How do I give up what I'd always expected my wedding to be?

Updated Oct 12 2015
'Grand' entrance.
Photo by Persimmon Images
I always expected to have a big wedding in my hometown, complete with second cousins and friends from high school. Basically, this can't happen if my partner's family is to attend, because they can't travel due to their health. So even though, in a vacuum, I'd love to have my big hometown wedding, it's just not feasible with my partner's life. She wants a family-only wedding or an elopement.

Now, I'm leaning more and more towards eloping, because if I can't have that giant wedding I want, why not elope and then have a giant party afterwards?

But how do I get over that lost wedding? Before I came out, I always dreamed I'd marry a dude — so clearly my dreams are not set in stone. It's more of an abstraction anyway. How do I make sure I'm 100% emotionally on-board and not going to feel resentful later on? -A.

For starters, you can spend some time browsing our elopement archive — you'll find tons of gorgeous elopements that might help you get excited for the prospect of your own. Then read this post: Reconciling my wedding expectations with my likely wedding realities. Releasing expectations is an ongoing process… you've already released one vision (that you'll marry a dude), and now you've got an opportunity to release another (that you'll have a big hometown wedding), and then you'll have an opportunity to release many more (starting with the fact that your elopement will be anywhere near perfect — because weddings are never perfect).

Now we'd love to hear from the Offbeat Bride community: how are you making your peace with the wedding you're having vs. the wedding you imagined?

  1. I try to remember that it isn't MY day. How does a person create the dream fantasy wedding when including another, different dream fantasy wedding? My life will 'forever' be tied to another person and their opinion is just as valid as mine. I see it as one of the first challenges, after scrutinizing over linens, guest list, cake flavors, if we come up with something that looks remotely like a wedding- I'll call it a WIN. But honestly, I'm surprised with how into this my partner is. I'm surprised at how into this I am.

  2. I had similar issues, but my husband convinced me that we'd regret an elopement (even with reception later) and to do what we can as we can always do vow renewals later.

    While this was similar in my books to eloping and reception later, we went for it. So many people got to attend who were so happy for us, people who would not have been part of an elopement. Their enthusiasm and excitement overwrote any feelings I'd had about 'missed this, missed that'.

  3. I am in a somewhat similar situation. I have always imagined having a big wedding with lots of family and friends, a catered reception in a gorgeous wedding appropriate location with centerpieces and a big, white gown. Instead I'm getting parents and 2 friends for each of us, a "preception" at a nice Italian restaurant with no centerpieces and a small, dark coral dress. This choice was made due to life (we are getting married a year sooner than we always planned on and don't have the money to do EVERYTHING we would have wanted) and because at the end of the day we are really shy people so the whole big wedding thing would have been a bit nerve wracking. This is a little more us than the dream wedding in my head.

    Though I am happy about our choices I still feel a tinge of regret at the wedding we could have had. If I let myself mourn it, I think of myself in the big dress with a huge bouquet and all the people that could have shared in our day. But then I think about what's really important. For us, a big party is not the most important part of the day– it's that we are getting married.

    And I try to remember that like most things in life, something that seems really important or special right now, in 10-20 years and beyond when you look back will just shrug and say "yup, it was a nice day."

    It also helps to try to have fun with your elopement– have fun with your outfits, do something special, get creative and make it your own. We are very lightly drawing inspiration from a vintage aesthetic for ours!

  4. Could you have an elopement, and then a big reception-style bash in your hometown and also in your partner's hometown? That way you get the private moment with your partner to say your vows, the big party with all your loved ones that you want, and whatever feels like the best way to celebrate with your partner's family. That way everyone wins! And you can wear your wedding-day outfit multiple times, if you so desire.

    • This is actually how my partner and I will probably end up doing it. He's based in WA while both our families are scattered across Northern and Southern CA.

  5. I'm still trying to get over The Wedding I Had vs. The Wedding I Always Imagined, especially after this weekend, when we attended a wedding that was The Wedding I Always Imagined. In truth, the day is done, we had a blast, and I got married. Focusing on the future with my wonderful husband is more important than being sad!panda over the decisions that we made together for our wedding.

  6. I couldn't. My husband and I eloped back in 2010. He's in the Air Force and three days after we got engaged we got short notice orders for him to move to another country. We had less than a month to make the move. So a week later he went to work for eight hours and then we went to a court house. We're currently planning our "get weddinged" ceremony for 2014.

