Lily & John

Two weddings are better than one

* Lily, Counselor & John, Teacher *

My husband (wow that still feels odd to say) and I got married twice in three days, and it was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to us. This hadn’t been the plan. We had organized a morning church wedding in our hometown, with a lunch reception and an evening after-party for our bridal party and close friends. It took a lot of compromise and a lot of work, especially on his part, and we thought everything was, for the most part, done. We were excited, in the limited way that’s possible when you’ve spent the two months before your wedding in different states, finishing graduate school and internships, finding new jobs, and moving across the country. The planning was sometimes fun, often difficult, and at times haphazard, but it was done, and boy, were we ready.

Getting a marriage license was one of the last errands on our list because although the wedding was in our hometown, neither of us has lived there in years, and it isn’t exactly the kind of thing someone could stop by and pick up for us. We came the Thursday before our Saturday wedding, and thought we had everything ready to go. ID’s? Check. Cash for the fee (via a last minute ATM stop)? Check. Early morning arrival to avoid any lines? Check. But we didn’t count on finding out in the midst of the paper signing and swearing to tell the truth that our out-of-state priest had to be licensed specifically for our state. (Side note: check on this if you haven’t!) Luckily, they said it’d be an easy fix. We called our priest. We called our church. We got things in motion. Everything was going to be fine. We both set off with members of our respective bridal parties to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

We didn’t expect to see each other until the next morning, so imagine our shock when a few panicked phone calls and three hours later we found ourselves driving to the courthouse to get married. Although the license would be ready in time, our priest’s flight was landing approximately ten minutes after the appropriate office closed, and he was the only one allowed to pick it up. We were running out of options, and quickly, so we took the one that surprisingly enough seemed the least terrifying: go get married at the courthouse, and soon, before the Sergeant went home for the day.

We got married in front of an empty courtroom, with no dress, no rings, and no friends or family in attendance. The ceremony was short and sweet, and all we had to say was “I will.” But in that simple phrase we promised love and faithfulness and honor and respect, and the Sergeant pronounced us husband and wife. The Sergeant even gave us recommendations for where to go to celebrate that night (we didn’t have the heart to tell him that, unfortunately, we already had separate plans that were too late to cancel!). Afterwards we had time to go back downstairs and turn in the completed paperwork for the marriage license before the office closed.

We told as few people as possible. To this day some members of our respective families don’t know that this happened, and we went ahead with our plans for the rest of the day. If you haven’t already picked up on this, we didn’t even get to spend our first night as husband and wife together. But we knew we were married, and that was all that mattered. All the rest of stress about the wedding, the planning, and the errands that remained, started to feel ridiculously unimportant. From the very start of this whole process we had said to each other that as long as we were married at the end of the day, we would be happy. And we’d already accomplished this.

I’m so incredibly grateful that we got to experience this first wedding, but recently, I’ve been struggling to define which one was the “real” wedding, because each was so incredibly important. I was unbelievably grateful that we got married just the two of us, in that simple secular ceremony, with no fuss and no frills. It felt remarkably genuine, and grown-up, and independent. And it made sense for a girl who wanted to walk down the aisle by herself, keep her own name, and couldn’t imagine choreographing a first dance. It maybe even made sense for the husband who supported her in all of these things. Clearly, I’m still trying to define exactly what it brought. But it made me incredibly happy, because although I was fully on board with our planned wedding, it had taken a lot of compromise to create a wedding we were both comfortable with, and I will admit to a slight uneasiness about the whole thing, particularly the Catholic ceremony (at most I’m a lapsed Presbyterian). This was the wedding I had really wanted; I just hadn’t known it until it happened.

Despite my worries, the second wedding was thoroughly perfect. The religious ceremony actually felt like a beautiful chance to bring both God and our community of friends and family into the decision we had already made. In the end, my dad did walk me down the aisle, because it clearly meant so very much to him. And, well, I’d already had my wedding, couldn’t I do this for my dad? We declared our love and intentions in front of a room full of people who we know will support us for the rest of our lives. And my now-husband surprised me (and everyone else) by having the musicians play the beautiful “Ashokan Farewell,” which has meant so much to the two of us, in the middle of the service. During the reception we were surprised to find out how much that particular song, inspired by a civil war love letter and written for Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary, has meant to other people in our lives.

