"What does it mean to have friends and family at your wedding?" It may seem obvious, but it's a question I ask every couple...and it's a question my husband and I also had to answer as we planned our own wedding. For me, along with sharing the joy of the occasion, I wanted to be witnessed - to have this most significant ritual blessed and sanctified by our beloveds.
I'll always cherish our long walk "down the aisle" (which was actually a large hayfield). Seeing our friends and family gathered in the distance, hearing their glad shouts as they saw us approach, my heart full to bursting as we made our way to the front... It was MAGIC!
The most common responses I hear from couples when I ask what it means to have their family and friends at their wedding are, "It means everything," "It means the world to us," and "We can't imagine getting married without our friends and family present." They often explain that their marriage isn't just the two of them; it exists within the fabric of all those other relationships.
This is not to say I think couples should want family and friends there. In fact, one couple whose elopement ceremony I recently officiated explained it this way: "Our wedding is the most intimate conversation we'll ever have with each other. We want to celebrate our marriage with our family and friends, but our wedding is just for the two of us."
Besides being there for us, there were two things many guests shared about our wedding day:
1. How nice it was to meet each other! They had a blast getting to know friends and family they'd heard so much about but never met.
2. How renewed their own relationship was by the beauty and romance of the day.
One groom recently shared this in response to the friends and family question: "I'm not close to my family the way she is. We are loyal to each other and share an inherent bond, but we don't see each other often and I feel like they don't really know me. I hope the wedding will help my family better understand who we really are."
While it isn't something I hear often, I'm sure for many couples this feeling exists to some degree. Which brings me back to the question, "What does it mean to have friends and family at your wedding?" Well, for starters, your wedding is one of the greatest opportunities you'll ever have to publicly express who you are.
Of course every wedding comes with concessions...things you do because it will be meaningful to a grandparent, old friend or parent. Hopefully these are small issues - things you can give with grace - allowing others to feel they were considered without compromising what's most important to you.
For me, one of those instances was having a bouquet. It wasn't something I needed but it was special to my soon-to-be mother in law. She took great pleasure in arranging my bouquet...and I have to agree, it was beautiful!
Whether you decide to include everyone you know, or only your beloved and yourself, it says something about who you are. Whether you choose to use traditional vows or write your own, it's a reflection of who you are. Whether or not you're escorted down the aisle by a parent, whether you include a prayer or blessing, a reading or ritual...all these things represent who you are.
Rather than feeling nervous or daunted by this prospect, CELEBRATE IT! Exploit it! Take full advantage of the chance to have one day in your life be about being who you really are with those you really love. What an extraordinary opportunity.
And more than that, it's easy! Yes, it may take courage...for some of us more than others. To have a wedding that's a reflection of who you are, individually and as a couple, all you have to do is ask yourself. Depending on your situation, you may have to carefully listen within in order to quiet the other voices telling you what you should do, or what they want.
You may have to gather your gumption to make your needs known, and honored. But it's soooo worth it! Remember, even when it doesn't feel like it, other people are adults and can take care of themselves. They have their own lives, and likely their own weddings.
Seek out people (like me, your officiant!) who support and encourage you. It will make your wedding one of the most fulfilling days of your life, a memory you will cherish forever.
No guests at all? Wonderful! But if you do include your friends and family at your wedding, you can be sure it will be a touchstone they look back on, knowing they had the privilege of witnessing the authentic expression of someone they love...and what is more meaningful than that?
All photos by Chattman Photography.