    It's not so much about having the WIC big wedding, but I never imagined getting married with no one I'd known more than nine months being there. I want to be able to celebrate with our friends and family, so on our fourth wedding anniversary, we'll be doing just that.

  7. I so needed this today- thank you! My younger cousin just booked the dream venue we could not afford for her wedding. I'm working on letting go of my jealousy (and obsession over how she can afford it with only one partner working, and a child, while we could not as two childless professionals!) as my own, much smaller and less expensive wedding approaches.

    Releasing expectations is an uphill battle but I'm trying to just understand that everyone's priorities are different. Ultimately, we prioritized not starting our marriage with wedding debt over having the big wedding at the fancy place. Our 40 person, tiny wedding will be perfect for us at this stage in our lives. I recall another post about how weddings are time capsules and I know we will look back fondly on the small wedding we were able to afford as we started our careers and our lives together.

    • Hi Anne, I see your post is from 2 years ago and if you care to share Im wondering if in the end you wound up happy with your decision. I ask because I am still having trouble 3 months after feeling happy about the wedding I had. I did realize there would be concessions and was okay with many because we as adults had no desire to have zero savings to start our lives. But at the very end after a few financial nightmares it was all changed so much it was no longer even close to what I wanted and out of my comfort zone. I played along the whole night for the sake of the guests hopefully enjoying but I wasnt comfortable. Worse now is a good friend is planning her wedding. Shes the happy fancy free type and said none of weddding planning should get to me. Then she started hers and wrote to me 'now I get it'. As she has shared details a lot of what I wanted she will be doing and we will be attending. Im afraid it will just make me sad and making comparisons. (Though Im supportive as she can afford it so I wont tell her how I feel.) How does one reach a point of being content with what we had afterward?

  8. You've already got lots of great advice on letting go of expectations… I'm wondering, though, if you have to assume "elopement" or "big party" (or elopement + big after party) as your only options. How might it feel to compromise a bit – somewhere between your visions and your partner's visions – by having a small wedding of say 50-60 guests in the town where your partner's parents live? I think one of the most valuable lessons of wedding planning is learning how to discuss major decisions and find good compromises (of course your compromise may look really different than the one I just suggested)

    • Thanks! Actually, Partner would only want immediate family there–she's not one for crowds, really, so it's be about 25 people total. Which isn't ACTUALLY that small, but it feels tiny in comparison. Plus like, if we have the small wedding and spend a ton of money on it (not that we're big spenders, but if it's a wedding and we have to plan it and all) why not just elope and then celebrate later?

      The eloping/party is the compromise, at least so far. I wouldn't want to push her too hard–she never really planned on getting married at all, so the idea of a wedding just isn't "her." And let's be real–I'm way more excited about the marriage than the wedding.

  9. I also struggled with this right up until I found out we couldn't get married in the church. I had always planned on a big church wedding with the princess dress and the long train with bridesmaids, jr bridesmaids, flowergirl…the whole nine. When the priest told us we couldn't get married in the church without jumping through some hoops, i was surprised at how much I was okay with that. I realized that it didn't matter where we got married, as long as we were together, that was what mattered. As the date approaches (45 days!), I'm working on understanding that the vows and our love is the important part and the rest is just "fluff". I know it's hard to give up what you always dreamed of having, but after it's all said and done, the real "dream" is to be with the one you love and knowing you'll always have each other.

  10. If you find that you're heart's really set on having a big hometown wedding, you could always have a small family ceremony in your partner's area, and then a giant reception in your hometown. My suburban friend married into a traditional Indian family and they had two weddings to honor both of their sides and it was a beautiful compromise to start their lives together.

  11. I am in the same boat. My dream wedding is a far cry from the 20 person, Friday afternoon tea we will be having next month. Our reasons are mixed: finances, social anxiety, family and time restrictions. In the end our wedding will be lovely and much more "us" but I will still feel that tinge of sadness when I attend other people's weddings that have elements of my dream wedding. It's okay though. We can do a dream vow renewal when we have the funds, time, etc. For now what matters is I get to marry the love of my life.

  12. I'm reminded of this quote i saw in the comments of this post: http://offbeatfamilies.com/2013/07/let-children-make-choices – "Happiness is the result of choosing what is".

