People Will React in One of These Ways After You Elope

bride standing in a patch of trees
After my Wedding Graduate elopement post went up, a lot of people were curious about how our families reacted to our elopement, and Meg requested I submit a reaction piece, so here it is, almost a year later (oops!).

Richie and I were extremely fortunate to experience all positive reactions from our family and friends. That said, it seemed that while everyone was thrilled with the news, every person fell into one of four categories:

  • The Relieved Ones
  • The Forgotten Ones
  • The Confused Ones
  • The Gloaters

The Relieved Ones were mostly my family and close friends in California that wanted so badly to come to our wedding but had no idea how they were going to afford to take the time off from work and pay for a trip to Pennsylvania. They were also the people who were relieved for us after witnessing all of the speed bumps and roadblocks we faced while planning. They were my friends who got phone calls from me when I was crying—again—because something else went wrong; they were our newlywed and engaged friends who would always thank us for putting their wedding planning dilemmas into perspective (glad we could help, guys); it was my mom who wanted so badly to help pay for everything but was struggling to stay afloat after being laid off.

The Forgotten Ones were the people like my brother, who just really wanted to experience the whole sibling-getting-married thing, complete with a bachelor party for Richie, a classy new suit and tie, and a well-rehearsed toast that people would talk about for days. My brother’s reaction to our elopement was really important to me because I had chosen him as my best man, and I truly wanted him to understand and accept our decision. When my parents threw us a belated wedding reception in December, he made that well-rehearsed toast (which was awesome), and I knew that he did, in fact, get it.

The Confused Ones category includes the people that gave me sideways glances for months, expecting to see a baby bump (“Why else would they elope?”). I had the opportunity to have a dream wedding at one of the most beautiful venues in the region on someone else’s dollar, and turned it down. The Confused Ones just couldn’t figure it out because they didn’t realize that this “dream” started to feel more like a nightmare to me. Other Confused Ones were my friends that knew I had wedding planning magazines under my bed in high school and couldn’t understand how I could ditch all of my plans and get married with just the basics instead.

The Gloaters were the ones that said, “You two really didn’t have the time/money/energy to spend on this.” Or, “I knew you weren’t experienced enough to plan an event this big.” Their reactions were less about our union and more about things that weren’t any of their business. They were the hardest to swallow because while they were happy Richie and I got married, they brought to the surface what they really thought about our ideas, our capabilities, and, well, us. Richie’s mom and I got into more than a few arguments during the planning process, and it often came down to the fact that she had planned two weddings and a Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and she didn’t think I could handle it. Richie would try to defend me by touting my event planning experience, but I would always emphasize that it wasn’t a competition.

Right when I realized that part of the reason I was clinging to planning a big wedding was to prove myself to her was right when I started thinking seriously about eloping. Sure, I would still love to plan an event the size of our would-be wedding, but I also know that there are certain people who seek out flaws for sport. (Example: about a month before we eloped, Richie’s parents went to their niece’s wedding. The favors were giant, chocolate-covered pretzels, and I heard about how lame they were for weeks. I argued that the fact they got favors was impressive, and that guests usually appreciate edible favors more than trinkets, but it didn’t matter. My mother-in-law wanted to complain about something, so she found something to complain about.)

Some members of our family were concerned that eloping would mean missing out on a lot of wedding presents, and they were probably right. But Richie and I don’t share the same “fundraising” mindset that a lot of people have about weddings. They threw us a reception in October that I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning of, and it was a huge relief. I never would have chosen the invitations, venue, cake, or other details, but it didn’t matter. By then, it wasn’t our party; it was their party, and I was fine with that. And I will be the first to admit that I am extremely grateful for the gifts received as a result of that reception.

My mom was worried that after six months, one year, five years, I was going to regret the decision not to have the big, weekend-long extravaganza I had been dreaming about my whole life. Of course I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t feel like something was missing after a while, but how can I feel like something is missing when the end result—the most important part of the extravaganza—is the same? Richie and I are married now, and that was the whole point. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about missing out on celebrating with my California folks because the party my parents threw for us in December was one the best I’ve ever been to, with free-flowing margaritas and a packed dance floor. I wasn’t feeling as wedding-exhausted and dejected as I had been prior to eloping, so I helped with the planning and even did a couple of those DIY wedding projects, like centerpieces/favors and a dessert bar, that I had been looking forward to in the original planning process.

