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The Second Tier Guests

I just went to a tacky wedding reception, and I hope the bride and groom won’t recognize themselves here and come after me!

On it’s own, the reception was fine. What made it tacky was that the couple had a slideshow of their “small, family wedding ceremony” playing at the reception. Except it wasn’t a “small, family wedding ceremony.” There were a ton of people there (including non-relatives), three bridesmaids and three groomsmen, and there was a full, sit-down-dinner reception complete with food, alcohol and cake! It was clear the reception I (and the other guests there) had been invited to was some sort of “second-tier friends” reception, for people who weren’t good enough to witness the happy couple get married, but still good enough to bring presents. And it’s not like the wedding and first reception were held months earlier in a different location. They were the day before, in the same city, and the couple could easily have gotten married at the location they’d rented out for the second reception. They also could actually have had a small wedding where and when they did, and had only one reception for everyone the next day.

Generally, the bride and groom are sweet, welcoming, kind people, so I’m not really sure what happened here. It’s entirely possible they really are clueless enough to think their guests at the second reception wouldn’t be insulted by a slideshow of the wedding and reception they weren’t good enough to be invited to. But it certainly made me feel like we’ve grown apart to the point where I can no longer consider them the good friends they once were. 0729-10


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  • Jillybean August 5, 2010, 11:16 pm

    Oh – and I don’t think there’s anything “rigid” about interpreting a judge legally marrying you, in front of your family and friends, as making you married. Just seems like an obvious interpretation to me. 🙂

  • Xtina August 6, 2010, 10:26 am

    @ Izzlebun re: “Also, getting a license squared away before having a wedding ceremony is not that uncommon. I haven’t been to many church officiated weddings, but I guess traditionally the officiant signs and notarizes the day of? The one churchity affair that I was a bridesmaid in, I recall that the Pastor had the couple sign the marriage license well before the church ceremony. They got a judge to come out and legally marry them with me as a witness.”

    To answer your question, yes, the officiant and the couple sign the license right after the marriage takes place (at my wedding and all I’ve been to, the pastor/officiant has the license in his pocket and everyone signs right after the guests leave, before participating in the reception). The license is turned in to the county/state to be recorded and the marriage certificate is then issued.

    I respectfully disagree that the license being squared away before the ceremony is “not that uncommon”—actually, it is very uncommon. I have never heard of an instance where a couple was married by a judge or JOP prior to their ceremony, and then gone through with a wedding as a separate event, whether they were “churchity” people or not.

    Maybe here in the southern U.S., people tend to be more traditional and don’t actually marry until they have the big day (on whatever scale they choose to make it so, even if it is simply getting a judge to marry them). Is this more common in other areas of the country for couples to marry prior to having their wedding? I have to agree with Ms. Jeanne and some of the other posters here that once you’re married on paper, you’re married—while I have no problem with someone choosing to marry first and then have a wedding of some sort later, I don’t think it should be called that and carried out as though the couple is marrying each other for the first time.

  • JS August 6, 2010, 1:49 pm

    I agree with Jillybean. Izzlebun, you are absolutely entitled to have the celebration you had planned, but your guests were justified in feeling deceived, since you (I believe) were describing the celebration as a wedding, during which people usually get married, when you got married the week before.

    You may not have considered yourselves married, but considering that you were legally joined in a civil marriage by judge in front of your family and friends, it’s reasonable that most people would consider *that* to be when you were married. I mean, I can say I felt that I truly felt like a practicing attorney (random example) when I won my first case, but I actually became a practicing attorney when I was sworn into a bar the year before.

    Look, you can do what you want, it being a free country and all. However, I don’t think you should be at all surprised that some of your guests took a different view of the situation and were hurt by it. I mean, ask yourself why you didn’t announce to everyone that you had been legally married (or gotten the license completed, or had a judge officiate over a legal proceding, or however you want to describe it) a week before your celebration? I think you probably wouldn’t have had any problems at all if you had billed the celebration as a reception, fyi.

  • Chocobo! August 6, 2010, 3:07 pm

    Maybe it’s just that I’m a bigger believer in spiritual contracts over legal ones — but I still don’t understand what the fuss is all about over poor Izzlebun’s wedding. Clearly her second wedding was the real one, paperwork aside. I wouldn’t exactly consider Mom taking the legal witnesses to a small dinner “a wedding”.