    I'm not yet at the point of giving up my wedding dreams, although I've been slowly working on it as my partner and I have known for a long time that our visions are very different. I have been dealing very acutely with disappointment lately, though, and finally it just hit me that the fantasies are just that… Fantasies. Trying to make the real world fit a fantasy is truly a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, perhaps you can break down what you really love about your dream wedding. Then you can think about why it's important and how that important thing might be incorporated into your actual wedding (or, on the other hand, might be related to some fear or anxiety or belief or desire that you can let go of. Or save the big party for a reception or big birthday or something else). In any case, I think it's easy to give a long-held fantasy the weight of something that is or could be (or could have been) real. Maybe it will help to honest with your brain about how it ISN'T real and needs to stay in the realm of storybooks. It's not the option you "lost", because it was never really an option to begin with. On the other hand, you DO get your amazing partner and your life together, and your REAL wedding that's yours.

  13. My partner is not of the same nationality as me and her family live overseas. The kinds of weddings we are both used to are therefore very different, we've had to compromise and work together to find something that is right for us and which both our families will feel comfortable with.

    It was hard to let some things go but on the other hand it's great when we strike on something we both want and when we do then it's really really right, much more so than something I dreamed up on my own before I met my lovely lady. The point is you are now entering a phase where you make decisions as two people, not easy…. I think half the issues about letting go of the dream are about letting go of being a free unencumbered agent, or maybe this was just me!

    It's the truth is you can never have the wedding you dreamed of as a single person because that was the product of only one person's thoughts and wishes. As soon as another person is involved that dream will have to become flexible, unless you marry someone identical to you in every way……

    Concentrate on the things you decide on together and the joy you get from that will help you let go. You will get the wedding you want but what you want might turn out to be something unexpected!

  14. Wow! I feel you on this one! I am in a similar ish situation where I felt like (and on some days still feel like) I am being forced to compromise on EVERY single detail of my 'dream' wedding. I broke down to my mum about it and our solution was for me to list 3 – 5 things that make it a 'wedding' for me. What it is that will make it a special day. For me it was having a gorgeous dress, having a fun special day with close family and friends, publicly making a commitment to FH and making it known just how much I love and cherish him to said close friends and family, and really nice food that no one will complain about (BBQ ftw!). Once I realised this it made it so much easier to just move on with it 🙂 So yeah, in the short what are the 5 things that really Honestly will make you feel like it is a special love celebration day. Then get your partner to do it and see if you have both written similar things 🙂

    One of the options FH and I have discussed was 'eloping' with immediate family and best friends and recording the ceremony, followed by a nice dinner, then doing the 'oh by the way we just got married… bbq/family reunion at xyz location tomorrow where you can watch our vows and celebrate with us'

  15. Thank you thank you for posting this today. While I never had a dream wedding as a child or even as single person, ever since my FH and I got serious I've been looking around and building castles in my head of a gorgeous forest wedding with perfect music and lights, etc. Well, reality has finally caught up with me. Our grandparents are old and don't walk so well, and since most of our guests will be flying in we thought it would be inconsiderate to have the venue too far from the city. On top of that, a lot of my family can't come because they don't have the money to fly out from the west coast or really hate other family members that will be attending. I was feeling like the last two weeks, when we started planning in earnest, every day was another series of let downs as I ruled out another beautiful venue as too far, or heard from another family member that they couldn't make it. But after reading these, I feel so much better knowing that I'm not the only one who had the wedding in her head not remotely resemble the one that will be. Last night we finally sent out invitations (evite) and as the "Yes! Wouldn't miss it!"s roll in, I can't believe I was focusing so much on the venue and decorations. I've also been surprised by how many people I thought wouldn't come are going out of their way to be there for us. I'd say the original poster should invite her hometown crowd anyway, she may be surprised how many are willing to hop in a car and show up.

  16. In the last couple of days I've found myself wrestling with similar – not necessarily because I've got the same sort of set ideas about a wedding that you do, but because I keep hitting up against what I guess can be called cultural expectations of what a wedding is. So I'll see something and go "well of course I'll have a bouquet, and that peacock feather one is gorgeous and permanent and wait a minute, a bouquet? When there will be six people? What am I thinking?"

