You guys remember Zan? She’s the one that hosted the APW book club meetup at her farm in upstate New York with cows. You knew you wanted to know more about this girl, but you couldn’t figure out how you were going to do it, right? Well, today she’s here with her wedding half grad post, as she calls it. She and her English Cowboy Husband (I know, right?) got married at City Hall in Manhattan last month, after last minute immigration issues. They have a full wedding to come, but this story, with lovely truthful photos from APW sponsor Katie Jane Photo, is a must read. How Zan thought through the process of getting married, and getting married suddenly, is so articulate, thoughtful, and helpful. Even to the already married among us.
Having done it myself I can tell you that getting married at City Hall in Manhattan is kind of like getting married at the DMV – but with better seating and a shorter wait. That observation probably doesn’t shock anyone, but the fact that I’m the one who made it is fairly surprising (to me, at least) considering I only got engaged a month ago and am in the midst of planning the wedding on my fiancé Stephen’s farm. Er wait, my husband Stephen’s farm. The story of how we became couple C809 at City Hall a little over a month ago isn’t the wrong story, but it isn’t the one I had anticipated telling either.
It began that summer when I – the New York City girl out for a two-week working vacation on a gigantic cattle ranch “out West”– accidentally got zapped by an electric fence while moving cattle. I shouted something unprintable that made Stephen –the handsome but silent head cowboy I had just met – fall in love with my sass. When I had to hoist myself onto the back of my gigantic horse that made him fall in love with my … uhm, it rhymes.
Long before he formally proposed I knew I wanted to marry him, to be on his team and build a life with him. He told me later, “I knew everything I needed to know in the first week.” When I got my Fellowship offer he followed me back to New York and found a farm within commuting distance of my PhD in the center of the big city. I was so ready to write the rest of this story with him that we went to premarital counseling before we were even engaged for Pete’s sake. As I imagined it, the story went something like this: we’d have a slightly-off-beat, low-key and very-practical wedding, which would nevertheless be beautiful, joyous, and full of love. Once married the fun would really begin as we traveled the world, herded cows, had babies and tried to install a new kitchen sink.
Then, on January 16th of this year we went for a lovely winter walk. At the edge of the farthest pasture he asked me to marry him. The first thing I thought wasn’t “Yes!” but “Ohmygod I’m going to puke,” which was startling. Even though I had been thinking so much about getting married, even though I had been intentionally working my way towards this moment – this moment that I wanted – I was unexpectedly scared. I was the kid who, after climbing to the top of the high dive, stands there protesting, “No, no, I’m not ready.” But I looked at him. I loved him. I said yes.
I had read the now-famous APW post on Weddings, Love, Marriage and Anxiety many times before, I had mulled the topic over enough times to know that my nerves were more about me than about us or our relationship. Rationally I knew this, but I was still scared. Not even two weeks after announcing our engagement I was dropping hints that maybe instead of the short engagement we’d planned we should postpone the wedding until the next year. I wanted more time to sit with it. Suddenly I craved the knowing, I wanted to feel 110% Certain before we walked down the aisle. An avalanche of questions had been let loose: What if I hated living up at the farm? What if I was totally devastated to leave the city? What if I couldn’t cope and became the miserable Bitch in The House? What if we eventually came to hate each other, divorced and made voodoo dolls of one another that we stuck with pins and dunked in tar?
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t considered these things before, but I hadn’t come up with any definitive answers and now, with a ring on my hand, that started to feel like a Big Problem. Then, on February 1st, Stephen’s immigration attorney called and the universe reminded me what a Really Big Problem looks like. There had been a “technical difficulty” with Stephen’s work visa (he is from England – so yes, for those following along at home this makes him an English cowboy. I know, right?!) and now we had two options: 1) Get married in the next two weeks or 2) Stephen leaves the country when his visa expires, loses the job he loves and might not be able to come back for a long time. “Duh,” went the inner monologue, “We’ll just get married. Done.” The answer came to me so quickly and so naturally in that moment that doubt-filled-Zan nearly melted away. How could I let this keep us apart? I love him and we belong together. War, plague, friggin’ sharks with friggin’ laser beams on their friggin’ heads – those things might separate us, but not this.
