Jordan proposed on the morning of Saturday, December 17, 2016 amidst the cat condo and stray socks in the living room of his one-bedroom apartment. As he sautéed sweet potatoes for a breakfast hash, he asked me to sort through a pile of postcards on the coffee table—four of his own design—that read simply, “will you marry me?”
My delighted giggle (I knew it was coming) was his cue to pop around the corner with the walnut ring box, kneel to the floor, and repeat the question. Of the three gemstones I’d identified as favorites five months prior, he chose the trillion-cut, 1.67-carat deep blue sapphire set in a 14-karat yellow gold band designed by Alexis Russell, which he enthusiastically presented in his too-long sweatpants. “Yes,” I said, as I fumbled for the engagement ring I’d stashed in my purse just for him, “but only if you marry me too.”
Uncomplicated and without the fat, the sweetness of that moment set the tone for the rest of our 16-month engagement.
We approached wedding planning like we approach everything else; shoulder-to-shoulder and with careful consideration. My background in project management made for an offensively organized, albeit laborious execution, and with two bodies fully committed to sharing the load, we successfully avoided burnout and a subsequent meltdown (though I was close). Step one—and I’m not shitting you—was creating a mission statement.
Our process looked a lot like Forbes’ Five Steps to a Strategic Plan. And if you find that un-romantic, ask me how much sanity this saved.
Identifying what we valued was critical to our ability to effectively make decisions and prioritize tasks, so we made a list.
Jordan and I agreed that our wedding would:
- be unaffected by patriarchal tradition, religion, and familial and societal obligation
- celebrate our partnership and honor our individual identities
- be financed entirely by us, in cash
In short, we wanted a wedding that mirrored our values and allowed us to enter our marriage without debt. Those three bullet points dictated every decision we made, essentially freeing us from spiraling down the wedding planning rabbit hole, which I’ve heard is particularly deep.
The wedding industry was not prepared for us. I was a bride uninterested in reenacting a fairytale or adopting a princess persona; Jordan was a groom interested in actively participating in the process. Traditional vendors couldn’t understand our desire to strip this back to its core; us.
I accompanied a friend to the Lansing Bridal Show that February, excited to explore my options and relay the intel to my future husband (that word is still weird), but I fumbled in my interactions with vendors. No, I hadn’t chosen our date. No, I didn’t have colors in mind. No, I didn’t need a party bus, karaoke machine, or photo booth.
My attendance confirmed two things: vendors only direct questions to brides (even if their grooms are present) and weddings are just really expensive pageants. I’d had enough when we reached the trained turtle doves.
But back to the list.
Jordan and I decided early that we wanted a very small wedding. Of those who shared their experiences and regrets, the most common sentiment was, “I wish I’d had more time with my guests.” In support of a more intimate affair and our general dislike of too much attention, we limited our guest list to immediate family members (grandparents, parents, and siblings) and a few close friends. But not without hesitation.
Tell your relatives they aren’t invited and try not to shit your pants.
In the eyes of our family members, this was likely the most significant plot twist they hadn’t anticipated, but the news was received with a surprising amount of understanding. As it was with most things (opinions or no), our guest list was nonnegotiable. It was, without question, our best decision.
And so it went.
Jordan and I were married beneath the pink moon in Northport, Michigan on Sunday, April 29, 2018 in the presence of 37 guests. Our wedding was, in every sense of the word, absolutely perfect.
We chose our date based on the lunar calendar. Jordan was born under a full moon, and I—eight years and four days later—arrived the same way. Both cancers and self-identified luna-lovers, we couldn’t ignore the symbolism of a full moon union.
Being a Sunday during the off-season, we had our pick of vendors at much cheaper rates.
We rented two neighboring houses for our families within walking distance of the venue, and devoted an entire long weekend to low-key wedding festivities like barbecuing, bowling, and drinking in Northern Michigan. The weather was a mild 55 degrees with perfect sun; a stark contrast to the 25 inches of snow that fell the week prior.
