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Ask Team Practical: Eloping Early


Will people think it's weird?

by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical

Ask Team Practical: Eloping Early | A Practical Wedding

Q: My husband I have been together since we were nineteen years old. There was some off-again, on-again stuff in the middle, but we finally got engaged in February, at twenty-four years old. Our wedding was (and still is) planned for June. Being followers of Jesus, we were abstinent. We couldn’t wait any longer, we said “screw it” let’s go ELOPE! We eloped one month early with all the plans still in motion for our wedding.

This is not what I always “dreamed” of, eloping. But it was so beautiful and sweet and lovely. I wish we just knew to do it that way sooner. We didn’t have time to write our own vows and we wanted to. So we have planned to write our own personal vows for June and exchange those at the ceremony with the dress, the cake, the food, the party, etc.

After all of that explanation, my question: IS THIS WEIRD?! I’m so worried this might be weird… weird to others. I don’t want others to think it’s weird. Help please. Maybe I need to get over what others think, right?

—Jessica

 A: Dear Jessica,

In that way you readers sometimes do, you just did my job for me and answered your own question. Yep, you need to get over what others think. But before you do that, maybe we can consider why you’re so worried that people will think this is weird. Because, frankly? When I’m worried, “People will think it’s weird!” it’s usually because a teeny part of me thinks it might be weird.

So, what is it? Your age? The speed? The two weddings? The impatience for sexytime?

Having waited for marriage myself, I’m going to take a leap and guess it maybe, possibly has something to do with that last one. And here’s why. Running off to real quick get married so you can have sex can make “marriage” into some little formality that you have to check off before you can have sex. Which can sort of make sex the important thing and marriage just the means to the end, rather than a happy, healthy sex life being just one component of a marriage. Wrestle with that a bit, you know? Sex! Marriage! You did the deed (um, both of them…), and now maybe it’s time to pause and figure out your perspective on how they fit together.

Maybe in the same way, you need to sort out what these two weddings mean to you. If the Ask Team Practical inbox is any sort of gauge, tons of folks do the two weddings thing. It’s not weird. But if you’re feeling iffy about it, you may need to sort out what place each “wedding” has in your relationship. Some folks consider the sum and substance of their wedding to be the religious ceremony, others the legal signing of paperwork, and some folks find that the different ceremonies each mean different things to them (or heck, nothing at all).

If you’re already officially married in the eyes of the government, and it sounds like you’re married with respect to your spiritual perspective of yourselves, what is this second wedding for? To celebrate what’s already occurred? To involve and make promises to your community regarding your marriage? To wear a fancy dress and eat cake? Each of those is completely fair, but you might need to figure out which fits for you guys.

Depending on how you answer that, you might not even need to (or want to) tell your guests that this elopement already happened. Is it something just for the two of you? Then go ahead and keep that happy secret (until someday you charm and delight future generations with the long hidden story). Then, ta-da, no one even has the opportunity to hint at it all being weird.

Of course, you nailed it. Who cares if people think it’s weird? Getting married is an important, grown-up decision and important, grown-up decisions involve not caring (too much) what other people think of them. But that confidence might be easier to muster when you, yourself sort out exactly how not-weird it is.

Team practical, do you ever worry that loved ones will think your decisions are weird?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted.

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • BigChiefNugget

    I decided to elope and have a wedding. No societally “valid” reason either like deployment, insurance or financial aid. Just wanted to elope for us and have a wedding for my community. Was it weird? Yup. Was it exactly what my weird self wanted? Yup.

    • anitasomahelpa

      Oh, BigChiefNugget, I’ve been waiting for you. My partner and I are doing the very same thing. We’re eloping in October and planning a wedding for next year. Our biggest question has been whether or not to keep the elopement a secret after the fact. Or, should we announce it and still have the wedding? IS IT WEIRD? It’s a struggle I’ve been having. How did you handle it?

      • vegankitchendiaries

        I have friends who married 6 mos before their weddings for visa reasons – she’s American, and they lived in Scotland.
        They didn’t tell a soul (outside of close family) and then, when the officiant asked if anyone knew of any reason the two could not be married they had a “plant” pop up amongst the guests and reveal that they two had previously tied the knot! Very cute!!
        They had a completely traditional wedding day in every other sense :)

        • Another Meg

          That’s adorable.

      • Sarah Rosenberg

        Like vegankitchendiaries’ friends, we had the visa situation, and we were married for three years. We didn’t keep it a secret and I’m definitely happy about that. In my experience, people will follow your lead in how to respond. Initially, I would explain the situation as if it were dramatic or absurd (because in the beginning, it still was to me), and people would react with shock or amazement. When began to explain it off-handedly or casually, people would take it in stride (or at least pretend to, which is enough for me). At our wedding ceremony, we were very open about the fact that we were already married, and our officiant (one of my best friends) made some great jokes about it, and then thoughtfully explained why having a wedding with our community was still very much meaningful for us. It need not be weird if you don’t let it, although you might still have the odd exasperating aunt who might tell you “you’re doing it backwards” (the one negative comment I’ve gotten from the whole experience, frankly).

        • anitasomahelpa

          “At our wedding ceremony, we were very open about the fact that we were
          already married, and our officiant (one of my best friends) made some
          great jokes about it, and then thoughtfully explained why having a
          wedding with our community was still very much meaningful for us. It
          need not be weird if you don’t let it, although you might still have the
          odd exasperating aunt who might tell you “you’re doing it backwards”
          (the one negative comment I’ve gotten from the whole experience,
          frankly).”

          Yes, yes. You pinpointed it. While my partner and I are planning a day for ourselves, it is very important to us to have a wedding with our community. I, for one, come from one that manages to be big and tight knit. My partner’s is small and supportive. Thank you for your input. You and BigChiefNugget have helped me frame mey thinking. I was over here thinking that everyone would think we were ridiculous. But we’ll be excited to be married! So why keep it a secret? Thank you!

      • BigChiefNugget

        I only told a handful of close friends (4 people). However, I also never lied to anyone. Our wedding invites did not say “We invite you to a wedding…” they said “We invite you to join us as we exchange vows”. My grandpa, who is not ordained, acted as “leader of ceremonies” for the wedding. I love the way we went about things. The elopement beforehand took some pressure off the two of us on the wedding day. The wedding day we were really able to celebrate our friends and family while our elopement day we celebrated ourselves.

        • anitasomahelpa

          Thank you so much! I’ve considered just going this route. We don’t want to lie, but we do want to have a day to ourselves. And I like what you did with the invitations! Thank you for answering my question :)

  • LJ

    We wanted to elope ahead of time for insurance purposes. We got some very substantial feedback from my normal very laid back father which made us re-consider, and ultimately, decided not to go through with it. I don’t think that anyone will think it’s “weird”, but we would have prepared ourselves for people considering our public ceremony not a “real” wedding. I think if you prepare yourself to ignore the comments of others and be confident in your decision, it doesn’t matter. We ultimately decided that we couldn’t deal with what our families thought (I’m not impervious to certain comments), and decided to wait.

    Weird? No. Something everyone will be accepting of? Also no.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      We did this for the same reasons and I found it MUCH easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. We told our moms, but that was it. We ended up having a very emotional ceremony that was unlike the civil ceremony at all, so it still felt real.

      But had we asked, we certainly would have gotten a lot of the feedback you speak of. (I am also not impervious to comments, but decided to go the “Screw it, we just won’t tell anyone” route.) :)

  • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

    *Big big hugs* My husband and I did…exactly this. Well, practically. We did the legal wedding six months before the religious wedding (Because we’re Christians and didn’t want to live together without being married). We also waited until our wedding night to have sex, and believe me that, while perfect for us, was a unique decision.

    So:
    A.Go you!! You did what was right for you and your baby family. Be proud.
    B. In essentially every Western country IN THE WORLD what you did is called the law. You are required to have a separate legal ceremony. If you want a religious ceremony, go for it, but you can’t combine the two.
    C. We told almost no one. We told some of the parents, the pastor who was marrying us, our church, and people that came to visit our apartment.

    Here’s why: A bunch of my family and some friends wouldn’t understand, and would likely not come to our religious wedding if the knew we were already married (and to us, the religious ceremony was far more important) and also we just didn’t want to hurt anyone. We didn’t want people to feel like they “missed” our wedding. We wanted them to attend with joy and feel like they were witnessing our marriage. And they were. For us, we were married during our religious ceremony—the rest of it was just paperwork.

    Which is a long way of saying: Caring what people think because you love them and don’t want to unnecessarily upset them is not bad…it’s love. You shouldn’t let their reactions stop you from doing what’s right…and you didn’t. What we did was right for us. Just like not telling everyone was right for us. I love my friends/family too much to cause them pain. And to followup: We adopted a policy of: If they need to know…tell them. If they ask, don’t lie. But we didn’t go broadcasting our legal ceremony.

    And: Congratulations!!

    • sarah

      Maybe you can help me understand something that puzzles me about the letter and your comment. If the religious ceremony is what matters more and if religion is what stops you from having sex before marriage, why does the legal wedding confer permission to have sex or live together? I think people should do whatever is right for them but I am genuinely curious about what seems like a paradox to me.

      • Meg

        hah this is what I was wondering too! I would think they’d do the religious one and THEN the legal one later. For Jesus.

      • laddibugg

        If a religious marriage only entails being married by clergy, you can still do a ‘quickie’ wedding (well, non Catholics can).

      • Meg Keene

        Is it always that simple though? I mean, I don’t even think it’s as simple as “religion stops you from having sex.” I think you can be religious, and your ethics which are bound up in your religion make you personally decide to wait. And it also depends on your view of faith. Baptists tend to feel that you don’t need clergy for ANYTHING, because it’s all between you and God. Catholics, for example, don’t tend to work like that. Complicated stuff.

      • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

        Hi Sarah!
        Totally happy to. Wanting to have a legal ceremony before living together isn’t something Biblical…it was something personal. For me, I was uncomfortable living with my fiance before he was my husband. For a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was I felt it wasn’t a great example of my faith (or living out of my faith if you will). The Bible has absolutely nothing to say about living with your significant other prior to marriage (primarily I imagine because it just wasn’t an issue.) For the Christians (and churches) that I know, it doesn’t matter to them if you have a legal ceremony or a religious one–once you’re married (religiously or legally) you’re married.
        For us, the religious ceremony was most important–it was the moment we felt truly married, and what we count as our anniversary. (Fun factoid: We literally don’t know the date on our marriage certificate because to us, it wasn’t that important.) But in “the eyes of the church” we’d been married since our legal ceremony.
        All of this is a super murky way of saying: In “the eyes of the church” we’ve likely been married about eightish months longer than we think we have. But for us, our marriage started on the day of our religious ceremony.
        And I would also say it’s not about “permission”. There are as many different interpretations of the Bible as there are people. While it’s pretty clear on a lot of things, it’s super murky on others. And there’s a strong section of people who (understandably) say you have to read the Bible with the filter that it’s a cultural text as well as a religious one. After prayer and a lot of thought, this is what my husband I chose do because it was right for us. I would encourage all Christians to do the same.

        PS. There was also a big component for me about wanting a moment that was ours. Not our families or our friends, but a moment that belonged to us. This gave us that. And it was simple, and sweet, and I’m so glad we had it.

        • Penfield

          (And just to clarify since sarah asked about a legal marriage conferring permission to have sex and you mentioned it above — when you said you waiting till your “wedding night” to have sex, that was the night of your religious ceremony?)

          • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

            Yup! Oh the conversations we had….(with people who knew)

          • Penfield

            Haha, I am sure! I really love your story because it illustrates that assumptions are not always correct. While there is often a statistical basis for assumption (on average, I’d guess that couples who live together are at least slightly more likely to be having sex than couples who do not), your story hammers home that if I hear that people live together, I shouldn’t think with certainty, “Oh, then they have definitely had sex.” (Just as if I hear that people have sex, it might be erroneous in some cases to predict that they’ve even been to each other’s residences.)

          • sarah

            Thanks for this thoughtful answer. Gives me a lot out think about.

  • laddibugg

    Not going to lie, I would be a little annoyed if someone made it seem that they were actually getting married that day if they in fact had been married for a while. Especially if I thought of myself as close to them. And before people jump on me, I’m talking about a couple ACTIVELY acting and talking about not being married yet. That’s lying, no matter how many nice words you use to describe it. If they just choose not to say anything, that’s a different story.

    That being said, I have no issue with people being ‘pre married’, before the ceremony. I don’t know what’s said in a courthouse wedding, so perhaps you didn’t have the opportunity to say the vows you wanted, and you also didn’t get the chance to say them before family and friends. I look at it as a reaffirmation of your commitment.

    • Poeticplatypus

      I agree as long as the couple doesn’t lie about being married then having another celebration isn’t an issue. The big thing to think about is if you are lying about being married then what does that say about your relationship and your friendships with others?

      • JDrives

        I hear this. I’m a bridesmaid in a wedding where the bride and groom are already married, and have been for over a year, but have kept it a secret from nearly everyone. They are adults and made an adult decision to spontaneously elope after 2 months of dating. I’m not positive but guessing they feel that folks wouldn’t approve of such a quick marriage. I am ALL FOR elopements and Not At All for dictating/judging the timelines of others. A++ for elopements! Do it!! But then they made a big show of getting “engaged” a few months after the elopement. So not just keeping their elopement private, but actively misleading and lying to their friends and family. Truthfully it has bothered me a bit, the lack of transparency. I’m appreciating the perspectives of other APW readers who have done the same thing, and am feeling like it’s a real bummer that folks feel they must keep such a delightful, positive event (elopement) under wraps for fear of hurt feelings or anger.

        • ART

          This is kind of how I see “pre-engagement,” perhaps totally unfairly, I admit. Like, we’re engaged to be engaged, but haven’t made the big proposal show yet for the benefit of our families, but it’s gonna be a big deal when we finally do it. I sincerely don’t get that (doesn’t engaged mean “we’ve decided to get married?”), and yet based on comments I see here, it’s very common, and widely accepted. So I just have to say huh, that’s weird to me, but it’s their relationship, and their secret to keep or tell.

          • Guest

            Out of curiosity, is that perhaps because it feels insincere? As in, the couple’s already at the next stage in their hearts, and are just doing it before the community to make it “real”?

            Maybe this will help. I consider myself pre-engaged in the sense that I know that I want to marry this man, someday. I know he wants to marry me. I wouldn’t say, though, that we’ve DECIDED and are READY to get married yet (does that even make sense?). I’m a big believer in defining things, and there was no one moment where we took a deep breath and said….”Yes, for real, I am GOING to marry you. Let’s set a date and tell our families.”

            I struggled with this definition because in my head I thought, “Are we not engaged already? We’re going to get married someday right? Am I just demanding that we have a “moment” and a story and a ring?” But no, not really – it came down to realizing that I wanted the decision to be formalized and announced, and that the moment we decided to be public about it was when we’d REALLY committed to marrying. My own personal gauge of being ready is when I buy his engagement/wedding band.

            I think also that pre-engagement is WAY different than being “legalled”. Once you’re legalled, there’s no going back, and it won’t make a damn difference if you do/don’t have a big party. Pre-engagement, on the other hand, is easily broken.

          • JDrives

            “So I just have to say huh, that’s weird to me, but it’s their relationship, and their secret to keep or tell.”

            Word up – same here. I came into this post with some pretty strong feelings based on my current experience, and my thoughts are a bit more tempered after reading the various thoughtful comments. I still hold (and feel it’s OK to hold – varying opinions FTW!) that it is somewhat strange, and something I would not choose to do, but I have to leave it there since clearly many others feel it is absolutely the right choice for them.

        • Jules

          …Getting engaged after a marriage is puzzling. Do what you want, but that seems an awful lot like having your wedding cake and wanting to eat it too. I feel like one of the most important things as an adult is owning your decisions.

          • JDrives

            YES. I think you just succinctly summed up my feelings about the whole thing. When they announced their “engagement” it was super awkward for the very few people who knew – we were like, yay? Oh wait I mean YAY THIS IS SO NEW AND EXCITING!!1! Puzzling, indeed.

    • Mezza

      I just want to mention that people calling my (same-sex) wedding a “celebration” or “commitment ceremony” drove me absolutely nuts in the leadup to the wedding, which happened about a month after my legal marriage. We did them separately because we weren’t legally able to marry in the location of our wedding (where all of our families live), but we really thought of the wedding itself as making it official – the rest was just paperwork. We didn’t announce the legal marriage to anyone beforehand, but circumstances made it obvious that it wasn’t happening at the actual wedding.

      I’m sure there are couples who feel differently and it’s possible that I’m irrational about this topic, but I would say that if the couple is calling it a wedding (instead of a celebration, etc), it’s probably safer to approach and refer to it as a wedding. My dad actually just infuriated me AGAIN when I mentioned that I’d gotten the invitation for our mutual friends’ wedding and he was like “it’s a CELEBRATION,” because they had just gotten legally married in the one week it was possible in their state.

      • Annie

        Same for us. Our (religious) ceremony is what we consider our wedding. If we were straight, it would be the exact same thing as our legal marriage ceremony, but since we live in an anti-equality state, we’re having a separate legal marriage.

        We’ve just been annoying clear when we explain it to people. In response to the question “but where’s the real wedding?” We typically say, “We’re going out of state beforehand to do the paperwork, but the ceremony on such and such day at our church is what we consider our wedding. In our mind, it’s like how straight couples go down the courthouse to get their license before the ceremony – we just have to make a longer trip.”

        Usually, people have been kind enough to realize that arguing over which set of vows are the “real” ones isn’t a loving or helpful response to our situation. And if people quibble with us, we just repeat the above sentence and smile sweetly and they realize that it doesn’t really matter what they think. And I’m sure they vent behind our backs, but again, we made the best choice for our situation.

      • Sarah Rosenberg

        YEAH. I’m so confused by this discussion of labeling other people’s events. They are inviting you. Call it what they call it, because that’s probably what it means to THEM.

        • Violet

          I like your advice even for non-wedding related situations. Language matters. Respect people’s choice of language.

    • snarkyteacher

      I agree with you here about the difference between just not saying anything vs. actively hiding it. It is more the hurt that they couldn’t/wouldn’t share their news more than the action itself. You want to get married before the ceremony…go right away. There are a millions reasons why a couple might make that choice and they all are right. But please don’t lie to me. As a non-religious person, it is the legal ceremony, when all those legal benefits kick in, is when I consider you married, but I have no issue attending a vow exchange/religious ceremony/re commitment etc. I just don’t want to be lied to. Picking up a marriage license is different than eloping in my opinion.

  • Erin E

    It’s not really anyone else’s business when my husband and I got legally married – or for what reason. If it were me, I’d keep my lips sealed and hold on to the secret elopement as my own delicious and personal memory. Granted, I’m a private person, but still… why would anyone else need to know about this?

  • H

    I think you should do whatever feels right to you and remind yourself that if you’re mature enough to make this huge commitment, then you’re mature enough to put the priorities of your baby family above the expectations of others. It’s confusing to me how you could feel compelled to abstain from sex until being married because of your religion, yet you still had sex before being “religiously” married but after having a secular ceremony. Aka you didn’t get married “before God and country,” just “country,” and that satisfied the requirement for you to have sex. Could someone else who waited until marriage explain that to me? (not trying to be snarky – genuinely asking what are the requirements here?)

    • WeddAsh

      “It’s confusing to me how you could feel compelled to abstain from sex until being married because of your religion, yet you still had sex before being “religiously” married but after having a secular ceremony. ”

      Me too.

      • Poeticplatypus

        I think the big issue will be if the person conducting the religious ceremony will be ok “marrying” the couple if they found out that they are married.

        • z

          That is a big ethical question to me too. I really wouldn’t care about this issue if I were just a friend or distant relative. But it seems like a much bigger deal for the person who is actually conducting the ceremony. Whether you outright lie or just don’t mention, it seems like you would be deliberately causing them to actively participate in something they wouldn’t want to do if they knew the truth.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Some observations from my church, which is not the LW’s church, but just an example of how these things may go down:

            The officiant may not care. Our original plan was 2 ceremonies, with the full blessing of our officiants. My Church has particular instructions and charges to officiants about when not to go forward with a wedding, some of the instructions and charges are right in the wedding ceremony. Our officiant even had a story about someone who actually objected at the traditional point, and everyone concerned had to step into the sacristy while the situation was talked out. The usual concern is a prior civil marriage to someone else, without a religious marriage, or a religious betrothal to someone else. In our officiant’s story, they somehow determined that the objector was off-base. (I’m sure in real life it was awful, but can’t you totally see for TV a bitter ex interrupting the wedding with a baseless objection?) But a prior civil marriage to the same person would not be a concern.

