When you meet someone you want to share your life with, forever can’t come soon enough. That’s why some couples decide to forgo a long engagement and elope instead.
Eloping has transformed in recent years as modern couples start to think critically about what matters to them in a celebration and look for ways to save a pretty penny. The coronavirus pandemic has also given engaged couples another reason to consider eloping, due to the danger of COVID-19 transmission among wedding guests.
Though this route isn’t for everyone, if you’ve thought about setting off for Vegas, Hawaii, or just the courthouse in your zip code, here’s what you need to know about getting eloped:
- What Does It Mean To Elope?
- Why Couples Choose To Elope
- Pro and Cons of Getting Eloped
- Questions To Ask Before You Decide To Elope
- How To Elope
- The Bottom Line on Eloping
What Does It Mean To Elope?
In the simplest terms, eloping is a more private way to wed without the usual pomp and circumstance that comes with a traditional wedding. The classic definition of the word meant that you were running away and getting married, often without telling your families, but these days that’s not always the case. This is partly due to changing ideologies around eloping and a more open-minded perspective on the whole affair, according to Los Angeles-based psychologist Yvonne Thomas.
“Eloping is more acceptable because it can be a better choice for some couples,” she says. “Generally, eloping is less expensive, less complicated, less stressful, and is more intimate.”
So, what is eloping really about? An elopement can look different for every couple. You could choose a simple ceremony at lunchtime on a Tuesday or leave your loved ones behind and get hitched on vacation. You could also invite a select, close-knit group of people to witness the exchange of vows. Overall, you’ll say “I do” and begin your marriage sooner with less planning and a significantly lower price tag.
Why Couples Choose To Elope
There’s more than one reason why you might reject a traditional wedding ceremony and reception. It could be any combination of the following or other factors:
- You don’t want to spend an extravagant amount. If money is tight or you’d rather put your hard-earned savings elsewhere, spending thousands of dollars on tying the knot may feel like a misplaced investment.
- You want to fully enjoy the big day. The performance of the ceremony and reception, the endless social interaction with all your guests, and the culmination of months of planning can be a lot to take in at once. As a result, you might not be able to stay present in every moment.
- You’re uncomfortable with attention. If you or your partner dislike the spotlight, hosting a big wedding for dozens — if not hundreds — of people may give you high levels of anxiety.
- You’re too busy. If you are focused on other priorities in your life and don’t have time for a big party, going with an intimate elopement can help keep the wedding planning process manageable.
- You’d rather avoid family drama. Maybe your families don’t get along, or one of you has a private conflict to contend with. Either way, a small elopement ceremony can make it easier to sidestep trouble.
Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong reason to elope. What matters is getting married in the way that feels best for you and your partner.
Pros and Cons of Getting Eloped
Like with all important decisions in your life, weighing the perks and drawbacks can help you feel more confident about your choice. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of eloping with your one and only.
Pro No. 1: You’ll avoid stress and decision burnout
There’s no way around it — wedding planning is stressful. From choosing a venue and selecting vendors to dealing with pressure from family and friends, even the most relaxed couples can develop a short fuse.
Thomas says eloping can benefit the health of your relationship because it prevents unnecessary disagreements about the many details of planning a wedding, allowing you to bypass the chaos and become spouses sooner. After all, the heart of a wedding is the marriage — not the other way around.
“Couples can have less stress and make decisions more efficiently and quicker because there’s less time to plan things,” Thomas says. “The ‘bridezilla’ phenomenon is less likely to occur since there’s usually less emotional pressure and burnout.”
Con No. 1: Your parents may not love it
Though viewpoints on eloping are evolving, your parents may not be there quite yet. Leah Weinberg, owner of Color Pop Events based in New York City, says the immediate families of each partner usually want to witness the marriage milestone and celebrate it with their children.
If you decide to elope, be prepared for backlash from your folks, she warns. You can help prevent a negative reaction by having a candid conversation about your wishes. Explain your reasons, remind your loved ones that you care about them, and ask for their support. You can soften the impact by making separate plans with them, such as setting up a family photoshoot or hosting a special dinner celebration.
Pro No. 2: You’ll save money
Once you’ve decided between different wedding venues and paid the deposit, your list of expenses has just begun. Forgoing tradition often means you’ll spend less, and flexibility with your timeline can also lead to huge savings.
According to Weinberg, those who choose to elope are in a favorable place to negotiate. This is especially true if you want a short engagement.
“Since couples traditionally book farther out, if a venue or vendor has your date open, say, four months from now, they will probably be open to talking about price,” she says. “They realize that they will probably not have another opportunity to book that date on such notice and that’s money they otherwise wouldn’t be getting.”
Con No. 2: Your friends might have questions
Your close friends and siblings have been there for you over the years. So, when you announce on Facebook that you eloped over the weekend, you better believe they’ll want to talk. Some may have hurt feelings that they weren’t included in the celebration and could even pull away from you. It’s worth giving your loved ones a heads-up before you elope to prevent any miscommunication or heartache.
“As much as the choice to elope should be up to the couple, family and friends may not see it that way and the couple may need to find a way to repair any emotional rift that results from their decision to elope,” Thomas says.
Pro No. 3: You’ll get to skip family politics
Mary Angelini, a wedding filmmaker and owner of Key Moment Films based in Palm Beach, Florida, says that some weddings focus on the family’s traditions as opposed to the couple’s personal preferences. This is often led by family drama, where parents feel pressure to perform and extend an invite to everyone in their network. Or, they want to follow the same rules and rituals of the generations before them.
