony, all the trimmings, etc. At the reception afterwards the bride was talking with some friends and something she said didn't make sense, so I asked, "wait, what are you talking about?" She said, "you didn't hear? Mr. X and I got married in Vegas two months ago!" I'm not sure exactly why, but they wanted to tie the knot by themselves, and didn't tell anyone about it (well, anyone but that group at the reception--I don't even think her parents know to this day.) I felt kind of down and lied to myself.

What are you really seeking to accomplish by this? Are the hurt feelings and the explaining really going to make feeling like being in a "secret club" worth it?
posted by printchick at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2006

My wife and I did that. Still not really sure why we handled it the way we did.
As far as practical concerns go, we never ran into problems. The other responses points are valid in that some relatives will see it as a slight against them that they weren't told. Even that wasn't much of a problem, but both of our families are pretty laid back.

If you want to keep it a secret, go ahead. It's your life, and you aren't hurting anyone.

If I personally was able to do it over...I wouldn't. Modern marriages are as much about your family as they are about you.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:55 PM on November 20, 2006

My parents still claim me as a dependent, but it looks like my marital status doesn't matter for that.

For tax purposes, or what? You might want to double-check this, because you're typically financially independent if married. There will be pros and cons since you might be eligible for loans you wouldn't get when mom and dad are supporting you, but you'll also lose the ability to claim some of their benefits. If either or both of you is planning on using your parents' health insurance for now, you most likely can't as married children are no longer eligible dependents.
posted by mikeh at 1:57 PM on November 20, 2006

Oops! I wouldn't keep it a secret, is what I meant.
**If you're reading this, Mrs Mars, that wasn't anything Freudian**
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:57 PM on November 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

Lying to your friends is not the best way to get them to give you money and presents. It is the best way for them to be really pissed off that they gave you money and presents after the fact.

Feel free to get secretly married, just don't expect that you can throw a 'wedding' later.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:00 PM on November 20, 2006

If your mother obsessively looks you up online, there's the very real possibility she might run across the Texas marriage databases online and find you out. I've unexpectedly found the marriages of several friends and family members when looking up other people with the same last name, looking up their other marriages, or just entering their names out of curiosity. Check your county clerk's office to see if the database is online -- you may be surprised at how easy it is to find these things out about someone.

Also, Texas being a community property state, your assets (however minimal they are) will be jointly owned for all purposes. Even barring injury or divorce (hopefully things you won't have to deal with), there may be issues. I'm not sure what those issues would be, but they may exist.
posted by katemonster at 2:08 PM on November 20, 2006

Past friends of mine did this. It hurt me quite a bit when I found out. Random coworkers will say that they're married, but supposedly close friends won't? It was a pretty big clue about how the way I perceived the friendship wasn't the way they were perceiving it.

My stepfather's sister did it, and got divorced shortly after. His take is that people only hide their marriage when they're ashamed.

My mother's take is that people tell you important things when they think you're important to them. In the case of another friend, who got married without telling her mother, her mother is still not over it - and that's been at least 8 years now.

We notified, rather than invited, most our family because we live thousands of miles away, and we didn't think they'd want to come. It may have permanently damaged our relationships (we haven't been married more than a year, so it's sort of soon to say), because they're feeling hurt.

So, you know, just be prepared for that aspect.
posted by arabelladragon at 2:25 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

My partner and I are in the middle of this right now.

We got married at city hall back in May, prior to the birth of our son in July, primarily so that I could move onto his (vastly superior) health insurance and so that we would not have to jump through the hoops that our state demands in naming Paternity on the birth certificate when the parents are unmarried.

None of our friends or family are aware that we were married, and we plan to have a "real wedding" in December (with about 25 guests). So far the only practical repercussion is that we've had to explain the situation to the person who is performing our wedding, to explain why there is no marriage license. We chose to do it this way because we wanted our wedding to be about he and I as a couple, rather than any perception that we were being "forced" into a wedding (after being together nearly 15 years) by the birth of our child. (Certain family members were quite vocal on that topic, and not having them feel as though their nagging could persuade us to make choices about our personal lives is was a strong incentive.) We also chose to keep it "secret" because we needed to do it in kind of a hurry (I had some complications that made it urgent that I get better insurance fast), and my mother would not have been able to attend on the date we had available. Its better for everyone if she not feel like she "missed out" on something.