            On my own wedding day, we totally would have forgotten about the license legalities had not the officiant reminded us after dinner at the reception.

      • Penfield

        See my comment above — I really don’t understand the assumption that the OP doesn’t consider herself having been “religiously” married based on her letter. I may have missed something Liz or the OP wrote in another comment.

    • Poeticplatypus

      Not married but waiting until marriage. I think this is a viewpoint of what constitutes being married. For me having a religious ceremony or civil cermeony equals the same thing, marriage. It all comes down to being legally joined to a person.

      • H

        But isn’t Christian marriage about more than being legally joined to a person – it’s about “two becoming one flesh,” and it needs to be officiated by a leader of your faith? Maybe I’m just coming at this from a Catholic perspective, which tends to emphasize religious ceremonies being conducted by an ordained priest, not a layperson (which a judge or other secular marriage officiant would technically be).

        • Poeticplatypus

          A Christian marriage is only a Christian marriage if the couple makes the commitment to live by those standards. Because let’s be honest a couple can be married by a priest, and still not have a Christian marriage. It all depends how how the couple decides to carry out their relationship. From my religious standpoint once both say their vows and are pronounced husband and wife they are one flesh. But I’m not Catholic so that is why my viewpoint is different.

        • KC

          This varies a lot. I think that’s the Catholic view (in general, anyway), but there are other branches of Christianity. But I’ve had plenty of friends who consider themselves married-according-to-religious-purposes when married by a judge or other secular officiant; the main thing for them is that the marriage is a marriage (and hence primarily intent and commitment and secondarily some sort of external commitment or representation or whatever you would call it). One couple I know then got their marriage “blessed” on two Sundays (each partner attended a different church) and hosted a mini-reception-ish thing after church.

        • Meg Keene

          There are so many Christians, you guys. First, Catholic marriage is a totally different animal from almost everything else. Second, a mainline protestant barely even recognizes the religion of a Pentecostal as something familiar. So, I don’t even think there is such a thing as a “Christian marriage.” I mean, maybe there is a Episcopal Marriage, or a Baptist Marriage, but even that can vary all over the place, particularly from more to less conservative churches.

          • sarah

            But that’s exactly the issue here. The construct and meaning of marriage varies by religion (vows, sacraments, sealings, contracts, etc, not to mention the different ways one enters into the arrangement). And yet the LW clearly sees religion as instructing abstinence before marriage. So I think a lot of us are confused by the logic of religious waiting until marriage not needing a religious marriage to release the abstinence/sanction acceptable sex. Whatever the LW thinks marriage is — a type of vow or a sacrament (the 2 most common forms of Christian marriage) — shouldn’t that type of marriage be the prerequisite for engaging in sex if religion (of whatever stripe) is motivating abstinence?

          • Meg Keene

            I mean, you’re right, that’s the question. I think Liz did a pretty good job framing an answer too.

            I’m the wrong person to ask. I obviously spent most of my life as a religious Christian, but not the kind against premarital sex, and not the kind who thinks you have to get married in a church to have it count as being in front of God. So I’m not going to have a helpful answer. My only point is that it’s complicated. And there is not one kind of Christian marriage, and the reader has to figure out what hers means to her.

          • Jenny

            So true. I grew up Methodist, and one of my friends who had grown up in the church was talking to our youth minister from when we were kids and wrestling with the idea of church wedding v outside ceremony. Her response was, T___, God is everywhere. In the church, in the field, in the courthouse. Everywhere.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            More legal trivia, this time Roman Catholic Canon Law trivia, from a book by John Noonan (can’t remember the title, but the interested can look it up): Roman Catholics have divorce/annulment courts that run parallel and similar to the civil courts. There was a really long case in the 1920s or so regarding the marriage of an American Episcopalian/Anglican wife and a French Roman Catholic husband. The issue was whether the wife thought that divorce was permissible at the time they married. Except, it wasn’t so much what the wife actually thought, as what the Anglican Communion taught at the time, which she was presumed to believe. Because of how the Catholic courts work, for years, canonists argued about Anglican teaching, until, after several appeals, it was decided that Anglican teach sufficiently lined up with Catholic teaching, and the husband could not remarry in the Roman Catholic Church. (The wife had long since obtained a civil divorce and remarried in a civil ceremony. Most of the Catholic proceedings took place with 0 involvement from her.)

            So, yeah, different kinds of Christians can disagree. Then individuals can disagree with what their own church teaches. Then other churches can disagree about what a different church teaches.

    • Liz

      I see this question reappearing a bunch in the comments, and it’s totally an interesting conversation (I think I even asked the letter-writer sort of similar myself- which is the wedding? sort of thing).

      But I DO want to throw out a caution that not everyone who self-describes as “Christian” will have the same answer. So it goes with matters of faith and religion and things.

      • Meg Keene

        True story. Not everyone who self describes as Christian will even have issues with pre-marital sex. It’s all really personal, and I suspect the answer is the letter writer has to figure out what it means to HER. The issue may be that she’s not sure yet.

      • Penfield

        I’ve also seen the question appearing a bunch in the comments, and I am confused about the assumption that the OP’s elopement was a legal/secular/nonreligious ceremony. She says that she is a follower of Jesus and that her spiritual conviction that a person should not have premarital sex kept her abstinent for 5 years. It seems clear to me that whatever the nature of her ceremony, it definitely, clearly fulfilled what it meant to to her to be married as a follower of Jesus. Whether it seemed secular or religious or whatever to the outsider, to *her*, I am guessing it must have had a spiritual component.

    • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

      I explained this in another of my replies (my husband and I did something similar to the letter writer) but essentially: All the churches/Christians I know would consider any ceremony, legal or religious, to be binding and the people who participated in it married. It doesn’t really matter whether it was a religious or legal one or both! I’d also like to point out (as several others have) that the letter writer doesn’t specify whether her elopement was religious or legal. For all we know she and her hubby (or wifey) went to a church and eloped in a religious ceremony.

  • Jane

    If you are followers of Christ, this was not really the best approach to the problem of waiting to have sex before marriage. What’s done is done, and of course there is grace for eloping and then having your ceremony, but if you aren’t being transparent about it, the deception leads to some not-so-hot implications.

    First, if people think you are not married yet, you are either having sex secretly (deception) or living openly with your husband–but everybody thinks you are not married. This is not a great witness for Christ. Relatives and friends of yours who are Christian will be dismayed, and relatives and friends of yours who are not Christian will think you look just like any other worldly couple.

    The right thing to do would be to come clean. Probably not as a big announcement kind of deal, but I think you should definitely be honest with people and make a point of personally telling close family that you have gotten legally married. I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with eloping and then having a religious ceremony in front of family and friends with a celebration of your commitment. In fact, I have been to two Christian weddings in which we all knew these were the circumstances. Yes, some people thought it was “weird” and may have had some snarky things to say. Personally, I thought it was great–I felt supportive and thrilled for the couple, as at any other happy wedding. But “what people think” doesn’t exactly enter into it…it’s the TRUTH.

    • Liz

      I’m going to right quick cut off this line of conversation, for a few reasons. But most importantly because different folks who use the same faith-based label for themselves can still have VERY different beliefs on these things.

      • http://mnnjcooks.blogspot.com/ Jessica Nelson

        Can we put them in the form of respectful questions?
        1) was the commitment to sex before marriage ever made public by either one of you, and maintained publicly throughout your engagement?
        2) if yes to #1, are you now living in a way that implies that you’ve changed that commitment? or are you keeping up the appearances of waiting to have sex until the large, community wedding? which choice more closely reflects the values you have now?

        • Meg Keene

          Those are really good questions. Not that there are right or wrong answers, but I think answering them will help you sort it out.

  • Jade

    I’m dealing with the “two wedding” dilemma too, not for reasons of elopement but because we’re an interfaith couple and we’re doing two religious ceremonies a week apart from each other.

    Are we only half married when the first ceremony is done? When is our “real” wedding anniversary? Will the second ceremony feel less important because it came second? *frets*

    • laddibugg

      Maybe you could split the difference? The middle date is your anniversary? Kinda kidding but…..

    • Ally

      We did two weddings (featured on this site back in Feb!) – the first just the two of us + photographer at city hall, the second with friends and family. We use the second date as our anniversary (well plan to when our first anniversary comes up in Oct!) even though the first date was when we were legally married. It was awesome and we’re glad we did it (worth it for the pictures alone!) but the “community” wedding felt more like the “real” thing, hence it’s our anniversary.

    • Jen

      My first thought was “ooo, anniversary week!” Though I am someone who wishes my mom a happy fractional bday each month that I remember to (as she does me) and my guy a happy anniversary day month as well (which is today), so I suppose I like to find reasons to celebrate and feel warm fuzzies.

      • LE

        I second the anniversary week idea! It is perfect and allows you guys time to celebrate both ceremonies.

      • Jade

        Oh man, Anniversary Week! I had never thought of it that way! Well, it will be more like Anniversary Week and a Half but still!

    • snarkyteacher

      Split the difference, date in between to sign the paperwork?

  • Amanda L

    Please tell me that this sentence was not meant seriously: Depending on how you answer that, you might not even need to (or want to) tell your guests that this elopement already happened.

    I’m assuming this person is inviting her closest friends and family to her wedding, and now she is being encouraged to lie to them? I understand that everyone wants their day with their community to validate their love. But I do not understand this trend of telling someone that their choices have no consequences. If you went and got married so that you could have sex, yes, some of your circle might be upset. Some might not come to your ‘wedding’ because it is not a ‘wedding’ any longer. Those that want to love and support you would probably still come to celebrate your love. I, for one, would be PISSED if I went to a wedding and found out later that it was really just a ‘show’ because they had already eloped.

    I fully expect to get flamed here, because it seems that my opinion is not held by everyone else here, but I just can’t believe APW would advocate lying to your closest friends and family. Even a lie by omission is a lie.

    • emilyg25

      I agree. I really don’t care if people have two weddings or whatever, but I’d be so hurt if my friends lied to me, explicitly or by omission.

      • Meg Keene

        Though, in theory, the idea is that if they don’t tell you, you never find out. The other thing is just a terrible secret.

        • z

          It’s a matter of public record, and it’ll show up very easily on ancestry.com. It definitely could get out, if anyone in the family likes genealogy.

