Be ready for hurt feelings: Lessons I’ve learned about eloping

Guest post by famousjenny
Photo by my awesome cousin!
Photo by my awesome cousin! The dress is from Modcloth.

In the weeks after my surprise elopement, I've been doing some reflecting on the entire experience. I realized that I've learned these eight important lessons that I'd love to share, in the hopes of helping others who are also considering eloping.

1. Putting effort into the elopement wedding day was worth it

We spent time putting together our outfits with our ivory and orange theme, semi-DIY-ing my veil, getting pampered at the spa together, DIY-ing flowers with little family treasures, etc. It probably took more time than I anticipated for a “simple” city hall wedding, but I'm so glad we could feel good about ourselves and get that wedding-y feeling on the day. It all added to the energy!

2. When you elope, photos are so important for you and those who couldn't be there

Originally, I thought we'd just ask our witness to snap photos with my point-and-shoot camera. But as we started getting things together, I realized that I really wanted nice photos to remember the day and to share with our friends and family. We were SO lucky! My cousin is an aspiring wedding photographer and was available to take awesome photos. And our families just loved being able to see our whole day, from gettin' ready to gettin' hitched.

3. A courthouse ceremony actually feels very special

When we arrived at the County Recorder's office, we immediately saw two other couples waiting to be wed. Everyone at the office was so nice, congratulating us along the way. Plus, all the officiants in that county are volunteers who do this on their own time for free. Amazing! Beyond that, we also found a really special meaning in saying the same vows as all the other couples. A feeling like we were a part of this greater tradition of marriage. And, with the recent over-turning of Prop 8 in California, we loved that the officiant didn't pronounce us the traditional gender specific “man and wife” but said were now viewed as spouses in the state of California.

4. Be ready for some hurt feelings


I'll talk about parents in #8 below, but I'll say I was surprised that some friends were hurt by our secret engagement and elopement. I knew people would be surprised, but I thought they would just like the excitement of it all and be happy in the end. But I think some people assumed they would be a part of our wedding in some way. Some others also didn't “get” why we did it, and were semi-offended by the offbeat-ness of eloping. So, we're going to work on talking more to these people and making sure they understand that we did what we did because it was right for us. Which it was. So I feel no need to apologize, just reassure.

Photo by my awesome cousin!
Photo by my awesome cousin!

5. But take in the overwhelming LOVE you'll feel from your community

Even with what's said above, the vast majority of people were delighted to hear our news, with comments like “Oh how exciting! I'm glad you followed your heart.” to “Even though it says it's true — I CAN'T REALLY BELIEVE IT!!! We Have to Celebrate!” to “HOLY CRAAAAP!” to “Say waat? Congrats guys, that's like mega super awesome!” We felt the love! There was even a spontaneous get-together at our place the night we announced it with all our neighbors. Just wonderful.

6. Have a plan for how to share the news

We were sorta ready for this… We knew we would each call our parents to tell them a “surprise,” and as soon as they picked up the phone, we'd send an email with a snapshot of us in our wedding gear. But beyond that, I wish we had thought of a list of all the people we'd call before posting the news on Facebook the next day. There were some people we attempted to call, but couldn't connect with, and I'm sad about that. So I'd recommend creating that list early so you have more time to prep.

7. Post-wedding getaways are the best

We picked our date because we already had a little getaway planned and knew we'd like the post-wedding break. We didn't do anything romantic. We flew from sunny California to chilly Wisconsin for a tabletop gaming convention called GaryCon. I met a bunch of my husband's gaming friends for the first time, learned how to play AD&D, lounged about… no, I mean “volunteered,” partied past midnight, and even had time for a few hot tub visits. It was a relaxing and totally fun way to start our lives together!

8. Have a defined adult relationship with your parents BEFORE eloping

This is a big one. So many times I heard couples saying they can't stand the stress of a traditional wedding, and they just want to elope. A friend reminded me upon hearing the news, “Wow, you are brave!” because it can take guts to leave your family out of your wedding. If your relationship with family is lacking clear personal boundaries, which is causing problems in your wedding planning, I doubt eloping is going to make that better. Actually, it may make it worse.

