Kari & Mike

*Kari, Environmental Engineer & Mike, Test Engineer*

Early in APW’s history, Marie-Ève, who is now a dear friend, left a comment asking that we feature more weddings with kids. She was having one, and it turned out that they were hard to find inspiration for online. We still don’t get tons of weddings with kids submitted (send them in!). But, for this week, I’m so thrilled to bring you Kari’s story of her non-elopement and her blended family.

This is a story about how we chucked the wedding and had a marriage.

I’ve been with my sweetheart for over four years now, and our first few months were a whirlwind of “How did we ever find each other on the Internet;” “Thank goodness you have a lease, or we’d be moving in together way too quickly;” and “Oh gosh I hope his kids love me.” Since we met I have learned to ride a motorcycle, determined how to ask for what I need from my partner as we share the household responsibilities, and figured out a way to make a blended family without feeling threatened by former spouses or the fact that I moved to a small town with everyone else ever formerly and currently involved in my partner’s life. We negotiated a refinance of our big old house, made a budget together, and put together a list of short-term and long-term financial goals. It all sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? The subtext for all of this is, however, how over the last four years I’ve learned how to love the idea of Marriage.

It sounds pretty silly to me now, but I had a lot of baggage surrounding the whole concept of marriage. My divorced family and friends convinced me that even if I had been planning my wedding day since I was a tiny girl—which I hadn’t, really, ever—the marriage was the important thing, and marriages didn’t always last. If I’m honest, I really didn’t ever really believe that I would get married—but after meeting my sweetheart, I was sure that Mike and I would be together for the long haul. After all, we co-own the house! And more importantly, I am stepparenting his two sons—a role I take very seriously, and one that I did not enter lightly into. We are full partners. We already had the kind of relationship that marriages were made of, you know?

This is what we didn’t do: we didn’t have an engagement story. This tortures The Nine Year Old, who is full of what is supposed to happen via the internet and hanging out with ladies his mothers’ age. We didn’t announce to the world that we were going to get married until a month or so before we seriously began planning our non-elopement. We held on to it like a pearl while we figured out how to solve our crusty oyster of a planning dilemma—fitting our wedding in as soon as possible and on the cheap around the bigger and more elaborately planned weddings of our family members.

And this is what we did do: we planned a wedding three times. We already felt partnered up, but we really didn’t know how to progress from our private commitment to each other to a more public and socially accepted version of our relationship. So we tried on a lot of ideas.

Eleven months before our wedding ceremony we were on a day-long drive home from a cousins’ wedding in Tennessee and we started to make a list of everyone we wanted to have at our wedding. Three sheets of scrap paper and three hundred people later, we looked up BBQ catering prices on our iPhones as we headed north through Kentucky and blanched at the cost to even feed all of our nearest and dearests. As we passed through the amazing mountains in West Virginia and through Pennsylvania we tried to negotiate a way to get the costs down to something closer to “just” two mortgage payments. And then after we got home to New York we put the lists aside in divine denial and merrily went on our way until January, when my stepsister and another cousin each announced their 2012 weddings. We hadn’t mentioned to anyone that we were starting to conceive the idea of getting married—and we had been scooped! And out of consideration for their wedding planning process—which really seemed to be a big deal from the outside—we set aside our plans.

At the beginning of the summer we sat down again and made even newer lists. This time we started with lists of family (almost one hundred people, including cousins) and then moved on to friends (two hundred people—the reward of marrying when you’re older and well established in your social circles). We looked at our calendar for the summer and worried if we’d be able to throw together a wedding with short notice and somehow fit it in between other weddings—but non-wedding weekends were nearly all booked up with bringing the boys to and from various sleep-away camps, and with our long-standing family beach camping vacation in August. Even if we had the money to throw at a traditional wedding hall reception (which would put us at somewhere over five mortgage payments, probably), we didn’t have the time to make it happen. And I perhaps stubbornly didn’t want to reduce the cost of the wedding by cutting the guest list.

I experienced a profound wave of self-doubt and cried and wondered if maybe getting married just wasn’t important to us after all, because we seemed entirely unable to prioritize and plan it. And then I blew my nose, wiped my eyes, and sat back with my sweetheart to decide that there were two things important to us about this: one, that we were married. And two, that our friends and family could all come and celebrate. So we set aside our guest lists and decided we’d just have to plan for Summer of 2013.

In late July we had another change of heart and decided: forget this! We want to be married already! And we decided to decouple the ceremony from the party. And believe me—everything fell into place. Once we made this decision it was easy as pie to plan the wedding. We called the mayor of our Village to see if he could marry us on the first Friday of our week-long family beach camping vacation—we were off that day anyway—and when he couldn’t, we made an appointment with the Village Judge. We each worked from home one day and stopped by Town Hall to get our marriage license. Two weeks before the wedding I went online dress shopping with a girlfriend on the phone, and three days after that I went to a big box wedding dress store and bought a beautiful green bridesmaid dress. It had to be shipped from a store in New Hampshire, and it arrived two days before the ceremony.

The weekend before the wedding we went to our local florist and gave them palpitations as we asked for bouquets and boutonnieres and corsages for everyone in attendance, but as they realized that no this wasn’t a traditional high-stress wedding, they visibly calmed down and were obviously bemused as we picked out our fuchsia arrangements. I ordered some trinkets from etsy the week before as thank you gifts for those who attended the ceremony. And we made reservations for thirteen at a local eatery in walking distance from the Village Courtroom. Piece. Of. Cake. Seriously.

And then we got married! Our friend brought noisemakers and even the Judge grabbed one and made some joyous noise. On the way downstairs from the courtroom we stopped in to the library to startle the librarians and to pick up some books I’d reserved earlier for beach reading, and then we walked with our parents, the boys, and our friends down the street for lunch before driving away to our regularly scheduled family beach camping vacation for a week.

There were some stressful times, like, trying to figure out how to tell our very loving extended family that this was happening without having them feel left out or like they had to drop everything to rush up to the wedding—so we decided it was a non-elopement, and didn’t tell anyone until we were married. We invited our parents and the few close friends we were already planning to meet for beach camping that weekend to the ceremony and lunch afterwards, and let our siblings know about it ahead of time. I called aunts and uncles and cousins as we drove down to the beach and let them know we’d be having a bigger community party next summer, and that we are really looking forward to a more public community celebration of our commitment to each other. My family is very important to me, and this was the most difficult part of planning our wedding. I was certainly worried to ‘fess up, but after the first moment of surprise their reactions were joyful and loving.

Now that we’re home and officially married instead of just informally and semi-secretly all partnered up, I can’t help but tell people who ask “how does it feel to be a married lady?” that it’s exactly the same as being a living-in-sin lady—although if I’m honest with myself, it’s not exactly the same. Mike and I are exactly as we were. Our relationship didn’t change, we were fully committed to a partnership before the Judge and the State of New York approved of our union. But as much as I have been skeptical of what a legal marriage would bring to our relationship, it turns out that our community really does factor into it. I was surprised and humbled by the well wishes we received from our friends, family, and colleagues. Even though we’ve been warned that when the wedding and the marriage are decoupled like this, odds are we won’t ever get around to having a big celebration party later, I am even more sure that inviting our community to celebrate with us and mark this occasion will be a tremendously important part of our relationship and our family history. Wish us luck as we plan our celebration party to be as beautiful and loving as our life together, while staying, most romantically, below the cost of two mortgage payments.

The Info—Photography: Steve, Kelly, and Lorelei, all wonderful friends / Venue: Montgomery Village Hall (and Vicinity) / Lunch: Wildfire Grill / Flowers: Montgomery Florist / Friend Souvenirs: Sweet ‘n’ Savory Trinkets / Kari’s Dress: David’s Bridal / Kari’s Fascinator: BabyBella Studio

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  • Karen

    I like your measurements: how many mortgage payments will this be? Very practical, of course!

    • Heidi

      We measured our wedding in terms of college tuition with the same concept.

    • Kari

      I’m not sure where the line between thrifty and cheap is, but I try to toe it as often as I can!

