What It Means To Elope In 2023 & How To Do It Well, From Marriage Experts
When it comes to getting married, many couples opt for a ceremony and reception—but not all of them. Eloping has been around for centuries and has become increasingly popular in more recent years. Whether you're thinking right now that you may want to elope, or are just curious for future reference, here's everything you should know about how to elope, according to marriage experts.
What does it mean to elope?
To elope simply means to get married privately. In the past, "eloping" was used to describe a couple who ran away together to get married without the permission of their family, but the term is used much more casually in modern times. Today, eloping just means having a private wedding with very few guests, if any at all. And given the ongoing pandemic, more and more couples are choosing to elope.
Eloping has almost become an umbrella term, as it could still describe a "runaway" situation between two lovers who want to get married, but it can also be a small destination wedding, a courthouse wedding, or even a spur-of-the-moment wedding.
People who elope typically have 20 guests or fewer at their wedding ceremony, if they have any at all, compared to the traditional wedding that may have anywhere from 100 to 300+ guests.
Why people may choose to elope:
Avoiding drama with family & friends
One of the biggest components of a traditional wedding is the guest list, which can get messy if there are any qualms between family members or friends.
"Couples often want to elope if they feel anxious or overwhelmed by family demands or family drama on either side," psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli, L.P., tells mbg. "When they elope, they can avoid the stress of issues like who you seat where and which relatives or friends to invite or not."
And as licensed marriage and family therapist Weena Cullins, LCMFT, notes, this also relates to the "disapproving family" factor that made eloping what it was in the past. "A couple may want to elope when they want to avoid judgment or disapproval about their decision to wed from others," she explains.
Avoiding the stress of planning a wedding
Weddings are infamously stressful to plan, and some couples just don't think it's worth it, Cullins says. As Spinelli adds, eloping lifts that pressure and also allows couples to call all the shots with no outside interference. "Eloping helps couples to set boundaries. They can choose what they want, how they want it, and when they want it," she notes.
Preferring privacy over a ceremony
Another popular reason for eloping is privacy. Not everyone wants a 200-guest wedding; instead, they might prefer a ceremony that's more private and intimate that reflects who they are, Spinelli says.
Sometimes, the main reason for elopement can simply be a spur-of-the-moment decision. As Cullins tells mbg, "Some couples get swept up in the momentum of their romance and spontaneously decide to get married," adding that eloping offers a way to solidify their commitment in the moment when they just can't wait.
And of course, along with being stressful to plan, weddings are notoriously expensive. For some couples, whether they can't afford a big wedding or would simply prefer to spend the money elsewhere, eloping just makes sense financially, Cullins says. Many couples who choose to elope are then able to use the money they saved to splurge on a honeymoon, house, or other financial goals.
Deciding whether to elope.
If you're thinking about eloping, there are a few different factors to consider. Talk to your partner about what is or isn't important to you about how you get married, such as whether you want a formal ceremony, who you want to be there with you, and what you want that day or that transition into married life to feel like.
Planning an elopement can also still involve any of the elements of a wedding that you might still be interested in, like getting a fancy wedding dress, exchanging rings, and having a formal "I do" moment in a beautiful, scenic location. That means, depending on what you choose to include for your special day, you will still need to plan at least some of these logistics—so be prepared for that and do your research.
Cullins also says it's important to consider the loved ones in your life. "Couples should give consideration beforehand to how they might feel if some of their closest friends or family members are truly hurt by not being included."
While it is your wedding and only you can know what's right for you, she adds that some people believe marriage is the joining of two families. "The way those families are incorporated in the wedding process can be critical in shaping their relationships for the future."
Eloping is a sensitive topic, Spinelli adds, and many couples are afraid they'll hurt the feelings of their families and friends. Ultimately, though, "Remember that eloping is truly about what you want as a couple. Give yourself permission to focus on the kind of experience you want without the guilt," she says.
How to elope successfully:
Consider what kind of elopement you want.
Eloping can still be special, romantic, sweet—anything you want, really! Part of the beauty of choosing to elope is that you do have a lot of freedom to make it totally your own.
You can go extremely small and simple with your elopement (think: the courthouse), or you can choose to do something small and private but still extravagant (a fancy dress, photographer, and more). There are even wedding planners, photographers, and other vendors who specialize in elopements, so do your research and decide what makes sense for you and your partner.
Make it special.
No matter how you choose to do it, Cullins says you can still make your elopement feel special by adding personal touches. "While elopements can lack some of the finer details that thoroughly planned ceremonies include, a couple can still incorporate meaningful elements that will make an elopement memorable, romantic, or special."
For example, you can write personal vows, use heirlooms and keepsakes in the ceremony, and photograph and/or record the experience, she says.
Research marriage laws.
If you do decide to elope, it's important to check the laws wherever you are, especially if you're in another country or hoping to elope in another country. As Cullins notes, "Couples should still take the time to research the legal requirements for getting married in the location of their choice," adding that many states and countries require couples to apply for a marriage license several days in advance.
Be sensitive when you tell your loved ones.
As you're probably figuring out, the family factor is what makes eloping somewhat controversial. As such, it's a good idea to approach the topic with them in a gentle and sensitive way. If you decide to elope, Spinelli suggests letting them know in person (or perhaps at least over a video call, if in person isn't an option), and speaking authentically and from your heart.
"Express your why. Share why it's important for you as a couple and what it means to you," she says, adding that by telling them face-to-face, "they can connect with your emotions about why you are eloping."
Be prepared for different reactions, Cullins adds, especially if your reason for eloping is to purposefully avoid conflict or drama. But remember that regardless of reactions, Spinelli says, "this truly needs to be about your wants and needs on your special day."
Celebrate with others when/if you wish.
And lastly, given that eloping can mean a few different things, you can still include some family or friends in the process when you elope—if you wish. Perhaps you elope with only immediate family present, or maybe you opt to have a private ceremony, and then some sort of celebration later on.
Spinelli says you can choose to keep your family involved and share the details with them, and even host a photo viewing gathering of the ceremony when you return, for example. The wedding is your oyster, so it's all about what you want, who you want to include, and how you want to celebrate.
If a big wedding isn't your shtick, choosing to elope may be right for you. After all, it's intimate, it's affordable, and it's much easier to plan than a traditional wedding. So whether your elopement looks like a very small ceremony with a few guests or no guests at all, it all comes down to what's best for you and your future spouse.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.