Help us get as many people as possible to our post-elopement surprise reveal party
November 28, 2011 9:59 PM   Subscribe

My fiancé and I are eloping. Woo! We’re having a big ‘engagement’ party afterwards with our family and friends where we’ll reveal that we are married. But our family and friends live in multiple countries, as well as multiple states of Australia. We are a bit worried that people will be think, ‘I can’t make an engagement party, but I’ll go to the wedding’. Which, um, they won’t get to do. We know we won’t be able to get everyone to come to the party where all is revealed, but how can we maximise the number of people who do come?

We’ve given people six months’ notice of the date for the ‘engagement’ party, which I’m hoping will help. I’m also sending out formal invitations with RSVPs, which I’m hoping will get people to see it as a major event. But at the moment the only other strategy I can think of, if people say they’ll come to the wedding but not the ‘engagement’ is to say something along the lines of ‘Who knows when we’ll tie the knot?! If you want to celebrate with us, THIS is the party to come to!’

NB: we’ve booked the celebrant, venue and airline tickets. We’ve also booked the party venue and set a date. The elopement and subsequent party are a done deal. I’m not looking for advice that includes ‘don’t elope’ or ‘this is a bad idea’. Our families and friends won’t mind, trust us. As well, the party plans, after we tell everyone we're married, include some activities to ensure parents and close family/friends are involved in a way similar to if there were a traditional wedding - photos, speeches, thanks to parents, lunch the next day just for family, for example. We also know there will, inevitably, be some people who won’t make it to the party. We’re prepared for that as well. We just want advice on how to maximise our chances of as many people as possible attending the super-awesome party we have planned.

We have a throwaway email address too:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (71 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I considered doing something similar to this with my wife (elopement, party afterwards), then woke up one morning and decided it might be somewhat weird to do to parents and immediate family. We ended up speaking with them and telling them the deal, went and did the deed (got it put on a DVD for my mom), had a honeymoon, and sent out an announcement letting everyone know about the preceding wedding. Maybe you can send out an announcement in the same way, but with a party invite as well?
Congratulations, btw. I also have nothing but nice things to say about Tag & Co. stationary, who did our announcements and thank you notes.
posted by Gilbert at 10:12 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't expect people to rearrange their schedules for an engagement party.

I'm afraid the only way to ensure your desired outcome is to come clean. Say you're eloping right on the the invitations, and call the party a reception.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:13 PM on November 28, 2011 [20 favorites]

(It spoils the surprise, but "SURPRISE! YOU WEREN'T INVITED TO OUR WEDDING!" may not be as universally delightful as one might assume.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:16 PM on November 28, 2011 [55 favorites]

Sorry but I agree that you have to spill the beans. After you elope but before the party. There's no possible way I'd go to an engagement party on another continent thinking that I'd have to go back relatively soon for the wedding. (Maybe if your friends are very rich and travel a lot you'll get a different response.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

how can we maximise the number of people who do come?

Call it a wedding reception instead of an engagement party.
posted by weston at 10:29 PM on November 28, 2011 [41 favorites]

I see no problem with the eloping part, but in general, "let's lie to all my family and friends!" is not a great idea. Many people will only be willing to make one trip, and will make it for the wedding. The "who knows..." line just reads "we're not really that serious about this" to me, not "this is a big party". People don't like being lied to, so what's the upside? I just don't see anyone being excited that they were deceived.
posted by brainmouse at 10:30 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you so much for the suggestions to tell people. However, we are not telling people. We have already invited people to an 'engagement' party. *We are only seeking suggestions on how to maximise the number of people who will attend without spilling the secret.* Spilling the secret is 100 per cent not an option. We totally understand this will mean some people will not come, but want to maximise the number who do come. We also totally understand there is a chance not everyone will love the surprise. I promise we know our family and friends well enough to predict their response, and we absolutely know ourselves well enough to know we can deal with any (very unlikely) fall out.
posted by jessamyn at 10:31 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Sister just did something very similar. They called their "engagement" party a preception and told everyone they would be eloping next spring.

They actually got married the day prior to the "engagement" party and showed a DVD of the ceremony at the party. This got their friends and family all there as most of us were not willing to go to Vegas for a wedding. I do have to say that I was pretty sure they were getting married that weekend and his parents were pretty sure, but no one else knew.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:38 PM on November 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

1. Tell them in the engagement party invitation that your wedding will be a private, family-only, location wedding or something, so they know they won't be invited.

2. Tell them in the invitation that you will have a big surprise to share with them on the day and that it is really important to you that people attend if at all possible. (This probably means people will assume you are having a baby, of course).

3. Tell them you will reimburse them the cost of the airfare to the later wedding, if only they will attend the engagement party.

Options 1 & 3 involve direct lies, but people would probably forgive you afterwards.
posted by lollusc at 10:43 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Elope if you want, and congratulations! But you can't have it both ways and expect a big crowd to celebrate a wedding they aren't invited to.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [40 favorites]

Sys Rq put words to my thoughts, but some combination of SuzySmith and lolluscs first option is probably as close as you will get. In other words be clear about the eloping/non-public-wedding, but don't let on it will be a done deed when you meet them.

I know you say you know your family etc. well, but I've been in similar situations and told the people in question that "omigod, such a fun idea, you guys are so spontaneous!". This is when presented with a fait acomplis. It's not my actual opinion. If I missed your wedding in a situation like this (people go out of their way to go to engagement parties??), I would consider it your own fault, but I probably know people who would blame themselves.

Be clear that there won't be a wedding reception other than this, the surprise of you being already married still works.
posted by Iteki at 11:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you able to maximise by taking the 'personal touch' route and calling each person on your list before hand? You can call to check their RSVP wax lyrical about the party and how much you hope they can come. In this conversation you can drop heavy hints that it would be really awesome if they could make it as you are pretty sure you'll have some super duper fantastic news you'd like to announce at the party.

That's probably how I would do it without outright saying COME! WE MARRIED!
posted by latch24 at 11:12 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

[Folks - OP has clarified what they are looking for. Feel free to send additional comments/concerns to email, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:40 PM on November 28, 2011

I think it's well within the boundaries of AskMe to state that none of the asker's options would actually make a potential guest come to the engagement party.
posted by lalex at 11:42 PM on November 28, 2011 [22 favorites]

We have done something similar. What we did was telling people we were hosting a party for multiple reasons being very important to us (turning 30, being 10 years together, standing on our feet after a major crisis). Like that, we made clear that this party was very important to us, so a lot of people made the effort to come.
What worked for us was to basically use other big life events to stress the importance of the party. What also helped, that we were so laid back about when we would get married, that some people actually thought we never would.

We also made the choice to tell our parents and siblings a couple of days before the elopement. It made them feel a bit more special than the others and they really appreciated that.

And yeah! Congrats. It is the coolest thing to do and I am sure you will have a great time!
posted by eau79 at 11:50 PM on November 28, 2011

We know we won’t be able to get everyone to come to the party where all is revealed, but how can we maximise the number of people who do come?

By saying that it is a wedding reception, which it is. I would rearrange my schedule, spend money, and travel for a reception - not for a non-local engagement party.
posted by lalex at 11:56 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're going to have to tell some people, like your parents and bffs, so they make sure to come and ultimately this is going to become a poorly kept secret. Your best bet to increase interest in the party itself is to tell people that this engagement party is the time you will celebrate the marriage with your friends as you anticipate having a small spontaneous wedding somewhere remote they won't want to travel. Like the moon.