    This is the problem with etiquette, sometimes. It seems that occasionally it gets too wrapped up in black-and-white technicalities — i.e. “are you *legally* married/not married, I must know when and where and how, otherwise it doesn’t count!” seems to be equivalent to me to “your birthday was LAST week, and I heard your Mom already took you out to dinner then, so today’s celebration doesn’t count”

    Occasionally etiquette seems to call for a bit more fluidity (and heart) to be effective — I’m curious to know what the guests said after Izzlebum presumably explained to them that she considered today as the real wedding.

    @Heather: “And you and your husband are atheists, so it wasn’t a religious ceremony which would make you feel really married… I know some in some cultures the marriage isn’t official until it’s been consummated, but I’m assuming that wasn’t an issue here.”
    That is really presumptuous and rude. Just because she’s an atheist doesn’t mean you have the right to make such assumptions on her life choices, OR that she is incapable of valuing ceremony as more important than government paperwork.

  • May Destroyer August 6, 2010, 7:43 pm

    Chocobo: I believe Heather was assuming that Izzlebun was not of a culture of which a marriage isn’t official until it’s consummated. That’s all.

  • Jillybean August 7, 2010, 11:56 pm

    @Chocobo!: You said: “It seems that occasionally it gets too wrapped up in black-and-white technicalities — i.e. “are you *legally* married/not married, I must know when and where and how, otherwise it doesn’t count!”

    The guests of the wedding typically assume they KNOW when, where and how – because the expectation is when you get invited to a wedding, you witness the actual marriage – it’s not a technicality.

    But back to the original poster – I’m less than 2 weeks away from my own wedding, and I’m actually so busy I can’t imagine what it would have been like to throw TWO large scale events – tacky or not! LOL

  • Lisa August 8, 2010, 1:48 am

    The issue of legal vs emotional/religious marriage is an interesting one. Personally, I think that if you live in a country where your ‘religious’/’emotional’ ceremony is not (eg China) then you can get legally married seperately, but consider a non-legal ceremony as your real marriage.

    A brother of a friend got married in China where his religious marriage would not be legally married – the solution (which was known by ALL) – get the paperwork done on a Friday (ie get legally married) and have the religious ceremony on the Saturday and get really married. Everyone knew the situation and were okay with it. Another brother was married in Australia where the religious ceremony is recognized and got legally and religiously married at the same time.

    Finally – at least in Australia, while a celebrant has to say certain words/phrases to make a marriage valid all else it up for grabs. I can’t understand the need to have two separate ceremonies, when the religious/emotional one can also be legally binding. There are hundreds of celebrants out there – take the time to find one who will conduct the ceremony how you want it conducted!

  • JS August 8, 2010, 9:24 am

    @chocobo!–I think the issue here is not what Izzlebun thought constitutes her actual wedding, but what her guests thought constitutes her actual wedding, what her guests thought they were attending, whether what they thought they were attending was what they were actually attending, and whether they were justified in feeling hurt/deceived/whatever.

    Heck, Izzlebun could feel that she’s not truly spiritually married until she and her partner cross the threshold into their house for the first time as spouses/consumate their marriage/share their first milkshake/etc. That’s perfectly fine, and entirely up to her. But generally speaking, unless told differently, people assume (reasonably) that the legal sign-off is the actual moment of marriage, and that when they attend a wedding, they are witnessing the actual “moment of marriage.” This is not to say that Izzlebun is bound to adhere to these assumptions–she could have informed her guests that she and her partner were doing something out of the norm, and that, to them, the actual “moment of marriage” didn’t consitute what people expect (the legal sign-off), but instead the spiritual committment they were making publically after getting the legal sign-off. This way, the guests know what they’re actually attending, and can adjust their expectations accordingly.

    Put another way, I would speculate that the problem here for the guests was more the perceived deceit than anything else, and that’s something that could easily have been avoided.

