On the 10th Anniversary of Our DIY Wedding

Ten years ago today, Joey and I were married — untraditionally, feministically, fantastically.

By the spring of 2006, we knew we were going to be together, but we weren’t sure we were going to exchange vows. As a little girl, I had never dreamed of my big day with a big white dress and a big white cake (and by my teens, all the virginal iconography would certainly no longer apply). At the time, it seemed unfair — indeed unconstitutional — that our gay friends didn’t have the same opportunity to marry if they chose. And it seemed unnecessary to have some church (which we didn’t belong to) or the state (which is so impersonal) sanction and sanctify our commitment — all we needed was our agreement with each other that we were going to stick together and try to make some babies.

In fact, there was no choreographed proposal (and certainly no asking for permission). I’ve had female friends in committed relationships who’ve spent years in quiet anguish, just hoping that their male partner would soon pop the question, afraid of bringing it up themselves for fear of ruining some future down-on-one-knee moment. I’ve always figured, if getting married is that important to you, then drag yourself into the 21st-century and do the asking yourself! Take a tip from this excellent Secret commercial. Make it as romantic as you want it to be: rose petals, champagne, you can even pick out the perfect rings!

For the two us, though, all we needed was a frank discussion about the realities of life-long commitment. Are we ready to make that leap together? Do we want kids? If so, how many? Where will we live? What can we compromise on? Can we put up with each other’s bullshit until one of us kicks the bucket? It may not sound that romantic, but at the time of the conversation we were wrapped around each other floating in a hotel pool in the middle of a desert talking openly about our enduring love. Never underestimate the sexiness of honest communication.

For all intents and purposes, we got out of that pool married. There was no engagement period, there were no engagement rings, just us deciding between that moment and our first attempts at getting pregnant whether or not we wanted to make it “official.” Ultimately, we figured the only way we could get most of our friends from around the country to make a trek for a big party in our honor was if we called it a wedding. So: game on!

Determined to make the day reflect our personal coupledom, we eschewed tradition. On a tight budget, we did everything ourselves. Planned and executed it in just three months.

There were no embossed invitations spritzed with fragrance and sealed with melted wax seals. As web developers, we sent an email and built a website, complete with a weekend itinerary, hotel recommendations, and a custom gift registry which consisted of experiences people could sponsor (via PayPal) on our two-week Italian honeymoon: a gondola ride in Venice, dinner out in Cinque Terre, a hotel room in Rome….After we returned, we sent everyone Custom Photo Books that we designed ourselves. It had a personalized thank you note and images of us doing whatever specific thing they had paid for! I remember having a great time creating the photo book, because it was super interesting to design, and was easy to find different templates.

The ceremony and reception were held at Joey’s family’s hometown beach club in Malibu, California, which sounds a lot fancier that it was: think community rec room on stilts. Still, there was sand below, ocean beyond, and a beautiful sunset in the distance on that clear Friday evening. (We went with a Friday wedding after we’d seen so many friends blow their load at rehearsal dinner parties the night before Saturday ceremonies. The next day in Santa Monica, my mom & step-father hosted a hotel brunch, my dad and step-mother hosted afternoon bowling, and then everyone went out for dinner at a British pub.)

That Friday, we did most of the set-up for our rock-n-roll/Italian-themed shindig ourselves: throwing on the red & white gingham tablecloths, making a ginormous pot of marinara sauce using Joey’s Italian family’s secret recipe for the family-style pasta later, lighting the red Italian restaurant candles we’d bought, and adding the sunflower centerpieces in Chianti bottles my florist step-dad had arranged. Just two-hours before people arrived, Joey was hanging a freaking disco ball!

I did end up wearing white. So did Joey. We both donned white linen suits and ties. Our shoes were white monogrammed Converse (there was a letter limit, so mine read “I heart Joey” and Joey’s read “Lorelei 4 eva”). At the reception, there were heart-shaped temporary tattoos of us, which after several hours of open bar, ended up on people’s foreheads and cheeks (yes, every kind of cheek).

As people arrived for the ceremony, Joey’s sister’s string quartet played arrangements of songs like “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar, and “White Wedding” by Billy Idol. Rather than “Here Comes the Bride,” we walked out to a sweet string version of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses (Couldn’t Drag Me Away).”

