A Surprise LA Wedding

Get your tissues out, folks

Esther, Student & Rhys, PhD Student

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

I feel silly writing a Wedding Graduate Post because unlike almost every other bride out there, I didn’t plan any aspect of the wedding. I did however, get married—at a wedding that my husband threw for me as a surprise. A wedding that my husband planned in less than three weeks, without my knowledge.

It was magical.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Our circumstances were more complicated than we would have liked. When Rhys officially proposed and we started thinking about getting married, we knew a big wedding was out of the question. We were poor students after all, who will stay poor for a long, long time (yay med school! Yay grad school, then med school!). At first that was okay, since we didn’t want a big wedding anyway. Then, around the same time that we were thinking of eloping to Vegas, I came to the conclusion that, “Just kidding! I want to have a party and everyone I love to gather ’round and love on us on our wedding day!” Then we found out getting my spousal visa would be very expensive, so our “wedding” was going to have to be signing papers at city hall after all.

On top of that, I was (and still am) going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal, which made me not only feel extremely sick, but look extremely sick. Despite my attempts at being open minded, I had an idea of how a bride should look like, and a scabby, oozing, burn victim was definitely not it.

I tried hard to be okay with it. I mean, there were just so(A). many(P). reasons(W). to be okay with “just” signing papers. It made sense financially. As a bona fide empowered feminist, making a big deal over a (lack of) wedding seemed so silly. I was confused as to why I felt so depressed over not having a wedding—it’s not like I ever daydreamed about The Wedding Day, nor did I ever look at pretty wedding things on Pinterest.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

During the wedding planning process, my then-fiancé and I only saw each other over the weekend. We talked on the phone during weekdays, and on one of these phone calls, I couldn’t stop crying for over an hour. After our call, Rhys called me back in efforts to cheer me up, and I still couldn’t stop crying. As we talked I realized, a wedding, to me, wasn’t about the dress, or the cake, or whatever else it traditionally includes. I was crying because a wedding, to me, was the one legitimate opportunity that I could demand all my loved ones to gather in one place and love and bless our union. A wedding was the one chance I was going to get to be unapologetically at the center of my loved ones’ attention, and be ecstatic, together.

When we decided to go to city hall, I thought I had to let go of this chance to be loved. So I cried, grieving the loss of what I thought was my only chance at being loved by all of my community, and my husband, at the same time. After my sobfest, Rhys apologized. I told him he had nothing to be sorry about, that I knew I was being silly, and that I’d get over it. He said, in efforts to make it up to me, that he’d plan everything about the city hall wedding, and my only job was to show up and feel pretty. I said okay.

Unbeknownst to me, he frantically started Facebook messaging my friends that very night, determined to organize a place where all my loved ones could be together. I was conditioned by society and media that men cannot possibly care about a wedding, nor do they possess the ability to organize a good one, no matter how small. So I constantly interfered. I pestered him, not knowing my amazing, detail-oriented, busybusybusy fiancé was collaborating with my family and all my close friends, planning a surprise wedding in less than three weeks. (In defense of me trying to interfere, how could I have possibly imagined this was at works? I mean, who does that?!)

The weekend before the wedding, we went suit shopping, and he was clearly stressed. I attributed it to his work and the fact well-fitting suits were not easy to find. To lighten the mood, I said, “Can you imagine planning a whole wedding? That would be so stressful!” and my poor fiancé smiled, then replied, “… Yes.”

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

When my interferences continued, my fiancé told me, “Look, you just have to trust me and focus on the one thing I told you needed to do. You have to make sure you feel pretty!” Easier said than done. While I was trying to do his job, I was hopelessly failing at my job. It’s hard to feel like a beautiful bride when wearing a white dress can mean dying it red with your blood. The world tells us that a woman must look her best on her wedding day, and here I was, failing to feel even like my normal self.

Because I thought my skin was too broken for a bride, I had a long sleeve, floor length wedding dress made for me. It came two days before the wedding, and I hated it. The fabric covered me up, sure, but I didn’t feel anything close to pretty. Well, since it was just going to be signing of papers, I told my mom I was just going to wear a random non-white dress I had in the closet. She insisted we go shopping. So we went, the day before the wedding, in an attempt to find a dress that was somewhat bridal.