You, on the other hand, may not value these practices as deeply (or at all). Eloping bypasses many of those discussions completely.
Con No. 3: You’ll miss out on tradition
You’ve watched friends or siblings go through the planning process, and it doesn’t sound appealing to duplicate their wedding day. Though that’s normal, Kylie Carlson, CEO of global wedding industry training resources The Wedding Academy and Wedding CEO Club, encourages brides and grooms to think about the aspects of a traditional wedding that may matter to them.
“If you elope, you may not be able to get ready with a wedding party, walk down the aisle, have a first dance, toss your bouquet, cut the cake, and so on,” she says.
When you look back, you may feel sad that you skipped these elements, so be candid with yourself and your partner before choosing an elopement.
Pro No. 4: You’ll stay focused on your partner
At a traditional wedding, there’s so much to keep track of on the big day. You’re getting yourself ready, coordinating with the wedding party, greeting your guests, and so on. The bigger the party, the harder it can be to stay present with your partner and appreciate the significance of the moment.
If you elope, it can be just the two of you. Not having to worry about guests and the performance of it all may be liberating for couples who mainly want to celebrate each other.
Con No. 4: You may lose out on gifts and keepsakes
Setting up a wedding registry ensures that you’ll get gifts you’re actually going to use. In fact, some couples rely on their wedding registry to kick-start their home life together. Having a smaller guest list (or none at all) means you’ll likely have to make peace with a low volume of wedding gifts.
Similarly, couples who host a traditional wedding may choose to preserve an expensive gown to pass on to their children or dried flowers as a keepsake. These opportunities might be fewer if you choose to elope.
The happy medium
Just like traditional weddings, elopements aren’t one-size-fits-all. You can customize certain elements while saying no to others.
“A happy medium could be to have a small intimate wedding/elopement where only a select five to 15 friends and family are invited to keep the focus on the couple,” Angelini says.
One popular way to pull off this part-wedding, part-elopement is to choose a hard-to-reach location. Because couples know not everyone will make the long journey, they’re able to appease their circle with an invite while knowing the ultimate guest list will remain small, according to Angelini.
Questions To Ask Before You Decide To Elope
If you’re thinking that an elopement might be right for your situation, here are some discussion questions to help you and your partner get on the same page.
What do you both really want?
Before you find a venue or set a date, have an in-depth conversation about your motivations and expectations. Not everyone dreams of a big wedding. Maybe you’re not the type of person who likes to be on display, or you get tired at the thought of picking out invitations. If your relationship thrives on spontaneity or you tend to be private people, eloping can sound pretty appealing.
When making your decision as a couple, set aside social media expectations, wedding magazines, and outside opinions. Whether it’s a private sunset ceremony on a beach, the third floor of city hall next weekend, the park where you had your first date, or in your own backyard, only you two know what you really want.
What can you afford?
Even if you initially pictured a big wedding, it may be too costly to pull off in the end. According to WeddingWire’s 2020 Newlywed Report, couples spend a staggering average of $28,000 on their ceremony and reception.
An elopement will be much less expensive because you don’t have to pay for things like a large venue and refreshments for dozens or hundreds of guests. In fact, if you want to keep your expenses as low as possible, all you have to do is get a marriage license (which can cost between $18 to $115, depending on where you live) and pay any additional fees for a civil ceremony.
Would one of you regret eloping?
Maybe you want to wear formal wedding attire while your partner would be more comfortable in something more casual. Perhaps you would like your parents to be in attendance, but your spouse-to-be doesn’t want to invite their family members. Every relationship is different, and you’ll each have a unique background. So, when you’re discussing the possibility of eloping, Thomas says to share your reservations and be considerate of your partner’s concerns.
“The couple needs to know themselves both as a couple and as individuals to honestly be able to determine if there would be any regrets or upset with the decision to elope,” she says.
Thomas recommends holding off when either of you are torn or undecided about eloping. If you’re both fully on board, great. If not, one of you may end up with regret or resentment.
How To Elope
While planning an elopement is certainly less work than planning a big wedding, there are some important steps you still need to take. Here’s a rundown of the basics for couples who decide to elope:
- Pick a location. Your options range from a simple ceremony at the nearest courthouse to something fancier at a destination winery or resort, complete with travel plans.
- Decide which wedding elements you want to include. For example, are you willing to get all dressed up? How extensive do you want the flower arrangements to be?
- Get a photographer. If you don’t invite any guests, you’ll want to book a wedding photographer to capture the priceless moments when you tie the knot.
- Figure out what it’ll cost. At the bare minimum, look into the cost of a marriage license and additional ceremony fees where you’re going to hold your special day. If your plans include travel, make sure to also research airfare and accommodation costs.
- Enjoy the moment. Instead of having to worry about your guests or some last-minute event planning crisis, you can stay present with your partner and soak in the significance of your big day.
- Let your loved ones know. It may be helpful to decide in advance when and how you’ll tell your friends and family that you’re married.
The Bottom Line on Eloping
No matter what type of celebration you decide on, it’s important to focus on the health of your relationship in the long term. After all, a wedding is about love and your commitment to sharing and building a life together. When you have that, everything else will sort itself out.