People are going to figure it out but most of them will get into the spirit of it and pretend they don't know anyway.
posted by fshgrl at 12:04 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to host an "engagement" party but let the elopement be an open wink-wink secret? Otherwise: cash prizes? Or make sure particular special elderly relatives come, so others have no choice but to follow suit? The point of the party is to make everyone feel included, and this engagement party format really makes that tough.

Btw, I eloped several years ago and announced it afterward. I thought my family wouldn't think it was a big deal, but it turns out that they were super upset about it -- particularly my mother, as she married a few months after her own father died, and she didn't want me to someday miss having my dad at my ceremony. Please do consider the chance that not everyone will be delighted to have the news sprung on them. You really never know for sure how people will take the news.
posted by mochapickle at 12:37 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would suggest telling them that your wedding will be tiny, so this is the big event, a "pre-wedding reception.". That way they know they only need to travel once and are coming to the main party.
posted by ukdanae at 12:56 AM on November 29, 2011 [10 favorites]

I just flew 3000 miles to attend the wedding of someone who is primarily a friend of my husband (though also a friend of mine, but not super close) but I doubt I would do the same for an engagement party (even for a best friend) unless it was clear to me that it was very very important to the couple and we were very close.

I think individual conversations about how exciting and important this party is will help and I second those who have said to warn people that coming to the wedding won't be an option.

Also, you said you were including a family lunch. Could you plan other events around groups of friends/family and plug them as reunions so people aren't travelling for just the one party?
posted by *becca* at 12:56 AM on November 29, 2011

I'm sure you guys aren't trying to be jerks, but I don't think you're looking at the bigger picture here: People who decide to sit out your engagement party because they are anticipating your wedding and can't afford both are going to be incredibly pissed at you for doing this when they find out they missed your wedding reception. Plus, think about all the time that's going to pass between your elopement and your engagement party when you're going to have to keep up this lie to the people you love for the sake of holding on to the "engagement" theme.

You say you 100% don't want to spill the beans about the elopement, which doesn't make any sense considering your family and friends would be okay with it. Think about friends and family who would love to celebrate with you, but for health and financial reasons can't attend what they think will be two events.

Go elope, and then come back and tell everyone about the new purpose of the party with enough time for them to change their minds if they were planning on sitting it out in favor of a wedding. FWIW, I think the plans sound like a lot of fun but no one likes to be lied to, even for the best of intentions.
posted by swingbraid at 1:16 AM on November 29, 2011 [17 favorites]

I was actually halfway towards planning something like this (before that relationship all went to hell).

We were going to tell people that we were having a massive engagement party because we couldn't afford a massive wedding.

"We would love you to come to our engagement party because it's the beginning of our journey towards a long happy marriage, but we can't afford a huge wedding, so it's actually more important to us that you come to our engagement party. Please come.".

And then the celebrant would appear and we'd get married in one of those ambush engagement situations... but luckily I dodged that bullet.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:18 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Wow, my response to this just ate an hour of my life. I pulled the relevant script out of context and stuck it right here for the benefit of Tl;DR not in the mood for bilabial's treatise on social norms urgency.

"At this time we are unsure whether, when, or where we might have our nearest and dearest present when we tie the knot (this is a lie, but you are asking for advice on deceiving folks, it's fair game to pile them on, right?). Because of this uncertainty, it is very important to us that we celebrate this transition on our lives with you, Grandma Dottie! I really really hope you will come!"

Engagement parties are a step on the way to marriage. A totally unnecessary, possibly vain step. (some American manners people would be appalled, appalled! at the idea of a bride throwing her own engagement party.)

Because the engagement party is commonly viewed as optional, the next best ways to maximize attendance are:

Offer a raffle/ door prizes
Use the grapevine(s) for excitement building
Drop big fat steaming hints but refuse to clarify
Offer to buy airfare for all out of town guests
Pay for hotel rooms for out of town guests
Otherwise heavily subsidize cost of attendance
[redacted prior to publication, at request of asker]

I attended a local (to me) version of this party you are trying to orchestrate. It involved a tearful bride receiving phone calls from folks out of town who heard from attendees that there would be no future wedding. The bride and groom had been certain and giggly and, um, smug about being 'certain' we'd all be thrilled at their clever plan.there was no blanket one size fits all reaction, but many of us were annoyed and insulted. We had been lied to for the amusement of our hosts. What did that say about their opinion of us? Of marriage? I know, it's not really any of my business what a couple thinks about the meaning(s) of marriage. Except that it is, because celebrating all of these things means (in a deep sociological sense) that I am prepared to support and defend the union of the couple. When that union begins with the couple hood winking the guests, I question my assessment of their maturity. Fairly or not, I doubted this couple's sincerity. At the event I attended, the bride was so confused about how and why people could be upset/disappointed/angry/confused. Her words were along the lines of, "but I invited everybody!"

So while I want to understand that you want to maximize attendance, I'm reminded of a deep sociological problem in America. We are told all our lives (especially girls and women) that our wedding day is "our special day! Me! Me! Flowers! Cake! Gown!" and we internalize that to different degrees. Our prevailing cultural message is not about the implicit joining of groups, however symbolic and/or temporary. Making the bride and groom an "in-group" while creating a "gotcha! You're in the out-group! We had a secret!" moment is, I suspect, what previous answerers are having a go at articulating. Being suddenly thrust into an out-group is deeply unsettling, on a visceral level. If you are still certain that x% of attendees will be thrilled and y% of absentees will be happy for you/amused/not insulted, consider saying something very direct.

For added bonus social drama (and this is not suggested by anything specific in your question, but it's important to say!). Sometimes the idea of an impending wedding/marriage throws people for a loop. They need time to wrap their heads around the reality that this is really happening. However pushy moms have been with hints wedding gown and cake emails, however busy your third grade best friend has been suggesting sje'd love to be your bridesmaid, but no pressure!, etc etc, having that adjustment period removed is very disconcerting. Again, not something we talk about! But in the aggregate, these expectations and progressions have developed for a reason (ok, for probably a thousand reasons. Sociology of marriage and weddings and life transitions are things people make a living designing studies to investigat, record thousands of hours of interview tape, and statistically analyze the bejeezus out of!).

I predict a question from a guest. "We chose not to not attend the engagement party for Brude and Groom. It turns out it was really the reception for their elopement. Do we have to give them a gift? I want to give them a toaster, but my husband says not to bother! (alternately) Are we right to be angry that they excluded us/denied us the information necessary to make an informed choice? Be prepared for some friction specifically from people who attribute this decision to some unflattering aspect of your character (you'll notice I'm guilty of that very thing abov, questioning commitment and maturity! "amusement!" I left it on purpose, because I know about these things - a guy named Heidel calls them attribution errors- and still do them!). Step back and notice that your explanation for why this will happen is 'eloping' and possibly 'we are sure they won't mind!'. You are not ACTUALLY expressing that this shenanigans is amusing to you, nor that you and partner are excited by screwing up people's expectations of wedding proceedings. You attribute your dilemma to a situation. These conflicting explanations may be mitigated by front loading the whole operation with positive character stuff about you and partner - "we admire your long and happy marriage to uncle Walter", "we want you near us", "we respect you...." "we are planning for a solid marriage and feel that celebrating that commitment is very important to do on the presence of our community." etc. but don't go overboard or folks will think the lady doth protest too much.
posted by bilabial at 1:31 AM on November 29, 2011 [27 favorites]

You could tell them that the wedding is going to be a very close family and friends wedding, somewhere out of the way so that the guest list will be very limited and suggest this is the big celebration.
posted by biffa at 1:51 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've flown overseas and interstate for 6 weddings in the last two years. I have never travelled more than 45 minutes for an engagement party.