You guys. It is so hard to find a white dress that isn’t a clubbing dress or a full on taffeta and lace wedding gown. After a whole day of shopping, we finally saw what we were looking for. It was strapless and short and didn’t cover any of my scabs. Despite that, the dress allowed me to feel pretty. It made me think I would be able to succeed at my only job.

The day of the wedding arrived and my parents were on the phone to announce the nuptials to our relatives in Korea. They were cautiously excited, telling us that they would send some money as a wedding present. They wanted us to send them photos. They would be praying for our union. They cared, so much. At that moment I felt loved, to the core. I realized, wedding and celebration or not, the love that surrounds me is so much greater than I can imagine, and I didn’t need proof of the said love. My soul was content. I continued on the day, serene, despite many things causing delays.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

So the day went: At my mom’s insistence, we had a professional hair appointment. My dad decided that five minutes before we were supposed to head out was the best time to wash the car. We arrived late to the appointment. The stylist was helping somebody else. We started late. We ended late. We came back home and the damn fake eyelashes (one of two makeup items I was able to wear that day. The other was tinted lip balm) just wouldn’t align correctly. We got on the freeway, and it greeted us with full-fledged LA rush hour traffic. Meanwhile, my sister tells me she was instructed by my fiancé to blindfold me, but since she doesn’t want the falsies to fall off, I may close my eyes instead. I said no.

Attempting to control until the very end, I plugged in the address my fiancé gave me (hint: it was a trick! He thought of everything!) into Google Maps. My sister frantically texts my fiancé, who tells her we must get there before the fifteen-minute grace period is up, and ohmygad I forgot his wedding band at home!!! Traffic isn’t letting up and WHY IS MY DAD EXITING ON THE WRONG ROAD. Then my sister goes CLOSE YOUR EYES! My maps app is freaking out. I am freaking out. But I finally obey and close my eyes.

The car stops; we seemed to have arrived in the nick of time. I hear my sister on the phone with my fiancé, and she mentions my friend’s name. Huh? I stay seated in the car, clueless and confused, as my phone continues to direct away.

My sister half carries me out of the car and instructs me to start walking. Eyes closed, I start wobbling forward. I enter a lit area and finally! You may open your eyes and I see my fiancé looking so good! And there is my friend! What is she doing here? I try to kiss my fiancé and he says that’s for after.

What is this clearly wedding related place! Are we taking studio pictures because I kept bugging you about taking pretty pictures? He smiles and guides me up the stairs. About halfway up the stairs, I see a person in an orange dress. What is happening right now? One more step and I see my friend’s face! I will never forget that moment.

All the way up the stairs, and I am now at a wedding chapel, with my friends all in different circles, standing as they wait for the bride to enter. And the bride was me.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

I have never cried out of joy before that day. Standing there, looking at my husband-to-be in the eyes, holding an origami bouquet that clearly took forever (four hours with two people to be specific), surrounded by my friends and family. It was as if I was caught in an avalanche of joy and love and my heart was overflowing with gratitude. Nothing comes close to describing the overwhelming gratitude that rushed through my soul. I had to force myself to stop crying because the falsies glue wasn’t waterproof.

Seeing my friend officiate like a pro, sing and play the guitar, say words of blessings… I don’t know how, but my husband had actualized all my dreams about our wedding day, and then some. Saying our vows in front of our loved ones, exchanging (borrowed) rings, and finally being pronounced husband and wife has to be the most profound moment of my life.

After the ceremony, we went to El Torito. My friends were already there and had decorated the place. As we ate and laughed, my now-husband surprised me yet again—he said we have a reservation at a hotel for the weekend and my mom had already packed my bag. What?! Ever the amazing mother, she reassured me she packed all the lingerie. My sister made gagging noises and my friends winked knowingly at me.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

I have never felt so loved in my life. I used to aww over romantic novels, but now their appeal is gone because my real life love story with my husband is better than any romanticized fictional thing I can read about. If I had been involved, would I have done some things differently? Probably. Was it beyond perfect, just the way it was? Absolutfreakinglutely yes.

