Meredith and Rachel’s wedding day is filled with quirky little nods to inside jokes between them and elements that turn on the fun.
Tell us about the proposal.
In the fall of 2017, we started two years of long-distance. I moved to Austin, Texas, for grad school and Rachel stayed in Tampa, pursuing her master’s while working full-time. Before I moved, we spent a lot of time talking about the next steps in our relationship. We were ready to be engaged, and we were both excited to propose – and be proposed to – so we knew there would be two proposals in our future.
Aside from picking out rings together (or in Rachel’s case, deciding to use her mom’s engagement ring!), we kept the details of our proposals a secret from each other.
Once I moved, our time together was mapped out well in advance. We had agreed that we didn’t want to get engaged around the holidays, which left exactly two visits. One in September and one in October – for us to propose. Since Rachel was so instrumental in all of the firsts at the beginning of our relationship, I really wanted to be the one to propose first. Our first visit was in Austin, which gave me about a month to plan a proposal in my brand-new city.
On September 8, 2017, I took Rach on a personalized tour of Austin. We started at Sutton Hall – a nod to Rachel’s maiden name – on the University of Texas campus before venturing to the first mural of the day. An astronaut eating a slice of pizza, in honor of our second first date at Cappy’s Pizza. We stopped for lunch downtown, where I gave Rach 99 haikus I had written over several months. Next, we scoped out a parking garage downtown, the site of a mural that says, Love Will Win. We crossed the bridge for the next mural: You Make My Heart Sing. Last but not least, we hopped in a Lyft for one final mural. Two skulls with the words, “Till Death Do Us Part.” And there, on the corner of a busy intersection, I gave Rach the final haiku.
Now I get to ask:
Rach, Raichu, love of my life, Will you marry me?
She said yes, and we spent the next few days celebrating.
With one proposal down, we were half-engaged for the next month. Rach was my fiancee, but I was still Rachel’s girlfriend.
On October 14, while I was home in Tampa, Rach planned out our perfect day. We started the morning at Oxford Exchange for tea before heading to the Royal Tea Room for more tea (we pregamed tea with tea, a sign that Rachel truly knows the way to my heart). We then hopped over to Davis Island for a picnic, at which point Rach pulled out the zip-up picnic blanket she had brought on our very first date.
She had brought Bananagrams and cheese and crackers. But after a full afternoon tea and with the first hints of rain, she got right to the good stuff. She gave me five gifts to represent the things she loves most about me. A ceramic heart made by an artist in St. Pete; the Gretchen Rubin daily calendar, for my fascination with habits and happiness; a pair of socks with a fish on them, to represent my sense of humor; Brave Enough, personalized and signed by Cheryl Strayed, one of my very favorite authors; and then a box covered in pizza wrapping paper – holding a chocolate cupcake from Wright’s – on which laid the most perfect ring.
And with that, we were fully engaged.
How long was your engagement?
We ended up being engaged for two and a half years. We decided we didn’t want to plan a wedding while we were long-distance, especially with both of us in grad school. Our long engagement meant cycling through ALL the ideas – but we only spent about nine months in hard-core planning mode.
What lead you to the venue?
We cycled through a million and one ideas of what we wanted for our wedding with such a long engagement. Talked about doing a full weekend at a summer camp in upstate New York, near where Rachel grew up. We visited a ton of venues in Tampa and even started mapping out a deconstructed wedding. We would have a small ceremony with just family and then travel around the country to host dinner parties for our friends and extended family. Our biggest struggle – and the reason we went through so many ideas – was the exorbitant costs of everything wedding-related. We absolutely wanted to celebrate our love with all our favorite people, but we were having a hard time justifying the over-the-top costs of everything.
I started working at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg just as we really got into wedding planning. Despite growing up so close, I had never stepped foot on campus before my job interview. It’s right on a harbor, and the entire campus is gorgeous. What’s that quote about traveling the whole world to find happiness at home? We did that with wedding planning. We mapped out a cross-country deconstructed wedding only to decide that the best possible option was right in our backyard. Well – my office’s backyard, to be more precise. The setting ended up being exactly what we wanted, and it simplified wedding planning in a lot of ways – I could walk outside on my lunch break to meet with vendors!
What was the inspiration behind the vibe of your wedding?
We met and fell in love in Tampa, so it seemed only fitting that we would get married in the Sunshine State. We were so excited to show off our home to all our people. Once we finally found our venue, it became clear that the best thing we could do was step out of the way and let the setting speak for itself. With a wide-open lawn, beautiful palm trees, and the most gorgeous waterfront view, we couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque spot to start our married life.
