So there’s a new trend in the wedding world where a couple decides to elope or have an intimate ceremony (or sometimes has to rush down to City Hall for a legal wedding for any number of reasons) and then later on decide that they feel like they missed out on the big white wedding and so decide to have that in some way. This can be very controversial in the wedding parts of the internet. Offbeat Bride calls it “getting weddinged” vs “getting legaled” and A Practical Wedding discusses it pretty frequently too. However, these sites, obviously, lean towards the more “throw etiquette into the wind and do what suits you” side of wedding planning. On sites like The Knot, these types of weddings are referred to as “Pretty Pretty Princess Days” and are very much frowned on. Your mainstream etiquette doyennes such as Miss Manners and the Emily Post Institute all advise against them, though agree that a reception following an elopement is fine.
To sum up the debate:
Reasons why people want to have after-the-fact weddings:
- Sometimes life gets in the way with insurance, immigration, military deployments, and other legal issues and you have to get a legal marriage before you’ve had the chance to finish saving money for or planning a wedding.
- Some people feel nervous or shy about talking about their feelings in public and want to do that part in private.
- Some people elope and then regret not getting to celebrate with all of their friends and family.
- Some people loved their elopement but their families were mad that they didn’t have a wedding and are now pressuring them to have one.
- Some people feel that their vows don’t become “real” until they say them before friends and family or in a religious space.
- The want to have a religious component that wasn’t possible in a City Hall wedding.
- Some people see the legal component and the community component can be completely separate and don’t feel “married” from the legal ceremony.
- If the couple comes from two or more cultures with very specific wedding traditions, and wants to please the family by holding a “traditional” wedding from both sides.
Reasons why they are frowned upon (NB: a reception after an elopement is always fine, etiquette wise. This supposes a full do over of the ceremony, complete with fancy dress and bridal party).
- Often times the couple will lie about the fact that they are already married. This can be especially problematic with religious ceremonies. The Catholic Church, at least, considers legal weddings to be valid and will not conduct a wedding ceremony for already married people, so to have one, you will have to lie. They do have a marriage blessing that you can do.
- Some people feel that the motivation behind having a big wedding later is to get the gifts that they missed out on by eloping.
- Some people feel that if they are not witnessing the legal marriage then it doesn’t count and the wedding is “fake,” there is a theory that you get one wedding per marriage.
- Some people feel that weddings are mandatory events, but often won’t consider a non-wedding celebration to be the same level of importance and don’t want to travel for it.
- It can be a little confusing about what date you use as your wedding date for legal purposes vs for celebratory purposes.
- That sometimes life intervenes and you have to have a quick wedding instead of an elaborate one, and you should just deal with it. (Kind of an American puritanism “act in haste, repent at leisure” kind of judgement.)
- A giant wedding is not a right and people don’t want to play along to help you create a fantasy that isn’t “real.”
- It’s insulting to people who choose to elope or have a courthouse wedding to insinuate that it’s not real or not romantic or fun.
- Your friends and family may SAY they are okay with it, but there are plenty of people who have gone along with do over weddings who felt that they couldn’t say anything, even though they didn’t think it was okay.
Okay, so that’s a lot, and obviously Jaya and Victoria have a lot of thoughts on the subject. It’s important to us to remind our readers that with everything that we write about, we just want to give you all of the information so you can make your decisions fully informed with what the consequences of those decisions might be.
So this conversation happened in response to this piece, in which the couple felt overwhelmed by saying their vows in front of everyone and eloped privately on a mountain (in Colorado where you don’t need witnesses), but then held a full wedding, complete with another ceremony and vows, in front of their family and friends.
Jaya: I feel like that’s not so bad. Like, that’s a decent way to have two things.
Victoria: Yeah, it wasn’t the worst.
Jaya: I am curious if they told their guests though.
Victoria: But I still don’t get this idea of “oh we are shy so we had a private thing” so we are going to have a thing by ourselves and then a big wedding where we are going to say all the things we say we are too shy to say anyway.
Jaya: Yeah I agree. Though, I totally understand not wanting to say these personal things in front of a lot of people!
Victoria: Yeah, so then, don’t and just elope, and leave it at that!!!
Jaya: Right, or have a big party afterwards, but just have it be a reception, not the ceremony part.
Victoria: Yeah, and don’t dress up in a wedding dress, maybe? I mean, I get it, but I think it’s sort of weird.