          • Meg Keene

            Well, I mean, that’s how secrets work. As someone who’s grandparents had that secret, trust me, it gets more fun over time. Your family member who finds out you secretly eloped years later is probably not going to disown you. (And no one is really going to look you up on ancestry.com right away, and pay attention to all your details. I mean, the living are not TERRIFICALLY interesting. I don’t use my ancestry.com account for people who recently got married, that’s for sure.)

          • z

            Well, I wouldn’t care about that stuff either, personally. But opinions of the OP’s family and community are what actually matters to the OP, right? In a lot of religious communities, I think it would be a very big deal. It’s hard to know, without more detail from the OP, whether anyone would care if it got out.

          • Meg Keene

            As someone who thinks community and religion is a big deal, I still don’t always care what theyTHINK, or if they agree with me. So, I think she has to figure out what she thinks. I think that’s the issue.

      • Emily

        If you consider it a lie of omission every time your married or engaged friends don’t tell you about their relationship status, prepare for a metric ton of betrayal.

        Relationships are icebergs. The majority of what happens is under the surface.

        • ART

          “The majority of what happens is under the surface.” Amen, and thank goodness for that ;)

    • Liz

      I need to dig around, but I’m fairly certain it was on APW that I read about an adorable older couple who had married in secret and never told a soul for decades. If that’s what my friends decided to do, I couldn’t imagine being anything other than delighted for the two of them. I don’t know that it’s my place to insist on being there for The Real Deal, no seriously THE REALLY REAL ONE. I just want to celebrate whatever commitment they’re making (or have made, as the case may be).

      • Amanda L

        I don’t think it’s about insisting about being there for THE REAL ONE, it’s about honesty. For better or worse (see what I did there?), the term wedding refers to the time when two people become bound as one. If you send invitations (or email them, or speak them) to your wedding, then you have set the expectation that you are not yet bound (whether legally or religiously, that’s your pick) and that you will be bound on that day.

        If two of my dear friends got married quickly for insurance purposes, say, and then invited us to a celebration of their love six months later, I’m in. If they secretly got married and then six months later invited us to their ‘wedding’? That’s not ok for me.

        • LE

          I’m not sure that “honesty” frames it in the right way in this sort of situation. I think it isn’t really about what is ok for you, but rather, what is ok for the couple. Each couple needs to make their own decision about whether and how to include their community in their wedding. I think it is really sweet if a couple wanted to keep their first wedding ceremony a secret that was just for the two of them and include their community in a separate celebration, whatever they call it.

          • Amanda L

            I disagree if they call that ‘separate celebration’ a wedding, because that implies that it will be their actual wedding.

            Also, why would they hide their real wedding from their communities. Some of the reasons we’ve seen mentioned are lack of understanding or disappointment, but should we encourage people not to stand up for their convictions and their choices?

          • LE

            I suppose I was thinking of people who may want to have the opportunity to be alone with their partner when they exchange certain vows or promises, for any reason, not just because their communities wouldn’t understand but because they just straight up wanted to do that in private first.

            Also, my definition of wedding is maybe a bit more fluid. If a couple wants a private ceremony and a public ceremony to get married I think they are free to call them both weddings.

          • Mezza

            Well, for me, it was because I was resentful of the fact that I could not get legally married at my wedding and wanted to emphasize that as little as possible. My “real wedding” was the one with a ceremony in front of my family and friends, with vows and readings and a reception, not the one where I stopped by the city clerk before work some random day and signed a paper in front of a random person. This is standing up for my convictions, which are that these should not have had to be separate events.

          • Meg Keene

            TRUE STORY.

          • Anonymous

            As someone who tried standing up to those (my sisters, already married) who criticized my every move surrounding my “wedding” for six months, I felt like I had one choice left. I could either keep pounding my head against the wall (or crying, if I’m being honest) or I could take things into my own hands and get married on another day.

            We went through with the second ceremony because it was basically paid for at that point; if I cancelled, there was little in term refunds. So the word “wedding” did not appear in our invitation or the ceremony (if anyone listened that closely) and we had a friend perform the ceremony. We invited 75 family members and had a lovely evening with them.

            I know this line of thinking isn’t related to the OP’s, but for me it came down to being happy on the day I got married, which I was. I tried to talk about the situation to my parents and got shut down rather quickly, and surprisingly, so I knew it made no sense to make things worse. And when my sister’s showed up late, left early, and continued to criticize me and my choices on that other day, it didn’t hurt in the same way it would have if it had been my actual wedding.

        • Liz

          I think, also, that sentence needs to be read in the context it was written. Which wedding is the “real wedding” to the letter writer? Depending on that answer, she might not need to tell anybody about the elopement.

          For example, I consider my wedding the spiritual component- the vows I said in front of community. The legal aspect? Mehhh, I mean, I did it for the sake of having it on the books. But I honestly don’t give a damn what the government thinks of my marriage. So, if I’d run to a courthouse for some reason, I’m not sure it would count to me in any meaningful way that I’d need to share.

          That answer, though, will be personal and individual depending on who’s answering- which is what makes me adamant that it’s not necessarily WRONG to keep one event to yourselves.

          • Amanda L

            I guess that is where we disagree. If society says that your wedding is when you say ‘I do’ and sign the paper, then that is what your guests will think they are witnessing if you invite them to a ‘wedding.’ Regardless of which one you consider to be your real wedding,

            I was lucky, I didn’t have to make any of these tough decisions… how to word things, which one is our anniversary, will people be upset? But I do stand by the idea that you should give your guests the information, and let them decide for themselves.

            RE: the couple who got married so that a dying parent could be present. What guest wouldn’t understand that? Yes, the calls would be difficult, but wasn’t it on APW that I read that if you call a wedding off, you should take the tough road of actually contacting the people you had invited? I think it would follow that if circumstances changed (i.e. it’s now a ‘celebration’ or a ‘vow renewal’) that the same idea would follow.

            (Somewhere in my personality profile, it says I’m a stickler for rules… having one wedding just seems to be one of those rules that I cannot (except for the multi-faith couple example) find a good reason to break).

          • KC

            Well, if you call a wedding off, then you really *gotta* contact people you had invited so they don’t, like, show up; in any case where the celebration is not cancelled, then people are still welcome to show up and will not be showing up to an empty room. So there’s that difference.

            I think it’s amply demonstrated in the comments here that different people feel that a wedding “is” different things, so most groups of people will have at least someone or other who is both rules-based and who feels that a wedding is defined as All of It… but it seems to also be demonstrated in the comments that a lot of people aren’t in that camp and don’t totally understand it, or are sort of in that camp but would make exceptions for X and Y but not Z. So anyone in this situation will probably have someone who thinks it’s weird, someone who thinks it’s weird but is fine with it, and someone who thinks it’s fine. Social fun!

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            I really think this comes down to what you view a “real wedding” to mean. We ran off to the courthouse a year ahead of our planned wedding, after I was offered a job in the recession that didn’t come with health benefits. To us, it seemed silly (and frankly, dangerous) for me to go an entire year without health insurance just so that we could sign the legal paperwork on the same day as our wedding. While yes, we were legally married after our city hall ceremony, to us, it was not the real deal. It was a formality, a loophole that allowed us to take advantage of certain marriage privileges. Our wedding, a year later (to the day, so no concerns about remembering two dates!) was what mattered, because to us a wedding is a promise bound by community.

            A few people found out about our legal ceremony, and to our knowledge, nobody felt like our wedding was a sham, or like they weren’t there witnesses the real thing. Nobody backed out or rescinded their RSVPs.

            Our wedding was powerful and transformative. Our city hall service was one of the most fun parts of wedding planning. I secretly wish we could all separate out the legal parts of our weddings from the spiritual parts.

            All that said, if we’re being sticklers, technically you don’t usually get to witness the legal part of a wedding ceremony when you’re a guest. You get exactly what my guests got (a spiritual ceremony), the couple goes somewhere quiet with their officiant and their witnesses, to sign the legal documents. Some people do this the day of their wedding, some a few days before, and we did ours a year ahead of time.

            But we’ve never been sticklers for rules. :)

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Actually, even legally, there’s wiggle-room. There’s at least one case out there that it’s the exchange of vows that make a legal marriage. It was a relatively old case, brought about because the groom died shortly after the exchange of vows, and a court needed to decide if he was married so his estate could be distributed accordingly. I doubt that jurisdiction had the sign-the-license-after-the-ceremony procedure, though.

            It’s all part of the reason I don’t understand the deep offense at alternative arrangements. Very few of these people who claim to be deeply offended actually know or consider all the paperwork steps for every wedding they attend.

            “You’re married when you sign the license, and that’s that!” Well, in California, the couple signs the license when we pick it up, up to 90 days before the ceremony, but the officiant and 1 or 2 witnesses sign the day-of. I’m sure there’s at least one state where there’s nothing to sign the day of the ceremony, it’s all done when you get the license. Do you become closely acquainted with the license requirements for every wedding you attend? Do you make sure they’re followed? Is that why you go to weddings? “No.” Then why do you think any other way of doing things is so very wrong when all it is, is unusual?

          • Laura

            Yes, this is what I’ve been pondering. In Illinois, where we got married, we signed the license upon picking it up from the clerk’s office. Gave it to our priest a week before the wedding and never saw the thing again. He just had to sign it and send it in to the state once we were wed. No witnesses, no day-of signatures by us.

            I’ve never had anyone question the legality of our marriage, even though nobody saw us doing anything remotely legal on the day of our wedding. We had a wedding ceremony to celebrate the sacrament of holy matrimony. Our wedding guests presumably showed up because they wanted to: 1) share in the celebration of the sacrament because they recognized it as a religiously/emotionally significant event; 2) do not themselves subscribe to the idea of marriage as a religiously significant event but were excited for us because we were excited about it; or 3) suffered through what they saw as a pointless ceremony because they looked forward to the rocking party afterward.

            Which is to say, each wedding guest shows up with his or her own ideas about what is being celebrated. Assuming the letter writer’s family members are also religious, they may be very upset to find out that the couple already got spiritually married (which is what they clearly considered their elopement). Other people may think, “no big deal, I’m just pumped to hang out with you guys and celebrate the fact that you’re excited about this commitment you made.” And if you’ve got a bunch of family law folks in the house, perhaps they would get their jollies by watching you sign legal paperwork.