We leaned into the Florida vibe (without being too Florida) with bright yellow tablecloths and palm fronds as our centerpieces. Our secondary vibe was “subtle rainbow,” a way to express our pride and enthusiasm for being able to become wives legally. All our guests waved rainbow ribbons as we recessed out. Everyone signed a poster with a gradient of rainbow dots, and we used that same gradient for the table numbers. We didn’t expect the ribbons to be such a hit, but for the rest of the night, we kept seeing flashes of rainbow tied around purses and tucked into lapels! It was such a joyful symbol of the day.
Did you undertake any DIY projects for the big day?
We ended up doing many DIY projects, but we were very cognizant about distinguishing meaningful projects from projects we were doing because we felt like we had to.
Regina, our photographer, inspired us to pay attention to waste throughout the planning process, so we attempted to have as little waste as possible. In that vein, instead of buying centerpieces for the tables, we decided to recycle clippings from my mom’s lawn guy! We’re lucky enough to live in a place where palm trees abound, so we had him save fronds in the week leading up to the wedding.
I had fun stretching my creative muscles. I designed our guest poster – a gradient of rainbow dots, where guests could pick a circle and sign their names. We then ended up using that same design for the table numbers. I watercolored our invitation, a map of the Tampa area that highlighted all the significant spots to our relationship, from our first date spot to our wedding venue. When we were brainstorming thank you gifts, we struggled to come up with meaningful ideas that the person would actually use beyond that day.
A week before the wedding, I decided to create a custom painting for everyone we wanted to thank (nothing like a last-minute project to add to week-of-wedding stress!). Despite the rush to get them done, it was so worth it. For each person, I painted four of their favorite things and wrote, “You love…glasses, photography, your pups, karaoke…we love YOU!”
My younger brother is really great with illustrations and quirky calligraphy, so we had him make chalkboard signs to display. They turned out so well! Our favorite said, “Welcome to Meredith & Rachel’s wedding. Have a gay ole time!”
Our most meaningful DIY project was an idea I’ve had for years. The one thing I knew I wanted to incorporate into my wedding before I even met Rachel. We hand wrote a note for every guest, letting them know how much we appreciated them. Not only being there to support our marriage but also supporting us as we got to that point in our lives. Weddings can be so chaotic, and it’s hard to have meaningful conversations amid the busyness and excitement. We wanted to make sure that everyone felt loved, appreciated and celebrated. Regardless of whether we could stop and chat with them that night. That was another project we worked on up until the last minute, but it was so grounding. Amidst the stress of wedding planning, we got to stop and thank the people we love most. Reminding ourselves of all the beautiful love around us.
Talk to us about the wedding day!
It was beautiful and love-filled, and perfectly imperfect. Rachel kept saying, “Does everyone have this much fun at their wedding? I hope they do!”
We got ready separately, and we both had so much fun spending the day with our best friends. We missed each other, though – and it was hard to be apart for all those pre-wedding jitters. Our first look felt like a big sigh of relief; I was so grateful to be able to hug my soon-to-be-wife and squeeze her hand.
All the emotions of the day highlighted the beauty of our partnership. Rachel is the one I want to celebrate with, and the one I want by my side for the highest highs – and she’s the person I want to turn to in moments of anxiety when I need that extra squeeze of reassurance. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders, most comforting anxiety-soothers, and best friends. And as we walked towards the ceremony hand-in-hand, I felt all the confidence in our partnership.
The ceremony was our favorite part of the day. It was the perfect culmination of everything that is important to us: love, friends, family, appreciating, and recognizing our people. See the “favorite moments” section for more details!
Our guests enjoyed a happy hour after the ceremony, which included appetizers, specialty cocktails, and puppies! We had gone back and forth about favors, knowing that so many favors end up in the trash, but we were excited about potentially donating instead. When Rachel found out we could have adoptable puppies from the Humane Society – and that the majority of the cost would go towards a donation – it was the easiest decision we made. Needless to say, the puppies were a hit! And the best part? One of them was adopted by a bartender.
While our guests were snuggling puppies, we snuck off to the dock and got amazing photos as the sunset. The dock was visible from the lawn where our guests (and the puppies) were, so we would hear cheering every time we kissed. We had a literal cheering section.
For dinner, we had a buffet full of our favorite comfort food:
- Mac and cheese
- Flatbread pizzas
- A mashed potato bar
- A carving station
- A 1905 salad (a signature of the Columbia, a famous restaurant here in Tampa)
There were toasts from our parents, brothers, and best friends, and as the sun fully set, you could see an almost-full moon shining over the harbor. It was magical.
The cake was a nod to our relationship’s beginning when Rachel brought me a chocolate cupcake from Wright’s Gourmet Deli to let me know she like liked me. (It worked – we officially started dating eight days later.) We had no choice but to serve Wright’s cake for the wedding, and we were so excited to share the best cake in the world with our guests.