The reception couldn’t have gone better—good people, good food, and happiness all around. And the after-party was exactly what we had hoped for—barbecue, music, and a bonfire on a lake. At the end of the day we were both exhausted and overcome by the sheer love and support surrounding us. Because as it turns out, weddings with all your friends and family there are also pretty amazing.

During our long drive home the next day, my husband was reading aloud cards I’d received from my bridesmaids, and he started to cry. I was driving, and asked if these were happy tears, but what he said nearly made me cry as well. He told me that he had always thought that heaven would be a place where you have all the people you love in one place, and get to spend unlimited time with all of them. And then, in the most sincere and sweet way possible, he said that our wedding might be the closest we ever get to heaven on earth.

What we thought was our biggest wedding planning mistake ended up being part of the most wonderful weekend we could have imagined. It gave us the chance to get married just the two of us, in an anxiety-free, quiet, simple ceremony. And then it allowed us to relax and enjoy a day that was, in his words again, heaven on earth. The first ceremony was just for us, and the second was for everyone else, and it turns out that for the two of us, these things were equally important. Plus we got to make our vows not once but twice. I can’t imagine anything better.

The Info—Photographer: Sebastian Orr and Caitlin Morris / Location: Charlottesville, Virginia  / Wedding Venue: Holy Comforter Catholic Church / Reception Venue: The Local / After-Party Venue: Montfair Resort Farm / Lily’s Dress: Made by a friend of the family, Beth Neville Evans, in North Garden, Virginia / John’s Suit: From Alton Lane, a company founded by an old friend of his  / Wedding Rings: Made by Lily & John with the help of  TAP StudiosFlowers: Pharsalia Farm / Cake: Paradox Pastry

Featured Sponsored Content

  • M.

    This made me super happy :) I got goosebumps when you had to get married RIGHT THEN because it made me think about how truly genuine it has to be to say, yes we will do this whenever as long as it happens. And to be on the spot and ready to commit. I am excited for our wedding but I also really just want to be married, and I think if this happened to me I would be overwhelmed in the best way, to be thrown into that magic moment. Congrats!

  • moe

    “I was unbelievably grateful that we got married just the two of us, in that simple secular ceremony, with no fuss and no frills. It felt remarkably genuine, and grown-up, and independent. ”

    This…and then this too:

    “The religious ceremony actually felt like a beautiful chance to bring both God and our community of friends and family into the decision we had already made.”

    I had two weddings too and echo these same exact thoughts. Both events are equally important and meaningful in very different ways. I also had to compose myself when someone made a remark that one of the ceremonies was “fake” or a “show”. *deep breath*

    Oh and that lacy cap sleeve dress? BEAUTIFUL!

  • Kater

    Lovely post! Also, beautiful dress. Nine times out of ten, when I see a great dress on APW it has been custom made by friends/family (this explains why I had such a hard time dress shopping in traditional stores).

    This sums up how I’m feeling about our October 12th wedding:
    “The planning was sometimes fun, often difficult, and at times haphazard, but it was done, and boy, were we ready.”

  • Laura C

    What a beautiful post. Thanks for that.

  • Love! I would have been in such a panic if this happened to us, but I would like to think I’d have the grace to simply change the plan and go with the (beautiful) program as you did. It sounds like both weddings were just right for you, and I completely agree with John: a wedding may be the closest we get to heaven! Having everyone together in one room is going to be such a magical feeling, and what I’m most looking forward to with our wedding. Congrats to you both!

  • MK

    This is beautiful. I really love your story and your groom sounds like a sweetheart.

  • E

    Great post! I think it’s great that you were able to see this as something of a blessing in disguise.

    I’ve actually been to 2 weddings where something similar to this happened. At the first one, the bride and groom didn’t know you had to go get a marriage license (they thought the priest provided one) until the morning of the wedding. They still did the church ceremony, but didn’t get legally married until a week later in a courthouse.

