There was no time for a wedding – so we eloped. Maybe you should too – The Guardian

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I got the phone call that would change my relationship at 4.45 on a Wednesday evening. It wasn’t my ex calling with a sexual health update, nor was it an ex trying to get back together. It wasn’t from our family, it wasn’t a friend.

It was an office worker, calling from somewhere far away, informing me that my discounted health insurance was invalid and wouldn’t cover my recent medical crisis.

First, I cried, angry at the unfairness of the American medical system and the impossibility of getting regular care. Then, I cornered my fiance, interrupted his video game, and demanded we get married, ASAP.

This isn’t how great love stories are supposed to start but I suspect it’s how many great marriages actually begin: with frank (sometimes even bordering on rude) discussion of money, priorities, futures, and values. Garrett, my longtime sweetheart, had health insurance and I did not. Our years of co-habiting didn’t matter; the insurance company used for state of Maine educators didn’t cover domestic partnerships. They needed us to be wed, officially and legally, and so the very next day, we ran off to the courthouse.

It wasn’t terribly hard to convince Garrett that we should tie the knot without alerting our families – I had been seeding the idea ever since he proposed. Weddings, I knew from working in magazines and for women’s media, are terribly expensive, packed chock full o’ unforeseen dramatics and tricky upcharges. We weren’t going to be able to afford a large wedding, and even a small wedding would have wiped out our savings. We each had a few thousand dollars squirreled away separately, but Garrett had dreams of homeownership and that money felt earmarked for something more solid than a party.

Plus, I knew my family and their propensity to drunkenly argue at every event. A wedding, I thought, would be perfect fodder for those fights, and I simply didn’t want to mediate them.

The only person who knew we were going to elope was my dear friend Sophie, who I texted casually: “Are you free tomorrow to do me a favor?” She was, and thus Sophie was our witness. Our other witness was a photographer who surprised us by jumping out from behind a Tuscan column with her Canon at the ready.

Sophie had spent her morning making me a bouquet out of Trader Joe’s flowers, white ranunculus and baby’s breath and tulips, all wrapped in brown twine, accessorized with sprigs of sage. She also brought a bag of rice, which mixed with the falling snow to create a softly twinkling ambiance for our impromptu photos.

I wore a white lace dress that I had bought several months before (French Connection, on sale) and my husband wore a gray suit he had purchased to serve as a groomsman in a wedding that summer before. My hair was down, his was gone – stolen from his head and, weirdly, his left armpit, thanks to several rounds of chemotherapy.

In our pictures, we look happy and a little dazed, surprised at how well our sudden ceremony had gone, how romantic the day had been. It was March in Maine and the weather was dismal, frigid and wet, yet the snow was light as spun sugar. Against the dark sky, the stately carved stone of the bureaucratic building glowed with an aura of age and wisdom. My dress wasn’t very warm, but my cheeks were rosy and my eyes were happy, glazed with tears.

After we signed our paperwork, we walked across Congress Street and into the first hotel bar we could find. There, among the business travelers, we celebrated with champagne and desserts. As soon as the waiter found out why we were dressed in such seasonably inappropriate garb, she rushed off to alert the kitchen. Of course, a wedding cake was out of the question, but we were given a tray of lavender-honey macarons, chocolate chip cookies, and lemon madeleines. We toasted our new marriage and thanked our witnesses.

Then, we went home, took off our suit and dress, sat on the couch, and ordered take-out from the cheap sushi place down the street.

Of course, not everyone was happy that we eloped. In fact, most of my close friends and family were a little upset. While I had a beautiful and genuine experience with my partner, they were denied the chance to witness our pledges of love. They didn’t get to dance with us, to eat cake with us, to take pictures with us. And I was sorry about that, but we simply couldn’t wait. (I was especially sorry that my mother was unable to attend our wedding, since she had also missed my brother’s elopement two years prior. I guess it runs in our family.)

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There is an expectation placed upon longtime couples that they will, eventually and ideally lavishly, get hitched. Weddings in the US have ballooned in importance, time, and expense. I’ve been to wedding parties where the event lasts a full week and involves several outfit changes. I’ve seen brides cry in the bathroom during their reception because we put this all on a credit card and we’ll never pay it back.

I’ve had falling-outs with friends and siblings over my inability to attend their ceremonies (I had neither the money nor the attention available to meet their demands). Weddings are, in many ways, a consumerist trap that burdens couples with debt and strains their love with unnecessary stress.

That said, I love love, and I love weddings, too. There’s nothing quite like seeing two people stare into each other’s eyes and promise to always clean up after themselves and listen to their partners’ boring dreams. I like hearing a priest or a rabbi or an older family member talk about the blessings of commitment, the value of equality in partnerships, and the deep, slow happiness that comes from fighting through the hard parts of life with a co-conspirator by your side. I love flower arrangements, and have done them now for several weddings, and I enjoy a traditional buffet. Seeing a tray of passed hors d’oeuvres gives me a thrill akin to spotting a dog in a raincoat. I even like dancing the Macarena, which is something that should probably happen at more weddings.

But there are many people like me, who can’t fathom the cost and fear the interpersonal risks of collecting all their contacts in one big ballroom. Backyard weddings aren’t an option. (You need to have a backyard for that, and neither of my parents have owned property since they divorced.) And for some of us, time is of the essence.

That’s the ugly truth about eloping – many of us make this decision because we feel it’s the only one that makes sense. Perhaps our families aren’t very supportive, perhaps we lack the funds, perhaps we need insurance, perhaps we harbor some deeply rooted social anxiety that makes standing in front of people and talking downright terrifying. Given the American legal system and the financial incentives to be legally married, eloping allows two people to get their paperwork in order as quickly and efficiently as possible.

And that’s no small feat. In some ways, it’s beautiful. My wedding day certainly was.

Some names in this story have been changed for privacy

This post was originally published on this site

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