This is more of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story than a guide, because only you know your own heart.
There’s no one right way to get married, and there’s only one wrong way – and that’s totally forgetting the point and letting a lot of other people’s opinions and expectations push you in a direction that doesn’t feel right for you.
(And please note that every time I say ‘you’ in this guide, I mean BOTH of y’all.)
If you’d like to have a huge wedding at a venue and invite a ton of people to dance the night away, cool! That sounds so fun! But I assume if you’re doing a deep dive into our site than you’re at least a little interested in eloping or having an intimate wedding so we’ll mostly focus on that.
Elopement vs. wedding: language matters!
We consider an elopement to be two people coming together in a marriage ceremony that is primarily focused on the two of them saying their I do’s. Elopements celebrate the moment you cross over into marriage. There may be other traditions like walking down the aisle or having a first dance, but those are all more casual and secondary to the ceremony. Friends and family may be there, but their primary job is to witness your ceremony and cheer you on from the sidelines.
In our book, a wedding means that the ceremony is just one element that lives in harmony among a wide range of other wedding traditions – your guests may get more involved in the ceremony, you may have a wedding party, or plan a beautiful dinner or other activities for the evening. At its core, a wedding is a mutual celebration – they’re celebrating the two of you and your love for each other, and you’re actively celebrating them for supporting you and helping you become the people you are.
You can have a wedding with just one or two guests or, ya know, hundreds!
You can elope with several guests, but we think after about 15 people it kind of turns into a wedding whether you want it to or not.
This distinction matters big time because it’s the very first choice you’ll make in planning – do I want to elope or have a wedding? – and it’s also how you’ll let your loved ones know what’s really important to you.
Everyone hopes their loved ones will have a beautiful and enjoyable wedding day, and that’s usually why folks can get pushy and overbearing – they’re just afraid you’ll make a choice that leads to regret. So the most important thing you can do when planning your wedding is come up with a clear vision for what you really, truly want and communicate that vision lovingly to everyone who needs to know. (Or just keep it secret until after, but we’ll get to that point later.)
So once you’ve made your choice, here are your options and some fun scripts to help communicate them to others.
These are seriously in no particular order, every choice is valid!!
Option 1: Eloping and inviting just a few people
“Hey Parent/Sibling/Friend/Grandparent, my partner and I have decided to elope out in this spot in Sedona that’s really special to us!
We’ll be doing a ceremony at a cool lookout point and thought maybe dinner in town somewhere afterwards.
We’ve found a great team of vendors who can put together a really beautiful ceremony for us with flowers and photos and all that; all the planning is actually already done!
I would absolutely love if you could be there with us to witness our ceremony, which will be on October 15th. Our guest list is fairly small so that we can keep things really fun and special – it’ll be you, my partner’s sibling and two of our close friends. I really hope you’re able to make this date work, but if not we’ll find a great way to celebrate when we get home. Love you!”
This approach makes them feel welcomed into the plans, but also communicates lovingly that they actually just need to RSVP and don’t need to meddle at all! It’ll be a shame if they can’t attend, but you’ve established here that you’ve got a plan and you’re sticking to it.
Option 2: Having a small wedding and inviting a few people
“Hey Parent/Sibling/Friend/Grandparent, my partner and I have decided we’d like to have our wedding at Arches National Park in Utah!!
We haven’t set a date yet because we’re hoping to find a week that works well for everyone – we’re inviting just you, our immediate families and a few friends. About 12 people total.
I thought it would be so fun to rent one big house and spend a few days hiking and exploring the area together. On our actual wedding day our plan is hike out to Delicate Arch at sunrise for our private first look, then have a ceremony later in the day followed by a catered picnic dinner in the park.
Our photographer will be there for everything, including family photos after the ceremony! I really hope you’re able to make it — you have been such an important person in my life and I’d love to ask you to walk me down the aisle/give a reading/offer us the rings during the ceremony! Can we chat about dates and ideas soon? Love you!”
You’re communicating here that this person’s attendance is so critical that you’re waiting to hear from them before even setting the date – while still maintaining quite a few boundaries. You’re still in charge of the plan and you’ve got a strong vision of what your wedding day will be like, but you’re also inviting them to be a big part of the experience. But maybe they actually don’t like the idea of flying out to Utah and hiking around? That’s okay too; you’ll catch them when you get home.
Option 3: Eloping and inviting no one
(Or if you’re not inviting this person in particular)
“Hey Parent/Sibling/Friend/Grandparent, I am so excited to share that my partner and I have decided to elope!
Instead of having a wedding, we thought it would be fun to head to Yosemite National Park and hike out to a beautiful overlook to say our vows in private next month, much more our style!!
We’ve hired an amazing photographer to document everything, so when we get home I’m hoping we can celebrate over dinner and tell you the full story with photos and everything. Love you!”
I would like to acknowledge that they may not be okay with this plan, but it’s not your responsibility to get them there.
If they push back with disappointment or confusion, cry, argue, shame you, etc., all you have to do is say “This is how we’d like to spend our wedding day.”