I have to admit to being completely stumped in regard to the comments about it being creepy/weird, or that we're somehow "lying" to people - especially Jacquilynne's comment above. Why on earth would you be less happy for friends to be married if you are present for the legal ceremony or for the more public vows later on? Why on earth would you be angry if you found out later on? I can sort of understand parents (particularly mothers) being upset that they missed it, but Frankly the opinions expressed here are very puzzling to me. Sounds like you think that getting to attend the "real" ceremony is some kind of quid pro quo for giving gifts. Honestly, if the couple has been living together for years, what possible difference can it make to you personally if you are asked to congratulate them on the day of they make things legal, or during a public ceremony months or years after the fact?

You will definitely want to consult the IRS about your "dependent" tax status, however. I suspect that will go away, since a dependent is normally an unmarried person.

Its worth considering what you would do if you should, for some reason, break up before you make the marriage "public". At least discuss it. A secret divorce might be much harder than a secret wedding.

Your status in terms of your ability to make choices for one another - medical choices in particular - will change, and you'll want to think through the repercussions of that. If either of you is able to be on your parent's health insurance that will probably change.

The IRS frowns on you filing as "single" if you're actually married, but you can choose "married, filing separately".

And, I guess, be prepared for a lot of reactions like those above. But a quiet, early marriage is becoming more and more common, especially for tax or health insurance reasons.
posted by anastasiav at 2:27 PM on November 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

IANAL, but I know that Texas is a Common Law marriage state. You can call yourselves married, and it will legally be so. And then have a wedding at your leisure.
posted by donajo at 2:28 PM on November 20, 2006

I have known a couple people who did this, and it was just weird. Not "oh aren't they unique" weird, but "what is wrong with them" weird.
posted by clh at 2:28 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I did this a little over a year ago when I was 26 and my now-wife 25. We got her little brother and a friend to be witnesses and swore them to secrecy, which they abided by. We didn't tell anyone for 8 months. No party, no rings, no bullshit. Neither of us love having everyone gawk at us and we don't care about presents; we have enough crap already. We've also both been to enough painful weddings that we didn't want to subject our friends and family to more of the same.

My parents were hurt, but after awhile they weren't surprised given my history of irregular behavior. The wife's parents, both several times married and divorced, thought it was funny. Some people were shocked upon hearing, some not, but at the end of the day we didn't care what people thought of it as it was our relationship and we did it how we damn well pleased. I don't regret it.
posted by look busy at 2:30 PM on November 20, 2006

Wow. The Epitome of hipster ideology.

Listen, you want to get married so get married. Getting 'married' but calling it an engagement is dishonest. Hell, getting married after decrying it as something sexist is hypocritical as well. You will need to tell your family that you are married for the sole reason that they can't claim you as dependents if you're married. Plus, you get legal and tax benefits associated with being married. The IRS will want to know that you are married. Health insurance will want to know you're married. Hell, you'll get a better deal with finanical aid since you're married (you're now indepedent so your assets are taken into consideration rather than your parents). A lot of people and organizations are going to need that you are married. If you decide not to tell them, and they find out later, there will be finanical problems associated with your deception.

Having a secret wedding is fine. There's no problem with that but viewing it as being in a secret club is pretty LOL and childish. Grow up and be honest. It's your wedding so if you want a common law marriage, want to get married at a court, want to get married but not tell anyone before it happens, that's fine. It's your life. But don't be dishonest to your friends and family. They don't deserve that.
posted by Stynxno at 2:41 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

A guy I worked with did this and I can assure you that he was looked at as being kind of ridiculous. His wife left him not three months later so maybe it was karma...
posted by dobie at 2:49 PM on November 20, 2006

My parents did something like that. When he proposed, she said, 'sure' and they went and got married on the spot. They knew my grandmother would be devastated if she didn't get to have a wedding for her only child, though, so they pretended they were engaged instead of married, and ended up having a formal wedding ceremony three months later. In the meantime, the stress of wedding planning led them to a divorce lawyer, but they just sat in the car and decided not to get divorced. That was almost 50 years ago, and they kept (and cherished) the secret until about 40 years ago. They consider it to be a romantic part of their shared history. Of course, the "secretly married" part only lasted 3 months. Nobody had hurt feelings, because nobody knew that they had been married for three months. And they were young (21) and did need the gifts, want to share the public celebration, etc.

A friend did this, however, and we figured out after about a year that she was married. She pretended she wasn't, during that year, and lied in response to lots of questions. The nearly-unanimous conclusion was that (a) it was wierd, (b) kind of sad (c) we trusted her a little less. Probably all judgemental and off-base, but that was the perception of just about everyone. We felt that, since they hid the marriage for so long, they must have gotten married for reasons other than their love and desire to spend their lives together (there was an immigration issue involved).

