*Claire, Director of Disease Prevention & Christopher, Engineer*
Ok you guys. This is so good. It’s just, so effing good. Claire and Christopher planned their wedding in just a month and found a way to dramatically simplify, while figuring out how to reclaim marriage and weddings from the cultural bullsh*t that they flat-out didn’t believe in. Which isn’t even mentioning how gorgeous and bad ass this wedding is. (Motorcycles. F*ck yeah.) But as amazing as this wedding is, it’s just the prelude. Tomorrow morning, Claire will be back with a possibly-even-more-gorgeous post, discussing their marriage.
Before I was a Wedding Graduate, I was a Wedding Dropout. Before meeting the man who is now my husband, I had previously been engaged for two years to someone else. Looking back, I’m finally able to admit that my first reaction when I realized he was proposing was sheer panic. However, when the man you love is kneeling before you with tears in his eyes, asking you to accept his offer of everlasting love, “Um, I don’t think this is a good idea,” just doesn’t seem like a possible response. So I said yes. I called my mom and tried my best to sound thrilled and deliriously happy.
But what I was really thinking was, “Oh shit. I just committed to something that I don’t think I really want. And now I don’t know how to fix it or what to do about it.” So what I did was nothing. Literally nothing—years passed and we never set a date, or really got started planning the wedding. When I finally stopped suppressing my anxiety and actually listened to what my gut was telling me about this relationship, it became painfully clear that it just wasn’t right. So, after a year of trying to make things work in couples’ therapy, I made the difficult and painful decision to call off the wedding and end the relationship. That sucked. A lot. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to read the thoughtful and supportive discussion APW started on this topic. Better than all that therapy, for sure.
Fast-forward a few months and I met Christopher after my girlfriends insisted that I post a profile on Match.com. I was clear with him from the get-go that I was planning to move out-of-state soon and wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. Despite the safety barriers that I tried to put up, I shocked myself by falling madly in love with him and building a relationship with him that was better than I ever knew was possible.
I remember talking with Christopher early in our relationship about my suspicion that I would likely never marry due to my ambivalence toward the institution of marriage. Our conversation confirmed we shared many of the same key values and concerns, but then Christopher said something that made me rethink everything. He said, “You know, I think it is possible to get married on your own terms, without buying into all that bullshit. I don’t think it’s an either/or choice. Either you have to force yourself to fit into society’s narrow-minded little definition of marriage, or else you have to take yourself out of the game altogether? No. So call bullshit and play by your own rules.” Wow. Right?
So that’s what we did. When we decided to join forces, we spent a lot of time talking through how we wanted to design the blueprint of our marriage to reflect and reinforce our values and what that meant for us.
I’ve always said I’m not really a wedding-planning kinda’ girl. What I meant was that I have little interest and few skills in party planning or wedding aesthetics in general. I’d never planned so much as a dinner party and the thought of planning a wedding filled me with fears of inadequacy. Besides, the idea of saying such intensely personal things in front of a crowd seemed nerve-racking and unnecessary. I wanted to elope and get on with our lives.
Christopher agreed our wedding shouldn’t be a choreographed performance, but it was really important to him that our families be there to witness our commitment. So elopement was out. Once that was settled, I went on a popular wedding website and pulled up the wedding planning worksheet. When I saw the planning tasks started sixteen months out, I laughed out loud and immediately started searching for a more practical wedding guide. The google gods smiled on me and sent me to APW’s “The Lazy (and possibly cheap) Girls Guide To Having A Blog-Chic Wedding.” I breathed a huge sigh of relief and thought, “Now that’s more like it!”
Meanwhile, Christopher was really good about reassuring me that we didn’t need to plan “a wedding.” We just needed to plan our marriage and a celebration of that marriage. Keeping the focus on the marriage and letting go of all the baggage and expectations around wedding planning really was key. Yes, I’m completely inept at crafting. So I said eff it. There will be no creative, adorable, perfectly coordinated details at this wedding and everyone will survive. In fact, “it’s just details” became our mantra over the course of the next four weeks.
Yes, four weeks. That’s how long we had to plan our wedding.