I'm an only child who had trouble establishing myself as an adult with my overbearing-but-loving parents. I've gone through some extremely tough times with my parents in order for them to see me as my own person and to respect my life decisions as an adult. But getting our relationship to where it is today is the reason my parents have been able to not only accept my marriage, but rejoice in it! Sure, it has been a shock to them, but they are doing well with the news and are very excited to celebrate with us. I only know that if we were still in the same emotional space that we were 10 years ago (heck even five years ago), this would be a very unhappy experience for all of us.

So those were my lessons learned from eloping — I hope they help others. What are your pieces of advice for eloping couples?

“They're all mad” funny elopement announcement cards.


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Comments on Be ready for hurt feelings: Lessons I’ve learned about eloping

  1. “If your relationship with family is lacking clear personal boundaries, which is causing problems in your wedding planning, I doubt eloping is going to make that better. Actually, it may make it worse.”

    Thank you for this! I really needed to hear it. There are lots of days when I want to just toss out all our ideas, let go of our deposits, and run off to the courthouse alone–because of family complications. But it would probably leave things feeling just as difficult.

    • Hi, this is Jenny! Glad you liked my post. And yes, I think working through these things with your family now that you’re in the planning stage is really the way to go. We eloped because it was right for us. But I think everyone should have the right wedding for them. Good luck in your planning!!!

    • Same boat.. only 2 weeks after being engaged. Tough thing is that I had told my fiance over a year ago that I want to elope, so the desire is getting stronger rather than diminishing now that we have an actual wedding date in sight. This advice makes complete sense though, and seeing how much drama my parents have ALREADY caused, I can see how much worse it might get if we actually did elope.. Hope you work/ed your stuff out!

    • We are going to Vegas. Alot of hot air going on.. we have kept it Hush only my kids and mom knew Tomorrow we leave. I am making a book. I am gonna have several copies. and it will be sitting in my house waiting for someone to visit us that would have a problem. They will get Their copy when they visit

  2. I am eloping on our tenth anniversary. My parents are very laidback casual people who have always supported me with every single thing I have done in life. There is no way they’d be upset I had the wedding I want. I am so excited to call them after the ceremony!

    • Congrats! I know it was so exciting for us to send out the big reveal after the ceremony. So much fun to add some surprise to a day that is usually planned months or years in advance. And I really do recommend having a fun way to make the call to your parents. My mom just kept saying “Jenny… is this?… really? Oh my gosh!!!!” Super fun and memorable!

    • Another perspective : We have 2 adult sons. The eldest announced last week at a dinner out (with his new bride) that they’d been married the day before at the courthouse. We are a very close family. (He came to us to tell us ahead of time when they decided to live together over a yr. ago. No drama. No judgment. We love her.) So we celebrated at the restaurant – we’d never ruin that for them, but I could barely eat and inside I was in shock. We are laid back as well however hurt that we were left out of this milestone in his (their) lives. We’re not the kind of parents that would criticize where or how they would get married – we just wanted to witness the event.

  3. There’s something SO romantic about eloping! I am currently looking for officiants and one of the officiants listed “meet me at the gazebo” as a service. We probably won’t take him up on that offer but it did bring a little tear to my eye. I worry that my wedding (with its 200-some-odd guests and 4 bridesmaids and 4 groomsmen and great aunt so-and-so and that guy from high school and yada yada yada) will lack that intimacy. I’m unlikely to get ‘loped (unless we do it Pam & Jim pre-wedding style) but there is definitely something about it that you can’t get in a “regular” wedding. Or maybe I’m just romanticizing. 🙂

    I also really like what you said here about saying the same vows as the other couples and being part of something bigger. And I’m in love with your dress. 🙂

    • I think there was something romantic in our elopement as well! It was nice to focus just on us and not on all the other stuff that regular weddings have. We’ll still do that in a big party back home this fall. That officiant sounds like fun, too. Maybe still look into them for your wedding if they have that fun, spontaneous vibe! And thank you– my dress was from ModCloth. It’s the Adrift on a Cloud dress, and if you look at the comments I’m not the first to wear it for a wedding. 🙂

  4. I’m not sure I’d have any good advice for eloping couples. After having my wedding with everybody, I learned that one of my friends that had helped out significantly with the decor and was a bridesmaid had eloped with her husband and didn’t tell anyone until 3 months after the event. Apparently, they had gotten married about a month before my wedding and just didn’t want anyone to know.

