Can I Politely Elope?


Actual dream wedding

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

With all the marriage etiquette posts lately, I’m wondering if you would mind doing one on “how to elope without alienating all of your friends and family”. We’ve been discussing eloping for several reasons. The two biggest reasons are 1) money, and 2) this is a partnership between the two of us, and doesn’t really need outside validation. Neither of us have ever really been fans of the idea of marriage, until we found each other, and don’t really care about all of the ceremony and traditional trappings.

Would an elopement with following reception/party do? I don’t want to break my mother’s heart, but I also don’t want to do a song and dance for a crowd. Neither of us is traditional, but do have loving families. Any suggestions?

Runaway Bride

Miss Manners errs on the side of not upsetting people- one letter writer wrote in that her mother would be devastated if she eloped and Miss Manners kind of calls the bride selfish. In another column Miss Manners discourages elopement because, according to her, people are more likely to regret it, as ceremony is actually fairly important to humans. She does consider post-elopement receptions to be appropriate, but declares you must skip showers and bachelor/ette parties (which makes sense, because if the point of elopement is avoiding all the fuss, it’s sorta weird to come back and insist on the fuss). Emily Post Institute says that you want to be careful of hurting the feelings of your parents/grandparents etc before you elope. Parties afterwards are a great compromise, but as the attendees were not invited to your actual wedding, you should not register for gifts.

Amy Vanderbilt says, “Often after an elopement, the bride’s parents give a party to celebrate the marriage. It can be as simple or elaborate as they and the couple want it to be. It’s up to them whether to have a receiving line or wedding cake.”


Jaya: So at least it sounds like she’s not eloping because she hates her family. Though in some ways that makes this harder. You can’t just be like, “fuck you dad I’m doing what I want!”

Victoria: Yeah! It seems like she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but from what I’ve read, most parents do seem to be hurt when their kids elope. I think if she were up for it, a very small ceremony including the parents might be a nice, cheap compromise. But of course, she doesn’t have to.

Jaya: Or I think if she’s worried about breaking it to the parents, explain it exactly like she did to us! That, while they love their families, they don’t want to spend the money and don’t want the ceremony, etc. That seems pretty easy to understand, but yes, prepare for pleading.

Victoria: If you are just getting up in front of a county clerk, it seems like it wouldn’t hurt for your parents to tag along. But I get that not everyone feels that way.

Jaya: True, you do need witnesses!

Victoria: If you are going to do it, a party afterwards is still totally fine! Though, as you’ve mentioned through your wedding planning, the reception really takes up most of the money/stress. But if you plan a simple dinner yourself, you can be more in control.

Jaya: This is where I think you can use it as compromise with the family too. Say you’re going to elope, but they can maybe have a bigger hand in planning the party. I mean, depends on the family. If your family is the type to rent a ballroom for 500 people maybe not.

Victoria: Yeah, and she says that she wants to avoid the song and dance for a crowd. I mean, you could even do a thing at city hall with immediate family with dinner at a restaurant following, and then you are DONE, no crowds.

Jaya: Yes! I have a friend who got married on the Staten Island ferry and then had dinner at a restaurant after.

Victoria: It’s interesting too- trying to determine if people are really interested in eloping and avoiding all the fuss,or if they want to pre-marry and then have a huge wedding after (not this writer, but in general).

Jaya: Definitely. It sounds like two things here. She wants to avoid the hoopla (which I totally get) but also takes a more philosophical stance that “outside validation” is not something they value (also totally understandable).

Victoria: Yes. So for her, to answer her question: yes you can elope and follow up with a party (this is actually super traditional!) and if you just want to avoid the fuss and still make your parents happy, just invite them along to your tiny ceremony at City Hall or wherever. Let’s talk about the rest of it, all the extra parties and gifts and stuff!

Jaya:  So, if your reasoning is avoiding fuss, it’s sorta strange to say that and then want registries/showers/etc.

Victoria: Super weird. After all, you can’t invite people to the shower who aren’t invited to the wedding, so if you aren’t inviting people to the wedding… Although, with registries and gifts and stuff, even though people don’t have to give them to you, there’s probably a good chance they will still want to? So maybe make a small registry or have some ideas if someone asks?

Jaya: It sounds like their community supports their relationship, so maybe would want to give gifts even if there isn’t a huge wedding.

Victoria: Yes

Jaya: This question I think gets to the heart of a lot of battles within wedding etiquette, which is essentially, who is the wedding for? On that post we were quoted on at Yahoo!, all the comments immediately went from “how selfish are these women” (true) to “weddings aren’t about you, they’re about your family and your community” (questionable).

Victoria: I saw something one place where it was a mom saying that she had put all these years in raising her daughter and then wasn’t allowed to see her get married. Which, I guess is someones right, to decide to get married alone, but think how hurt you would be if your mom decided she didn’t want to attend your wedding. It goes both ways.

Jaya: Definitely. it hits this strange center, where the marriage is about the couple and the wedding is about community, but the marriage is at the center of the wedding. Anyway, I’m all for the couple doing what they want for themselves. No one has a right to force you into a ceremony, especially when it really is about the couple, not the community. However, they may have hurt feelings, so just be aware and be nice.

Victoria: You can’t do things in a vacuum either. If your mom cares that much and is hurt that much by your decision, you might have irreparably hurt your relationship with her.

Jaya: Exactly. Hopefully that’s not the case, but you have to balance what you each want with how much you each want it. I think a nice, sit down convo with the immediate family is needed. Remind them you love them, and that this isn’t a rejection of them, but that this is the way you want to honor the relationship you’ve made. And that you want to throw a party after BECAUSE you want to include people.

Victoria: Part of being an adult and making these adult decisions is being aware of how your actions affect others and might affect your future.

Jaya: Oh wait also, part of what she asked about is that they were eloping for money reasons, which I also think is fair. Thoughts on that?

Victoria: Yeah, totally fair! But that’s even less reason to not let a few people tag along if it makes them (and the couple!) happy.

Jaya: True! You’re not paying anyone to follow you to city hall for an afternoon if they want. So maybe keep those arguments separate. Because sometimes enthusiastic families will counter “we don’t want to waste money” with “we will pay for it!” and then you have to backtrack and explain that it’s not really the money, it’s the principle.

Victoria: I would advise to just really think through all your reasons and all your options, because a big wedding with a poofy dress and going to the courthouse by yourselves at lunch are not the only options. Not to say that people don’t know their own minds and they haven’t already thought it through, but a lot of these do-over weddings I see are people who were like, “oh let’s elope and avoid all the fuss.” And then immediately regret it, and then it becomes a whole other etiquette issue for another day.


One thought on “Can I Politely Elope?

  1. It’s wedding season, for sure!

    This is so completely the situation for which the small wedding was intended, and define small however you want. My husband and I thought very seriously about eloping to Vegas last year, because we also were not fans of the expense and the fuss, and we like Vegas/kitsch a whole bunch. But we also didn’t totally hate our parents, and figured they would be hurt by being deliberately excluded (though they are generally too polite to say so). We eventually had a big-to-us, small-to-everyone-else wedding in a local restaurant with about forty friends and relatives. I’ve known people who brought their parents to the courthouse and then got lunch together. I think just thinking about who you absolutely at minimum MUST have there for the deed itself, and then just involving those people, will be more satisfactory than either just eloping, or eloping and then navigating the etiquette hellscape of a post-elopement reception/wedding-styled “vow renewal” (I have yet to see someone handle this in a way that was drama-free, no matter the circumstances).

    If your folks feel strongly about feeding a large group of people while displaying their new child-in-law, address that as a separate issue. One for which you will not under any circumstances be paying.

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