Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dear ESB: Should I scrap my lovely summer wedding for the sake of my sanity?

Dear ESB,

My fiance and I were engaged this spring after having been together for 4 years. I love him dearly, but his parents (as much as I really do love them, too) can be a bit controlling and critical of our choices, and have "elite" standards. Our wedding has proven to be no different. To clarify everything I am about to write: my fiance's family is very well off and mine isn't. We're students (studying on the other side of the country from where the wedding will take place) and can't afford much, and seeing as the FINs didn't like any of our initial budget-friendly wedding options, we started falling down the path towards the FINs paying for a fifty-thousand dollar wedding. We had always dreamed about having the wedding at the FINs waterfront home, which has a built in bar and amazing downstairs area perfect for dancing, but they didn't think they wanted to host 70 people there. So we reluctantly moved ahead with finding somewhere else. It started small at first: we began planning to have our wedding ceremony outdoors at a neighbour's property, and then move it to another venue for the reception. The neighbour's place is remote and has limited parking, so we would have to pay to get all of the guests transported to and from the site ($$). And this wouldn't be just any old outdoor ceremony: there would be a tent (a fancy one) with caterers and cocktails and flowers and rental chairs etc. etc. etc. ($$$).

When our reception venue fell through (kind of a blessing (-$$$$)) we asked the neighbour if he wouldn't mind hosting the entire wedding on his property, seeing as it wouldn't be too much more going on than the ceremony anyway, and he agreed. His property is really really beautiful and we loved the idea of having everyone in one place and not having to over-complicate the logistics of the day. I personally loved it because then I only needed to worry about decorating one venue instead of two or three. I should mention that in our city there is a very limited amount of wedding venues, none of which really challenge the conventional wedding reception style. I spent weeks and weeks looking for a more interesting place where we could have a great dinner and also be able to dance, only coming up with the previously mentioned venue that eventually fell through. So anyway, we were excited about keeping everything at the neighbour's. But then the FINs didn't seem so keen. They worried about it getting cold at night, the minimal lighting on the property, bugs etc. - all of which are very legitimate concerns, but I felt that we could work around them (complimentary bug spray, anyone?). His mom additionally argued that holding everything there would get expensive, which is frustrating because she just uses this argument when she doesn't like something. As an example, she was more than excited about renting out another venue that would have cost $10,000 more (the likes of which my fiance and I refused on principle).

So now the agreement is that the neighbour's place is a fall-back if we can't find an appropriate reception venue in time, which I know we won't because I have already done all the leg work. But I just want things settled. Every conversation we have with his parents is about the wedding, and his mom is relentless in searching for "the best" place instead of agreeing to go with the place that makes us the most happy. I don't want to talk about wedding venues and logistics anymore - I want to study for my finals!

Suffice it to say, our plans to have a low-stress, beautiful but inexpensive wedding have been hijacked by the FINs incredibly high standards (which I have certainly participated in as well as a blinded-by-the-bling bride). Everything is snowballing, and when we start to look at the numbers, we just know that this thing is going to be stupid-expensive. Not to mention the fact that I am worried the whole event is going to be incredibly stressful with all of my FMINs nit-picking and over-spending. I really value my close relationship with her, and I am incredibly worried that this wedding might irreversibly strain things between us. Throw in her side of the family, all of which will most definitely expect a free ride across the country to come to our wedding in the first place, and this thing is starting to look like a soulless monster to me.

Then...the epiphany. I started to think back to all of the fantastic family New Years parties my FMIN throws at her home with great food, dancing, champagne and a "disco tree" (it's her very cute tradition to throw about 10 tons of tinsel on the Christmas tree for New Years). I wanted to capture THAT for our wedding, and so I started wondering why we couldn't just incorporate our wedding into the New Years festivities. It wouldn't be a stretch: we'd keep the guest list to immediate family, a few other family members who are very close and already live in town and a few close friends. Anyone who is invited to the New Years party would have been invited to our wedding anyway, and our families already know each other (in fact, our moms get along famously). Plus it will save about THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. This idea makes me very very happy - like, I haven't felt as happy as this since I initially got engaged. And my fiance is really warming to the idea....but he needs to tell his folks about it. I can't be involved in this because they seem to think that all of my ideas need to be second-guessed no matter what (yeah...another problem), and the only way they are going to truly be on board is if they understand how much this means to their son.

It really sucks that they get to wield so much control, but money is power in this case.