    I was incredibly hurt that they had kept such big news from me and after all her help, I wasn’t even going to have a chance to help with her own celebrations.

    I guess my only good advice is to tell people as soon as it happens. I’ve had other friends elope, but the only real difference is that they told everyone the day of or after and showed off amazing pictures. I guess my bridesmaid just didn’t want to share, but I was still very hurt that it seemed she didn’t want me involved as much as I liked having her involved.

    • Trust that your bridesmaid did what she had to do and did it her way. I understand your hurt, but that’s about you, not about her. It’s beautiful that she helped you and that you were willing to help her, but in the end, it’s her wedding, her news, and her marriage. 🙂

      I have a closest friend who got married with their pastor’s wife as the only witness. I wish that I could have been with them and totally would have been there but I totally respect that this is how they wanted their wedding day to be. My hurt-ish feelings aren’t important to them when they think about their day.

      So love her. Bless her and her new husband. Be happy for them and allow them to live their lives on their terms.

      And peace to you! 🙂

      • I think it’s time for a heart to heart conversation between these two friends.

        While I agree that the bridesmaid’s elopement is about her, not her friends, I think it is appropriate for the secret eloper’s friend to feel hurt. She was deceived by her friend. Maybe her friend had good reasons for that, too, but unless she cares enough about her friendship to connect with her friend, it is perfectly reasonable for her friend to decide that their level of friendship may not be what she had assumed.

        As you said, KT, your hurtish feelings don’t matter to them on their big day. If that is the case, absolutely fine,but that says something about your level of friendship. It is perfectly reasonable and possible for a friend to respect her friend’s choice to elope and not share the news, and at the same time to re-evaluate the nature of the friendship.

      • I agree, your marriage is about you and your spouse, and if you both decided to get married in secret and elope, that’s your business. I got married in secret because my family and my husbands family is negative and dysfunctional. Everyone is controlling and makes everything about them. It’s sickening. When we got married, we didn’t tell anyone and when we finally did, we could have done a reality show with all the drama. My husband’s sisters were so upset, and one of them said, “how could you do that to me”. Another sister said, “I wanted your wedding colors to be blue and I wanted to serve this kind of food at your wedding”, she wanted to plan the wedding and never asked what I wanted. If someone is hurt or upset because you got married without telling them, that’s about them, not about you. I am also older, and so is my husband, this is our first marriage, we were in our late forties. I am glad I waited that long and I am glad I got married the way I did. Please live your life and live and let live.

  5. #8 is the reason my husband and I didn’t elope.

    I had always pictured myself eloping if I ever got married. Like always, even as a kid. It always seemed so sexy, focused on the couple, and all about the marriage and less the party. My parents are of the “follow your heart” variety so they would have supported an elopement all the way.

    However, after getting serious with my then boyfriend/now husband I quickly realized he (and by extension me) did not have the kind of relationship with his parents that would allow for an elopement. After getting engaged we both wholeheartedly agreed that the stress of planning a wedding (that was viewed by many as a “family reunion”) was better then mending the hurt feelings of his mom and dad if we had eloped.

    • This is definitely true of my family. Luckily we didn’t go into this wanting to elope because I think there would have been a lot of disappointment from them. We have a big family (14 first cousins on my Dad’s side) and though I’m not the oldest, I’m the first to get married in nearly 10 years. Another cousin got married during that time, but he eloped and there was a lot of unhappy muttering about it from family members who wanted to celebrate with them.

      I have mixed feelings about the “wedding-as-family-reunion” phenomenon. On the one hand, I love that nearly all of my family will be coming, and a big part of the joy of the day will be all of us gathering together from all around the world for the first time in a while. Family is a monumentally important part of the wedding.

      However, I also think that attitude leads to not-so-great feelings of entitlement on the part of family members who see it as a generously funded party for the purpose of catching up. While I don’t want to fall down the “It’s MY day!” rabbit-hole, it really is a day to celebrate the next step in my fiance’s and my relationship, not a weekend social. I also think that sense of entitlement extends to more distant family members who would probably be invited to a reunion, but weren’t invited to our wedding because we hardly know them – and subsequently made a big fuss about how they were being excluded.