            We can’t anticipate how our wedding guests will view our ceremonies. The “real” part of the wedding differs for each person, and that’s okay. What matters is that you discern what ceremony important to you and make your decisions based on that, not based on how you think other people might view your day.

          • Tess Wilson

            A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

          • Meg Keene

            TRUE STORY. We signed our paperwork in a side room before the ceremony (you’re supposed to sign after, but Jews do the Ketubah before, so you often do the legal paperwork then too, since you’re already legally jewishly married). So in short, we were both legally and jewishly married before we walked down the aisle. ALL religious jews are religiously married before they walk down the aisle, because the Ketubah comes first. That doesn’t mean the ceremony isn’t important.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I’ve casually discussed some of the scenarios with my family-law-attorney friends. Like the Americans I know who had a civil ceremony in Arizona, which they considered no more important than a passport application, then a religious ceremony in Austria months later, because their church in Austria required a separate civil ceremony. I don’t think they did anything with the legalities in the meantime, either (no visa applications or health insurance or anything). When did they get married?

            In these days of complicated licensing steps and ketubot and increased international travel, we could come up with all kinds of hypotheticals.

          • Amanda L

            I’ll try to address the many points that people have made:

            Sarah – I don’t have a hang-up about the word ‘wedding.’ I never said these second celebrations were a ‘sham.’ I called it a ‘show’ in the context that they pretended they hadn’t gotten married previously. It’s the subterfuge of it that I am against.

            I have not begrudged anyone health insurance or post-marital sex. I never said I wouldn’t attend a vow renewal/celebration. I just said that, as a guest, I would appreciate the honesty of knowing what I’m attending.

            Maddie said ‘I secretly wish we could all separate out the legal parts of our weddings from the spiritual parts.’ I think if we could do that, maybe there wouldn’t be opposite sides of this issue. And maybe some people CAN do that, and have done that. But in my social circle, they go hand in hand.

            Elisabeth – I never said doing things in other ways is wrong. I think doing them in a way that is different from the normal expectation (and in this case, I guess I’m talking about my social circle) without expressing that feels dishonest.

            I never said the ceremony isn’t important if you are ‘legally’ married prior to it.

            It looks like we could go round and round on this, and from the lack of any posts agreeing with me, I’m a lone wolf, so I’ll end here.

          • Guest

            Nooo, I don’t think you’re alone. I get what you’re saying. It’s the deception that bothers you, whereas I see that other people aren’t seeing it as deception, just private. I also have to agree that it sort of depends on intent. (Going back to everyone’s comments about what LW considers to be the “real wedding”, or maybe she considers them both “real”.)

            If you sign some papers to get spouse on your health insurance, that’s different (to me) than eloping because you just couldn’t wait to roll in the hay. In the case of the latter, that feels like a real commitment of the soul (especially for people who are waiting for sex). There’s more than just formality there. For the former, I can see why you wouldn’t bother telling anyone at all, because really, who cares?

            HOWEVER, I wouldn’t really begrudge a couple for not telling me in EITHER case since…how exactly do you make that announcement, you know? But I would be uncomfortable knowing that they didn’t want ANYONE to know, since that makes it seem like they’re not comfortable with their own choice. (Which is perfectly legit.)

            It mostly bothers me that a 24-year-old couple feels like they can’t tell their [closest] people for fear of thinking they’re weird. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think you need to make some grand announcement, but it seems like you should be able to tell your nearest and dearest, just since it seems that would come up at some point. (Bridal shower…bachelorette…night before…rehearsal…I dunno.) You don’t even have to tell details, but I think it would be wrong to intentionally mislead them (like oh, can’t wait for tonight, finally going to get laid!) since again that seems like you’re not proud of your own choices.

          • Liz

            Ohhh yes, we’re going to continue to disagree, then, if you’re coming from a position where society defines “wedding” and “marriage.”

          • Sarah Rosenberg

            I’m really puzzled. Mainly, I’m puzzled by your hang-up over the word “wedding.” If your friends have invited you to celebrate their commitment to each other with the rest of their loved ones, why does it matter to you what they call it? Would you refuse to go? Would you call them up and discuss your dismay? You said earlier that a wedding is the moment when two people are bound — and you seem to feel that if that’s already “happened” then it’s a sham and the viewers are being ripped off somehow.

            So there’s two things I’m stuck on, I guess. First, I think many if not most people commit themselves to each other long before the wedding. That’s not to say that there isn’t something special and sometimes transformative about saying words of love and commitment surrounded by all the people that are most important to you. But that happens whether or not you did the legal bit first. Which brings me to my second point. Why are such words of love or commitment then less worthy of being called a wedding?

            Full disclosure: I got legally married three years before I had my wedding (I’m in that two anniversaries camp. Three years from legality tomorrow ;). I guess at the root of my bafflement over this is that, yes, both ceremonies had an impact on us — if I’m being honest, I think we really became married sometime in between the two. But it’s never been anything more or less than funny and wonderful that it worked out this way, to us or our family and friends, and the wedding was amazing. And besides, if I hadn’t done it that way, our officiant at the wedding probably wouldn’t have pronounced us “super duper totally officially like for real this time, husband and wife,” which was pretty much the best part.

          • Kim

            Oh please can we have a chat about this, Sarah? My man and I got legally married last year (almost to the dot), and had to move the (actually meaningful to us) ceremony into next year. I’m really torn about this “two weddings” thing…most of our family members say (I quote) “why bother with a show? you already got married”, and subsequently no one is taking it very seriously/ is not planning to attend. The crazy thing is where I am from most people actually have two weddings (religious weddings are not legal – so a civil “ceremony” is a mandatory prerequisite)…only most people have these in short succession. As ours has over a year and a half in between and we want a secular ceremony, people have just defaulted to thinking of the civil ceremony as the REAL wedding. I’d love to hear how your story went and see if we can learn something from it.

          • Moe

            After eloping, I did have one friend make a remark that the family wedding I planned was “a show” which really offended me and I was quick to shut down. When I eloped we had a Christian ceremony that included all of the scripture references I wanted, and also happened to me legally binding. It was a private intimate moment that, in my humble opinion, was just as holy and significant as a large ceremony that would take place in a church.

            The “public wedding” that I planned following was just as meaningful and significant for very different reasons. It included our family and friends. It included a community affirmation where everyone was asked to promise to support our marriage.
            Just a suggestion here, as a point of good manners…never refer to anyone’s ceremony as Not Real, Fake, or a Show.

          • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

            While you are absolutely entitled to your opinion: I do disagree with you. Strongly. As I’ve previously said, in almost every Western country in the world, it is the law that you are required to have a separate legal ceremony. It’s understood that what you’re receiving in the mail is an invitation to the religious ceremony and at some point prior (days weeks or months) the couple had a legal ceremony. No one gets bent out of shape or says that the religious ceremony isn’t a real wedding.
            And with all due respect, I think you’re getting hung up on the word “wedding”. As it’s been pointed out, you don’t actually see the legal part of a wedding regardless, so I genuinely can’t understand why it would matter.
            We chose not to give all of our guests all of the information because we love them, and we didn’t want to upset them unnecessarily. We had one wedding, and it’s the one they attended.

          • Emily

            I completely see your point.
            My husband and I felt married way before our wedding. We committed to each other personally and spiritually when we got engaged. Between the two of us we didn’t need a piece of paper. We held a wedding and made it official, because we wanted to bring our community in on our commitment. If we had been waiting to have sex for over 4 years, I am not sure we wouldn’t have eloped before the official wedding as well. It sounds like the LW and her husband felt fully committed to each other prior to the date of their scheduled wedding and in light of that commitment, they eloped and consummated their marriage. It surprises me that so many people are taking issue with their elopement, given how many commenters on APW talk about “nothing changing” after the wedding. It seems like lots of people feel married before they technically are married. Waiting a month for a formality, before having sex seems pretty difficult to me.

            Also, Catholic weddings require a priest largely because Catholics (like me, and yes I know it is more complicated than this) believe that priest’s have a special relationship with God. Many protestant sects have a more democratic approach. If the LW made a promise in front of God, whatever that means to her, in most Christian belief systems, her marriage is blessed.

            By the way, the LW never mentioned any fear about the spiritual soundness of her marriage, just the reaction of her community, and it seems presumptuous and ungenerous to go after another person’s spirituality uninvited.

            Frankly I have a feeling LW doesn’t want to broadcast her elopement, because it would clue her community in on her desire to have sex with her husband, which would be awkward for anyone even though it is a normal and healthy part of marriage.

          • Alison O

            To me it seems the question of which is the “real wedding” is answered by the reason for which the OP got married early, which was to have sex/live together because it wasn’t otherwise kosher (the non-Jewish kind :-P). Otherwise, it seems like a contradiction to say, it was really important to us to be married so we could be consistent with our religious beliefs…and yet the wedding that allowed them to do that was the ‘fake’ one (if we go with the logic that they don’t need to tell about the elopement if the community wedding is the real one)?

            That’s just me playing with analysis and semantics, though; I don’t actually care to assign judgment here. I don’t identify myself as a follower of Jesus any more than a follower of Gandhi or Eckhart Tolle or my friend Elaine, but I definitely subscribe to the spirit of “Let the one who hasn’t sinned throw the first stone.” Also, being judgy is not fun; it can feel satisfying on some level, but when you do a gut check (like, physically), being upset with other people, privately or to their face, is not pleasant. Similar to why I believe forgiveness is a gift *to yourself*. And as E.T. (Tolle, not the little alien) says, you can be right, or you can be happy.

            In my own life I feel like a big part of entry into adulthood has been quieting any variations of the question,”will people think this is weird?”. I agree with your response that if the question is popping up, it’s probably time for some soul-searching. And then put it to bed.

        • Meg Keene

          I just don’t think it’s always our business. See above, my grandparents.

          Secrets can be awesome.

        • laddibugg

          If someone married secretly for insurance or immigration purposes, fine. If they got married secretly so they could screw…side eye.

      • enfp

        I think it’s all very context dependent. I totally get how sometimes getting married and having a wedding are separate or require multiple events which may not be close in time, and I would never judge someone for whatever choice they made about those events. I would embrace any opportunity to celebrate my people and their commitment to each other, and couldn’t care less whether it was The Real One. But all that said, I can also imagine situations where I’d feel hurt that someone I was close to felt that they couldn’t be honest with me about an important thing in their life. I think it’s a realistic possibility that depending on how the couple handled communicating about their plans that some people might feel lied to and hurt about that.

