As a millennial, I grew up in a time when it was almost expected that girls would spend their entire lives dreaming of their wedding day, especially in the South. There was this pervasive idea that we all sat around thumbing through Brides magazine, imagining the dress, the cake, the person who would be waiting at the end of the aisle in some big church. That was never my experience. Even as I entered adulthood, I had no real interest in planning a big party in which I would have to wear a white dress and fight with my equally opinionated mother over which tablecloths would look best. And besides, I was a feminist who told anyone within earshot that marriage was an outdated institution, one that was rife with inequity and designed to fail.
But as luck would have it, I met the charming nerd who would later become my husband just before I turned 22. We lived together as partners for nearly eight years and didn’t really talk about marriage until one day in 2017 when I was going through the paperwork for my health insurance. It had never occurred to either of us, somehow, that if we were to get married, my husband’s expensive medication could be totally covered. It was a move that made sense, even if marriage had never been a priority. “Well, I guess we should just get married,” I blurted out, ever the romantic. Fortunately, my soon-to-be spouse said yes.
After a lifetime of never thinking about it, all of a sudden I had to figure out exactly what my wedding would look like — and fast. Neither of us wanted a wedding of the white-dress-and-tablecloth variety, not to mention the fact that we were also pretty broke, so we made plans to elope at the closest courthouse a few days later. I wasn’t sure whether we’d need a witness to our vows, so I asked my best friend to come along just in case. We told, but did not invite, our families. I didn’t even bother to take a full day off work until my boss suggested that this was a little ridiculous: I was getting married!
She was, of course, right. Even the most low-key weddings are celebrations, and any good celebration needs a good meal. After making arrangements at the courthouse and picking up our marriage license, we decided to commemorate our spontaneous nuptials at one of our favorite Tex-Mex spots. It was a place where we’d frequently feasted on mole enchiladas and sipped margaritas on the patio with friends. It was a reliable standby, somewhere that didn’t require any reservations or advance planning, which made it the perfect choice for our deeply casual wedding day.
The morning we arrived at the courthouse — which was ironically the ugliest government building I have ever seen, just a windowless hunk of cheap beige brick — I was surprised by how calm I felt. I’d outgrown my fierce opinions on marriage, and I was convinced that we could forge our own version of the institution that was equitable and joyful. We said “I do” in front of a crotchety old judge, a bunch of strangers, and my best friend. The whole thing took about 20 minutes — then we made a beeline for enchiladas and margaritas.
I don’t remember much about the lunch itself (there were several sangria-swirl margaritas involved), but I do remember it very fondly. There was a lot of laughing, mostly at stupid jokes made by my best friend insisting that we’d soon have kids (absolutely not) and become boring suburbanites. There were so many bowls of chips and salsa. We lingered at the restaurant for a few hours, then headed back home for a lengthy, enchilada-induced nap.
Now, six anniversaries later, I think back on this day as the wedding of my dreams, even though I never actually dreamed of a wedding. Not only did it cost less than 200 bucks, payment to the judge and margaritas included, but I also had the least-stressful wedding day of anyone I know. Sure, it didn’t have the glamor of a big fete or the breezy beauty of a beach wedding, but I didn’t have to worry about anything. There was no concern over whether the catered chicken would be too dry because I knew these enchiladas hit the spot every single time. Instead of making small talk with distant relatives and bracing for embarrassing toasts at the reception, I was shoving queso fundido into my face with freshly made corn tortillas. I technically did have to “say yes to the dress,” but it was one that was already hanging in my closet. Really, my only regret is that I have no photos from that meal, probably because I was too busy being goofy-happy about having participated in an institution I’d once completely rejected.
Thanks in large part to wedding influencers and the pervasive aspirational culture of Instagram, the pressure to throw a big wedding can be massive. The average cost of a wedding has ballooned to around $30,000, according to the Knot, a sum that seems insurmountable for many considering the bleak state of wage stagnation, among other factors, in this country. The wedding industrial complex has convinced people that in order to have a good marriage, you have to have an expensive wedding, but that’s just not true. In fact, there’s at least one study that has indicated that couples who have cheaper weddings — even big ones — tend to report having happier marriages.
Some people are genuinely excited about the prospect of having a fun party with their friends in celebration of their love, and that’s great for them. They should have the big, over-the-top wedding they want — and can afford. But for anyone who’s feeling particularly stressed about pulling it off or about having a wedding that wows their guests, it might be time to take guests out of the equation altogether and think about simply eloping and going out for margaritas — or whatever comforting, delicious meal will make your newlywed hearts happy.
Ria Osborne is a Brooklyn-based food photographer by way of London.
Liberty Fennell is a London-born, New York City-based food stylist and recipe developer.
Sonny Ross is an illustrator based in Manchester, U.K. They love drawing food as much as cooking it but not as much as eating it. They work across editorial, publishing, textiles and packaging and in their downtime enjoys such hobbies as: sleeping.
Copy edited by Leilah Bernstein