Most elopements now are a lifestyle choice. Photo: Stocksy
My husband and I married on a sunny Saturday in September with only four people present – the two witnesses required by Australian law, our celebrant and our celebrant's 90-year-old mother, who answered her mobile phone as we recited our vows shouting, "Hello? I'm at a wedding!"
Our ceremony took place at a B&B on the Mornington Peninsula. We didn't tell the owners about our plans. In the morning we walked out to the backyard, set out some flowers and married in the shade of a gum tree.
My sister watched via FaceTime – a maid-of-honour in absentia.
I wore a short, white $200 dress from US retailer Anthropologie, which calls all of its short dresses "reception dresses", as if you're only supposed to reserve reasonably priced garments for your after-party. I did my own hair and make-up.
We snacked on cheese and champagne from an Esky and went to lunch – just the two of us – at a nearby vineyard. A touring hen's party cheered us into the restaurant. We spent the rest of the day drinking champagne and calling our friends.
Our little wedding wasn't perfect. The B&B had decorated its gardens with large wire kangaroo sculptures that marred the view and we didn't realise until afterward that my husband Cam had worn his bowtie upside down.
But it was calm, it was simple and it was just for us. When I look back on that day I feel immense joy and a little relief – relief that we mustered the courage to elope.
Running away to get married is not for everyone. You may want your family and friends with you. You may want a big party. But Cam and I were surprised at the number of people who told us afterwards, "I wish I had done that."
They said they felt pressured – often by family and friends – to have larger weddings, to invite distant relatives they hadn't seen in years, and to plan every detail, down to matching bridal party nail polish and "save the date" fridge magnets. Some even said they were happiest when their wedding was over.
Melbourne University social scientist Lauren Rosewarne says 21st century couples face a dramatically different set of circumstances than their parents did when it comes to marriage.
"The nature of social media means that our lives are being performed – publicly – to an extent that didn't exist a generation ago," she says.
Weddings, which used to be dictated by tradition, are increasingly seen as personal affairs meant to show off a couple's personality. She says websites such as Pinterest and Etsy encourage couples to plan their weddings in "extreme detail".
Engagement announcements begin on Facebook, while the planning process is often documented through a series of news updates and Instagram images.
Caroline Higgins, my wedding celebrant, says couples tell her they barely remember their weddings. They were so obsessed with the organisational detail, they missed most of the day.
"It's a lot of pressure, having a perfect wedding," she says. "It makes people forget the real reason they're doing it."
Then there's the price tag. The average Australian wedding costs $36,200 according to an IBISWorld 2012 report. Bride to Be magazine puts the figure even higher: $65,482.
My mother-in-law said people used to elope "during the war", when money, time and options were limited. In previous decades, couples also may have eloped to avoid disapproving parents or the stigma of pregnancy out of wedlock.
Rosewarne says most elopements now are a lifestyle choice by "people who want to avoid the expense and fuss but nonetheless want to be married, or people who might be drawn to the romantic-escapist opportunities whereby the act seems slightly taboo and provides an entertaining story to tell".
Higgins says she often associates elopements with couples who have extenuating circumstances: they are travelling abroad together and need to be married – as with one couple on their way to Dubai – or they come from different countries and don't want to disappoint one set of family and friends, as is the case with me and Cam. He was born and raised in Australia, but my family is from the United States.
That was also the situation for Irish-born Eavan Murphy, 29, a florist from Melbourne, and her Greek-Australian husband. Despite both coming from cultures that love big weddings, the pair married at a registry office in Montreal four years ago and kept their wedding a secret for months.
"If you asked me if I would do it again in the same way, I would say yes. We couldn't be from further apart sides of the world. You think, 'How could we have possibly done this in any other way without upsetting one or other of the families?' "
I was so nervous to tell my family I was eloping that I sweated through our bed sheets the night before our wedding.
Cam and I called my mum about two hours before we married so he could ask for her permission. My mum said yes and I said, "We're so glad you said yes because we're getting married today."
She was silent and then laughed and said, "Well, I learnt a long time ago not to tell you how to live your life."
Other reactions ranged from being disappointed to incredulous. "Won't you be sad you didn't have a big wedding?" asked Dad. "You can't do this to me," said my new mother-in-law.
They have since recovered, however, and I think they enjoy the story they get to tell their friends. Cam's dad has joked: "We crunched the numbers and decided you saved us a lot of money."
Cam and I will eventually have a small party with family and friends, but without the expectations that come with a traditional wedding. For now, it's just me and him. Like it should be.