You don’t have to get them to understand or accept your choice. You simply have to make your choice and communicate it. Sure, you can explain why eloping is important to you and all the factors you’ve considered, but it is SUPER important to remember that this is not a negotiation.
At the end of the conversation if they still don’t like it, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you need to change your plans. You’re an adult making your own decisions, they’re adults that are going to have to learn to accept them.
If you’re even telling them you’re getting married, it means you love them. And if you love them, hopefully they love you enough to honor your choices.
Option 4: Eloping in private, with a wedding reception to follow
“Hey Parent/Sibling/Friend/Grandparent, I am so excited to share that my partner and I have decided to elope (or did elope already!) before having a wedding!
We thought it would be really fun to exchange our rings and sign our license in this beautiful part of Rocky Mountain National Park that is so special to us.
We’re planning to have a big party to celebrate at home on May 18th and I really hope you can make it! We’re saving our vow exchange for the party so that everyone we love can be a part of and witness the commitment we’re making to each other. Love you!”
This is what we did and it worked out great! We got married the way we wanted, where we wanted, when we wanted, and the celebration months later didn’t have the pressure or stress of a marriage component.
You can pick and choose which traditions you do at your elopement and which ones happen at your party. Maybe you do vows, rings, license and all at your elopement and just dance and eat at the party!
But it is a nice gesture to “save” something for your guests to witness at the reception, maybe a first dance or an official announcement as a married couple?
Option 5: Eloping in private and telling people afterwards
“Hey Parent/Sibling/Friend/Grandparent, I am so excited to share that my partner and I eloped during our recent vacation in Iceland!
We had a beautiful ceremony next to a waterfall on a secluded hike, it was so perfect and so us!! We are absolutely loving being married and had a blast on what turned out to be our honeymoon!
We hired an amazing photographer to document the whole experience – we just got the photos back and I would love if we could find a time to video chat soon so I can share the photos with you and tell you the whole amazing, epic story! Love you!”
This may come as a surprise, good or bad, to the person in question – so focus on the fact that you’re SO HAPPY, had a great time and can’t wait to connect with them so they can share in your happiness.
If they demand that you explain yourself, just remember to say that this is what you wanted out of your wedding day. Again, if they’re unhappy with your decision they’re going to have to work that out for themselves!
Odds are good that your plan for your wedding, no matter what it looks like, where it is or isn’t, who’s there or isn’t, will upset someone. People have all sorts of ideas about how others should or shouldn’t do things.
With that said, here are some ways to ready yourself and respond.
First, don’t borrow trouble. Don’t mistake, “Oh. Why’d you want to do that?” as a bitterly resentful criticism, even if it comes with a tone.
You’re not a mind reader! Make it your business to only respond to what someone is explicitly saying. Do not argue with what they’re implying, no matter how passive aggressive they may or may not be.
Again, (again, again) it is not your job to explain yourself in a way that makes everyone perfectly comfortable with the outcome (this is impossible, and common social conditioning for women).
They may just end up being disappointed. It’s ok. Life’s gonna go on.
HOPEFULLY everyone responds with “Sweet! I love you and am so happy for you!!”
But they may say something like this:
“But how could you have a wedding and not invite your brother/mother/father/grandparents/all MY friends from church??”
“Do you want to have a ‘real’ wedding? Is it about the money? What if we pay for a ‘real’ wedding?”
“That doesn’t sound like any fun!”
“I really don’t want to travel all the way out to Colorado just to stand around in the snow. Can’t you just get married the normal way at home?”
“But who will be there to walk you down the aisle??”
“Your grandmother is going to be so disappointed!”
“I’m going to be there whether you like it or not!”
“Why are you excluding me!?”
“I have been imagining this day for so long and you’re taking it away from me!”
“How could you be so selfish?”
“It just makes me really sad that I won’t be there to see you get married.”
Notice how these are about them and what they want, and not about you or what you want?
The response to all of these questions and jabs can go something like this:
“I love you and I’m sorry you’re upset.
My partner and I have very strong feelings about what would make us happy on our wedding day, which is privacy and spending time in a really special natural location.
A big wedding with a ton of people watching us truly won’t make us happy, and I know you only want what’s best for us. Please know that this decision is really important to us and has nothing to do at all with hurting other people.
I hope that you can come to understand that we will not be having a traditional wedding/inviting our grandparents/getting married in a church/etc, and that our decision is final.”
This could roll right off your tongue if you’re accustomed to standing up to the folks you’re close with, or it could be SO HARD!
Send it as an email if you must. You know in your heart that your wedding day should first and foremost be fun, intimate, enjoyable, exhilarating, and mostly pretty comfortable.
My biggest, most emphatic piece of advice that I can offer you is this:
Please do not allow anyone on this planet bully you into making a decision that doesn’t serve you.
No one is so entitled to see you get married with their own eyes that they get to make your wedding into something you don’t want and may regret.
How do you want to get married? Where? And who do you want to be there?
Think about it, talk it over together.
And feel free to reach out anytime if we can help as your wedding plan comes together.