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Back in the Day: Eloping is a lost practice in getting married

February 4, 2018 GMT

So, who does not want a big wedding? Most couples, parents, family members and friends want a marriage ceremony that they will remember. Today is no different than in the past. I believe that it is safe to say that most couples considering marriage desire a wedding that contains all of the

Just imagine: a beautiful sunny day; the bride in an exquisite white designer gown; vows exchanged in the church or venue of your choice; a large wedding party; a first-class reception; a photographer to capture all aspects of the event; lots of guests; and, topped off with a honeymoon to an exotic location. These were dreams of couples in the past and continue to be the dreams of couples today.

Well, I should add a caveat. Not everyone had or desired a large church or small church wedding. Some couples exchanged their vows in nontraditional ways. I have been critical of weddings, wedding receptions and all that goes into wedding activities considering the costs associated with such events. Now, with this view, I recognize that a wedding is usually a once in a life time event and such events are extremely important for families, and in particular, the bride and the groom. You must know of couples that have had extravagant weddings only to remain married for no more than a year or two, separating before the loan for the wedding has been repaid.

Spending $50,000 for a wedding while the couple moves into an apartment above a store or moving into any apartment, for that matter, makes no sense. The amount paid for weddings and related activities could be a down payment for a home. There are other ways to avoid such costs as those accrued for a wedding. I suspect that some reading this column experienced another type of marriage; something not heard about or practiced that often today. So, what about couples eloping as they once did, back in the day?

Earlier last week, a young lady asked me about the subject of my column for today. When I told her that it was about eloping, she indicated that she had heard about this concept but did not fully understand it. So, in case some of you are unfamiliar with or have a vague understanding of elopement, let me make certain that we are all on the same page.

“What Does it Mean to Elope?’ is the title of a www/thespruce.com. on-line article by Nina Callaway, dated Jan. 6, 2018. In this article, Calloway points out that the technical definition of eloping is “running away” but it has come to be engrained in the wedding world as running away to get married without telling anyone, in particular, one’s parents.

So, what is the rationale for couples eloping? One of the main reasons why couples elope is because their parents or families do not approve of the marriage. If you know of a couple that eloped, you will remember that in most instances, one of the families or both, were against the marriage. When approval is not given by the parents of the bride or the groom, the couple may decide that there will be no wedding at all and run off to get married.

While I asked earlier what happened to couples eloping in the past, I must hasten to point out that eloping still occurs today. In today’s world, as in the past, some couples elope due to the costs of a traditional wedding. Then there are situations where there is an unexpected pregnancy! In such situations, couples do not want to face the embarrassment that the pregnancy would bring to themselves and their families. Thus, couples may decide that they do no want to wait and proceed to elope so that they are married before the baby is born. Given the way our values and standards have changed, pregnancy, while still challenging and problematic, appears to be less of an issue today. So, social pressures probably made eloping while pregnant more prevalent, back in the day. It is worth mentioning that today, eloping appears to be more structured; done with considerable planning and often includes some elements of a traditional wedding.

Today, if you are seeking a quick wedding, Las Vegas, Nevada or your local court house are the places to go. I have two friends and acquaintances that eloped and have lived happily ever after. In the case of my two friends and acquaintances that traveled to the most infamous city for eloping, back then; they traveled to Elkton, Md. Both couples were young, one still in college and they were in love and could not wait. A quick marriage was perfect for their circumstances, so they thought. In their cases, there were no objections to their marriages by their parents. Elton, Maryland, is captured in an internet article, written by Jim Duffy, www.secretspftjeeasternshore.com, titled “How Elkton Became the King of Quickie Weddings Back in the Day.”

As recorded by Mr. Duffy, in 1913, Elkton, Md., issued wedding licenses without a waiting period, contrary to new laws issued in Delaware that imposed a four-day waiting period from getting a license to getting married. Due to the close proximity of Elkton, Md., to Delaware, and the closest seat in Maryland to the Delaware boarder, couples from Delaware as well as New York and Pennsylvania, where waiting periods already existed, also ventured south to Elkton. A waiting period of 48 hours was imposed in 1938 but well into the 1970’s, Elkton continued its reputation for quick marriages. Even today, couples still go there who in some cases are the children and grandchildren of those that were married in Elkton, Maryland, back in the day.

Eloping today does not mean what it did in the past. The most prevalent reason for running away to marry, not having parent’s approval, is not the only reason for eloping. Some couples consciously avoid a large, traditional wedding for a more intimate wedding with a handful of family members and friends. Such weddings avoid the extravagant costs associated with the story book weddings that many of us have attended over the years. Yes, there are those that elope, but family members and friends have been told in advance about their plans to marry.

You may know of couples that eloped to a romantic destination and returned home to a small or large reception. Some eloping couples opt for an intimate setting on a tropical island. Others simply go to a courthouse to exchange vows. If you grew up here in Philadelphia, you must know of couples that eloped or planned a modified form of eloping by traveling to Yerkes Wedding Salon in East Lansdowne, Pa. There were a number of couples that did not elope but avoided spending large sums of money by getting married in places like Yerkes or their parent’s home followed by a reception in the basement or the backyard.

I have a friend, a judge in North Jersey, who had the means for a large traditional church wedding and a reception at a high-end country club. Instead, he did something rather novel; he had a cookout at his home that was attended by more than 150 people. At some point, he disappeared, and his fiancé also disappeared. A friend came out on the deck, rang a bell and my friend appeared wearing a tuxedo.

Shortly afterwards, a limousine came up the rear driveway and his fiancé got out of the limo wearing a wedding gown. The minister appeared, and the couple was married. He told me that it was the most economical wedding and reception that he could have ever held. Yes, there are alternatives to eloping today but couples still elope in keeping with traditional eloping as they once did, back in the day.

Eloping is a personal decision. As someone with a back in the day mindset, I advocate for a traditional wedding with emphasis on a modest traditional wedding with consideration for minimal costs. For some, however, running away to marry or a planned but quick visit to the courthouse works for them. There is nothing that should cast eloping in a negative way as was once the case. Keep in mind that a traditional wedding just does not fit for some couples and they simply want to marry in their own way. So, for anyone, young or old, reading this column and whose circumstances dictate that they elope, go ahead and take the plunge. Remember that many long-standing marriages of couples today are the result of eloping, a practice that many people frowned upon, back in the day.