How to Elope (And Not Tell a Soul)

AAPW: Can we pull off a secret elopement?

by Stephanie Kaloi

wedding band with skeleton inside it

Q: I was recently offered a job overseas. It’s an incredible opportunity where I would get to live in a country I love and have all of my expenses paid for. To put it mildly, I’d be absolutely stupid to turn it down.

The problem is that in order for my partner to come along for the adventure, we’d have to get married—not in a year, not in a few months, but in a matter of weeks. Now, the whole “marrying this dude” thing isn’t an issue; we’ve lived together for several years, own three pets together, and have known marriage was something that would potentially happen down the road. The problem is the now-accelerated timeline. What we expected to do in the next three to four years now has to happen as quickly as possible. I’m slightly bummed, since I don’t have the extra cash to get a nice dress, get my makeup done or hire a photographer for a courthouse ceremony—but not bummed about missing the whole “traditional” wedding. We fully anticipate having a “normal” wedding in the next year or two, once we can save up the funds. We just don’t want to be apart for the next three years, so this is our only option.

We aren’t sure how to broach this news with our parents. I can’t speak for my partner’s parents, but my family is very traditional, and I know my mom is not a fan of courthouse weddings, non-traditional weddings, or anything of the sort. She constantly compares my “life timeline” with that of her friend’s children (all getting married and planning huge affairs taking place this year), and she is known to belittle both me and my sister when we share news or accomplishments that don’t align with her beliefs or expectations. This won’t go over well, and I know she’ll have a million opinions about how a wedding should/shouldn’t be done. Mostly, I know she will tear down the “later wedding” idea and accuse us of trying to have a “cash grab” when we already did the thing that people “care” about (the marrying part). I’m stressing just thinking about the guilt trip she’ll give me for the rest of my life.

How can my partner and I make this easy on both sides? Should we just do it and break the news later? How do we treat telling extended family, who will likely be hurt by being excluded?


A: Family, man. As someone who has been there (our wedding date of choice was immediately shot down by a family member who claimed she couldn’t attend with such short notice—six months before the date in question), let me say this: I understand where you’re coming from.

Of course, all the understanding in the world doesn’t do you much good, especially when you’ve got a veritable time bomb ticking above your heads. When it really comes down to it, I’m pretty sure this is exactly why secret elopements started in the first place. And truly? It can be as easy as the two of you getting a little dressed up, heading over the courthouse for fifteen minutes (or making an appointment, depending on where you live), and doing the deed before heading out to a nice dinner and a few celebratory drinks. You can always plan to have the wedding you/your mom have been imagining, and no one has to be the wiser—unless one of you spills the beans.

There is one loophole, if your parents are savvy to it: if anyone knows that your partner can’t come with, you’ll need to have a story up your sleeve about a magical visa situation that saved the day. There’s a tiny bit of deception involved, but it sounds like that’s a small price to pay to avoid the colossal heap of head- and heartache coming your way otherwise.

When it comes to planning to elope and stay secretly married, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If you tell one person, assume you’re telling everyone: The whole point of secretly eloping is that you do it secretly, meaning you really shouldn’t tell anyone else. Not your sister, not your best friend, no one. If one person knows, then it’s safe to assume at some point, someone else will know (loose lips sink ships and all of that). Think of it as a super fun, kind of hot secret for just the two of you. Your secret marriage is a take it to the grave secret.
  • If you do tell people, downplay, downplay, downplay: If you don’t think it’s realistic that neither of you will make it without telling anyone at all, make sure you make eloping sound like the most basic, banal decision you could have made—a totally pragmatic choice so the two of you could be together. Make sure whoever you do tell understands that the courthouse elopement is an extremely separate thing, with no family or friends present. By all means, have fun with it—just don’t include anyone else unless you want to include them all.
  • figure out if your parents are before or after people: In other words, if you really can’t deal with the idea of letting down your parents, decide if they would react better to being told before or after the elopement in question. If you think your mom, despite anything else she might bring to the table, will feel really betrayed by your decision… then maybe consider looping her in. If your family will support your marriage whether or not they find out about it before it happens, then don’t say a word.
Some people truly can’t imagine not getting married in front of their nearest and dearest, so a secret elopement could never work. To those people, I say this: absolutely nothing legal happens at most wedding ceremonies. Unless you’re signing the paperwork in those fifteen minutes, what your friends and family witness is the totally non-legal professing of love that you guys want to do. That’s a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t mean that you’d be legally getting married in front of everyone if you waited and didn’t secretly elope now. So really, what’s the difference if it’s done way before the fact? The ceremony can seal the deal, complete with your families in the front row.
And real talk. Your mom isn’t going to be happy no matter what. So, do you.