We decided to forgo all the traditional first dances, and for a while, we were planning to create a Spotify playlist and DJ the wedding ourselves. About a month before the wedding, we realized how much work (and stress) that would be, and we lucked out in finding a fantastic DJ so last minute. The ceremony spot had been converted to a dance floor. The dance party was a perfect mix of oldies, the ’90s, and ’00s throwbacks, and new music – and fortunately, the DJ took us seriously when we said we only wanted one line dance (the Cupid Shuffle!). It was a chillier than usual Florida night, but the temperature was perfect as soon as we started dancing.
After the dancing wrapped up, we kept the party going at a rooftop bar in downtown St. Pete. The best part? There was a full Wright’s cake leftover, and everyone dug in, shared forks and all. It was a true pre-COVID moment that we’ll cherish forever.
What are your favorite moments?
There were so many perfect moments – moments that captured the essence of us.
Right after our first look, when Rachel pulled snacks out of her jacket pocket, just in case we got hungry.
When the sailing team pulled up during our ceremony, providing the most beautiful backdrop of sails in the wind. Along with the gentle clanking of the boats.
When Rach based her vows on a journal entry from the beginning of our relationship. Not knowing that my vows were based on a journal entry, too! She pulled out her journal, and my brother – our officiant, the only person who had read my vows – and I smirked at each other (inside, I was freaking out). A few minutes later, when I started reading my own journal entry, Rachel smiled one of the biggest open-mouthed smiles I’ve ever seen from her – and all our guests began laughing. As if we needed more confirmation that we were meant to be!
When a helicopter flew overhead, mid-ceremony, my brother paused, and we all looked up, waiting for it to pass. Perfectly imperfect.
When our guests gasped after my brother announced the puppies!
Hugging all our people after the ceremony. So many big, big hugs. (We didn’t realize we would start quarantining a week later – those hugs are still carrying us through!)
Strategically planning the seating based on who would like each other – and then hearing, “Thanks for putting me at the best table!” throughout the night, from multiple tables.
Hearing seven (!!) thoughtful toasts given by our friends and family. We spaced them out throughout dinner, and as it got darker, the candlelight made the experience feel intimate. Even though there were almost 175 people there!
Do you have a stand-out vendor?
Regina, our photographer, was such an essential part of the day. And became a dear friend throughout our engagement and wedding. We were very intentional in choosing vendors who were openly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, and not only is Regina an incredible photographer, she’s also an amazing ally.
She also inspired us to think about how we could eliminate waste at our wedding. Using cloth napkins and real china, avoiding balloons and confetti, being mindful with florals. Rachel and I try to be environmentally conscious in all aspects of our life. But we didn’t realize how much waste is created from a typical wedding. We were so grateful for the nudge from Regina. She also has four dogs, so we had a blast bringing Penny (our rescue pup) along for our engagement shoot. And Regina was the perfect photographer for happy hour puppies.
What does marriage mean to you?
I always envisioned growing up, getting married, and having four kids and a picket fence. At the heart of that dream was family, and for a long time, I thought the only way I could have the family I pictured was by marrying a man. It wasn’t until I realized I could have that dream without a husband – with a lovely wife instead – that I started to make peace with my sexuality.
These days, I feel bad that not everyone has a wife! How lucky am I to have a sleepover with my best friend every single night (even on a school night!). To talk with the lights off before one last goodnight kiss, to wake up side-by-side. We can talk about our feelings endlessly, embracing sensitivity as a superpower and not something to hide and share clothes. And making joint decisions about chores and errands, without gender assumptions getting in the way? The luckiest.
For us, marriage means partnership, care, silliness, patience. It means family, more deeply even than the vision I had growing up. It means never taking our ability to love each other out loud for granted. Feeling grateful every day for the legal rights we have and the people who made it possible. And it means creating a more just world, especially for BIPOC, trans* folks, and BIPOC LGBTQ+ folks…working every day to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.
Photography by Regina Rached
Accessories All About Romance, Victray
Cake Wright’s Gourmet Deli
Cake Topper December Diamonds
Celebrant Alexander Mechanik
Decorative Elements CD Linen
Entertainment Grant Hemond and Associates
Florist Lemon Drops
Gown Boutique David’s Bridal
H&MU Sip & Dry, The Luna Parlor, Zerina Hamulic, Aveda Salon
Planner & Stylist Flawless Fetes
Printer Graphics + Design
Prop or Furniture Hire Rent-All City
Shoes Betsey Johnson
Suit Designer Shape Suiting
Venue University of South Florida, St. Petersburg Campus
Wedding Favors FairyTail Pet Care, The Humane Society
Wedding Rings Mavilo Wholesalers, Albisia Jewelers