Anecdotes, of course.

As for the practical issues... I would think there would be lots of practical issues, but I don't know for sure what they would be. If you have a meddlesome mom, it's quite possible she'll find out, somehow or other.
posted by Amizu at 2:52 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Marriage licenses are public record, so it won't be "secret" as I understand that word.

To my mind, what you want is a secret ceremony in order to belong to a secret club. You already belong to that club (or if you don't, I can't help you.) If I were you, I would design an exciting and fun secret ceremony for you and your partner to participate in, and skip the part where I asked Uncle Sam to bestow his formal blessing by "solemnizing" it.

When you are ready to throw a party for all your friends and relatives, so that they can share in your joy - and, in a way, join your club as non-founding members of record - well, that's when you might care to invite them to a "wedding." That'd be a convenient, as well as the usual, time to let Uncle Sam in on the joke.

If there are legal or insurance reasons to be married, go down to the courthouse and obtain the correct paperwork, same as you would get paperwork saying you'd wormed your dog. Don't confuse that with anything to do with love or romance.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:58 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Even to me, your version sounds a little odd, since you WANT the public declaration. I rather wish my SO and I had just gotten married and not told anyone years ago, as our little romantic secret. But I have absolutely have zero interest in a wedding, a reception, or wedding presents.

Perhaps you could compromise a bit on your "secret." Several of my friends have eloped, but then had a party/reception a couple of months later. The provided rationale, which was accepted even by some of the old-fashioned relatives, was that they wanted the ceremony to just be them alone, or be spontaneous, or to be on a certain date, but the couple still wanted to share in celebration with friends and family. This lets you get married "your way" and not completely confuse your family.
posted by desuetude at 3:03 PM on November 20, 2006

My parents secretly got married and pretended to everyone else that they were just engaged until their "wedding" the following year.

The reason they had a wedding later was because my mother's mother eloped (she was pregnant) and before she could tell her parents, her father died. So she made her kids promise never to elope. At this point, everyone knows, except for my remaining living grandparents. But no one seems to think it's dishonest or weird. Except, as I type this, myself.
posted by someone else at 3:54 PM on November 20, 2006

>join your club as non-founding members of record

I really wish I had thought to phrase our wedding invitations like that.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:58 PM on November 20, 2006

On the FAFSA. The minute you are married, you are legally independent from your parents. This makes your financial aid very nice. (If you wait until after you're married to file your FAFSA.)

However, by definition, this means you are no longer a dependent. You can't give your parents your tax cake and eat it too (or something, what a terrible metaphor).

I've know plenty of people to do the courthouse wedding and then have a reception when you can afford it. Why make it a secret? If it's a big deal to your parents, they'll pay for the reception. If they're happy with the "marry now, reception later" plan, do that. That way, you're not lying to your parents and if they're traditional, you won't even be living in sin.

Wait, you are planning on living together, right? You're not going to be that divorce waiting to happen that's the people who are married and still live in the dorms, right?

There were a number of people in college I knew who were "secret married" for student loan purposes. They all "came out" to me because I was the only one in my class who was openly married. They didn't tell people because they didn't want to get the funny looks from their classmates (that I got) and they weren't ready to hear the "you're too young" stuff (which I also got. And which was absolutely right in hindsight).

If you're getting married so it can be all tingly and fun and to act on the impulse you're having right now, rather than focusing on the longer term stuff, you're not ready. Get engaged. That's what engaged is for.

If you're afraid of what your parents are going to say or think, you're too young to get married, even if you're 40.

And if you're doing it for the FAFSA, I can speak from experience that paying off a spring break to Jamaica that your ex-husband used all your student loan money for well into your 30s is anything but romantic.
posted by Gucky at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2006

Get secretly engaged. We did this and it was really good. Then you're in a secret club, but not one that will really hurt the feelings of people you care about. People think a secret engagement is fun and romantic; those nearest and dearest to you might not think that about a secret wedding (unless they're in on the secret).
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:12 PM on November 20, 2006

If you just don't want a big deal made of the wedding, why not elope/marry in a private ceremony, announce it immediately, and throw a party later?

That said: I know proper etiquette is sort of old school, but you really - really - cannot keep your wedding and marriage a secret and then throw yourselves a party and expect people to shower you with money and goodies. *Really*. Really.

I fully understand why people would be hurt that you'd kept a secret of this magnitude from them. No one likes to be lied to, especially by people who are your friends or loved ones, and people particularly dislike the variety of being-lied-to that involves the liars being all "Tee hee!" (people can tell.)