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • Rhie

    As someone who did just exactly this, I just want to say that if it’s what you and your partner want life-wise, relationship-wise, etc., do it. My husband and I did the secret elopement a few months ago and are currently planning our November family-only wedding. I’m with Liz–it really can be as simple as just not telling your family you got married already, but you do have to make sure that you’re both on board with that plan 100% and are committed to lying to your friends and family for however long it is before you get married with witnesses. We decided it was worth it for us to elope and therefore not have to wait another year before we got married (long story) and have the very private ceremony we both preferred, but if you know you (or your partner) are the kind of person who will let slip to a parent or sibling just so that one person they’re particularly close to knows, be prepared to handle any crazy situations that result. I will say that part of the reason we were/are able to pull this off is that we live in a different state from both our families and all our close friends, and since you all are potentially doing this before moving to a different country, well, there you go. Another totally unexpected but delightful benefit of planning a wedding after being secretly married is that it’s made it a lot easier to be relaxed about the whole thing. All those decisions that can feel like they’re life or death even though you know logically they aren’t life or death go back to being regular old decisions and you get to sleep at night. No matter what you decide (decided?), good luck!!

    • Eenie

      I agree 1000% with your last three sentences.

    • Danielle

      Yes. Different situation, but we got legally married at the courthouse a few days before our wedding celebration. We just did it to take care of the legal paperwork but, surprisingly, THAT felt like a real marriage ceremony to us. It was emotional and personal and I’m glad just the two of us were there to have that experience together.

      All the bullsh*t and problems that went down on the actual wedding date… just didn’t matter that much. I was already married, and no one could take that away from me.

  • Eenie

    We secretly eloped! In our state you actually don’t sign the marriage license (only the officiant), but we had our photographer be our officiant and had a one minute ceremony at the end of our engagement session. We have told exactly one person who we would trust with our lives and doesn’t live by any other friends and family. We didn’t need a visa story, but I’d told multiple people about my health insurance coverage worries with quitting my job. The coverup story was: I used COBRA for a couple weeks and negotiated for health insurance to start right away through my new job. Yay for America’s health care system.

    The hardest part with secretly eloping is that we want to call each other boyfriend/girlfriend, realize that’s not right, and then autocorrect to husband/wife instead of fiance/e in public. It’d be difficult to keep a marriage like that under wraps for YEARS. So as much as I like the idea of a secret elopement, for you I wouldn’t recommend. Get married. Not make a big deal about it. If anyone asks you just say you signed the papers at the courthouse so he could come on this wonderful adventure with you and state the wedding will take place in the next couple of years. Decide on what you want to call each other in public (especially when starting a new job). Go all in on spouse/husband/wife? Split the difference with fiance?

    The people who handle it poorly probably would have handled a “traditional” wedding poorly. That sounds like an amazing opportunity! Congrats!

  • NotMarried!

    “And real talk. Your mom isn’t going to be happy no matter what. So, do you.”

    THIS! I’m sending it over to my best friend to be forwarded back to me throughout wedding planning as needed!

    • Natalie

      I wish someone had told me this during my wedding planning. Repeatedly.

      • NotMarried!

        it’ll be my second round. I learned the first time :)

  • Greta

    Yea, the only thing I think that is standing in your way is the logistics of keeping the secret marriage for years. Think about who might HAVE to know if you are married – like perhaps your boss/co-worker who is familiar with visa laws and knows you are married. And then they you’re out to drinks and they tell others, and then someone posts it on facebook and all the sudden it’s out there. Because you say you HAVE to be married, then I can only imagine that a few/some/many of the people you meet/work with in the new country will KNOW you are married. And that sounds complicated, but definitely still do-able. Good luck and congrats on the sweet dream job!

    • Eenie

      Anyone who knows you’re married via work most likely isn’t allowed to publicly broadcast that information. Two people at work know about my marriage because of how I filed for benefits, but they are not about to spill the beans to anyone else due to privacy laws, especially since I said: do not tell anyone, this is only on paper for now. You can make up a reason for the visa that is plausible. Only rude nosy people would attempt to poke holes in it! (If that was the way they wanted to go.)

      • Greta

        Yes, you’re totally right here. I guess my point is that it would be equally important for it to be a complete and utter secret in the new country as well, because the internet has a way of spreading things.

    • Cellistec (formerly Lizzie)

      And then there’s the flipside: those in your new country who will know you’re married may not know that your family DOESN’T know (convoluted sentence but you get the idea). And there are some startling ways that news could make it home: if there’s an emergency and your parents get called by a well-meaning boss or friend who refers to your spouse as such, for example. Not terribly likely, but still not a great way for family to find out.

  • Jessica

    Is there something about the “formal” wedding planned for a couple of years from now that is particularly significant to you? My husband and I got legally married a few months before our church wedding for various logistical reasons. We told our parents beforehand and have mentioned it to a few others, sometimes just as a funny trivia fact to our friends lol. But we weren’t living together when we got legally married (and didn’t do so until the church wedding), I didn’t call him my husband, and I barely remember our legal wedding anniversary date. So in other words, for us it wasn’t an “elopement” — it was just filing the required paperwork a little bit early.
    I know that legal marriage means different things to different people, so maybe filing papers with the state is really going to be a definitive moment in your relationship. But if not, I would try to re-frame it in your head as just another part of the visa process, and explain to your mother or anyone else who you want to tell that you really want to include them in the big party you will have in a couple of years, which will be the moment when you [publicly commit to each other in front of your community, or whatever meaning the public celebration has for you] and that filing these forms now is just a procedure you have to complete to be able to move abroad together.

