The traditional wedding—with the classic white wedding dress, large ceremony, and corresponding reception—is perfect for many couples, but it's not ideal for everyone. Some men and women would prefer to say "I do" under far less elaborate and far more intimate circumstances. For these brides and grooms, eloping is likely the best option—and if that's what feels right to them, there's no reason why they shouldn't exchange vows with just their officiant and a few witnesses. There are plenty of pros to eloping—including their affordability, the fact that there's less conflict with friends and family, and you'll feel less pressure to live up to the expectations of others. A marriage is about the two people entering it, so why does a wedding have to be any different?
If you're on the fence about an elopement, it can be helpful to hear about the experiences of other couples who tied the knot in private. While each couple's reasons will differ slightly, Mercedes Coffman, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Burbank, California, says that there are usually a few common driving forces behind the choice, including money, religion, and stress.
For April R. and her husband, it was finances that influenced their decision to elope. "There was no way we could afford to throw a wedding large enough to accommodate even just his family and closest friends, which meant we definitely didn't have the budget to plan a wedding big enough to include my friends and family, too," she explains. While budget was certainly a main factor, April adds that they also didn't want to wait much longer to become husband and wife. "We didn't want to draw out the headache of planning a wedding and ultimately just wanted to be married and start our lives together." They opted to have a family-only wedding with just their parents, siblings, and grandparents presents. "My husband has a strong connection to the church he grew up going to and I have zero connection to mine, so we were married at his church in South Carolina and that was that!"
Some couples choose to elope for religious reasons. That was the case for Doug M. and his now-wife, Emily, who were married in 1994 in Nashville, Tennessee. "We were both active in the church and didn't believe in living together before marriage, however, her parents were about to move to Arizona and she was going to need to find an apartment on her own," he explains. "We had only dated about a month, but really believed we were meant to be together, so one day on her lunch hour, we made our way to the courthouse in downtown Nashville and got married!" Six months later, they had a "wedding celebration ceremony" for their friends and family, but they always celebrate that day in 1994 as their official anniversary.
For Dara and Andy L., from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who were living in Brisbane, Australia, at the time of their nuptials, the decision to elope was simple. Both felt that a marriage and a wedding were two completely different things, and the couple ultimately decided that it was more important to them to focus more on the former. "We didn't want to get tied up in the details of the wedding, the stress of it all, and wanted to focus on just the marriage part of it," she says. They told their families of their plans to elope ahead of the big day, then decided to get married their own way. "On Saturday we took nine of our friends to brunch and then went to the registrar office, signed the legal documents, and popped champagne. After, just the two of us drove down to Byron and recited ceremony vows we'd written to each other under a tree." The only other person present was the photographer they hired to capture this special moment so that they could share it with their families after. "It was perfect for us!"
Without even saying the word "elope," Syden A. and her husband decided to get married in this intimate way. As self-proclaimed non-traditionalists, they'd selected engagement rings together and became engaged one night at home while watching Netflix. "We knew we didn't want a big wedding, so we had talked about the idea of a destination wedding or a smaller ceremony, but after getting some unsolicited advice from relatives, we mellowed out a bit with the planning," she explains. "One night, we brought up plans again and both decided that we just wanted to be married already, so we eloped that following Monday." In a week's time, they found an officiant and asked a sibling and close friend to be their witnesses. The day before, Syden bought a white dress at Forever 21 and a bunch of flowers from Trader Joe's, which she turned into a small wedding bouquet and a little boutonnière. "The ceremony itself was maybe ten minutes, but it was and still is the best ten minutes we've ever spent together."
If you're on the fence about an elopement, experts recommend giving it careful thought. At the end of the day, however, if you want to do it, you should. "You have nothing to lose," says Syden. "Let's say you want a reception afterwards. You can still do that." The best part of eloping? There are no rules—you get to make your own!