Why We Eloped (and Loved It)

June 15, 2016

My now-husband and I struggled through about a month of wedding pre-planning before we decided to elope. We hadn’t even made any major decisions and were already feeling weighed down by obligation and doubt. (For example, we live far away from both of our immediate families, so even picking a state to get married in was proving difficult.)

Finally, one evening we took a step back and agreed that the most important thing to both of us was simply being married to each other at the end of the day. I mean, duh—that sounds so obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re surrounded by the overblown possibilities and expectations created by the wedding industry.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

Something awesome happened once we decided to elope: It made literally every other decision easier and more fun.

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We were no longer bound by expectation (perceived or real), obligation, or tradition. We did us. We decided to spend a week in Asheville, North Carolina, get married at some wild, quiet spot in the mountains, and spend the rest of our time eating and drinking our way around town. It turns out our dream wedding looked a lot like our dream vacation: chill, surrounded by nature, well-designed, drinky.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

Here are some “wedding rules” we broke, that ended up making our wedding perfect for us:

We didn’t know where we would be getting married until we got there.

Upon arriving in Asheville, we hiked a few of our favorite spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and decided on the spot for the ceremony (Looking Glass Falls) less than forty-eight hours before it happened.

We got married on a Monday morning.

Since our location is a pretty popular spot for tourists, we got married on a weekday morning to cut down on the chances of anyone else being there (and to keep the rest of our week open for celebrating).

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

I didn’t wear white, or even off-white—or even shoes.

Once I knew we’d be getting married in the mountains, I went full “goth forest goddess,” and ended up in a simple dark green dress, with dark nails, and flowers and herbs in my hair. I never found a pair of shoes I really loved, so I just wore some nude flats until we got to the waterfall—then went barefoot.

We didn’t have a cake.

French Broad Chocolates alone are reason enough to visit Asheville. We got a huge box of assorted truffles in lieu of a cake. I loved being able to graze on them all day. I see their chocolates around Durham sometimes now, and will buy a small box to celebrate other milestones, or just because. So much better than a freezer-burnt slice of wedding cake.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

We took a mid-ceremony break.

This one was unplanned, but the fact that we had no guests or timeline to worry about made it a non-issue and a great story. We asked my best friend (and boss!) to officiate the wedding, her husband was the Best Man, and their three-month-old son was my Man of Honor.

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Top Comment:
“You basically just had my fantasy wedding. For years, while my friends have dreamt of, planned, and lived out their big traditional weddings, I have thought of nothing else but avoiding the drama and expense of that and just celebrating with me and my husband-to-be. Glad to see I'm not the only one. ;)”
— Sandra313

I kept crying so much during my vows that the baby started crying too—so we took a 15-minute break from the ceremony so the officiant/mom could feed him (and I could calm down). We actually ended up taking a lot of our portraits then too, and I love knowing that they were taken during this impromptu, unconventional downtime.

I think it was so easy to break with tradition, with these “rules,” because we created a few rules for ourselves first. We figured out what was important, and stayed focused on that. Our two big-ticket items were lodging and photography: We rented a cool mid-century modern Airbnb house for the week, because it was located close to all our favorite Asheville haunts, and felt like a home-away-from-home.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

And since it was still important to us that our families and friends felt like part of our day (even if it was after the fact), we hired our favorite local photographers to document everything and had beautiful photo books created for our parents.

We also bought a fun instant camera, and took photos of ourselves throughout the day to include in our announcements, which we had designed and printed before the fact. We mailed them out the day after the ceremony, so throughout the week all of our friends and family (who were all shocked but totally supportive... I don’t think anyone was that surprised) started calling us from all over the country with congratulations and well-wishes.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

Everything else fell into place—we didn’t overthink it. We went to Whole Foods the evening before and bought a bunch of flowers to make my crown and my husband’s boutonniere, and filled vases around our rental house with all the leftovers.

I did my own makeup while sipping coffee that morning. We had written our vows without the natural self-censorship that would’ve come from knowing we had to “perform” them in front of an audience. We bought a great bottle of wine to toast afterwards, and made dinner reservations at an amazing restaurant for just the two of us. That was the extent of our wedding planning.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

Our two-year anniversary just passed, and I still love telling people about our elopement. It surprises me how often someone will respond with a wide-eyed whisper, “I wish we had eloped.” Of course, eloping isn’t the only way to go. There are as many ways to celebrate a marriage as there are couples getting married.

And I think that’s what we forgot for a moment—that a wedding can be whatever you want it to be. That if it works for the two of you, then it works. That you’re two grown-ass adults who can decide to invite everyone, or no one; that you can throw the biggest party this world has ever seen—or run off to the courthouse in secret, then go get doughnuts.