The only way I would maybe attend an engagement party far away would be if you made it absolutely clear that the wedding would be tiny and private. It would also help convince me if you then called me up and asked me personally. I would be less irritated by the whole thing if you also made it completely clear on the invitation that you didn't want presents (engagement parties often come across as gift grabbing events). There would also have to be lots of other people I knew going, and preferably something else on nearby at around the same time that I wanted to go to. I would also be swayed if the party had something novel that I wanted to do/see. Jousting maybe. Or a collaborative art work.

And I know you don't want to hear this, but if you did pull this stunt on me, I'd think less of you afterwards. I wouldn't be very offended personally, and would totally put on a surprised/happy/congratulatory face, but I would dislike the fact that you lied and risked hurting a lot of people. I would question your social skills and ability to empathise.
posted by kjs4 at 2:17 AM on November 29, 2011 [11 favorites]

I too think this is a terrible idea, but I think the best way of maximising attendance is to go for the personal ask. I would be more likely to travel to an engagement party if thought that the couple particularly wanted me there. I think it might also help to think of you guests in ther natural groups, and try and get each some people in each group excited about it. This will probably encourage some of the other people sitting on the fence to go.

Whatever you do, you will probably not get the same kind of attendance that you would if you billed it as a wedding. It sounds like you're ok with that. You might want to work extra hard on convincing the most important people to come - even if that means dropping hints.
posted by plonkee at 3:28 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the people who say you have to let people know point-blank that there will not be a wedding reception. You don't have to ruin the surprise by letting people know about the elopement, you just have to separate the wedding from the reception/celebration. Put something in the invitations like "The wedding will be a small, intimate affair, and there will not be a reception afterwards. So please come celebrate with us on this special day for our pre-wedding reception." That has to be the second sentence (right after "You're invited!") because most people aren't going to read the entire invitation when deciding if they are coming. In fact, in the invitations never call it an engagement party, call it a pre-wedding reception or a wedding celebration to be crystal clear.

I think phrasing like that will take care of most of the people who will think "no thanks, I'll just go to the wedding." But as for your immediate family (say, if you have any siblings who live far away), it's a big risk: even if they receive the above message, they'll assume they're invited to the actual wedding. So you'll have to call your parents and siblings and press them for a commitment to come to the party. Depending on the distance, you might get answers like "look, why is this such a big deal? I'll just see you at the wedding." You'll have to be ready to say "sure, but there will be no wedding reception, so this is the only chance you'll get to celebrate the wedding with us. I'd rather you come to the pre-wedding reception than to the ceremony itself."

Little will they know how strongly you mean the last sentence.
posted by Tehhund at 3:36 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's sort of the issue, going to a wedding in another country is already a massive committment of time and money that most people would be stretching to do even for close friends and family. Most people would probably do it if they could if it was for a very close friend or family member, but it would be pretty easy to tip the scales. So really if I was guest and the couple didn't deem that they wanted me at their wedding (and really that's fine) I wouldn't really understand why I was supposed to go to the same cost and effort for a wedding when I wasn't even going to the wedding. Weddings are important life events that you feel an obligation to be present at. "Super awesome parties" are not. I really don't mean to sound harsh, but attending a wedding is not cheap and one of the reason that people spend so much time and money to go to them is that they are important life events that people feel obligated to go to. I would probably be willing to hop on a cheap domestic flight, if I otherwise thought it was going to be a great party with a lot of friends/family also going. If that wasn't the case, then I wouldn't go. If the "engagement party" was within a couple hours drive of my house, I'd go.

If you were footing the bill for say the hotel rooms that would definitely help tip the scales, so you may really want to consider this. You'd take a big burden off of your guests and also sort of even out the burden for asking people to shell out the same amount of money for a wedding even though they don't get to go to the wedding.

I think the best you can do is heavily hint that you have made no plans for the wedding, but chances are there will be a very small guest list and that the engagement party is going to be only big event associated with your wedding, so if they are planning on coming to the wedding, come to the engagement party instead, but unless your friends and family have a lot of time and money on their hands don't expect a big turn out from your out of town guests, but I imagine most people locally will show up. And yes you should probably call each guests to explain to them that this will be the "big party" so to speak and that you really want them to come. I'd be more likely to come if I knew it was important to the couple.
posted by whoaali at 4:07 AM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

Well, here's the thing: throwing an engagement party is one of the more optional parts of the whole wedding parade, so you've already got two snags by calling it that: (1) a big engagement party implies a huge wedding, so people will be expecting that, and (2) engagement parties seem more blatantly attention-grabby than weddings. With a wedding you're witnessing a major life event, plus you know they're pulling out all the stops on the reception; engagement parties are more "aren't you SO EXCITED for us and this thing we haven't done yet and will probably talk about for the next year??"

So, to maximize attendance, consider making it less about you and more about your guests. If you don't want to officially change it to your wedding reception (which, practically speaking, will be the best way to get people to come), start telling people that you two will have a private wedding, maybe a City-Hall-on-a-weekday sort of thing, so consider this the reception, and it will be just as much of an event at a wedding reception and there will be all sorts of fancy food/cake/booze/whatever, and you won't be all tied up in the silly getting-married thing so you'll be able to spend all sorts of time catching up with everybody, etc. etc. Organize some smaller parties the day before and after for the out-of-town guests, in the rehearsal dinner spirit. Maybe, if it's your plan and your guests' style, spin it as less frou-frou than a wedding reception but every bit as nice. Call up your guests and make it about seeing and entertaining them rather than filling up a room to celebrate You You You.

One last thing: in the course of wedding planning, no matter how smoothly it goes and no matter how easygoing your crowd is, someone always minds. Even if this were the actual wedding you were talking about and you were billing it as such, there's always someone who will take issue with how you've done things. You want to minimize upsetting people, but you won't be able to avoid it completely.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:50 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine had a small wedding ceremony and then a separate reception a few months later. It was a but weird, because the reception was the same usual sort of thing. White dress, speeches, cake, etc.

Seems like you want your cake and to eat it too. I always thought the point of elopement was to have a wedding totally on your own terms and to hell with everyone else. So, it's confusing to me that you want to have an engagement party afterwards and rub people's faces in it.

If you're expecting gifts, people generally bring no or smaller gifts to an engagement party.

I agree that a good way to maximize attendence would be to pay for people's hotel rooms. Or airfare for those who are far and without means. Also, call and make the personal effort to invite people.

My wife and I threw a small 10th anniversary party last year and were fortunate enough to get some friends in from out of town. Our house was pretty full! :)
posted by reddot at 5:13 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have friends who did this. I personally showed up two hours late to what i just thought was a birthday party (they didn't let people know they were engaged), to a party full of people who spent the entire time texting the people who couldn't make it.

Their solution was this:
- One week before their elopement, they invited their immediate families to the wedding ceremony. That way, they still had control of the situation, it was still small, the parents totally 'got' that this was essentially an elopement that they had the privilege of attending, rather than a wedding they were excluded from. It also gave the families a chance to pick out nice outfits, see their kids say 'i do', and be in some wedding photos. From a family perspective, this really worked out.
- Lots of people didn't make to the party who would have gone to the wedding. There is nothing you can do about this, it's something that you have to expect. Otherwise this is just a really silly 'having your cake and eating it too' situation. If you do anything more than what you've already done - if you're hitting them over the head with the fact "this is probably a wedding, hint hint" you're kind of ruining the surprise and will end up with a party that's neither here nor there.
posted by Kololo at 5:27 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would be unlikely to go to an "engagement party" of any kind. I really don't think there's any way to ensure maximum attendance as long as you are lying and calling this "hey let's celebrate the fact that we are married" party (reception) an engagement party. Regardless of whether your family and friends will mind, you can't make them do what you are trying to make them do while telling the lie you are planning to tell.