And I do mean “we.” As an homage to our egalitarian relationship, we walked out at the same time, with our respective parents (not just dads) on each arm, proceeded along the outside aisles — Joey and his parents on the right, me and mine (a divorced couple who hadn’t talked in 17 years!) on the left — and then all met in the middle up front where we put our hands in, sports-style, and yelled “Go team!”

At Em’s wedding reception a few months earlier, Joey and I had both gotten down on one knee before our good friend Jack and asked him, in unison, “Will you marry us?” He said yes and got his Universal Life Church minister’s license online. A charming Scotsman, Jack wrote and delivered our wedding vows in that endearing accent (we were so swamped with other details, it was a relief to have such a skilled writer who’d known us for years handle them). “I won’t always like you, but I’ll always be there for you” was a crowd favorite, especially among the already married. One of my favorite lines was “You may now kiss the groom.”

In the middle of the ceremony, a few family members and close friends got up to read some inspiring words of wisdom on love from that font of exquisite poetry: pop music. My sister read the lyrics of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” (And I have to speculate / That God himself did make / Us into corresponding shapes / Like puzzle pieces from the clay….); Joey’s brother read Depeche Mode’s “Somebody” (I want somebody to share / Share the rest of my life / Share my innermost thoughts / Know my intimate details…); Em read Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream” (No more will you cry / Baby I will hurt you never / We start and end as one / In love forever / We can ride it together, ah ha…).

We didn’t exchange rings, which seemed to us just another mandated expense from the wedding industrial complex. Joey is not a jewelry kind of guy and I never liked the property-tag feel of wedding bands. We put the money toward our flights to Italy instead.

I also didn’t take his last name. Did my heritage mean nothing simply because of my gender? If anyone should have taken a new name, it should have been Joey: Sharkey vs. Cavella? No contest. But just as I didn’t want to take his, he understandably didn’t want to take mine. It wasn’t until two days before our first child was born a year later, when our next door neighbor, the town judge, came over and in two-minutes flat remarried us in our living room in New York so we could become “The Shavelles,” a mash-up that reflected the combination of our DNA to create this new family.

treeslyricsAt our wedding, the food was vegetarian, we rented some dj equipment and a karaoke for the music, and our first dance was one of those ridiculous routines, now de rigueur but novel at the time, that we’d choreographed ourselves to one of the day’s pop hits (OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again”), complete with the failed lift attempt from Dirty Dancing. During the cocktail hour, Joey’s father, a World War II vet who’d played in Army bands, entertained the guests with jazz standards on the piano. Before dinner, we screened our application video to The Amazing Race (which got us to the second-to-last round of casting for the previous year’s season) and played a slideshow of friend and family pics to an obscure but perfect song from the short-lived reality show “Rock Star” (see sidebar for lyrics). I insisted the DJ play “Goodbye Horses” from the tuck scene in Silence of the Lambs — nobody but Joey danced with me to it, which made me that much more confident in what we’d just done.

After ten years, there’s been a lot of bullshit to put up with. Mostly from me. And there have been moments we haven’t liked each other much. But we’ve tried hard to support one another. The wedding we had that weekend ten years ago turned out to be a blueprint for the kind of marriage we would have: fun, feminist, not as lavish as we might like, but full of love. Ten years ago, it was a disco ball; just last night it was our broken dishwasher — you see, Joey’s a fixer. He kisses our kids’ booboos, brings me coffee on tough mornings, helps out family and friends when they need it, and sets an amazing example for how to be an equal partner and parent. Joey makes everything better. Especially me.

Here’s to the next 10 years! And the 10 after that . . . and the decade after that . . . and so on . . . until we lose count together.


More on bucking marital tradition:

5 Reasons to Merge Last Names When You Marry

Asking for Permission to Marry a Woman Is Totall Effing Bull@#$!

One Comment

  1. Very sweet. If I ever get married, I figure I’d only need Elvis to sanction and sanctify my commitment. But I’ll probably also get an official piece of paper from the state. And a prenup too – ’cause I ain’t no money-grubber!

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