But it had been a fleeting moment of confidence. The doubt returned with furious energy. For the next few weeks I talked to every lawyer I knew and the lawyers that they knew, trying to figure out a way around this. I felt painted into a corner and the more I felt forced to get married the more I panicked that I was not ready to get married. I had wanted it to feel like the “exact right moment” when we got married. This felt like being ambushed. It all just seemed so wrong.
By Valentine’s Day, having turned over every single legal leaf, I called Stephen. Exhausted and at my wits end I’m sure I sounded weary and fed up when I said, “I think we have to get married tomorrow.” He said, “I’ll be there tonight,” packed up the dogs, grabbed the clothes he’d been given when he got randomly cast in a Fashion Week show (only in New York City do things like this happen to British Cowboys) and headed to my apartment. I went into checklist mode. I called Katie Jane for photos because even though we didn’t want to make a big deal of it, we also didn’t want it to be a non-event either. Like the champ that she is, Katie agreed to be at my apartment at 10:15 a.m. the next day on less than 18 hours notice. Hell, she even offered me her wedding dress! (alas, not my size). I bought Stephen a tie, and stopped in at American Eagle Outfitters to buy a surfer necklace to Frankenstein into “tying the knot” bracelets in lieu of wedding bands (God bless you crappy teen retailer, I knew you’d have the perfect leather do-dads for the job). I called a friend to be our witness and kept myself feeling busy and competent as I went down my checklist.
But that night in bed at around two a.m., with no checklist for how to relax and fall asleep, I started to really freak out. When Stephen, sensing my restlessness, asked me what was wrong I didn’t know what to say. Ask me now and I can see it more clearly. I was paralyzed by what I couldn’t know. I was scared to trust myself, because the story I’d been living was one where I had to check all the lists twice otherwise if/when things went pear-shaped I’d be to blame for not being thorough enough, for failing to anticipate each and every potential snag. If I could make sure every box was checked, if everything went according to plan, if we got the story just right, it would be my hedge against disaster. This story was wrong, all wrong – I was panicking. But then, in a moment of clarity that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, I realized that I could change the story.
Stephen is a wonderful man who I adore, he is perfect for me and I wanted to take this leap of faith with him. No one was forcing us to get married. Really and truly we were choosing it, no matter what the lawyers said. I reminded myself that things almost never go 100% according to plan, but that doesn’t make them wrong. The story I’d dreamed up was not an immutable law. I’d forgotten that we were in charge of deciding how to meet the rises and valleys of the road.
I said out loud that I was scared, then rolled over and put my forehead to his, “I love you,” a beat, “I love you too.” I told myself my new story – the one where we make the fabulously brave and exciting decision to take a chance on a big unknowable future, betting everything that it will be awesome, because together we will make it so. The story where we get to have a cheesy city-hall elopement with an officiant whose shirt matched the (purple) walls AND a farm wedding with all of our family and friends. The story where I cannot believe my good fortune to have found this man in the most unlikely of ways. And wouldn’t you know it, I felt better. I held his hand and fell asleep so fast I don’t even remember it. The next morning when I opened my eyes he was the first thing I saw. I smiled. He smiled. I tackled him with the biggest most heart-bursting-hug I could give and down in my gut was a certainty that was not exactly 110%, but exactly right nonetheless.
We got married and, as you can see from the pictures, we were both relaxed, happy and having a blast. Flowers were courtesy of a thoughtful friend and the post-Valentine’s day sale, I did my buttwaggle dance to make my shy cowboy laugh, we high-fived instead of “kissing the bride” and we got to spend the afternoon in the sunshine with our dogs. It wasn’t at all what we wanted, it wasn’t what we’d expected or planned, but it was what it was. It was good.
Photos By: Katie Jane Photography