This past Saturday, on one of the coldest days we’ve had since winter, a small group of family and close friends met me in a picnic shelter beside the Nechako River, about twenty minutes out of town. They’d come for the vague invitation of a potluck/photo session/party, with few other details. At around 2:30 I stood up and gave a small speech, thanking them for being there and letting them in on the real reason they had been called out.
After over seven wonderful years together, my long-term girlfriend and I had decided to get engaged.
As I said in the speech, we’ve been together for over seven wonderful years.
We met in the first year of university and were soon taking on things like camping, traveling to Cuba, and, in what could have been a terrible idea if we weren’t well-matched, moving in together for the first time…. while living in China.
Since then we’ve finished school, made a couple more moves, bought a house together, and generally committed to being in a full-on partnership.
So on that day, I was very happy to announce that we were finally engaged. Not only that, we’d already set a wedding date– about ten minutes from that exact moment.
I then quickly grabbed our parents and the wedding party (none of whom had been told this in advance), gave them bouquets, corsages, and instructions, and we convened near a grove of trees for the ceremony.
This was followed by a quick photo session, and a small reception at a nearby hall.
A surprise wedding is a different way of doing things, and when we were planning it I saw only a few resources, so I thought I’d share some of our reasons for doing it.
Here’s the backdrop.
In my experience (and I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations so take from this what you will), once you’re with the person you’re supposed to be with, the need for much of anything else sort of slips away. To me, our partnership isn’t about legal papers or rings, it’s about being committed to the other person and having confidence that they’re committed to you. Without that, all the legal papers and rings in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference. Marriage starts to feel like an afterthought, rather than some sort of first big step you take on the road of your life together. And that’s how we treated our relationship: as what would generally be found in a marriage, regardless of whether it was “official” or not.
And after seven years, other people have been pretty much treating us in the same way. We’d been together so long and done things like merged bank accounts and our mortgage, integrated into each other’s families, and basically full-on committed, that the question of when we would be getting married wasn’t really being asked. We’d reached a point where our actions and the timespan spoke for themselves, not a ceremony. It allowed things to feel like if we did get married it would be for us, not for any latent expectations of what we were supposed to do.
And it was the desire to bring people together. We both like our families, and each other’s families, and we have some friends that have known us for years, and it seemed like it would be nice to get everyone together for a celebration of some sort, since they’d put up with us for so long without getting one. A marriage should be a celebration, and that’s what we went for.
All of which fails to answer why we decided to do it as a surprise. Easiest answer: it kept it simple, and it kept it small. I know weddings can take on a life of their own, despite everyone’s best intentions, so keeping it to ourselves made it a lot easier. We also only gave ourselves a few months to plan, which didn’t allow for too much second-guessing.
I like big weddings. Some of my favourite memories are friends and families having massive get-togethers with catering, DJs, and all the traditional fixings.
But for us, a small wedding seemed right. It fits with what we wanted to do and how we pictured things going. Making it a surprise helped keep it that way. It’s also a pretty fun way to make the announcement.
There’s a lot of people who would have been on the guest list and probably would have been there if we’d done it in a more traditional way. But even with under forty guests, I didn’t get nearly as much time to spend with everyone as I would have wanted. Had there been more, I feel like I would have barely seen anyone at all. If it’s a bigger wedding with dancing and speeches and favours, I feel like you can pull off having lots of people there without ignoring them. I’ve certainly never felt slighted at anyone else’s events. But again, they had a lot more things surrounding the overall ceremony– among them, more than a few months notice.
Ultimately, the whole point of this wasn’t to start of our life’s journey together. It was just a quick stop to celebrate how far we’ve come. In this particular case we dressed up and exchanged vows, but at the end of the night it felt like we’d just had a fun party. We can do that again with more people, or different people, or get together with individuals and smaller groups again and again. There’s new friends who will become closer and old friends that will eventually drift away. That’s the reality of life. But there’s one thing I know, and have known for a long time– I’ve got someone to spend that life with me, and I get to spend it with her. And that’s definitely worth celebrating.
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