Jaya: My parents did that. They got married in my grandparent’s living room with really close family, and then a few months later held a party at a restaurant. But there was no “ceremony” at the restaurant.
Victoria: Yeah, for sure. And like, my parents planned a full-on wedding with family flying in from across the country at a church and everything…in 6 weeks. So it can be done if you are in a hurry, but maybe you have to buy a dress off the rack and don’t get the whole wedding dress shopping “experience” and tons of food tastings and looking at venues and stuff. You just find something open and you do it. Plenty of corporate type events are planned with only a month or two of notice.
Jaya: This whole debate ties into this “haters gonna hate” culture that I find frustrating. Everyone is saying “oh who cares about the haters, you do you.” And most of the time I am VERY “you do you” on things. But here, no one is hating just to be mean to you. It’s because there are legitimate concerns you may not have considered. If you consider them and still wanna do this, go ahead!! But I don’t think you should be shocked that some people are confused if you have two ceremonies.
Victoria: It sort of seems like a freedom of speech argument to me- like you are free to do whatever crazy thing you want, but everyone is also free to not attend.
Jaya: You’re setting up this thing where you’re either lying to your family, or changing the thing they’re trying to come to. And yes, the actual, legal change is not what people are there to celebrate. No one is in the room when you sign the marriage certificate. I guess that’s what confuses me on the other end. You’re there to celebrate the couple’s love or whatever, so whether they sign the document that day or weeks before is not really the point, right?
Victoria: I mean, I think people are happy to CELEBRATE even if the actual marriage occurred previously….but I do think a lot of people object to watching a “fake” ceremony. And I really do think that there is a limit of the amount of time after the wedding that people are still in a celebratory mood. 6 months might be close to the top….if everyone has already seen you and congratulated you and started treating you like a married person…it starts to get like…what are we celebrating again, didn’t we already do this? If in their minds, they have already celebrated your marriage they aren’t going to be interested in doing it again.
Jaya: Ahhh yeah. Definitely. And I mean, you don’t have to tell everyone you got “technically” married. Your “real” anniversary is not really of much importance to everyone else, and I really understand the serenity that can come with knowing it’s already “done” by the time the big day comes.
Victoria: Yeah…I mean….I would not not tell people…it seems too close to lying to me.
Jaya: Yeah that’s the other thing too.
Victoria: I get that people get hurt that some of their guests might not want to travel long distances to come to the celebration. But this is a really really new thing in the wedding “industry” and a looooooot of people, especially in the older generation, just do not understand and will not place the same importance on the celebration as the “actual” wedding.
Jaya: However much the “technical” marriage matters to you, it’ll probably mean something to other people (or maybe not)! And you’re free to figure out what works for you and your circle but like, if I had just gone to City Hall and not told my mom, she would have been so upset, even if she had a chance to “celebrate my love” on a different day. And I would have felt awful about not telling my family or friends we had done that. I couldn’t keep that secret.
Victoria: Yeah, exactly, and I mean, I have never actually encountered it myself, and I have thought about it a LOT and I STILL don’t know what I would choose to do when presented with such a situation. I guess it would depend on the couple. But then again…I really like parties and get bad FOMO.
Jaya: Hahaha, I think it also depends on what the small, private ceremony is like. If, like this woman, it’s the two of you on top of a mountain wanting a private moment that’s self-solemnized (which can only be done in some states), totally. If it’s you and 10 family members, but then you want a bigger thing later, that just seems like two weddings. This is the ultimate case of like, you really can do whatever you want, just understand that people bring their own expectations to these things.
Victoria: Although I don’t get, if you must have a private moment, just make your fake non-legal vows then and then do the legal vows on the day you will celebrate with everyone. Maybe this is why I am not a relationship person.
Jaya: Hahahaha, that’s true! The meaning behind the vows isn’t about legalities.
Victoria: Yeah, and if you don’t REALLY care, then do it when people do care? It just seems so hard to keep all these dates straight- like the day we got married and the day we got really married? And who did we tell and who did we not tell?
Jaya: I was asking some friends about this, who got married 5 years ago so she could stay in this country but had their actual wedding last summer and yeah, they consider their anniversary the technical date 5 years ago. But I understand the desire for the actual wedding, because you know, ceremony and religion and such are important to us.
Victoria: Yeah, but then, why not do it sooner? I mean, once you’ve legally tied yourselves together, you should be PRETTY sure that you really want to be married.
