This one is getting a lot of traction in the forums, so I thought I’d answer it here:
Since I still wanted to celebrate our wedding with all of our close friends I suggested we do something non-traditional and throw a wedding party over a weekend where everyone could get time off in August. We called this “the wedding weekend without a ceremony.” We would do all of the fun things that usually happen on a wedding weekend (going out, nice dinner, cake, field trip to the lake for some sun and relaxing) but no white dress and no chicken dance or DJ. Everyone sounded excited. They were happy that we would all get to see each other (we all live on opposite ends of the country) and that we would still get to celebrate. Or, so I thought…
Yesterday, I’m GChatting with one of my friends and ask about summer plans and she says that she is booked solid through the summer. I ask about August — I had polled everyone about dates and they said that August would be best so I told them that we would nail down a specific date after the wedding — and she says that she’s booked. I was a little disappointed, but I contacted my other friend and asked her opinion about whether we should postpone or just go ahead with the date in August and whoever can make it comes. She responded by saying that she doesn’t want to come if my other friend isn’t coming and that it’s pretty inconvenient to get out here at all. She then suggests we meet in an alternate city for a “girls’ weekend” instead.
I’m beyond irritated and I can’t decide if I’m being irrational or if this is just a giant slap in the face. I know it’s not a formal wedding, but this is the way that my fiancé and I wanted to celebrate our marriage with our friends. We couldn’t afford thousands of dollars on a big reception, but we still hoped that they would be excited to come out and celebrate without all of the formalities. None of these friends is struggling financially; they are lawyers and private educators. If they were so put off by the idea of coming to celebrate my wedding, why even agree to it in the first place and make me hold off until August? These are girls that I have been friends with for 15+ years. I feel like all of the effort that I made to be an accommodating friend at their weddings is being thrown in my face because I’m not being “traditional.”
I don’t want to stir up drama with these girls, but I’m legitimately offended at the way that they are treating this whole thing. Should I just go ahead and cancel the wedding weekend? Or should I plan and say whoever makes it, great (with the genuine possibility that none of them will show and I’ll be bitter about their lack of effort). — Nontraditional Bride
Let’s be honest, at this point, you’re going to be bitter about your friends’ lack of effort whether you host a wedding weekend or not. You’ve already decided that the amount of effort you’ve devoted to their weddings deserves some sort of reciprocation and if you get nothing in return — despite getting married! — then you’re going to be bitter. And I understand that bitterness … to an extent. Your friend suggesting a “girls’ weekend” to celebrate your wedding was rude. And I can appreciate how it was hurtful that two of the friends whom you spoke to about their availability in August suddenly were unavailable — well, one was unavailable while the other simply said she wouldn’t come without Friend A, which makes me wonder how close you two are in the first place.
But let’s put this all in perspective. You’re expecting people to put effort into celebrating your wedding because you put effort into celebrating theirs, but you have to understand that your friends who got married most likely think a reciprocation has already been met. They put effort into planning their wedding; you put effort into supporting them. Equal reciprocation in their eyes. You’re asking them to put effort into celebrating your wedding, but you haven’t even planned so much as a date. Unequal reciprocation in their eyes. You are essentially asking your friends to put effort into something you yourself have invested zero effort into. You’re asking them to budget for travel and to set aside vacation time for, and most of all save the date of, a date that hasn’t even been confirmed yet. I mean, you really can’t get too mad about people failing to keep a weekend open “some time in August” when that weekend has not been determined and their summer social obligations — other people’s weddings, bachelorette parties, baby showers, family reunions, etc. — begin to pile up. Just because you’re getting married doesn’t mean you get a placeholder over an entire month of weekends in your friends’ summers!
If you truly want people put some effort into celebrating your wedding, whether it’s immediately following the actual ceremony or a few months after the fact, you need to put some effort into planning it, starting with solidifying a date. So, nail down a date. Then, send out an invitation — email, paper, whatever — with words that convey the importance of the occasion — even it isn’t “formal,” it’s still meaningful and you want to make that distinction clear — whatever details you know for sure, a general idea of the weekends’ events, and some indication of what will be paid for by you (and, if none of it will be paid for by you, you need to make sure your friends understand what the expected expenses will be and that they are responsible for their own costs). Also, if you don’t plan to foot the bill for anything, you have to understand that, unlike a traditional wedding party or reception, your friends are not your “guests” and certain expectations that you would have if they were — like, for example, them RSVPing by a certain time and showing up when and where they’re supposed to — may be different.
Here’s an example of what you could write in an invitation once you have a date nailed down:
As most of you know, “Mike” and I will be tying the knot in a small ceremony with our immediate families on May 17th. Because all of you play such important roles in our lives, we want to mark the milestone occasion of our marriage and the joining of our lives together with all of you, too. It would mean the world if you would join us in belatedly celebrating our nuptials during the weekend of [whatever date you select] in [whatever town you’ll be celebrating].
Also, since this is a whole weekend, and not just a ceremony and a reception, you might want to consider creating a website or a Facebook event page where you can outline a general itinerary of the weekend, along with links to whatever restaurants you have in mind, lodging where people can stay, and suggestions of things to do.
One more piece of advice: an entire weekend is a long time to expect people to devote solely to celebrating you (especially if they’re responsible for all of their own expenses; and no, this isn’t like a bachelorette weekend in Vegas — an example you used in the forums — because, instead of a maid-of-honor or bridesmaids organizing it, YOU are hosting it, and there’s a difference between someone else organizing a party for you and you organizing your own celebration in which you expect your guests to fork over what could be hundreds of dollars). If you’re expecting people to be available to you the entire time, adjust your expectations right now so you aren’t disappointed. Remember that these are adults on a summer weekend getaway and, whether they’re celebrating your wedding or not, couples will likely want a little alone time, people may break off into smaller groups, and there may be disagreement over what to do and where to go at certain times.
It’s fine to celebrate your wedding in a non-traditional, informal way. But in doing so, you have to accept that “informal is as informal does.”
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.