  • Emily

    I think eloping in this case makes all of the sense in the world; practically, logistically, financially etc. The only thing that makes me nervous about the SECRET elopement is the reaction of your partner’s family and the rest of yours (besides mother dearest, who probably is going to be upset for awhile). Maybe no one thinks this is ideal and all family members are going to be kinda shitty… secret elopement it is! But if your dad, or siblings or your partner’s fam is going to be heartbroken if they somehow found out maybe it’s worth your mom being a pain in the ass to include the family who WANTS to be there, no matter what.

  • Amy March

    I think you should also consider your own feelings. Are you going to feel married after you go to the courthouse? Are you going to want to swing from the chandeliers and tell everyone? Are you going to want to have a big celebration years down the road or are you going to feel over it because you’ve already been married a long time?

    I think the secret marriage is going to have the highest likelihood of success if you genuinely will not feel married after you do it. Not from a managing everyone else’s feelings standpoint, just from considering your ability to keep it a secret, if that’s what you want to do.

    • Danielle

      Yeah, but in some ways you don’t know what you’ll feel until you feel it.

      Anticipate all you want, but for some big life events, you just don’t know what it will be like til you experience it.

      • A.

        Preach. We were the couple who always talked about how we didn’t expect “marriage” to feel any differently than our long-term relationship (7 years prior), that marriage doesn’t inherently create gravitas in a relationship, that it’s essentially a legal document…

        A year later? Uh. Oops. Feels way different, in that it’s more important and defining to our relationship. Neither of us could have seen it coming.

  • Alexandra

    As for parental expectations: gotta get over it and do what works for you. This is a big part of growing up and it took me years, but eventually you have to call the shots in your own life without running decisions by invisible mom voice in your head. Go elope if that’s what circumstances call for. It’s incredibly liberating to accept the fact that mom might be mad but she’s just going to have to be mad. Seriously. A lot of people never get that far, but if you can push through it, the other side is amazing. Personally, my own relationship with my mom improved substantially when I developed a backbone, became my own person, and made my own decisions (although she wouldn’t speak to me for two years!). Now we interact like two adults.

    As for the wedding…I think having a traditional wedding after having been legally married and living as husband and wife for a few years would be a little anticlimactic. Maybe that’s just me. Why not just have a very small wedding planned quickly, invite a tiny number of people, treat everybody (I’m talking about 15 people max) to a restaurant meal afterwards, spend like $1500 max, and call it good? Invite mom and let her make her own decision about the fact that you’re not having a big poufy wedding. Just own it–your deal is a little different from the norm, but you’re still getting married. If she has lots of yucky comments, change the subject or walk away.

    • AP

      “As for parental expectations: gotta get over it and do what works for you. This is a big part of growing up and it took me years, but eventually you have to call the shots in your own life without running decisions by invisible mom voice in your head.”

      Yep yep yep. And I’m with you on the wedding advice, too.

  • en

    I tried to elope secretly for the exact same reasons – we were engaged to be married in 10 months but need a visa to move to a new country in three weeks. It did not work at all, mostly because we’re bad at secrets. My parents insisted on coming and bringing my brothers, my bridemaids flew in, our local friends arranged a backyard bbq, and my cousins brought wine. All on three days notice. My parents didn’t want us moving to the new country, so there were definitely feelings, but overall, it’s a very happy memory. I also felt way more married after that courthouse signature than I had thought possible. We still did the big wedding later, which was fun and special and included everyone.

    So I guess, if you’re going to do it secretly, really don’t tell anyone. But if you’re not committed to that, maybe give people room to surprise you in a positive way.

  • emmers

    I think Stephanie’s advice is great. But definitely think about if/how you will eventually release the news of your marriage, either by hosting a public wedding or other celebration in the future, or some other way. I have two friends/family members who secretly married, and didn’t tell family until months or years after the fact. There was a lot of drama related to family when they finally find out, mainly family members feeling disappointed and upset. I think this would have been avoided if they had never told anyone about the elopement, and had a ceremony later.

    Couple #1 had a tiny ceremony with a few friends and family members from one couple member, and released the news a few months later to family by phone, followed by a facebook album with official elopement photos shortly after. The family members from the bride’s side, who hadn’t been invited, were so upset. Couple #2 married, and then it somehow came out a couple of years later. Family members were very upset/disappointed (her dad cried because he wouldn’t get to walk her down the aisle).

    So, takeaway– if you can keep it secret, keep it secret! If you can’t, then at least get it over with, since you’re only delaying drama if you wait. Good luck!

    • gonzalesbeach

      interesting examples – on the flipside, my family member let family and friends know of a secret elopement and it wasn’t a big deal. people bugged them for years and years about when would they get married. turned out they had been for ages. parents had known shortly after the fact and their younger siblings found out several years down the line (when they were old enough not to spill the beans), but the rest of family and friends all found out around the 10 year mark and we all just wished them well and gave them a nice anniversary present!

