Noelle & Nick

The best of both worlds

* Noelle, Administrative Assistant at a ballet school & Nick, QA Manager and Producer for a video game developer *

My husband and I had the good fortune of celebrating our marriage twice. Yes, twice. The first was a civil ceremony performed by a guy who looked like Charlie Chaplin at the City Clerk’s Office in Lower Manhattan. That day was both intimate and very quintessentially “New York.” It included almost missing our own wedding due to traffic and a chatty cabbie, a bodega-bought bouquet, rain and then glorious sun, hot dogs from a street cart, and pure giddiness and love.

My now-husband and I met in college and did the on-and-off and long-distance thing for a while. After his student visa expired and he returned to London, I was crushed. Then, a year and a half after leaving the States, he visited me in Brooklyn in January 2011 and never left.

We were ready to make a lifelong commitment to one another and not at all interested in being separated for up to a year while awaiting a fiancé visa from US immigration services. Time was of the utmost. And so we took the plunge. And it was wonderful. We were engaged in late February 2011 and married in late May of that year.

Although our family and close friends knew we were getting married (and so, I’m not sure it qualifies as an elopement), only my sister and two of our closest friends were present at the City Clerk’s Office. I picked out my dress the night before, fashioning a strapless ensemble out of my aunt’s vintage linen hippie skirt. The brief ceremony was followed by the aforementioned hot dogs, a photo shoot with our photographer friends, drinks at a Lower East Side bar, and a night at the Standard hotel. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

And yet, when our families suggested we have a ceremony and reception to celebrate our marriage I couldn’t really say no. We had already had our wedding day all to ourselves—a day that was solely about us and our commitment—and now we felt it was time to include others in the momentous occasion.

Traditionalists may take umbrage to the fact that we celebrated twice, declaring self-indulgence or a disregard for the act of marriage. Seriously, if you’re considering doing a two-parter—which I highly recommend—do not look at wedding site forums which, at best, are inflexible and insensitive on the topic. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter such attitudes from my nearest and dearest. At most, family and friends were confused about terminology: is it a wedding? Are they called bride and groom? Which anniversary will they celebrate? In our minds, we got married on May 20, 2011, and this second event was more of a renewal and celebration. But since we are young and our families wanted us to experience all the joys of a real wedding, we pretty much treated it as such (minus some of the traditions we are not so keen on).

Just over two years after we were married, we were married again, this time at an event venue on the campus of Hampshire College, where we met. On a beautiful day in June 2013, after heavy rains had cleared and left us a crisp, radiant summer day, we exchanged personalized vows in front of our family and friends. Our closest mutual friend led the ceremony and our siblings and friends served as bridesmaids and groomsmen. We stood in front of a gorgeous oak tree with the rolling foothills of the Berkshires in the background. My dad played guitar and sang our processional and recessional, both by The Beatles. My sister and my father-in-law gave readings. I wore a sash made with lace from my mother’s wedding dress. And once the ceremony was over toasts were given, a delicious meal was served, and we partied the night away.

Whereas our first wedding was improvisational in the details, the second wedding was very thoroughly planned. Having a second celebration allowed me to put my DIY crafting skills to work to shape the look and feel of the event. I wanted our guests to feel relaxed and welcomed. And most of all, I wanted this second celebration to represent us as a married couple of two years—more experienced and confident in our partnership. I spent a great deal of time crocheting bunting, organizing photo displays, crafting head-table décor, making signage, creating countless spreadsheets, and corresponding with vendors. My mom and I hunted for bottles and vases for centerpieces. My mother made our card box, found beautiful glass lanterns, and picked out potted plants to add to the ceremony and reception spaces. My husband and I spent hours writing our entire ceremony including our vows. He also designed our ceremony program. It truly was a labor of love.

