I have been married twice.
And I have had two weddings, both incredibly beautiful and yet entirely different.
The first was everything the little princess-idolizing girl in me could ever imagine. From the bright-colored beta fish in large hurricane glass centerpieces and live music that included a bagpiper and steel drummer, to the beautiful dress and the people we loved, it was abundant in all the things that created a perfect beach-themed wedding.
But it came and went in a flash as weddings do, and it became a fast memory. When all was said and done, it felt like we had nothing to show for the massive amounts of money my parents had spent on this gorgeous wedding. We had photos, videos, and for a short while, beta fish. Some of which lived longer than my marriage.
After my divorce, I said I wouldn’t ever have another wedding, even if I did meet someone I wanted to marry. I convinced myself it wasn’t necessary to have all the bells and whistles.
Six years later, and to my surprise, that “never” told me to shove it. I found myself planning another wedding.
We both had previous marriages with the big weddings, and we agreed we wanted small and intimate if we were going to do anything at all. It would have been easy to get offtrack, and we almost did a few times.
At one point, we found ourselves planning around other people’s schedules, locations, and preferences. We paused and got clear on what was essential and what our hearts wanted.
One thing that always bothered me was seeing the total bill cost for my first wedding and thinking we could have had a house for that price tag, helped so many people with those funds, or made an investment of some sort.
While I am not putting down big, beautiful, extravagant weddings, we didn’t want to do that again. We had that experience; it was beautiful and fun, and we were craving different. We also wanted to have something to cherish and keep from the actual day that we exchanged vows.
I did some research, spoke with friends, and explored creative ways to celebrate our love and take the memory with us.
We came up with many ideas that helped create a significant wedding experience that we could take with us. For example, we swapped out a guestbook for large river rocks as placeholders, and each guest wrote us a message on the stones. They still live in our backyard.
Another ritual we decided on was one that has continued to enhance our relationship to this day—exchanging letters.
We purchased a wooden box, painted it gold, and put the word “LOVE” on it. In the box, we placed a bottle of delicious wine that would become finer with age. We then wrote letters to each other the day before our wedding.
The letters were full of loving words, memories, the love we shared, our deepest desires, our fearful thoughts, and all of our wishes. From expressions of adoration and encouragement to silly jokes, we sealed them with a kiss.
On our wedding day, after we exchanged vows, we placed the letters in the box. The agreement was we would open the letters together on our fifth wedding anniversary or in the unfortunate event that something went seriously wrong, and we needed to be reminded of our love for one another. Every five years, we’d write another.
Important to note, I married into a family with two children, so we chose to write letters to the kids also.
My stepdaughter was 13 at the time of our marriage, and while she took part in the letter exchange, her 11-year-old brother didn’t want to do the writing letters part. We did still write one to him, however.
Now the journey with my stepchildren hasn’t been the most usual, but what is usual anyway?
After learning of my difficulty to have biological children during my first marriage, I always hoped to meet someone with kids. However, I failed to factor into the equation that not every blended family “just works.”
I never thought twice that marrying into a family with children could come with the challenges it has.
Divorces, plain and simple, can be ugly. And when kids are involved, uglier.
At different points in time, the kids did choose to live with their mom. When my stepson left about a year into our marriage, we mailed him his letter. I can’t say if it made a difference in his life. He is back with us now and has never mentioned it, but the thought of him reading our words of love and adoration helped us surrender and process acceptance during that challenging time, and we certainly hope it helped him recall the love we have for him when it would have been easy to forget. A gift from our wedding day that certainly kept on giving.
This past year, my husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We read one another’s letters for the first time, and it was a beautiful exchange full of loving tears and joyful surprises. I had written down a fun wish about reading our letters next to a fireplace, one that we didn’t have when we wrote them. To our delight, we found ourselves sipping the bottle of deliciously aged wine from our LOVE box, next to a newly built fireplace! The letters took us back to the intimate thoughts roaming through our minds, right before we said I do. They were a joy to receive, a reminder of our journey, and a refresh of our vows.
A few days after our fifth anniversary, my stepdaughter was over for dinner. We gave her the letters we wrote to her before she left, and read hers after that evening. It took me back to the love and care we shared, and reminded me of the fun we had together before she chose not to live with us any longer. There were many moments in our journey together I had thought about sending hers prior. She had decided not to live with us, but the time never felt suitable to send her our letters. We trusted that gut feeling.
We aren’t sure how the experience was for her, as we read them separately. From our perspective, to have the opportunity to remind her how much she has always been loved is priceless.
We have kept the LOVE box in our bedroom, on a shelf that we first see when entering our room. Every time I go to bed at night, I am reminded of the spark that kickstarted our marriage, the words we vowed, and how love exists. Even if I am not entirely aware, I am confident my subconscious mind is.
Weddings come and go so fast. And so often, we have nothing to show for it. This ritual turned out to be not only a gift that has kept on giving in the most tangible form but also a helpful tool to use when situations turned ugly.
If this ritual calls to you, I don’t think it is too late to start! Begin on any anniversary, or any given day, for that matter. Let me know in the comments if you do!
To be reminded of the love we have for and with our partner is irreplaceable. It sparks hope, ignites us in love, and I look forward to many more letters.