No matter where you go, you always hear about it – in all the books and romantic comedies, from all the female leads who are planning their big day and how they’ve pictured their wedding as a little girl.
The ribbons in the hair and some hapless neighbor boy begrudgingly playing the awaiting bachelor at the fictional alter. I can’t say I ever had any of those afternoons, playfully pretending and romanticizing – not that I discredit any woman with fond memories in that vein. I saw for myself how my sister’s eyes sparkled at her wedding, gazing about the rented hall with nothing but delight on her face, and how my friend beamed as she floated down the aisle, all flowing train and radiant joy. And I’m sure countless others have coveted that moment, gleefully counting down the hours until the ceremony. As for me, my wedding went through so many incarnations, it should have reached wedding nirvana.
Despite the lack of childhood dreams and preparation, when my partner of six years bent down on one knee surrounded by our closest friends, I fell into the made-for-the-big-screen moment, shed a few tears, gleefully said “yes” and immediately began planning. A few short months later, we had a date, a wedding party and had started a guest list and research. My best friend was already scheming and planning bachelorette fun and we were putting on the smiles in our engagement photos. In lieu of a wedding planner, I had downloaded several apps and entered all the data, checking boxes (I recommend Wedding Happy-Wedding Planner by Fuphie, Inc). All was going according to plan until the inevitable happened, we got distracted.
Work and school piled up, a deadly combination for my wedding planning drive. Planning went on the back-burner as a year passed, my wedding planner app reminding me of deadlines passed without selecting a caterer or speaking with my pastor about the ceremony. I was on a downward slope and realizing one simple undeniable fact: planning a wedding is hard work.
Soon my partner and I were talking about ways to minimize, make things easier and requiring less planning. It wasn’t that we were running out of time, more we were running out of interest. We were making lists of “5 things we wanted” and “what we didn’t want to plan”. The vicious cycle continued as our family would reassure us, smiling, that “it was our day” and “we just want you two to be happy.” So the minimized wedding was planned, a small ceremony with only our immediate family and closest friends, held behind my parents house, followed by a modest reception in a tent located in my parents backyard. It would be rustic, personal, quirky and charming. In other words, exactly the kind of wedding I’d hoped for.
But the downward spiral of our elaborate big day had yet to find its final resting place. Within a few months, I was lamenting the to-do lists, price tags and placating of family members (including my own fickle wishes). It was during one of these rants that my mother proposed an elopement. Her reasoning was clear and hard to ignore. Why spend all this time, money and effort on something we didn’t really care for? Think of the new found hours we would have to talk about something besides the menu and the guest list. She even offered for my parents to pay for it – with the funds they had already promised for our wedding. As for family and promises we’d already made, we could hold a reception a year after the elopement, perfect timing after things had settled down for my partner and I.
With this seed of an idea firmly embedded in my mind, yet another variation of our wedding was set into place. Thank God we hadn’t sent out wedding invitations. Our families had agreed, though my soon-to-be mother-in-law was adamant that she be at the wedding/courthouse/event, whatever we did. It was all finally falling into place. My dislike of planning parties, a mutual disinclination to be the center of attention, and an already debt-riddled financial situation (thanks to the wonder that is school loans) made an easy elopement the perfect balm. Of course, since our parents, family and friends all knew, it wasn’t an elopement per say, and there were some who wouldn’t let us get away without a little bit of special attention. Our best friends planned a small pre-wedding party and my mother and sisters planned a bridal shower, both of which were sincerely loved.
It was around this time that we stumbled over an interesting, little known, if not slightly obscure fact. Colorado is one of a few states that allows couples to act as their own witnesses, no clergy, witnesses or officiate required. This was right up my alley. Simple, requiring absolutely zero premeditated thought or planning, I had officially found the simplest, easiest and lowest pressure way to finalize our commitment to each other.
Let me be clear, it wasn’t a lack of love, devotion or feelings that led to this. Nor was it a form of cold feet or dislike of marriage. It was simply a belief that we had already made a commitment to each other in the way we said “I love you” and the plans and promises for the future. We had made our commitment when he proposed and I said “yes”. Of course, conveying this feeling to family wasn’t the easiest. Some, like my mother, smiled knowingly and wished us the best, or like my soon to be father-in-law wishing us the best. Others were a bit less enthusiastic, like my dad, who just wanted to walk me down the aisle, or my to-be mother-in-law, who had insisted on being present. In the end though, they all grew to accept just how non-traditional our union was going to be and knew we loved them all the same.
After months upon months of planning and scaling back, an actual marriage day almost didn’t seem real. Until we had packed a weekend bag for a short honeymoon in the mountains and were parked in the parking lot of the county clerks office. I took a breath, so did he. We giddily smiled (like two kids at Christmas) and asked each other if we were ready, to enter the married life, as if it were a 14er to be scaled or a tension-filled school play. Yet we were excited, nervous and giddy, just like my sister with her sparkling eyes and my friend with the flowing train. We didn’t need the pomp and circumstance, the bells and whistles, we only needed each other. For better or for worse, we walked up the stairs, signed the papers and, just like that, it was over. A marriage that had been planned in all its incarnations for the better part of two years, over in 20 minutes.
Back out in the parking lot, we acted like our own wedding photographer and took amateur selfies of our beaming faces, proudly holding a piece of paper that proclaimed to the world that we were married. Yet, despite the seemingly anticlimactic ending to it all, it was anything but. There we stood, with nothing but a future of possibilities ahead of us. And for the life of me, I doubt the love, excitement, and rush of emotions pumping through my jeans and sweater-clad body were any different from the women who walk down the aisle bedazzled in shiny white dresses and surrounded by months of preparation. To us, a parking lot and piece of paper were just as good.