      • emmers

        True – know your crowd!

  • Cellistec (formerly Lizzie)

    The secret-keeping part is exactly why we chose not to full-on elope and invited our parents to our legal ceremony. We were so excited to be married that I didn’t think we could keep it to ourselves. Plus, it would have meant hiding our anniversary celebrations for the rest of our lives, or at least remembering to also celebrate (visibly) on the date of the public wedding. In the end I think the secrecy would have been more stressful than the honesty. (And that’s saying something, because our parents were not happy with us.)

    • Eenie

      It’s so funny, because we are the opposite. We will probably struggle to celebrate either anniversary, but the one we plan to celebrate will be our wedding day, not the day we signed the papers. It was exciting to officially be married, but we are much more excited to have our nearest and dearest help us celebrate that.

      • Cellistec (formerly Lizzie)

        Yes, it’s probably different for everyone. We celebrate our legal ceremony date and totally ignore the date of what I call our “wedding fiesta” several months later. I guess as long as you figure out in advance whether you’re more excited to be legally married or to celebrate it with loved ones, it’ll help indicate whether elopement is a good idea.

  • Kim

    I really appreciate this post, and the great supportive comments I’m seeing. This isn’t my situation, but it BLOWS MY MIND how irate people get about this issue on other bridal blogs/sites (don’t even get me started on the “pretty princess day” thing). Like, it’s okay to live together, to own a house together, and even to have kids together, but if you sign the paperwork a few months or a couple of years before your actual wedding, then the wedding itself is a complete sham and a cash grab and you are a monster. I heard about a young woman being shamed (by a message board, of all things!) into cancelling her wedding just because she got “legaled” a few months in advance so that her dying father could be there. WHAT.

    I could understand being a little hurt if I found out that a close friend or dear family member got married and didn’t tell me for years, but mostly just if I found out that OTHER friends or family were in on the secret and I wasn’t good enough to make the cut, you know?

    • laddibugg

      My only issue is when people flat out lie about not being married before the wedding. I don’t care if you went the courthouse a month before but don’t tell me that you weren’t married before only for me to find out later that you were. That is sort of a *sham*.

      • Eenie

        Is it if someone outright lies to you about it or if you just don’t know about it? I’ve gotten into the discussion before with people and it comes down to two sides: Some people put more importance on the legal aspect of the wedding and some put more importance on the community aspect of the wedding. We are legally married before our actual wedding ceremony, and I can guarantee you our wedding is not a sham.

        • Amy March

          Eh, for me if you invite me to a wedding, that’s a representation that you are having a ceremony in which you become married. So yes, I do consider it an outright lie if you are already married, whether that’s legally, religiously, or within your community, and don’t tell me that. I fully get that you put more importance on the community aspect, but I don’t, and I find hiding that and making that decision for me off-putting.

          I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it or anything, but that’s how I feel about it. I want to know what I’m signing up for, and if you’re using a definition of wedding that isn’t the standard one, I’d like to know, and if I find out later I will feel hurt and lied to.

          • Eenie

            Amy – I already knew you came down on the legal side of the argument :)

            We don’t plan on telling anyone ever, because it’s not a big deal in our books. So this is totally hypothetical.

          • Danielle

            Also it’s nobody else’s business, in my book. It’s your marriage and no one else will be personally that affected by it.

        • gonzalesbeach

          Yup – for me (this may not be others so if you feel differently then that’s just fine), a marriage is about 2 people and 2 people only. A wedding is about the 2 people and their community. So if I decide to get married sans wedding – it’s no one’s business but ours. People asking personal questions about my marriage/lack of marriage is kind of nosy to me – because it’s getting at my personal relationship with my partner. If I were planning a wedding though – then it’s totally cool for people to ask questions about that.

        • Dawn

          For me, the issue is not with legal vs community-oriented ideas about weddings but about being implicitly lied to. I think that it is an implicit deceit to use a individual definition that is not widely shared and not tell people as much. So, I will feel lied to. I may or may not feel hurt, though, depending on the reasons for the deceit and my relationship with the people.

    • Elizabeth

      My thoughts exactly. I can’t understand how it makes a difference.

    • Violet

      Totally agree that the kind of backlash you can see is really confusing to me, too. That said, I have a hard time understanding how anonymous internet commenters can shame someone into canceling their wedding without their consent. I can’t even begin to put myself in the head of someone who would choose to cancel a wedding in response to feedback from internet strangers (short of like, a doxxing scenario), but whatever her reasons, it was still her choice.

      • Kim

        Yeah, no, you’re totally right. And I imagine you don’t reach that decision without already feeling guilty about having a post-legaling wedding. In this extreme instance, I got the sense she was very young, and while that isn’t NECESSARILY important, I think it might have made a difference in this case.

