Dear ESB: Do I have to plan THREE WEDDINGS?

Categories   Wedding Advice

This week East Side Bride offers her very sane advice in a slightly un-sane situation. It’s kind of a long story, but worth the read because surely there are some of you out there in similar, seemingly impossibly positions. She’s so good with the sanity, isn’t she?

Dear ESB,  

I’m a little overwhelmed and need your help. About two weeks ago my boyfriend and I got married. He is American and I am Canadian which has made our dating life for the past five years more difficult than most. For two of the five years he was in Canada but after being accepted to a phd program in the US, he moved back. Since I am a Canadian citizen I am unable to live and work there without a green card. So for three years I would visit him for 6 months of the year. 

Needless to say this was becoming very difficult so while he was visiting me in Canada we decided to go to the courthouse and get married. This seemed to be the best idea as neither of us wanted either governments to tell us when, where and how to get married. Both of us want to have a larger ceremony within a year after my immigration is settled so we decided not to tell anybody that we are married and rather pretend that our ceremony in the future is our ‘real’ wedding.  

That being said, the only person who knows we are married are our witnesses; my mum and a friend. My husband feels incredibly guilty for not having his parents there so he told them our plan to have a courthouse marriage for immigration purposes and have a larger ceremony in the future with friends and family. His parents now think that we are engaged and are suggesting they come to Niagara Falls one weekend and we get married at a courthouse there. Little do they know we are already married. The idea of planning a third fake wedding is ridiculous but I understand how my husband doesn’t want to hurt his mother’s feelings.  

Anyway, it doesn’t stop there. Now on to the fake ceremony in a year… All of his family live in California and all of mine live in Ontario. My husband and I live in Texas. Both of us want our families to join us for the ceremony but we have no idea where to do it! If we have it in California, my family won’t be able to come because it is too far away and vice versa. Right now the best idea seems to be to have a wedding in Texas as it is half way between both places. I fear that many of my friends and family still won’t come as flying is quite expensive in Canada.  

My mum has suggested that we get married there and then have two receptions; one in California and one in Ontario. Doing this would mean that our families probably won’t meet, not to mention the cost of all this will get very expensive. I have a small budget and so far we have a fake courthouse wedding to plan for his parents, a fake ceremony in Texas for whoever can make it, and two receptions in two countries. We are beginning to think an all inclusive wedding somewhere in the Caribbean would be the easiest however I am hesitant to add a third country to the mix. I am at a loss as to what we should do. Any insight or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 


Overwhelmed immigrating bride


This is terrific pitch for a romantic comedy, but you know you can’t actually pull it off, right?

In the movie, his mom figures it out AT NIAGRA FALLS, while you’re all standing in front of the judge. So eff the fake courthouse thing. Suck it up and tell her the truth.

The guests at your wedding (let’s not call it a “fake ceremony,” mkay? it’s a wedding, your REAL WEDDING) won’t care that you’re already legally married. I’m not saying you have to engrave it on the invitations, but people do the courthouse thing all the time, for all kinds of reasons.

As for the WHERE: I can’t answer that question for you, lady. You have to go with your gut.

Is there no place, space, field, hut, house, chapel in any of the three locales that has special meaning to either of you? It shouldn’t be all about logistics.

Photo: Raquel Zimmermann by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia August 2011 via Fashion Gone Rogue

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HiLLjO on Aug 9, 2011

Wow you have that right, ESB. Romantic comedy FTW. And that's the only place all this would win. I totally agree: tell them you're married. Have the wedding, it makes it no less special just because you were married before that day. You still get a WEDDING even though you've already started the WEDDING (these are two different things). and yes, go with your gut on the where. Destination would be fun! Think of the dress choices... ahhh.

HiLLjO on Aug 9, 2011

I meant: "You still get a WEDDING even though you’ve already started the MARRIAGE (these are two different things)." Dur, me.

Hilary on Aug 9, 2011

Wow! I agree with ESB it shouldn't all be about logistics. It's YOUR wedding and you should have it where the two of you want to have it. The people who are important to you will find a way to get there. Throwing two ceremonies sounds expensive, stressful and crazy. Plus, your families won't meet, as you said. Good luck! Hilary

Sarah on Aug 9, 2011

Or, you could have told the truth to begin with. Eesh..... I don't feel like anyone can give good advice for the mess you got yourself into, except it might be helpful to just fess up now before it snowballs into an even BIGGER problem. :/

Char on Aug 9, 2011

I got legally married in New Zealand in March last year, a civil ceremony with no fuss and only my husband's mother and my parents as witnesses. We had our wedding ceremony in June this year, with all our family and friends from near and far, in England. We did it to stay together in a crazy world where I could not remain in the UK due to visa restrictions, and we couldn't both find work in NZ. We could have arranged a fiancee visa for the same price as a spousal visa but it would have meant getting married within 6 months of entering the country (ie planning a wedding within 6 months involving international family and friends) and on top of that, I would not be eligible to work until I was married (ie no income). We explained our circumstance to our nearest and dearest - a wedding is more than just the legal side of things - it's declaring your love to each other in the presence of your loved ones. Separate the legal side from the wedding ceremony side of things and be honest with your friends and family, they'll understand! Put simply - anything worth doing once is worth doing twice!

