Whether or not I’d like to admit it—since long ago—in the back of my mind I had a vision of the man I thought I’d marry: college educated, non-smoker, never been married, comes from a middle-class family, and we’d meet in college (like my parents had—obviously). I had a vision of the life we would live… we’d date through college, get engaged in our senior year, get good jobs after school, buy a house, get married, and a year or so later we’d start having kids. This was the life I pictured. I prayed for it even when I was dating guys I thought were “the one” and things weren’t going so well.
Instead, I met the man I would some day marry (we’ll call him James… since that’s his name) when I was least expecting it and definitely not looking for it. I was 25, and contrary to my long-held hope—I was not yet married, I did not have a house, and I did not have any kids on the way. Instead, I had just broken up with the guy that I thought for a long time I would eventually marry (you know the one: we met in college, non-smoker, college educated, middle-class family… see above). I was done with the drama of relationships, and wasn’t looking for anything from anyone. For the first time in my life I wanted to be alone for a bit. I was lost, and I was trying to figure out my life. I was finishing up my second degree, this time in photography, and wanted to focus on me.
Right at that point in my life (and a similar “I’m done with all of it” point in James’ own life), we met. And we did not hit it off. He was an overly confident guy that took it upon himself to play a one-sided version of twenty questions within minutes of introducing himself to me. Somewhere in the middle of quizzing me on my life, background, and age (I had to be 25, he didn’t date girls younger than that “because their brains aren’t fully developed yet.” Yes he said that to me within minutes of meeting me!!), I came to find out that he was recently divorced, a smoker, never graduated from college after completing two years of studies, and was raised by a single mother. This guy was not the guy I had pictured in my head my entire life. And certainly in that moment I did not think he was the guy for me either. But for some reason—by the end of that night—something about him had intrigued me enough that I wanted to know more. He was so different than anyone I knew, and while we had so many differences in our upbringings and backgrounds—it turned out we had a lot in common when it came to our mindsets, beliefs, and priorities in life.
To make an already long story shorter, we began dating that day, and a little over a year after meeting—we were engaged to be married.
At this same point, most of my friends from my hometown (a small town in Wisconsin) and college were married or getting married within the year. They were all buying nice houses before doing so, and saddling up for the life I had always pictured in my head. But not James and me. I was struggling to pay the bills, clawing my way out of some serious credit card debt from college, and starting my photography business while working a full-time job at a law firm downtown. I found myself constantly comparing my life to theirs—comparing what they had achieved to what I had not yet achieved. And I always felt inadequate.
But never the-less, I pushed forward and planned what we thought was the perfect wedding for us: a Memorial Day weekend celebration on a beautiful lake in Wisconsin, with all our friends and family there. We found a venue that was perfect for us (a destination wedding feel—but in Wisconsin) at the top of our budget, but I figured we could manage to do the rest on a tight budget—and we did. I didn’t read wedding blogs back then, there was no Pinterest, I wasn’t yet a wedding photographer, and I (sadly) did not know A Practical Wedding existed. So I planned a wedding (with the help of my older sister and mom) based on things I liked and lots of DIY projects (mostly out of Martha Stewart’s wedding magazines).
It has been almost three years since our wedding now, and the memory of that day has faded a bit for me, because you see, we’ve made lots of memories since. We’ve been through some hard times and some amazing times. We’ve laughed, and we’ve cried—and we’ve moved on. I remember before and after our wedding being obsessed with it. I constantly looked at pictures. I talked about it with anybody who would listen. My world revolved around it. Then at some point—life moved on. And now, three years later, it is a somewhat distant memory. I find it interesting all these years later to think of the things I remember most. They certainly aren’t the things I spent the most time on (like the invitations, programs, and decorations). No. They are the things that happened that weekend that were unexpected, that surprised me, that stick with me to this day—and I believe they will stick with me my entire life.
I remember picking lilacs from my parents’ backyard for hours the day before the wedding, running back and forth from the lilac bush to boxes filled with $0.25 Goodwill vases, building the arrangements for each table, and setting some aside for our bouquets. I remember getting pulled over by a cop on the way from my parents’ house to the wedding venue for the rehearsal with James driving and his mom in the passenger seat. I pleaded with the officer from the back seat, telling him that we were on our way to our rehearsal dinner and getting married the next day. Amazingly, he let us go without even a warning. He said he didn’t want to start our wedding weekend on a bad note and wished us well.