      • I got married yesterday at a big family wedding (over 110 guests). My partner and I had several heart-to-hearts during the planning process about what exactly we wanted and elopement came up several times, but his father eloped with his third wife and announced their marriage at a family BBQ after the event. Loads of people were hurt by it and he didn’t want to repeat that. And there were people we genuinely wanted to involve, so in the end we bit the bullet. I hated wedding planning and I had loads of nightmares in the run up to the wedding of ceremonies going wrong or my mum hijacking everything, but in the end the day was amazing. We got really lucky because everyone came with a really positive attitude (possibly helped by the unexpectedly good weather) so even my mum (who’s against the marriage in the first place) had a great day.

        I am cool with the family reunion aspect of a big wedding. A big part of the planning the day was trying to make sure everyone was having a good time even if we weren’t directly involved. There was no way we would be able to talk to everyone properly and we enjoyed the fact that we were bringing together various people who hadn’t seen each other in ages (sometimes many years). I think we got lucky though as we didn’t have to deal with entitlement issues (we only had two instances of people wanting to bring other people when we didn’t have space and they were both fine about it when we said no).

        I’m really glad that we thought seriously about elopement though. It helped us think about our priorities and expectations, and I think if any of my friends or family choose to elope in future I will understand their choice better.

      • I also come from a large family: 28 first cousins, god-only-knows how many second cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts/uncles, holy crow. I could keep the local post office afloat on the invites alone. And my dad’s side recently suffered a devastating suicide, and frankly, we all need a reason to party.

        That being said, my partner and I are going to elope next month. We’ll keep the big party next year as planned, but for legal/financial/intimacy/introverted reasons, we’ll do the legal stuff this year. We’ll have a quick mini ceremony on our first year anniversary, and party down with our loved ones, but taking the onus of the ceremony out of the proceedings allows us to throw a more laid back party, and takes the sting out of the ‘it’s a family reunion, not a wedding’ vibe.

    • My parents would’ve been crushed if I’d eloped.
      My brother and his fiancée are going to Hawaii to elope (really more of a pseudo-destination wedding at this point) and told everyone beforehand -my mother still isn’t really over it. Some of her family is able to go, but no one on his side will be able to attend.
      When I confronted him about it, that it was unfair and devastating our mother- it basically ended our relationship because he’s a condescending little sh!t. Oh, but he told me I could still go to the reception afterward ( to collect our presents, I’m sure)–I didn’t answer, he can kindly take a detour to Hell on his way there!

      • In my opinion, your brother’s wedding is not “unfair” to your mother, because the bottom line is that it has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with your brother and his new wife. Like everyone else has said, there will be hurt feelings, but the people who love that couple will find a way to show it, even if they hurt for a while. I hope that your family can feel some peace with the decisions that the two of them have made regarding their own wedding.

  6. Totally be ready for hurt feelings. Oh my ever loving lord the hurt feelings…

    But my advice is also make sure that you’re doing what you REALLY want to do. If you want to elope, you can do it in a courthouse or at a destination. It can be completely spontaneous or as well planned out as the OP’s wedding. You can bring your parents or a friend or no one. And if you don’t REALLY want to elope, if you’re just doing it for ease of wedding planning or to avoid family drama, don’t do it. You’ll probably end up disappointed.

  7. We were married in the same courthouse! Woohoo! I saw this as the top post on OBB and thought, “I recognize that quilt backdrop!”

    Congratulations and thank you for the advice. I second the recommendation to make a list of people you want to personally share the news with. I unfortunately forgot to tell one of my best friends who lives out of state, and when I casually used the term “husband” last week (3 months after the elopement), she felt hurt that I’d waited so long to tell her. We talked it out and she’s overjoyed for us, but it was my bad to forget to tell her.

    • That’s awesome! Congrats to you too! What made our announcement totally funny was that we couldn’t get in touch with his parents that day. My parents, no problem. But he called his multiple times, finally gave up and called his sister, so then she was trying to call them, too. But no luck! We finally talked to them around noon the next day. Hahaha! But we didn’t want to tell any friends or extended family before we talked to parents/siblings. So that cut down a tad of our “announcement” time for others.