I suppose what I am asking from you, ESB: do you think I am insane for wanting to scrap my lovely summer wedding for the sake of my sanity? Probably one of the biggest 'pros' is that I would be eliminating about 7 months of additional stress and drama. There are only a few small details from the summer wedding that I care about but wouldn't be able to pull off for the New Years wedding, and we would have to wait for our honeymoon in the summer. I also wouldn't be able to order the dress I wanted in time, but maybe this is my opportunity to rock an awesome white cocktail dress and killer heels instead? Any advice/suggestions/therapists you can offer would be appreciated.

Many thanks,
The Game Changer


What does "FIN" stand for?


...Future In-Laws. I came to a rather quick conclusion that this plan of mine wasn't going to alleviate many problems, just create new ones. Who the hell tries to plan a wedding on New Years in less than two months?! It did, however, allow me to appreciate the wedding I was originally planning and look forward to it more this summer.... and the GORGEOUS dress I was planning to purchase. But please, if you can find the time, I would still love advice on navigating the in-laws/financial scenario.


ummm, and yeah....just realizing my incredibly stupid typo, too. FIL, not FIN... its mid terms and I am stressed in all directions! Sorry about that!


I still think you should do it. It is totally possible to plan a wedding in two months.

The question is, how do you get your FMIL on board? And: Are you willing to let her be in charge? (Let's face it, the woman is in charge already. The only way you can take charge is to pay for the wedding yourself.)

Start off by telling her how much you love her annual party, and how you'd always dreamed of getting married at her house. And then show her this post about the surprise wedding that Marisa and John planned in SEVEN DAYS.

I think a surprise wedding with an ginormous disco tree would be too terrific for words.

Plus you'd get to celebrate your anniversary on New Year's Eve every year. What's better than that?

(Image from Design Crush via Erin Dudley)


  1. This is awesome, definitely go for it...jeez. Not to mention, you get the ease of mind to not have to plan for another six months. I LOVED that surprise wedding, too.

  2. first, that was the longest dear esb letter ever

    second, the issues with your in-laws are clearly thought consuming and ruining the ONLY (hopefully?) engagement period you will ever have. keep in mind that what you do now could set the precedent for your relationship with your in-laws for the rest of your marriage/life.

    by letting them pay for it you're inviting the criticism/input of your in-laws. go big or go home. let them shell out for a giant fancy rager and bask in the glory of racking up a bill you don't have to pay


    pay for it yourselves, do what you want, sleep easy.

  3. Being cynical here, for mothers weddings can be a seen as marvellous opportunity to show off the new union, bring together family, friends, alliances, network, build standing, and of course throw an impressive, beautiful party. It's sort of like a shiny tool as well as a social thing, and the truth is she wants everyone on the guest list to have seven shades of shit impressed out of them by her wedding, and there's no harm in having you in debt to her either. And of course she wants everyone to enjoy themselves, her son getting the wedding he deserves etc... Which leaves you as the flustrated barbie doll in the frock I guess. I can see why you want out.

    The New Years idea is sooo awesome, such a good idea. As ESB says flatter the hell out of her about how much you love it, saying winter weddings are so cosy, so different, so chic that everyone will be talking about it for years? Basically there will have to be some major incentive in it for her to give up the summer do without sulking. You could even try honesty, and add that you and your fiance are already extremely stressed about finals and you actually think wedding planning whilst doing finals will affect your grades and happiness (also true btw). Then pull at the old heart strings and say you guys love one another so much you can't wait to get hitched? And hopefully the elite social aspirations will melt away leaving only a pair of glittery red pumps...

    ps - My grandfather organised a kickass wedding for my parents in 9 days flat, and the great thing about this idea is that you just leave your FMIL to sort the party she always sorts, and all you have to sort is the ceremony and the dress. And if you're making it a secret surprise wedding (doitdoitdoit) that's it. Of course you can.

    pps - please tell us what happens!

    If the summer thing goes ahead I fear you're going to have to suck it up a little and recognise that while it's your vows and your marriage, your mother in law is throwing the party and not you, and she has the final say on how her money is spent (sorry!)

  4. You are all amazing, thank you so much for the advice. It was three days from hell trying to decide whether to even bring up the New Years wedding idea to my fiance's parents, and in the end we decided not to. That being said, your guidance has encouraged me (and set me straight) regarding the situation I have found myself in with the FILs. They are wonderful people who really do have my best interests at heart - and I would rather pick and chose my battles with them because of that. I know the food will be spectacular, I am in love with the photographers, can't beat the many good things have fallen into place.

    So....summer wedding it will be. Fabulous, expensive, summer wedding. Ultimately all that matters is that in the end I get to be married to their sweet, tall dark and handsome son.

    I don't think I will ever forget the visions of what my hypothetical New Years surprise (YES, I had totally seen that surprise wedding, and in fact it had been my inspiration!) wedding would be like. Man, it could have been cool....but I am confident I've made the right choice to stick with the original plan.

