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Elopement Etiquette: The Runaway Couple

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The very word elopement is romantic, especially if your wedding takes place in a far-away destination such as Paris or Venice. But even a civil ceremony at City Hall can be romantic when two people are truly in love.

The word elopement simply means to marry secretly, usually without the knowledge of family or friends. It can solve many of the problems that arise in planning for a traditional wedding, and it places the real emphasis on the ceremony itself and the commitment of the couple to each other. In these days when wedding ceremonies have become more and more elaborate and expensive, the Wedding Channel has noted a surge in people choosing small weddings and elopement. So if you decide to avoid all the fuss and bother of a regular wedding, here are some etiquette rules to be aware of in regard to friends and family.

Dealing with Family: There are many reasons to choose elopement rather than a traditional wedding, from privacy to cost to less drama and stress. But unless you must elope because your family disapproves of the marriage, it's important to consider the feelings of family members, especially the parents of the future bride and groom. To avoid a lifetime of hurt feelings, sit down with your parents and other close family members and explain why you don't want a traditional wedding. You may also want to let your closest friends know.

Planning: Even though you are eloping, there will still be a fair amount of planning to do: you will need to purchase a wedding license, choose a location and time for the ceremony; you will also need to decide on what you each will wear (including wedding rings and flowers for the bride), and where to celebrate afterward. Fortunately, there are a number of websites that offer "elopement packages" to help you with all those details. Planning together and including special touches like favorite flowers and clothes can make your wedding as romantic as a traditional one.

Announcements: It's appropriate to send out announcements after an elopement. As far as the wording goes, less is more in this case: "[Bride's name] and [groom's name] wish to announce their wedding at a private ceremony on January 20, 2001."

Gifts. Even though you haven't had a traditional wedding, you are bound to receive some wedding gifts, especially after sending your announcements. The same protocol applies here as for any wedding: send a handwritten thank-you note for each gift as soon after receipt as possible.

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (www.lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on www.Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.