    • LindseyM

      Yes, and it always blows my mind because some couples might be getting married somewhere or be from cultures where the legal wedding and the ceremony are two different things. For example, in Argentina, everyone has to get married at the Civil Registry Office. Most people don’t consider this the actual wedding, because for them the only wedding that counts is the one that happens later in the Catholic church in front of their family and friends. So, if we were to get married in Argentina the “wedding” that friends and family come to is never going to be the actual legally binding ceremony, unless they all want to crowd into the Civil Registry office–which is very different from a courthouse wedding in the United States. I also think your profession has something to do with how you view the signing papers aspect of it. I am a lawyer, and most of my lawyer friends seem to be happy getting creative with the time of actual signing.

      • tr

        I’d never thought about profession playing a role, but you may be onto something!
        I’m a lawyer, and I definitely tend to think of the marriage license as just another piece of boring but necessary paperwork. To me, deciding that two people are “married” when they sign the paperwork is a little like saying that people officially become parents when they claim their kid as a dependent for their taxes.
        To me, you’re married when you both agree to stand by one another through thick and thin for the rest of your lives. The marriage license is just another important piece of bureaucratic paper.

        • Alexandra Sophia

          Law student jumping in late to the game, but I just wanted to add another voice of agreement to this hypothesis! My husband and I got married about two months before our wedding in order to secure my immigration status. We really didn’t make a big deal out of it, though we both dressed nicely. We went and grabbed beers afterwards with our witness.

          A wedding for us was more about our community coming together to recognize us as a new social unit, more than it was about the government recognizing us as a family. Can you tell my BA was in anthropology?

    • toomanybooks

      Can we also all just laugh about what a total joke it is to call a wedding a “cash grab”?! It’s, like, the opposite!

      • Jess

        I think we kind of have to, yes?

    • I totally agree. There’s nothing shameful in signing the paperwork for practical reasons and then having the party later. However, I think that in doing so, the couple should be cognizant of how they choose to present these choices and their expectations about how they wish for others to celebrate them. My brother and his wife eloped in December because he is in service and will be going on a temporary 6-month overseas assignment this July. Even though his wife isn’t allowed to come with him, being legally married would be able to get them extra pay and she would have the potential for some additional benefits. They made a day out of it and had a photographer, fancy dinner and night in a hotel. They announced it to family and friends when they were in town for Christmas and shared the pictures with everyone, making it clear that they plan to have a reception to celebrate. While in town, they decided to make plans for the reception – a big “traditional” reception for about 150 people – setting a date for July of 2017. This is all fine, except that they expected both sets of parents to pay for the reception and didn’t approach my parents about it until after they returned home with contract in hand. They needed to put most of the money up front to secure the venue and food costs and wanted my parents to commit to a nearly 5-figure contribution with only 3 days notice until they needed to submit the contract. Needless to say, the situation was not handled well and there was a lot of drama that was created for a reception that otherwise would’ve had the full support of family.

      • Anon

        Wow, that’s pretty rude to just assume someone else is going to pay for your wedding, and then wait so long to even discuss it with them.

        • Yeah, definitely. This is on top of the fact that I’m getting married this spring and my parents are making a small contribution to assist us, so he’s not the only kid having a wedding right now. Even though my brother and his wife have no idea whether or not my parents are contributing to my and fiance’s wedding, there’s an additional layer of inconsideration with them expecting a substantial contribution from our parents during a time when another sibling was already planning a wedding prior to brother and SIL’s engagement/elopement/future reception plans taking place.

          My parents definitely put them in their place. Although most of the planning and decision making was driven by my SIL (as is typical of their relationship), my brother should have known better and now realizes that they really screwed up.

    • Caitlin

      I want to do the opposite and just have the party and social aspect but not sign the marriage contract because we live in a place that literally has no legal distinction between living with each other long enough and actual marriage. I’m worried people will not show up if we tell them or be mad if we don’t and they figure it out somehow.

      • Amy March

        So interesting! It sounds like even if doing the legal part won’t bring you legal benefits it will bring you social benefits.

        People might not show up, and people might be mad. I think it really just comes down to whether that matters to you. Weighing any downside to getting legaled against any downside of those potential social consequences.

        • Caitlin

          I’m a huge people pleaser, which is the only reason I’m hung up on this. I find it so hard to do what I prefer if I know it will make others unhappy or judgmental of me.

      • Lawyerette510

        Just to play devil’s advocate about the idea of not needing to be legally married because you live somewhere that there is no distinction. Do you travel anywhere that makes a distinction? If so, I’d encourage you to have all the legal power of attorney and advance directives that could possible appropriate for the places you travel to, in case something happens. If not, you could find yourself somewhere that you can’t make decisions for your spouse, because that place doesn’t recognize living-together-long-enough. I know this is a worse-case-scenario thing, but it is something I saw happen with an employee and it was gut-wrenching to read about.

        • Caitlin

          Yes, sorry I meant no distinction *with that paperwork*. So I guess we’d still have legal paperwork, it would just be paperwork we already have instead of a marriage licence.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I had no idea this was such a thing for people, that is, not until I recently attended a wedding for a couple that were legally married 5 years ago. (Similar situation, they married quickly for immigration purposes and didn’t have a traditional wedding.) Unfortunately, some people did make comments here or there about the wedding being unnecessary or a gift grab. Ridiculous. I went to the “bachelorette” party too and some of my friends said it was absurd. But you know what? She never had a bachelorette party before getting legally married, and she wanted to have one, and the only way that impacted anyone else’s life was that they were maybe invited to a fun party the night before the wedding.