That said, first, I would specifically impress on them how important it is to you that they attend. This might ultimately lead to more hurt feelings, but telling people how much you need or want them to be there for you generally encourages them to go. Second, I would tell them that you're planning to elope. As someone else said, call it a pre-wedding reception. Then they will at least be on notice that this will be their only opportunity to celebrate with you in this kind of massive party format. It will also help reinforce and solve some problems posed by your telling them how important their attendance is to you.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:28 AM on November 29, 2011

You're basically having a destination wedding - which is controversial enough on its own, as far as attendance goes - but not calling it that, and not letting them see the "wedding" part.

So the only ways to increase attendance for this, that I can see, are to do what people do for destination weddings. 1, Have a really long lead time on the invitation, and emphasize that you'll help them with planning, etc. This might be most of these people's only chance (or only reason) to take a big vacation to where you live. 2, pay for flights and hotels as much as you can. 3, make it clear that this is the only big major important party with all these people getting together that you are likely to throw, ever. You're not going to do this again when you have a kid, buy a house, or turn 100. They need to know that they can't just skip this and show up for the next one. (Which they will assume is your wedding.)

Even so, as others have said I think you may just have to accept that a lot of people won't come. As much as I'd love to have the $ to frequently up and fly to engagement parties (or, hell, anything) in other states or countries, I simply couldn't and wouldn't do this.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:47 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I went through a similar thing when inviting people over for a party that was a surprise engagement party. To maximize people coming I called each person and helped them make travel plans in advance -- some of my friends needed help setting up a budget plan to make it, some aren't good at ordering airlines tickets so I would send them links to sales, some had unavoidable obligations so I moved the date a little to accommodate.

This was all done months and months in advance, with lots of individual phone-calling time. People who came weren't just coming for a party, they were each, individually, coming for a visit that we had both spent a lot of time planning.
posted by Pwoink at 5:52 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know three couples who have done some variation of this, and all three couples told some people ahead of time. What's good for you guys is that this has become so common that it's gotten to the point where people like me have started to assume that every engagement party will be a surprise reception. That said, if I were invited to an engagement party that required travelling more than a couple of hours, I probably wouldn't go unless heavy hints were included in the invitation.
posted by amarynth at 6:00 AM on November 29, 2011

Sounds like you you and your spouse like the mystery and intrigue of elopement, so much so, that you are planning an elopement DESPITE the unanimous support of both your families.

So ask yourself, why are you doing this? You're in a perfectly good position to have a happy wedding and happy honeymoon, but instead, you go out of your way to hide information from your family and make it very difficult for them to celebrate your marriage. Yet you expect them to not have any ill feelings about it.

The magic of elopement sounds awesome, especially when it's just you and your hunny, somewhere away from it all, doing something socially forbidden, enjoying some of the best times of your life. It's easy to think, "This is MY wedding so I can have it the way I want it!"
But truthfully, weddings are just as much a celebration of the groom and the bride as they are a celebration of strong family ties and friendships. Elopement might be magical for a couple of days, but it's the kind of thing that brings a lot of family drama too.

It's easy to get blinded by the warming thought of marriage, and think everyone will be pleasantly surprised by your announcement at the engagement party. But the truth is, you don't know how people will react, and you don't know what long-term ramifications there are. You assume that you're family is easy-going and supportive, therefore they will be okay with with your elopement and marriage, but a wedding is sort of a big deal, so you might not see some of that same forgiving attitude here that you might see for other more minor events.

So be careful here. Drama at weddings shouldn't be taken lightly, and can last for years. Sometimes family drama after a wedding can overshadow your first couple of days as being husband and wife. If you truly know what you're doing, and you have an action plan to handle any kind of drama, then go elope. If you don't want to deal with the drama, then elopement might not be for you.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:00 AM on November 29, 2011 [9 favorites]

Don't worry about the haters. For the guests that will be traveling far- make sure they understand that the engagement party is more important to you than their attendance at the "future wedding" by calling them personally and actually SAYING it.

Invitations that read something like "If you can only come to one, come to the engagement party" might help, but really telling people WITH YOUR WORDS will get it across the best.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:01 AM on November 29, 2011

A friend flew to a wedding in a different state last year where the bride and groom announced that surprise! they'd already been married for a year. People walked out.

You're asking people to fly a long way to celebrate an important event, not allowing them to actually witness or participate in the event they're actually meant to celebrate is really shitty.

Having said that, there is nothing that would induce me to attend an "engagement party" that required me to get on a plane and stay somewhere, unless you paid for the airfare which I doubt you are prepared to do.
posted by crankylex at 6:15 AM on November 29, 2011 [10 favorites]

I might come, if I knew:

1. That this was going to be it. You were not going to have a big wedding, a wedding reception, anything else.
2. It's really clear to me how important this is. That means a phone call explaining that you are considering this to be your wedding reception, essentially.
3. It was convenient/affordable/etc. I'd go out of my way to a wedding but not to an engagement party, most of the time. (I don't know if you want people to come from New Zealand to Australia, or from Europe and North America. I'm sure I'd go to a really big party for a really good friend that was clearly important if it was on this continent; I'm not sure I'd go if it was in Australia. Well, I might, but I'd need more than 6 months notice to organise time off work -- I have other vacations planned, save for tickets, etc.)

I'd probably roll my eyes afterwards, too, when I found it was a wedding reception and not an engagement ceremony. (I grant that I would likely attend only given 2 and 3 above if I were invited to the reception and not the ceremony. It just feels weird to be invited to the party part but not the actual important part.)

But I'm not your family or friends. I would not mind, exactly, but I'd not think it was a charmingly clever choice. So I'm probably not the kind of person you are looking for advice from, because I'm not the kind of person you're inviting.

Is there any way you can spill the secret to one person/couple, who can then help you convince other people to attend? That would probably help.
posted by jeather at 6:40 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been to (and thrown) several "weddings" like this. The only way to guarantee a guest will be there is to tell that guest as bluntly as possible that this is the only opportunity they will have to celebrate your marriage with you and that it means as much to you as a wedding and you will specifically miss their presence there. Even if you are that explicit, some invited guests will not understand that it is a wedding in everything but name and will not come. They will then either regret it or feel bad that they didn't understand or be angry that they were tricked into not coming or assume you really didn't care if they were there and you must not be as close as they thought.

One of these "surprise weddings" was a masked ball, which the bride and groom told everyone was their wedding celebration--the only wedding celebration they would ever have and that they (the bride and groom) would be dressed as Bride & Groom from Famous Wedding Scene in Movie and so the guests should treat this Just Like A Wedding Invitation. Even so, a number of people blew it off and were later upset that they were not included in the celebration. A couple people assumed they (as grandmother or Godmother or Best Friend who would surely be In the Wedding) would be involved in the planning of the "real wedding" later and were hurt that they misunderstood or that they weren't involved in the planning of this wedding. It was a great party--most guests really enjoyed themselves. But a number of people who would have been there--had they understood what the event really was--made no effort to attend. The Bride & Groom also never told anyone when their actual marriage had taken place and people considered it sort of an asshole thing to do, throw this big "wedding" and not actually let anyone in on the "secret" of when or if they had gotten married, even people who were really happy for them and really enjoyed the party.