If we hadn’t had the second celebration, I would’ve never known what it feels like to boogie with my husband to a Stevie Wonder song, glass of wine in hand, and look around and see the glowing, happy faces of all the people we love dancing with us. There is no adequate way to put that feeling into words, so I won’t try. Suffice to say, it was well worth the stress of planning (I’m a control freak and perfectionist, ’nuff said) and certainly worth the wait. Sometimes things have to fall into place, and while it took two years for us to be geographically settled and prepared to expend time, effort, and money toward this kind of event, it was what worked for us.

Couples today are celebrating marriage in myriad ways—in ways that best reflect their lifestyles, values, budgets, and most of all, their unique partnerships. I honestly believe our chosen celebrations were the best representation of who we are and why we are together. Although I wasn’t nervous that day at the City Clerk’s Office, I was even less nervous standing before a hundred guests and reaffirming my love and commitment to my husband. By that time, we had lived in four cities in two years, battled unemployment and underemployment, and secured my husband a green card. Our second celebration was not only a time for family and friends to bear witness to the act of marriage but a time for them, and us, to consider how far we had come and how much more we intend to accomplish. Over two years and two celebrations, we truly experienced the best of both (wedding) worlds.

The Info—Photographers (2011): Luke Taylor (friend) and Melody Serafino (sister) / Photographers (2013): Chattman Photography and Linda Hervieux (aunt) / Location: New York City, NY and Amherst, MA / Venue (2011): Office of the City Clerk, City of New York / Venue (2013): The Red Barn at Hampshire College / Noelle’s Dress (2013): David’s Bridal / Nick and Groomsmen Suits: Wilke Rodriguez suits from Men’s Warehouse / Bridesmaid Dresses: Etsy and JCrew / Pies: Atkins Farms / Flowers: LaSalle Florists, Inc. / Guestbook: CheriBee / Favors: I Buy Coffee / Burlap Table Runners: Rented from Simply Sunshine Events / Crafting and DIY supplies purchased at: Michael’s, Sticks and Bricks Northampton, Essentials Northampton, and vintage and antique shops throughout Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont

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  • Laura C

    Reading about a city hall wedding followed by a wedding at Hampshire = not what I needed when I’m unable to persuade A to have a pre-big wedding elopement and I’ve lately been feeling mopey that we decided to get married in Boston rather than Western Mass. Super jealous.

    • Laura C

      And love that you got pies from Atkins. Although now I crave cider donuts, which I can’t have anyway because gluten.

  • I loved reading this, it felt so familiar. From the (rushed, hilarious, courthouse) to the just over 2 years between that event and the celebration with the family and friends! We’re doing our 2 yrs married/”wedding”/reception this December and it’s taken this long to be at peace with celebrating something that my mom or his dad can’t be there for but we’re finally able to be excited about having a party with our family and friends.

    “Our second celebration was not only a time for family and friends to bear witness to the act of marriage but a time for them, and us, to consider how far we had come and how much more we intend to accomplish.”
    Yes yes and yes.

  • Tanya

    I did this!

    Lower Manhattan City Clerk September 2012, big wedding in Toronto September 2013. Only I was the one immigrating to NY :).

    Thank you for this story, makes me feel less alone!

  • This! We did this too — and so did two of my best friends. We had a quick civil wedding on our 5-year anniversary of dating because E needed health insurance, and had the wedding almost a year later. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

    (And now we celebrate two anniversaries, because why not? We like to give each other presents.)

  • EF

    My fiance is British, I’m American, and we live in the UK. While we’ve got a date set for slightly before my current visa expires for the big party, we are definitely going to the registrar’s office (UK version of the courthouse) a bit of time beforehand. We, too, are writing the ceremony etc, so it will be wonderful and meaningful, but I think it is all the more meaningful when there won’t be a ‘crap, now we have to go have interviews and see if I can stay in the country!’ right afterwards.

    this is wonderful inspiration, and I wish both of you the very best. A little jealous of the massachusetts location as I’m a masshole, but can’t imagine anything more beautiful at hampshire!