  • Ambi

    “I can’t help but tell people who ask “how does it feel to be a married lady?” that it’s exactly the same as being a living-in-sin lady—although if I’m honest with myself, it’s not exactly the same.”


    • MDBethann

      Exactly! I don’t feel much different now that I’ve been married to my DH for 5 months than I did in the 2 years we lived together before our marriage. That said, I do like that I can call him “hubby” – that’s the best and biggest change :-)

  • KB

    “I experienced a profound wave of self-doubt and cried and wondered if maybe getting married just wasn’t important to us after all, because we seemed entirely unable to prioritize and plan it.” This. I’ve had several mini-breakdowns over this and whether it’s worth it. Which it is – and isn’t really. It’s hard not to equate the two, the skill at planning a wedding and the importance of being married.

    I also have to say that I hope you get that photo framed of you all, where the younger boy has his arms crossed and they’re both mugging for the camera. ADORABLE!

  • I hope you do get your family celebration! but if you don’t, I hope that it is a result of a joyful decision to not have it and to celebrate in a different manner.

  • Your dress? So gorgeous … and I just bought the exact same dress in brown for a friend’s wedding, so I may be a little biased.

    I can also so totally related to planning multiple weddings. By the time my husband and I finally tied the knot we were on the third plan, and each wedding we’d planned but not gone through with was an important stage in getting to the “we just need to be married already” and finally doing it. It’s hard though, going through so many plans. (Especially explaining to friends and family as plans change. That’s rough.)

    • Kari

      If I hadn’t worked through all the options I think I’d have felt like I had made the wrong choice in the end. As it is I’m still so proud and thrilled about our non elopement! It was hard!

      The dress is amazing! And I’ve worn it 2 more times, so I definitely feel that I’m getting my use out if it.

  • DKTX

    Just wanted to comment that I love your dress. Lovely, inexpensive, and memorable (that gorgeous green!) was a smart choice.

  • That is so fantastic. Good for you both! And congratulations!! :)

  • Sandra

    I am engaged to a wonderful man and am already step-parenting his two beautiful children. Money is tight and trying to justify spending that much money on our wedding when there are mortgage payments, and our niece’s wedding, and university tuition for my stepson, and new tires for the truck and, and, and….has proven difficult. We can’t come up with a date or a budget or even a guest list. So I am in exactly this situation, and feeling gulity that we can’t get out sh*t together to make it happen and thinking that I’m too old for an indefinite engagement. “She did observe, with some dismay, that far from conquering all, love lazily sidestepped practical problems “. We’ll get there. Thank you for giving me hope.

    • Kari

      Aw, I SO know how you feel! You and your partner can figure out the right thing for you. Try on all the ideas and then get practical about it. Good luck!

      PS I found that the nasty voice in my head telling me I was doing it wrong because I couldn’t figure out how to get married to my sweetheart? Was the ONLY nasty voice I ever encountered. So I listened to what was behind that voice and it was a gut feeling that I was ready to be married, by hook or by crook. Once I figured out why I was being so hard on myself it was much easier to figure out what would make me happy.

  • Lacey in ak

    “This tortures The Nine Year Old, who is full of what is supposed to happen via the internet and hanging out with ladies his mothers’ age.”

    I’ve been tempted to write an entire APW entry around this: I was so blessed that – for the most part- our funky non-traditional wedding went unjudged (or vocally unjudged) by friends and family. You know who had the hardest time with it? My 10-year old stepdaughter. No one made me so defensive about our choices as she did.

    Of course, I understand at her age the WIC blooms completely in many girls’ imaginations. (And I say this as someone who had a wedding scrapbook that was constantly updated from the age of 10-12) My head knew this. But everytime she said horrified, “You can’t do that!!!!” to another aspect of the wedding, my recitation of my mantra “There are no rules, a wedding can be whatever you want” got more and more terse.

    In the end, we were so thrilled she could be there and was part of the ceremony. And you know what? She GOT it. She loved it. And I hope it taught her that one day, she can totally blow off everyone else’s expectations and do whatever the hell her heart tells her to do.

