A Beginner’s Guide to Eloping

Last month, my husband and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. We are a nontraditional couple in many ways, and our married life fittingly enough began with a secret flight to Las Vegas and a wedding conducted at Graceland Wedding Chapel (Bon Jovi was also married here, and I figured if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me! And to their credit, the staff did a lovely job.)

Bride and groom leaving wedding ceremony
Photo by Gina Fasciani.

I naturally felt affinity for Kate Cochrane, heroine of my forthcoming novel, who also eloped. And despite the fact that elopements are much maligned, I believe there’s something powerful in couples who chose to dispense with ceremony. I believe there’s something powerful in couples who choose to begin their marriage with only each other.

In America, we are often guilty of falsely equating the size and scope of the wedding with the value the couple places on their marriage.

If a couple elopes or has a civil ceremony, there’s the nagging assumption that they were too indifferent or too impolite to give the event its due. Wrong. And if you’re thinking of marriage, via elopement or otherwise, I offer the following thoughts:

  1. A wedding is not a chance to prove anything. Not how rich you (or your parents) are. Not how much sophistication and good taste you show. Not how many friends you have.
  2. A wedding is not the culmination of your relationship. The road does not end at the altar. Your relationship is ever-evolving. A wedding marks the beginning of a new iteration of that relationship. Get ready for it – and open yourself to change and flexibility and growth.
  3. A wedding is no guarantee. Don’t think that a wedding will fix anything. Don’t think that a wedding will make you happy. Don’t think that a wedding will prove that you are loved. Please don’t misunderstand me – weddings are important. Committing to a marriage is the most powerful, dynamic, thrilling, challenging commitment that two humans can make to each other. But weddings only mean that if you are all in.

For me, the biggest danger is that wedding planning can suck the energy and attention into things completely unrelated to the quality of your marriage.  Do you really need to serve four kinds of artisinal salad dressing at your beachside buffet? Do your bridesmaids really need to wear lemon yellow strapless chiffon? Do you need a fairytale setting because you think perfect is the only path to happy?

Whenever you make a decision about your upcoming nuptials, ask yourself where your energy is going – to the wedding, or towards the marriage? If it is the latter, good on you. And if it’s the former, take a deep breath, make a choice, and remember the reason that you’re doing this.

P.S. After our Las Vegas elopement, my husband and I did have a traditional wedding ceremony attended by family and friends. I’m not anti-wedding, and I love a good party. The whole thing was as DIY as we could make it (My sister and I made the centerpieces ourselves, I did my own makeup, and one of my dad’s buddies was a champ and served as our bartender. My friends and in-laws set up the décor, and we had no wedding party to speak of but both of our sisters did readings.) We rented out a barn and a BBQ food truck, served beer and wine that we hand-selected from local offerings, and danced until the fireflies came out.

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