Char on Aug 9, 2011

PS: we got married in his parent's garden, which is not legit in the UK... but because we were legally married we could do as we liked! And we had a celebration dinner for all those who couldn't make it, in Malaysia on our way home from a honeymoon in Vietnam and Thailand. Good luck! Make it work!

Kate on Aug 9, 2011

Sounds like you've fallen into the trap of trying to make everybody else happy and forgetting what would make YOU happy. Been there, believe me. Try asking yourself this question: If you two were going to be the only ones who could make it to your wedding (the ceremony that is special, spiritual, etc... not the legal ceremony) where would you do it? Do that and let the rest fall into place. People will come and people will be happy because you are happy and they love you.

Wendy on Aug 9, 2011

My sister did something like this. Eloped and then kept it a secret from the family, faked an engagement, and started to plan a "wedding." When the family found out (anywhere from a year to a year and a half later) we were all upset and hurt that they lied to us, not about the fact that they eloped. We also were hurt that we had to keep it a secret from those in the family who didn't know yet either. As a result, we felt duped for being excited for them at what turned out to be a fake public proposal after they were married. I can imagine how hurt we would be if we learned now, after the wedding, that it was faked as well. Remember, this will be a lie for years and years to come. What was important was that my sister and brother-in-law did finally tell us that they were married. That way when they had their wedding, we all could genuinely celebrate the love and happiness they had already found in their marriage through a renewal of vows and party with friends and family. It made that day special and beautiful, far from a fake wedding.

Monica on Aug 9, 2011

I agree with Hilary and with Kate. You are not responsible for making everyone happy, and those who are important will make a way to be where ever you choose to have your ceremony. Tell the truth, secrets have too much power over you and you've done nothing wrong.

Emily on Aug 9, 2011

First of all, how is Texas closer to Ontario than Canada? When throwing a wedding there will always be people who have to travel to be with you. This is not a special situation. But, if flights are really expensive from Canada to the U.S, then it seems like the cheapest option would be to throw the wedding in Ontario. You neve know who can pay for a plane ticket until you actually get the rsvp. But if after the rsvp process there are still some people you need to be there than you should probably pay for thier tickets. Expensive but not as expensive as throwing two receptions.

Jess on Aug 9, 2011

Let me start by saying, I feel sorry for you and can feel exactly what you're going through. I wouldn't wish that situation upon anyone, but put the in context that it's true, it would be a very funny comedy! My fiancé lives in Idaho and I live in Australia, we have been doing long distance for over two years now. In the end, someone has to make the sacrifice and yes, family and friends will get left out or may not be able to come. We're having the wedding in Australia and only a few people are going to be able to make it from my fiancé side of the family. BUT, we will go back to the USA and celebrate with those who weren't able to come. However, it will be a very low key BBQ and I'm not lifting a finger for that one! Whoever can come, will come and if they are that close to you, they should just make the effort...once in a lifetime, remember! If people can afford to fly all the way from the USA to Australia, I think they should start saving and make the effort to go to your wedding. I'm sure it will all work out, and good luck with sucking it up and telling everyone the truth. Maybe you could send them all a little letter, in the format of a tragic comedy and then they too can see the difficulty, and make light of the situation!