The invitations to our wedding read "The pleasure of your company is requested at a cocktail reception celebrating the marriage of Crush & Guy" and went out about six weeks prior. Even at that, our guests were confused. Some were a little annoyed that they were expected to travel for the event. Many assumed we were either already married or not planning to actually get legally married and were surprised when we pulled out the license in the middle of the party and had it solemnized--even though we told people ahead of time that Old College Friend was going to officiate the marriage at the reception. Even though we told people that, no, this was our wedding, our only wedding and we wanted them there, we just weren't calling it a wedding and we weren't having a ceremony or a rehearsal dinner or toast or a dance or presents.

My point is the same point as many people are making above--there are enormous cultural, social and emotional assumptions guests and families make about your wedding. Subverting them can be fun; it might be what you want to do. Subverting those expectations can even be done in a way that leads to a wonderful joyful celebration, but it will cause conflict. It will alienate some guests--it will have unintended effects. They best way to handle that and ensure that most guests attend, that people understand you're not playing them and treat the event with the enthusiasm and import that you want them to is to tell them "this is the only celebration we will have, please be there."
posted by crush-onastick at 6:41 AM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would not travel to an engagement party in another country for anyone unless they paid for it. As many people have said, engagement parties are seen as optional, and lots of people can't afford frequent travel so an engagement party gets low priority.

I can only imagine coming to something like this if the bride or groom personally told me that they were not planning a wedding or a wedding reception, and it was therefore really important for them that I be present at this party. That approach compounds the lie, though. Instead of just lying to your friends and family in a generic invitation, you're doing it to their faces. I would be mighty pissed.

If I didn't go to an engagment party that turned out to be a wedding, I would be upset, but not in a "darn I missed their important day" way, but in a "well screw them" way.
posted by Mavri at 7:41 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only way to guarantee a guest will be there is to tell that guest as bluntly as possible that this is the only opportunity they will have to celebrate your marriage with you and that it means as much to you as a wedding

If I received an invitation with that language, I'd assume it was an awkward way of letting me know that I was invited to the engagement party but wouldn't be invited to the wedding. I agree with J. Wilson: as long as you're determined on lying to the guests, you're not going to maximize attendance.
posted by John Cohen at 7:42 AM on November 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

The only way to ensure high attendance among overseas guests at a party they think is but a forerunner to the main event - is to pay for their airfare and hotel rooms.

If you can't afford to pay for their attendance, then there is absolutely no way to persuade them to go to the expense and trouble of traveling so far for what they believe will be the first and most minor in a series of events leading to your marriage.
posted by artemisia at 7:46 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I realise this doesn't answer the question, but maybe it's useful data: there is literally nothing you could do to make me travel internationally for an engagement party. Presumably (like most of your overseas friends, if they are young and don't live in New Zealand) I can't afford the time or the money it costs to get to Australia. Also, for me at least, unless you told me what was actually happening, I would find the idea of an engagement party involving intercontinental air travel pretty self-indulgent in the present ecological and economic circumstances.

Based on the reaction in this thread, I think you need to either change your plans or accept that it's way, way, way beyond "inevitably, some people won’t make it to the party", but rather "inevitably, pretty much everyone who is busy or on a budget or not in Australia won't make it, and once they find out what's happened, they will think it was kind of a dick move." As long as you're ok with that, mazel tov!
posted by caek at 7:54 AM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

I had a friend who tried to do something similar and eventually cracked when everyone kept saying they wouldn't go... and it wasn't even a far distance. She told a few critical people to try to get excitement up. When she told me and I realized I needed to convince others to come, I had to drop heavy hints to get others to come. I'd suggest dropping the entire engagement thing and send different invites to different groups.

To family, say you found a wonderful venue and you wanted to host a reunion. Promise a bouncy castle or wine tasting or whatever sort of fun stuff would get people there (not sure why bouncy castle was the first fun thing that jumped into my mind.. that's not a big enough thing to get me to travel internationally). Get a very enthusiastic relative on your side to help drum up excitement. Say there will be a photographer that you are paying for that can take pro pics of each family.

To friends afar, say you got a great deal on a hotel and suggest a friend-type reunion. Promise a different activity that will blow their socks off. Pay for as much of the hotel as possible and definitely splurge on some cool local activity that would be impossible to do in their home country/region. Find the "social hubs" of your friend group/groups and get them on board as soon as possible so they can apply social pressure. Family will (generally) stick with you no matter what but friends might not like the trickery you're planning if you go Engagement Party --> Wedding but might be OK if you just slip in the wedding reception with the other big fun.

Also, allow kids, no matter what. In both cases also say "Fun activity A will be on this date, Fun activity B will be on this date. Reserve DATE for a swanky party - the capstone of this super fun week."

I mentioned my friend did something similar. She told some people but many were still in the dark. When they made their big announcement that they were married, people clapped but they didn't go crazy - there was no gasp of "Awwww..." - and my friend smiled and smiled and then I caught her crying in the back later because people didn't respond the way she wanted. Just remember that no matter what, this day - this wedding reception, this party, this whatever - is about your *guests*. The marriage is about you and your partner, the wedding is really for everyone else. "Sell" the celebration as whatever will make everyone the happiest and most likely to come, ignore the engagement part so folks don't feel the need to travel and buy a gift, and just make everyone view this as a super fabulous vacation.
posted by adorap0621 at 8:05 AM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

You sound so happy, and excited, and planning events like this is fun, I know. I am hoping that your anticipated guests' perspectives of you are forgiving, and loving, and so overwhelmingly happy for you that they'll overlook all these machinations once you've had your reveal, since you're intent on this course.

I'm with bilabial and agree that this is going to lead to etiquette issues and confusion. As others have said, I think you are engaged now, so having an engagement party to celebrate it six months from now, and revealing that you're married at it, is having a wedding reception. It's awkward. Now it's fun, it's exciting, and of course you want a little bit of everything because that's how it goes, but I do not think eloping means what you think it means. I'm an old fuddy duddy, so I think of eloping as running off to get married with no notice, no engagement even, and not telling a soul; engagement is the period leading from the proposal up to the marriage (and celebrating it six months afterward seems odd). But I don't want to get hung up on definitions.

As you are hosting your own event, though, as a fuddy duddy, I also feel your primary duty is to make sure your guests are comfortable, and that means not throwing them for loops and clearly identifying the importance and intent of the event so they know what to expect, how to dress, how to gift or not, and how to behave. So, simply, "Please Come to This Celebration of Our Marriage" will do, and you can leave out that you will be married by the time they attend. Answer somewhat truthfully, if evasively, if asked. You will not be engaged, so using that misleading term for the party is just not correct.

's last paragraph has it - you're subverting expectations, and playing with assumptions. That's not fun for other people. Etiquette is what makes things comfortable for everyone, and that's why there is an entire industry based on it for weddings. You're assuming that the people you want to be sure will attend care only enough to attend a wedding, not an engagement. I'm in that camp - if I am not considered close enough to someone to attend their ceremony by invitation, I tend not to attend any larger, generic celebrations either, though I'll send a card and good wishes - and that's in my own city, let alone overseas. I'm not a grump, I'm just not one for huge social gatherings such as that, and I'd rather express my happiness for them privately, in the context of our relationship, with a little gift or having a small dinner with them. Letting people know that this is the celebration for your marriage lets them place the importance on the event correctly, which would be very considerate of you, and is likely what would influence people to attend more than anything. Please consider extending this courtesy to your guests as the hosts instead of a guessing game. Being even slightly disingenuous isn't a fun way to request that people attend, support, celebrate and honour your marriage with their presence.
posted by peagood at 8:10 AM on November 29, 2011 [9 favorites]

My husband and I did a courthouse ceremony which could technically have been an "elopement", if we had wanted it to, but was actually us realizing "Oh damn, insurance situation has changed! Let's do this!" (My husband does not tend toward the romantic at all times.) We planned the party for a couple of months later, and told everybody it was our wedding. It was a great deal easier. Even so some of the friends we had most hoped would be able to come couldn't make it.

