"I highly recommend the running-off-and-getting-married-with-no-spectators type gig."
How I did it: We were lucky enough to find a secular celebrant online who understood what we wanted & how to work with our differences; plus she was affordable and willing to take a ferry with us to our secret island location. She made the ceremony both literary and personal, and even threw in a Buddhist blessing which was the sort of thing I'd searched and searched for myself without success. Even more surprising/gratifying was my husband's satisfaction with the actual proceedings, after nearly a decade of griping that he hates all ceremony. Other than that...how did we do it? The shortest version is, in spite of all our disagreements and issues, in spite of or because of all the therapy, we both showed up. We both felt like it was right, and we were both happy afterwards. And, ladies and gents, he is wearing the ring! : ))) Even seems to like wearing it. Obsesses about how strange it feels, but he does wear it, and likes the look of it, too. Which is just so cute.
Lessons & tips: First and foremost, for other would-be elopers, make sure your husband-to-be doesn't distractedly "accidentally" (no seriously, it was an accident, ha) leave the "Pre-Wedding Questionnaire for Couples" doc minimized but open on his mother's computer desktop where she can find it and go ballistic (eventually) about a) not being invited, and b) being initially told that it was just a relationship questionnaire and had nothing to do with any actual wedding. Leading to, eventually, naturally, a rather impressive one-woman Apocalypse. So it's kind of like having fireworks to celebrate. Only with more condemnations and screaming. But hey. That's revolution.
Secondly, if you have to take a ferry, bring Dramamine. Your patient and long-suffering cat, should you choose to bring one, will probably be fine, but you will not. Even if you are usually ok on boats. Just bring it.
Resources: Interwebs, Dramamine