I could start this story with the day Mike got down on one knee at the dinner table to propose marriage, and then couldn’t get up without help (damned arthritis).
Or the day he said, “We’re going to piss off some people, whatever we do. Why not piss off everyone and elope?”
But really, we go farther back – 47 years, in fact. Mike and I got to know each other in our first year studying commerce at Queen’s University. He was a cool guy, and we both loved sailing and playing tennis. But I was engaged to someone else, so we stayed friends instead.
And life moseyed on, as it does.
My beloved husband Dave had died of cancer a year before the COVID-19 lockdown. Mike’s marriage had ended in divorce. During the bitter loneliness that came with solo living during the pandemic, he found me on Facebook and we started talking. Long story short, he arrived at my house with flowers and an overnight satchel, and we spent the rest of lockdown together, catching up on 40 years.
Until the day he proposed. And then we had some decisions to make.
Public gatherings at the time were limited to 10 people. Our kids and their families added up to more than that, not to mention best friends and our siblings. Any wedding was going to result in people being excluded; how could we choose which ones to include?
That’s when Mike came up with the wacky idea that we should elope. Who elopes at 65? Isn’t that a kid thing to do?
“Think of all the people we can shock,” he said. I said: “Make it the tackier the better.”
He suggested a little log cabin chapel in Niagara, Ont., that does drive-through weddings. “Perfect!” I said.
We got in touch. The delightful people who run the place gave us the following warning: Don’t tell anyone you are eloping in advance. If you do, some will show up to surprise you and they will take photos that will show up on social media, and then people who weren’t told in advance will be upset that you didn’t include them. Sounded like good advice, so we kept mum. And giggled like school kids about how we were planning this secret runaway.
The day came and it was absolutely delightful. The opposite of tacky. The chapel owners knew I was an author, and asked if they could use our wedding photo along with my bio on their website for promotion. Sure, I said. No problem. Nobody I knew would ever think to look at a small chapel website.
Such innocence. But who truly understands the baffling empire that is Facebook?
Mike took me to Tim Hortons for our wedding meal and told me I could have “anything I wanted.” The whole day cost us less than $400; it was something to make commerce grads proud.
We went home and kept ourselves nicely busy in the way of newlyweds. So it wasn’t until the following day that we realized all hell had broken loose.
People started congratulating Mike on Facebook: 20 people, 40 people, then 80 people. I was shocked when my mystery author blogsite became overwhelmed. We were seriously hyperventilating. We hadn’t told our kids, and here it was on Facebook?
Mike found the photo that was being shared around the world: Mike and I at the chapel, holding our marriage certificate up for the camera. And with the photo came a complete bio of my life, books published and awards, so that no one could mistake it for anyone but me. We were perplexed! How could everyone be seeing this?
I have set my Facebook page so that friends and readers cannot share things without my permission. But that doesn’t work for business pages like the one run by the log cabin chapel. Facebook will show you ads/posts that they think you might be interested in. So if your friend group includes me, you might be interested in a post that someone else posts about me.
In effect, my Facebook friends were shown a picture of me in my wedding finery that I had yet to see myself.
Cat out of the bag, we quickly texted our kids. My two girls sighed, said, “What will mom do next?” and something to the effect that, “Thank God Mike is around to look after her because, honestly, someone has to.”
I thought that was a pretty good reaction. Mike laughed.
Other people weren’t as initially cheerful. We learned that – indeed – a lot of friends and relatives want to be told in advance that you are going to do something like this. Mike pointed out that the whole point of eloping is you don’t tell anyone in advance. They’ve forgiven us by now.
That’s where I think the age issue comes in: If you are young and elope, people cheer you on as romantics. When you are 65 and elope, people think you’ve gone nuts.
But when you want to be with someone and you don’t have many decades left, and the world is in lockdown, love is a precious thing. You don’t need the expensive dress, the wedding gifts, the fancy reception.
Making a happy commitment only needs two people, no matter how old they are.
Melodie Campbell lives in Burlington, Ont., with her husband Mike O’Connell.