Without knowing why it is absolutely imperative that you refer to this as an "engagement party", I can't suggest anything. Because I can't think of anyone who lives outside of my city whose "engagement party" I would make an effort to attend.
posted by Because at 8:14 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know what your motivation for keeping the elopement a secret is, but I just wanted to chime in and say that I've happily travelled across the country for a reception-only affair, and it was perfectly lovely. The couple had gotten married in a family-only ceremony abroad, then had the reception a month or two later in the U.S. The bride wore a cute white dress at the reception, and they had a big slideshow with photos of the earlier ceremony. It was nice and relaxed, a great party. So this is one acceptable route -- the only difference is that you don't get to make it a surprise.
posted by yarly at 8:25 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

We just want advice on how to maximise our chances of as many people as possible attending the super-awesome party we have planned.

Why do you think most people go to these types of parties? To dress up in uncomfortable clothing and have food that may or may not be worth the effort it takes to drive to the place? No, they go because they care about the people throwing the party. However, no matter how much some of these people care about you, I really can't see how you could convince them to travel large distances for a "super-awesome party" without being upfront with them about the actual significance of the event.
posted by crankylex at 8:27 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

My aunt did something like this when she got married. She did it on her 80th birthday, for which she threw a huge formal ball and hired a famous band. She told everyone it was a birthday party, and made a huge deal of it, just as you're planning to do. She told me later that about half of those she invited came. Some of them apparently came specifically because they wanted to see the famous band, who play very rarely and are hard to get tickets for. My father, who is her closest living relative, did not attend, even though he works less than 20 minutes away from where the party was held. He was deeply hurt when he learned what he had missed.

I agree with those above who have said that if you plan to do this, what you need to do is get comfortable with the idea that many of your loved ones will not come. Many of them will likely RSVP yes and then pull out at the last minute when they realize how expensive it will be. Some who live locally may say they'll come, and then just flake that night when they have to work late or get busy or are tired, because that's what a lot of people do sometimes when they're invited to random parties. And that's what this will be for them: a random party you're throwing. Even if you're sure they won't be upset when they learn that you lied to them and caused them to miss your wedding party (and I don't think you can be sure of that), you need to determine whether you'll be upset when those you love don't show up. Because many of them won't show up. You can't simultaneously decide that you don't care to have the people you love at your wedding, and then also get upset when those people don't care to show up to your secret wedding party.
posted by decathecting at 8:31 AM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

When my husband and I initially planned to elope, we were sure that everyone would understand out desire to marry privately in a distant locale and then have a reception. Boy, were we wrong. In our case, because our loved ones were a big part of what a "wedding" meant to us, we decided to change our plans, and we had a great time and included everyone. It sounds like it will work differently for you guys, which is a-okay.

It is totally fine to elope, totally fine to have a party later or not, and fine to decide how much you do or do not tell anyone about what is happening. But you can't have it both ways. If you do decide to elope secretly, thereby excluding your family and friends from that part of your wedding, it is a risky proposition to assume that they won't feel super manipulated if you also pull the wool over their eyes about your wedding being a wedding.

To answer your actual question, there is no good way to convince people that your engagement party is of wedding-level importance without letting them in on the secret and telling them it's actualy a wedding. What is your biggest priority here--sharing your special thing with your loved ones on your terms, or putting one over on people and pulling off an attbtipn-grabbing spectacle? These are important things to think about.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:48 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pardon, attention-grabbing. SIGH
posted by anonnymoose at 8:50 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ugh. Tough one. Could you have a "ring ceremony" at the party and include that in the invites? That would turn the "super awesome party" to a " big deal that you shouldn't miss because something important is going to happen."

Then, at the party/ring ceremony, let everyone know that you've already gotten married/eloped but wanted everyone to get together to witness the ring ceremony and celebrate. The ring ceremony could be something as simple as the two of you standing up, saying a few important words to each other and then exchanging rings.

This way isn't as blindsiding as what you are suggesting, and perhaps it's really giving away too much information, BUT, I believe that would get the turn out you desire, seeing as it is more formal than just a big awesome party. Instead it's a party with some deep meaning behind it and people will show up for that.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:00 AM on November 29, 2011

My wedding was one of the best days - weekends actually of my (and my husband's life). I didn't expect that. It was utterly joy-filled. And the key to it all was that we were celebrating this meaningful, personal event surrounded by all the people we love most in the world, and who love us most in the world. Sure, we thought about eloping, thought about a destination wedding, etc. I don't like to be the center of attention; he didn't like all the fuss and hassle of planning. But we woke up the morning after the wedding and my new husband said, "that would have been a colossal mistake."

This is all to say that - without even getting into whether this is a good idea or whether people's feelings will be hurt - I question whether it is possible to have a "super awesome [engagement/wedding] party" without a significant portion of your nearest and dearest. And I do think you are looking at a very real 'no' and worse, 'no-show' rate just because it's an engagement party and because your friends and family are scattered. I agree with others that if you go this route you will ensure the greatest possible numbers by personally contacting each guest and telling them how important it is to have them there (but to me that compounds the fraud). But I still think you'll have big gaps, and a lot of key people will be missing. And this will not make for a super awesome party.
posted by n'muakolo at 9:20 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you've already sent the invites to your "engagement party" then I think the only thing you can do now is to call every single invitee and explain that the engagement party is in lieu of a wedding reception and that you're not having a ceremony. I totally get wanting to elope, I don't get calling your wedding reception an engagement party, especially since you know that most people wouldn't want to travel internationally for an engagement party and that you're probably going to upset at least some of your loved ones with your 'surprise' wedding party.

I also want to say, you may think you know your family and friends but weddings bring out the crazy in people.
posted by missmagenta at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about wording similar to this for your invites:

Please join us for
Champagne & Appetizers
in celebration of our marriage
on Friday, October 10, 2018
at 6 o’clock in the evening
Grover’s Lounge
852 City Lane
New York, New York 15260*

*found on this website:

So, this invite and wording make the affair look like more than a big party - it's more formal, more serious. A marriage is being celebrated. And it's true, whether you are married or not at that point, the purpose of the party is to celebrate your marriage.

At the same time, there is no mention of when the marriage took place, whether it already has happened or not. But it does give the feel that this is a celebration of a marriage and also that this is THE celebration (that this is it - no receptions, weddings, etc.). There is no mention of a ceremony and so people would assume that you're probably having a private ceremony.

Of course, you're going to be inundated with calls, emails, whatever of people wanting to know when you're getting married or if you've already gotten married.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2011

My ex and I were going to do this - for a million reasons that made sense to us (including the fun of pranking our families as well as my dream of a Vegas wedding). We even considered eloping, not telling anyone and then going through the motions of a big ceremony. So we went to Vegas, found a fun chapel. We spent the day having fun, playing in the casino, etc.

And then chickened out. I don't even really like my family and I didn't know his family well enough to care one way or another. But when the reality of it sank in, we couldn't do that to them.

Consider that you might feel the same way at the 11th hour.

FWIW, a month later we invited very close friends and family to come with us to Vegas for my dream wedding - Elvis and all. It still annoys my mom, but I can bet she'd choose that over being left out. A large wedding reception followed a couple months later.

