Rachel & Zach

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what makes a marriage different from long term dating, and how a wedding ushers in that change. One of the answers I came up with is the way that families relate to a couple after (and while) getting hitched. I love the way Rachel’s story grapples with that and the way she talks about how their parents instinctively knew the right way to allow them to make this transition, even before they knew. I think it’s a must read for you (even if you’re already married), and you might want to email it to your mom, too. The pictures are by Julie Randall Photography in Portland.

I’ve been hesitating to write a wedding graduate post for a while. I thought that I didn’t have anything unique to say about our wedding other than it was ours, it was amazing, it was special, it taught me things, there were emotions, etc., etc. Same old, same old. It’s a wedding, for f*ck’s sake. It’s huge even if you think it’s not going to be. Weddings are a big emotional sucker punch in the best possible way.

Is that enough for a wedding grad post? I wasn’t too sure. Now, almost eight months later, I’ve realized what’s actually been stopping me from writing. I realized something at our wedding… it crept up on me slowly months before then turned into a wave that truly broke a couple weeks wed.
Our wedding was all about our parents.
It’s the most unpopular thing to say on most wedding sites, let alone an indie site. But for me, it was true. You see, Zach and I really began to process our “being wed” once we got engaged. That moment was so important to us. We’re going to be partners forever. That’s it; we’re committed; come look and see. The wedding itself, while an incredible party (we had just moved back from two years abroad, so there were lots of reunions happening), was about making the even more public announcement of our vows.
The vows, our vows, were the most important thing for me going into the wedding. Everything else was “details” in my eyes. I wanted to look nice but like ourselves, and stand up and say the most important things to each other that we would ever say. And I wanted people to be there. That’s it.
Now, when I say that the wedding was for our parents, I don’t mean to say that they took over planning, or were overbearing. Actually just the opposite. When we got engaged my mother-in-law wrote to us and said, “Whatever you decide about your wedding is fine with me. If you want to get married in Alaska, on a Tuesday, at 2am, naked—that’s great, I’ll be there.” Which pretty much sums up all sets (and there are three) of our parentals’ attitudes toward the wedding. My dad might have objected to the naked part, but more having to do with the cold than anything else. All in all, they went with the flow, they were excited, they trusted our decisions and truly supported us in shaping and forming the event.
That is to say, they were great parents—all the way through pushing us into adulthood as a married couple. They continued to be amazing people even at a time of high stress, high stakes, and potential high drama.
In that way, Zach and I started planning with a very blank canvas. We were lucky. Every decision we made we got to think about on our terms. And in the end I was probably the most shocked of all by how many decisions we made because of the joint love and desire for something; joint not only between me and Zach, but naturally and happily thinking about what our parents would like or find special. We are truly their children, and by having the space to completely be ourselves, we naturally found ourselves as both products of our lives and products of theirs.
So, when the day came and went, for me and Zach it was enormous…  enormous. Full of joy, love, party, band, food, fun, dancing. We got married at noon on New Year’s Eve, then partied until New Year’s Day. I had a costume change. It was epic. And, it was also big, huge and epic for our parents. They got to see us, honestly and truly as adults making choices that made them proud—choices they gave us space to come to all on our own. What magic life holds sometimes, right?
And when I say that the day was for our parents, I don’t mean it had no meaning for us. I mean that once you walk back down that aisle, you and your spouse, you are family. You’re connected with someone who isn’t blood related in a bond that will last a lifetime (even when it doesn’t). That choice is a choice about family. So, naturally, it’s only then that you can truly understand the joy, fears and attachment that your family has on this event. It’s not just the two of our hearts that grew that day, it was all our hearts that grew to hold another tribe.
A wedding is a microcosm of the rest of life. Every moment only happens once. Every day only comes around once.
At a wedding, we just honor that significance more. Our parents, having been there moons ago, and having known us our whole lives, understood pieces of that and how we might process it better than (or at least before) we did.
They held the space for us to have the experience we were meant to have and created for ourselves. And in that way, the day was as much about us forming our new family, our new tribe, as it was about our parents giving us that final gift of safety to do it the way we needed to.
The Info Photography: Julie Randall / Venue: The Woods / Catering: Grand Central / Pies: Laura Content / Earings: Betsy & Iya / Flowers: Fresh Roses / Band: Stolen Sweets

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  • i want to exactly this whole post.

  • Thanks for sharing this sentiment so beautifully. I felt this way about my parents at my wedding but I hadn’t articulated it. It looks like I need to write my parents another thank you note…

  • It’s hard for me to express what your post makes me think about. I definitely ‘exactly’ the feeling of creating your own family and taking, in doing so, a step away from your parents.

    I recognize the spontaneous desire to create an experience that honors and welcomes your parents. I think our sets of parents too, try to give us all the space to create something that fits us all.

