Shawn + Emilee | Eloped
Joyful Courthouse Elopement in Arlington, VA
It was March 2016. Shawn and I were living outside of Washington, DC. We’d been engaged for a year, and were planning an October wedding in Annapolis. I came home from work one day to find Shawn pacing around our apartment anxiously. “I have good news and I have bad news.” This is pretty much how every conversation between us starts when the Navy hits us with a big surprise. The good news: Shawn was selected to enroll in a highly competitive Masters program in Monterey, CA. The bad news: he would have to move there in 6 weeks! Needless to say, we weren’t expecting this.
From that night on, our plans drastically picked up pace. We’d need to be legally married for the Navy to move us cross country together. This meant our only option was a quick elopement! When this sunk in, I broke down. I don’t know how or why I had such a negative mindset about eloping, but if I’m being honest, I was the furthest thing from happy. This is embarrassing…I ugly cried! Somehow, I had it in my head that eloping would make me feel like I wasn’t really Shawn’s wife. I thought that such a no-frills ceremony would make our marriage seem insignificant.
Of course I was immeasurably proud and excited for Shawn’s opportunity, but I was also incredibly sad that my childhood pastor would not be there to marry us, and that our friends and family would not be witnesses to the ceremony. But Shawn quickly pulled me out of my misery. He shared an idea for us to elope on our anniversary, which would mark one year to the day from when he proposed and also six years of being together. He reminded me that at the end of the day, the act of marrying one another wasn’t about a single day or a single event, but about a lifetime. The lifetime is what mattered. And, he told me we would make it feel significant, and if that meant going shopping for some new special occasion outfits, than we’d have to do just that. Suddenly eloping didn’t seem so bad!
The morning of Monday, April 4, 2016 arrived. Shawn and I woke up at our apartment and snuggled in bed with our cats, talking about how wild it was that we’d be married in a couple of hours. I treated myself to an appointment at the blowout bar down the street while Shawn made us breakfast. We took our time to get ready and met up with our parents who had traveled from Pennsylvania to be our witnesses. My mom surprised me with a beautiful corsage (I really wish that I had a picture of it!) and together, we all walked to the Arlington County Courthouse. Only our parents and siblings knew we had decided to elope. That alone made the day feel extraordinarily intimate and momentous.
Ahead of setting up our appointment at the courthouse, we had done our research to see what past couples had to say about the different officiants. We found someone who shared our personal values and made the ceremony Christ-centered and family-focused. When it came time to say our vows, I was blown away by the intensity of emotion in the room. Everyone cried. I remember looking at Shawn when it was my turn and thinking, “This is HAPPENING!! I’m marrying the love of my life! I am so, so happy!” Also, “Wooow, my man is looking GOOD!” Also, “Get ahold of yourself, your mascara is not waterproof!
That evening, we took our parents to walk along the Georgetown waterfront and enjoy our first family dinner at Filomena Ristorante — the very same restaurant that Shawn and I had celebrated our engagement at one year prior. Over house-made pasta and limoncello we told stories, we laughed, and we rejoiced.
My only regret is that we didn’t hire a professional photographer. We’re definitely people who love pictures, but the only photos we have from the day are what I’ve posted below. We both agree that not having captured the day was a huge mistake on our part.
That said, we have so much more gratitude than regret when we think back on our first day of marriage. I had a breakthrough epiphany that the very best wedding days — those unforgettable-for-all-the-right reasons weddings that I’d attended as a guest or worked on as a coordinator — never centered around a theme. They centered around simple, true joy. For us, that translated to furbaby snuggles, the people who raised us, and an overabundance of Italian food. And it also defined our signature style for how we work with clients today, designing and producing wedding days that honor everything and everyone they cherish most. You could say that eloping turned out to be the best decision we ever made!
Our first selfie as husband and wife, taken in the back seat of my parents’ van!
I wore the same shoes six months later on our big wedding day!
Filomena Ristorante, our favorite restaurant in DC.