We were fortunate enough to experience all positive reactions from our loved ones, no matter what category they fell into, and we were well aware that that’s not always the case. A few very important people surprised us; we thought they would be bitter indefinitely, but even with those expectations, we knew we were doing the right thing for us and that we’d deal with it together. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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  • liz

    can we take a time-out to talk about nina’s cute new haircut? because. CUTE.

    • meg

      I KNOW. Dude.

      • Nina B.

        Hehe, thanks ladies! I don’t know what I was thinking growing it out before.

    • I love the ‘what happened after’ posts, this is wonderful. So happy for you (and your ridiculously cute hair cut) that you had the kind of wedding you wanted while still being supported by the people around you. And I love that Meg is back in the comments! woo!

    • Also that red dress is gorgeous! With the headband! And the hair!

  • This is a great topic to know what happens afterwards, because I think it’s the unknown that stops couples from eloping. There was another wedding grad post that eloped and she talked about the glad and not so pleased reactions. The beauty of elopement is that it focuses on what a wedding is supposed to be about; two people joining their lives together and becoming a family.

    • meg

      I would say most people that elope seem to have some seriously pissed off people. But there also seems to be power in doing what’s right for you…

      • melissa

        Or people who crash your elopement. :)

  • Ahh, good post! We eloped this summer, but we’re still planning a ceremony/reception in December. There are definitely times when I wish we had just done the elopement. Not that I can’t plan an event, but I have learned I prefer planning events for other people. I will say that eloping this summer, and getting exactly what we wanted there, has made it easier for my guy and I to say “cool, whatevs” to some of the random December wedding stuff (especially since someone else will pay for it if they want it there).

    Interestingly, we are “out” at school but haven’t told any relatives (though I think his parents told his relatives? I am unclear). My mom thinks people won’t show up if they know I am “already” married, so we’re trying to keep it fairly on the DL. Most of my friends know, and just some of his friends know. So it’ll be interesting after the wedding when I finally put our framed marriage certificate on the wall and people learn the whole truth. Oh, well. On the bright side, everyone we’ve told has fallen into a “good for you” sort of camp. Perhaps that’s because we’re still doing the December thing, but I haven’t gotten the full range Nina got.

    Final take home: I would definitely encourage anyone to elope. If we had a little more notice (we did ours in 3 weeks for work-related reasons), we would have invited more people and then not worried about the December thing. If you are tempted to elope and think a small wedding wherever you want it is your cup of tea, go for it! We really enjoyed ours.

    • Taylor

      Leah! I am in such a similar boat as you. My husband and I eloped on short notice in July 2011, and are planning a vow renewal ceremony and reception for this coming October. How did everything go for you? I’m interested in swapping stories with somebody who was in the same situation (SO hard to find), if you’d be willing to share more through email!

  • Abby C.

    Can I just say how awesome this is? I’m really in the hard of wedding planning right now.

  • Amazing! Sometimes the space between the marriage part and the party part really helps- and it makes things feel less crazed when you get to the party part. So you can get down (with your bad self) and then get thrown up in a chair. I just looked at the elopement post- beautiful events, all of them. Congratulations and good job on figuring out what *you two* needed from *your* wedding.

  • Oh, boy. I should do one of these. Sigh.

    Mine will not be nearly as happy, I fear.

    • Donna

      My daughter eloped last week and called me the day after to announce, I cannot say that I was not happy for them and love them both and glad they are married. I always knew this daughter would not want a big wedding so would not have been surprised by a very small group. But I was devastated by not being included, I feel like the years I spent raising her and loving her and attending every other imaginable event in her life, some of which were not that interesting to me should have bought me a invite to the courthouse.

      • Natalie

        If you expect something in return for raising your children, the you shouldn’t have had them. You had the choice of not attending her other life events so don’t blame her for making a different decision. Be happy that she’s happy and stop thinking about yourself. It isn’t about you.