    The second wedding was even more similar to this story – they had an out of state officiant and didn’t realize she couldn’t sign their marriage license until the day of the wedding. They found someone else who could sign it, but he could only stop by an hour before the ceremony. So he came by, they signed the license (with the groom blindfolded so he couldn’t see the bride!) and then did the ceremony an hour later with the original officiant. Questionably legal, but it worked for them!

  • Fun fact about Ashokan Farewell, because I am a music nerd and I also love that song. While it was used extensively in the Ken Burns documentary (including for the moving Sullivan Ballou letter) it was actually written for the Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps in upstate NY.

    It also has some lovely (and schmaltzy) lyrics, if you want to sing along at some point:

    The sun is sinking low in the sky above Ashokan.
    The pines and the willows know soon we will part.
    There’s a whisper in the wind of promises unspoken,
    And a love that will always remain in my heart. …

    • LMC

      Thank you! That is good to know! I think I had heard the lyrics before, but despite years of playing Ashokan Farewell I guess I had never heard the true origin–I would much prefer to give credit where credit is due though!

      • One thing I like about knowing the lyrics is that I can sing along when musician friends start playing this at parties.

  • Katie Mae

    “The religious ceremony actually felt like a beautiful chance to bring both God and our community of friends and family into the decision we had already made… We declared our love and intentions in front of a room full of people who we know will support us for the rest of our lives.”

    This sounds like our wedding! We chose to have a very tiny courthouse wedding (immediate family only, dinner across the street, then met some friends*) a few weeks before the big wedding – among other things, it helped our “social/spiritual wedding” take on that meaning more purely for us. Our ceremony was focused on our vows to each other and our community’s vows to support us and we had family members speak instead of an officiant.

    *Oddly enough, I had connected with another APW reader in the comments of a post, and she and her then-fiance met us for beer the evening of our courthouse wedding! Fitting that the only time we’ve hung out in person was on a wedding day.

  • Megan

    Beautiful story and (both) wedding! I walked down the aisle to my aunt playing ashokan farewell on flute and my wedding! Such a gorgeous piece of music. Congrats!

  • I love Ashokan Farewell. Makes me cry every time. My best friend had it as her procession music and it worked amazingly well.

  • Tanya

    This is so, so perfectly timed. Due to visa issues my husband and I got married in a small civil ceremony almost exactly a year ago, and are now having a big wedding in my native Toronto in FOUR DAYS!!

    It has been such a struggle with the jerks who live in my head telling me this wedding isn’t real, it’s a dog and pony show, what’s the point of going down the aisle when I’m already married.. Etc.. Most friends and family understand our circumstances and are so excited but I can’t help but feel so insecure. And googling about this scenario (wedding after the civil ceremony) is basically an invitation for pearl-clutching, snarky women to shit all over you.

    If it wasn’t for borders we would have had one wedding, but we could not financially or emotionally sustain a long distance relationship any further. I want our families to share in this with us, I want our cultures reflected, and we want to say vows we wrote ourselves.

    As we state in our ceremony:

    In Jewish law a married couple is considered Bride and Groom for one full year after marriage. We are closing this chapter with a proper ceremony and celebration of this commitment.

    I’d love to hear other stories from APW brides who’ve had to get married before their wedding. Let’s have a big E-group hug!

    • Helen

      Hey Tanya!

      I’m getting married in a country that doesn’t allow to ladies to get hitched, so we’re having our legal ceremony here in New Zealand. I figure it’s like signing the lease on a new apartment – that’s the legal part done, so technically you live there, but you don’t really feel like it’s home until you move all your crap in and have people around for drinks. You don’t hear anyone begrudging you a house warming because you’ve already signed the lease, do you? A wedding is more than just a civil contract and for us, it’s not enough to marry us in the biggest, truest sense of the word. We also need to have a wedding where we promise things, gather our community to bear witness, have a big party that honours our loved ones and gives us a big emotional marker to remind us, when things get tough, why we ever did it in the first place. That’ll be the point where we FEEL married, where we feel like we’re home.