Jaya: Hahaha true, yeah I have no idea with them, but their circle was all happy and supportive, which is all that matters.
Victoria: It seems way scarier to me to be legally bound than just lovey and religiously. Like if you just have a “fake” (for lack of a better word) religious and love ceremony, you can break it off at any time! But the legal ceremony has SERIOUS real life consequences. And so many of these double wedding stories brush it off so much like, “oh get the boring part out of the way.”
Jaya: Yeah, I think what confuses me is the having two ceremonies part. If you want to do your ceremony privately and have it as Your Moment, that makes total sense. And then like, go out and invite people to a party and dance. But having a second, “fake” ceremony, even though what you are saying and feeling is obviously real, sort of defeats the point of “oh we’re too shy to say stuff in public.”
Victoria: Yeah, and like, I get it for people who HAD to get married in a rush…but I still kind of feel like you can invite whoever can come and make it special and then just have the celebration later, without the re-do.
Jaya: Do you think this is part of the dreaded WIC? The idea that it’s not “official” unless there is the big wedding?
Victoria: Yeah..I kind of do. Like there are SO MANY stories of people’s parents and grandparents just getting married. Even tons of “golden era” Hollywood stars and Presidents and stuff just got married in a simple suit (the bride!) and had a tiny cake to celebrate and just called it done.
Jaya: I think it’s good to realize it’s not just the couple that the wedding industry affects. Even if you and your spouse are fine with eloping or something, you have your family or best friends telling you you need to have a wedding, and then you feel guilty and it leads to this.
Victoria: Hahah yeah, I think there might be starting to be a bit of a backlash. It seems like there are a lot more elopement stories on wedding sites recently. And I have known a few girls who got married fairly quickly for whatever reason, and they did super simple things at the registry office and as far as I’ve seen, have no plans to have a big thing.
Jaya: I guess I just feel like the idea of eloping and then holding a party later is already a thing that’s done. And no one could blame you. But having two ceremonies (unless one is legal and one is religious, like they do in France) comes off as a bit false. Though I do have a cousin that sort of did this. She and her husband got married six months before their wedding to get him on health insurance. But the wedding was already being planned. And anyway it was a Hindu ceremony, so no one knows what the vows are anyway, it’s in Sanskrit. And I found out and there was no part of me that was like “Goodness I’ve been lied to! I certainly won’t show up!”
Victoria: Yeah, somehow I find religious ceremonies a bit different? Like the Catholic Church for one, already has a ceremony set up for exactly this situation, and you are actually supposed to have your civil marriage blessed if you didn’t get married in the church. But like….maybe tone down the whole white poofy dress thing? And the bridesmaids and the whole hullaballoo? I think a lot of problems can be avoided by really examining why you are doing things. Like, are you having a ceremony because your religion requires it or do you just want everyone to watch? Or do you think everyone expects it but you actually don’t care? Or do you just want to wear a big white dress and have a ton of attention? Granted, I think people in the last category are doing the worst and are the least likely to examine their motives.
Jaya: Uhhh I was totally like “when else in my life am I gonna get to wear a sparkle dress and get my makeup done?”
Victoria: Hahahahah, but you also didn’t rush down to City Hall to get married ahead of time. I mean, it’s a perfectly legit desire. But like, if you want the wedding and not just the marriage, you kind of have to play by the rules.
Jaya: There were many moments where we were totally ready to run to City Hall but we realized it wouldn’t have felt right without all our people there. Like, that was more important to us, even though it was frustrating and intimidating. Also, on a practical note, I will say having private time after the ceremony is a really good time for all those personal vows you don’t wanna say in front of people.
Victoria: Yeah! There’s no reason why your wedding can’t accommodate all that. Like, I’m shy, so I will probably stick to super traditional non-fussy vows.
Jaya: My husband and I took ten minutes after the ceremony to just chill in a room alone and let it all sink in. And while our vows were things we chose and things we meant, they weren’t hyper-personal to our lives our relationship. So in those moments alone, we got to say things that were just for us, and it was great.
Jaya: And yeah in a lot of ways that felt more “real” than the signing the certificate. I guess though, my thing is that as a host you should be honest with your guests, and let them make up their minds about things. And you might say it’s none of their business when you get married, or if you elope, or anything like that, but I mean…you did invite them to your wedding, you’re sort of making it their business.