Calling Off Your Wedding & Eloping

{A painting made by Shana & Jerrad’s friend Kristin from their real family Christmas card. You’re welcome.}

by Shana

When I was little I never dreamed of what my wedding would look like. I never cut out magazine pictures and glued them to a board or sketched wedding dresses. What I would picture was myself old and wrinkly, sitting next to an equally old and wrinkly person holding hands and being happy. Yes, my twelve-year-old self looked forward to the day of sitting on a couch next to her husband, crocheting and watching Law & Order (which may or may not describe my current relationship).

Even when we first got engaged I didn’t daydream about what our wedding day would look like. Instead of imagining our first dance and centerpieces, I would daydream about all of the life adventures we would go on after the wedding—starting with the honeymoon and ending with where we would retire.

All of those thoughts took a backseat once people started asking me about the wedding. So I jumped headfirst into wedding planning. I started reading wedding blogs/watching trashy wedding reality shows (sorry Iʼm not sorry). We discussed what kind of wedding we wanted (fun, laid back, intimate, and memorable) and what details were important (good food, booze, and dancing). We also had a strict budget since we were paying for the wedding ourselves. So I started with the absolute basics that I had learned over the years from TV, movies, magazines, and the internet.

According to what I had learned, there had to be engagement photos, a rehearsal dinner, a bridal shower, a bachelorette party, a bachelor party, a white dress, a reception dress, a tux, a hair/makeup person, someone to marry us, a pretty venue, bridesmaids, groomsmen, a flower girl, a ring bearer, a large guest list, an organized seating arrangement, hors dʼoeuvres, cocktails, a three course dinner, a gigantic cake, a DJ for a dance party, DECORATIONS EVERYWHERE (including, but not limited to, twinkling lights, mason jars, monogrammed everything, and handmade things), party favors, a photographer, a videographer, long vows, planned speeches, and a cute exit at the end of the night.

It didnʼt take long before I started to freak out and joke about eloping. So to tone it down we started to cut out a few things here and there that werenʼt essential—a second dress, flower girl/ring bearer, three course dinner, a fancy venue, a huge cake, a DJ, crazy decorations, a giant guest list, party favors, and a videographer.

We ended up with a backyard, 150 guest, pizza and beer wedding in California. Totally doable, stress-free and easy, right? So the next few months we started figuring out the details to make it happen—chair rentals, table rentals, porta-potty rentals, generators, bridesmaid/groomsmen costumes, choosing our colors/theme, decorations, catering, alcohol, music, landscaping, the invitations and about 1,483 more things to do. The wedding was taking over my brain and the stress was making me feel like I was slowly dying inside. But I figured thatʼs how all wedding planners felt so I ignored it.

Until one day when I was picturing our backyard wedding bash and I realized something… I had never once imagined myself at the wedding. I had thought of the wedding in my head dozens of times, yet I never saw myself at it. I tried my hardest but I couldnʼt picture myself at this magnificent, Pinterest-worthy wedding. Not only was I completely miserable during the whole wedding planning process, but the wedding had become something we never wanted in the first place. After my sixty-fourth wedding planning freak-out we said f*ck it and went back to the drawing board. We asked ourselves what we truly wanted and it was the same basic ideas as before that we unfortunately lost sight of. We quickly decided on San Francisco City Hall involving twenty guests (immediate family and friends), a party bus, donuts, pizza, whiskey, and bar hopping. AKA our dream wedding.

By eventually ignoring what we thought our wedding was supposed to be and instead having the practical wedding we wanted from the start, we were able to fulfill our dreams. And those life adventures I used to daydream about? Well, we decided to take an extended honeymoon this summer by going to Europe for three months. Huzzah!

Polaroid by Hart & Sol West

Shana earned a degree in Grandma Arts (aka Fibers) before opening two small online shops (Handmade Monster & Meow-a-days) specializing in crocheted goods. She is also a nap champion, video game enthusiast, and pro bono blogger. Shana is married to her best friend, Jerrad, and together they live with a tiny pug named Yoshi.