I'm not against eloping - I'd still almost prefer it. But eloping with very close friends and family was a pretty decent compromise.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:38 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I promise this is my last comment)

How about this - as far as wording on an invitation or even when you talk to people about the upcoming party:

We are excited to announce our engagement and upcoming marriage.

In lieu of an engagement party, bridal shower and reception we have opted to hold one celebration so that our dear family and friends who live afar are not left out of other wedding-related celebrations that they would otherwise be unable to attend.

The celebration of a lifetime is to be held on June 5, 2012 at This Great Venue at 6:00 p.m.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:56 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you have to be very clear that there will be no chance for anybody to attend the wedding itself. Booking international travel is not a small thing. If they think what's happening is that maybe only a few special people get to go to the actual wedding, which is pretty easy to assume if you're not explicit about it, you're going to lose some people who feel, if only at a level they can't articulate, that you're asking them to consider you more important than you consider them.

Also note that what you're asking makes your surprise even less of one -- since they already know you're getting married, and will assume that they won't be invited (if they get the message), "guess what, we're already married" seems like more of a "well, okay" moment than anything else. For the people who came, anyway. If I was borderline about buying a ticket and decided against it, I would wonder why this surprise was more important to you than some people not coming. It's a huge huge expense and would certainly be my only trip of the year.
posted by Adventurer at 11:16 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ugh, no.

I routinely skip engagement parties in my own STATE. Why? Because what's the point? It's just an excuse for a party celebrating that you're gonna later have the really important celebration attached to being wedded. I would under NO circumstance travel more than an hour for an engagement party.

I do, however, travel hither and yon for friends' weddings.

Anyways, go ahead with your surprise but don't be remotely surprised when many people do not go, and many people are then later pissed off/hurt that you didn't care about them enough to let them in on the 'secret' (especially as it meant they didn't attend). At least, that's how many people might feel.
posted by Windigo at 12:09 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, I think you could get much more useful answers if you updated the thread again with answers to things like:

1. Where are your friends and family coming from?
2. Why is the surprise aspect so important?
3. Why is the elopment so important?
4. Why do you think your friends and family would come for an engagement party from far away when they would reasonably assume that they would then have to come back for a wedding?
5. Do you believe 6 months is enough time for everyone to plan a big trip?
6. Will you be able to help people out with planning/financially?

Probably other questions that I cannot think of offhand.

I thought it was very funny sarcasm. Inappropriate for askmefi, maybe, but it would maximize attendance.
posted by jeather at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think paying for any guests who you feel absolutely MUST be there to attend is the only way you're going to get people from outside the city you live in. Out of all my friends who have gotten married, only one couple ever did an engagement party, and that was a totally casual backyard beer thing. Planning a big, splashy party for the engagement would, in my circle of friends anyway, be seen as pretty attention-hoggy, and definitely wouldn't be something people would go to any special effort to attend.
posted by MsMolly at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2011

[sarcasm considered out of place in AskMe, please refer to the note under the posting box, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:29 PM on November 29, 2011

One other thought: I know one person who did this, and she planned her announcement/party for the weekend after her brother's wedding, so that everyone in the extended family who lived overseas only had to travel once, and was already in town anyway. She worded it as something like "since you are here anyway, please stay an extra week and help me celebrate my engagement and 30th birthday and graduation". I.e. she piled on a whole heap of important life events (which were all true), as well as scheduling it to be as convenient as possible for people.

Obviously you probably don't have a convenient brother's wedding to hijack, but if there is a possibility to reschedule you could make it so that it coincides with other good reasons to be in town (Christmas, if you want extended family there, a big-number birthday for someone in your close family, a big event in town - a show or a band playing - that might attract friends).
posted by lollusc at 3:47 PM on November 29, 2011

I just went to a wedding where it was announced at the end of the ceremony that the couple had eloped months earlier. It was awesome. The couple were really worried that they would upset people and we worded it ("we" because I was the fake celebrant) that they started the wedding months ago and could only finish it by making vows in front of family and friends. In the wedding speech, groom acknowledged the people specifically who had travelled far to attend, and I think, at the end of the day, they eloped and that was the legal part and all, but the ensuing hootenanny was the fun part for all who were there.

Hearsay, but a friend mentioned being at a wedding where the couple announced that they had eloped, but they pissed everyone off by pushing the prank angle too hard and rubbing everyone's noses into the fact that they'd been duped. Don't do that.

OP, I think it's ok that you want to elope. I'm Australian, if that informs any cultural differences my response may have. And it also depends on the guests and what sort of crew you belong to. In my crew, it's NBD. And at the end of they day, it was really important to my friends that they eloped, but they also wanted to celebrate with their friends and family, the surprise was nice and fun and very THEM. That's ok with me. I don't care about seeing a bunch of people sign some documents, as long as the giant group love-in still happens.

I should say that there was a couple who flew in from NY to attend the wedding, and my friends actually eloped in NY but didn't include them (it was uber private), and they were particularly worried about them being upset. They gave a special thank you to them in the speeches, emphasised that the "fake" wedding was just as important as the elopement, and spoke to them afterwards and everything was ok. It's context, it's how you put it and making sure that the fun is not derived from pranking people meanly. Boy it was a fun wedding.

Anyway, that is not specifically an answer to your question, rather a response to the people saying "DON'T DO THIS"! My suggestion for maximising attendance is just to say that it's the actual wedding, rather than an engagement party. BAM. People come, you announce, you party.

Good luck, and congrats!!
posted by mooza at 3:51 PM on November 29, 2011

From the OP:
Thank for all your responses, both those providing concrete advice on how we can word things and encourage people to attend, and those shedding some light on potential pitfalls.

I think Bilabial has it, particularly around attribution errors, of which there are many in the responses. (Understandable – you don’t know us and the only information you have is my, admittedly, flippant and excited, question.) Our intention is to take our vows far, far from the wedding industrial complex, avoid an impossible struggle to make our families happy with our arrangements, and focus instead on the meaning of our vows and our commitment to each other. While our preference is to keep our vows just between us and the celebrant and witnesses, we do care for our friends and family. The party is our effort to include them.

However, given the almost uniformly negative tone of the responses, I think that, despite genuinely wanting to do the right thing both for ourselves and our family/friends, it seems by calling it an ‘engagement party’ (this seems to be what most people object to most strenuously) we’ll somehow be both imposing on people to attend what they think of as a non-essential event and then somehow sending the message that we didn’t like them enough to invite them to the ‘real’ wedding.

The message we WANT to send is, ‘Hey, we couldn’t wait to get married, and we’re pretty private so we decided to elope, but we love you and want to celebrate with you’. Not ‘Suckers, you weren’t invited, spend lots of money coming to this thing you wouldn’t usually bother with so we can tell you how we played a trick on you HA.’ So, SO, not what we want!

We’ll definitely rethink calling it an ‘engagement’ party. Fortunately we’ve only called it this via word of mouth, nothing written has been sent and the people we have told are close enough that they’ll understand if we change it ‘celebration’ or something else.

We’ll also re-think telling everyone in one big surprise, and either break it to close friends and family after we do elope, or at a lunch before the party, so they are the first to know.

The reason we won’t be telling everyone *before* the elopement* is that neither of us want to spend the months leading up to our ceremony fielding invasive questions (Why are you eloping? Why aren’t we invited? Where are you going? Argh.)

We would much prefer to invest this energy in strengthening our relationship and preparing to make a life-long commitment.

To answer some queries raised above:

Our families and friends are in the fortunate position of being well able to afford travel to this.

The people closest to us have already assured us they will attend. We believe them.

