The Wedding Series – Elopement

If it were not for the presents, an elopement would be preferable. ~ George Ade, American playwright and humorist (1866-1944)

About this time in the planning of a wedding, the bride and groom might feel as though eloping might be easier and less frazzle on the nerves. Sometimes the father of the bride, or the parents of the couple in general, suggest half-jokingly at the outset that eloping would be a great idea. It’s certainly a simpler and less costly option.

Running Away in the Moonlight

The idea of elopement evokes the image of moonlight, a ladder against a second-story window and young lovers escaping into the night.

But whatever the romantic notions people have about elopements, the custom has a rather unromantic history. Some accounts trace the term “elopement” back to the 14th century when it meant the scandalous act of a wife deserting her husband to run off with her lover. By 1800 it meant what it means today: a couple running off together to marry, often because their families disapproved, rather than a couple running off and leaving behind a cuckold or scorned wife.

The Modern Elopement – Las Vegas, Baby

Today, elopement likely means a secret or very low-key small ceremony with immediate family or a just one or two close friends, or even just the couple. There are many reasons to elope; those having time constraints, family issues, financial limitations or who are marrying for the second time might opt to keep things quick, simple and economical by eloping. In the past couples were said to elope to a “Gretna Green,” meaning a city that has lax marriage laws and named after Gretna Greens, Scotland. The wedding site, The Knot, has some tips on eloping to the U.S. version of Gretna Greens — Sin City itself, Las Vegas.

With time and money being in short supply for many Millennials and more stress in modern life, elopement is becoming popular and even trending toward chic. And because they are coming in vogue, naturally there are “elopement packages” available! And it’s not a bad idea to consult with or hire a wedding planner to take care of details like a photographer, hotel and restaurant reservations, bridal bouquet and so on. Or if a couple wants to involve some family and friends there are packages for very intimate wedding celebrations, called petite weddings, that are elegant, picture pretty and considerably less expensive than a full-blown affair.

Elopements in the Movies, History and Celebrity Life

While elopements have a romantic perception, in lore they are often the result of — or result in — tragic circumstances. Some exquisitely bittersweet and memorable movies in which elopements are a featured part include Gabbeh, Becoming Jane and The Heiress. Some real-life historical elopements were those of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Clark Gable and Carole Lombard and a modern celebrity example — after knowing each other just a few weeks — is the happily-ever-after elopement of Bette Midler and Martin Rochus Sebastian von Haselberg.

Elopement Etiquette

You knew there were rules even when you just want to run away, right? As with any human endeavor, there are social responsibilities. And here they are:

Tell Someone Your Plans – If you are truly eloping, don’t just take off as though it were just the two of you, because it isn’t. If there are parents, children, close family members and dear friends who will worry about you — and perhaps call the police or National Guard — to avoid inflicting emotional pain or embarrassment let them know your plans. Or if this is a secret at least tell them that you will be going away for a few days or a week and let someone know where you will physically be (cell phone numbers are not enough). Your marriage will affect those closest to you, so be kind and understanding.

Be Prepared for Reactions – While you are away or upon your return — or whenever it is that you will spring the news on everyone, be prepared for a range of reactions, from extreme happiness to bitter disappointment. Have a plan for how you will help those most important to you adapt to your news. Where children are concerned, especially, it’s wise not to surprise them that mommy or daddy is getting married; make sure they are comfortable or at least already resigned to their new lives.

Send Announcements – Whether your elopement was spur-of-the-moment or your intimate wedding was planned in advance, upon your return you should consider sending printed or handwritten announcements to those closest to you. The rest of your friends can be informed by posting your happy occasion on social media.

Post-Elopement Parties – To provide an occasion for family and friends to celebrate with you upon your return, you may wish to plan a party. This can be as small, large, formal or informal that you wish and depending on your budget. Send formal or informal invitations approximately four to six weeks prior to your beach barbecue, sit-down dinner or cocktail reception (for ideas on the wording of such invitations you may get some ideas from my wedding invitation series. The after-the-elopement or small wedding party may be hosted by the couple or their parents. As for gifts, because your guests weren’t invited to the ceremony it is not customary that they give gifts. That said, close family and friends may choose to give a wedding gift; if so, they should send it separately or present it discreetly. As with any wedding, gifts should be opened privately.

Sometimes friends of the new bride wish to throw a shower after the fact and that’s fine, too. As with the traditional before-the-wedding shower the host or hosts may confer with the bride or mother of the bride on the planning.

Legal Matters

Depending on your circumstances your legal matters can be simple or complicated. If your state requires an officiant and a witness (or two) be sure these are lined up in accordance with state and local laws. Think about waiting periods, blood tests and any other marriage requirements. If children, estates and other major issues are involved, attend to any related legalities. While elopement might seem free and breezy, marriage itself is not. Thus, while you’re not having a full on wedding you still have to make a checklist and attend to certain matters before rushing off.

Make It Special

Petite weddings or bona fide elopements should still be special. The bride and groom should wear something a cut above, even if it’s a casual affair. A lovely bouquet, good food and champagne as well as music and decorations can all be part of your intimate ceremony. And, don’t forget the photographs!

Until next time,


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