How to elope: four steps to making it happen without hurting everyone’s feelings

My older brother and his wife considered eloping. They talked to their families and friends about it, and everyone had pretty much the same reaction: we’d all understand and support them, and we’d all have our feelings hurt. They weighed the pros and cons, and wound up combining some ideas so they could still have the small, intimate ceremony they wanted while also giving their friends some space to celebrate them.

If you’re thinking about eloping, my guess is that one main question is stopping you from just getting a license and doing it tomorrow: how many people are going to be mad at you?

We’ve got some tips for getting through the process with the most care possible.

Step one: creating space for feelings

Whether you elope and then tell everyone afterwards or tell everyone you’re going to elope before you actually do it, people are going to be upset that they can’t be there. Maybe it’s born out of genuine love and desire to celebrate your union, or maybe it’s one really opinionated relative who’s going to be mad if you do anything but the exact wedding they’ve pictured for you.

In either case, your friends and family are going to have feelings to express. And you don’t have to change your plans to accommodate their feelings, but you really should listen to them and acknowledge you’ve heard them. (I say this on the assumption that these are people you love and want to maintain a relationship with. You do not have to listen to your toxic friends/family members unleash their anger on you. Self-care, folks.)

Step two: draw some boundaries

Develop a sense of what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not. Would you be okay with a party somewhere down the line? Dinner afterwards with a few people? Sending out cards/emails to announce your union? Figure out what you feel comfortable doing to include others while maintaining some amount of privacy. If you have some ideas up front, great! You can tell your friends/family exactly how they’ll be included when you tell them you’re eloping. If you don’t, also great! When you tell the above-mentioned awesome people in your life about eloping, you can also tell them you know they’ll want to be included somehow and get their thoughts about what they’d like to do that doesn’t essentially mean “having the big wedding you don’t want to have.”

And then — here’s the hard part — don’t let people talk you into something you know you’d hate.

You can’t preserve everyone’s feelings. But you can show some love to the people who love you so they don’t think you don’t care, and then stick to your plan.

Step three: make it awesome

Just because you’re eloping doesn’t mean you can’t have some of the traditional wedding stuff if you want it. Get your hair and/or makeup done if it would make you feel special. Hire a photographer. Send out cards.

As someone who loved the idea of eloping and couldn’t do it for a myriad of reasons, please steal my plan to wear a flower crown and get married at the Ventana Inn in Big Sur, CA. And send me pictures, maybe.

Step four: you only get one wedding, unless you want to have more of them, and then you get as many weddings as you want

If you really want to elope, and if your friends/family just can’t handle it, remember that your options aren’t “elope OR having a wedding.” You can elope AND have a wedding.

My cousin and her husband secretly went to a courthouse and got married, had photos taken, and went out to a kickass dinner. And then a year later, they had a wedding. By that point, they’d been married a while, they were happy, and their families still wanted to do a big celebration, so when it finally didn’t feel stressful or like a huge financial burden, they went ahead and had that huge wedding.

You get to design whatever kind of wedding works for you. Going into it with your eyes wide open and plenty of space to have emotional conversations will make a world of difference.

Anyone out there who wants to elope or did elope? What are your best pieces of advice to those still wondering how they’ll manage it?

Sara Kendall

Sara Kendall lives in Redwood City with her husband and dog. Her main hobbies are coffee, books, and musicals.