To think I was grieving about lack of love at my wedding. I should just trust him, indeed.


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  • scw

    I love this! you look beautiful. I would never have guessed that you bought the dress on such a short timeline.

  • KT

    o how wonderful! congratulations!

  • Kat91314

    I was waiting for this Wedding Grad post!!! This is exactly why I love APW :-) And you look gorgeous, by the way. Congrats to your hubby for pulling it all together in such a short time, and I’m so happy for the both of you!

  • KB

    Wow! Love this so much. You looked amazing!

  • Hayley Tuller

    Wow, so your husband grieved that you were sad, and organized the whole thing in secret to make you happy. That guy is a KEEPER.

    • I am so very lucky to have the privilege to love and be loved by him. I fully intend to keep it that way :D

      • This is so fantastic!!! All the best to you both!

  • Heather

    Absolutely stunning. The love! Oh, the love that shines through these photos…. and to think- you didn’t need a lick of makeup! What a gorgeous bride you made.

  • sheismle

    Thanks so much for this post. During my ongoing wedding planning (and, well, every summer) I have struggled with whether I should try to hide my skin ailments (psoriasis, atopic dermatitis) or just accept that they are part of who I am and that I can look good without having perfect skin. Seeing your photos is a revelation– love & happiness shines through and you are absolutely beautiful!

    • I feel you! You know the silly thing though – I look back through my FB photos, and think, wow I looked good! And a lot of these pictures I didn’t want to take because I thought my skin was acting up. I bet you will look beautiful on your wedding day – but I’m sure retouching will ensure that ;)

  • Ashley

    Crying at my desk. This was such a living and beautiful story

  • Beautiful!

  • Jenni Kissinger

    This is such an amazing story, and you look so radiant in your pictures!

  • Ella

    Absolutely lovely. If I was a crier, I would cry right now.

    Btw, you look GORGEOUS — how is that without makeup?! Beautiful skin, beautiful smile, beautiful love. :)

    • Laura C

      I am not a crier, but I definitely have some watery eyes going.

  • Cat

    “They cared, so much. At that moment I felt loved, to the core. I realized, wedding and celebration or not, the love that surrounds me is so much greater than I can imagine, and I didn’t need proof of the said love. My soul was content.” –This. All of this!

  • Catherine McK

    Oh yay! I’m so glad you submitted! You look positively radiant and your story is even better than I imagined!

  • Heather

    What an amazing surprise! I had a friend who went through TSW, so I know it isn’t easy, but he said it was so worth it when he was finally healed. What a beautiful day!

    • It’s always reassuring to hear about people who have went through TSW and came out stronger on the other side! I know some still have traces of sensitive skin, but compared to what I went through before knowing about TSW I’ll take it! Thank you for reading!

  • Nikki

    The last picture..LOVE IT!! I wish you both much happiness.

  • Emmers

    Such a loving story. What a great way to begin your marriage. And I wouldn’t have guessed that you were just wearing eyelashes and lip gloss, because of how happy and lovely you look. I guess it really is true that when you’re the bride, it just makes you have a little *extra* glow, apparently even without makeup!

    • Class of 1980

      The bride is a cute as a button!

  • ruth

    This post made me cry! What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing. My husband actually planned most of our wedding too. The culture doesn’t give men enough cred for how much they really can and often do care about weddings / marriage. Wishing you guys many blessings and much love

  • oh, meredith

    Yay!!! Love it! I’m so glad you shared. :) And you look radiant, and so does your groom!

  • Emily

    ….This is just amazing! What a story.

    Also, that’s a funny story about your dress, because the first thing I thought was, “Oooo!! Where did she get her dress?! It’s PERFECT.”

    • Thank you! to think I almost didn’t try on! (It looked like a sack on the hanger)

  • Katelyn

    This piece easily just made my APW Top 10 List. Maybe my favorite of all time. I recently had a case of pityriasis rosea – it is not even 0.1% of the misery of TSW and it deeply affected me. It made me think a lot about vanity and the privilege of having a body that functions as it should.