Our siblings comprised our wedding party with our brothers at the helm as best men, bucking traditional, gender-exclusive bridesmaid and groomsman labels. My sister-in-law stood with Jordan. Uninterested in dictating their attire, we gave them a broad color palette and asked them to dress in a way that celebrated their personal style. Suits and dresses were available to both women and men alike.
Jordan purchased a navy blue suit with subtle black plaid and a red satin lining (swoon!) from Suitsupply in Denver, Colorado. I snagged a simple ivory, two-piece gown with a pearl-buttoned halter and high-waisted skirt from Spring Sweet in Holland, Michigan. I purchased my fur stole from an estate sale for $15.
My bouquet was the single component that detoured from our otherwise simple affair. I asked the florist to create something totally unruly and unnecessarily huge. Fourteen pounds (lol, what) and $370 later, here we are. No one else carried flowers.
Jordan’s engagement ring featured a sterling palladium band with a 14-karat gold bar and offset diamond designed by Lolide. I wore vintage earrings made from brass doorknobs and my late grandmother’s gold necklace as a bracelet. We opted out of wedding bands; one ring was enough.
On the morning of our wedding day, we each took a house. I holed up with my mom and a round of mimosas in the second-floor bathroom to do our makeup. Fearlessly, she referenced a YouTube video to do my hair in the kitchen. It was the most relaxed I’d been all weekend, thanks entirely to her nondescript bottle of pills and the Xanax she slid across the counter.
When the time came, our siblings tied scarves over our eyes and lead us down to the docks for a ceremonial first look. Jordan’s face was as sweet and honest as it was when he proposed.
Our ceremony was our greatest accomplishment.
During the planning phase, Jordan and I did our due diligence in researching the standard progression of a wedding ceremony in order to craft an outline that worked for both of us. Patriarchal language, bible verses, and uncomfortable love songs were quickly tossed.
Instead we opted for a reading of Rumi’s poem The Meaning of Love and a passage from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season at the recommendation of our dear friend who—one year prior—was ordained by Universal Life Church (.com) to officiate our wedding. We couldn’t have asked for a better delivery.
Spiritual beings that we are, we incorporated a traditional smudging ritual to cleanse the space and welcome good energy into our marriage. Our brothers lit a bundle of sage, cedar wood, and lavender over a brass bowl and fanned the smoke around us while our officiant recited our favorite smudging prayer.
May your hands be cleansed,
that they may create beautiful things.
May your feet be cleansed,
that they may take you where you most need to be.
May your heart be cleansed,
that you may hear its message clearly.
May your throat be cleansed,
that you might speak right when words are needed.
May your eyes by cleansed,
that you may see the signs and wonders of this world.
May these people and this space be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants. And may that smoke carry our prayers spiraling to the heavens.
Our unity ceremony (the part where couples usually light a candle or pour sand) involved mixing and chugging a cocktail, which I desperately needed after reciting our vows. Those were the real feel-thumpers, disarming the audience one sentence at a time, leaving most of our witnesses (including us) choking back sobs.
Jordan and I wrote the shell of our vows together to avoid a dramatic difference in length and content, but left space to customize them ourselves. The fill-in-the-blank pieces made for some comedic relief, particularly when I improvised the line, “I fucking hate that cat.”
The whole room exploded in laughter.
Not surprisingly, much of our adlib content was nearly identical.
Of the 7 billion beings that inhabit the Earth, I choose you.
I choose you for your kind heart and unwavering calm.
I choose to stand by your side and lie in your arms.
To revere your heart and nourish your soul.
To learn with you and grow with you as we circle the sun.
And I choose to rise and fall alongside you in the best and worst of life, knowing that what we accomplish together is greater than what I can accomplish on my own.
I promise to be patient and forgiving when you can’t find the peanut butter, or struggle to medicate the cat. And I promise to recognize that your constant failure to fully close cabinets, drawers, and closets is really your way of telling me that no matter what, you’ll be there to open new doors.