      As for the wedding itself, who can say what any other guests felt, but I thought it was beautiful. Because they already had a bit of history together, it was more of a vow renewal, and the reception was this big celebration of how far they’d come, and damn if it wasn’t one of the most personal and meaningful ceremonies I’ve ever seen. Just wanted to add this to the conversation to counter some folks saying the wedding wouldn’t mean as much if you were already married – I definitely think it can!

    • Laika Kitty

      LW here. The attitude you describe is exactly the attitude that prompted me to write in the first place. I don’t come from a conservative area (lifelong Californian) but I still have friends/family that think this way and it’s very disheartening.

  • laddibugg

    Hm. Would Mom be mad if you ran off to Europe unmarried? If not, then IDK if I would say anything.

    Then again if mom is gonna be that mad, then SHE can pony up the extra cash to have a large affair happen in a matter of weeks…..

    • toomanybooks

      Good point, I’m curious if her family is in a position to pay for the things the LW can’t afford to make a wedding happen right now – especially if her mom’s going to complain about not seeing her get married!

  • Katie

    I would just warn you that you’re going to HAVE to tell at least one person eventually. Whoever your officiant is at your later wedding will have to know. If you ask a friend, they are going to assume they’ll need to go through whatever process your state requires to officiate for you, or if you have a religious ceremony you’re going to have to tell the cleric. You might not be signing papers right then and there as part of your ceremony, but every state I know requires an actual “ceremony” as part of the marriage process, and that ceremony has to be performed by someone authorized to do so. SO, you can’t keep it a secret from whomever you ask at your later celebration.

    I attended a wedding a few years ago where the couple did this same thing… courthouse ceremony at some point, followed by a wedding pretty long after the fact. And they didn’t tell anyone. Except, like I said, they had to tell the friend they asked to officiate, and he was seated next to me at dinner, and I asked him if he got “ordained” for the occasion, and if so, how he went about that, and he totally froze and choked and told out whole table that he didn’t because the couple was already secretly married. So… I agree that once you’re told one person, you should assume everyone will find out! But I think you just need to settle on WHEN you’re OK with everyone finding out.

    • NotMarried!

      some states do allow you to self-officiate.

      On the other hand, marriage licenses are public record. Anyone can go to the courthouse (or the county website in many cases) and search. To prove my point, I just looked up a friends license who was married last fall.

      Will most people bother? Nope. Could they? Yes.

      • Susan

        Not sure what state the letter writer is from, but out here in CA you can actually have a “confidential” marriage license where only the couple (or someone with a court order) can get a copy at the county clerk’s office.

        • NotMarried!

          interesting! Doesn’t surprise me that much, I suppose, CA law tends to be a bit different (not as different as LA of course!). I wonder if that’s something my state could implement?

          • Susan

            I’ve never looked into the history or reasoning behind it, I just noticed it when we applied for our public license. CA is also really flexible with friend officiants — basically anyone over 18 can be your civil ceremony officiant by just filing a form and paying a fee to be deputized for the day. Super easy!

          • CMT

            When I officiated in Alaska, it just required a form. Not even a fee!

          • ART

            It’s also very flexible with who is a “minister” – our officiant got ordained for free by the American Marriage Ministries (online) and just put that on the license. The County Clerk stamped it just fine. CA doesn’t register or check the qualifications of ministers (some states do so YMMV?)

        • Lauren

          You can’t get a copy of a marriage license that isn’t yours, but still all marriage records are public.

      • Emily

        Good point–we found out that marriages are printed in the newspaper after turning in our paperwork (and before our wedding). It was okay in our situation, but I would never have guessed!

        • saminrva

          Yep, I was going to point this out too. If you live in a small enough town, even if your folks don’t read the local paper, someone they know will and will start asking questions! I guess the solution would be not to elope in your own town.

  • I am highly, highly skeptical that you’ll be able to keep the elopement a secret forever. My background/field of work is completely the opposite of non-profit, and even *I* know that partners need to be married in order to be a package deal with these types of work-abroad situations (i.e., evacuation of partner in a situation of war/conflict). So I think you should be aware that likely the cat will be out of the bag if anyone in your circle is somewhat curious/informed. But best of luck with whatever you decide!

    • Danielle

      Depends on the country. My ex was hired to work at a company in Western Europe several years ago. We were dating at the time and filed a “registered partnership” (something that country recognized as an important but unmarried relationship status – kind of similar to what civil unions were in the US before same sex marriage was passed). It got me the same rights and benefits that any married spouse would have, and no one there questioned it. It required no additional paperwork or ceremony on our part, we just had to prove we were not married to anyone else.

  • Jess

    I have a policy on secrets: Being found out is not a matter of IF, but WHEN. People are not very good secret-keepers.

