Picture this: You’re giddy with love for your partner and with lust for adventure, and a spontaneous plan ignites your souls: You’re going to elope. You hastily run away together somewhere on a trip both romantic and clandestine, and before you know it you’re married and on to your happily ever after. This is what elopement looks like, right? Yea!…in the movies. Eloping can indeed take the form of an impromptu trip that includes a wedding, though for many couples it includes plenty of planning–just like with a regular wedding. Although we tend to think of eloping as very spontaneous, there’s actually a lot to consider. Elopement can be the perfect wedding solution for plenty of couples, but it’s important to make sure that however you choose to tie the knot really is right for you before you rush into it. To help you do just that, we’d like to share with you the top 5 things to consider before you decide to elope.
Are you going to regret not having a traditional wedding?
Some couples elope because they’re feeling really stressed out by wedding planning (The Budget Savvy Bridge, 2022). And that’s valid and totally understandable–planning a wedding truly can be extremely taxing, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a celebration of one of the happiest parts of your life. However, if you’re feeling like eloping because it can help you avoid some of the stress of planning a big wedding or because it seems fun and spontaneous, pause for a second. We’re not saying that these reasons are wrong, but it is important to ask yourself if there’s anything special to you that you would get from a bigger or more carefully-planned wedding that you would miss out on.
For example, is it important to you to have your circles of friends, extended family, and/or colleagues present as you say your vows? Will you be disappointed if you aren’t able to look back on your wedding and reminisce about it with others who were there (aside from your partner)? When you look at your wedding photos in 5 years time, will you be sad if the photos are only of the two of you (plus possibly with a very small group of close friends and family, if that’s how you plan to elope) rather than of big groups of the people in your lives? How much attachment do you have to the concept of bringing together people from different parts of your lives to connect with each other and support you in an important life cycle ritual?
If any of these questions evoke a twinge of discomfort in your heart, it’s worth discussing.
What am I going to gain by eloping?
Next, consider why exactly you want to elope. You might have a general idea of why this is appealing to you, but stop and take a pause to really dissect in detail all the reasons why you might like to elope + how important they are. What will it bring you? Is it because you’ll save money and have less wedding stress? Is it because you don’t want your families present–perhaps you have conflict with some of them or perhaps they don’t approve of your relationship? Is it because you’ll feel less inhibited, and like the ceremony will be more personal, intimate, and authentic if it’s just the two of you without a room full of eyeballs fixed on you?
Whatever your reasons, take the time to clearly name and consider them. Once you’re clear on your reasons for wanting them to elope, compare them with any regrets you might have from not having a traditional wedding with more guests. Which is more significant: What you stand to lose, or what you stand to gain?
How will your friends and family react?
Of course, your wedding is for you and it’s meant to be a ritual that supports and nurtures your relationship. Therefore, the most important thing is to do it in a way that works for you and makes you feel like you’re starting your marriage in a meaningful way. However, it’s also true that since relationships don’t occur in a vacuum, your friends and family will inevitably have opinions about what you choose to do. Therefore, before you elope it’s important to consider their feelings. Is there anyone who will likely be extremely hurt and disappointed if you elope, particularly without inviting them? If so, how do you plan to manage their reaction(s)?
We aren’t saying that you shouldn’t elope if it’s going to ruffle a few feathers, but we are saying that it’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to address people’s concerns and how you’re going to respond if some people are unhappy with your decision. Doing so is an art form; it involves toeing the line between appropriate boundary-setting, and showing compassion and care for the feelings of those closest to you.
For example, let’s say your Mom will be absolutely devastated if you decide to elope (especially if it’s just going to be the two of you), but you truly believe elopement is what’s best for your relationship and you really, really want to do it. How can you address your Mom’s hurt feelings? Here are a few pointers. Feel free to replace the word ‘Mom’ with whomever in your life might express disappointment if you elope:
-Let your Mom in on why exactly you want to do the ceremony on your own/without her. Is it because that’s more intimate and you can be more yourselves during this extremely important ritual? Is it because some close family members don’t get along with each other, and you want to prevent squabbles or awkwardness in the air during your important moment?
Whatever it is, she will be more likely to support you if she understands why it’s so important to you to elope. Plus, letting her in on these details (which may be somewhat personal) will make her feel included in a different way, which can help to restore trust and alleviate some of the hurt feelings.
-Tell her about it before others. Even if you choose not to let anyone in on your elopement until after it happens, tell any potentially concerned friends and family before you spread the news to your networks, especially before you announce your big news on social media.
-Invite her to participate in a different way. For example, perhaps she could help you plan the elopement. Perhaps you could throw an informal party to celebrate with your close friends and family upon your return. Whatever it is, find another way to make her feel included and valued.
Of course, these pointers can apply to any friend or family member who might have a tough time accepting your choice to elope.
Who (if anyone) will you invite?
For some eloping couples, it’s still imperative to have close family and/or friends present. For others, having anyone else present aside from the mandatory officiant and possibly witness(es) would be defeating the purpose of elopement, which they may see as a personal and intimate act that should occur away from the guise of others. If you’re planning to elope, there are a few things to take into account when considering how many people (if any) to invite along with you:
-For you, what would be the benefits of eloping without anyone else present, and what would be the benefits of inviting a few close friends and family members along? When you imagine yourselves looking back on your wedding day 20 years in the future, what does it look like? As you smile over old wedding photos, who do you see present in those photos?
-If you’re planning an exotic destination elopement, is that going to be practical/doable for the people you might want to be there? If they can’t come, will it still be worthwhile?
-Some photographers’ prices might be a lot different for a group of 10 versus a group of 2-3. If you’re planning on having a few people present for your elopement and money is a consideration, you might need to shop around, compare options, and/or decide your head count based partially on pricing (Henry Tieu Photography, 2019).
What’s the legality around your elopement plan?
Before you settle on a beautiful elopement destination, google that destination + the term “marriage license” (Henry Tieu Photography, 2019). In order to make sure your wedding is legal, you’ll need to consider the local laws where you decide to tie the knot. There are a few factors you should account for in advance, such as:
-What are the requirements concerning your officiant? Will you need one?
-Will you need witnesses? How many? This can vary state-to-state. For example, in Wasington and Oregon, two witnesses are necessary. In California, one is enough. (Protip: If you really don’t want to invite anyone else along, your photographer can act as a witness) (Henry Tieu Photography, 2019).
-Is there a required wait time between applying for a marriage license and actually getting married? If so, what is it?
In order to avoid navigating legal hurdles in an unfamiliar place, some couples elect to get officially married at their home courthouse but hold off on saying their vows until their destination elopement (Henry Tieu Photography, 2019).
Whether you elope or opt for a traditional wedding, it’s advisable that you get a prenup. This is one of the most important considerations to make before a wedding of any type. A prenup can help ensure you have a happy marriage by prompting you to make financial plans and set expectations ahead of time. It can also level the playing field, protect both partners (yes, including the female), and give you peace of mind. If you’re curious about prenups, check out some of the clauses you might include.
Henry Tieu Photography. 2019. 6 Things to Consider Before Eloping. Retrieved from: https://www.henry-tieu.com/beautiful-places-to-elope/things-to-consider-before-elopingThe Budget Savvy Bride. Is Eloping Right For You? Here are the Top 10 Things to Consider. Retrieved from: https://thebudgetsavvybride.com/should-you-elope/
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]