    Could it be that the pressure I feel to read the minds of those beloved elderfolk and anticipate their wished and desires, and the anxiety I feel at the idea of maybe disappointing them somehow, are simply the products of my own head and not theirs?

    Thanks for making me reflect on this. I need to check if I’m not seeing ghosts.

    Also, you both look so giddy and happy and full of love.. It’s adorable!

  • Jen M

    Oh man, this was a good one. I’m going to try to remember your words as my mother throws another tantrum over flowers. woosah….

  • This post is so eloquent, thanks. I love how you describe how it is all about the family, the new one that you are forming, and being part of the bigger. It is one of the most overwhelming feelings (in a good way) and I could not have explained it better.

  • well I may have audibly yelped when I saw your names in the heading (they are our names too). I had thought our wedding would be a lot More about our parents, or at least zach’s parents, since we chose their anniversary for our wedding day. For the most part they resisted being given too much attention for their 39th anniversary, but still I think because of how supportive and hands-off our parents were in the planning, we both worked harder to make sure they felt a part of the day. Looking back I think we did that more for his parents than mine, but, there were reasons for that too. Like Brenna above, I feel like I need to write thank you notes again. I really appreciate when wedding grads remind me how much we have to be thankful for.

    Congrats on your awesome wedding! Thanks for sharing. :) Also, the shallow: holy crap your dress and your hair. Gorge.

    • oh! you are the Rachel from joy quest daily! who commented on My grad post about the name similarity.. hahah. so glad you wrote a grad post, I’ve wondered how your wedding went! :)

      • you rock! I totally remember your wedding, the name similarity, and your totally happy wedding grad post. Thanks for the warm feedback! :) and yes, extra thank you notes are never a bad thing. I still feel like I’m reeling with gratitude for fam and friends and it’s been months. I think that’s why so many marrieds end up helping at weddings…. My pal just got hitched this weekend, and I helped majorly with set up. After the ceremony she came up to me with those vibrating happy eyes and was all thank yous – I just looked at her and said “You welcome, I KNOW how grateful you’re feeling right now, and trust me – you’re so so welcome” :)

  • “I mean that once you walk back down that aisle, you and your spouse, you are family. You’re connected with someone who isn’t blood related in a bond that will last a lifetime (even when it doesn’t). That choice is a choice about family. So, naturally, it’s only then that you can truly understand the joy, fears and attachment that your family has on this event. It’s not just the two of our hearts that grew that day, it was all our hearts that grew to hold another tribe.”

    I tried to cut down this quote, but I think it sums up everything so beautifully. Even though my fiance and I have been together for almost eight years, it’s another thing entirely to be a family. We’re moving toward that–merging finances, listing each other as emergency contacts, etc.–and we’re excited about officially being a family, but I hadn’t thought about how our own families would feel about this development. Really well said. I can only hope our wedding is as beautiful and moving and fun as Rachel and Zach’s.

  • Oh my goodness, there is so much joy in every single one of these photos. And your hair! And your dress! Thank you for this post.

  • This is a gem and hands down one of my favorite wedding graduate posts ever. My boyfriend and I have only been together for two years, but we’ve been living together for the last year, and we often discuss what marriage means. We’re in the process of grappling with how and why a wedding and marriage might matter. Rachel, your post puts into words so much of what I think my boyfriend and I both feel but have been struggling to articulate. Thank you. And congratulations to you and Zach!

    • I feel like I’m in exactly the same spot. The ManBeast and I have been together two years, living together for one, and have started talking about the possibility of marriage in our lives. And while I’ve always thought I’d get married, now that I’m faced with that prospect being real, with a real man in front of me, I find myself stumbling on how to handle it. I’m finding that I’m not really sure what marriage means to ME, or how I view the role of ‘wife’.

    • Josephine

      Is it “only” two years? I’m also in a 2 yr (+3m!) relationship and discussing marriage. Sometimes I feel like people on sites like this tend to have been together longer before marriage and that makes me panic and think I can’t get married yet. But we’ve had loads of pre-marriage talks and done the APW questions and we’re on the same page.

      so…. I wonder if two years is an only or an enough.

      • I think it’s a very individual thing. we got engaged a couple months shy of our 2-year dating anniversary. my sister got engaged on her 1-year dating anniversary. we have friends who started dating about the same time we did, and only just now (4+ years later) got engaged. everyone has their own timeline!

  • What a beautiful post, full of love. Your pictures transpire that love and happiness that you describe. And I love what your MIL wrote to you, I will save it and send the exact same note to my kids when they decide to get married :)

  • april

    If I were your mum and read this, I would burst with pride and joy. Reading it as a total stranger, I’m still all choked up and happy for you!

    Although my husband and I have no connection to parents or my in-laws, I found this post so beautiful (even though my heart is aching a bit for the want of a “tribe”).

    And bravo for what looks and sounds like an absolutely FANTASTIC wedding!!!

    p.s. *LOVE* your hair updo – so pretty!