For the few who would find this an impost, we are already paying for accommodation.

Ninety-nine percent of those who are overseas are not close to us and are being invited as a matter of courtesy. There are exceptions. We will consider telling these exceptions post-elopement pre-party.

Engagement parties are, in our part of the world, very much a thing. People can, and do, travel to them from far and wide. I have never – never – heard of anyone resenting this.

We absolutely don’t need, want or expect presents and while I have always thought it was awkward even mention gifts, I think we will have to make this clear through conversations, personal notes with invitations and via the grape vine.

Assumptions that we will regret not having people present when we take our vows are unfounded. We (me particularly)would, for a range of reasons that I assure you are very solid, find it just unbearable to have my family present as we say our vows.

Moreover, I honestly struggle to imagine a scenario where if my best friend/cousin/mother eloped with someone they’d been with for ages, and told me at a party I would be even remotely upset. Nor can I imagine not going, hearing about the surprise and being angry.

Clearly though, not everyone (in fact it seems hardly anyone!) feels the same way and we’re very grateful for the insight this question has provided into that perspective.

posted by mathowie at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the extra information, OP! It is clear you have given this a lot of thought. I think it is good you have changed your mind about calling it an engagement party. You do want to make sure people know what they will be helping you celebrate!

I got married this summer and for a time considered eloping and then having a separate reception. I think you will find this is becoming more and more common. Some people call it getting "weddinged." I didn't end up doing that (we had a small, backyard wedding with family and close friends) but do have some resources that might help you figure out how to have both an intimate exchange of vows with your partner and a party that includes your family and friends.

Megan from the blog Not Martha (who I think is a MeFite!) eloped in Las Vegas and then had a big family reception. She has a separate blog about the elopement and has written about the reception.

A Practical Wedding is another blog that (mostly) avoids the Wedding Industrial Complex craziness. They have a number of posts about elopement, but I found this one written a year after the author's elopement and later reception very helpful.

The website associated with the Offbeat Bride book has many, many examples of post-elopement receptions, and some ideas for wording the invitations. Like I said above, I think you are going to have to say something on the invitation about celebrating your marriage, but, if you want, make it clear that it's not the "real" wedding.

As for not wanting to deal with invasive questions about eloping, you're just going to have to figure out how to deal with it. Part of planning a wedding is dealing with other people's input. Think of a non-answer to say that will end the questioning, and just don't, er, engage further. I'm sure Miss Manners has some suggestions, but I can't think of any right now!

Sorry to be so blog-heavy. Sometimes reading wedding blogs can be helpful, but I had to step away from them when they started making me feel bad about not giving a shit about lovingly handcrafted bird-shaped fascinators and similar. Maybe you have figured that out already, so I apologize if this is redundant!
posted by apricot at 8:28 PM on November 29, 2011

Not sure if the OP has tuned out by now, but I wanted to add an Australian perspective. Among my friends and relations, engagement parties are quite common - not everyone has one but a lot of people do, and it is quite normal for the couple to organise and "host" it themselves.* However, I know of only three couples who have eloped, out of an acquaintance of many dozens of couples, and in none of those cases were the marriages kept secret afterwards - they were really just destination weddings without the guests! And none of them had a big party back home either. I have certainly heard of this being done but I assumed it was an American phenomenon, so absent has it been from my experience. Presumably we move in different circles, but I think it's worth considering that even without the bait and switch, a substantial number of people may be confused and a bit affronted by the big party after the elopement. Letting it be known that your awesome party is in celebration of a marriage that already exists would at least allow any weirdness to dissipate with minimum drama, and well before your festivities.

I also felt I had to comment on the disconnect between this:

Our families and friends
won’t mind, trust us.

...and this:

neither of us want to spend the months leading up to our ceremony fielding invasive questions (Why are you
eloping? Why aren’t we invited? Where are you going? Argh.)

I'm no fan of the sexist/heterosexist/commercialist/materialist assumptions people make about weddings, but you're assuming graciousness and good will on the part of people you're simultaneously believing to be boorish and insensitive to your feelings. I'm not sure both can be right.

*I believe this is a cultural difference between Australia and the US. The same also goes for birthday parties - it's usual for the birthday person, if they're an adult, to organise a party and invite people, and it genuinely does not read as being self-centred or self aggrandising).
posted by Cheese Monster at 11:08 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good thing engagement paries are a thing in your social circle, I wouldn't cross the street for one even if it was for my best friend.

Personally, I would view any party after an elopement as a gift grab and view anyone that held one as too immature to stay married for long. And EVERYONE says "don't bring presents" but the there usually is a mental scorecard of who brought something (collision of ask vs guess). To not invite people to your wedding is your choice, but then following an elopement with a reception it kinda feels to me like inviting everyone to your birthday party so they can watch you eat cake without sharing any slices. Rituals have a place in our society for a reason, usually to help people socially and psychologically deal with major transitions. Pretty much the only way I can see your party after elopement being palatable for me is if it was held on your one year anniversary (better yet, five or ten year to prove longevity). I did have one friend that had her "reception" at her baby's christening three months after the elopment (basically having a larger than usual christening but smaller and less formal reception than normal). I assume that is not in the cards for you.

Maybe deconstruct why you want an elopement (I saw you listed reasons above like avoiding prying questions) and why you want a reception (which is much more a part of the industrial bridal complex than a wedding ceremony). To me, it sounded like you don't want to deal with the "grown-up" part of weddings (accomidating others) and jsut want to go right into the fun part (celebrate my looooove!). Are partie safter elopements something that is normal in your family/friends? If not, why do you think that may be?

What does your fiance think about all this, if they (sorry, not sure if you mentioned genders) were agreeable to a wedding would you be okay with that? If there is abuse in your family relationships then that would be a reason to exclude abusive people from the wedding while not punishing family and friends that have a healthy relationship with you.

Some families/cultures put much more importance on weddings than others. But even the most laid back/not into rituals people I know were really upset at being excluded from the weddings of their families and close friends. And we are talking about hurt feelings lasting over a decade, but the elopees' don't know how much they have hurt others and believe everyone is okay with their elopements.
posted by saucysault at 10:47 AM on November 30, 2011

I get your reasons for eloping. I get it. I get why you might not want a zillion and one people on your wedding.

But what I DON'T get is why your party later has to be a "secret" if you want to maximise attendance and avoid hurt feelings. Surely you can ask people to "Save the Date" for your "engagement" party now, but after you get married, quickly tell everyone that it's actually going to be a proper wedding reception/ marriage celebration. A lot of people, who might sitting on the fence or who might otherwise not come, would probably rearrange their schedules to attend your party, if you give them at least a month's notice. That way you can keep your marriage a secret up until the day itself, and at the same time, have a lot of people at your party.
posted by moiraine at 11:09 AM on November 30, 2011

Whoa saucysault!

I think engagement parties must be an Australian or at least non-American thing? Because I LOVE ENGAGEMENT PARTIES AND WEDDING PARTIES EQUALLY. OK I lie, if I could only go to one it'd be the wedding of course, but I have always gone to both whenever both have been held. I guess I'm also in a crew where expensive gift giving isn't a thing.

Getting married legally and making vows is a moment for the couple. If they want to do it in front of their friends/family, then yay, but if they want to keep it to themselves that's their right, innit? I mostly love a party and the chance to be part of the love in, I don't have to see the ACTUAL ceremony, the fact that I got invited to celebrate is PRETTY COOL in and of itself.

I trust that OP knows his/her crew well enough to know whether they'd be pissed. Have a great wedding and congratulations again!!
posted by mooza at 3:00 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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