So I think those may be things worth keeping in mind as you think about this. The debatable cuteness of the Sekrit Marriage will wear off soon, but the hurt feelings of two extended social networks can last a lifetime.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:25 PM on November 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you want to make your marriage a secret, make it a secret that other people can get in on. Send out clues, codes, and a trail of breadcrumbs to family and friends that if they are cunning enough to follow, they will arrive at your wedding, which will of course be a themed spy/secret society wedding.

People will find out after the fact, but hey, you gave them notice and all. You never need mention the wedding or the fact that you're married again, instead alluding to that 'classified operation' you participated in with your SO.

And, just to avoid the ill will of close family and friends, you might want to give one or two of them a hint or a nudge about what's going on, otherwise, the father of the bride may never bother to decode that important message from his little girl!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:41 PM on November 20, 2006

After five years and one child together, my wife and I got married last. No secret, no drama--we had a friend watch The Boy, went to the courthouse with rings and marriage license in hand, stood in line, had another couple stand as witnesses for us (as we did for them), and got married.

For us, there wasn't really any reason not to get married. Didn't want to deal with churches and all the attendant high-diddledy-ho, so we got married, and told our parents thereafter. Were they disappointed they didn't share in the ceremony? Yes, probably. Do we intend to have some other, more public ceremony for our families to celebrate with us? Yeah. Will it happen? Remains to be seen.

The point here is only that there needn't (and shouldn't, IMHO) be any subterfuge: "We're going to get married, and there are good practical reasons for us to do it now, and very few reasons not to. So we're getting married, and once we can afford to have an event worthy of our families, we'll do that. We'd be thrilled if you, our parents, would come to the courthouse with us and share this with us." Or not.

I have to say, though, I do like robocop's idea.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:52 PM on November 20, 2006

Heh. That's "got married last April," not "got married last." Though that's an interesting notion.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:53 PM on November 20, 2006

You could go get married in Vegas or something but put off the reception until later. I've known folks who have done that, and it's more "Well, I guess if that's what they want" and less "WTF are they getting at?"
posted by dagnyscott at 6:58 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have to admit to being completely stumped in regard to the comments about it being creepy/weird, or that we're somehow "lying" to people - especially Jacquilynne's comment above. Why on earth would you be less happy for friends to be married if you are present for the legal ceremony or for the more public vows later on? Why on earth would you be angry if you found out later on?

At least part of my opinion is a result of the phrase "a big party where people bring us money and presents." If this question was from someone who needed to get married for urgent insurance purposes but was already planning a big family and friends wedding and didn't want to lose the deposit on their hall, my feelings would likely be a lot softer. I'd still want them to tell the truth, because I don't think a very public lie is the right basis on which to form a marriage, but I'd have been nicer about it.

But marriage *does* mean something to society as a whole (otherwise gay marriage wouldn't be something worth fighting for). It obviously means something to this couple - they want to have a 'public declaration'. But they don't want the public to include any of their family and friends.

Being asked to congratulate you on your wedding with money and gifts? Yay! Being asked to congratulate you on the wedding you had a year ago with money and gifts, when I wasn't important enough to your life to even be told about it until now? Umm, not so much.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:05 PM on November 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with the prevailing sentiments above, and only comment to underline the point that you must tell your parents for financial (tax, FAFSA, insurance) reasons. It won't be so romantic anymore when your mom calls you with a letter from your health insurer telling her about a Major Life Event she's been in the dark about. The world of fifty years ago had a much different set of circumstances to deal with.
posted by SuperNova at 7:13 PM on November 20, 2006


There's a difference between a quiet, early marriage and concealing it. It's totally possible, as others have noted, to do it, not conceal it, and just throw a reception and public ceremony later. The OP's case is different.

I think it's romantic, and me and my partner like to put ourselves into situations that make us feel like we're in secret clubs. (We'll get decoder engagement rings or something.)

What, are we five? Get engaged. As other people have pointed out, there are all sorts of legal ramifications from getting married. Plus, it sounds like you already have a somewhat strained relationship with your mom (or parents). What about her parents? Getting married secretly (aside from likely not being so-secret) may also strain relationships - her mom, in particular, may feel deeply betrayed that she was lied to, if she ever finds out. Why not just be upfront from the start?

If you want to get married, as opposed to just belonging to a secret club, just go get married at the court-house, don't try to play all "secret klubhouse" and then throw a reception a year later, or whenever you can afford it.
posted by canine epigram at 7:53 AM on November 21, 2006

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