    • Tania

      We’re getting married in a couple of weeks… and its going to be an ‘illegal’ wedding (as I like to call it!). Basically, it’s not going to be a legal ceremony. We can’t have the legal ceremony due to immigration issues. What we can have is a meaningful wedding ceremony in front of our friends and family… and some time next year, we’re going to sort out the legal bit and have another party, just for the hell of it. There have been a few comments from people along the lines of ‘what’s the point of that’. But I don’t care, they weren’t on the guest list anyway! It’s never the legality of a wedding ceremony that sticks with me – it’s the vows promised and words exchanged, and the people gathered to witness it.

    • We did a quick legal ceremony about six months before our wedding. (It was supposed to be a courthouse thing, but after we paid, the DC marriage office people told us there weren’t any openings for over a month, so they gave us a list of officiants, we met one in a park, and five minutes later were legally married.) I’d quit my job to move to Pensacola with him while he did training there and wouldn’t be able to get another full-time job with insurance because we’d only be there for a few months. And there was no way we’d be able to get all of my paperwork with the military done in the time between the wedding and when we’d move overseas. It was surreal to suddenly be married with no fanfare at all, but nice to have time to work out the paperwork side and adjust to the whole military thing before we moved to a base overseas. And while I like to call it our sham wedding, really our wedding wasn’t any less special because we were already legally bound. We’re both a couple of commitment-phobes, so it might have been good for both of us to get to sort of slowly ease into the idea of being married, rather than have it hit us all at once. This way, we got to really focus on celebrating with all of our loved ones on our wedding day.

    • Renee

      We got legally married about six months before our wedding for mostly financial reasons. The majority of the guests didn’t know at the time so we avoided potential snark, but the ‘secret’ has come out to a lot of people since then and there’s not been much of a reaction from anyone. It (mostly) freed me up to enjoy the day rather than stressing about what could go wrong- we were already married!

      I have several friends/acquaintances who got married in the military and the ‘legal ceremony before wedding’ seems to be a bit more common there. It was never treated like a big deal and everyone was still excited when the wedding came around.

      I have had a hard time with figuring out which ceremony is our “real” anniversary and always hesitate awkwardly when people ask how long we’ve been married. Since we couldn’t decide, we’ve done something special for both and it’s been fun to be able to celebrate twice a year!

      As for what’s the point of a wedding when you’re already married? You want your families there, your cultures reflected, and to say your own vows. If a ‘legal marriage now, wedding later’ is what needed to happen for you and your husband, then everyone else *should* mind their own business. Granted, that’s in a perfect world, but still. Do what you’ve gotta do, right?

    • I’m not married at all yet, but a note of solidarity: In much of continental Europe, having a civil ceremony and then a wedding is extremely common, so you’re definitely not alone

      • Stella

        I second this! We had two weddings – a civil one and a religious one — because in the country where we live only the civil ‘court house’ wedding is legal. We still treated the religious wedding as a ‘real’ wedding day — but maybe with the added bonus of being a bit calmer than it would normally have been!

  • Krystal

    Because we were getting married in another state and a lot of our local friends weren’t going to be there (either because they couldn’t make it, or because we could afford to invite everyone we wanted to), we decided to get legally married in the town we live in a week before the big wedding and do a casual celebration with all of our local friends. It had the added benefit of not having the stress about the details of getting married in another state (turns out Arizona is a lot easier to get married in compared to Texas). It worked out wonderfully and I would definitely suggest it as an option. We had just out best man and maid of honor as our witnesses and it ended up being a surprisingly meaningful and beautiful memory.

  • Seren

    Ok, this is remarkably similar to what we did. We planned on courthouse first, and then big celebration the next day (ended up being 2 days) afterwards. We wanted to have the legal part out of the way first, and save our officiant the trouble of having to get ordained online. The legal bit we did the Thursday morning before the wedding, with our best friends and my husband’s brother in attendance. We said “we will”, and legally became husband and wife. I wore a white dress that was my after-party dress for the wedding, my friend made me an impromptu bouquet of snapdragons from the farmer’s market next door. We went out for a big breakfast and mimosas afterwards. And then we had our bachelor/bachelorette party.
    That Saturday we got all fancy and said our vows in front of friends and family, and I cried and freaked out and danced and drank. Saturday was the wedding, and Saturday is our anniversary, not the legal bit 2 days before.