  • lbarton August 9, 2010, 3:47 pm

    I feel the need to support Izzlebun here. I married into the Indian community (East, as opposed to Native), and they do a civil ceremony with a justice of the peace to effect legal marriage prior to being married in the temple. When my DH’s brother got married, they had the civil ceremony in the bride’s parent’s house. It wasn’t large, perhaps 20 or 30 people, followed by dinner and drinks. This was a month before the temple wedding, which was huge and attracted extended family from all over the globe. They did not move in together until after this “2nd” wedding, which the more traditional, older and more religious members of the family consider to be the “real” wedding. It’s not a question of religion, per se, but the public and ritual aspects of the ceremony that make it feel like the “real” wedding. I don’t see anything wrong with Izzlebun’s proceedings. On another issue, it is fairly common in my little corner of western Canada to invite guests to the ceremony but not the reception, and I think that’s fine. My DH and I were recently invited to the ceremony of the daughter of an acquaintance of his, and were nothing but relieved not to have been invited to the reception. We gave a small gift of money at the temple, enjoyed tea and luncheon and made other plans for the evening.

  • JS August 10, 2010, 8:55 am

    Well, exactly, lbarton–in the community you married into, and in your area, this type of thing is common, so your guests knew what was going on. In Izzlebun’s case, they didn’t, so she should’ve told them up front.

  • Lenera August 15, 2010, 2:07 am

    I’m trying to see both sides of the issue here, having planned several weddings. From my experience, many couples refer to their wedding as “private, family only affairs” even when the opposite is true. It is pretty much the only polite way to invite someone to the reception and not the ceremony, after all. This couple’s faux pas seems to be more that they showed pictures of the wedding itself and the wedding lunch (or dinner, depending only on the time of day) at the reception. And that does sound like what they had – a wedding luncheon with the attendees from the ceremony, with a reception the next day. The tradition of a wedding luncheon or dinner is very common, and you invite as many people as you can afford, but it can get ruinously expensive very quickly. The cheapest one I’ve helped to plan cost nearly $40 per guest.
    Having a second, larger reception makes perfect sense, and I can see them wanting to show pictures form the ceremony itself, but they should have restricted those to photos of the wedding party itself, not shots of the luncheon or panoramic views of the guests. That was, indeed, rather tacky.

    Quick side note on the religion issue: I’ve helped out with a couple Mormon weddings, and they don’t allow cameras in their temples, either, so that wasn’t why folks weren’t invited to the ceremony, or else there wouldn’t have been pictures to cause the fuss in the first place. It probably was just a numbers issue. Although, it could be some other religion I haven’t worked with before.

  • DocCAC September 4, 2010, 12:47 am

    I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in here.

    @OP I agree with you. I would’ve felt like a second class friend and would tell the bride that (not at reception B though). A good friend of mine had a truly tiny wedding and reception…the chapel they got married at could only hold about 30 people, so it was family and a few REALLY close friends. I knew this ahead of time and was perfectly okay with it. She did not hold a second wedding, reception, party or anything else. I did send a gift because she was a good friend, and it was obvious that there was not an A/B list involved (saw pics later). If there was, she was smart enough to hide from me I wasn’t even a B list!

    @Izzlebun Let me give you my take as one who has been fooled by the whole legal wedding/”real” wedding thing. I was invited to the “wedding” of the daughter of a very good friend– the bride and groom met while in the Army and stationed together in Korea. My assumption was they got engaged, then waited until they got home and discharged before getting legally and ceremonially married. She did not wear a wedding ring before the “big’ day. Oh, my was I wrong! It was told by the officiant at the ceremony that this was really a celebration of the not one, but two weddings already held in Korea. The first was at the American Embassy, which was the legal one, the next was performed right after at the base by their commander (and after which there was a party). This one was to make sure her parents, not exactly people who had money to throw away, had to do “their” part and bride could wear the pretty dress (yep, white wedding dress, even though they had been married for months) and have yet another party, this time with even more presents and an excuse for them and their young 20’s friends get throwing up drunk. When I found out at the ceremony this was #3 for tham, I wished I’d just given them a card. Our budget was tight (debt follows you for a looonnnggg time after med school and I had been out of my practice for a bit with some medical problems). I felt she wanted me there because she expected a big gift…I gave a nice gift, but like I said wouldn’t have felt compelled to give anything had I known ahead of time. I was at the “wedding” ceremony but not at the reception…it was several hours later and the weather was a bit yucky (sleeting on and off and some ice already on the ground at the time of the ceremony). I would say the “wedding” was totally family’s idea (and maybe it was groom’s family, although I don’t know why they wouldn’t have had it in their hometown about 400 miles away if that was the case), except Mom had already talked to me how daughter was acting over the whole thing and thought she deserved more than a $500 hope chest (daughter had made it clear she wanted that), dress, etc. as a bridal gift from her parents. Frankly, I thought the couple should’ve paid for everything and been happy for any gift from parents. There were only 75-100 people at the ceremony itself; I’m not sure about the reception, but there was more than cheese-and-cracker type of food, there was a DJ and more than one keg of beer (didn’t hear what else was available wrt alcohol). And yes, maybe my friend the mom should have given me the heads up, but I think there was alot going on behind the scenes that she never told me (and she told me plenty). When I asked her after the ceremony, she said they had known she and groom had gotten married in Korea (but not when she found out), and bride told her not to tell anyone. Know how miserable I knew the bride could make her mother, I didn’t blame her, but always felt the “wedding ceremony” in the little church certianly was not the REAL wedding but rather a grab for gifts, because if everyone knew ahead this was a celebration of a previous legal wedding (well, 2 legal ones). there might not have been all the gifts.

