What Does It Mean to Elope?

Eloping takes on a different meaning for every couple

Just the two of you.
Brand X/Getty Images.

Have you ever heard about a couple eloping without telling anyone or quickly getting married at the courthouse? It may seem like weddings are the only way to get married, but eloping is not an uncommon practice or taboo these days. In fact, some couples even choose romantic places or interesting destinations to elope to. This can make the celebration both cheap and merry. 

While the technical definition of eloping is "running away," it has a slightly more nuanced definition in wedding parlance. Eloping means to get married without telling anyone, especially your parents. To elope may also suggest that you forgo a formal wedding and elope for the ceremony instead. In modern times, eloping does not necessarily mean running away, and some couples who choose to elope will inform their families before their ceremony (though not always invite them to attend).

Why Do Couples Elope?

There are many reasons why couples decide to elope. One of the more common is because their parents or families don't approve of the union. Typically, weddings are an occasion when the family comes together. If genuine approval is not received from parents on either side of the family, a couple may decide to not have a wedding at all and elope instead.

Another possible reason is that the couple may feel that they don't have enough money for a traditional wedding. Weddings can be stressful and expensive to plan. If a couple does not have the funds, they may choose to elope to reduce the stress and financial burden. Other couples may decide that they'd rather save the money for their future instead of spending it on a lavish wedding.

Finally, another possible reason to elope is that the bride may be pregnant, though this should never be assumed. In some cases, the couple may decide that they don't want to wait to plan a wedding ceremony and prefer to be married before the baby is born.

Does Eloping Mean Not Having a Wedding at All?

Forgoing a large, traditional wedding to elope does not necessarily mean completely skipping a ceremony or reception to celebrate the occasion. Sometimes, couples who elope simply want to have a more intimate and quiet wedding with a limited amount of guests. 

No matter if it's just a few people or a dozen who witness the couple getting married, there are still a few things to consider. For instance, they may still want to plan to exchange rings and vows or choose wedding-like attire, no matter how casual. Some couples also like to have photographs to capture the memories. Even flowers can mimic a traditional wedding while keeping things simple.

Other couples may elope to a destination, then return home and host a small reception that includes family and friends to celebrate their union. You might even find couples who exchange vows in front of their guests, even though they're already legally married because they eloped and had a private ceremony first.

Eloping Is a Personal Decision 

Every couple has their personal reasons and definitions of what it means to elope. While some choose an intimate beach setting on a tropical island, others prefer a quick courthouse wedding. There is no right or wrong answer to eloping and it should not be viewed in a negative way. What is most important is that the couple follows their own desires and whatever path makes them happy. For many, the idea of a traditional wedding simply isn't a good fit and they prefer to do it their own way.

A Few Plans Prior to Eloping

Even couples who are choosing to elope will need to make a few plans to ensure that their ceremony is seamless and legal. Depending on the location, the couple should contact the local city hall to understand the marriage license requirements. Some locations will require an appointment, a waiting time, and designated witnesses to conduct a wedding ceremony or issue a marriage license. The couple will also likely need their birth certificates and official identifications, so if you are planning a destination elopement, be sure to check local laws prior to leaving for your trip.

Eloping and Wedding Etiquette

It is not traditional for couples who elope to register for wedding gifts. If the couple is having a celebration after their private elopement, they may still register for gifts. If you hear about a friend or family member's elopement, it is proper etiquette to send a gift or a card sharing your good wishes. Even though you won't be attending a wedding, this is still a nice practice and allows you to extend warm thoughts to them.