It was January 2016, and my now-husband, James, and I wanted to buy our first house. James had been in the Marines for a few years and so we decided to take advantage of the VA Home Loan program to get better rates and skip the huge down payment. We even had a house picked out that we wanted to make an offer on. As it turns out, we had to be married in order for me to be included on the loan. We couldn’t even get them to give us a quote or an approval without that marriage certificate. I was honestly surprised, it’s 2016 and plenty of couples buy houses before they are married! But the VA and banks have a particular way of doing things and there was no getting around it.
We had talked about marriage before, but at this point, we were not engaged. We figured we would just pop over to the courthouse, get legally hitched and throw a “Real Wedding” later. The first time we tried to go to the courthouse, a freak ice storm snowed us in. With an extra few days before we could go do the thing, I decided we could at least try to do something special. Plus, we would’ve had to go to the County Jail to be married by a judge on a weekend, and that’s just gross. No thanks.
So with a week to plan, we set out to create a low-key elopement ceremony and celebration. I found an amazing officiant, Kenna, who wrote and performed our secular elopement ceremony.
That Sunday, I put on a cute white cocktail dress and hit up Whole Foods to buy some flowers.
James and I were joined by around 20 of our friends at a park downtown. We got married (yay!) and then spent the afternoon at a Food Truck Rodeo.
Even though we had an ice storm less than a week before, it was miraculously 65 degrees and sunny that day! We spent the day in the company of friends, drinking beers, eating delicious food and enjoying amazing weather. Our friends and family even brought cake and champagne, which we toasted in a parking lot. I get that this may seem weird, or decidedly un-glamorous, but when you strip away all the expectations and traditions of weddings, it’s ultimately about friends and family coming together to celebrate love.
It shouldn’t matter if that is in a parking lot, backyard, or reception hall. At this point, we were legally married, but we still didn’t have rings and we hadn’t even told most of our friends we were even engaged! We decided to keep the elopement on the down low so family and friends who weren’t there wouldn’t feel left out. Two weeks after we were officially married, we announced our “engagement” to the world!
Image by Jessi Field
I didn’t want to keep this charade going for too long, so we planned a short engagement and set the wedding date for 5 months later, and immediately informed our out-of-town friends and family.
When you have a short engagement, you have to get down to business and literally start making every decision you can, as fast as you can. I thrive under deadlines, so I actually enjoyed this style of wedding planning. It helped that James and I were pretty in-sync as far as what style of wedding we wanted and knew it wasn’t going to be anything big or lavish.
The beautiful thing about having eloped already was that there was less pressure for things to go perfectly. We were already legally married, that was the important part. It was done and out of the way. We could focus on creating a celebration that reflected us as a couple, but if something didn’t work out, or went wrong on the day, it honestly didn’t matter. We had some ups and downs in the planning process, a few breakdowns, because it is still a big, expensive party. It was just easier to bounce back from those low points knowing that we had already done the thing. At our wedding, we had about 65 people who came from all over the country! We had our officiant perform the same ceremony again plus a ring ceremony and a craft beer unity ceremony! It was awesome and those who hadn’t been present for our elopement still got to hear our vows and celebrate with us. It was all quite lovely!In hindsight, keeping our elopement secret was probably unnecessary.
I worried a lot about what other people would think, but when we eventually told them, I don’t think a single person cared.
Couples get legally married before their wedding day for a multitude of reasons. For us it was financial, for others it is because of their children or family situation, and others it’s because of military deployments, or health benefits, etc… In our situation, this was the best and most logical course of action. Do what feels right and makes the most sense for you and your partner!Bonus: Now we have two anniversaries and every time we go to the Food Truck Rodeo at the park, we are reminded of that awesome day when we officially got hitched!
Image by Kim Payant Photography
Erica Greenwold Reisen is a recently married person who also plans weddings, makes crafts, and writes about wedding things at her website, www.folieadeuxevents.com. You can find her on Instagram @folie.a.deux.nc, Facebook, and Patreon.