    And then there's this weird… I don't know what to call it, other than something like a mental doubletake, where I have to figure out if I want something or I've just internalized expectations or if it's more a kneejerk OOOO PRETTY COVET.

    All I've found that I can do, when I hit these spots, is take a step back and refocus: I'm marrying the man I love. That's what matters. So how does this peacock bouquet fit into that? (And at least in the case of that bouquet, I decided it was more an OOOO PRETTY COVET reaction colliding with "but of course a bride has a bouquet" expectation.)

    I wish there were hard and fast ways around this, but it seems like the only thing to do is just "keep your eye on the prize" – the wonderful person you're marrying, and how you guys can work together to celebrate that.

  17. We eloped back in 2005 and were married at Portland Head Lighthouse. Because of my Grandmother's recent passing, any plans of a big wedding with the white dress were scrapped because without her, I never would have done it. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. We had to get dressed in the parking lot, the suit Ryan wore he borrowed from his stepfather was at least 3 sizes to big, my dress was prom dress I think, I got it at Filene's when they closed for 30 bucks. I had no flowers, my "veil" broke, and my mother, who saw us leaving, decided to come w/ us. We had one disposable camera and very picture my mother took was off centered. There was no honeymoon either because Ryan had to work in the morning.

    I say all this because at the end, it didn't matter. We look back on it now and realize that it really what we wanted. We had a gorgeous location and I knew my grandparents were with us when we saw the 2 beautiful monarch butterflies that hovered around us during the ceremony. Our whole wedding cost us $200, $60 for the offical, $30 for the dress, dinner and gas money from Connecticut to Maine.

    I think that no matter how your ceremony turns out, whether you have the giant fantasy wedding or the small ceremony with just you both, it will be everything you want because you will be together. I wish you nothing but love and happiness for your future!

  18. After my parents had died, I attended the wedding of a childhood friend. A month prior he had lost a grandparent. So before the ceremony he was so sad and crying because that grandparent wasn't there. In that moment I decided my big dream wedding would not happen. If he was this sad about a single grandparent, how would I feel with no grandparents and no parents? I didn't want to be that sad on a day meant to be happy. Fast forward 20-ish years and my pseudo elopement was a hit. The chapel we picked did live streaming of the ceremony so all who couldn't travel were able to watch live via the internet. His family made congrats videos and.sent them to us, and they even went out to dinner and shared pictures with us. We cane home and had a party with those we love who couldn't make is and replayed the video. It was indeed, the best day(s) ever.

  19. I went through this for my wedding!
    I have always dreamt of having a wedding where I'm center of attention, with the big puffy white dress and my dad giving me away. I married a rather anxious person, and I knew that they were feeling anxious about being in a big wedding/center of attention shindig. When the idea of elopement came up I cried and said I couldn't give up on even more (we'd already paired down a lot of what I'd dreamt of) but as we talked through it more I saw the merits of it and knew that later on I might be able get a big party. As I planned it I got more and more excited. In the end, after a series of events, it ended up being the most perfect day of my life.

    My advice is, put aside your dreams, talked to your partner about what's truely important to you both and just incorporate those things. See how amazing your day and then lives together will be. 🙂

  20. Neither of my weddings went the way they were supposed to and it's so frustrating. When I was little I was in a couple of weddings and that's what go me dreaming about my big day. So when my first husband and I decided to get married we didn't have much money so my parents offered a little help. Unfortunately they were on the cheap side so half of what we wanted didn't happen. By the way I'm an only child and they both worked so didn't get why they were so tight on their money. Even though we loved each other dearly, we struggled financially. We never were able to take any trips including a honeymoon and weren't able to have children either. He died suddenly in his sleep after eleven years of marriage. Just when I thought I wouldn't ever find another man to marry, a long time friend and me fell in love. His dad didn't approve of us getting married at all and we weren't even sure if he would attend the wedding. Because I was older and my parents were now living in another state, it was up to us to pay for everything. Didn't think it was possible to have a wedding for under $300 but we did. It wasn't anything close to what we really wanted but got married anyway. We are so disappointed that things turned out this way. Currently we are living with relatives because we lost our house. Haven't been able to take a honeymoon. In another month we'll be married for a year. Please don't say well at least you were able to get married and your together that's what counts. Well I wanted my dream wedding twice and still haven't gotten it. I have a right to be annoyed.

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