Photo by Brett & Jessica Donar

That your wedding can be as simple or extravagant or refined or conceptual or traditional or silly as you want it to be—because no matter how you celebrate, you’ll still be married afterwards. If you can remember that, then everything else is cake. Or chocolates.

Would you ever consider eloping? Tell us in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Laura
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Laura June 22, 2016
My fiance and I are planning something like this and are expecting his families response to be pretty nasty. Do you have any advice for how to respond to this? I don't think we'll be able to keep it a secret, we've hardly been engaged for a month and they're already making demands for the wedding and waiting for our response.
Liz J. June 28, 2016
That sounds tough. I'd recommend checking out A Practical Wedding - they offer really great, no-nonsense advice for tricky wedding-related situations. I gathered a lot of support for my decision to elope from that site. Best of luck!
Renee O. June 20, 2016
My husband and I eloped in Denmark (we were both in the military, stationed in Europe) over 31 years ago, and a lot of the reasons given in the story were precisely why we went that route. We've never regretted our decision and it makes for a fun story. Obviously, we're still happily married. :-)
BD June 19, 2016
I love this story. As a photographer, the intimate ceremonies always allow for special photo ops, especially when the photographer has done their homework. Congrats!
Mary June 19, 2016
I enjoyed your story and found it to be an inspiration. My fiancé and I are 60 and we've 'been there done that' traditional weddings. We love each other and can't wait to be together. I think elopement sounds like a good idea. Who needs the expense and drama. And I love Airbnb, that's the way to go. Not sure how to do the legal stuff but I'll figure that out when a destination presents itself.
Sandra313 June 19, 2016
What a wonderful story! You basically just had my fantasy wedding. For years, while my friends have dreamt of, planned, and lived out their big traditional weddings, I have thought of nothing else but avoiding the drama and expense of that and just celebrating with me and my husband-to-be. Glad to see I'm not the only one. ;)
Hannah W. June 17, 2016
I love your story so much, Liz! And I'm dying to know, what Airbnb is that outside Asheville?! Planning a trip there now :)
Liz J. June 17, 2016
It was actually in West Asheville, and I would highly recommend it:
golddeer June 15, 2016
My husband and I eloped in Maui almost 9 years ago - we've never regretted our decision! It was so perfect.
702551 June 15, 2016
Years ago, I was staying at a B&B on another Hawaiian island and a couple staying at the place were eloping. They made their own wedding leis, the B&B owner was the mistress of ceremonies, and I ended up being the wedding photographer, simply because I liked them and I had a nice SLR and tripod.

After the ceremony concluded on the beach (finalized on the day of) right around sunset, I wound the film, shoved it into the film canister, handed it to them and told them that was my wedding present to them.

Hope they're still together.

For sure, an atypical wedding, but *FAR* more memorable than a lot of conventional weddings that I've attended, even if it was basically for strangers.
Liz J. June 17, 2016
I love that story!
alaparc June 15, 2016
Really enjoyed this article and the beauty of the scenery.
Liz J. June 17, 2016
Thank you! Western North Carolina is stunning, any time of year.
nannydeb June 15, 2016
My (now) husband didn't feel the need to be officially married since we had lived together for 6 years and owned a house and cars together. I, however, really felt the need so we started planning. After the hall was reserved (Austin's Zilker Clubhouse which is IMPOSSIBLE to get) and the invitations sent out, he suggests eloping. Seriously? Why didn't you say that 6 months ago? At that point it sounded really good, but I couldn't do that to our families. Our wedding ended up fun and wonderful and I was so proud when one of my friends said "This is all so YOU!".
Liz J. June 17, 2016
YES. I mean, that's what it's all about. A celebration that feels like YOU, whether there's 2 people there, or 50, or 250. Congrats!
AntoniaJames June 15, 2016
For anyone who's interested, the French Broad is a river west of Asheville. Tame, tame kayaking with normal flow, but one of the prettiest river you'll find on the East Coast. ;o)
Liz J. June 17, 2016
teejvanloo June 15, 2016
I love this so much. I have been married once, and at 46, am considering getting married again. We both have children (10, 12 & 14). We feel they should be involved at some level. That would be the toughest part of doing what you did. Seems so much more appropriate at this point in life...
Amanda M. June 15, 2016
My parents remarried each other after a 12-year divorce, and my four siblings and I were part of it. It was one of the most special days of my life, and so wonderful to get to experience and participate in that side of them. They got legally married months before though, and didn't tell anyone, taking that time to celebrate themselves quietly and on their own terms. Whichever way you go...congratulations!
Liz J. June 17, 2016
So cool! I'm also a big advocate for the private-ceremony first, then public-celebration later. Best of both worlds.