      • Meg Keene

        My grandparents, for goodness sakes, got married in secret and had a big wedding later, and my great grandparents NEVER knew. And they always celebrated the secret anniversary. It’s a long complicated story, but that’s the upshot.

    • Liz

      Also, Jim and Pam, you guys! JIM AND PAM!

      • l_weston

        Also, Lily and Marshall!

    • KC

      I think the concept that a wedding is a bunch of different (potentially separable) things is something not everyone gets, so just not telling anyone is most like the *easiest* option.

      But inviting people to a community celebration of their wedding (which is the part this couple hasn’t had yet) isn’t a lie if that’s what they’re considering it, but it would be if they’re deliberately pretending that it’s also the other things, but they may not be?

      But this one is a bit weird in that the couple seems to consider themselves fully married in some sense (as opposed to people who get the piece of paper but consider the community celebration the “real” wedding), so… I don’t know. It’s definitely sticky!

      • Guest

        Yep, yep, yep. The last paragraph exactly. I’m not bothered in any sense of what’s legal and what’s religious. (Hey, in some countries you actually can’t do both at the same time…like France….you have to get legalled first, either that day or before. And in some you can’t legally be married, as with gay couples.) It’s just that they DO seem to be “fully married” since obviously they wouldn’t be having sex yet if they didn’t consider themselves such? But maybe….for them…the sex thing was OK after getting legalled but having the full-blown community wedding is also important and they don’t feel fully married?

        Again, I dunno, I mostly wish LW was comfortable with her own choices and she doesn’t seem to have come to terms with them yet. In the case of Meg’s grandparents, it seems they were perfectly OK with people thinking whatever they were going to think, and more power to them.

    • Annie

      I have been to 2 (straight) weddings that were not, actually, the legal wedding. One was because a parent was ill, took a turn for the worse and wasn’t going to live to see the wedding (which was a few months away).

      It was a really tough situation for the couple (aka a parent was dying) and I can’t imagine in the midst of all of that they would send out an email to say, “oh, by the way, we actually are already legally married, FYI, so what you’ll see at the wedding is just a show. That just seems sort of confusing to me, and I’m not sure how I would respond as a guest. I think I would assume that they wouldn’t want me to come.

      The language of their ceremony wasn’t misleading, but if you didn’t know they weren’t already married, you wouldn’t have noticed anything odd.

      I like the phrasing a person above used: “If they need to know…tell them. If they ask, don’t lie. But we didn’t go broadcasting our legal ceremony.”

    • jhs

      Yes! Totally agree. Just say like “by the way, we decided to get legally married sooner rather than later, but it still means a lot to us to pronounce our love and commitment in front of god/our community/etc.” And realize that some people just aren’t going to like it, but they’ll still come out and support you if they love you.

    • Tess Wilson

      Of the last 5 weddings I attended, only 1 involved the actual legal paperwork.
      Couple #1 had a gorgeous ceremony in the woods attended by friends & family, then signed the paperwork with witnesses (friends & family) a few days later.
      Couple #2 were planning on marriage, then eloped suddenly due to a insurance-requiring health emergency and held an amazing wedding a year later.
      Couple #3 are citizens of two different countries, live in a third, and got married in a fourth. They got their nightmare paperwork sorted out weeks after their wedding.
      Couple #4 were engaged, had a rush elopement for insurance, then held their wedding as planned.
      Couple #5 got married in a church, signed the paperwork on the spot.

      All of these weddings were weddings, and all of these couples had the right to proceed as they saw fit, and tell people as they saw fit. If I begrudged a loved one life-saving health insurance or insisted that the tedious paperwork-filing in Hong Kong was the only “real” ceremony worth my time- well, I probably shouldn’t be attending their weddings.

      • Alison O

        Ha, what occurs to me to say with the sum total of these scenarios (and considering how my partner and I are thinking through our own situation at the moment) is that we need single-payer national health insurance in this country.

    • Meg Keene

      Cough. I don’t think everyone needs to know everything all the time. I just don’t. I don’t think that we lie every time we choose to keep things private. So, I suppose I do disagree.

    • ART

      “I, for one, would be PISSED if I went to a wedding and found out later that it was really just a ‘show’ because they had already eloped.” – That just sounds like such a huge overreaction to me. Like, “I’m so PISSED that I got invited to this lovely party that’s mainly about two other people, and the thing that’s important to ME wasn’t considered!” We considered getting quietly legaled a few months early for our own specific purposes and in the end didn’t do it, but if we had, and a friend of ours expressed how “PISSED” she was about it, I’d feel pretty confident that she wasn’t a friend worth keeping, because obvs, she cares more about her own feelings about our marriage than ours.

      • Amanda L

        I think the point that many people are missing in my posts is that I have nothing against a celebration/vow renewal. I just have a problem with people pretending that it’s their wedding, so that they can have the WIC-approved event. Clearly, there are people who have two weddings and consider them both weddings. I just haven’t seen many real-world examples (in my life, not on the interwebz) of those situations. Maybe that’s not what LW was trying to do, but it felt like that was what APW was sanctioning.

        Through this discussion, we’ve established there are many different reasons to have two ceremonies/anniversary dates. I’m definitely re-thinking my definition of ‘wedding.’ But I stand by my original point – if the people you are inviting to this event are close enough to be included, then they are close enough to be let in on what the event actually is (I’ll put the caveat in that if you are as good at keeping your secret elopement a secret as Meg’s grandparents are, then you’re the exception!).

        • ART

          I guess I just don’t see why someone would presume that an invitation to a wedding entitles them to know anything more about the couple’s relationship than what they want to share with their guests. I know of a couple who had a “WIC-approved” wedding and also had a whole other wedding for/about their fetish community, in full regalia. I don’t know whether the legal paperwork took place at either, but both were legitimately, equally important to the couple, with different (and context-specific) vows. They did not disclose at their “regular” wedding the fact that they had taken additional vows and committed to one another already in another ceremony, and I don’t see why their friends and family who weren’t in the know would be entitled to that information (or, for reals, want to know anything about it). It’s just not their business.

    • z

      I wouldn’t say I would be “pissed,” really, or that it isn’t a wedding. but if I thought the couple was deliberately trying to deceive me, or make me a party to deception of others, that would make me uncomfortable. It feels disrespectful.

  • Rosie

    On the subject of ‘will people think it’s weird’ – I got married young and so did a close friend. From some comments we both had it was clear some people thought it was weird (and that we were just impatient for sexytime – not that they knew if we were waiting for marriage or not). You just have to smile and move on! You can make your own choices about what feels right for you and try to do the right thing by your community, but you can’t control people’s reactions. If you truly feel this is right by you guys and your faith then I say rock on.

  • Becca

    I don’t pretend to understand either Christianity or being a follower of Jesus. This letter confuses me, though, because it reads: “Being followers of Jesus, we were abstinent. We couldn’t wait any longer, [so] we said “screw it” let’s go ELOPE!”

    This sequencing makes it sound as though the couple couldn’t wait any longer to have sex and, therefore, eloped. Huh. Is it weird to be so focused on being allowed to have sex that you elope a month prior to your planned wedding? I’m not sure, nor do I think it matters whether or not it’s weird, but I do feel sad that, seemingly because sex was off-limits pre-marriage, this couple felt rushed into marriage.

    I don’t see sex as that big of a deal, though, and certainly not more important than commitment.

    • Allie

      Yep, I’m with you here. The way this letter read to me was very immature and fundamentally paradoxical – I mean, you set a date to be married before your God, but you didn’t wait until that date and that event to have sex. To me it’s as simple as that – a “quickie” elopement might satisfy the letter of the law, but not the intent.

      But I have strong feelings about “waiting for marriage” – namely that I’ve seen friends rush into marriages that ended in divorce and trauma that they wouldn’t have if sex wasn’t the prize at the end of it all.

      • Becca

        Thanks, lady. I was trying to write my comment in a way that was measured and calm, but I have strong feelings here too. There are very few viewpoints with which I find myself having to actively practice tolerance, but I’m glad I have the opportunity to exercise that practice here :)

      • vegankitchendiaries

        I really feel this.

    • Poeticplatypus

      I’m not going to deny it my first thought was you only had one more month to go? But that’s what worked for them to keep their conscience clean. Shoot I’m dating and because of our beliefs we aren’t suppose to be alone with each other until we marry. But that’s another conversation.

    • KC

      I think there’s a weird thing when societally-expected-weddings cost kind of a lot and such wherein the commitment can be there wayyy before the wedding budget is there and before the wedding is set up and before all the little handpainted favors are done and stuff. So I can see wanting to have All The Cake And Eat It Too – getting the community wedding (which doesn’t have to take a lot of time and money, but often, frankly, does), but not waiting for that to get the legal commitment (for insurance or visa purposes, say, or for sex purposes!).

      But it is a bit of a mess in that people are usually expecting the wedding to be some number of the following 1. the legal thing, 2. the religious thing, 3. the public-community-commitment thing, 4. the personal commitment thing, 5. in some communities, the Official License to Have Marital Sex, 6. a big fat party, all at once, and if you split one or more of those out, some people will think it is not the real deal or real “enough” and won’t come and that’s a bummer to some degree. (that said: if you think no-sex-before-marriage and you think you’re married “enough” to have sex, then it’s good to be clear with yourselves and with your officiant, potentially, what that means to you)

      But just because you want to have your 50th birthday party actually on your 51st birthday doesn’t mean people will play along and come to it just like it was really your 50th birthday (if they know). Some will prioritize it just as highly, because celebrating what’s important to you is, for them, the important part. Some will prioritize it lower, because it’s not actually the Real Thing in their point of view (which: in fact, it isn’t a “round number” birthday, so… yeah). And that’s the way it is?

      • Becca

        I appreciate your comment, but I’m not sure it addresses mine. I definitely understand that “societally expected” weddings can be expensive, but that doesn’t seem to pertain to this situation since the community wedding was already planned.

        I get that people might expect weddings to be A Lot of Things. Like I said, though, I don’t much mind whether situations or choices are “weird” or non-normative– what feels difficult to me about this situation is the overemphasis on sex. This letter reads as though this couple chose to get legally married a month before their wedding because they wanted to have sex.

        • Becca

          To clarify: yes, this choice seems “weird” to me, but I’m struggling with it mostly because I have a hard time understanding that there are belief systems that prohibit sex to such a degree that it encourages people to get legally married specifically to have sex. But! More power to the couple for doing what feels right for them.