Jen on Aug 9, 2011

Wow so many people in a similar situation!! My husband and I are in the exact same vote! I am from Canada and he is from Australia... we met in China and got engaged and live in Hong Kong. We also got married at a lawyers office for immigration reasons... so we could both continue to live in Hong Kong. Only my parents who were witnesses knew. We also told his family in Australia as we knew they would understand the reasons we had to get married quick and with no fuss. However, between my parents and us we all decided to not tell my family. We really wanted our wedding to be special, to feel like the real thing. If we had told my family they would have got all excited and celebrated the moment I came home for a visit with parties and cards and gifts. Then when it came time for our actual wedding, we felt that no one would be excited and make much effort. Also my little brother was getting married a few months from when we did and I didnt want people to think we were just getting married so that I was married before my little brother... so we have kept our marriage secret for 3 years! I started and stopped planning our wedding 6 times from Hong Kong!! it was frustrating and I also couldn't figure out where to have it... ideally we would have had it in Hong Kong but that meant that everyone had to travel.... Finally I realized there is no one perfect situation for everyone, we can not make everyone happy. So we have planned our wedding for this October in Ontario. As my family is the biggest. Only a few will be flying from Australia, but thats ok as we have made sure we will have a video done so we can have a low-key backyard party next time we get to Australia and show the video. I am completely happy with the way we have handled everything. I think not telling my family was a good decision. My advice is go with your gut. It is your wedding and you are the only one who will be looking back at it in 50 years and still feeling the emotions of the event and day. To be honest I really can't remember so much of the weddings I have been to. Do what will make you happy. You know your family better then anyone here. Some say on here its horrid to not tell family but in my case it works fine. So do what you think is right.

Kate on Aug 9, 2011

depending on the part of Ontario your family lives in - it is MUCH MUCH MUCH cheaper to drive across the border into Buffalo and fly within the US rather than paying racked up international rates of flying out of Pearson (per-say) My fiance's family all live in the Toronto area and will be doing this exact thing for our wedding next year. And to add in - we are getting married in the courthouse this friday and his mother is flying in from Buffalo (driving from Milton) - no big deal. Also - you really should tell people the truth. They appreciate it.

Iva on Aug 10, 2011

Hmmm, yeah... Tell the truth. Is it even legal to sign a marriage certificate twice in two different countries? And then pick one place for a wedding and call it a day. That's what we are doing and no one has complained yet. I'm from an Eastern-European country, my fiance is from Wisconsin, and we live in LA. The wedding will be in Arizona (where we met and most of our friends still live), with lots of friends but only our immediate families present. We are planning to visit both extended families within the next year (or two) and have informal BBQs with them to celebrate. It's necessary to try to accommodate the most important people in your life (mom, siblings, childhood friends), but you can't accommodate everyone. Good luck!

Lizzy on Aug 11, 2011

You should get married where you live. It is the place you share and, especially if you plan to continue living there, the place that should represent your beginning of married life! My fiance and I met in the city where I am at university, hundreds of miles from either of our families and we plan to live here after we're married. It is important for us to marry in that city rather than either of our home towns because it means our wedding will belong to us rather than more to one side of the family or the other. People will travel to be with you on the most important day of your life, plus it is a lot easier to plan a wedding in the city you live in!!! It is very easy to constantly try to accomodate everyone when planning a wedding but you have to remember that SOMEBODy will have to compromise - do you really want that someone to be you and your partner on your special day? Good luck and remember, your families love you so in the end they should support you decision (and it's ok to tell them that!)

eaw on Aug 11, 2011

My husband and I were in a similar situation! He immigrated here almost a year ago and we were married right away in a tiny civil ceremony. But we (and everyone else) wanted a chance to celebrate our marriage with friends, so we're having a wedding this weekend! At first we felt weird doing the ceremony all over again, but when we told people we were thinking about skipping it, they were disappointed. Everyone wanted to share with us as we exchange our vows again. There are a ton of couples dealing with the immigration process who are in your shoes. At the end of the day, I think you just have to forget the logistics and what you feel is "expected" of you. Go with your gut!

SBS on Aug 17, 2011

Well done, ESB. I think this is where A Practical Wedding's "your wedding is not an imposition!" idea must come in. Because, it's not. Your family is lucky you want them there. Do it where it will feel good to you.

Amy Vassar on Aug 18, 2011

My husband and I didn't want a huge wedding, we wanted to get married at SF city hall, which we did, with our parents siblings and only surviving grandparent. Afterwards we had a small lunch with our extended family and 2 friends each. We did keep our decision to marry a secret till a month before we did it, my sister was just jilted and some other crazy drama was going on so we didn't like the circumstances for sharing our happy news. Our families and friends expected a party which we decided to hold a few months later at my parents home, and my whole reason for sharing this story is this we addressed our party invites like this: We would like to invite you to celebrate the Febuary 23rd marriage of Brent & Amy at our home on June 2. It was a little more fancy and eloquent than that but you get the gist. And let me add another bit of wisdom for you (I am an event planner so I see lots of scenarios) a wedding does not a marriage make, and the party is supposed to be fun, not everyone can make it no matter what lengths you go to, so do what makes you happy and tell your parents the truth, the stress of a wedding is hard enough they will understand, throw them a bone at the party by doing something to make them to make them feel special and included. Besides don't you think people will realize when your living arrangements are no longer restricted that something is up?