  • CherryBlossom September 29, 2010, 10:50 pm

    @DocCAC ~ Yeah, I might be a little miffed at that experience too, but I think that’s a bit different from what we’re discussing with Izzlebun. (And in fact if a couple got married overseas because the groom was stationed there in the military and just had a reception in the states – being totally honest about having been married already for a some time – I’d still feel remiss if I didn’t give them some sort of a gift. I feel any presumption on their part that honesty would minimize gifts just heaps on the tacky.) It’s not like Izzlebun and her hubbie were together long enough to settle into domestic life and accumulate the kind of things that many people would be giving them as wedding gifts.

    A few weeks ago I was MOH in a truly lovely wedding, and the B & G signed the document after the ceremony, when most of the guests had already departed for the reception but the bridal party and families remained to take pictures. They didn’t even sign it together – the bride signed it as the groom’s family did a group shot, and visa versa. Certainly no one made any noise about not being able to see that little detail of the wedding happen, it’s not nearly as meaningful to witness someone scribble their name as it is to hear them pledge their lives to one another during the wedding VOWS, which is the moment Izzlebun and her DH invited everyone to be a part of, even if it is more legally binding. Most weddings I have attended in the US have gone that way – the couple signs the paperwork when they can get a spare moment away from everyone else, and the only people who really witness it are those who also attach their signatures to it. If it is ok to sign it when almost everyone is already off enjoying the party elsewhere, then why is it not ok to sign it a few days in advance?

    That said, I guess I can see feeling a bit left out if I learned, at the ceremony, that not only had they signed the paper work but also celebrated it with friends and family (albeit few) previously.

  • Nicole October 10, 2010, 11:19 am

    There may be a cultural issue in the comments section here… in Europe it is not uncommon to have a separate civil ceremony and church ceremony, because in many countries the religious officiant has no legal right to marry people. So you go to city hall, and a week or so later you have a church ceremony and a party. But legally, you’re already married.

    Now, unlike the situation in the letter, the civil ceremony is usually very small… not a whole affair with bridesmaids and everything. Usually just a witness for each side, and maybe some close relatives.

  • Michelle P October 10, 2010, 10:02 pm

    @Lenera, sorry but there is NO “polite way” to invite someone only to the reception and not the ceremony, or vice versa. There’s no polite way to do it because it’s rude. I don’t see any other side to having multiple weddings except the only “side” that’s there; to be greedy.

  • sassy36 October 27, 2010, 10:41 pm

    My mom and stepdad actually did have a small private family reception at a restaurant after legally getting married in another country. My mom REALLY hated the idea of a BIG lavish ceremony. Thus, my grandparents, aunt and great aunts all went to another country, so the actual ceremony wouldn’t be a big deal. Then when we were back in our home city, we had a reception with over 100 people, but it also celebrated my mom’s 40th and my 21st and us becoming an “official” family in general. We asked for no gifts so it was just a fun party. However, the story seems pretty tacky, as it wasn’t really a small “private family affair” Did they at least say “no gifts ” please?