Why you should care
Because more often than not, a couple that goes to Vegas together stays together.
Anna Leahy’s book Constituents of Matter won the Wick Poetry Prize. She teaches in the MFA and BFA programs at Chapman University, where she runs a reading series and a literary journal.
Five years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, I woke up in a $74 room with a slanted view, at the Luxor hotel. Are you sure, one of us said that Sunday morning, to which the other replied, If you’re sure.
And, so, like most Vegas weddings, ours was totally unplanned. The two of us swept up in the glitz, a few hours between the decision and the sealed deal.
Marrying in Las Vegas is quick and easy, just like on television. The bride and bridegroom each complete a one-page form. Both must be at least 18 years of age or have a parent’s consent. Bride and groom must be no more closely related than second cousins and must know their social security numbers. Someone must pay $60 to the Clark County clerk for the license, $5 more if using a credit card. The clerk’s office issues marriage licenses from 8 a.m. until midnight every day of the year. The Office of Civil Marriage commissioner is less than two blocks down the street, so the ceremony can be performed immediately, for another $50 cash, if the couple gets there before 10 p.m. The couple needs to bring one witness or wait until another couple shows up so they can be each other’s witnesses. This process felt to me like getting my driver’s license, only quicker and easier, with no test. Above all, marrying in Las Vegas is designed for spontaneity.
Only thing is: We’d been together for 20 years.
That’s probably why people elope: the sheer thrill of it. Like jumping off a cliff. Into a raging river. What have we done? Will we survive?
I had always been resistant to marriage; it had seemed obligatory. I came of age during the 1970s, a girl feminist who wanted to make her own way. Marriage is the natural course for the couple newly in love, or who’ve tested the waters and want to wade in, perhaps have kids. When a relationship reaches a certain point, the decision not to marry is the peculiar one. Besides, who hasn’t heard that half of all marriages end in divorce? So I held out, staying with the same man for two decades — through graduate programs, jobs and cross-country commutes. Everyone we knew had grown accustomed, more or less, to our unmarried togetherness.
Oddly, then, getting hitched on a whirlwind weekend was a big surprise. Just when we’d convinced the world and ourselves that we didn’t need marriage, we eloped.
When we pulled up to the civil marriage office, the woman in the black judicial robe sprung off the bench, where she’d been smoking and talking with the security guard. We answered Norma’s questions, paid the fee and had the groom’s dumbfounded parents — who had met us in Las Vegas for roulette and turkey — sign as witnesses. Norma ushered us into a small white room with two short pews facing a trellis of plastic ivy.
There was no aisle for my dead father to not walk me down, so I did not think of him then. I momentarily wished my sister and mother were there. I called my sister; my mother was on a cruise. My camera batteries died. This wasn’t the dream wedding I’d imagined when I was 10 years old. But it was, actually, a wedding.
I was glad the groom goes first. How horrible for a bride to say her part, then have the guy step back and say, Hey, wait a minute. Part of me wanted to say just that, when my turn came. I wondered whether we were rushing into this as much as any couple who let the lure of Las Vegas lead them down the aisle. But I held my man’s sweaty hands and looked into his blue eyes and repeated my lines because I couldn’t leave him standing there after he’d said his part — after 20 years of saying his part.
We celebrated with an evening honeymoon at the top of the fake Eiffel Tower, on a mock Venice canal, under a phony volcano, with a toast at the pretend Trevi Fountain. The whole thing thrilled me. That’s probably why people elope: the sheer thrill of it. Like jumping off a cliff. Into a raging river. Exhilarated, almost unable to swim any farther. What have we done? Will we survive?
We have. And every November, instead of cooking a turkey, we jet off to Las Vegas to remind ourselves that our marriage is real — and that, even after a quarter of a century, a relationship can still surprise you.