She Invited Her Fiancé to a Surprise Party. Turns Out, It Was Their Wedding.

It’s no easy task throwing a surprise party, especially if the reveal is marrying your S.O.

Photography by Ksenia Pro Photography and Daniel Soñé Photography

Rachel Marie and Dave Kochba were happily engaged and in no rush to host a big event to make things official. The two, who just celebrated their third anniversary of dating, had each been married before and wanted to take their time when it came to planning the wedding. When pressed by friends and family on why they hadn’t tied the knot yet, their response was simple: they were waiting for when the time was right—well, so Dave thought. Little did he know his fiancé had something else in mind. From booking a venue, to sending invitations and buying a dress, Rachel threw a curve ball and decided to throw a surprise of a lifetime. Their wedding day!

See how Rachel pulled off a surprise wedding that not even her groom knew about. 


Dave proposed on Valentine’s Day 2018, but after saying yes, Rachel put the breaks on wedding planning. “I knew I wanted to marry him,” she says, but, having been married before, she says, she didn’t want to rush it. Her hesitation changed, though, after she slipped at the grocery store and broke her leg. “I couldn’t walk for months and Dave was right there to take care of not just me, but also my two teenage daughters, Carly and Lexi.” That’s when it clicked. She decided then that she should do something extra special for their big day. “I turned to Carly and Lexi and said, ‘Let’s do a surprise birthday party turned wedding’ and we went for it,” Rachel says. And yeah, they really went for it.    

No one—not the (wedding) planner nor the cake baker nor Dave, the husband-to-be, knew about Rachel’s surprise—just Rachel and her daughters. She kept the secret from guests and vendors by telling them it was a birthday party, and she kept the secret from her hubby-to-be by saying she was seeing a therapist (a therapist, she told him, who was helping her work to through her hesitation about remarrying) whenever she’d meet with vendors. Sounds elaborate, right? Sometimes you have to go all in if you want the surprise to be foolproof—and Rachel was dedicated. She even had Dave go to the courthouse with her to get their marriage license—the actual marriage license!—so they could legally wed on the day of the surprise. “I told him my therapist suggested we go to the courthouse to work on my anxiety about getting cold feet. He was so supportive,” Rachel says. Dave didn’t have a clue. 


As for sending invitations and putting together the final touches, Rachel covered every aspect of wedding planning. “Dave understands I have a Type A personality, and because we both come from big families with big opinions, I thought planning a surprise wedding would be the best way for us to not get overwhelmed,” Rachel says. She used Minted for their invitations, which she had Dave’s sister help design, and included a teaser: ‘You don’t want miss his HUGE surprise birthday present.’ “It brought in curiosity from our family from all around the world,” Rachel recalls.

“I wanted to make sure no one would see the altar until after the birthday toasts.”

She also found a venue that was first, within budget, and second, sentimental to both her and Dave—an ideal setting for the reveal. “I chose ENTYSE Bistro at The Ritz-Carlton in Tysons, because whenever there’s a holiday we go there to grab a cocktail or appetizer,” she says. “The bar is in the middle, so I worked with my planner, Taylor and Hov, on creating a closed-off section for the ceremony site.” They used white drapery and even went as far as hiring a security guard to ensure that the ceremony site would be hidden from guests until the time was right. “I wanted to make sure no one would see the altar until after the birthday toasts,” Rachel says. That’s when the big reveal, aka the wedding, happened. “We planned for my daughters to give a speech, and then afterwards, Dave would open the doors and our song, ‘Speechless’ by Dan + Shay would play.” We sure do hope Dave had some tissues on hand for this one. 


For finding inspiration, Rachel turned to trusty Instagram for ideas on how to dress up their venue and decided on a blush, gray, and metallic color scheme. She decorated with a ‘LOVE’ marquee sign, by Brightly Ever After, used pampas grass and candles for the altar, and had a variety of gold and LED balloons throughout the room. She also worked with her cake baker, Fluffy Thoughts Cakes, to create two unique wedding cakes—a Clemson-inspired cake for Dave (Go Tigers!) and a unicorn-themed cake for Rachel. As for her wedding dress, she found a gorgeous mermaid gown that she changed into after the birthday toasts. 


But how did the big day actually pan out? Rachel tells us that the party and surprise were a HUGE success (phew!) and that no one could believe she pulled it off. “Dave was completely surprised for his birthday, and then, even more so when he realized his birthday present was a wedding!” Rachel says. She made sure to tell Dave beforehand that they were attending a Washingtonian event—Thanks for the love, Rachel!—so that he would be dressed accordingly. “When he opened the door, he was like “why are all my friends and family here for this?” Don’t worry Dave, our reaction would have been the same.

Photography by Ksenia Pro Photography & Daniel Soñé Photography

Assistant Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Jacqueline comes to Washingtonian with close to five years of digital content experience and SEO best practices. She previously was a senior editorial associate at WeddingWire, specializing in wedding fashion, and before that, an assistant at Vow Bride. Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, she now lives in Columbia Heights.