    However. In my darker moments, I thought to myself: “THIS is why you don’t have kids before marriage.” Kids are so close to it. They feel some sense of ownership to the event- rightly so. But in the end, they can’t dictate the entire wedding.

    • KC

      “But everytime she said horrified, “You can’t do that!!!!” to another aspect of the wedding, my recitation of my mantra “There are no rules, a wedding can be whatever you want” got more and more terse.”

      Yes. I think this is part of many of the questions-that-drive-us-nuts (“are you having kids?”, “what are the wedding colors?”, whatever the question-that-challenges-our-stated-plan is); the first time you hear it, fine, maybe a little annoying… but by the fifth round or so, it’s increasingly tempting to just bite them or something. Given the ten-year-old capacity for pestering, I’m impressed that it didn’t eventually become terse enough to end up coming out as “Back off, #^$*&!”. :-)

      And I’m so glad it worked out so well for you and for her… eventually! :-) Congratulations!

    • Kari

      Ha, YES! Nine was horrified I had his dad check me out in the dress when it arrived, and tortured that we were all getting ready together the morning of. Honestly all he wanted was to be the ring bearer! Thirteen, however, was seriously angling for us to get married so I would be his LEGAL stepmom and not this improper (hard to explain) to friends from school variety. They were so glad I was settling down with all three of them – and I was so grateful they felt that way – that I gave them big passes on their preconceived notions.

  • Very cool! I love your first line, chucked the wedding and had a marriage. Congratulations!

  • DanEllie

    And another congratulatory well wish from another part of your community. What a wonderful graduate story and I wish you all the best as you figure out how to celebrate with the larger community.

  • Cassandra

    We finally fell into the third or fourth incarnation of our wedding, and it’s going to look an awful lot like this – a small courthouse ceremony with our parents and my daughter (we’re blending, too) and a nice meal together after. We keep telling people we’re skipping the wedding we never wanted and heading right for the marriage we’ve all been waiting for.

    Congratulations to you and your sweet family. (And I totally hear on kid’s preconceived notions – our nearly nine year old is constantly full of “but weddings are like THIS”, despite a) having never been to a wedding, b) not having access to a television, and c) being terribly uninterested in the realm of girly things in her everyday life).

  • Sophie

    Kari – Thanks for sharing your story. My fiance and I are in similar circumstances with two busy kids and with our trying to balance the demands of homeownership and differing work schedules with the desire to celebrate a happy occasion with friends and family. You found a lovely middle ground and I wish you joy!

    • good luck Sophie! I know that you will be able to make your happy celebration as well!

  • I can’t thank you enough for this post. I feel like I’m struggling with very similar internal debates, even though my external circumstances are different.

    Long story short, do I go for the weddings emotions/schedule/budget can handle at this point in my life (tiny, not-like-the-ones-our-friends-have-shared-with-us) or do I try to stick it out through the next few months and take on the wedding/budget I feel we would love to have (bigger, more traditional, dancier)? Is this even the right question to ask? I’m genuinely so confused. It’s especially hard because we’ve been engaged long enough for people to be asking what date they should save (we don’t have one), we have a potential wedding planner, and time is flying by.

    All I know is who we want photographing it (cause we deserve at least that!) and that we want to be married. Ahh! Help!

  • Autumn Elizabeth

    This is amazing. Thanks for sharing and bringing hope.

  • Kathy

    I want to EXACTLY this whole post. How I wish I could write as skillfully and eloquently as you do. All those thoughts in my head you captured so perfectly! Thanks for writing and sharing your experience. Happy marriage to you!

  • Hintzy

    I needed to read this so much, I’m glad I found this post! Thank you for your story! I love the comparison of party costs to mortgage payments :)

    While our situation is not the same, we are considering splitting up our ceremony and party for similar reasons. We will likely do a second “ceremony” for our community at the party, but we want to get legally married for our 10th anniversary, which is a Thursday in March – not suitable for the kind of party we want to have :) Congratulations and I hope you have a wonderful celebration!