  • Manya

    Wow, I really love this post, and it made me think about our wedding–and our parents–in a new way. My parents were awesome. So excited for us, as in love with Brian as I am (though in a different way obviously), and committed to not making the visit/day/week around the wedding more stressful for me. Their effort NOT TO TALK POLITICS (my father’s favorite topic and a huge source of conflict between us), to let me be the main mom of my children (sometimes my mom pulls Alpha female around mothering, and we have different parenting styles), etc.. They showed such respect for me as an adult, and I appreciated it so much. Us pulling off this beautiful event on our own was just an extension of us being our own family.

    The day of, they were amazing. When I was freaking out while getting ready, my mom just dug in and got the kids organized. When my heart was breaking about my baby being unable to join us because she was sick my mom said: Get out there and do it. We’ll take her to the hospital as soon as you are finished, and you are a wonderful mother.

    Then my dad gave a toast, which was really not a toast, but a tribute to me as a woman and a person that was the most amazing gift I have ever recieved from him (and had everybody weeping).

    So guys, thanks for this very thoughtful, and very adult, post. You made me see yet another dimension to our wedding.

  • Yea for awesome parents!!

  • Caroline

    Great post. It really makesnme think about how weddings make families. Over the past two years,
    I feel like my family had started to treat us like andamily, though we aren’t married or engaged yet. (everyone knows we’re planning on getting married someday, when we’re financially ready to be married.) my mom keeps accidentally calling J my husband. She’s no longer even having a big freak out when she does so. I feel like our family treats us like a family, but I look forward to seeing how that grows when we do get married.

  • Annearky

    Yes yes yes! I love this entire post. This is why I roll my eyes when I come across people/ads who proclaim, “IT’S MYYYY/YOURRRR DAYYYYY!!!” Cause it is, but then again, it’s totally not. It’s about two families coming together to celebrate, and to make a new family in the process.

    Congratulations and thanks for a lovely post. :)

  • I just have to chime in and say that your smile in these pictures is knock-me-over spectacular!

  • Rebecca

    Amazing post…some of the best sentiments I’ve heard on this site.

  • I have to say I am overwhelmed and thankful for the response to my post… It is such a delight and inspiring to hear from this amazing community. Thank you for all the words and shared stories. Sometimes sharing a great experience can feel unsupported as so much of our communications are about complaining and/or supporting the harder stuff – and I really really appreciate this site for giving voice to both the joyous and the challenging. It’s so honest.

    oh, and keep the hair love a-comin’ Nothing makes a lady feel better than hearing she looked good on her wedding day! Thanks for the love!

    • Josephine

      Much hair love! It looks fantastic. And very complicated and nothing I could do in a million years. But it’s “so that’s why hairdressers are worth it” hair.

      • honestly, I am used to having really short hair – therefore know very little about doing my own hair. No joke, I just learned how to braid my own this year. So the cost of the hair dresser (which was a fam friend and a gift) was far less than the fear of literally either a) freaking out about it the morning of because I ignored it as a ‘to do’ – ei. indecision becoming a decision or b) letting it fly around in my face all day getting bigger and bigger in the potential rain (it’s Portland after all)… that would have made me very sad.

        I ended up with fancy hair on my wedding day because I’m SUCH a ‘simple hair’ gal that I really really can’t pull off ‘looks like it took no effort’ hair. :) paradoxical, I know.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I read a piece by a newly-wed once who said of herself and her husband, “We’re family now.” I wondered if there was a typo: “We’re A family now.” That’s how we usually think of it. But I like the sentiment without the article, too. “We’re family now – and just like you can never break the bond with a sibling or a cousin, you just have too much in common, too much shared, so you can never break the bond with your spouse, and neither can your siblings, and your parents, and your cousins, and your aunts, and your uncles break the bond with your husband – their new brother and son and cousin and nephew.”

  • Rachel, I love how happy/excited you look in all the pictures!

    This is a great post. I totally agree with everything you have to say about family. I’m going to pass it on. :)

    PS: Yay Portland!!!

  • Oh my! This is an incredible post! I received an email this morning that my jewelry was mentioned on an amazing blog… And I clicked to come to this beautiful site with this insanely inspiring post. What a lovely surprise!?! … I know the beautiful Rachel and had the privilege of being at the aforementioned wedding. From an outsider’s perspective, I have to say, it was exactly how she describes it…and more. One of my favorite moments was hearing the different parents speak. I’m getting all choked up even thinking about it. And now hearing Rachel’s feelings about it–it just makes so much sense to me. Thank you for sharing! …I will now start my day by sobbing in the shower (you know, the good kind of sob).


  • Lori

    I absolutly love how you said going “back down the isle…. everyone’s heart grows…. it’s normal for everyone to have fears, etc.” THAT is THE single most important aspect of getting married- simply put. THANK YOU for that!!! Great post!!!