  8. Thank you so much for the advice!
    My boyfriend and I have gone back and forth about surprise eloping. While it’s something I would totally love to do, I’m not so sure our families will appreciate it. We each have a parent who likes to pull guilt trips when they “didn’t get to” be invited/involved/whatever. But, I’m very much of the mind that a wedding ceremony should be about the commitment of the couple to each other. I feel like vow speaking and commitment making is a very intimate thing (Frankly, I’m not so sure I *want* to indulge in that intimacy with an audience watching.) One day, the waffle will land on one side or another…

    • Hi Michele, glad you found the post useful! It’s a big decision to make and there are a lot of different things to weigh on both sides. I didn’t go into our reasons for eloping in this post, but it was a personal decision that was right for us. Like I said above, communicating out the decision (before or after) is key. Something I didn’t mention is that we’re having a big ol’ celebration back in our hometown in the fall, so everyone still gets to celebrate with us. But there are many ways to elope, as Cassie said above. You could have a private ceremony with just your immediate family and then a big reception. So there are definitely ways to keep family involved in the day and planning, while still keeping the vow speaking and commitment intimate. 🙂

    • Some other options for you:
      Bring only the “guilt trip” parents with you to elope
      Have a very small wedding
      Have a private elopement and then get weddinged
      Have a non-legal vow-exchange ceremony with just the two of you before your legal wedding
      Go on a trip to a place with no waiting period and “just happen” to get married while you’re there. Then you can say you didn’t invite anyone because you didn’t know you would get married on that trip. Of course, that option involves lying, which you may or may not be okay with doing.

    • For our civil wedding ceremony the legal words we had to include were pretty nondescript, so it might be worth checking requirements and see if that’s something you’re willing to do in front of a big bunch of people, and the two of you can do something completely private with more personal vows? I also like Jenny’s suggestion of a private ceremony with a reception for friends and family after. Good luck with whatever you choose 🙂

  9. Very much THIS to this entire post!

    While #8 definitely should get extra consideration/preparation, it’s also really worthwhile to get your ducks in a row about #6 as well. Even if your ceremony is entirely spur-of-the-moment, take a few minutes to talk out your communication plan and make 100% sure you’re both on the same page about sharing your awesome news. If it’s at all possible, make a list beforehand of people you absolutely must call or tell in person (because you’re likely to be riding a cloud of WOOT afterwards and that’s not usually the best mindset for administration). Make sure that whole list gets checked off before sharing with others. Eloping already has a tendency to elicit some hurt feelings, but making sure that your nearest and dearest have all the details can mitigate the additional awkwardness/hurt if one of those selfsame loved ones should find out from another person or, even worse, from Facebook.

    Also, I can further vouch that eloping can be deeply personal and meaningful. While it’s not for everyone, it’s definitely a worthwhile option to consider.

    Eloping definitely worked for us!

  10. Real talk — my fiancé and I are eloping in two weeks. We’re both super excited, but related to number 6, we realized yesterday that we might have a slight hiccup in how we announce the news. I wanted to tell my parents at the same time, in person (we live close enough where this is possible). We had originally planned on just going over to their house for dinner and telling them then. However my dad has recently taken a job where he can only come home about once a month, which means that for us to tell everyone together in person, we would have to wait till 3 weeks after the actual elopement, which contradicts all the “tell everyone asap!” advice. So… now what? Tell them as soon as we come back, while my dad is working away from home? Or wait till we can get everyone together, which might take weeks? Haaaaalllp.

    • Is your Dad going to be completely incommunicado while he’s away? Would it be possible to have him be on the phone/Skype while you’re making the announcement to everyone else in person? Would he, personally, likely be upset if he were not physically there or would he just be glad to get the news ASAP?

      If the former is the likely scenario, then it seems like you’re better off keeping mum for a couple weeks (honestly, anyone who gets upset that you held out in order to include your father in the announcement would likely be upset no matter what you guys did). If, however, you think your dad would be ok hearing the news remotely, then dial him in and tell your loved ones when you get back.

      Good luck and congrats!

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