The majority of information to be found on Pinterest and in bridal mags revolve around planning your dream wedding. Remember in Friends when Monica pulls out the wedding scrapbook? She’d been envisioning “her” day since she was a child, and Chandler felt overwhelmed by all of the decisions (and price tags!). Watching that stereotypical scenario gave me mixed feelings. I love weddings, but when it came to my own, I was undoubtedly a Chandler.
The internet doesn’t need more how-to articles about throwing a wedding with “only” $20K. There are scores of opinions on lilies vs succulents, church halls vs outdoor gazebos, and up-do’s vs extensions, and frankly, that’s really not my area of expertise anyway.
While I haven’t been a blushing bride for long, or, admittedly, a blushing anything, ever, I did learn a few things from planning a secret legal ceremony with only four attendees. Here’s some stuff to think about before you engage in clandestine nuptials.
BUILD YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
While an elopement is, by definition, both secret and sudden, it doesn’t have to be unplanned. In fact, it’s the perfect way to craft your own day without worrying about adhering to social norms, because you’ve already thrown convention out the window. Hand pick the traditions you want to love and discard the ones that don’t resonate with you. It was very important to us that our families meet at this point (his live in the UK, mine in Vancouver), but we didn’t feel that it had to be at our ceremony, which we considered a rather private affair. If we could have done it without any witnesses, we probably would have. One of the most unexpected outcomes of planning an elopement was that we got to know each other even better. Planning a big wedding would have tempted me to talk ceaselessly with friends, cousins, siblings and my mama about every little detail and Pinterest board, but eloping meant that we made all of those decisions together. We ordered flowers, booked an officiant, shopped for our matching rings, and found the perfect wedding dress together (in a storefront window just a week before the wedding!). All of it was simple, stress-free, and made us closer than ever.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
While the two of us planned the details of the day on our own, a few little accents that were thrown in by friends (and a couple strangers) made the day extra memorable. I had multiple something borrowed’s: a white fascinator given to me by a friend who had worn it as Effie Trinket in a Hunger Games Musical (true story), and a vintage fur coat that my best friend’s mom lent me to keep me warm for the day. The girl who we ordered our bouquet and boutonnière from slyly refrained from telling her boss that they were for a wedding in order to save us a ton of money. While you’ll probably want to keep your plans mostly secret, sharing your excitement with a select few can make the day even more personal.
YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE
The phrase “you can’t please everyone” is basically the truest thing that could be said about a wedding, but the bigger your family and the more secretive your plans, the higher the likelihood that someone will be unhappy. Your blissed-out newlywed self might think your parents will be stoked to be saving the thousands of dollars you would have asked them for if you were planning a more traditional wedding, but they may still have been looking forward to seeing their only daughter in a pretty white dress. I’m very close to both of my parents and consider them when making almost all of my major decisions. Their opinions are important to me, but ultimately our wedding day wasn’t about my relationship to my parents, it was about my relationship to my spouse (who, for the record, my parents love). We knew that all four of our parents would be a part of our marriage in multiple ways, through daily conversations, through traditions they’ve passed down, and through the ways we’ve learned to parent from them, but we agreed that they didn’t necessarily need to be present when we said our vows. Those were just for us. And considering that my mom is the Lorelai to my Rory, I was surprised by how cool she was about finding out that I got married through a selfie my brother sent her while she was saving babies in the Guatemalan jungle.
SOMETIMES SOCIAL MEDIA SUCKS
Our lives today are being lived out in a more and more public way, and not everyone will understand your tendency toward privacy. What you and your partner think of as a special and spontaneous leap away from the expenses and stresses of wedding planning could be construed by some as a selfish exclusion from what is usually a semi-public moment. I was surprised when I scrolled through the comments on my Facebook page (@cityhall #sorrymom #weeloped) and amongst all of the “Congratulations!” were some comments like “wtf for real?” and “seriously?” Yes, I’m fucking serious, and no, that’s not an appropriate reaction. Weddings are a time where the tenet “if you can’t say anything nice, keep your damn mouth shut” are especially relevant. If you’re not about to write something that has “congrats” or “I’m so happy for you” in it, step away from the keyboard. Alternately, if you’re the one getting wedded, just scroll on past that shit and go pour your new husband another mimosa.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
People always say that something is bound to go wrong on the day of your wedding. Stuff can still go wrong during an elopement, but luckily there are way less people there to witness it. Besides, you won’t remember those things as being detrimental to your happiness because, very likely, they weren’t. Sometimes you forget that the sun sets at 4 p.m. in Vancouver in late November and it’s a race against time to snap a few wedding photos in the fading light. Sometimes the officiant hands you the wrong vows during your ceremony and you have to wait until she leaves to read the vows you actually wrote for each other. Sometimes your new husband gets so drunk at the afterparty that the next evening he falls asleep at seven o’clock instead of enjoying the beautiful suite you’re staying in for one night at the Fairmont. These things all happened to us but they’re just a small part of a really fun, truly stress-free day that I’ll always cherish.
WRITE A MARRIAGE MANIFESTO
My partner and I firmly agreed that a wedding was one day, and a marriage is forever. For us, this took a lot of importance out of the particulars of the wedding day. Yes, it’s the “first day of the rest of our lives,” but surely how we navigate the years and decades after are equally as important. Whether the two of you opt for a mega wedding or a private ceremony in the end, you’re a team now, and hopefully you feel comfortable planning like one. I need to plan ahead, and my husband is a scientist, so we’re nothing if not practical. When we were writing our vows, we also wrote a “marriage manifesto” of sorts: a loose mission statement that could serve as a reference tool to remind us to get back on track should we ever need it. Having an idea of what works for you as individuals and as a couple can be very helpful in navigating your lifelong relationship together. You can cover whatever pertains to you – what you want to achieve, how you hope to save and spend your shared income, how you intend to parent any future offspring, what kind of support you may need from each other, and how you both best communicate. Difficulties will inevitably emerge from issues within your relationship and outside it, and creating a strategy for dealing and working through those things can sometimes help remind us who we want to be individually, as a couple, and as parents.
ULTIMATELY, YOU DO YOU
Many gals (and guys, too!) dream about their wedding day for a very long time. If that’s you and you’ve got the means to make your gorgeous, bohemian vision come true, for the love of god party on. Make your dreams a reality and please invite me, because I love beautiful aesthetics and hand-written signage and sweeping mountain backdrops. But ultimately your wedding day should be exactly what you want it to be, and ours was – low maintenance, no stress, and debt-free, with our marriage certificate hanging on the wall in our sunny apartment right where we said our vows.
Jess is a server, writer, and new bride who lives and loves in Yeast Van. She is a connoisseur of good cider and bad tattoos and will knit you something pretty if you ask.