When Vaughn and I got married in 2016, it was a beautiful wedding day from beginning to end. For all that it was, the celebration was fun, meaningful, and romantic.

We had just over 100 guests, with all of our closest family and friends there to witness it.

The photos from our day were even published a few times!

But here’s the thing: a deep part of me has secretly regretted that the biggest missing factor was authenticity.

I loved our traditional wedding for what it was, but regret the decision we made when it came to the experience and location.

Photo from our wedding day, credit to Brandi Image Photography

Sure, we included some unique personal touches: a rubber ducky bride and groom set, green hardcover books as the bouquets my bridesmaids walked down the aisle with, personal vows that we wrote separately so they’d be a surprise to each of us during the ceremony.

The location was a stunning venue located on the water with lots of history. It was close enough for all family and friends to attend. The day had emotion and character. But it wasn’t me.

There is nothing “wrong” with the traditional wedding path we chose . . . except that it might not have been right for us.

It wasn’t the day I envisioned for myself while growing up, which was instead to be married in autumn surrounded by fall colors and a waterfall pouring down. Someday, I still dream of renewing our vows in a setting like that.

Even during the planning process, I joked to Vaughn a few times about how I could see and understand why people elope. He shook his head, imagining the run-off-to-Vegas or courthouse elopement. Which isn’t what I meant.

Adventure elopements in a dramatic destination had just started to become really popular. They were still fairly new. And as a photographer, I had started following other elopement photographers online. So knew what they were, but he didn’t.

Many people in my family thought of elopements (and still probably think of them) as selfish. But what is actually selfish is for people to expect a couple to make it easy for guests to attend or to build their entire wedding day around the experience of others, to expect to be entertained and have great food to eat.

A marriage isn’t that way. It’s about the foundation and love story of the couple committing their lives to each other. And that’s what’s beautiful about marriage. 

Marriage isn’t about anyone else. So your wedding day shouldn’t have to be, either.

I felt like our day became what I thought everyone else was expecting of us. I rushed to ask six girls I knew to be my bridesmaids. We picked a venue I thought our guests would admire and that would photograph well. Although we originally considered getting married out of state, we ultimately chose something close by so that everyone could attend — even though I wanted a smaller guest count anyway.

At my core, I am an introvert. I love spending time surrounded by nature. I don’t like being the center of attention. But out of obligation and because I didn’t fully understand the options we had for our day, we held a traditional wedding.

What I am thankful for: our decision to honeymoon in our RV on a cross-country road trip for six weeks.

This was us. Most of the people we knew (who didn’t quite know the real us) didn’t get it, or laughed about how that is the quickest way to test a marriage from the start . . . as if we’d just be arguing the whole time on the road.

What they didn’t get was that one of the most powerful experiences you can share with those you love is exploring new places neither of you have ever been to.

It becomes a set of shared memories that when you look back on them, are of the two of you together in a new city or landscape and strengthened the connection you have with one another. 

During our honeymoon adventures, we learned how to hike through the river at Zion National Park’s The Narrows from sunup to sundown (testing our physical stamina and emotional drive to complete it . . . without ever reaching our goal).

We learned how to make a home out of a 100-square-foot space for over a month, share a small bed, and deal with parts breaking (like our A/C cover that blew off in a snowstorm on a Nevada two-lane highway).

We discovered that although Florida had been our home, it wasn’t where we wanted to build our lives together and started talking about moving somewhere else.

So now when I work with couples from all over the country who decide to elope, I empathize with them when they tell me they’ve realized a big wedding isn’t for them. When they say they started planning a traditional wedding, but their family was putting too much pressure on them — turning the whole planning process into something that feels inauthentic and stressful. When they say they hate being the center of attention, and would rather be outside than be surrounded by 100 or 200 people. I get it. 

If you’re getting married, the best advice I can give is to take your time and really think about what you two want out of the day.

Not what your family or friends think you should do, not what you think is “normal” or acceptable to others. Talk to each other, the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and explore all the options to see what is best for you.

Maybe that’s you two on the side of a mountain or in a tropical paradise with no one else present. Maybe that’s a destination wedding in an exciting new place you’ve never been before, where you can still invite a handful of your closest friends and family. And maybe it really is the big traditional wedding because that is what feels right.

And know that, yes, you can change your mind partway through. You can always invite a few people even if you thought you wanted to be alone, or wake up and decide that the 100-person event at a standard venue nearby isn’t what you dream of.

Because your wedding day should give you all the butterflies in your stomach; head-over-heels in love; true, honest and authentic to yourself, kind of vibes. You both deserve it. 

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