  • KTH

    I really wish I could have a few weddings, so that we could do the elopement thing, the giant wedding thing, the super-intimate wedding-in-a-library thing…

    I knew for me that elopement wouldn’t work, and I’ll be spending a weekend with the family at an old campground. But for some, eloping is absolutely the right thing to do.

    And remember, no matter what you choose, there are people who will be miffed and complain about something. That’s about them, not you.

  • KTH

    Also, and sorry to double post, but I love the “here’s what happened after” posts.

    • meg

      We’re working on more of them…

  • Jen M

    I’m really glad this got posted. I always wondered what the “fallout” was after an elopement. It’s good to know there was minimal drama involved…nit-picky MILs aside. I gotta say I ocassionally think I would like to elope, and I think I may start feeling more and more like that as me and FH delve into the planning process. 5 days in and 383 to go!!! joy.

  • I love this – we eloped, and we also had a party which my parents insisted on throwing, which somehow I ended up having to organise a lot of but very little of it was how I would have chosen. At least the wedding day was perfect and exaclty how we wanted to start our marriage

  • Anna S

    My mother is an event planner/pastry chef/caterer so I have been doing events with her for my entire life and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the experience it is that I absolutely do not want a big wedding/kinda don’t want to plan a reception at all!

    Additionally, I fear that when I get married my mother will help so much with the reception that she’ll actually miss the wedding. This seems impossible until you know that she’s done it before (we catered a cousin’s wedding and we never made it to the church). Also, since she does wedding cakes professionally I worry that if I ask her to do mine she’ll do something she likes and not what we want. But I can’t tell her that I’m going to someone else for the cake!

    This kind of thing makes me really, strongly consider eloping. That way we could still be married in the way we want, and then hopefully I can feel as zen as Nina about the invites and the cake and the reception that she didn’t choose but loved anyway.

    • Marina

      A friend of mine had a similar worry about a parent missing the wedding because of how involved they wanted to be in the reception, and basically sicced a family member on them all day to make sure they were where they needed to be as a PARENT, not just a party planner. Even if your mom helped a lot with your reception, her first job at your wedding should be to be your mom.

      • Anna S

        I think that’s probably what I’ll end up doing: assigning someone the task of “Mom Watch.” I’d like to think that because it’s her own daughter getting married she’d recognize the need to be there, but I’d rather be safe than sorry, ha.

  • You sound a lot like me! We should be friends.

    I’m not sure exactly how you define an elopement, or if society has just sort of turned any wedding that isn’t a Wedding Extravaganza into an elopement. Yours was certainly more of one than mine, but I just got married in July, and people called mine an elopement even though I don’t. Z and I were engaged for a few months, and planning a Real Wedding made me cry. kind of regularly. So one weekend, we decided to solve that little problem, and planned a small wedding in two months- it was on the beach with only immediate family present and not even any chairs. We celebrated with a dinner party at a restaurant, did a little bar hopping afterwards, and voila. Married. BUT to help pacify all these aptly named categories of people, we’re doing a bigger party in October over on the east coast. Separating the elements- wedding & party -has made Z & I so, so, so much saner.

    “how can I feel like something is missing when the end result—the most important part of the extravaganza—is the same? Richie and I are married now, and that was the whole point” = YES

    • Nina B.

      We SHOULD be friends!

  • I remember the feeling of wanting to throw in the wedding planning towel & elope instead. I’m so glad we soldiered on & created a wedding we loved & enjoyed. But here & in many other cases, elopement is the right decision. I hope everyone that chooses elopement is supported & respected by their loved ones!

  • april

    So glad to see the “what happened” after the elopement post, as I so often wonder what really went down and how people reacted. Looks like they had a fun-tastic party with friends which is wonderful.

    And now, I’m envious. HA! ;-) Don’t get me wrong: I loved my wedding. Truly. But after reading today’s post, I *SO* wish me and my husband had just ran off to some exotic locale like we originally planned before all our friends had the opportunity to work their charms and convince us we had to have a wedding with all the trimmings. Again, it was awesome and crazy and fun and stressful and most of all: WORTH IT. But there are tiny moments when I think we could’ve eloped, and it would’ve been just fine.

  • I love this so much. We didn’t get any seriously pissed off people after we eloped either, but we definitely got a fair number of “So when did you knock her up?” inquisitions (including his Grandmother, yikes! That was an awkward conversation) and a few irritated “I wanted to buy a new dress” comments.

