I’m not someone who’s dreamed about their wedding day. I'm saying this first and foremost to set (low) expectations. I knew that I didn’t want the bells and whistles or the pomp and circumstance that come with having a “normal” wedding. I wanted a few close loved ones, a short but intimate ceremony, and a fun party after.
If you’re someone who’s always imagined a traditional, fairytale-esque wedding for your big day, the rest of this won’t be helpful to you and there are plenty of wedding-focused blogs out there to get lost in!
If you’re looking for guidance for planning a celebration of love that falls somewhere between an elopement and a traditional wedding on the formality scale, then I may be able to help you.
Nat and I started seeing each other in 2015 and endured the ups and downs of a two-year long distance relationship.
We got back together officially in February 2017. After a couple months, we had The Talk and agreed that marriage was in our future. Maybe not right away, but definitely in the coming years. From our intense Asia Trip, living together in a 500-square-foot Manhattan apartment, and moving across the country, we had a good idea of who and what we were signing up for.
Fast forward a couple of years. Our love for each other was growing by the day, but so was our collection of “adult stuff”, including our dog Pepper, our car, our tea business, and our house. Life had moved so fast that we never even noticed how much overlap and entanglement we had with one another. If we broke up, how would we divide the most important things (read: Pepper)? What about the mortgage and the car lease, both of which we paid for equally? There was no legal security for either of us, no matter how much we loved each other.
As for my career, I was growing increasingly unhappy at my corporate job while getting very excited about Cup & Leaf. My day job was burning me out and I could see it was eating away at my mental health, my physical health, my friendships, and my relationship.
On the other hand, the café was on the brink of opening and we were ramping up our e-commerce efforts and doubling sales. If we wanted to sustain and move with this growth, we would need to either hire someone to take over everything...or I could quit my job and pursue this passion project full time.
After several months of weighing my options and values, we had a difficult but exciting discussion that involved a few tears on my part. I ultimately put in my two weeks' notice in September.
Once the adrenaline and excitement settled over the next few days, reality set in: I just left my comfortable consulting job with a steady income, benefits, and health insurance to pursue a business I started with my boyfriend.
What had I just done?
An Anticlimactic & Perfect Proposal
Naturally, I started panicking a little bit. I couldn’t help but look at the situation with my "What’s The Worst Case Scenario?" glasses on. And no matter which way I spun it, if we broke up, we’d be in tough spots emotionally and logistically.
One evening, we went to our favorite wine bar here in Austin, Apt 115. I brought up my concerns because I thought we should address them together.
After a few minutes of discussion, I heard the question, "Do you want to get married?” slip from Nat’s lips.
We knew that we wanted to get engaged in the next few months and that the ring was mere weeks from being ready. Everything felt right. Plus, if you know us at all, this is a classic Us move.
"Let's do it," I said. And suddenly it was Game Time.
We discussed the coming weeks’ events and deadlines and realized we only had two weekends left that we could get hitched before Nat had to select insurance policies for his company. We picked September 28th, 2019.
The timing was perfect because we had already planned a trip to Lake Tahoe for a Spartan Race with some of our closest friends from college. Everyone had already paid for their flights and for the Airbnb and taken off from work, so no one's budget or plans would be compromised.
That meant we had about two weeks to get our act together and flesh out the logistics.
Here’s how we pulled it off.
Step 1: Assemble your guest list and notify them immediately
After cheers-ing to our very untraditional engagement (can you even call it that?), we told our immediate family. We whipped out our phones at the wine bar and let our parents and Nat’s sister know our plans, inviting them to join if they were available. We explained that it was totally okay with us if they weren’t able to make it, but we would love to have them there to celebrate. Due to the last minute nature of our planning, my parents and Nat’s mom and sister weren’t able to attend, but we were able to FaceTime most people in during the ceremony if their time zone allowed.
