BY BEV BENNETT
You're deeply in love; you envision being a couple forever.
Yet for whatever reason, a wedding ceremony officializing your commitment isn't on the agenda. Don't let that prevent you from celebrating.
"So long as you're respectful of your guests, I think any and all celebrations are fantastic. You don't have to be married to throw a meaningful event," says Anna Post, author and spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, based in Burlington, Vt.
Because the non-wedding event is less common than the traditional alternatives, you may wonder how to pull it off.
Some aspects - such as drawing up a guest list, finding a venue and sending invitations - are similar what you'd do if you were planning a traditional wedding.
However, you can design customs and rituals that are specific and meaningful to you.
You have complete leeway on the guest list, ignoring second cousins and business acquaintances if you wish. You can wear what you like, serve foods you adore, have fun and experience less stress to boot.
"Without the worry of the details that go into a wedding, it [the celebration] can be less stressful," says Erin Grace of Erin Grace Events, Los Angeles.
But since this is unfamiliar territory, Post suggests using an anniversary as the inspiration, since people understand the concept.
Make it five years since your first date or a decade after your first kiss.
Calling on your shared experiences, you have a wealth of options for venues, such as the theme park where you realized you were in love to a winery you're crazy about.
The Magic Castle, a private club devoted to magic, was the setting for a very successful party Grace planned. "Each room has a different magician. It's fun and interactive with guests," says Grace, referring to the Hollywood, Calif., landmark.
You'll save money and be more likely to get the location you want if you don't limit yourself to typical weekend timeslots.
"Have a cocktail party on a Thursday because that's the day you met. Have Sunday brunch because that's your favorite time to be together," says Marley Majcher, a Los Angeles event planner.
If you prefer more formal festivities at a restaurant or hall, personalize the space by ordering your favorite flowers for centerpieces or decorating tables to represent events in your life together.
The menu, too, can be a window to your relationship.
"Customize the drink menu to have meaning," says Majcher, who runs the firm The Party Goddess! "For example, serve the first wine you shared; your favorite beer for weekends at the lake; mixed drinks you enjoy on vacation. Or create a special signature cocktail," she says.
When selecting the food go beyond a treasured restaurant experience. Instead, ask a restaurant or caterer to reproduce the first ¬- or best - meal you cooked together.
In place of a wedding cake, splurge on the desserts you really lust after.
"Over-the-top dessert tables are great fun," says Merryl Brown, president of Merryl Brown Events in Santa Barbara, Calif. "I like to do them either in themes or in color schemes."
She also recommends sundae bars or s'mores stations with homemade marshmallows and artisanal chocolates.
Entertainment depends on your budget, venue and the mood you're trying to set.
Brown often books a guitarist and singer for events.
You can also hire a DJ who has his own sound system for a reasonable fee, she says. Add a song list, and dance your way through your years together.