What exactly is eloping and why do it?

Over the years I have officiated many elopements. There are so many reasons a couple choses to elope. But, first, what is elopement?

Originally elopement meant sneaking away to get married without the parents knowing. It was secretive and hurried. There might also be a pregnancy involved. Years back, it didn’t have the best connotation. But not so today! Sometimes the term ‘elopement’ is used when there are a handful of guests. In Pennsylvania no witnesses are required for our marriage license – so just the couple alone can do this legally! But maybe you want 10, 20 or 30 guests? Whether you call it elopement, micro-wedding, tiny wedding or minimony, having a small guest list can be exactly right for some couples.


One good reason to elope is to avoid conflict. Family can be complicated. I recall one couple who had planned a nice backyard wedding at their home for their families and friends. It was a second marriage for both, and each one had several children. One day I received a call from them, asking if they could just come to my garden, just the two of them, and get married. Of course, you know I did just that. The drama had just become too much! Later, they told me, they would have some sort of party to celebrate – but eliminating the wedding formalities - the ‘who would stand where,’ the ‘who would have the rings’ and ‘who would walk with whom,’ and so much more… it was a relief to let all that go. Sometimes adding ‘wedding’ to ‘party’ makes people go crazy. Elopement does alleviate a lot of stress.

Another important reason to elope is the expense. If you cannot afford a lavish wedding you probably shouldn’t have one. Starting a marriage in debt isn’t the best idea. Or maybe you can afford it, but you choose to use that money for something else – like the honeymoon trip of a lifetime, or a down payment on a home, or paying off those student loands.

An elopement can be a romantic adventure and honeymoon rolled into one. I have friends who eloped in Mexico and had a blast.

I have my own little ceremony garden (Harmony Gardens) here in the Poconos, and lots of couples come to elope here. I provide them with ideas for places to stay and things to do, and they can create a mini-get-away. Other couples just wanted to keep it really simple, and I officiate a lovely little low-key ceremony and off they go! Nothing fancy, but still meaningful.

When you elope, you get to do so in your own style. Some women choose to wear a wedding gown, but others do not. You can be as casual or formal as you wish. There is no reason why you can't have all the glamour: the dress, the flowers, the rings – just without the guests! Some of the couples I’ve married stay at one of the several beautiful local resorts – places where other couples have large weddings. These ‘elopers’ enjoy the same amenities, from the hot-tubs and spa treatments to gorgeous rooms and lovely meals, keeping it all for themselves.

On the other hand, something fun, funky or casual is fine as well. Elope wearing jeans if you want to. Just keeping it simple is a real motivation for elopement, especially if you are more laid-back, or even shy. If you don’t enjoy people making a fuss over you or being the center of attention, a wedding can certainly create anxiety.

Planned elopements sometimes evolve into small weddings. This is not unusual. I get calls from couples who wonder if it would be ok to have a few people attend after all. You know the answer is yes! Somehow they realize they just don’t feel right depriving their parents or other important people the opportunity to be a part of this important milestone. Or the family finds out.  Uh-oh!

An example that comes to mind: two brides who, intending to be secretive, let it slip and when their friends found out they were getting married they jokingly threatened to hide in the woods to watch the ceremony, if they couldn’t officially be there. The couple relented and with eight guests, everything turned out great.

I encourage everyone to find the appropriate way to tie-the-knot. It’s your wedding and your marriage and your life. You need not force yourself into something that simply isn’t for you, and eloping could be the right choice.