Somewhere amid the chaos of wedding planning, a couple may find themselves imagining how much easier it would be to drop everything and head down to the courthouse to say "I do."
A couple's wedding day is supposedly all about them, but many people know that isn't always the case. It can be, though, if you elope.
When you elope, "you're able to make your wedding your own and keep it your own," said Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist based in New York. "You're able to sidestep everyone else's opinions of your decisions."
Elopement has its share of advantages: No venues to scope out, no guest lists to draft and, maybe best of all, no exorbitant checks to write. Considering that in 2014, the average wedding cost was $31,000, according to a survey from wedding website TheKnot.com, elopement can sound tempting to anyone trying to save a buck. But reasons for elopement can be more about passion, family or timing than money.
Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles, said there are two general types of elopements. There is the "healthy elopement," which is pragmatic and focused on the relationship, and the "escape elopement," which tends to happen when a couple are caught up in family dysfunction or are using the elopement to rebel.
"This elopement may be symptomatic of other and more challenging relationship patterns for a couple," she said.
When Zoe Helene, 51, and her husband, Chris Kilham, 63, eloped in 2007, it was a mix of passion and timing. The two had known each other two years and had dated some of the time, but she was living in Asheville, N.C., and he was in Amherst, Mass. When their relationship picked up again, Kilham asked her to go on a trip with him to South Africa.
"I said to myself that I wasn't going on that trip unless we were married," Helene said. Several days later, the pair went to the Amherst town hall and exchanged vows. "There was no dress. There was no engagement ring. There was no nothing."
The trip wasn't the only reason they got married, but Helene realized if she was going to uproot her life for a relationship, it needed to be serious.
"After we eloped, I thought maybe we should have a wedding," Helene said. But when she started making a list of potential guests, she realized too many people she would want to attend wouldn't be able to. "I didn't like the idea of some of the really important people not being able to be there."
Very few people showed animosity toward them for eloping, she said, and those who did were people they didn't know well. "Most people were there for us and thought it was romantic," she said.
Susan Hawkins and her husband, Jim, eloped on Valentine's Day 1984 in Savannah, Ga., after dating seriously about three months. She was 36, he was 26, and they were living in Atlanta. No guests attended the courthouse ceremony.
"We eloped because neither one of us is deep into tradition, and our religious perspectives didn't jibe," Hawkins said. Her parents offered them a small wedding or money. They chose the money and used it to pay for a trip to Italy about a year later.
"We haven't regretted it for a minute," Hawkins said.
But there can be drawbacks. In some cases, eloping can cause one partner, or even both, to dismiss the wedding as "not real," said Sari Cooper, a couples therapist in New York. This can cause problems later on involving fidelity, child support or meaningful participation in the partnership.
"I encourage couples to have the people who are most important to them attend the wedding, no matter how large or small, because the act of being witnessed helps a couple feel like they have the support to weather the ups and downs of marriage over the long haul," Cooper said.
Eloping also excludes your loved ones from sharing in the excitement and happiness of your marriage, Greer said. Parents especially might feel offended to be excluded.
"Plan another party or event afterward that includes them," Greer said. "That way, they'll be a part of the celebration even if they weren't a part of the ceremony."
Karen Bussen, author of the "Simply Stunning" wedding series and wedding designer for Palladium Hotels and Resorts, said that eloping couples also should considering hiring a photographer. Just because others aren't attending isn't a reason not to take photos, she said. "Spend the money to document your vows with professional photo and video coverage."