Forget the big wedding: Embrace nuptial simplicity

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WASHINGTON — On Facebook, 210 friends "liked" the wedding announcement of Zita de Pooter and Jeremy Meek. Almost immediately, the good wishes began pouring in.

Congratz!

Good Looking couple!

Wowowow!

But offline, no one attended the ceremony.

Unless you count the handful of customers getting their early morning caffeine fix at Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue NW.

"We picked up the papers from the courthouse — it was really easy — and left to Starbucks," says de Pooter, 28, a program analyst with the World Bank, of her marriage to Meek, a 32-year-old freelance photographer. "We found a quiet nook, Jeremy said some silly words about our time together, uniting us in marriage, and then we signed the paperwork."

"We didn't want to make a big deal out of it. It was nice," she says. "A little bit romantic even."

Instead of a bouquet, the bride carried a tall latte out of the crowded coffee shop. Rushing to make a 10 a.m. meeting at work, she asked a stranger on the street to snap a quick iPhone picture to document the occasion.

And 24 hours later, the photo made its way — where else? — online. De Pooter, beaming in dark-wash jeans and a gray fleece hoodie beside her new husband, points to their crisp white certificate. The caption: "Went to the courthouse yesterday and became leap day husband and wife. Anniversaries every 4 years for the rest of our lives."

And that was that. Oh, except, several months later, the pair hosted a three-day garden after-party — complete with wedding gifts — in the Belgian countryside, in de Pooter's native country, with 65 guests. Still, the total cost of all the festivities was less than $6,000.

"Everything we did, we did ourselves," de Pooter says. "There wasn't any fanfare to it."

Forget wedding fanfare: the $45,000 blowout, the extravagant white dress and the 200-plus-person guest list. More and more couples, particularly pragmatic millennials, are kissing tradition goodbye and saying "I do" to elopements, courthouse nuptials and intimate small-scale weddings.

But don't worry, friends and family. You still get to join in the festivities — sort of. In the era of sharing, these modern couples are taking to the Web to broadcast their oh-so-low-key nuptials to the world through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Some couples may go a step further and, thanks to services like Periscope and Skype, live-stream their ceremony virtually to "guests" wherever they may be.

Maybe you weren't there to offer a champagne toast in person. No problem: You can hail the happy couple with likes, comments and reactions instead. Although, turns out you may still be liable for a gift, too.

So what's behind the new embrace of nuptial simplicity?

For the newlyweds, it's simple. Think of it as Romeo and Juliet 2.0. No guests = no planning, no politics, no pressure. Plus a whole lot less expense, of course. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is $29,858, according to the consumer finance website ValuePenguin. Make that $35,236 in Maryland and a whopping $44,856 in the District of Columbia.

Who can afford it while shouldering massive student-loan debt, even years out of college? Couple these expenses with rising housing costs, along with car payments, and it's easy to slip into significant debt. And even if the bride's or groom's parents are willing to chip in, many are simply unable to fully bankroll that pricey an undertaking.

It's a relief for cash-strapped guests, too. According to the latest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, wedding attendees expected to spend an average of $703 in 2016. That figure's even higher, $893, for millennials specifically.

So a frugal, less-formal ceremony is a win-win all around.

And really, who needs a big wedding in today's ultra-connected world when you can track a couple's relationship all the way from "Friend added" to "Facebook official"? Fifty years ago, sure, a large wedding made sense — a lot of guests were meeting the bride or groom for the first time. But nowadays, you've had the blow-by-blow of a couple's courtship long before they get formally hitched. Which means that the idea of a grand, fancy celebration has lost a lot of its luster.

"I feel like the goal of announcing our intentions to everybody has kind of been met," says Rosie Hunter, a 33-year-old Army clinical psychologist who married her fiance, Wes, in an intimate (16 people) ceremony in November.

She saw little point to a wedding as "a big coming-out party." (Although she did concede to a 60-person reception at a downtown Washington restaurant after the ceremony. Still, her total financial layout came to$10,000.)

Carolyn Sun, a senior editor at a content marketing agency, likewise wanted no part of certain popular and much-imitated trends, chief among them rustic barnyard weddings.

"If I see another photo of a woman wearing a garland around her head posing with her husband with a beard in the woods, I'm going to throw up," she says. "It's like, we get it — you're very cool. But that wedding, in reality, cost $127,000!"

Sun, 43, felt plenty cool in a pink sundress at her spring town-hall ceremony in small-town Haverstraw, N.Y. Together with a celebratory dinner afterward, her total expenditure was less than $5,000. Of course, she does plan to spend $10,000 to $15,000 on a small reception this summer at ... a rustic farm-to-table restaurant. And she and her husband have created an online wedding registry — on the wish list: a $330 KitchenAid standing mixer — and a Honeyfund for the occasion. But that's as traditional as she'll get, she insists.

Not to be outdone, the bridal industry has tapped right into this latest trend. New websites like A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride not only offer engaged couples cost-cutting advice and DIY solutions, they also share ideas for eloping and real-life elopement stories. Because, you know, running away to get married isn't just about leaning a ladder against the side of the house or a quick Vegas rendezvous anymore.

But it's still, young elopers insist, about making a break for freedom. "The really hard thing to tell people about weddings is that they aren't really meant for you. They're meant for your family and your friends," says Brandi Carrier, 38, who eloped with her husband, Mike, in May. "We decided to make a very selfish decision that would make us both happy ... No 'Is this going to please the mother-in-law to be?' or 'Is this going to make grandpa happy?' "

Which is not to say that today's Romeo-and-Juliet pairs won't try to appease Gramps after the fact by sharing images from their weddings online. After all, "the main point of a wedding is to ask people to support your journey," says Hunter, who thinks that people also want "a certain amount of recognition that they've been an important part of your process."

Ah, yes, recognition. But who is it for, ultimately?

After her wedding, Sun shared photos of the ceremony on Facebook, mostly for family and friends, she says. But she was also pleased at the response that came from other quarters.

"I was like, 'Wow! People who I've only spoken to once in my life are wishing me congratulations and commenting on my dress,' " she says. "It was very weird. And very sweet."

Spoken like a true bride.


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