    My mom and I spent months fighting about the hypothetical wedding, and as soon as I calmed her worry it was the big wedding we didn’t want, not the marriage we didn’t want, she was fine with the whole thing.

    It takes a lifetime to honor people you love, and I think most of our friends n’ family know that, and appreciate our “piecemeal” celebration that’s allowed us to actually sit down and toast all over the country with them. And they know crowds make me ill.

  • Looking forward to more elopement posts today! Seriously considering one for the dude and I because I get anxious and exhausted just *thinking* about everything that planning a wedding entails, but I’m really afraid of family reactions (and of the “you’ll ostracize everyone forever THIS IS YOUR WEDDING WE’RE TALKING ABOUT” horror stories I’ve heard). Can’t wait to read more, thanks Meg!

  • Kellie

    All I can say for anyone considering elopement: please do not tell your family or friends you are considering or planning it but just do it. I believe would have been a lot easier to be “forgiven” for it after the fact than to be questioned/harassed/shamed/guilted/etc. by an otherwise supportive group of loved ones who seem to think it is a selfish idea. Oh, irony.

    I’m an independent strong-willed woman but couldn’t find a happy compromise between the weepy mothers and dads with those disappointed frowns and our ideal wedding day. I knew an intimate ceremony with just our minister and witness was what we both wanted; I just never would have guessed how otherwise reasonable and respectful people would react.

    Moral: when they are cooing over your engagement ring (or announcement) and asking about your plans, keep your mouth shut and your options open.

    And I think most people can really be “sold” on the romance of elopement after the fact.

    • Joanna

      I absolutely agree! It’s like, “Aww well, they were so in love, they couldn’t help themselves.’ Great PR spin.

    • meg

      You guys, you can’t elope and TELL PEOPLE BEFORE. Then you’re just having a small wedding and telling people they are not invited. Of course they’ll be pissed. The whole point of eloping is that you just do it, and then SURPRISE! It’s harder to be pissed when people are super happy, and the deed is done (not impossible, but harder).

      • Kellie

        For me — and I think potentially many — the problem with the telling/not telling anyone you’re eloping is that the 1st thing almost everyone does (after congratulating) is ask, “So when are you thinking you’ll have the wedding?” Yes, that’s about as tacky as when the recently marrieds get confronted with, “So when are you two start having babies?” crap.

        It’s hard not to be taken off guard and just honestly respond. Maybe it’s different for those brides who seem to plan out the actual ring selection, proposal and engagement — who I suppose are the only people benefiting from this advice, since I never even considered looking at web sites about engagement or wedding or marriage. (I wasn’t even aware the whole bridal blogosphere existed. Scary stuff.)

        But while we’d discussed our desire to commit permanently and what that meant to each of us, I had no idea he had a ring burning a hole in his pocket for more than a month. (Especially since I didn’t want one. :P)

        I unexpectedly had that shiny ring on my finger for less than 48 hours before both sets of parents (and more) were surrounding us. But even if there had been more time between the “Hey, guys, we’re engaged!” and the direct/indirect questioning, I may have still been my honest self and said that we saw no sense in a typical engagement period and were thinking we would just go visit the minister soon and get it done.

        I agree that planning and inviting other people to your elopement is just a small wedding, but I calling that elopement seems to soften the potential conflict for some. And, let’s face it: some planning has to go into elopement to make a legal marriage.
        We would have had to clear a time with our minister, go to the county to get our license, etc. For us, elopement meant finding a time quickly to do the formalities, get some stylish duds and exchange vows together, dragging whatever innocent bystander we could find in as a witness.

        Perhaps it’s worth revisiting your old, short post on “Define Elopement and Use It in a Sentence” in addition to more posts addressing the experiences of those who “elope” in whatever fashion.

        • Hmm, I may have misunderstood your first sentence there — are you saying you think it’s tacky to ask a newly engaged couple when they’ll be having a wedding? I ask because that never would have occurred to me. I don’t think it’s the same thing at *all* as asking newlyweds when they’ll be having kids. I mean, if you get married, you may or may not plan to have kids, but if you get engaged, I think the overwhelming presumption is that you’re planning to have a wedding (because if you’re going to elope, more likely than not, you wouldn’t tell folks you’re engaged).

