Q: Planning on Eloping or a Surprise Wedding?

If the usual fanfare involved in a wedding isn't your style you might be interested in these ideas, hints and tips from couples who have eloped or celebrated their love with a surprise wedding.

Avoiding the Hoopla – eloping and surprise weddings

For some couples, the grand wedding fanfare does not thrill them to the toenails. Some, because of their relaxed attitudes, don't want all the fuss and some don't want to be the centre of attention in the way that a bride and groom will be on a more typical wedding day. If this sounds like you, you might want to consider eloping or holding a surprise wedding. Both of these options have some logistic and emotional hazards that might need navigating but according to the couple I spoke to, an elopement or surprise wedding can be just as special, heartfelt and memorable as a more traditional wedding. If not more so.

Natasha and Adam chose to elope because they both dislike being the centre of attention. Amanda and Seth did so to avoid the usual "hoopla" and potential arguments. Both couples expressed the wish to avoid the fuss and anxiety usually associated with weddings. According to Amanda, she had seen friends' plans to keep things simple go south and who "ended up in tears on the day because some old relative had said something not so nice about what they had worked so hard to achieve." Both couples mentioned the fact that your wedding day should be about your relationship and your love, not about other people's opinions of how you should celebrate it. Natasha and Adam's advice is to keep this in mind as you plan your private celebration. Amanda also advises that an elopement is only suitable if you both agree and nobody is going to have regrets after the fact.

Secret Weddings
Similar to the reasons given by our eloping couples were those expressed by the couples who planned surprise weddings. Jodie and Carl got people together under the guise of a combined engagement and 30th birthday party; little did the guests know they were also gathered together for the actual wedding. Jodie explains: "...we wanted to get married but we didn't want all the fuss that surrounds the lead up to a wedding—advice, opinions and arguments (these were sure to come as we had no plans to do anything traditional)" Bronte and Will intended to surprise their engagement party guests with a wedding because it suited their easy-going personalities and because they simply were not interested in having two events for what they saw as the one celebration. To Bronte, it was "convenient and appropriate" for their families who are spread throughout Australia, "...it didn't make sense to make them travel twice." They also liked to idea of surprising their family and friends but most people had guessed what they were up to before the ceremony started. Both couples who had surprise weddings felt that they stayed true to who they are by organizing their wedding in this way. As Jodie said: "I enjoyed planning it the way I wanted to without feeling obliged to fulfill other friends' and family members' ideas on what we should do."

Pitfalls and Backlash
So, what are the drawbacks of eloping or having a surprise wedding? The four couples discussed above said there were a range of responses from their family and friends... and not all of them positive. Some people were upset at having been left out of the loop and, in the cases of the surprise weddings; some guests who elected not to attend were upset that they had, in fact, missed more than a party. Some guests were late and therefore missed the ceremony and they would have made a bigger effort to be there on time had they known. In general though, all four couples said they were greeted with heartfelt congratulations because the people who love them were happy that they were happy. Regardless of a few negatives, all of the couples said they would do it the same thing if they had their time again. "On the whole, most people understood our decision and to be honest I'm not that concerned if they were disappointed because it was a day for myself and my partner." (Adam)

Things to Consider when planning to Elope or have a Surprise Wedding
The "how" of organizing something as important as a wedding while keeping it a secret may be a little taxing for some. If you're not good with secrets there are a few of things you can do:

1. Tap into the excitement and romance of you and your partner having a secret from the rest of the world.

2. Talk beforehand and agree if you're going to tell anybody and when – it could cause some friction if the groom feels guilty because he just lied to his Grandma when the bride has spilled the secret to her best friend.

3. You'll need to stay strong; you're in this together. This is especially pertinent if any of your savvy family or friends is likely to guess what you're up to. Discuss what you're going to do if anybody questions you directly. What's your cover story going to be, or will you just come clean if you're actually caught out?

4. In the interest of keeping the secret, make sure that your celebrant and all of the other professions involved in your day know what you're up to. That way they'll know not to leave an answering machine message that blows your cover if you listen to it when your cousin is over for a cuppa.

5. It's important to note that an elopement or surprise wedding might take less organizing than a larger, more public affair but as for the legalities, it is no different. The Notice of Intended Marriage must still be completed, signed and lodged with your celebrant at least a month and a day prior to your wedding date. You'll also still need two adult witnesses but if you don't want to invite anyone, your celebrant should be able to provide these people for you.

6. If you're planning a surprise wedding, think about how you're going to get people together. An engagement party is the obvious foil but if you're worried about people not arriving on time you night want to consider staging a fake surprise party for your partner. That way everyone should be in place and "hiding" in your house/venue when you arrive and turn the surprise back on them.

7. Be prepared also, that your celebrant might charge a fee for a situation outside the norm if you ask them to hang around and not start the ceremony until everyone is there. (Why? Because s/he won't be able to take another booking on the same day if s/he has to wait for the arrival of late & unwitting guests.)

8. If you're eloping, think about how you're going to announce your marriage. Some people use "wedding photo" postcards sent from their honeymoon. If you're going overseas and unless you post them from the airport as you leave, remember to take into consideration international potage times. It would be terrible to expect to come home to, "Congratulations!" only to get, "How was your flight?" You might consider announcing your marriage at an event sometime soon after your elopement, for example, a house warming, Christmas dinner or birthday gathering. This way the people closest to you get to feel included in your celebration and it gives them a chance to toast the happy couple.

Lastly, of course, however you plan your wedding day and however you choose to celebrate your love, have fun!