Roadmaps and Bridges

My sis helping me down the path to our “first look.” Photo credit: Clayton Austin

The road to a wedding holds so many unique moments that are all at once unexpected and predictable (thanks to the nature of traditions). Since my love and I were planning such a tiny wedding, however, we were very diligent about making sure our nuptials felt steeped in enough traditions to balance out the gads of unexpected events ahead of us. Perhaps the most noteworthy tradition we adhered to was that of my groom not seeing my dress before the big day (er, big moment on the big day). This was a little logistically challenging thanks to our recent move and downsized living quarters, but the thrill of secrecy and the build up to the time when my beau would finally see me in my wedding dress made me beyond giddy. I carefully layered multiple garment bags over my dress the moment it arrived from the designer, and I constantly draped additional blankets over these bags to ensure my sweet couldn’t catch even the faintest outline of my dress even in the starkest lights…

The backs of Rome and London maps that we wrote our vows on. Photo credit: Clayton Austin

At least once a day for six months, I would turn to my groom and ask, “Do you really have no idea what my dress looks like?” to which he would unfailingly laugh and answer, “No {giggle, sniffle, head shake}, I really haven’t got a clue.” This simple interaction never ceased to spread a giant grin across my face, causing me to bounce up and down in a secret-keeper’s victory dance. I also derived a similarly stealthy sense of joy from hiding away in our office sewing my own veil, whispering to my mom about borrowing my grandmother’s pearl earrings, and compiling a top-secret photo album of hairdo inspirations. (And, yeah, I’m pretty sure I asked my sweet if he had any clue about these secret details on a regular basis as well.) What with all these clandestine operations and amped-up anticipation, my giddy grin transformed into ear-to-ear muscle cramps by the time I set out on the beach-side path to meet my groom on our big day…

My hubby holding out his vows, also written on the back of maps. Photo credit: Clayton Austin

It was quite a walk from our hotel to the wooden bridge that my groom and I had selected for our “first look,” and a blur of emotions raced through my head during the trek there; I was thinking of the monumental moment I was in the midst of living, of how much I loved my betrothed, and of how damn nervous I was about how he would react to finally seeing my wedding attire. While my thoughts swirled and back-flipped, my middle sister helped carry my bouquet and train down the seaside path. And, somewhere on this path, I realized we were unwittingly creating our own spin on an old tradition: even though our big day had no aisle or processional to speak of, my sister was literally supporting me along the road to my wedding. Something about the symbolism of this act really struck a chord with me, and I remember having this feeling that I was living a moment that was so uniquely my own and yet so connected to countless generations of people…

The second before our “first look.” Photo credit: Clayton Austin

Speaking of symbols, my groom and I had decided to see each other for the first time on a wood bridge because we adored the way it visually represented the passage from one part of our lives to another. He gave us heel-wearers a hearty head start, then set out behind us along the seaside path with his brother (nerve-eliminating jokes and camera in tow). My sister stood at one end of the bridge, begging golf carts and pedestrians not to cross while I waited in the center of the bridge for my groom. There is no way to capture in words the way my heart dropped into my stomach the second I saw the back of his suit, or the out-of-body sensation of sneaking up behind my sweet and tapping him on the shoulder, but I think Clayton Austin‘s photos of this moment manage to encapsulate what words just can’t. It was a moment of giddiness, victorious surprise, and our own little tradition on a bridge…

Our “first look,” giggles and all. Photo credit: Clayton Austin

Even though my groom had joked a lot before our wedding that he would probably be so nervous and out of it on our big day that he’d have no memory of what I or my dress looked like, our quiet moment on the bridge proved unforgettable. In fact, when we were driving to the county clerk’s office the next day, he told me  that seeing me in my wedding dress for the first time was the most memorable moment of his life to date. He said everything about the way I looked on that bridge singed itself upon his mind and was stuck there forever, to which I grinned, did a little victory dance, and admitted I felt the exact same way. Every detail about the way he laughed, gasped, covered his mouth, and stumbled backwards a few steps plays on a loop in my mind each day. And, it was with great glee that we walked over the bridge together and headed to the cliffs where we would recite our wedding vows…

That moment when we struck a pose before heading off to say our vows. Photo credit: Clayton Austin

Looking back at all the paths, bridges, and unforgettable moments surrounding my hubby’s and my first glimpses of each other on that day, I can’t imagine filling that time with any more traditions or any less. I think life and romance are just like this, after all: whether we take well-established roads, create our own paths or embark on a combination of the two, once we’re in the middle of our journeys the important thing is simply to own it and soak up every minute.

Psst: Meet me here on this path next week for the story of our vow ceremony. Until then, here’s some food for thought…Would you want to see your spouse’s wedding attire before he/she bought it? What other traditions of weddings or relationships in general are your favorites? Which traditions could you do without? Leave a comment.