    It sounds like you’re in a really rough spot with family who doesn’t really get it (because otherwise, this would be no big deal), and figuring out how to manage everyone’s feelings is exhausting. This postpones those feelings, maybe until the date of your big wedding, maybe until many years down the road when it’s no longer a big deal to them. It doesn’t eliminate dealing with them.

    I’m 100% behind any decision you make (I love elopements! I love weddings! I love just-getting-legally-married-thanks-bye!), but I don’t know that anything can be a true secret. Lots of people mentioned ways this can get out – Your boss, medical professionals in case of emergency, your drunk best friend at your official wedding, new friends who were introduced to you and your *spouse*, someone who ends up marrying you at your big-wedding.

    You’ll have to be committed to not ever talking about your marriage socially or professionally if you don’t want anyone to ever know. Constant. Vigilance.

    Good luck!

    • Greta

      I really agree with this, on the secret policy. Things always get out. Know yourself and know your partner and be honest about your ability to keep this a secret, and also your desire to keep this a secret. I’m pretty terrible at secrets, especially ones about myself that are positive, like getting a new job, etc. I just want to tell everyone right away! Not to mention, this sounds incredibly stressful to me. But you know yourself and your partner the best, and only you can decide what is the right course for you.

    • Cellistec (formerly Lizzie)

      I agree too. I think finding out about an elopement accidentally could feel like a betrayal (“what else have you lied to me about?” or “you didn’t trust me enough to tell me?”), whereas breaking the news to someone right away may be jarring, but at least it’s honest.

  • Dolly

    First time posting, but just to say that I secretly eloped two weeks ago. For similar practical reasons, of health benefits – my partner has a chronic illness. Giving him my health benefits is one of the reasons that I started thinking about us getting married (as someone who never even thought about getting married). Got married without telling anyone, while we were away for a few days. We are still planning to have the “real” (small and intimate) wedding in December, which friends and family know about. We told our parents a few days later, because I figured somebody should know about our new legal status, in case of emergency, besides my HR department. All were thrilled, but they are not particularly traditional, so in that sense very different from the letter writer’s context.

    The elopement was lovely: we were both emotional, and it felt like an amazing step – and, surprisingly, immediately changed how we felt. (I love it.) We went for drinks and a truly wonderful dinner afterward. It was a really lovely, low-key occasion, and it won’t preclude the December thing from being another kind of lovely occasion.

    I will say this: in the few days we had between deciding we were going to do this, and doing this, I had some mini-anxieties: about being a fraud at the December wedding, about not feeling the “real” things in Dec. It was thus important to me to make sure to distinguish that upcoming wedding from the elopement ceremony (which was unexpectedly beautiful – not at all as bare-bones as I was expecting). Not having rings yet makes a big difference…this will be one tangible thing to distinguish what happens in December from what happened in February.

  • Al

    I did this! Here’s what worked for us:

    1) Skyped our immediate families after our ceremony. Their surprise and excitement overshadowed any hurt (some of that came later). In the moment, everyone celebrated and was thrilled.

    2) Wrote a paragraph specifically addressing the fact that we were getting married without our people into the ceremony. Had a photographer. Shared our ceremony/vows/photos in a blog post that walked through the whole day, in order to let everyone experience it as if they had been there.

    3) Acquiesced to a lot at our “later wedding” that wasn’t my cup of tea. But it didn’t matter! I truly didn’t care at the point. It was obviously my mom’s party, for us, and that was totally okay. It would NOT have been okay if that had *really* been our wedding. I contributed some ideas, showed up, and had fun.

    I disagree with the advice to downplay- we actually found we needed to UPplay, since there can be some “you didn’t *really* get married” sentiments when you have a private elopement. I don’t think people like to feel tricked, and it was important to us that everyone knew we very seriously got married, by ourselves. In my experience, they were all still willing to party later on!

  • RJ

    Would it help to pitch that you are doing things the European/ Argentine way with a civil and a religious ceremony separated?

    So now you can announce you’re getting married and look forward to seeing everyone at the church wedding in 2018 but let your parents know that you’re doing the paperwork now for immigration reasons but it’s akin to a betrothal ceremony?

    • Cellistec (formerly Lizzie)

      Great spin!

    • toomanybooks

      Betrothal ceremony! Nice

  • Keri

    I wonder how your family feels about you moving overseas for 3 years, regardless of whether you are married. I’m guessing they will end up asking: When are you getting married?? Are you engaged? Shouldn’t you be engaged? ARE YOU PREGNANT? is it safe there??? etc etc etc. Here’s my suggestion: if you are going to do the secret wedding and not tell anyone, plan to get “engaged” either now or soon after you move, and then you can tell your family that when you come back, you’ll have a wedding!

  • Rebekah Jane

    My partner’s sister has the same dilemma. She was engaged to/living with her now husband and he got transferred to Shanghai. She took the quickie elopement option so she could go with him and she couldn’t be happier. Her dad does seem annoyed that they went this route, but he did the traditional dad thing at her wedding later (at a castle in France, because OF COURSE) and he was mollified. In fact, the only lingering sour note about the entire experience is that some people couldn’t come to the “real” wedding because it was abroad.

