“So. How’s the wedding planning coming along?” If you’re getting married, prepare to answer this question at least once a week. And “good” or “fine” won’t do. People want answers. How will you transport the cake? What kind of flowers will you get? Is your DJ going to play my favorite song? If any of this sounds unpleasant, allow me to offer an alternative: elope.
When my fiance and I got engaged, a few people joked that we should just elope. I wish we had taken them a little more seriously, so let me present my case to anyone out there who may be considering it.
If You’re Not a “Wedding Person,” Don’t Have a Wedding
Some people know exactly what they want from their wedding. They’ve pictured it for years, they have every detail planned, and they know how to get started.
Before getting engaged, I never gave much thought to a wedding. Why would I? I don’t like throwing parties, I suck at planning them, and I get nervous when the spotlight is on me. If that sounds familiar at all, wedding planning might not be a fun process for you. Most of us already struggle with time and stress. We’re all busy. We all have packed schedules. As busy as you are, imagine adding more work to your schedule every week: call a caterer, book transportation, find a DJ.
For some people, these extra tasks are welcome and fun. If you’re not a wedding person, they’re probably just going to stress you out.
Plus, you’re not the only one who’s busy. Your friends and family are, too, and as much as they offer to help in the beginning, they might not be there as much as you’d like them to be, and that’s stressful, too.
Everyone reminds you that all the planning is worth it because it’s your special day. That’s sweet, but let’s be honest: a wedding is for a bunch of other people, too, which is why they’re so damn expensive. If this is truly a day for you and your fiance, and neither of you are wedding people, eloping just seems like a better, more romantic option.
Weddings Are Expensive
And then there’s the money. The average wedding costs something like $26,000, and can be a lot higher depending on your venue. Sure, there are ways to cut costs, but even frugal weddings are expensive. We’re spending $15,000, and sure, people spend a lot more than that, but however you want to look at it, $15,000 is a hell of a lot of money to spend on a single day.
The worst part about spending that much is that your guests will almost certainly judge, criticize, or complain about every part of it.
- “You sure you’re not going to have the ceremony in a church?”
- “Tacos? Is everyone going to like that?”
- “You should use the florist Jim used instead. They were better.”
Unlike any other party, people seem to think every aspect of a wedding is up for review. To be fair, I’ve done it, too. It just seems to be a natural part of wedding culture. I’ve definitely said, “the party was fun, but the food could have been better,” about a wedding before. Meanwhile, the couple spent thousands of dollars and a fair amount of time on their guests, and I’m rating the food like I’m Jonathan Gold.
After a while of this, you start to get resentful, and that makes things even more stressful. Worse than that, many people don’t even like going to weddings. Jokes you once laughed along with, like this one, start to annoy you:
You can’t help but feel annoyed when people have no idea how much time, effort, and money it takes to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for your guests. And when those guests start to complain, you’ll really wish you would’ve just eloped.
There Are Too Many Damn Rules
Before I started planning, a married friend warned me that friends and family would have their input about what’s appropriate and inappropriate for a wedding. “Nah, my people aren’t like that,” I said. I was wrong. I’ve had to address everything from why we’re not having the wedding in a church to why we’re decorating with succulents.
Especially if tradition isn’t a priority for you, be prepared to spend a lot of time scratching your head over wedding rules when you plan. A few etiquette issues I’ve had to address and research:
- What color certain guests are going to wear
- How the invitations should be addressed
- Who can and cannot come to the rehearsal dinner
- How many people should be in each wedding party
As a nontraditional person (who is getting married-the irony is not lost on me), none of these things matter to me, but they mattered to other people. If you’re not prepared to follow the rules, be prepared to explain why you choose to buck them.
How to Elope Instead
When most people think of eloping, they think of running to Vegas for a drive-through, Elvis-themed wedding.
That’s one way to go about it, but you don’t have to run off if you don’t want to. It might just be the two of you, or you might choose to invite your family or a couple of friends. The choice is yours. I knew a couple who eloped and simply called a few friends the same day to see if they wanted to join. It’s a risky move, and some people might be annoyed with you, but that goes for eloping in general, so you may consider it par for the course.
It’s worth noting that, depending on where you get married, you may need one or two other witnesses aside from the officiant. These witnesses will need to sign your license in order to validate it.
Beyond your guest list, here’s how the process works.
Choose Your Location
The fun part: choosing where you want to elope. Of course, there’s always your local courthouse-and you can pick up and file your license the same day-but if you’re looking for something different, your options abound.
Lonely Planet has a fun list of places to elope, and you obviously want to consider your budget and schedule, but that goes for travel in general. Depending on who you want to be there, you might consider a central, affordable location for others.
Also, some countries still don’t recognize same-sex marriages (or they even outrightly ban it), so you want to know the local laws before you buy your tickets. You can look up LGBT rights for different countries at Travel.state.gov.
Find an Officiant
Even when you elope, you need someone to officiate your wedding. This could be a justice of the peace at your county clerk’s office, or a religious officiant if you get married in a church or a chapel, or just a friend or family member. You could also just find an officiant online.
If you choose a friend, they’ll have to get ordained, but it’s really easy. Find a ministry online, fill out an application, maybe pay a small fee, and they’ll be certified.
Get Your Marriage License
Depending on where you get married, you can usually do this online. Visit the website for the clerk’s office of the county you plan to elope in, then search “marriage licenses,” and the site should have information on how to get started. Typically, you fill out the application, then go pick up your license at the county registrar’s office. When filling out the application, you’ll need your driver’s license info or some other form of identification, both your parents’ names and birthplaces, and general info like your address, of course.
If you plan to elope in another state or overseas, research how the process works for that particular destination. Budget Travel explains:
Before you even commit to the location for your elopement/honeymoon, talk to the convention and visitors bureau to research the hoops you have to jump through to obtain a marriage license there. Some locales, though popular, have restrictions like waiting periods or witness minimums that could hamper your ideal ceremony. For example: “In St. Lucia, they have very strict rules,” says Shawn Rabideau, founder of Shawn Rabideau Events & Design in New York City. “You’ve got to send all the paperwork in, and the resort sort of helps you with that – they bring it down to the local city office – but you really need to follow the rules. Otherwise you could find out – and this has happened – people have found out they weren’t even legally married.”
This is good advice in general, but especially if you’re eloping somewhere far from home.
After filling out your online application, you and your partner will both have to visit the registrar’s office in person. The application should tell you exactly where to go. You’ll also both need to bring a form of identification, and be prepared to pay a fee for your license, too. Ours cost about $100 for Los Angeles.
If you want, you can get married right then and there. The clerk issuing your license will ask if you plan to get married that day, and if you do, they’ll give you instructions on where to go and what to do. If not, it’s worth pointing out that your license is good for a certain amount of time (usually 90 days). It needs to be signed and filed within that time frame.
File Your Marriage License
Finally, after you read your vows and the ceremony is over, your officiant and witnesses will need to sign the license. Traditionally, the officiant mails it off for you (or brings it back to the county clerk’s office), but you can usually also just do this yourself.
As attractive as eloping sounds to me right now, a wedding can be fun, too. It’s one of the few times in life where almost everyone you love and care about is in a room together. And best of all, those people get to witness an important, beautiful milestone in your life. As stressful as all of it can be, the older you get, the fewer of those moments you have, so you might as well enjoy them, whichever route you take.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona.