Kelsey: Engagement As Marketing

Just relax, they say. It's easy, they say.

Engagement as Marketing | A Practical Wedding

When we took our engagement pictures, I planned to be drunk. A decade of research has shown me that my photogenicness enjoys inverse correlation with my level of sobriety. However the good lord does not always respect the scheduling and day drinking needs of the high school-based social worker, so our engagement shoot found me standing in the alley beside our house, on a Friday afternoon, wrapped in Julie’s arms, while my beloved smile-hissed at me, “Just reeeelax! Why are you so nervous??” And our much-adored photographer encouraging us to be more lovey-dovey: “You can make out! It’s the best part!!” And leaning down to kiss Julie while my brain is screaming, “All the other engaged people like making out for the camera! Why don’t you?? You must be broken! Just ignore the camera! Enjoy kissing your partner!! Oh my god, if we can’t kiss on camera, our whole marriage is probably doomed!” (My calm, levelheaded nature is the key to my well-regarded practice as a mental health professional.)

We did not have high hopes for those pictures. And, of course, they turned out fantastically. I’ve printed out a dozen of our favorites and hung them on our walls. We look happy. Loving. Beautiful. Our children will know that, at one time, we were hot. We look like there’s nowhere we’d rather be than romantically and artfully meandering by the dumpsters hand in hand, which is true, in a larger life sense, but certainly is not indicative of our feelings at the moment those pictures were taken.

Which leads me to my point—sometimes I feel like engagement is an exercise in marketing. Our pictures are the first salvo in our attempt to save Julie and Kelsey’s market share as we transition our brand to The Hopson-Shillers. I feel pressure to protect our image as our relationship and our family bears increased interest and scrutiny from all of the important people in our lives. This scrutiny, of course, comes in the form of love—excitement for the wedding, a desire to get to know Julie better, or a sincere desire to make me feel like a part of my new extended family.

Sometimes I buy into the hype I can recognize so quickly in standard forms of marketing. I see other engaged friends and couples on social media, and while intellectually I understand that no one posts about their murderous impulses brought on by picking up someone’s pajamas off of the bathroom floor for the four hundredth time, there’s a tiny voice inside that tells me that we’re not as good as they are. We’re not even continually blissed out when we’re engaged; ours will be a marriage full of strife! Our disagreements take on some new intensity, as we consider that every annoyance about the other is something we’re signing up to take on for-ev-er. I want to distract everyone away from the rough parts, because I know those will smooth out with time, and discussion, and maybe bourbon. I also know that I’m being unrealistic. All couples fight.

When I’m not catastrophizing, I’m just as sure as I’ve been since the day we got together, that I am my overall best when I am part of this partnership. I want to make sure everyone sees the best of us, because we love each other fiercely, make each other stronger, and offer balance to our separate lives. I’m hesitant to even write that while we were supposed to be have a darling, romantic afternoon making out and enjoying our mutual hotness being recorded for posterity, we were bickering and anxious. But why not? That’s one part of us, and we’re not perfect. Although I think we’re pretty good. We are sometimes even as good as we look in the pictures.


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  • Nicole V.

    YES. Over the holidays, we traveled to visit various extended family members and I referred to it as our “wedding world tour”…a time to “entice” people to attend out nuptials this summer. The state of being engaged is an interesting one indeed, and this pressured process of re-branding could perhaps be another factor in some of our increased fighting

  • rys

    This piece makes me very excited to read lots more from Kelsey this year. Fun, thoughtful, sarcastic, and fabulous all rolled into one!

  • scw

    “My calm, levelheaded nature is the key to my well-regarded practice as a mental health professional.” haha!

  • Jenna

    This was awesome! I can’t wait for more installments from Kelsey!

    Also, as a fellow catastrophizing mental health professional, it is always such a relief to know that there are others out there who are anxiously agonizing over things beneath their calm, neutral, “I’ve got this shit covered” exteriors! :-D

    • JDrives

      I’m on that train too :) If we were perfect, how could we ever relate to our clients?! At least, that is what I tell myself when my thoughts are a running “ohgodohgodohgod”

    • Laura

      I thought it was normal for mental health professionals (myself included) to catastrophize (it’s a word because I typed it) circumstances. It has to do, in part, with our training to see beyond the surface issue and to anticipate complications in order to better prepare ourselves and our clients. Also, because we spend a lot of time seeing and hearing about all the worst circumstances. We can’t help but worry about these things. I don’t like to call it worrying though. I prefer to call it “worst-case-scenario life planning.”

    • Kelsey

      Totally! It’s all about gaining the experiences to empathize, right?

  • K.

    I’m irrationally worried that I’ll have to remind my fiance on our wedding day that he can, in fact, give me public hugs and kisses and no one will think he’s acting like a horny teenager (he tends to be somewhat PDA averse, especially in front of his family). Same with our engagement pictures, though I’m not a publicly make out and gaze into each other’s eyes type of person either. On the one hand, I’m sure we’ll be having so much fun that it won’t even be a thought (since we definitely WILL be able to have whiskey before our shoot). And we’re both SO excited for our wedding day that, no matter what, we’ll just be so psyched to be married to each other that I can’t imagine anything but everything being awesome. But on the other hand, there is a certain marketing “standard” that engaged couples are held to and it can be unrealistic and/or annoying at times. So I totally feel this.

    Absolutely love your writing style by the way! Looking forward to reading a lot more!

    • Lauren from NH

      Haha! I love this. My mister is hilariously PDA adverse. A polite peck or lingering but brief smack are no big deal to me. He makes this face when we kiss in public that is a mix of terrified and “sneaking a cookie” face. If he does this when we get married, pictures are mandatory!

      • Sarah E

        That sounds like exactly the kind of face you’ll want immortalized, because it sounds like a quintiessential expression :-)

      • Jennifer

        I was like your mister in our relationship. I had never kissed ANYONE until after my husband and I were engaged. And he always (still) thinks it’s hilarious because half the time after we kiss I make a lemon pucker face. :)

    • Laura C

      We’re the opposite. I’ve been arguing to my fiance that we should kiss on the cheek at the end of the ceremony, because the idea of, like, kissing-kissing for real in front of all those people freaks me the f out. He thinks this is ridiculous. I think it makes a lot of sense. And for our engagement pictures? I had a long list of things we weren’t doing, based on my looks at other people’s engagement pictures, and the kissing picture was high on that list.

      I guess I’m bad at marketing us-the-couple. But then again he goes around with “let me tell you about my fiancee and our cat” practically stamped on his forehead, so it probably balances out.

      • MC

        “But then again he goes around with “let me tell you about my fiancee and our cat” practically stamped on his forehead” HA! That is how my fiance is too. Our relationship and our cat are his two main points of conversation. I tend to think it’s cute because no one expects him to go on and on about the wedding (which he does).

      • enchanted

        Oh man, kissing in front of everyone at our future wedding (not being planned yet, but it will happen!) REALLY stresses me out. I’m always convincing myself that it must mean I don’t love my partner enough!

    • Eh

      One of the reasons we had our engagement shoot was so that my husband would be comfortable in front of the camera and so he could get used to taking direction (he’s not so good with directions). He had a hard time with kissing in front of the camera. Every time we kissed for our engagement pictures he had to be reminded to hold it. On our wedding day he just needed to be reminded for the first couple of pictures and then he remembered that he had to hold it.

  • BeccaC

    Spot on. Engagement photos made me so anxious – I was so worried that we wouldn’t look like all the lovey dovey photos I had seen everywhere. I agonized for weeks over our outfits, staring at colour wheels, buying new accessories and clothes (which I did NOT need), getting FH to iron his shirt, and packing the clothes up in a garment bag for the trip to my parents house (we were taking photos near their house the next day). At 11pm after a lovely dinner with my family I suddenly went oh shit – I had forgotten the clothes at home! I started freaking out and told FH we would have to drive back the next morning at 6am to get the clothes then be back for the session at 10am. My parents and FH spent a while convincing me we didn’t need to go home to get the clothes (and that we needed the sleep and less stress way more then perfectly colour coordinated outfits). And after getting back some photos from the wonderful Jen of Jen Shoots Weddings (APW sponsor FTW!) I realized they were right. We were way more comfortable in our “backup clothes” (i.e. regular clothes) then we would have been in what I had picked out – and it shows in our pictures. Lesson learned – be yourself and never forget that even the best laid plans can go awry!

    • Eh

      My husband wore navy blue pants for our engagement pictures when he was supposed to wear black pants (we were planning on wearing purple, grey and black). We didn’t even notice until half way through the photo shoot when I turned to him and said “Those pants are navy”. Our photographer causally said “yes they are” (I’m pretty sure he had noticed earlier). My husband said he didn’t even realize that he had navy pants (his mother and grandmother bought him dress pants for Christmas and one bought black and the other bought navy – this had actually come up two months earlier when he needed black pants for his graduation and his grandmother hemmed both pairs of pants and handed him the black ones first so he wouldn’t accidently wear the navy ones – SMART woman). What I learned was that our apartment had really crappy lighting (as neither of us could tell that they were navy in our apartment), and no one noticed that the pants were the wrong colour (or at least no one dared to say anything to me).

  • Lauren from NH

    Oh Facebook marketing… I hate that shit. It’s such a high school level popularity contest, and (spoiler alert) I HATED high school. The mister and I are not even together on Facebook. Why would we want to be putting out press releases about our personal lives? If someone doesn’t know we have been together for the last 5 years, we are probably not that close to them, therefore it’s none of their business.
    On the other hand, I definitely do some self censoring because I don’t want people to look down on our relationship. But that has meant that I have sat with some our more difficult fights alone. The problem this creates is two-fold, I don’t get the support I need from my friends and I give my friends an unrealistic model of relationships, which perhaps continues the cycle by putting pressure on them. I am working on being more open about this, but with single friends and friends in very early stages of dating its hard not to feel like our 5 year relationship should have it all figured out.

    • jashshea

      We’re not married on FB and I never changed my name on FB (though I did in real life). Doesn’t seem critical that “Girl whose locker was next to mine in the 90s” needs to know my husbands name.

    • Crayfish Kate

      Heh, FH & I are not even friends on FB. People are dumbfounded by this.

      • Tracy

        I’m just wondering, why not?

        • Crayfish Kate

          That is a really good question, ha! What it boils down to, is he’s not really of the tech-connected-to-everyone generation, and does not see the point of social media. He has a FB account, but never checks it, & only uses the messaging feature to keep in touch with a good friend overseas.

          I think what I’m trying to say is, this is a battle I wasn’t willing to pick ;-)

          • Tracy

            I understand that! I would rather not be connected to anyone on my FB, but it was important to my partner, so our relationship is connected. It was definitely a battle I wasn’t willing to pick :)

    • ferrous

      I love that FB allows me to keep up with friends… but I hate that 90% of it is braggy bullshit. So I only post ~2-4 times a month, and stick to neutral updates or make fun of myself (i.e., when I got stuck in my car due to frozen doors).
      My husband and I are FB friends, but there is no relationship status. If we conceive, I am determined to keep any pregnancy info away from it. We got a puppy a few months ago, and no one knows unless they’ve been to our house or we’ve spoken in person. I definitely take a ‘you’ll know if we talk’ attitude towards privacy.

  • jashshea

    1. That picture is amazing.
    2. Isn’t it funny/terrible how much pressure we put on ourselves to have the hip/cool/amazing SocMedia lives like our friends do when we all know the story behind our own photo-finishes? Why do we do that to ourselves?

    My story here: In one of our wedding pictures, I have this sweet as pie, dreamy look on my face while I’m finalizing getting dressed. Back story: I turned back to the camera and smiled fake sweetly after yelling at my dad to get his ass in the room and see my outfit so that the day could progress.

    • Eh

      I love your back story. I have photos from my wedding that I am glad don’t have audio. I was opening the gift from my husband and I look all happy but the conversation that was going on was about if our best man was showing up and acting as best man. I repeatedly said what is our Best Man doing? and everyone kept changing the subject. I finally said that I needed to tell our officiant (who was standing right in front of me so she knew what name to call when it came to our witnesses. Then finally someone told me what was going on. No one wanted to tell me because they didn’t want to upset me but I just needed to move on with the day.

  • Allie

    I love your writing style and I love that photo. Can’t wait to hear more from you!

  • swarmofbees

    “sometimes I feel like engagement is an exercise in marketing” this sums up why I felt uncomfortable with the idea of engagement pictures. I know they make sense for a lot of people, and I do enjoy having nice pictures of me, but I could not bring myself to have, and pay for, a marketing photo shoot. Wedding photos are a representation and documentation of a momentous day in my life, so they get a pass. I am actually really looking forward to having wedding day pictures. But, when pictures are not of an event, but just of me and FI, for the sake of having pictures of me and FI, I feel decidedly uncomfortable. I know they are to commemorate the “event” of your engagement. But, the distance in time from the actual proposal creates issues for me.I think this has to do with my own personality: my desire to eschew the spotlight and my general struggle with vanity.

    • Alyssa M

      I kind of agree with you. The only reason we ended up with an engagement shoot at all was because I won a free photo print from a local print shop at a bridal show. After the fact, though, I’ve actually used the pictures in a surprising number of wedding related things. Save-the-Dates, wedding website, online registry, a whole lot of things call for pictures, and it’s nice to have these to pull out for it.

      • swarmofbees

        I think I would probably feel the same way if we had engagement photos – they would be useful and I would like having them. I actually wanted some specifically to put up on our website. But, we made do with pictures of us throughout our relationship.

    • My perspective on engagement photos as a wedding photographer is that the whole point is to help you work through those issues of hating the spotlight and having the focus on yourself, on a day that isn’t your wedding day. Going through the twitchy, I’m-uncomfortable-I’m-not-a-model-I’ve-never-done-this-before-HALP thing (that EVERYONE feels) in advance, getting it over with, so during the wedding you can just be you. As an added bonus, you get to see work your photographer has produced that **actually has you in it,** and get to cultivate a real relationship so that on your wedding day you don’t feel like there’s a stranger hanging over you all day.

      • Yeah…. my fiance was really concerned about pictures in general because he feels like he looks awkward. So we did a quick engagement session. When we got the pictures back, they were gorgeous- despite the fact that we felt awkward when they were taken. And now he’s not stressed about wedding pictures at all, which in all honesty was worth the price of the engagement shoot.

    • Violet

      We didn’t do an engagement shoot at all, but if we had, I would’ve wanted to make it look like what our engagement actually looked like: shots of us standing on the subway platform waiting for a train, shots of us sitting on the couch eating Thai and watching The Wire, etc. Would’ve been funny… and accurate. My partner and I never really romantically kissed in a hayfield, or what-have-you.

  • Daniella

    Thank you thank you for sharing! I love and appreciate the honesty.

  • Lindsey d.

    So…. my FH and I designed a logo for our wedding. How’s that for engagement marketing? It’s based on a portmanteau our friends refer to us by, which is in turn based on his Twitter handle. FH came up with the concept, his brother designed it and I’ve tried hard to slap it on everything I could (wedding website, a stencil for directional signs to ceremony and reception, our custom thank you notes, etc). That said, we weren’t a couple on FB until we were actually engaged, we try hard not to be too sappy on social media and except for crowd sourcing and a few photos, I’ve barely mentioned the wedding on FB (so no countdowns or similar). I only added our engagement pictures (which feature exactly one image of us kissing) today when this post made me realize I never uploaded them. A weird mix of marketing and silence, I think…

    • Lindsey d.

      On further thought, it’s more knowing your audience. I talk about the wedding and our relationship a lot here, because it’s the right audience. FB isn’t right; the audience is too wide… Logos that we share specifically with our wedding guests is the right audience, etc.

    • Sara P

      I love the logo!

    • Kat Robertson

      I think the logo thing isn’t really that different (couples marketing wise, at least) than monograms. And before that in certain parts of the world there were family crests… I think historically a lot of families have wanted to find a symbol or set of words to represent themselves to the world.
      Also, your logo is adorable!

      • Lindsey d.

        Ooh, very good point. We plan to keep using it after the wedding (although not sure for what). I love thinking of it as our family crest!

    • jashshea

      Awesome logo!

  • js

    I like this post a lot. I remember how joyful I felt when I realized that not only did other couples fight the way we did, but that all couple fight over the same shit. I wonder how people out there feel about the couple that posted all their arguments, even the lame ones, to social media? I think it was kind of genius.

    Your pics are gorgeous. I can only speak for myself, but on my wedding day, I was so freaking happy, I couldn’t do anything else but smile at my partner, touch my partner, kiss my partner, etc. Our wedding photos are plastered all over our home, because we look hot, because we became a family that day, and because we were so freaking happy, but it’s only one moment in time. One tiny little snapshot that can’t possibly show who we are together or how hard we fought to get to that day. Nobody sees the bumps and bruises. Maybe they aren’t meant to or maybe they would help, I don’t know. I do know I’ll definitely be thinking about it and talking about it after reading this.

    • “not only did other couples fight the way we did, but that all couple fight over the same shit.”

      I was meeting a friend for coffee, and she said something trivial about dishes. The moment that we realized we both have significant others who don’t do the dishes in a “timely” manner and leave them in the wrong place (our kitchen is small, I have a designated dirty dishes area and a designated food prep area) and it annoys the heck out of us was a real bonding moment. Mind blown.

    • Laura

      Oh god I know! I remember being in the back seat while my best friend and her husband (who are grossly happy and adorable) fought about her driving. They later apologized and I said, “Are you kidding? You made me feel so much better..”

  • KerryMarie

    Obviously not the point of this article, but: I did a couple of shots before our engagement photo session and it was great! I was still a bit stiff and awkward, but it would have been worse without the bourbon!

    • Kelsey

      I’m pretty sure bourbon is ALWAYS the point!

  • Kelsey, I love this post! Welcome! :) And sidenote, I see you are in Denver! My fiance and I are getting married in Boulder but planning it from where we live, Los Angeles. So I’m going to love reading about your journey over there :) and my partner and I still haven’t done “engagement pictures”. Who know if we will get around to it- we’re so overwhelmed with just the wedding stuff!

  • moonlitfractal

    We were anxious during the wedding and bickered a lot during the honeymoon. They’re stressful times. The rest of our engagement and marriage have been lovely.

  • Lisa

    Absolutely great photo!

  • Erin E

    Kelsey, love your voice and look forward to hearing more!

    Oh, the social media aspect of the wedding… so hard. Even beyond Facebook, I felt like I was creating a marketing campaign just with our wedding website. And since I do marketing/design for a living, I felt like I had a responsibility to make all of our wedding materials the most amazing thing I’ve ever done… like they’d be a part of my professional portfolio or something! Lots of stress that we didn’t have the “right” pictures (we eschewed the engagement shoot, and then I kind of wished I’d done one when I realized we’re either wearing sunglasses or look suspiciously tipsy in ALL of our couple shots) and we weren’t presenting the “right” image. Crazy when you think about it… although in a world where every detail of your wedding could very well be borrowed from or repeated back on a website somewhere, I guess I see how we’ve gotten to this point!

  • Amy March

    When I get stressed about photos, I remind myself that my parents didn’t taken engagement photos, and they have 2 photos from their wedding. 2. I don’t know what my mom’s shoes looked like, or her flowers. I haven’t seen a still life of her invitation and rings. I didn’t see her dancing with my grandfather, don’t know what grandma wore, have no fun candids, and she’s forgotten most of these details. And it really has never mattered at all in the slightest.

  • enchanted

    I definitely felt this way about taking pictures with my partner! I felt so silly kissing and trying to act lovey. My solution was to just laugh a bunch, which isn’t terribly romantic, but does make it look like you had fun (even though in reality it was just an awkward laugh)… I definitely managed to convince myself that it must mean our relationship is doomed!

  • Cheri Armour

    You know how I know you’re a social worker? You used the word catastrophizing and I LOVE YOU FOR IT! I’m a social worker too! (Hope to become a full time blogger at some point in the very near future :) )

  • kiki

    Great post, thank you for sharing it to me


    Mall di Jakarta

  • This discussion reminds me of a conversation I had this week. I want to list Equality NC as a charity on our website. I looked up their site and found that they have wedding registry pages. I thought that was cool so I contacted them. Turns out they want to send out a facebook message and tweets about us being on their registry page. I said no because 1) I know other people have lives and while they’re excited about our wedding, their lives don’t revolve around it and 2) we certainly didn’t invite everyone we know. I don’t want people to feel left out. I have deliberately kept “wedding talk” to a minimum around people who are not directly involved, and even with them I try to keep the chatter low. I know they care but they have other things in their life, too. So I put a link on our website registry page. The contact at Equality NC said this hasn’t been an issue for anyone else but he realizes that it could have been because not everyone responded affirmatively when they were told about this. I think they need to revise their practice. The ENC representative said “Your marriage deserves to be celebrated!” and while I agree with him, I also believe it shouldn’t be rubbed in people’s faces either. There is a balance.

  • Melissa

    Way way WAY late on this but just wanted to say that I really loved your piece. In particular, the line “sometimes I buy into the hype I can recognize so quickly in standard forms of marketing” really resonated with me (especially since I work in the communications field and am quick to criticize marketing that paints a picture of perfection!). My significant other and I are currently knee-deep in wedding planning and major life decisions — and it feels like we fight all. the. time. Yet our “brand” is alive and well on Facebook — people absolutely raved about our engagement photos, oblivious to the fact that our blissful-looking shoot was preceded by my three-hour tantrum about what to wear (YEP). Do I sometimes feel deceitful? Sure. But it’s only natural to want to put your best foot forward in public — and the love and joy we were ultimately able to express in those photos gives me something to cherish, and to strive for, every day.

  • Sounds like you had fun! That’s so great! :)

  • Guest

    I loved this post! We had our engagement shoot recently and I was a nervous wreck for at lease a week beforehand. (I also had plans of being drunk for the shoot, but limited it to one drink because my nose gets really red!) We got them back from our photographer today and LOVE them! We look so happy and radiant and bright. My fiance was so sweet the whole time, and I remember the way he was looking at me in the photos, and they are just such great memories – I know our kids will be able to look at them and see how happy and in love we are at this moment.
    I also love “I feel pressure to protect our image as our relationship and our family bears increased interest and scrutiny from all of the important people in our lives. This scrutiny, of course, comes in the form of love…” I’ve felt the increased scrutiny so much lately and I know it’s all from a place of love, but it’s still hard sometimes :/