          Sigh.

          • KC

            I was primarily trying to reply to the portion of your comment where you noted that the commitment part is more important than the sex part (because… um… I also don’t totally grasp the “we couldn’t wait another month to have sex so we eloped” thing either, despite having been in Camp We-waited-until-marriage-and-it-worked-hey! – but maybe our engagement was shorter? whatever. Sex was not why we got married [nice bonus, though! not sayin' it's not.]).

            I think any system that discourages or provides something (for good reason or not; I personally think the skip-sex-outside-marriage one has good reasons, but totally understand that other people don’t) will generally have some suboptimal consequences (see: tax law and all forms of red tape for additional examples; home studies as prerequisites to adoption/foster care are *awesome* for trying to make sure that kids are going into good situations, but take time and delay things and are stressful and keep kids and families waiting and that’s bad and sometimes really frustrating – but worth it, on balance, esp. given that the requirement probably filters out a lot of people who really shouldn’t be adopting and know that.). Sometimes, something works enough of the time the way it’s intended to work that it’s worth it. Sometimes it doesn’t. People getting married solely for A License To Have Sex and no better reason is one of those thing where it’s frankly probably not the way that particular prohibition was meant to go (getting fake-married to your roommate so they can get cheap insurance or a visa or whatever is also not the way those marriage-linked things are supposed to work), although the letter writer doesn’t say that’s the only reason they eloped at that time, just maybe the main reason, and they were already committed to getting married/marriage, so I’m not saying they were necessarily “breaking” things (partly because: not my business plus don’t have the whole story plus Not My Business).

            So, in short, the reason my comment wasn’t responding to the bulk of your comment is that I honestly don’t totally know what to do with the eloping-a-month-early-just-to-have-sex thing, if that is what was indeed going on, so I only responded to the part I could lucidly discuss. :-)

          • Becca

            Haha, thanks KC! Got it :) Appreciating your perspective! Some of your points really resonate, especially the context + Not Our Business thing. You’re right: this couple was already committed to getting married, whatever that means to them, and perhaps that original commitment had very little to do with rushing to have sex.

          • Penfield

            Right. She says they had been together for FIVE years.

          • Alison O

            “I personally think the skip-sex-outside-marriage one has good reasons, but totally understand that other people don’t”

            Right before I read your comment I was thinking about how a lot of religious rules (seem to) come from practical issues from way back in the day, and the no-sex-before-marriage evolution could very well have been because like everyone was running around like a fool in a state of nature and being like “I DON’T KNOW WHICH DUDE MY DAD IS, AND ALSO MY CROTCH HAS WEIRD SPOTS AND ITCHES REAL BAD”. And some powerful person was like, this nonsense is annoying the sh*t out of me; “People, you gotta keep it in pairs.” Or someone thought legally binding people together was good social policy for other reasons and was like, I know how I can get people to buy into this–make it required in order to have sex, and then they’ll definitely want to get married.

            What I think is interesting about the modern manifestation of this is that it seems to want to take sex out of the equation of love and commitment, which is pretty sensible because infatuation can really muddy the waters. And yet, it’s like without the sex the infatuation can still be there (it’s just like hella long foreplay) and just encourage people to go into marriage more quickly than they otherwise would because they want to get it on. Obviously doesn’t happen in all cases, but it can. Whereas, in my five year relationship, sex is a complete non-issue in terms of our decision-making about getting married. The infatuation period faded long ago. So I’m not worried about the romance fading or the sex getting worse (or not being compatible/good because we’ve never had it).

            To be clear, I don’t think either option is inherently better or worse, but it’s interesting to think through the possible ramifications of the different approaches.

    • Emily

      1.) They waited four freaking years.
      2.) The weddings was already planned, so the marriage was not motivated by sex.
      3.) Abstinence is not about not wanting sex, or not thinking sex is important. It’s about wanting sex to come after commitment.

      So 1.) they didn’t rush, 2.) they didn’t get married to have sex, and 3.) their wanting to have sex does not invalidate their spiritual choices.

    • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

      I’m going to attempt to answer your question in as short a manner as possible, and also with the caveat that this is my perspective, and I do not presume to speak for all Christians, or all people who are waiting to have sex until marriage.
      A little background:
      Most Christian couples date anywhere from 1-4 years on average before getting married. During that time, (depending on them) they engage in either only kissing or everything but actual intercourse. I want you to take a moment and imagine how difficult it would be to not have sex with someone you love and are planning on marrying. For possibly years on end.Then throw in the stress of wedding planning. I totally get why they said “Screw it! Let’s elope”

      But that doesn’t answer you primary question which is that you feel that it’s sad that this couple felt rushed into marriage.
      I think that you reasoning is (a bit) short sighted if for no other reason than this is a couple that is getting married in a month. They’re not really “rushing” into anything. Clearly they’ve thought this out, gone to pre-martial counseling, sent the invites–this is happening. I’d agree with you if they eloped a month after they got engaged or a month after they started dating–but they were already planning a life together.

      You don’t see sex as a big deal. As a Christian, to me, it’s the biggest deal. My faith teaches me, and I believe, that sex is the binding of two souls forever. It is literally two flesh becoming one. In romantic relationships, there can be no greater commitment, no greater sacrament. It is a huge deal and it’s an act that is not meant to be taken lightly. My Christian faith teaches that marriage is the closest example of Christ’s love for his church that we ever get to see on earth. It’s a gift from God to give us a glimpse of how much he/Jesus/Holy Spirit loves us. Marriage is a huge deal. Sex is “reserved’ for marriage because it binds you in a similar way to how we’re bound to God through Jesus’ love for us.

      I feel like this is becoming muddled and a book so I’ll end here. The easiest to explain this might simply be this: For me, sex is the biggest deal.

  • Name

    It sounds like you did what’s right for you (and you should stick to your guns about it), but yes, people will think it’s weird and there will be hurt feelings. The people closest to you will be sad that they didn’t get the opportunity to share with you and DH the special moment when you actually got married. They may feel betrayed that they thought you were inviting them to share that moment with you, but in fact you went and did it on your own without telling anyone. Those people may feel even more betrayed if you lie by omission and let them believe they are sharing that special moment with you (at your wedding) when that’s not true.
    Ultimately, your wedding is YOUR wedding, not theirs, and you can’t please everyone. But you have to be prepared that if you make an unconventional choice, especially one that has the perception of excluding people, there will be Feelings about it. Be honest with people and have some prepared responses for anyone who expresses some displeasure.

  • Katie

    This letter is so confusing. They wanted to have sex, but couldn’t because of Jesus, so they went to the government instead of Jesus? It seems like to have the condoned sex they’d been waiting for, they should have not-legally eloped at a church, and then done the government part at the later wedding?

    That part aside, it also sounds like they’ve already told everyone to me: “I don’t want others to think its weird”. So really, is this just about the spin you want to put on your decision to elope? Because I would totally be uncomfortable telling people I eloped to have sex if they asked. Maybe “we were so overcome with the joy of starting our lives together that we just couldn’t wait! It was impulsive and beautiful!”?

    • Penfield

      Do we know that she eloped by doing a legal marriage and not a church one? The letter actually doesn’t say anything about the circumstances of the elopement and who was there.

      • Eh

        Very good point! I know three couples who have eloped and two were done in churches, including a secret elopement. (The groom’s mother was pretty upset with the minister who preformed the elopement.)

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I wanted separate legal/civil and religious/sacramental ceremonies, on separate days, because I think it reinforces my Church’s teachings on marriage, though my Church does not require this procedure, the way it’s required in most of Europe and Latin America.

    I talked about it on another wedding forum, a general anonymous forum, and with our officiants. Our officiants were fine with the idea. In the other discussions, I learned that a few Americans can’t separate the idea of civil and religious weddings – even when well-known examples are pointed out to them, such as the Prince and Princess of Monaco. They tended to be offended by the very suggestion. I learned that many other people think that ceremonies with civil legal consequence are the only “real weddings,” and they’re offended by calling anything else a “wedding,” by the idea of being invited to such an event, etc. [I like to think their offense doesn't apply to people who can't get legally married, but that didn't come up in my discussions.] But I learned that most people, especially when they think about actually being invited to such an event, take the attitude of “What’s important to you is important to me; what you deem worthy of celebration, I will celebrate with you.”

    Ultimately, I found that one wedding was enough to plan, and we followed the usual American procedure. Had I stuck with my earlier aspirations, I wouldn’t have told many people. Most people we invited accepted our civil/sacramental distinction. Personally, I don’t think the legal aspects of my marriage are anyone else’s business. I wouldn’t disclose the terms of a pre-nup to all our guests, why the legal marriage date? My husband did move in with me a few months before we got married, something we kept a secret because of appearances because “we were abstinent.” But in retrospect no one was really interested in our abstinence or our living arrangements.

    • Annie

      Yep.

      My priest’s most common refrain re: weddings is that he wishes he didn’t have to do the State’s business.

      He would prefer that all couples get legally married however they see fit by a civil servant, and the Church only get involved for those couples who want a sacramental blessing on that union. Of course, anyone can already do that, but in his ideal world, that would be the norm.

  • Lian

    I am in a similar situation for different reasons, namely: planning a wedding, sudden realization that we were jeopardizing my legal status (am not from here), rush elopement, still planning original wedding and considering that our wedding. Our approach is: we told close family and friends, and we tell others as it comes up, though we don’t actively bring it up.
    I stand by everything we did but now most people know and some don’t and I do feel awkward, so I am probably going to bring it up with the people who don’t know. Also, I can’t even really keep track of who knows which is confusing…

  • Sarah Rosenberg

    Given that there’s a lot of discussion strewn throughout the thread here about this, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that OP does not say that they eloped via civil marriage. They might as well just have eloped in a church.

  • ML

    This is all past tense since the wedding was in June. It’s too bad the OP couldn’t read any of this advice in time. I hope she will come back to tell us what she did and how people reacted (if they were told).

  • z

    It’s difficult to discuss this without knowing the specifics of the religion. Is premarital sex explicitly prohibited, or is abstaining a choice the OP and her husband have made on their own? Is it one of those denominations where unmarried women are “under the authority” of their fathers, and therefore any elopement without paternal consent is a violation in itself? There are a lot of circumstances to consider in the gray area between omission and lie. In my experience, when people feel duped and disrespected, they don’t really care about whether it was technically a lie or just an omission.