I remember the butterflies in my stomach as I kissed James outside of my room the night before our wedding… not planning to see each other again until I walked down the aisle. I remember the gloomy, drizzly day I woke up to early that morning, with my sister laying next to me in the queen sized bed we shared. I remember sleepily walking to the kitchenette and finding my bridesmaids eating breakfast, all happy, glowing, and ready for the day. I remember panicking when the day-of planner came to my room two hours before the ceremony to ask me if we wanted to move it indoors, since it was still raining. When I couldn’t think straight—I remember my bridesmaids suggesting I call James to see what he thought. I remember my hand shaking as I dialed, and the instant calm I felt, when I heard him answer with a smile in his voice. He told me “We’re having it outside. You spent all this time planning for a wedding on the water, we’re having a wedding on the water. It’ll all be okay. Even if it is pouring rain, all that matters is that we’re married.” And he was right. And what do you know—it even stopped raining in time for the ceremony.
I remember the reception hall smelling of fresh cut lilacs as we walked into cocktail hour. I remember the speech James gave at the reception that left me in tears. I remember looking around the room to find almost everybody else, including my parents, godparents, and grandma wiping their eyes as well. I remember dancing until the sweat was pouring down me, and my dress was sticking to me. (Including a terrible rendition of a hip hop routine my girls and I had learned at my bachelorette party.) I remember dancing with James to songs we’d chosen just for us. I remember the overwhelming feeling of joy, love, and happiness—as I looked around the room and saw all the people we loved in one room for probably the only time ever in our lives.
I remember saying “screw it” to my original plans to go right to our room when the reception was over, and instead stayed out until almost three am—squeezing out every last minute we could have with our friends and family that had traveled from all over the country to share the day with us.
I remember all those things more than any of the parts I thought I would remember. I loved our wedding day, and I thought it was perfect for us.
But then somewhere around our one-year anniversary, when I transitioned from being a commercial photographer to being a wedding photographer, my life became immersed in all things wedding. I discovered wedding blogs, and Pinterest, and attended a LOT of weddings. And suddenly the memories of our day became tainted for me, because all those other things got in my brain and somehow convinced me (again) that my life, my wedding, my everything—wasn’t good enough—that I needed more. I no longer had just my brain telling me that we should own a home, have solid careers, and kids on the way… but now I had the internet telling me the same thing about not only my life, but about my wedding. I didn’t have enough details. I didn’t have vintage charm and adorable little favors. I didn’t have cute wedding shoes. And for quite a while after that point I wished I could redo it. And I hated that I felt that way.
But then recently there came a turning point. I was enjoying a lunch break in our kitchen with James—when I realized how beautiful our day-to-day life is—how wonderful all the time we are blessed to be able to spend together is—when I finally, finally realized that our life doesn’t have to be what everyone else’s is. We don’t have to own a home to be married. We don’t have to have a ton of savings in the bank if we can’t manage it right now. We don’t have to have a picket fence, live in the suburbs, and have 2.5 kids.
No—I can live the life that is in front of me, that is mine, that I’m proud of—regardless of whether or not I have those things I thought I needed. Because while I don’t have a house, or kids, or a ton of money in the bank—I know that I most certainly do have things that I never even fathomed I would. I didn’t envision being unbelievably happy and still getting butterflies from a man I met five years ago. I didn’t picture getting to spend every day at home with him while he finishes his college degree, and we run a business together that is able to support our little family. (This still blows my mind!) I didn’t think I’d live in a big city (at least certainly not for this long)—but here we are in Chicago five years later and we love it—even if it means we can’t buy a home until many years down the road.
Somewhere in there—when I finally accepted that my life is my life… when I finally accepted that we each have unique experiences, and that we don’t have to live the life our 10-year-old self thought we would live (thank goodness!)—I was able to accept my wedding for what it was too. (Which, I believe finally allowed me to write this post, all these years later.)
I’m so happy I was able to finally accept my life and let the rest go. Because now I can look back on my wedding and instead of thinking, “I should have decorated the tables differently,” I think, “What a beautiful, joyful day—that was uniquely and perfectly us,” which segues perfectly into life after the wedding… To a place where I can be at peace with living a life that is beautiful, joyful, and uniquely and perfectly us as well.
The Info—Photography: Jon Hamblin & Patrick Sablan (& Disposable Cameras on Tables) / Venue: Heidel House Resort & Spa / Dress: Watters Vera’s Bridals in Madison, WI (it’s from the 2008/2009 collection, we found a similar version from preownedweddingdresses.com!)