  • Erin F

    We did this too! And for similar immigration reasons. I was hesitant but this was the best decision we made. We had a beautiful day all to ourselves that was actually about us and then a day 6 months later to celebrate with our families. We told everyone about the first wedding but only invited the photographer. Then after 6 months we had a ceremony led by my dad. it also makes the planning of the big one a lot less stressful. You’re already married, so if some little thing goes wrong, it’s really no big deal!

  • Rebecca Brunton

    We live in Maine and all of my family lives in Rhode Island. It has always been our dream to be married on a certain beach in RI. We are thinking of having a beach ceremony in RI with a Justice of the peace followed by a reception, and then after the honeymoon, coming home and having a church ceremony followed by a cook out with all of our Maine family and friends. Has anyone ever done anything like this?

  • Bryna

    This is awesome!

    We’re doing a two day Weds-tival… I want to get married at the family church in town; he wants to have a big party by the beach. So on the Saturday we’re having a morning wedding, lunch with close family and the bridal party, then the afternoon and evening with my beloved… and then on the Sunday we’re having a big pot-luck family-friendly party by the beach!

    I love the idea of separating the ceremony from the party – it’s so relaxing to think that I get to really spend some time with my HUSBAND (and really enjoy accepting and processing that) before having a fun party with everyone.

    YAY you guys!

    • Bryna

      oh oh oh…. and…. TWO DRESSES!!!!

      I get to do both classic 50s chic AND hippy floaty with flowers in my hair. Couldn’t be happier!

  • Anne

    It was a pleasure to read Noelle and Nick’s story. I am in a similar situation and I have felt so alone going through this process. I am Canadian and my husband is from the UK and he moved out to Canada to be with me this year. The immigration process is so tricky and stressful (not knowing if your loved one will be able to live in your country is agonizing). He proposed and we were legally married within two weeks. We decided from the start that we would take care of the legal aspects now to start the extensive permanent residence process and would hold a wedding a year later. We knew we wanted a wedding because it was important to include our friends and family in this very important decision. But that is where the clarity ended. I tried to think of it as the first ceremony was making the legal commitment, but that I wouldn’t be really married until our wedding because that is when we would make our personal commitment to one another. With time that argument fell apart… our relationship was in a grey zone and we didn’t know how to refer to each other when speaking to other people. We couldn’t get away from the fact that we had made a very significant commitment.

    Things are better now. We love each other and are very happy with where we are at. I call him my husband at least once a day and that still makes me smile. I do wish I had someone that had understood what I was going through when I was in the middle of everything this summer. I love APW for providing stories like this one because they need to shared.

  • ferrous

    Your weddings look wonderful! Your ceremony venue is beautiful, and your process is inspiring to see. We did city hall with a photographer this weekend. We ended up going out to dinner with a bunch of friends impromptu, but the vow exchange/party will happen next year. We didn’t keep the city hall portion a secret, and we’ve encountered no beef or bitterness so far. In my mind, there’s the legal aspect and the ritual aspect, and they’re simply separate for us.

    Plus, going to city hall is so practical, not many people will fault you for that these days (well, people not on WIC discussion boards). Thankfully, we’re finding that folks just want to party with us. I hope our second celebration goes as well as yours did, thanks for sharing.

  • Emily

    Us too!!

    We’re in the middle of the time between the two events right now. We got legally married in March so we could start the visa process on that footing – little did we know it would actually take as long as it has. Now we are hoping that this will all be done in time for us to have our wedding ceremony and reception with family and friends next June. Urrrr.

    I went into the process thinking that the first one would be formality, but we decided that we wanted my pastor involved, and as we put the ceremony together with her, it became more and more real. But I didn’t want “the real thing” to take place without my family there. So what we eventually got to was that we had a “marriage day” – and changed our relationship status on Facebook, even – and then “wedding day” is next year.

    Glad to know we’re not the only crazy ones!

  • Yay Five Colleges! (I got married in the chapel at Mt Holyoke.)

    Beautiful essay and I love seeing Western Mass represented in the wedding blog world. My aunt and uncle got married underneath that same tree, such a gorgeous location.