    I also wonder what would happen if people find out about the elopement. Would the OP and her husband be kicked out of their church, or have to go through some sort of disciplinary process? Ancestry.com is an astonishingly powerful search engine, and if one of the OP’s relatives is building out her family tree and runs the right search, the legal marriage will pop right up.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Interesting about the website. Distant cousins on both sides of my family have done extended family trees. One is a huge book. Both have errors along the lines of confusing my parents’ wedding date with my aunt and uncle’s.

      I had mixed feelings when California asked us for seemingly obscure, or at least irrelevant, information when we applied for our marriage license – where and when our parents were born, and their full names at birth. This was tricky with respect to my in-laws, who were born in the USSR. OTOH, I felt it was silly/wrong to ask questions we had reached adulthood without knowing the answers to. (It was similar to when I was applying to graduate school and one school wanted precise information about my father’s academic career. It clearly had no relevance as to what kind of student I would be.) OTOH, I know that our marriage license creates another vital record of all the information contained in it, and sometimes that kind of thicker paper trail is useful for heirs. (Because it’s against the law to deny a marriage license based on ethnicity, national origin, etc., I imagine if we couldn’t complete the form, they would still have had to issue the license.)

      • z

        The reason I bring it up is that my aunt uses ancestry.com to remember everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries and send them cards. So the legal marriage would pop up in her system within a year.

  • z

    Weddings can force a lot of uncomfortable issues to the surface. This situation might mean that the OP’s views and choices are not well-aligned with family and religious community expectations. Whether that means looking for a new church home, or reconsidering one’s own views, or just living with the tension for a while, there definitely seems to be a mis-match here. Is this really about “weird”– something that is not the dominant social norm but not morally problematic– or is it about something more serious, like people thinking it’s sinful or deceitful? Or is it that the OP herself is wrestling with second thoughts about the elopement decision?

    Best wishes to you, OP. It’s probably hard to read this after the fact, no matter what you decided to do. APW can be a tough room for people in less-liberal religions, if only from lack of familiarity.

  • Violet

    Through a legal lens: There is a definition of “marriage.” I’ve never heard a legal definition of “wedding” (though ElisabethJoanne, if there is one, do share!). Therefore, she can call the celebration of their commitment a “wedding” without technically lying. Merriam-Webster defines wedding as “a marriage ceremony usually with its accompanying festivities.” So the operative word being it’s a ceremony, of a marriage-y kind. As has already been discussed, sometimes the legal marriage part can’t happen at the same time (despicable laws, insurance logistics, hell- just signing the damn license when you pick it up as opposed to at the altar) means they don’t occur simultaneously. It’s up to OP to decide how she feels about this truth-on-a-technicality, as Liz so beautifully explained.

    Through a Christian lens: I agree that the term “Christian” is way too broad. Complicating things is OP’s sentence, “We couldn’t wait any longer, we said “screw it” let’s go ELOPE!” I know she wrote “couldn’t wait” after the word “abstinence,” implying they couldn’t wait for sex, but really, they could wait. They had been waiting that whole time! At some point, they chose not to wait anymore. So instead of waiting for the marriage, they just moved the marriage up. So while they didn’t “wait” for marriage, they also didn’t have pre-marital sex. Depending on which part matters most to OP and her community is I think how she’s going to come to terms with the choice.

    Personally: I think it’s interesting how we try to pin down when the exact moment is that we go from “not married” to “married.” I consider myself married what with the license and the ceremony and all, but I “felt” married long before that. Pinning this down feels a bit like trying to grab at stardust.

  • up_at_Dawn

    As the non-abstaining kind of Christian (formerly a Catholic, but let’s not discuss that) I respect people’s right to make the choices that are right for them- particularly when it concerns adults.

    I’m also not interested in religions that place more of a moral judgement on how many people I spread my legs for than how I treat other people. The former is my business, the latter is a moral judgement.

    See- all types of Christians out there.

  • Penfield

    There is really a lot of interesting civil discussion in this comment thread. People are talking about the different types of Christianity, moral judgment, and their viewpoints towards these different types. They are musing about what marriage even is, and how and why and if legal marriage differs from religious marriage. They are contemplating the OP’s actions and attempting to understand how they are consistent with her religious views. They are discussing stories of waiting till marriage to have sex, and the various consequences (negative and positive) of that decision. I think that all of these topics are important and enlightening — great thread here — but I do just want to go back to the OP’s question, which is essentially “I am doing something that I am concerned will be perceived as odd. What’s the best way to deal with that now?” In other words, she doesn’t want to appear like a weirdo. But it sounds to me — based only on her post, of course — like she is basically satisfied and happy with her decision. There isn’t concern in her mind that her friends/family/religious community is going to shun her or damn her to hell or never speak to her again. If she was, I don’t think she would use the word “weird.” Maybe I’m wrong, but at my wedding, I had plenty of worries about my decisions being perceived as odd, but those decisions didn’t tend to involve super super serious heavy stuff. I could be wrong, I’m just suggesting that maybe the OP is interested in some more practical responses that match the lightness in her tone and provide some concrete tips about how to frame her celebratory day to the community she cares about. And above all else, it seems like she just wants the encouragement and the reminder that we all need when we plan weddings (and let’s face it, basically when we interact with any other human): not everyone is going to like what you do and say, but that’s not a reason to have done what you did and said what you said.

  • snarkyteacher

    My friend did this. Almost exact same situation. No sex before marriage. Together several years. Secret wedding 8 months before “the wedding”. It was weird to me because of the secrecy. It bothered/still bothers me that she didn’t tell her family/the vast majority of guests/most of the bridal party. I don’t think it is weird to still want a day to celebrate the big decision that you made to spend your life together.

  • KT

    for the flip side of one discussion here, i went to a religious wedding for an abstaining couple who didn’t then make it state-legal (in austria you need to go to the registry office before or after a church service). i also felt this was wrong as they did so to avoid certain tax disadvantages or something (give to ceasar what is ceasars).

  • Amy March

    Yes. People will think it’s super weird that you eloped one month before your wedding and now consider yourselves married. And people who really wanted to share that moment when you become married because it is spiritually and emotionally meaningful to them will be hurt that it didn’t matter to you to have them there.

    You just need to accept that and deal with it. Some people will find this a delightful love story. Others will think you’re impulsive idiots who couldn’t keep it in your pants. Your job isn’t to change their minds, it’s to do what you need to do with grace and compassion.

    • JDrives

      This comment wins all of the things. It really does come down to the fact that we can’t control how people will think and feel about our decisions. We just have to make decisions that *we* can live with and as you said, act with as much grace and compassion as we can muster.

  • Sara B

    We did this too, although not for the same reasons. We eloped with our parents and my siblings, and we told very few people. We then had our wedding four months later with extended family and friends, and it was AWESOME. I think because we knew we were already legally married, our nerves were calmed and we were really able to just enjoy the day and the public declaration of support from our loved ones. We never told anybody because we didn’t want to fend off a bunch of questions or have people not attend because they didn’t think it was a “real” wedding. They were both real to us for different reasons. And on a side note, being able to take care of the paperwork, getting certified copies, etc. beforehand was amazing because there was already enough to do later with writing thank you notes and things like that.

  • Moe

    Oh how I wished I was around yesterday when this was posted!!! I love when Liz graciously nails things on the head though. I eloped, and then planned a wedding. It was a similar situation as yours. We didn’t want to live together unmarried. (There were a lot of other things going on at the time too that made our situation somewhat urgent) We wanted to remain true to what was important to us AND be married. So we did it. Done. When we broke the news to people, they were happy for us and if anyone thought it was weird I didn’t hear about it…I would not have cared anyways. I missed out on the experince of being engaged, BUT I got to plan a wedding while being married already and I wish everyone could do that!

    Both events were meaningful and significant. My elopement was special because it was just us and I love that I didn’t share that intimate moment with anyone else. My wedding was awesome because everyone was there and they got to celebrate the commitment we had already made.

  • cschell

    First off, congratulations! whenever two people make a commitment to one another it is a cause for celebration. Although I do not adhere to any specific religion most of my friends/family are very religious and my friends who are my age (22) are deeply concerned with remaining pure until marriage. The amount of sexual undertones at weddings has always made me uncomfortable. I want to ask people who make tongue and cheek comments to the bride and groom “What exactly did you come here to see?” two adults making a joyous and profound commitment or for serious lack of a better term, a “deflowering” (hate that word) If a guest was upset because they thought they were seeing two virgins before their wedding night and learned the truth, I would seriously question the whether that relationship was a healthy one.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    To answer the OP: Will some people find it weird? Yes. Maybe you need to get over what others think: in a nuthsell, yes. It’s no one’s business why you eloped, when etc. I think as you grow and become older, this will become easier for you to do. If you two are happy and fine with your decision and want to continue the ceremony as planned, have at it and keep the details of your personal life just that. Personal. Congratulations!

  • Moe

    I find myself getting a little worked up reading some of the comments, and that rarely happens here. But may I just offer one piece of humble advice??
    Please do not refer to anyone’s wedding as fake, not real, or a show. Ever. Please?!

  • Karen

    I think it’s the timeline that’s throwing people off… if you can wait for 5 years, if you can wait til February, if you can wait til May, why not just wait til June? I think that’s the “weird” part, not the two weddings per se.

  • http://www.aprilbooth.com/ April

    People might think it’s weird but there is always someone around to think your decisions are weird no matter what those decisions are. If you are both happy with your decision, I think that’s all that matters.

  • Jellotokyo

    I feel like I can help with this. My fiance and I are getting married overseas in Italy. We decided to do a civil wedding in the US first to avoid the paperwork hoopla over there. So we got married on a little mountain top with a few friends last Saturday.

    Much of our family lives out of state and when I let a few of them know we were doing a small civil wedding, they were hurt and some were even angry. My response was that it’s a civil wedding and I consider my “real heart” wedding the one I perform in the Catholic church with my husband. The church also considers this my real wedding and I’ll be doing the full marriage sacrament versus a blessing.

    Besides that, I’m also throwing a reception in my hometown with all my family and friends in November.

    Just own it! Your life will be full of decisions that you and your partner make, you don’t owe it to anyone to be the explainer of all of your deeds. Besides, I’m sure there’s plenty of “black sheep-ness” in everyone’s families to go around.