          “When are you sending me my invitation?” Now THAT’s tacky. :)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I don’t know about APW, but Amy Vanderbilt talks about elopements and “elopements.” Amy says that there are people who, because of their “social position,” must have very large, expensive, elaborate weddings. But they don’t want that. So they “elope” with their immediate families’ knowledge and blessing. Today I guess only celebrities are in a position where they must have HUGE weddings, or hop up to Vegas, though I know people with literally hundreds of cousins who must have either tiny weddings or huge weddings.

      Then there are the “You can’t stop love” “real elopements” – running off to Vegas without families’ knowledge or blessing on the marriage or even the romance.

      I’ve only seen elopements closer to the former on APW.

      • LM

        I fit the former scenario to a T. We eloped but told our immediate families two weeks prior so that they wouldn’t die of shock. It came as a surprise to them because we never announced an engagement, but they understood why we did it. I have a gigantic family, and all of my older cousins struggled with the guest list for their weddings. My significant other’s family is scattered across the continent. We both hate being the center of attention, and we combined the elopement with an awesome honeymoon road trip. My mom was so relieved not to have to buy a fancy dress!

        I think my parents were initially hurt a bit because my brother was one of our witnesses at the courthouse (across the country). They also worried that they weren’t fulfilling parental wedding expectations, but now that my brother’s getting married in an elaborate out-of-state country club affair, they keep telling me how great it was that I spared them from planning hell (“why can’t he just do what you did?”). My husband’s mom experienced big wedding planning with her eldest daughter, and every time someone mentions a wedding, she comments on how great it was that we did things the way we did. It’s nice.

        We had a “meet the family” barbeque afterward to introduce my parents to my husband’s immediate family, and we had our closest friends over for a post-wedding party when we got home. My aunt made us a surprise wedding cake for my gigantic family reunion a couple weeks later, so we got to celebrate with most of my extended family, too. I only got one pregnancy question from a lame husband of my cousin, but my grandma refused to believe I was married until she had seen my ring and our new apartment.

        Sometimes I wish that I had a better haircut for our candid wedding photos, but other than that I have no regrets, especially now that my friends have been whipped into wedding planning frenzies of their own. And I’m looking forward to making a down payment on a house soon with all the money we saved on the wedding :-).

  • Rebecca

    Me and my FH are thinking of eloping. His family completely expects us to, it’s just our way of doing things, but my family still thinks I want the big church wedding that while both of my sisters want and demand, I have never wanted. So, I’m glad to see that the ‘fallout’ was so good. It gives me hope for when we decide to just run away.

  • This comes at such a perfect time for me.

    Just yesterday D and I were seriously discussing the pros and cons of elopment. Some of the pros are practical, like I don’t have insurance and can’t be on his until we are married, and some are completely emotional, like I can’t imagine a wedding without my mom present.

    Mostly, we want to include the people we love and do what’s right for the most people. But planning a wedding 2,000 miles away from where we live is hard work. And I don’t know what to do.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      Ah, the reasons why we eloped (practical: visa reasons. It was either that or spend the year and a half leading up to our wedding in separate countries). And why we’re still planning our “real” wedding (family. celebrating with the people we love).

      Eloping was hard for me. Marrying B was easy. Doing it without my family there… not so much. I know it was the right decision but, even still, I look at the gorgeous, incredibly happy photos in the Wordless Wedding post after this one and project my own loneliness.

      So, you can do both if that’s what’s best for you. Only our immediate families know — you can tell as many or as few people as you want. “Pre-marrying” has taken a lot of stress off the wedding we’re planning across two oceans and 12-13 time zones.

  • Sarah Australia

    I am the sister of a gal who eloped, and the daughter of parents who couldn’t belive their oldest child didn’t want to share with them the “big moments” they had planned for her since birth. I have been on the end of the phone as my confused sister couldn’t understand why her biggest fans for her whole life weren’t jumping up and down screaming well done right now. It was a pretty big wake up call for her, and pretty hard on the rest of us. I’ve been the bridesmaid at an awkward “we’re only here because of you” reception (with weird ceremony) that my parents threw for my sister a couple of months later. I’ve seen how sad the fall out from an elopement CAN be.