    But I 100% agree – do you. Your mom sounds like she won’t be happy with anything, so trying to please her seems like it’s only going to hurt you rather than help her. BUT congratulations on the job and your strength and capability as an adult. I only recently learned how to put my grandmother’s constant rejections of my life out of my mind and I am really proud (in that anonymous, I just read your question on the internet way) of how you’ve lived a life you’ve loved and created such amazing opportunities for yourself. Continue to be awesome!

    Oh, and if you want a dress, rent one! I swear by Rent the Runway. It’s cheaper and there’s no possibility that your mom will find it in your closet later.

    • Laika Kitty

      LW here. I forgot about RTR! Thank you for the reminder! And, I wish I had my shit together, I really do!

  • Kendra D

    My husband and I eloped ten days after getting engaged so I could move with him overseas. He wanted to keep it a secret, I couldn’t stand that idea. We we’re both right.

    He was military, so no one would have bought my being able to just tag along, especially on his second overseas assignment. I wanted to be honest. But, we also ended up having to postpone our ceremony until anniversary four because people on both sides expected us to accommodate those family members who were really getting married.

    It was still worth it. One hundred percent. Even dealing with a Mom who never managed to get excited for us. Even dealing with family who never missed weddings skipping our ceremony because it wasn’t real. And for us, our ceremony at four years meant so much more to us because it reflected us as a couple better than I think we could have done when we eloped.

  • another lady

    First off – if you are like 95% sure that you are doing this, then research and find out when/how your county/state allows you to get legally married. In my state, you have to go to the court house, register for a marriage license, wait 5 days, then come back (between 8am-4pm M-F) and get married there, or have a legal officiant submit the paperwork within a certain amount of time (5-30 days of when you registered). So, we could not have ‘officially’ been married the same day we went to the courthouse or the same day as our Saturday wedding.
    As an adult, at some point, you have to own your choices and decide that you are going to live your own life despite your parents’/family’s approval, or lake there of. So, if you are 95% going to do this, then own it and decide the best way to break the news and who to involve or not.

  • pajamafishadventures

    My question here is logistical: Can you really keep it a secret if he is able to move to this new country with you? I know that most people probably won’t immediately run to Google the applicable immigration laws, but if you end up waiting 2-3 years to have a public wedding people might start assuming or questioning.

    • EF

      many countries allow ‘partner’ visas — for partners living together but not legally married, or allow a partner to come with a work visa. unless LW has immigration lawyer friends, this probably isn’t gonna be a big thing.

      • pajamafishadventures

        I’d never heard of partner visas, so unless the SO had a work visa my (non-immigration lawyer, not so savvy on immigration laws) mind would automatically jump to “married” if there were no return ticket.

  • Kayjayoh

    It took me this long to notice the skeleton inside the ring in the photo. Neat!

  • Ella

    Just get the paperwork done so you two can live overseas together. It’s just another kind of visa.
    Visa =/= Wedding :. Legal marriage =/= Wedding :. Legal marriage :. =/= Having to lie about anything. Legal marriage = What you need to do. ; Wedding = What you want to do, when you’re ready.
    If it (the legal marriage) comes up, just answer like it’s any other boring legal thing.
    Just to reiterate the legal marriage =/= marriage point a bit more … Gay couples who cannot legally get married – like here in Aus :( – still sometimes have a wedding and consider themselves married, and it’s totally fine and the wedding and the marriage means no less for not having the bit of paper. The bit of paper is connected to boring money and legal stuff. Like visas.

  • Kara E

    So…I got no real advice on how to deal with your family.

    But I, for one, would LOVE to attend the celebration of the marriage of someone who got married because they needed to be married (for whatever reason) and still wanted to celebrate the community side of things. I know several people who got married elsewhere/another time (for the legal side of things and/or timing with benefits and all that) and being part of the community blessing their marriage was an absolutely joyous occasion.

    Best wishes, whatever you decide to do. I will say that it’s always easier (for me), not to have to lie. The big deals always seem to get found out and wind up very painful for everyone.

    • Kara E

      And also, if you’re going to /get/ married, let yourself BE married. The party and community can come later. Best wishes.

  • Laika Kitty

    Letter writer here. I just wanted to thank APW and all the commenters for their input, which was so, so helpful to read. A quick update: Situation is still pretty much the same, except for both sets of parents now know we have to get married to stay together. It wasn’t the greatest news, but it seemed they were less interested in the getting married part than the logistics. (ie: What is Boyfriend going to do for work? etc.) That was a relief, but! The move is fast approaching, I’m about to sign official paperwork accepting the job, and this wedding will get here very, very fast. Their opinion might change, but oh well.

    I really like the ideas of keeping this under wraps — but we spilled the beans to a few close friends to get their input. Not that they’d blab or anything, but I can’t speak for my mother (who has a very big mouth). Whoops!

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  • ValleyForSanity

    I know folks who did the whole get married to move abroad thing but still wanted a “real” wedding. The had their wedding on what was actually their first year anniversay and didn’t tell anyone until the wedding. That might be an option if you still want to have the big party but need the marriage paperwork now.

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