Our thinking was: if we have a year to plan the wedding, a whole year of our life will be consumed with wedding planning; if we have four weeks to plan the wedding, it will get done in four weeks. And it did.
In fact, it was so much easier than I imagined. All the big pieces just fell into place that first weekend. Our favorite restaurant agreed to cater the food, we picked our venues, our favorite singer-songwriter agreed to play for us, and a wickedly talented friend agreed to be our photographer at a price that was within our (admittedly limited) budget. Most importantly, one of our very dear mutual friends agreed to be our officiant, even though her own wedding was the very next weekend—what an incredible gift that was! After that weekend, I was walking on air, because everything else was just details.
The other sanity-saving rule we instituted was “one and done.” That simply meant coming together to make thoughtful decisions and then moving on and refusing to second-guess our choices.
For us, playing by our own rules meant not feeling obligated or constrained by wedding traditions that weren’t meaningful to us. Luckily, both of our families were incredibly supportive in encouraging us to do what felt right for us. It meant a lot that my evangelical Christian family never tried to sway us away from our homemade Humanist ceremony.
My husband and I are both allies in the fight for marriage equality, and it mattered to us that our wedding referenced this in some way. We decided to place a bowl of White Knots for marriage equality next to our guestbook. One of the most meaningful memories is how my parents, siblings, and nieces sat with my husband and me the night before our wedding and helped us cut the ribbons and tie the white knots. At first, my Dad thought marriage equality meant the husband and wife would be equals in their marriage. I pulled up the whiteknot.org website and explained what marriage equality meant to us. I was worried he would be offended and walk out, but he just said a quiet, “Oh,” and continued helping my young nieces tie knots. That was priceless to me.
That’s not to say things didn’t go wrong. The day of the wedding was a series of hectic mishaps that left us running late and missing our pre-wedding photos. After zipping me into my dress, we made a quick run-through of the party room, only to find someone had rearranged our setup, the caterer (and food) hadn’t shown up, the bartender (with all the alcohol) was nowhere to be found, and the vases sat empty on all the tables. We took ten seconds to clear the empty vases off the tables, shrugged our shoulders and said, “Fuck it. We don’t have time to deal with this shit. We have to go get married.” Then we hopped on his motorcycle and rode off to the theater, where all our family and friends were already gathered.
Sitting on the back of that motorcycle in my wedding dress, I practiced some Ujjayi Pranayama breathing and silently repeated to myself, “Let go of all the external distractions and be actively present in this moment.” I know it sounds hokey, but that’s how I made my wedding zen. Did I realize our guests might arrive at a reception with no food or drinks? I did. Was I stressed about that? No. For real. In fact, I shocked myself by how little I cared. Normally, I would have whipped out my phone and frantically started dialing, but there was no way I was going to let the food and alcohol at the reception hijack my mood and overshadow the importance of the vows we were about to say. When we pulled up at the theater, I was just giddy with excitement and happiness. All my nervousness and fear of public speaking were just gone and I was inexplicably relaxed and at ease.
As someone who had pushed for an elopement, I was surprised by how meaningful and powerful it was to be surrounded by our loved ones as we said our vows to each other. I had previously thought of marriage as a private commitment between me and my husband, but when we were in the moment it seemed more like we were main characters in a story that was so much bigger than ourselves. The ceremony was deeply personal, hilarious, and meaningful to us, and Christopher cried the whole time. The love radiating toward us was palpable, and I remember feeling overwhelmingly joyful and grateful that all these people traveled from around the world to witness and support our union. They could give a shit about our signature drink. They’d be just as happy drinking water from Solo cups.
The only lesson I have to share is one I learned weeks after the wedding. Whenever I would talk about the day I would avoid using the word wedding, as if to protect my little wedding from any preconceived expectations or avoid disappointing people. I had just told a colleague something like, “Oh, it wasn’t really a wedding. We just got married, and had a really simple little get-together afterwards to celebrate.” She stopped me by saying, “So are you happy with the choices you made? Yeah? Then own it! Don’t downplay it. Give it the respect it deserves. You got married. That makes it a real wedding. Period.”
I felt chastened for like two seconds before going, Yeah. F*ck yeah! I had a real wedding! It was the wedding I had never dreamed of, and it was everything I never knew I wanted.