Most importantly, I promise to be present.
I will respect you and cherish you as an individual, a partner, and an equal, recognizing that we do not complete, but complement each other.
With these words, I give you my heart and my hand as my commitment to this grand adventure.
When our officiant introduced us as Mr. and Mrs. Vollmar Conley for the first time, I completely melted. I’ve never felt so high.
Our reception was a thing of beauty.
Following our ceremony, we released guests into the main ballroom stocked with friendly, generous bartenders and mouth-watering appetizers. Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese, and crostini with roasted carrot harissa and crème fraîche awaited.
The drink menu featured Michigan-brewed craft beer and sparkling wine from a local vineyard, as well as lemon-blueberry mules, whiskey sours, and a cocktail dubbed “rubies and thorns” for its grapefruit base and bite of gin.
Dinner featured a salad of arugula with french lentils, roasted beets, toasted almonds, chèvre, and lemon vinaigrette, baked white fish with lemon, garlic, and shallot or roasted garlic, thyme chicken thighs, roasted tomato risotto, and brussel sprouts with pancetta and parmesan.
Of our $11,000 budget, we designated nearly half for food (because food is the only thing that matters), and our caterer showed. the. fuck. up.
We did away with traditional wedding cake and opted for old-fashioned donuts—like Boston cream, blueberry glazed, raspberry cream cheese pastries, and cinnamon sugar twists—and my mom’s homemade cake pops (omg, so good) instead.
To minimize the pressure of delivering earth-shattering speeches, we encouraged our brothers—and the rest of our guests—to share a memory over dinner. Thirteen people told stories of our childhood, first encounters, and most-loved qualities. It was incredibly special.
Decorations were limited to recycled paper goods (thanks, Crate and Barrel packing material), nature-inspired table arrangements and compost-friendly dinnerware, single-stem flowers, and some of our most favorite items from home including a framed engagement photo, two baby pictures, himalayan salt rock lamps, a cast iron crab, and handmade moon phase garland. Our ceremony backdrop was purchased from Society6.
But our crown jewel was the prominent display of eight gold, 40-inch mylar letter balloons that spelled “FUCK YEAH” on the dance floor.
We tapped Spotify in lieu of a DJ (a risky choice, we know) to guide the evening’s festivities with three thoughtfully curated playlists—cocktail hour, dinner hour, and dance hour—which we blasted through a portable sound system via my laptop. Without the presence of easily-offended guests and small children, we were allowed to take risks with our music selections by including some explicit tunes like Feel Right by Mark Ronson and Mystikal, which belts “motherfucker” a total of 31 times (yay!).
We dismissed rituals like cake-cutting, bouquet-tossing, and absolutely anything related to a garter belt in order to maximize time spent with loved ones. Following our first dance—during which we lovingly flailed in all directions—we invited everyone to join us for an enthusiastic group shimmy to Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight.
And the evening continued that way until the last call; the finale being a drunken group sing-a-long to Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth.
Because it was.
Our wedding was as uniquely “us” as we hoped it’d be, perfectly (and unabashedly) demonstrating who we are as individuals and as a pair, the love we have for each other, and the best possible beginning to our journey together. Love was overflowing from every corner of that room.
And at the end of the night—faux-hawked, bra-less, and covered in blood from a unexplained busted knuckle—I was overcome with joy knowing this was just the start of what we will accomplish together.
Across the sea, around the sun, and to the moon we’ll go.
Photography: EatPomegranate Photography, Lansing, MI
Venue: Willowbrook Mill, Northport, MI
Catering: The Tribune: Ice Cream and Eatery, Northport, MI
Donuts: Barb’s Bakery, Northport, MI
Bouquet: Darling Botanical Co., Traverse City, MI
Tattoos: Cameron Pohl, Fish Ladder Tattoo Company, Lansing, MI