    Thanks again.

  5. gosh. it is so sad that they are disturbing your dream wedding. i mean: hello, is she marrying her son? no, you are! plan a wedding by yourself and invite them. sorry for that: you're grown up at least. lena

  6. ^ I second the above comment. Having someone (especially someone controlling) bankroll your wedding is... sort of hellish. When I got engaged, it was within a year of becoming completely financially independent of my parents. And it felt so great to be free.. whether you like it or not, when someone is supporting or contributing towards your life or your wedding, they have a huge amount of say in what you do. And then you have to worry about living up to their standards. That being said, when my parent's offered to contribute to our wedding, I said okay. It's so hard to say no when someone wants to give you a check for $10,000. And now... now I have to listen to my father's preaching about how I have to have a "dignified" wedding. Lame.

  7. You know, all that is true (if they pay, they get their way) and all, but odds are even if they weren't paying, you'd still have to hear it. My aunt seems to think she gets a say in my cousin's wedding simply because she gave birth to him: she's making all kinds of unreasonable demands and refusing financial assistance, and making his fiancee's life absolutely miserable.

    So, my thought on it is, stand your ground on major key aesthetic issues, but otherwise let them throw their money around. (For example, if they want to pay $10K to rent venue space, so long as the venue isn't totally fug, let them - it's not your issue, it's theirs.)

  8. Initially, my husband (then fiance) and I had envisioned a Labor Day destination wedding that we would pay for ourselves (with help from my dad). Two or three months into planning THAT wedding, we soon realized we could not afford it, even with my dad's help. But we were intent on trying...


    My MIL and her husband offered their home as our ceremony and reception site. WE KNEW that by accepting their generous offer we'd be giving up a good deal of control. For instance, our original guest list was 150. MIL & stepdad-in-law asked us to limit our guest list to 30 people. Also, my MIL (like yours) has very elite standards and expensive tastes. We knew it would be a big show for her and him (showing off their home/property) but... again we just wanted to get married and didn't want to go into debt doing so.


    We agreed to the new wedding. And you know what? It was THE BEST decision we could've made. They put on the most beautiful wedding for us - one that we would've never been able to afford to do on our own. And BECAUSE we took them up on their generous offer to host the wedding AND provide food/booze/music/decor/everything! we were able to afford the honeymoon we wanted.

    This is all to say - be grateful that your in-laws are giving you this wedding. It may not be what you have in mind BUT it may be even better than you can imagine. Enjoy it. Let go. Relax. Focus on your studies (a nice distraction!) Your summer wedding is gonna be gorgeous! CONGRATS! xoxo.

  9. I couldn't agree more, Irisira. Critiquing our choices (even if not to actually criticize, but "helpfully" play devil's advocate) is a way of life in this family. They are very supportive, but its usually after hearing his mom worry and hash out all the possible negative outcomes first. So this would be happening even if we were paying for it all.

    My mom and her wife, being as wise as they are, offered to contribute some money to pay for whatever I really wanted control over. So, for starters, I don't have to run by my dress choice by my FMIL. That would have made my head explode.

    Financial independence has been a sore spot for both my fiance and I for a number of years now, and it can be a pretty frustrating place to be. We graduate in May, so I think the wedding (at least for my fiance) is the last hurrah on his parents dime, and then we cut it all off and take care of ourselves. Ahhh, adulthood here I come....

  10. I know you want us to tell you this is crazy, and it was good to let you get it off your chest but it's just a dream, blah blah blah. I get reader letters, I know.

    But I've also been there, and the BEST ADVICE IN THE WHOLE WORLD is to just f*cking do it. You will be so glad you did forever-ever. Seriously.

    Who can plan a wedding in two months? YOU CAN. Anything that you can't get done in that time shouldn't be bothered with anyway. DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT. I can't tell you the number of emails I get from people that wished they'd gone with their gut. ESB IS SO CORRECT. DO IT.

    And I've been there. TRUST ME.

  11. As some one with gorgeous, wealthy and slightly controlling (let's call them strong-willed) in-laws, the only advice I have is that there is life after the wedding. When you marry, it will be wonderful (but there probably will be some irritating elements). Don't stress about setting your relationship with your in-laws on track now (as well as everything else). You have a life-time to figure them out and for them to figure you out.

  12. Dang, you dragged me through that long ass inquiry just to decide on your own that you'll just do as they say? Super.

  13. Weddings can completely get out of control with all the bells and whistles everyone feels they HAVE to have. Some of the best weddings I've been to are the ones where it's been pulled together on a shoestring budget and family + friends have helped make it happen (offering their skills, not money). They are the weddings I'd love to photography more of so it's unfortunate that most of the time there's not the budget for a professional photographer .