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  • Leila

    Thank you for this! Your elopement sounded amazing!. We are about to have our wedding in less than two weeks, and boy were we close to doing this a couple of times! Early on we scrapped what we were forming and re-evaluated things which led us to the smallish (60 people) wedding that we will be hosting. You hit the nail on the head though because the original wedding was going to be a gorgeous and fun wedding, but I couldn’t identify with it. It involved places I thought were pretty and some things we liked, but I too couldn’t imagine us in it. So we started from scratch with “what wedding do we see ourselves in.” And so we have kept going back to that in decision making.

  • Jessica

    “bridesmaid/groomsmen costumes”- hahahahaha

    • I’d totally want to be a bridesmaid if I got to wear a costume! Now, should I be a pirate, a superhero, or a famous cat from the internet? ;)

  • Great post. I think “not imagining yourself” at your own wedding is a great indicator in figuring out if the kind of event is for you. And honestly, not everyone has to imagine themselves at a reception with 300 guests and hand-painted mason jars. Because twenty people, donuts, and whiskey sounds like a kickass wedding to me. Whatever you imagine yourself at counts as a wedding, and I hope more and more people come to realize that.

    • Not being able to picture myself at the wedding was one of the many reasons I eloped. And I tried to plan two weddings before eloping. They would have been beautiful, but I wouldn’t have been the person getting married.

  • Winter

    This wedding is the wind beneath my pre-engaged wings.

  • Jashshea

    I skipped down before reading the post because I made the glorious mistake of clicking on your site first – AY! Your wedding pictures are amazing. Can’t wait for later today!

  • Laura C

    Jealous. That is all.

  • Christy

    Sigh. I so admire your confidence and authenticity. I wish I had had the guts to do the same for my wedding. We ended up being more worried about what people thought of us than actually doing what we wanted. The pictures of the event are nice, but I still don’t feel like I really fit in.

    And now I sound like Debby Downer. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happily married. But man, oh man, do I wish I would have kept it simpler to get this way.

    Best wishes!!

    • KB

      Ditto – we’re about a month out from our wedding and I’ve only recently looked around and thought, “Wow, we should have eloped.” And not in the just-kidding way, but the “I wish we did something smaller and more casual.” The problem is that it’s SO EASY to fall into the “You only get one wedding” trap. And the “I want everyone to be comfortable and/or have fun” trap. Ugh, so many traps. Now I’ve made all these decisions and deposits and have to go through the stress of getting everything done with the GIANT FEAR that I’m not going to enjoy my own wedding.

      • Christy

        My advice-PASS THE BATON. Find someone you can trust fully to take care of all the stuff you don’t really care about. That was the only way I stayed at all sane. I found a day of coordinator that took care of all the extras that didn’t matter so much to me.

        On my wedding day I was the happiest I can remember ever being. Granted, I was also the fullest of adrenaline I’ve ever been as well, so who knows how I actually, truly felt.

        All I know is that at the end of the day, we ended up married. All the extra stuff? Some of it worked; some of it didn’t. We had the rings on our fingers and the honeymoon ahead of us and honestly couldn’t have cared less.

        All that said-just find someone else you can pay to be stressed for you. Don’t try to do it all yourself, especially if you feel like you’ve gotten into all sorts of traps in planning your wedding. You deserve to have a wedding that is perfectly you, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen 100%. At least find a way to enjoy one of the most wonderful days of your life as much as you can. I can’t say you’ll be the happiest person in world, but I think you’ll still be damn near it.

