Amy, Former Project Coordinator & Michael, US Marine
Most people either have a wedding or an elopement, or maybe even include a third category as courthouse weddings. But Michael and I didn’t want to elope in the traditional sense (because that would mean leaving our friends and family out of the celebration), nor did we want to wait months through his deployment to be husband and wife. We considered having a courthouse wedding “now” and a reception “later”, but life is unpredictable and, particularly because Michael is in the US Marine Corps, time together is never guaranteed. So we decided to have our cake and eat it too. Who cares if traditionalists say it’s tacky, or that you can’t marry twice? Our guiding philosophy is that we are the ones making the rules for our marriage, so with that thought in mind, we decided that we would not “elope,” but have a romantic, private wedding for ourselves on his pre-deployment leave and a then hold a vow renewal wedding with our loved ones upon his return.
In just three weeks, I found a bed and breakfast that offered an elopement package, purchased a gown, and worked with a seamstress for alterations, as well as designed and wrote our ceremony. I worked closely with the owners of the bed and breakfast to create our wedding, choosing details like the cake, bouquet, and ceremony location with their guidance. Michael was deployed overseas and unable to contact me during the three weeks between our decision to marry and our private wedding, so I gave him just two jobs: find me a ring and pick out what he would wear.
It has occurred to me that planning a wedding without your significant other might seem sad, frustrating, or even nerve wracking, but honestly, I didn’t feel stressed even once because I knew that, whatever happened, it would be a day that we would enjoy together. The whole experience felt like I was planning an elaborate gift for the two of us to enjoy, and so that’s how I envisioned our wedding—a beautiful day we could cherish as a gift. Because, however cheesy it may sound, when your wedding is sandwiched between long-distance living and a deployment, every moment spent together is a gift.
One thing that I almost didn’t do and am so glad I did was to spend the extra money on a professional photographer for our private wedding. I actually spent most of my time planning choosing a photographer. I interviewed at least ten photographers, knowing that it was important to find someone that could feel like an old friend, since they and the officiant would be the only other souls at our wedding. I knew Mhari Scott was the photographer I would want beside me as I was getting ready or needed to ask for an opinion on my hair the moment I realized she completely understood that Michael and I weren’t looking for a magazine-caliber photo spread of all the small details perfectly arranged on cute tables under twinkly lights (though there is certainly nothing wrong with that). We simply wanted someone to capture the emotions and events of the day—photos we would display above the mantel for years to come.
You know what was one of the nicest parts about it being just us? We were able to create our schedule in the moment and let the evening unfold as it felt right. After the ceremony, we made s’mores by the campfire, danced a little, cut our cake, danced some more, then went back the campfire to enjoy a mug of coffee (in honor of Michael’s coffee addiction) and stargazed. Nothing after the ceremony was actually scheduled like at a traditional wedding, nor was it on display for guests. It was just the two of us in a pure, private, and intimate moment.
So we did things a little differently. When I imagined my wedding as a little girl, I saw a beautiful ballroom, tons of flowers, formal wear, and a full orchestra. To be completely honest, “small” and “intimate” were not words I would have used when describing my dream wedding. But, much like my husband, our private wedding was everything I never knew I wanted.
(In case you are wondering, everyone who we have invited to our upcoming vow renewal wedding has been thrilled—thrilled that we had had a private and romantic day to ourselves and thrilled that they will be able to celebrate our special day by watching us renew our vows and dance the night away. I am thankful for their support and am excited that the pressure to make our wedding day “the best day ever” has pretty much disappeared. We simply have the chance to affirm our love for each other in the presence of our loved ones and then celebrate.)