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  • Reply dootie September 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Love this post. Id’ definitely like to be surprised. Hoping for a mind blowing moment like you two had on the bridge. Cheers to you both 🙂

  • Reply Anna September 10, 2011 at 3:23 am

    Oh Jennifer your story just gets more magical by the minute. This was beautiful. Your dress was absolutely stunnning. I adore more than these words will let on that you had such a small and intimate wedding but had SO much tradition and extravagant things in it. Your dress looked incredible but more so you in it! The bridge made me get teary and dont even get me started on the photos from your link. I am tempted to fly to the U.S for whenever my day comes so I can have whoever your photographer was! Your story tells a beautiful love story that is so real and consuming. I love it. I’m not sure what I would do on my wedding day – either do a reveal or wait till I’m walking down the aisle but this story has made me be 100% for a reveal before as its so special and memories you can share together forever. Can’t wait for the next installment.

    Anna xx

  • Reply Pat Oey September 10, 2011 at 8:56 am

    This story and the way you’ve woven the photos into it prove what an amazing screenwriter you are! Except the joyous part of this particular story is that it’s based on reality! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Blue September 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I love how well thought through your wedding was/sounds. I guess I’d keep my dress a secret, too…

  • Reply Liv September 11, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I’m a first time visitor of your blog- you write beautifully. This post was such a gorgeous description of one your life’s most siginifcant moments. Such a lovely location. I love certain wedding traditions- I would love to have something old, new, borrowed and blue for my bridal attire- but I would totally skip the garter removal/toss. Also I love the speeches at wedding- I always cry.

    Liv @

  • Reply Jennifer R. Coté September 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Thank you for all this comment lovin’! I’m sorry for the delayed response; I spent the whole day in an oh-so-quintessentially Hollywood movie screening yesterday, but came home late to find the happy surprise of these sweet words waiting for me. Y’all are melting my heart…

    Dootie: I may be biased, but I think you’re right on and a surprise is the way to go. 😉 I hope you are having a fabulous weekend!

    Anna: Whenever someone tells me that a story of mine makes them teary-eyed, I start crying myself. So, thanks for making me happy-cry. 😉 Having such a small, intimate wedding really did turn out to be amazing. I like how you phrase it, saying we included “traditions” and “extravagant things” in the day as well. That turn of phrase feels like such an apt description, because I really wanted to still experience the pretty details and luxuries of being a bride even though our guest list was so small…I am sure your day will be just as magical and so uniquely about the two of you when the time comes. On a side note, our photographer Clayton Austin does a ton of international weddings. So, ya know, that’s always an option. 😉

    Pat: Thank you for bolstering my storytelling confidence! You are so sweet and I always love knowing that you read my stories.

    Blue: Thank you for calling my wedding “well thought out” – what a great compliment. 🙂 By the way, keeping my dress a secret felt so sweetly sneaky, so I highly recommend it.

    Liv: Thank you for reading and for the blog love! I kept the “something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new” tradition as well, and I thought it was really fun coming up with meaningful items for each category. Like you, I’m not a fan of garter tosses either; in fact, I didn’t bother wearing a garter…I’m also a BIG crier during wedding speeches. Next week I’ll tell you all about my brother in-law’s speech (oh my goodness, were there waterworks).

    Wishing you beyond-lovely readers the most fabulous rest of the weekend!

  • Reply Jacqueline September 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I love this story 🙂 So detailed and heart warming <3

  • Reply Elle Sees September 12, 2011 at 7:36 am

    I simply love wedding stories! And yours is no exception!

  • Reply molly September 12, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Lovely. Such sweet memories and these pics capture them all

  • Reply ellie September 12, 2011 at 11:36 am

    These photos are gorgeous! I love the last photo, you both look so happy!


  • Reply Jennifer R. Coté September 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Thank you guys so much for starting my week off with even more wedding love and well wishes! My new hubby and I are both so happy, and I’m so touched to hear that our joy is infectious and spills out of the photos. Thanks for brightening my Monday, lovely ladies!

  • Reply jill September 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Wow, what gorgeous photos! I love that wedding dress, it’s traditional and yet not cliche.

    x. jill
    those ghosts

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté September 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

      Thank you, Jill! When I was shopping for wedding dresses I definitely wanted something traditionally bridal, but I also wanted it to feel like something Elizabeth Taylor might have worn in an old movie. So happy to hear you approve. 🙂

  • Reply Ruthie Hart October 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    You are so beautiful! I love your veil and I cannot get over how gorgeous your vows on the maps are!

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté October 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      Aw. 🙂 Thank you, Ruthie! I actually made the veil myself, and that was by far the biggest thing I was nervous about leading up to our wedding. Hearing that you like it makes me smile (and kind of laugh about how crazy I was to stress over that little DIY project so much). Thanks for reading, lady! 🙂

  • Reply Alana Winder October 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I love the idea of not seeing the dress before the wedding day. It drives me crazy when I watch Say Yes to the Dress and the women bring their fiances with them!

    Mike had no idea what my dress looked like, but I knew he would love it. And he did. 🙂

    Thanks for linking up!

    • Reply Jennifer R. Coté October 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      So happy to hear you kept with tradition and got to enjoy all the giddy anticipation of your husband seeing you in your dress for the first time on your wedding day, Alana! It was my pleasure to link up with your lovely blog, by the way. 🙂 Have a splendid weekend!

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