Carolyn Hax: Couple propose beach wedding as ‘vacation’ for guests

Comment on this story


Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared Aug. 1, 2008.

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend of four years and I are in the preliminary stages of planning our wedding. We want a unique wedding, but nothing large or showy; we want our important family members there; and we want to make the decisions when it comes to most details.

We both have always dreamed of having our wedding on the beach. We moved to Florida one year ago so I could attend graduate school. We both come from a town in Michigan, where all her family and most of mine still live.

I would love to have family and friends come down for several days. Why have an ordinary wedding when we can really be creative and make this an especially memorable event for everyone involved?

There are problems, though. Her grandparents would not be able to attend (lack of mobility), and mine probably wouldn’t, either. It would be a financial strain on my girlfriend’s family to come. Also, they would (strongly) prefer us to get married by a priest, to which I say, “No way.” We are both atheists.

To the money concerns, I have two potential antidotes: Encourage people not to give a gift, and to treat themselves to a little vacation in Florida instead, and to pay for the wedding ourselves, meaning the only costs for everyone would be the flight, hotel and miscellaneous costs. I see an opportunity to have an extraordinary wedding. Is that selfish? What do you think we should do?

J.: Here’s what your guests hope you’ll do, even if they don’t know it yet themselves: Add up flights, hotels, ground transportation, meals and every other cost that triples when you’re away from home, then compare that with the $50 to $100 most cost-conscious people would (rather generously) spend on your wedding gift. Then do some role-playing, and imagine you’re allotted two weeks of paid vacation from work. Now imagine you’re inclined to spend those weeks, I don’t know, puttering around in your garden, or snowshoeing, or lolling at Paris cafes.

Now imagine a relative asking you to spend half your annual vacation allotment in Florida on his idea of your dream vacation — a “unique, creative and memorable” celebration of himself. I say this without bitterness; no close family member has forced me to choose between missing a family milestone or ponying up extra savings and personal time. But these two commodities are precious, and people don’t appreciate being asked to part with either one just because a Midwestern backyard wedding doesn’t seem as special as the couple fancy themselves.

If you want to wed on the beach, then wed on the beach; it is your home now, after all, and your money. And, certainly, your atheism makes the priest issue a nonissue.

Just know that your dream will hurt some important family members, no matter how you rationalize it. Not just grandparents, but also those who resent being asked to choose between paying dearly or missing out.

If the backdrop matters more than family presence, then elope and have a Michigan reception later. If family matters more, then save the beach for the honeymoon. And if you want it all, then either be prepared to pay for everyone’s travel expenses, or learn this most valuable skill: how to say no to yourself.