We then texted our group chat with folks already coming on the trip to let them know that there would be a slight change of plans for Saturday evening. In addition to celebrating the Spartan Race Finishers, we were also going to slip in a short and sweet wedding ceremony. The only thing that people had to do was pack something they wouldn't mind being photographed in.
We also texted a few of our close friends who originally weren't coming on the trip to invite them. Thankfully, we had already rented a large Airbnb, so we were able to squeeze in a couple extra people.
Step 2: Pick and notify your officiant(s)
Nat and I knew we wanted to have a loved one or two officiate our wedding. We picked two of our good and goofy friends and told them they had two weeks to get certified in the state of California. If your officiants are feeling overwhelmed on where to start, here’s a good resource to use.
The training course will outline everything they must do, so urge them to pay attention. If they mess it up, your marriage may not be legitimate in the eyes of the state. For example, in order for your marriage to be legal, they must include a declaration of intent, which is basically the whole, “Do you take Nat as your husband” followed by “I do” part.
Thankfully our two officiants did a wonderful job and they had so much fun with it. One of them got certified as a Jedi Knight under the Universal Life Church and had a lightsaber by his side the entire night. They were both pretty pumped and took their roles very seriously. They even ended up delaying our start time because they were rehearsing their lines! Very endearing.
Step 3: Find out how to get your marriage license
What state and what county are you getting married in?
Lake Tahoe can be confusing because it’s partially in Nevada and partially in California, so I had to double check where our Airbnb cabin was, which was the site of the ceremony.
If you’re getting married in an unfamiliar area, triple check which state you’re in. From there, figure out what county you’re in and locate the closest County Clerk’s office that handles marriage licenses (not all of them do!). Some offices require you to make an appointment and some offices limit issuance of marriage licenses to certain hours of the day.
A simple Google search should point you in the right direction. If you’re confused, Google “County Clerk for [insert your location]", call them, and speak to a real human. Tell them you’re trying to get a marriage license, and tell them where you’re located so they can help you find the most convenient office for you to go to. This removes all the guess work because they’re the experts.
While you're on the phone with them, be sure to confirm what you should bring and what information you’ll need to provide. For us, we needed proof of identity (we brought our Passports), parents’ information (name, place of birth, date of birth, and name at birth), and payment (I think ours was $90). Some states will require you to have a witness that has known you for at least 6 months, too.
If you’re coincidentally getting married in Tahoe, go to this page. I honestly got confused and was nervous I would make a detrimental mistake, so I just called them. We were staying close to Squaw Valley Mountain and went to the Placer County Health & Human Services office in Carnelian Bay to get our license. I made an appointment for September 27, 2019 at 11:30AM, which was a day and a half before the ceremony.
Step 4: Find out whether your state has a waiting period
A waiting period is essentially a forced amount of time you must let pass between getting your license to wed and conducting the wedding ceremony itself. Make sure you plan ahead.
For California, there is no waiting period and the wedding license expires 90 days after it’s issued. This means that we could have gotten married any time from the second we walked out of the office with our license on September 27, 2019 until December 26, 2019.
Some states have a waiting period up to five days and some states may require a physical examination and/or blood test. Here’s a good resource broken out by state, but triple check this with your state’s official documentation and guidelines because laws can change and this is something you absolutely can’t mess up, especially if your state has stricter rules.
Step 5: Figure out the fun stuff
Now that you have the officiants and the wedding license logistics under control, it’s now time to plan out the fun stuff.
Because it was so last minute, I didn’t have too many options.
I went on Rent the Runway and got a nicer white romper (with pockets!) for the ceremony and a more casual white two piece for the after party. I was able to use a few coupons, so it was $130 for the nicer white romper, a backup size, and the casual two piece.
This was the second-most expensive purchase I made for the wedding after our photographer, so I was okay with spending a little more money than I would normally spend for a rented outfit.
Thankfully, the white romper for the ceremony fit well. I didn’t get so lucky for the after party number, so I just stayed in my romper and ultimately ended the night in sweatpants.