    I used to act nonchalant about my outer self and its perception by others, but having a skin problem made me realize how important it was to me. I’m still unpacking whether I can or should try to change that level of importance. Equally surprising was the amount of mental concentration taken up by physical sensation – while I have experienced similar distraction with my back problems, I assumed much of my frustration was due to lack of mobility. But even just a bit of an itchy scalp was like slamming the door on higher mental functions.

    Best of luck on your recovery, Esther – and congratulations!

    • Lindsey d.

      So true! I’m sitting here worrying about one spot of rosacea on my cheek and whether I’ll be a little fat on my wedding day and then there is Esther and all of her awesomeness….

    • Meg Keene

      This is actually how I feel about bodies in general, but more internal function than external function. I was really sick in my early 20s and then had chronic pain for the rest of my 20s. So to me a good body is one that lets you get up in the morning and move and function and not be in pain. That doesn’t preclude vanity, because HUMAN. But it does totally re-frame body image conversations for me. Our culture (and hence our conversation) comes at it from the perspective that body’s first importance is how they look and what size they are, and value is set from there. There is nothing like not being able to get out of bed for months, or not being able to function without pain to hit you over the head with what bodies are REALLY for. It was one of those shitty experiences that re-set my head in a great way.

      (That said, vanity. Yeah. Normal, right?)

    • Thank you so much! Sometimes I feel skin disease isn’t taken very seriously – but when you are sick, and the world can see that, it’s a whole another level of pain. Going through TSW definitely made me reevaluate and appreciate things I have taken for granted. As someone who have been generally confident pre-TSW, I had to write a post to examine how it felt to feel “ugly.” It was a mind fuck. Best of luck with your illness! There really has to be more research into skin disease. We understand so little!

  • Mo

    This is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read on it. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

  • swarmofbees

    Congratulations!! Your post screams love and happiness, in the best way possible. I wish you two all the happiness in the world!

  • No, YOU’RE sobbing at your desk at work!!

    • Libby

      Yes, that’s me! What a moving love story. Thanks so much for sharing this, Esther and APW!

  • Lindsey d.

    Yay! I’m so glad you wrote your story, Esther!

  • MisterEHolmes

    You look so beautiful–I didn’t even notice any scabs until you mentioned it. You just radiate happiness. He did a good job!

    (Also, I’m glad to know that while he surprised you with a wedding, he didn’t do that proposal-wedding thing. That seems creepy where this is just sweet as sugar!)

  • Daniella

    This is just so wonderful. This is devotion. Through and through. Crying. Congrats many times over!

  • Rachelle

    WOW. Good thing I’m the only one at work. WHAT A GUY, man oh man. Congratulations!!!

  • c

    Crying, crying, crying at my desk. LOVE IT. And you look simply beautiful.

  • Marie

    My allergies always act up when I read APW…

  • Christine

    Got so many tears in my eyes reading this story – it sounds like you have one truly amazing husband and yes – real love stories are always better than the fairy-tale/rom-com versions. You look stunning and so happy! Congratulations and all the best <3

  • Nikki

    I cried. This is so sweet. The bride looks ecstatic.

  • Guest

    This made me tear up at my desk. This was such a beautiful story.

  • Cin

    Your wedding story spells LOVE all over… so touching. Thank you for sharing!

  • It’s posts like this (so awesome, so pretty, so sweet!) that are the reason I read APW years after my own wedding!

  • Kathryn

    This is such a touching story, and a needed reminder to focus on the important things. I’ve been incredibly stressed planning our wedding amidst some other issues we’re dealing with, which has resulted in a lovely stress rash on my face, dermatitis, I get from time to time. It usually goes away in time, sometimes with a little desonide for a week, but my new dermatologist just prescribed me a new steroid foam he wanted me to use consistently, even after it was gone, to keep it from coming back. This didn’t sit right with me, but I was prepared to follow his instructions, until I learned about topical steroid addition from you, just now. You may have just helped me dodge a bullet, and I now know this needs further discussion with my Dr. Thank you!