    That said, last week I asked Mum and Dad if they would be ok with Ben and I having a Faux-lopement, not the surprise we did it all alone with the dog as our witness as my sister had, but, as I explained it to the parentals, eloping and taking some friends with us rather than the 170 person event that is in the pipeline. Cutting the guest list down, axing the 50 extended family and 25 friends of parents that we apparently should have there, to only those we really really love, hiring a bus, and going and getting married. Mum and Dad loved it.

    I fully support the ethos of do what ever is right for the two of you. If that is to surprise every one afterward you’re hitched, go for it, but the lesson I learnt was that you need to consider how those closest to you will react, and more importantly, in the context of the reasons that made you want to elope in the first place, if you will be ok with reaction. The thing that made my sister’s wedding hard was that she hadn’t considered any other reaction but joy, and was completely unprepared for Mum and Dad’s feelings.

    Only the two of you can know what is right for the two of you, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will see it that way straight away. Once you are sure though, I say go for it!

  • Vmed

    Hi Nina,

    I just wanted to say that your elopement post helped inspire my elopement. I too, was getting too anxious about the big wedding plan. And eloping was happy. Very happy. So thank you for the words of encouragement you gave me (though not directly).

    And in the fallout, I totally see the relieved, forgotten, confused, and gloaters. Our people who weren’t happy can pretty much be put in the confused and forgotten categories. There has been the “that is not how you do this” pushback, which… might be in the gloating category, I’m not sure. Just sort of a refusal to believe that it has happened.

    But even with the bitterest, I trust that eventually life moves on- there are, after all, bigger fish to fry than HOW a person gets married.

    Anyhow. Thank you, and best wishes.

    • So true, Vmed–why do we even care how others get married? Favors or not? Buffet or sit down? Grand ballroom or courtroom? It’s not our marriage or our love and I have no right to say what works best for anyone else…I’m totally guilty of this myself–a product of my silly judgement, I guess.

    • Nina B.

      Awwwwwwwww! Wow. You’re welcome! And best wishes to you and yours, too.

  • Elemjay

    Pretty much whatever wedding you have some people get pretty cross with your choices. Eloping might increase the numbers of annoyed people but doing supposedly the “right” thing won’t eliminate the haters either. You must choose the right choices for your couple – and let everything else happens as it needs to.

  • Moz

    Great post! I love the elopement stories on APW. More please.

  • Nina B.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me, checking APW the day AFTER this went up.

    Thank you, Meg, for creating a space where I can share my experience(s) and hopefully help others decide what’s right.

  • We are eloping — well it started as an elopement and turned into a private reception — in November and then doing a reception, and I think you are dead on with the four groups of people, but instead of the gloaters — I would just call them a-holes. There have been a couple special people who have just been jerks, but the majority people I think fall into the relieved category. A wedding is a huge expense and I think the majority of people are happy when they don’t have to spend at the very least a grand on a weekend celebration.

  • I know I’m way behind here, but someone in a Weddingbee elopement board suggested I read this post. My fiance and I have openly planned our elopement ceremony (our family is very supportive, but totally consistent with your “groups) for June (in Glacier National Park/Western Montana!). I’ve been scouring the web for info from others who have braved this road before. I’m sure it’s the right decision, but the aftermath has been off putting. This post has helped tremendously. And you are both adorable! Thanks for your contribution :)

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  • Lea

    Great post! My husband surprised me in July while on vacation in Mexico with an engagement and elopement in the same day. He had the whole thing planned from the engagement to the ceremony complete with flowers a photographer and cake. We’ve been together for 7 years and I never thought we’d get married & never wanted a traditional wedding. Everything was perfect, I truly couldn’t had planned it better myself. We told our families and friends when we got home a few days later & everyone was just as surprised and thrilled as I was. We have yet to receive a negative reaction from anyone and invited our mom’s to the courthouse when we make it legal stateside later this month. We have a small celebration planned(less than 40 people) with our family and friends after the courthouse. Reading other comments has made me grateful for such understanding loved ones! Best of luck to any that are planning an elopement!!

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