Hair & Makeup
I'm not good at doing my makeup or my hair, and I don’t particularly enjoy doing either. I just made everything up once it was time to get ready. If you want to do something special, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube. You can practice in your spare time before the big day.
Or if this is something important to you and it's in your budget, you can hire a professional to come to you. At this point in time, I had never gotten my hair or makeup professionally done before, so I didn't want to experiment with it for the first time. But if I did it over, maybe I would have tried to hire a professional. It wasn't a big deal to me, though!
Do you have rings? Do you want vow books? Do you want something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue? Do you want a guest book for people to sign? Do you want to get your nails done? Get those arranged ahead of time, especially if they need to be customized or made to order.
Unfortunately, neither of us had our "real" rings in time for the ceremony. I bought Nat a temporary ring on Amazon and I repurposed a ring he got me earlier in our relationship.
Ironically, my engagement ring (which was obviously supposed to be a surprise) arrived a few days after we got home from Tahoe.
This was the one thing that I really wanted to get right and was willing to spend a good chunk of money on. I tried to find a professional photographer in the Lake Tahoe area, but was struggling to find someone who had availability on such short notice. I even briefly considered flying in a photographer from another state.
And then we got insanely lucky.
Nat’s neighbor growing up is a medical student who has a side hustle as a professional photographer (talk about talented, right?). Sarah happened to talk to Nat’s parents who told her about our impromptu ceremony. She said she was going to be in Tahoe that weekend at her parents’ cabin, which was a 30 minute drive from our Airbnb. She then offered to photograph our wedding! Much better than iPhone pictures.
Sarah was able to take care of all the professional-looking photos and she even did a photoshoot after the ceremony. The pictures were everything I wanted and more. We also had one friend on video duty on her iPhone, one person FaceTiming my Dad and his girlfriend, and one person FaceTiming Nat’s Mom. It ended up working out perfectly.
Decorations & Flowers
The morning of, the boys were running their Spartan Race and me and the girls went into town to get brunch and run last minute errands. We were able to find Christmas lights to string around the cabin, champagne to toast with that evening, ping pong balls for games during the after party, and a dapper sweater for our dog Pepper.
We also found the cutest flower shop to whip up a quick bouquet for me and boutonniere for Nat. The damage? $48. Such a steal.
But of course, I totally forgot the flowers when it was time to walk down the aisle. Oh well.
Step 6: Don't forget about the legal stuff after
The officiant(s) will know what to do, assuming they paid attention during their certification course.
Just in case, though, make sure the officiant completes the marriage license form that you picked up in Step 3. You and your partner will also sign it. You'll need to choose two witnesses to watch you sign everything, too. You can pick your parents or any two people that are important to you. We chose one of our best couple friends to serve as our witnesses.
The officiant must then personally drop off or mail in the license to the state or county clerk’s office. Be sure to check your state’s laws because the license must be mailed in within a certain time frame. For California, it’s within 10 days of the ceremony. Make sure they don’t mess this up because I'm not sure what happens if you pass the time limit.
And then, depending on where you live, you’ll either be mailed an official copy or you’ll have to pick it up in person. It’s recommended that you get at least two copies and store them in a safe place.
I understand that this kind of ceremony isn't for everyone, but if you made it to the end, I hope you were able to learn at least one thing!
Of course, my largest regret was not having more of our family there. Thankfully, both sides more or less came around to the idea and ultimately respected our decision. We also sent everyone the video recording, which helped people feel more included.
On the flip side, we do appreciate that we didn't have to take on the stress that comes with planning a large wedding. We were also able to put a down payment on our first home with the money we would have spent on a large party. It's a decision that I believe was a smart one for our little family.
And finally, I do want to mention that Nat and I hope to have a big party on our 5 year anniversary. Maybe we can renew our vows and it'll be the big wedding we didn't have. We feel 5 years is a good benchmark to show that we've put in some hard work, which calls for a celebration.
I hope this was helpful or at least interesting! If you have any questions or want to chat about having a similar ceremony, please feel free to reach out :)