  • Rachel

    We did something very similar to this. While we aren’t eloping, we canceled our original plans, got back most of our deposits, and started fresh. Thinking about our wedding made me miserable because all I could think about was all the extra work I’d have to do to pay for it. For me, the turning point came when, thanks to the rising cost of everything, we had to cut the one thing I was really looking forward to and could see myself at (the post-wedding brunch). The relief I felt when we made this decision was HUGE. Now we’re actually having a ton of fun planning everything, which I think is a really good sign.

    Can’t wait to see your pics later today! That Polaroid is adorable.

  • Lindsey d.

    Call me a quibbler, but 20 guests is a small wedding, not an elopement. Eloping is a bride, a groom and an officiant (and maybe a witness to make it all legal/official). backs me up – “Elope: 1. to run off secretly to be married, usually without the consent or knowledge of one’s parents. 2. to run away with a lover.

    As does Merriam-Webster – “Elope: 2 a : to run away from one’s husband with a lover b : to run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent”

    Your wedding sounds wonderful and amazing, and I’m thrilled you got married the way you really wanted; but technically, an elopement it is not.

    This is not directed at the happy couple, but more at A Practical Wedding, which frequently describes very small weddings as elopements.

    • Lena

      Yeah, I’ve been seeing that more and more with vendors and APW and it really bugs me. Deciding to truly elope – just you, your partner, and witnesses – is very different than having a celebration with family and friends, no matter how small the number of guests.

      My biggest struggle is between elopement and small wedding, and it’s a disservice to say you’re going to talk about that struggle and making that decision and instead talk about a large versus small wedding.

      • I feel like there is a growing move to get married without the usual fanfare and bells & whistles, and for some that may feel like it is more fittingly called an elopement than a small wedding. I suspect this couple is applying the label “elopement;” it really doesn’t seem like apw’s editorial philosophy to change how someone else describes their wedding/elopement/marriage blessing.

        That being said, I bet lots of people can resonate with your struggle between a small wedding and an elopement. I for one would love to see a post if you were up for writing it.

        • Maddie

          Kyley pretty much nailed it. We generally try not to argue semantics on the site because it tends to take away from the spirit of things, but we see a lot of this same arguments surrounding the word “practical.” The truth is that there’s seldom a real formula for what makes an elopement or what makes something “practical.” A lot of the time, we just use the words the couple uses to describe themselves, and the overall spirit of the thing to help us define stuff.

          • meg

            What Maddie said. When we’re labeling things, we try to label weddings with only the couple as an elopement. We’ve published a LOT of those, by the way. Otherwise, we’ll say “courthouse wedding” or “small wedding.” But also, we slip up sometimes, because it’s not that big a deal.

            This is sort of this why-the-fuck-does-it-matter things to me. If someone decides to cancel their big wedding run off to the courthouse and bring along their family, and it feel like an elopement to them, awesome. Who am I to have a problem with that? We’re not wedding policing over here, we’re just trying to encourage you to have a wedding that works for you, and give you the tools you need to pull it off.

            That said, if someone wants to write about deciding between a small wedding and an elopement we’d LOVE to run it. The fact that Shana was writing about something a little different doesn’t make it a disservice, it makes it a service for someone who’s not you.

    • Melanie

      The intro notes “Well they could call off the wedding and elope, or do something small” and this couple did just that- called everything off and did something small. Exactly what my fiance and I are doing/decided.

      I agree, this wedding sounds wonderful and amazing. But far more important than technicalities (elopement or not), this is a beautifully encouraging post especially to those who have thought “Maybe we should elope,” or “I don’t want to do what we’ve already started planning/paid for/told everyone about.”

      I had these thoughts 8 months into wedding planning and it wasn’t until I read a similar APW post when I realized I wasn’t just having “wedding stress-it’s natural!” or being “unreasonable.” No matter how far you’re into the “process” there’s always time to be authentic.

      • I call ours a fauxlopement: we intended to just courthouse with the two of us and a few witnesses but then somehow ended up with a handful of people, then that grew into about 18 people. Not totally an elopement even if we did plan it in 4 days but it was a secret from everyone else: we had been planning a wedding/reception and just tossed it out the airlock for the time. :) Still haven’t gotten around to planning our reception but …. we’ll figure it out.

