I also feared the possibility of falling down the tulle-lined rabbit hole. In 2007, when Slate ran a special issue on weddings, the normally sensible Meghan O’Rourke wrote that she was shocked to find herself saying of the invitations her fiancée chose, "But cream is too dark—and I really preferred the square!" When you are planning a wedding, it is easy to get caught up in the wedding sites, the cheerful pressure of vendors, and the excitement of friends. The woman on Say Yes to the Dress who breaks into hives because her gown has a scoop neck instead of a sweetheart certainly didn’t envision a rash when she first entered Kleinfeld’s. When you plan a wedding—and doesn’t everyone celebrate the bride who plans down to the last detail?—every decision takes on importance. As well it should—you’re spending a lot of money on those tacky favors everyone will throw out. So it’s not that I thought I was above the lure of wedding planning mayhem—it’s that I knew I wasn’t.
But perhaps the best reason to elope is that a wedding should be about the marriage. It wasn’t my day, but our day—mine and Chris’ alone.
Many men and women have told me that their weddings were so frantic—worrying about whether the caterer was late, whether a simmering family feud was about to boil over, whether everyone who should have been thanked was acknowledged—that it felt like a blur. We all know people who were too busy on their wedding day to eat the food that they so carefully selected—and if that isn’t a demonstration that a wedding is for everyone else but the couple, I don’t know what is.
Inevitably, something will go wrong at a wedding, and until science can erase bad memories, most people will always look back on the drunken fight or collapsed cake. And the more people in attendance, the better the chance that disaster—minor or major—will strike.
Instead, I remember an utterly calm, peaceful day. I worked in the morning, dialing in to a conference call from home. No one on the call knew I was about to get hitched. Then I put on the white dress purchased online (on sale!) and took a cab to get my makeup done—just because a girl’s eloping doesn’t mean she wants to look sloppy. Chris, who went into his office that day, and I met outside the Arlington, Va., circuit court clerk’s office to get our wedding license. (Virginia is like Nevada: You can get your wedding license the same day as your marriage—and no witnesses are required, either.) There, we stood in line behind a man who works for a hospice and was trying to arrange for a dying patient, unable to make it to the clerk’s office, to get married quickly—a story that reaffirmed my belief that marriage is about far more than a party.
License in hand, we walked across the street to a law office between a sandwich shop and a homeless outreach organization where a civil celebrant would marry us for $50 in cash. Does that sound unromantic? Maybe a little sad? It wasn’t. The five-minute ceremony, conducted by a warm, gregarious man who has reportedly married more than 40,000 couples, hit the important notes, with nary a tedious reading from a relative or pledging to a God I don’t believe in. Then we headed off to a rooftop bar to call our family and friends with the good news. Oh, and we were married.
Surprisingly, the reactions from our loved ones were almost uniformly positive—and though they might just have been attempting to make me feel better about something I already felt pretty good about (and that they knew they couldn’t change), most people in the aftermath have told us that we did it the right way.
A few months down the line, we’ll have a party for immediate family and our closest friends. Despite what one acquaintance said, we will not be throwing the party so we “can still get presents,” but because, without the pressure of a wedding as the backdrop, I truly do want to rejoice with those I love. And we’ll have fun, and some things will go wrong, because they always do. None of that, however, will color how I remember my actual wedding day—the day I only wanted to toast with him.