Amy Vassar on Aug 18, 2011

Oh, and my sister from SF, married a man from Columbia, in SF, and those closest to him came in for the big day in October then his family held a reception only for them when they visited for Christmas, showers, bachelorette style bonding for her to get to know them and everything. No one cared that they were married (or that she was already pregnant- hehe) Everything works out somehow or another. So Good Luck and Congratulations too!

Laura on Aug 30, 2011

I was catching up on my blogs, ran across this, and just had to throw in my two cents! ESB is completely right. Quite a few years ago, my uncle and his girlfriend got pregnant. They decided they wanted to get married right away at the courthouse and did so in secret with my brother as a witness and asked him (he was maybe 16 at the time) to keep it a secret as well. Then they announced to friends and family that they were pregnant but not that they were married. In the meantime they moved to France. Then they planned a French wedding for after the birth, asking friends and family to fly over where they would meet the baby, attend the wedding and reception, and attend the baby's christening. Just before the wedding they let slip to family that they were already married at the courthouse. This angered practically everyone because they were lied to and they felt manipulated. Almost everyone said they would have still attended the wedding, even if they had to fly, even if they knew the couple was already married. But it created such a disaster within family and close friends because of all the conniving lies. It was clearly out of a fear that friends and family wouldn't show for the wedding, but it was done like children not like adults. So my advice is to come clean about everything. Act like adults. Tell the truth and then make decisions. Yes, consider the feelings (and pocketbooks) of your guests, but ultimately make your decisions for the two of you. And then don't whine about it if some people can't make it. It's a tough situation and that's what life is about. Maybe it won't be absolutely completely perfect in every way possible, but you do your best. And that's what adults do. Your heart is in the right place, now you just have to get your head there! Good luck!

Lauren on Sep 7, 2011

MY THREE WEDDING EXPERIENCE: I speak from personal experience that it can be done. I just got done with 3 "weddings" to the same man all within a year. My husband is from South Africa and I'm from the states. We did a similar small party wedding with the two of us and our intimidate family (moms, dads and siblings), which was PERFECT and that was going to be it. But then the families got involved and we had a "ceremony" and reception 6 months later in South Africa for his family and friends there. Then we just celebrated our 1year anniversary in the states with all of my extended family and our friends here by throwing a reception with a small blessing prayer like "ceremony". MY ADVICE: I say go for it if it's really what will work best for you both and what YOU TWO both really want. It was a great opportunity to get everyone together to celebrate and really get to know each others extended families who without these events may have taken years to get to meet. And if your really on top of things and have A LOT of family support it can be done and worth while. PLUS, what a great way to get to wear your wedding dress three times. Talk about getting the most band for your buck ;) Best wishes, Lauren

Lauren on Sep 7, 2011

P.S. TELL PEOPLE THE TRUTH We tried to keep it "secret" which didn't last long. Most everyone found out one way or another and I really wish we had just come out and said it straight away so everyone could have shared in the excitement instead of feeling a bit left out. Once the beans spilled to a few people we made calls to everyone to let them know and that we were planning receptions for everyone to attend. There wasn't any drama in this regard everyone was excited for us and happy that they would have a chance to celebrate with us. ~Lauren

alexis on Sep 9, 2011

This is a month old, but I'd like to know if they went ahead and told his mother. It's no point being in the people pleasing business when the reasons for eloping were grueling for the couple, and they just wanted to be together and the logistics were already hard. Anyone that loves these two people truly would understand. Having ONE good event to share with the close family and friends should be enough. I'm sure in this economy there isn't a whole lotta dough to fly around, especially if the groom is getting his PHD in Texas. Practicality got them eloped, practicality should be the basis of the REAL wedding ceremony. You two shouldn't beat yourselves up so much.

Kelly Cummings on Nov 9, 2011

I got married at the city hall in San Francisco and then we had a blessing and reception a few months later. The blessing was exactly like a traditional marriage ceremony but we walked in together and took our rings off to have them blessed. We announced on the invitations that we had gotten married in San Francisco and then said join us to celebrate. We only included close family and bridesmaids/groomsmen in the blessing and honestly I think that our other friends appreciated that. Not that they don't love us. I loved that when I looked around at the blessing I knew and loved every single person there, there were no relatives I'd never met, just glowing faces of people who were feeling what we were feeling. Anywho, all that to say, I don't think people have to feel shorted when they aren't there for the actual vows (unless they are close family, and that just depends on the person), so it's not so bad to have a blessing of the marriage (the city hall is by the government and the blessing can be by God if that suits your beliefs), that way your loved ones can still be involved. And no matter where you have your wedding, not everyone will be able to come. Explain to the powers that be (the parents and grandparents) the places you are considering, and that Texas seems like the best option and see what they say. The important people will hopefully come no matter where it is.

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