In 2006 I decided moved to Canada to live with my then-boyfriend Nick. I was so madly in love and excited to move to Canada that I didn’t fill out any immigration paperwork. Duh! Needless to say, when I got to the Canadian border they weren’t too pleased. After making us sweat for what felt like an hour, they issued me a 30-day visa and explained that I had to either:
Get married within those 30 days and start the paperwork to become a resident, or
Leave Canada after before the visa expired and not be let back in until I obtained residency.
You might not know this, but it can take up to two years to get residency. So, what do you think we did?
We got married just a few days later!
Our Canadian wedding took place at the old stone courthouse in Nelson, British Columbia with Nick’s two friends as our witnesses. The officiant was a justice of the peace who we had never met. By all accounts, you could call this wedding an Elopement.
My Traditional Wedding
Eight months later, in my parents’ backyard in Maine, Nick and I got married again, this time with my sister as our officiant. Since we were already married, this ceremony was purely symbolic, but we did say vows and exchange rings. We had about 70 guests, a big white tent and white lace wedding dress, a caterer, a DJ, a professional photographer, you know, a traditional wedding. By all accounts this was a Big Wedding.
Which Felt More Real?
Having had both kinds of wedding experiences, I can say emphatically that to this day that the small, intimate, legal ceremony feels like the real wedding. By real wedding I mean the actual moment we became husband and wife. Even though it took place at noon on a Monday and wasn’t planned much beyond “We have to do it for immigration,” we felt the significance of the ceremony. Even though it took place in the town manager’s office with no decorations or fanfare, it brought us to tears.
The big, symbolic ceremony in front of all our guests, was fun and exciting, but it didn’t have anywhere near the significance or meaning of that small ceremony. While it was wonderful visiting with all our friends and taking formal photos, it just felt like a party, not a monumental moment in our lives. In fact, Nick and I acted much like hosts at a party. We barely spent any time together on our wedding day, since it felt like we were just entertaining. To be honest, it wasn’t all that romantic, even though it was fun!
What Should We Do?
So, if you’re thinking about eloping before your big wedding for insurance purposes, or for immigration, or any other reason, know this: it will feel REAL. This will be the day you pledge your lives together. You will feel all the feels. You will forever look back and count this ceremony as the moment you became a husband or a wife. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a small elopement ceremony before your big one, just make sure you go into realizing just how important it will feel.
For some people, eloping like this before your traditional wedding will make the big celebration more relaxing. You’ll have taken away some of the pressure of it having to be super meaningful and profound. But, just know you’ll also haven taken away some of the intimacy that forms when you say your vows for the first time in front of all your dearest friends and family.
Only you know if eloping before the big wedding is right for you. Nick and I didn’t intend for this to be our story. I wasn’t super excited about eloping, as I had always wanted a traditional wedding. In the end, I got both. Even though we celebrate both anniversaries, we definitely consider the elopement our actual wedding date.