        • Stephanie

          I *love* “fauxlopement”!

          Our wedding is planned for September, but due to an impending job loss on my part (our company is being purchased and we know 90% of us will lose our jobs, but we don’t yet know who will stay and who will go, AND we don’t have a timeline for when everything is going to happen — so it could be July, and it could be October), and thanks to the current state of healthcare in the US, if I lose my job before our planned wedding date, we have plans to go to City Hall and get married so I can be on my fiancé’s insurance.

          Our parents would be there, though, so I think I’ll avoid semantic arguments by calling it a “fauxlopement”! (I’ve been referring to it as “getting City-Hall-married.”)

        • Kari

          Oh, we do too! Out fauxlopement was 11 people and planned in 2 weeks. We are having a much bigger party this summer but it’s easier to plan BC we are already married.

      • meg

        Mmm. This is exactly what how I feel about this Melanie. It’s not the technicalities, it’s the idea.

        But yeah, if someone wants to write about small wedding vs. elopement, I’m SUPER into that idea.

        • Amy March

          I think of this as a search term type thing. If I go looking for a post on eloping, and what keeps coming up is people having small city weddings with a few friends and family, that might get dispiriting. Like, oh, even the cool wedding blogs are suggesting that a true elopement is a bit off.

  • Elaine

    Love this post and teeny San Francisco City Hall weddings. But can I just say as a weird dog person, that pug in pearls and a sweater? AMAZING!!

    • YES. I literally shrieked aloud when I saw that painting. BADASS.

  • Alicia

    We had a party bus at our wedding too. One of the best choices we made.

  • Mira

    You’ve hit the nail on the head!

  • Mallory

    We ended up calling of our wedding (to both outstanding support from family and to very peculiar criticism from some people who are no longer friends). A year later, we eloped with notification, i.e. called the parents the day before to clue them in. It was just us and a close friend who took photos for us. Later that day we played board games and ate funfetti cake. It was perfect.

  • Mallory

    We ended up calling off our wedding (to both outstanding support from family and to very peculiar criticism from some people who are no longer friends). A year later, we eloped with notification, i.e. called the parents the day before to clue them in. It was just us and a close friend who took photos for us. Later that day we played board games and ate funfetti cake. It was perfect.

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  • dawn

    I really like the idea of picturing me and my FH at our upcoming wedding. That image keeps things in perspective!

  • Wow this post gave me so much inspiration for writing my own post about “eloping” or what I have vowed to call “intimate marriages.”
    Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  • Ali

    How did you handle letting people know that you weren’t having your 150 person wedding? We haven’t sent our out STDs or invites yet, but some people have heard “through the grapevine” or even from us just talking about it that we were planning a traditional wedding. Now we are at the “f*ck it”, essential personnel only, fauxlopement stage (we plan on doing the same ~20 person thing albeit in NYC not SF) and don’t know how to explain to the remaining 100 or so guests that they will not be invited. We plan on having a reception but we have heard that some people don’t appreciate missing the “I dos.” Thoughts? Thank you!

    Also – due to school requirements for myself – the reception likely wouldn’t be until about 6 months after the fauxlopement. Not sure if that matters. It could also potentially be only two months after (at the discretion of my parents, who would be fully in charge of planning).

    • Laura

      If you had sent out STDs or invites I would have suggested mailing a letter to each guest briefly explaining that you decided to go small and that you hope they understand. (I think most people would!) But really, since you haven’t formally invited anyone, I don’t think you need to offer such a definitive explanation. Plans change, after all, that’s just life. I’d say just tell everyone you regularly talk to that you have decided to go small, repeat it a few times, then let the grapevine take care of the rest. I’ve known a few couples that did this and none of the would-be guests were up in arms about it or anything.

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