Just over ten years ago, I did not believe in the institution of marriage, and I never planned on getting married. Now I have been married for eight years, and I am a wedding officiant who works with couples to plan and celebrate their marriage ceremonies. What caused such a paradigm shift in a relatively short amount of time? The short answer is my wife. The longer answer is what my wife and I did together to celebrate our love with our family and friends.
I grew up believing that marriage and love were two separate concepts. Almost every marriage within my family had ended in divorce, and most of the ex-spouses were completely out of the lives of their former partners. I knew love existed and could exist between two people, but I also thought that being married and being in a loving relationship were never the same thing.
As I grew up I also became very frustrated with the lack of marriage equality in our nation. The chance of marriage equality being achievable nationwide, even just in the seemingly liberal utopia of the California Bay Area, seemed slim if not non-existent as I entered my mid-twenties. My young, angry, liberal opinion about marriage was similar to Groucho Marx’s views on any club that would have him as a member: If people did not have the right to marry because of how they were born, then why would I want to join such an exclusive institution? In short, I had a bleak view of marriage.
Then I fell in love with Beth.
My wife, Beth, had very different life experiences when it came to marriage. Her parents (who are celebrating their forty-fifth wedding anniversary this summer), most of her family members, and parents of close friends, have been successfully married for decades. To her, marriage was a natural step to take with the one you love. Beth was also surrounded by many who shared that similar viewpoint on marriage, so my very different view on marriage took her by surprise. Luckily, two of Beth’s many great strengths are empathy and patience. She respected my view, and she gave me the time I needed to realize that marriage and love could coexist with the right person. That time was almost five years - many people I talk to marvel that Beth “stuck around” as long as she did, but people who really know us know that was just an important first step in our journey together.
I had to overcome decades of negative experiences with marriage, and Beth loved me and wanted to be the one by my side as I went through that change. We also watched and celebrated together as the climate toward marriage equality warmed in our country. It was just over four years of being together when I started to realize that marriage was the right step to take with Beth, and I started to plan - I had to find the right ring, find the right time to ask her parents’ permission (I knew they were old school and I respected that), and find the right time to propose. So two days before Christmas and three months before we celebrated our fifth anniversary as a couple, we got engaged and began planning a summer wedding.
"Beth and me laughing through our engagement shoot," photo by Paul Benjamin
We decided to plan our own wedding for two main reasons. First, we had planned many large and ambitious fundraising, volunteer outreach, and social events before, so we knew we could work well together as a team to research, plan, and pull off a big celebration with many moving parts.
Second, we did not know any wedding planners or really how wedding planning worked at the time, so we thought it would be easier to skip that step and do it ourselves. While neither of us regret the choice to plan our own wedding, we definitely now see the benefits of having someone else focus on the logistics and follow-through. At the very least, we could have hired a day-of coordinator to guide everyone through the details and itinerary of the wedding day itself.
As it turns out, a family friend was a retired wedding coordinator, and her wedding gift to us was to run the rehearsal and wedding day, so we completely lucked out. With all that said, while we now recommend and understand the merits of a wedding planner, I do not know if I would have fallen in love with weddings as much as I did were I not as involved in the planning with my wife as I was.
Beth and I were very fortunate in our planning. When we were touring wedding venues early on, we met an events coordinator who gave us amazing advice. She told us to go out to a nice dinner together and discuss and decide on the three most important aspects of our wedding, then plan everything else from there. That advice was priceless. We had our foundation for what we really wanted out of our wedding, and that guided us in all of the choices we made together. We hired extremely knowledgeable and experienced wedding professionals who really helped guide us through most of the challenges and obstacles encountered in the process. We had the team and tools needed to create a successful wedding that really represented who are.
I am going to be completely honest with you: Planning a wedding is stressful. It is overwhelming. It is very common during the process to have at least one moment when eloping sounds like a really, really good idea, and we definitely had that moment.
Planning our own wedding was not easy, but most rewarding endeavors in life rarely are. Beth and I worked as a team and embraced the skills of communication and delegation, and we were successful. We created a wedding that reflected and celebrated the love we had for each other, our friends, and our families. I finally understood why people in love get married. However, the moment that really solidified my love of weddings was an unplanned, surprising moment that took place the day before our wedding.
“Seconds after Beth and I became married," photo by Paul Benjamin
Our wedding rehearsal was the day before we got married, and we told everyone to meet at the ceremony site. My wife and I were the last to arrive. I was raised to never be late (especially if you organize the time and place), so I was stressed and a little embarrassed, and my focus was solely on driving to and parking at our site as quickly as possible.
As we pulled into the venue parking lot, the scene that greeted me shifted my focus entirely to something much better. Waiting together for us in the parking lot was every member of our large wedding party: 15 of our closest friends, the two celebrants Beth and I had known for years, three adorable nieces who were flower girls and our ring bearer, and our parents. They all started cheering when they saw us. To make it even more magical, “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles had just started playing on our car stereo. So the day before our wedding, we were greeted by the people we love most cheering for us while we listened to what we consider to be one of the greatest and best songs ever written.
Despite all of our planning and hard work, we accidentally discovered this pure, distilled and completely unplanned moment of joy and celebration. At that moment, I understood why people in love get married. We get married to celebrate not just the love that is between us, but the love that is and has been present in our world. That love is contagious - it spreads as smiles and hugs, songs and kisses, cheers and laughter. Love inspires, strengthens, and motivates. Love needs to be celebrated, and everyone wants to be part of that celebration.
“What it looks like when everyone you love shows up to celebrate and support love itself," photo by Paul Benjamin
I like to use the word “lucky” when I describe the positive things that happen in my life. Many people like to use the word “blessed.” Whatever word we use, the point is this: I used to not believe in marriage, and now I do. I do because I met an amazing woman who was patient and kind enough to let me change my own mind.
Over the past eight years of marriage, Beth and I have endured and overcome hardships and disappointments, and we have enjoyed successes and surprises, and the whole time I rejoice and understand the commitment to partnership that is marriage. I believe in marriage because because Beth and I have always surrounded ourselves with amazing people we call friends and family who support and believe in us.
When we were planning our wedding, we chose outstanding professionals to bring our vision of a fantastic celebration to life, and we have never stopped celebrating the love between us. That inspired us to pay it forward, and over the past eight years we have helped all of our engaged friends and family plan and celebrate their weddings, and I became a wedding officiant through an organization that supports and celebrates marriage equality nationwide. Whether I am lucky or blessed or just a happy participant in a string of random coincidences, I know for certain I am thankful. I am thankful for the journey I took of falling in love with love, and now I get to show that thanks by helping couples plan their own amazing ceremonies and celebrate the love they share with the world around them.
“Some of my favorite weddings” , photo credits clockwise from upper left: Maria Villano, Ron Swanson, Jeannie Mutrais, Katathani Phuket Beach Resort, Tammy Horton
This article was written for American Weddings by guest contributor Matt McMurphy, who also blogs on his website. please visit Matt's webiste to learn more about officiating weddings, and learn about the services that he offers.
Matt is a wedding officiant living in the northern Bay Area of California who creates and leads wedding ceremonies personalized for the couple that help everyone recognize, declare, and celebrate the love that is between the couple and ever-present in our world.
In addition to crafting and celebrating wedding ceremonies for every couple, Matt offers coaching in writing and presenting wedding vows and wedding toasts so that everyone can be at their best when showing their love for and knowledge of the happy couple.