    • Most dermatologist do not believe one can become addicted to topical steroids. Well, if you look through my monthly photos, you can clearly see one totally can. That said, not everyone gets addicted, but if you do, you are in it for a rough ride. During the withdrawal, I stopped using moisturizers as well, which I believe has helped a lot. Your dermatologist may continue to push Topical Steroids to you. Face absorbs so much more than other parts of you body so you have to be extra careful. http://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/treatments/topicals/steroids/potency-chart Look through this chart and make sure your TS is on the milder side. Before you go talk to your doctor, it will help to educate yourself thoroughly- ITSAN is a good place to start as well as going through people’s blogs. Good luck! And please contact me if you have any questions through my blog – I go on everyday. I would hate to see another suffer as I did. Best of luck to you!

  • Um, the link to Esther’s blog is not correct. I’m sure many people who read this would be interested in clicking over…

    • Jessica Nelson

      Worked for me!

      • You are right, Jessica, that the link in the article works! Thanks for letting me know.
        But the link from her name at the top and the link near her bio at the bottom do not.
        I don’t mean for this to become a thing; I just didn’t know how best to alert the editors.

        • Laura

          Yes it didn’t work for me, and I’d like to see her blog! :)

          • I emailed the editors to fix the link as well as note it was my spousal visa, not Rhys’ that was going to be expensive. It should work now! Thank you for reading :D

          • Definitely works now! Happy to see it fixed. Esther, thanks for writing/submitting this!!

  • Sara Goodwin

    I’m crying into my coffee. Currently about 2 months into planning my wedding and this really brings things into perspective.
    What a beautiful wedding. I wish you both the utmost happiness in your life together!

  • Chiara M

    I’m so glad you went with the short dress. You look so lovely in it, and comfortable (as in, this is the type of clothing I normally wear, comfortable)! I hope you felt pretty in it, because you look beautiful, and so happy! What an amazing surprise.

    • Thank you! And the thing is you’re totally right – if I was healthy, short dress definitely would have been more up my alley! I’m so glad it came thorough!

  • vegankitchendiaries

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    Oh. My. GOSH!


  • Granola

    Oh my god. I just want to take a minute away from my desk and cry with joy. I’m so happy for you both.

  • ItsyBit

    … a wedding, to me, was the one legitimate opportunity that I could demand all my loved ones to gather in one place and love and bless our union.

    THIS. This is exactly why I want to have a wedding: To have an excuse to gather All My People (or most of them anyway). I come from a really big family so it’s hard enough to get all of us in one place because of scheduling. Add in my fiancé’s family plus our closest friends and this might be it. At least for the foreseeable future. So wedding it is!

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Esther. What a fantastic gift for your fiancé to give to you both. I cried happy tears for you!

  • Glenys

    Congratulations! Such beautiful pictures!

    My husband’s best friend also threw a surprise wedding for his fiancee. He got all of their friends and family up to the top of Mammoth mountain, then brought her up. He even had her wedding dress waiting for her! Maybe this is a new trend…. :-)

  • emilyg25

    This made me cry more than any other post on APW. Congratulations on a wedding that was beautiful in every way—aesthetically and emotionally! You look gorgeous, btw.

  • Joann L

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so, so SO glad you posted. I’m the Jo who also is going through TSW from the other thread …..you are a beautiful writer. And person. Thank you for articulating what was going on through my head in the 1.5 year lead up to the wedding. Things such as: why should I spend thousands of dollars on photography when I’ll just be a bleeding mess anyway? Maybe I should just wear a floor length, sleeved gown. Maybe we should elope so no one has to see me. Maybe I should wear a bag over my face. The crazy thing about TSW or any skin ailment is that it is right THERE. In the mirror, all the time, for everyone to see, so it feels raw in the worst way. There were days when I’d picture my wedding and cry because I could not get over the ‘monster’ part of it.

    Thankfully, with so much healing energy and other things I and we did so I could heal, it turned out like this! :)


    Can’t wait to read your personal blog.