    We heavily considered Ashokan Farewell. (well, I did) but decided it was too sad for us. It’s a beautiful piece of music though.

  • C

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. So wonderful.

    And you look stunningly beautiful.

    Congratulations and best wishes for many happy years together.

  • ChelseaB

    I had to unlurk to post my first comment in response. My fiance and I are in a similar situation – we are getting married in Virginia next summer and asked a dear friend to officiate for us. The problem is, as we discovered after we put down a deposit, the state of Virginia doesn’t recognize online ordinations as a legal officiant. Our solution is to just do it beforehand in Maryland but for some reason it’s really been bugging me. I finally told my fiance that I didn’t like it because it meant our wedding anniversary wouldn’t be our “real” anniversary. He just said “It’s okay – we get to have two anniversaries.” Which is of course why I am marrying him. Anyway, that plus this post is making me feel so much better. It isn’t cheating – we just get to celebrate twice.

    • Someone on here commented once that they went out for milkshakes after their legal ceremony, so they do the same every year to celebrate Milkshake Day, then celebrate their wedding anniversary. We completely stole that idea.

    • Manya

      We did a courthouse wedding in January 2011 (for administrative reasons, mostly, but also, once we were engaged we became very keen to be legally linked as each other’s decision making person) and then had our wedding in July 2011. We LOVED both events and we also found that the first took some pressure off of the second. We also have a secret anniversary and we do something sexy and fun on our secret anniversary. To this day very few people know about the legal event, but we know, and it’s very special.

  • Kat91314

    “He told me that he had always thought that heaven would be a place where you have all the people you love in one place, and get to spend unlimited time with all of them. And then, in the most sincere and sweet way possible, he said that our wedding might be the closest we ever get to heaven on earth.”

    THIS. EXACTLY x 10000.

    Having all the people I love in one place & getting to spend ALL the time with them is definitely my idea of heaven. Perfect.

  • Ahh. How wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  • Laura

    Yay for a Cville wedding! I echo many others when I say that this post came up at the right time. I’m getting married at Incarnation and using the pastor there, but this gives me a good idea of what to expect when we go get our license! Any other licensing tips you can share Lily?

    • LMC

      Make sure to stop by the ATM and bring cash with you for the fee (30$)! We had to run out really quickly and get it from the bank down the street… Other than that all you need is your drivers license! Don’t get it more than 60 days in advance (it’s only good for a couple months), and be sure you or somebody else can drop it back by the office after your wedding so that it’s all official :)

      Pretty easy process though! Cville licensing office is in the basement of the city Courthouse and they were very nice and super helpful throughout the entire chaotic day (from license to impromptu wedding!). Yay for Cville weddings indeed!

  • Jalondra

    I also had two weddings, though I consider my real wedding and real anniversary the bigger one with our families and chosen officiant. Our officiant believed in a distinction between state civil marriage and marriage in the eyes of God and family and, while this was logistically annoying at first, it turned out to be very good for us, that they had to be handled separately caused some real conversations (and big arguments) about what we were entering into in terms of both a sacred union and a legal contract (which don’t necessarily have to go together.) The legal courthouse ceremony was almost a week later, I don’t remember the exact day, and we didn’t even take a picture, but it still felt more special and important than we expected. I found out that legal status meant a lot more to me than I thought it did, and that we were not as prepared for that side of marriage as we thought we were. If I could do my wedding over again I would totally take more time for that kind of preparation and have done the legal union several months before to get some of those logistics out of the way and really enjoyed our more personal wedding more. We also did a wedding celebration with some of the wedding rituals at a park the day after the wedding, an afterparty, and several other gatherings with different groups of friends, so I feel like I got married a lot!

  • Pingback: A belated happy holidays and entrance to the new year… | LMC Photography()