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How to Elope (And Not Tell a Soul)

AAPW: Can we pull off a secret elopement?

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?

—Anonymous

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.
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