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Jessica & Stewart Elope in Maine

I am in love with today’s wedding graduate post, just totally head over heels in love. Every time I read it, by the end I just want to roar (is that strange?), and jump on the couch while I cry a little bit. Jessica’s story is such a powerful one–it’s the story of totally throwing out plans for a wedding when they realized that they were not planning a wedding that they wanted. It’s the story of jumping off a fast moving train when you realize it’s not headed somewhere you want to go, and starting to walk. Plus, it’s such a good illustration of the non black and white nature of elopement. Can you elope but bring your mamma? Of course you can.

We eloped! Sort of. You wouldn’t find what we did listed under “elopement” in the dictionary, but it was a surprise to most, and perfect for us! When we got engaged in June, 2010 we kept it a secret for a few weeks as we basked in the insane happiness that follows those four little words. We knew meddling family members would pounce as soon as they knew. First wedding in the family. Only child.

We glowed with our secret engagement. I enjoyed wedding porn on various websites. Stew would come home with the newest wedding magazine. I was in heaven. I was never one to dream of my “perfect” wedding. It never crossed my mind until I met Stewart (I knew on our second date). I happily dog eared magazine pages, clipping pictures of dresses, flowers, venues. The works. My ideal wedding, in the land where practical hides and money isn’t an option, was a destination wedding some place warm. I wanted to be surrounded by 40 of our closest friends and family. I dreamed of pre-wedding bonding events – snorkeling, boats, cocktails with umbrellas. I had visions of long tables dotted with hurricane lanterns, shells. Cliche, maybe, but it was dreamy to me. All dreaming aside, it was clear to me that I wanted a small wedding surrounded by the most important people. I wanted to have conversations with those who celebrated with us, not just make the obligatory “hello” and “thank you” before moving on.

The backlash of my dream quickly followed the announcement. I was told by one person that I “can have the wedding I want when I have a daughter, until then, it is my mother’s day.” I had people call a destination selfish. I was told who would be invited. The guest list ballooned. The wedding took on a life of its own and it became a monster. After the fact, I can now recognize that unrealistic expectations were the basis for all my woes. My own, and those of potential guests, family, and friends. Everyone expected something from me and my wedding, and the weight of it all was killing me. And worst of all, I lost track of the point: to marry the man of my dreams.

From my small destination wedding emerged something I didn’t recognize. A 200+ guest list with all the familiar wedding trappings. I was in a haze, no longer planning a wedding for Stewart and I. I was planning a party for others. I was so far from my original vision and the train was moving so fast, I just didn’t know how to get off. I no longer found joy in the planning. I wanted to “just get it over with.” I hid away my lookbook of clippings, avoided the wedding programs that filled my DVR, I avoided talk of the wedding, at best shrugging off the conversation and by the beginning of October it got so bad that I cried. A lot.

Stewart is amazing and the calm to my chaos. He sat me down, no longer able to watch me unravel. He felt like we had lost touch with the point. He was worried that I would resent my own wedding and the people who I made changes for. He pointed out that we would be no less married if we went to city hall than if we had a giant wedding. He offered to do whatever I wanted but I needed to take back control.

After a good cry, we decided to abandon it all and start from scratch. We mulled the idea of elopement over for a few days and decided that despite how romantic a true dictionary definition of eloping sounded, we are both children of single moms and our mothers meant too much to us and sacrificed too much for us both to be excluded. For the first time, we made a wedding decision just for us and it was liberating.

After more planning than I realized an elopement entailed, all the loose ends were tied together and all the decisions were made. We settled on an elopement package at a local inn, found a date that worked for the inn and my photographer, booked his mom a flight from England. And then we waited. Six weeks. During those six weeks, I actually reclaimed the joy of wedding planning but on a smaller scale. I made and stuffed favor boxes, which also served as place cards for the dinner. I commissioned Christmas ornaments for our moms as thank you gifts. We bought each other wedding gifts and wrote out a ceremony that was fitting to us as a couple and enveloped all our hopes and dreams for our future. We even splurged on a videographer. Our intentions were never to exclude people, but merely preserve my sanity, so a videographer seemed like a perfect option to capture the event yet still be intimate. I was excited about my wedding. I was excited to marry a wonderful man and I no longer cried out of stress and sadness, but instead out of sheer joy! I am a crier, what can I say?

Our wedding was perfect for us. I have never enjoyed a day more in my life. I remember every second with outstanding clarity and felt calm and serene throughout the day. I was blessed with amazing vendors, who I now truly count among my friends. Looking back, it is astounding to me how many of the elements from my original dream wedding found themselves, unexpectedly, into my elopement. The beach, long tables, conversation with those who traveled to spend the day with us, a glorious cake and amazing flowers, all there. There were even hurricane lanterns on the wall!

We mailed holiday cards that doubled as wedding announcements the Monday following the ceremony. The reaction as a whole has been utterly supportive. Of course, there are a few bad apples out there, whose response was less than perfect (profanities and “how could you do this to me?! you are in so much trouble” spilled out of one such voicemail). But, I am relatively unfazed, and I am still married despite the limited discontent. I respect that my decision may seem foreign to some and downright selfish to others. I also appreciate that people may be disappointed to not share our day with us, but I hope they all know they were there in spirit, as each friendship and familial connection has shaped us and led us to each other.

I want to thank the APW community. Throughout this process, despite what other blogs told me (“201 must have wedding photos” “the people you have to invite” ect), the posts and comments here assured me that I was allowed to make choices that were good for myself and my baby family. I silently stalked the comments and sought solace in like minded women who took back control of their weddings and by proxy their lives. I unexpectedly learned a lot about myself through wedding planning, meltdown and reclaiming my marriage.

I still glow with post wedding happiness and eagerly look forward to growing and changing as we navigate through marriage, parenthood and life!

Photos By: Justine Johnson Photography

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