I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what makes a marriage different from long term dating, and how a wedding ushers in that change. One of the answers I came up with is the way that families relate to a couple after (and while) getting hitched. I love the way Rachel’s story grapples with that and the way she talks about how their parents instinctively knew the right way to allow them to make this transition, even before they knew. I think it’s a must read for you (even if you’re already married), and you might want to email it to your mom, too. The pictures are by long-long-long time APW sponsor Julie Randall Photography in Portland, so they are super duper pretty. We call that a double win.
I’ve been hesitating to write a wedding graduate post for a while. I thought that I didn’t have anything unique to say about our wedding other than it was ours, it was amazing, it was special, it taught me things, there were emotions, etc., etc. Same old, same old. It’s a wedding, for f*ck’s sake. It’s huge even if you think it’s not going to be. Weddings are a big emotional sucker punch in the best possible way.
Is that enough for a wedding grad post? I wasn’t too sure. Now, almost eight months later, I’ve realized what’s actually been stopping me from writing. I realized something at our wedding… it crept up on me slowly months before then turned into a wave that truly broke a couple weeks wed.
Our wedding was all about our parents.
It’s the most unpopular thing to say on most wedding sites, let alone an indie site. But for me, it was true. You see, Zach and I really began to process our “being wed” once we got engaged. That moment was so important to us. We’re going to be partners forever. That’s it; we’re committed; come look and see. The wedding itself, while an incredible party (we had just moved back from two years abroad, so there were lots of reunions happening), was about making the even more public announcement of our vows.
The vows, our vows, were the most important thing for me going into the wedding. Everything else was “details” in my eyes. I wanted to look nice but like ourselves, and stand up and say the most important things to each other that we would ever say. And I wanted people to be there. That’s it.
Now, when I say that the wedding was for our parents, I don’t mean to say that they took over planning, or were overbearing. Actually just the opposite. When we got engaged my mother-in-law wrote to us and said, “Whatever you decide about your wedding is fine with me. If you want to get married in Alaska, on a Tuesday, at 2am, naked—that’s great, I’ll be there.” Which pretty much sums up all sets (and there are three) of our parentals’ attitudes toward the wedding. My dad might have objected to the naked part, but more having to do with the cold than anything else. All in all, they went with the flow, they were excited, they trusted our decisions and truly supported us in shaping and forming the event.
That is to say, they were great parents—all the way through pushing us into adulthood as a married couple. They continued to be amazing people even at a time of high stress, high stakes, and potential high drama.
In that way, Zach and I started planning with a very blank canvas. We were lucky. Every decision we made we got to think about on our terms. And in the end I was probably the most shocked of all by how many decisions we made because of the joint love and desire for something; joint not only between me and Zach, but naturally and happily thinking about what our parents would like or find special. We are truly their children, and by having the space to completely be ourselves, we naturally found ourselves as both products of our lives and products of theirs.
So, when the day came and went, for me and Zach it was enormous… enormous. Full of joy, love, party, band, food, fun, dancing. We got married at noon on New Year’s Eve, then partied until New Year’s Day. I had a costume change. It was epic. And, it was also big, huge and epic for our parents. They got to see us, honestly and truly as adults making choices that made them proud—choices they gave us space to come to all on our own. What magic life holds sometimes, right?
And when I say that the day was for our parents, I don’t mean it had no meaning for us. I mean that once you walk back down that aisle, you and your spouse, you are family. You’re connected with someone who isn’t blood related in a bond that will last a lifetime (even when it doesn’t). That choice is a choice about family. So, naturally, it’s only then that you can truly understand the joy, fears and attachment that your family has on this event. It’s not just the two of our hearts that grew that day, it was all our hearts that grew to hold another tribe.
A wedding is a microcosm of the rest of life. Every moment only happens once. Every day only comes around once.
At a wedding, we just honor that significance more. Our parents, having been there moons ago, and having known us our whole lives, understood pieces of that and how we might process it better than (or at least before) we did.
They held the space for us to have the experience we were meant to have and created for ourselves. And in that way, the day was as much about us forming our new family, our new tribe, as it was about our parents giving us that final gift of safety to do it the way we needed to.
When Shawnee Custalow of A Lovely Photo reached out to us, I knew she’d be perfect for APW. From a glance, I could tell that the Richmond, Virginia-based photographer’s work #SLAYS, but when I found out that these jaw-dropping images were taken by a self-proclaimed queer Southern feminist who travels throughout the continental US for free with rates starting at $2,400, there may have been actual fist-pumping.
You see, if there’s one thing I’ve been reminded of in the past weeks, it’s that while marriage equality may finally be here, real and true on-the-ground equality is still very much a work in progress, and photographers like Shawnee—specifically passionate about working with LGBTQIA+ couples—are still one hundred percent necessary.…