Is it an Elopement or an Intimate Wedding?

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion over the years as to what an elopement is and what is considered a simple, intimate wedding. I hope today to help demystify the terms of each, and ultimately help you, the bride and groom, understand what it is exactly that you’re planning. This should help you better effectively communicate with your vendors as well, which in turn will help them understand exactly what it is you’re needing. If that happens, then there shouldn’t be any confusion, or disappointment, on your special day. 


Let’s start with the history and definition of an elopement.  

The definition of an elopement is this: often used to refer to a marriage conducted in sudden and secretive fashion, usually involving a hurried flight away from one's place of residence together with one's beloved with the intention of getting married. 

We’ve all heard about it, and seen it in movies. The star-crossed lovers who want to marry, but can’t because she’s betrothed to another through an arranged marriage. You see back then, you ran... you ran as far and as fast as you could. You found someone who would marry you, and you did it in secret!

In our culture, we don’t have a whole lot of arranged marriages or laws telling us who we can and cannot marry. In today’s terms, elopement means any marriage performed in haste, and/or with a limited public engagement period or without a public engagement period, usually with just the necessary witnesses. 

Some couples elope because they wish to avoid objections from parents, or religious obligations. While others tend to choose this option either because they’re traveling to a specific spot to get married, or simply don’t want the trappings, and expenses, of a wedding ceremony and reception. 

A typical elopement usually involves a judge, or an officiant, the couple wishing to get married, and either just the 2 witnesses needed, or witnesses and a couple other people. 

I have performed several of these over the years, and they are typically done for any number of reasons whether that’s for insurance purposes, citizenship, medical, financial, etc. Sometimes it’s just because the couple doesn’t have the necessary finances to cover all the wedding vendors, food, reception location, and they simply want to get married without having all the expense. Possibly no cake, no venue or rented space, no reception, etc. Elopements are a way of getting married, and doing it on the cheap. 

Small/Intimate Weddings

Now, let’s quickly look at small/intimate weddings. Plain and simple, these are weddings planned as plain and simple. See, wasn’t that plain and simple?

In all seriousness, a small/intimate wedding is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an actual wedding but on a smaller scale. 

Photos, food, cake, music, a park/backyard... you know the drill. It’s an actual wedding, but smaller. And a BIG difference. Not only to you and your guests, but also to any wedding vendors you may hire.

Informing your vendors

Elopements and intimate weddings are quite common, and the reason I said early on that we need to distinguish between the 2 types of ceremonies for you, and your vendors sake, is because most wedding vendors treat an elopement drastically different than they do a wedding ceremony, even if it’s an intimate one. 

For example, I being an officiant, perform the elopement ceremony quite differently. First, the ceremony itself is usually rather quick. There’s typically no additional readings, unity ceremonies, etc added to the ceremony, and not a whole lot of involvement with the couple requesting the elopement in terms of creating the ceremony. 

Couples requesting elopements want them done quickly, without a lot of pomp and circumstance. They don’t need it since it’s just myself, them, and their 2 witnesses. 

With an intimate, and/or simple, ceremony, I treat it like any other wedding ceremony. The only difference between this and a larger, more involved wedding is simply the amount of guests you invite. Couples typically don’t have  huge reception, but they still have most everything that would be involved in a large wedding. 

With these types of ceremonies, other vendors may still cut you a break on their price because guest counts still play in to most of their business, whereas with me being an officiant, it doesn’t matter. I’m still only marrying you two, not everyone attending. 

It is important to be specific when talking with your vendors about what you want. The last thing I would want, is to assume you really want an elopement ceremony, when you meant intimate ceremony, I perform the 5 minute quick ceremony, and then you and your guests are very disappointed with the outcome. 

You see for me, an I still treat an intimate, small wedding as a big one. The couple is involved in the creation of their ceremony. We add things to it to make it more unique, etc. They still get a regular wedding ceremony, it’s just everything else is scaled down. 

Usually, when a couple ask for an elopement, I dig a little deeper to find out what they really want. And quite a bit of the time, when the couple is saying elopement, they’re really just meaning a small, simple wedding. I can’t guarantee every vendor you speak with will do the same. So to be safe, explain to them what you want, and be specific. You don’t want to be disappointed with a quickie ceremony when you were wanting something else. 

Say What???

One final example, in case you’re just as confused as you were before reading this:

Recently I received a request through my website for a couple wanting to get married. She stated in her request she wanted an elopement, but the request also stated they were having it at a wedding venue with 20 or so guests. 

There’s a couple of red flags with this job request: 1.) It’s at an outdoor space that’s used for weddings, and 2.) they’re having 20 guests. 

So I reached out to her, and I’m glad I did. She assumed because the wedding was only 20 people, that it would be classified as an elopement. She, in fact, was having several family members fly in from across the country to attend their wedding. Could you imagine inviting people, they buy their plane tickets, travel for hours to get here, and then the ceremony is less than 5 minutes long? 

So, if you’ve already got a space lined up/rented out for your wedding, and you have a small group of people who will be attending, guess what... it sounds like a small, intimate wedding, not an elopement. 

Hope this helps! Any further questions, feel free to reach out to me.