    • I totally remember this post! Would never have guessed. I can’t believe you went through TSW without knowing it was a thing. Were you using TS during those years? You look radiant! I totally feel you about the photographer and feeling like I wouldn’t look enough like a bride. It was all such a mindfuck but hey- we all ended up fine! I am so great to have met you :) I’ll be waiting for you at my blog! Did you keep records of your experience through TSW as well?

  • Sara

    I started crying at the first photo and didn’t stop. Everything about this is beautiful. Also I keep looking back at your group photo and finding something else going on :) You clearly have a fun group of people in your life.

  • Laura

    This is so so lovely.

  • Erica

    This is just proof that what you put into your marriage, and the love between tow people and their families, is way more beautiful than any collection of WIC-crafted flawless wedding photos.

  • TC


  • Crayfish Kate

    Holy shit tears. This is definitely one of my all-time favorite APW posts. So incredibly sweet! SO glad you were still able to celebrate your special day the way you envisioned, and mad props to Rhys for pulling it all off. Congrats! :-D

  • Hello everybody! Thank you so much for your kind words. I was a bit hesitant in sharing my story, and now I am so happy I did so! I hope it made your day a bit brighter – I know your kind words made my day a lot better!

  • Anna

    What an amazing story and experience for you and your husband! I’m so happy you found someone who put in the effort to create such a special day for you both :)

    I’ve never commented before, but your story really touched me. I’ve had eczema for years, and it has recently gotten to the point where I can no longer wear my engagement ring. It can be so hard to not fit what you think a ‘bride should be,’ but I think you pulled it off with style, and every bride should look as happy as you do in those photos!

    • That’s rough! I’ve never had skin problems on my hand so thankfully I get to wear my rings – and honestly it’s a huge help in making me feel a bit prettier. I’m sorry to hear you could no longer wear your engagement ring :( I’ve been told dead sea salt helps a lot, maybe you can try it? You have to buy legit dead sea salt and make sure the water-salt concentration is around 33%, just like the actual dead sea. I was also told diluted tea tree oil help to make cuts heal faster. I mean topical steroids will for sure help, but I’m trying to avoid that. Good luck! I hope you could wear it again soon. Thanks so much for reading!

  • Liz


  • Your skin may not have been perfect, but you look so beautiful in your glow of happiness.
    Hope you keep getting better, and your relationship keeps doing the same – although it looks pretty awesome already :)

  • StevenPortland

    This is my favorite post of all time — not just on APW, but on any site! Your husband and family truly created a magical surprise for your big day. You look fantastic in the photos!!

    • Wow thank so much! I am very blessed to have them! Love your gravatar – the kid is so cute!

  • BA


  • Margi

    Tears!!! Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve developed chronic pain issues over the past few years and also look forward to the day I will be able to find my new “normal.” My ex boyfriend left me due to my struggles with depression, so I hope I will be able to find a true partner like you did.

    • Gah that’s rough. I’m sorry. I hope you will be able to find someone who will be able to fight with you through your ailments. You are stronger than you know!

  • lady brett

    fucking awesome, y’all.

  • My friend was kind enough to share and upload the video of the wedding with me, so here it is!


  • Guest


  • April

    Best wedding grad post ever. EVER. Your husband is a king among men.

    • Haha I’ll be sure relay that to him, he’d love that! Thanks so much!

  • Kara E

    Ester, your joy shines through everything! Your husband, parents, and sister clearly know and love you well. Best wishes on much joy in the future.

    • Yes I definitely so lucky to be surrounded all this love! Thank you for your well wishes :)

  • Emily

    This is so, so sweet. I hope your lives are filled with many more happy surprises.

    (Also, because I’m terrified some future boyfriend will be Internet stalking me: to be clear, this is my worst nightmare.)

    • hahahah!! it’s definitely not for everybody

  • Lauren

    Holy cow, this is one of the best wedding stories I’ve ever read. Tears in my eyes. AMAZING! I hope you have a long marriage filled with every joy.

  • evilmoxie


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