Common Law: The Very Long Engagement

    There are some little girls who dream of sugary sweet proposals and horse-drawn carriages. My expectations fell slightly left of center in that I only ever dreamed of meeting a nice boy who liked me a whole lot.”Reach for the star-patterned china”, the women yell, “Online registries! Champagne Fountains!”. I always figured a picnic would do the trick. So when people ask for the story of my engagement, I feel little shame in spilling the less-than-sparkly details.

     It was the hot summer of 2009. I was melting from the uterus out, swollen and sweaty and five months pregnant.The Gentleman sat on the couch and pressed the week’s most widely discussed issue. We should get married because he really wanted to marry me… and because both of our families would be shamed for eternity by our Satan-pleasing choice to live in sin. I responded like the mature adult that I am, something like “You’re not the boss of me. I can do bad all by myself”. Those five months made me hot-flashing angry. I resented being told (socially and religiously) that not marrying before the baby was born was my refusal to rectify a “mistake”. We shall be wed, I informed him, after the baby is born and things settle down. Perhaps it was God trying to smack the sin out of me, but at that moment in the discussion I was hit with the wrath of fiery heartburn. I burped, as daintily and discreetly as a lady does, and changed the topic to why Salsa hated my soul so much. Irritated at my lack of understanding, The Gentleman huffed and puffed and tossed a small box onto my lap. It was a ring- a pretty, shiny thing- he had purchased months and months and maybe 6 months before. So I sat in the enveloping fold my rear hand created in the sofa. A beached whale stuck between a rock and a couch cushion.
    It was some three months later when a diamond-sniffing friend noticed the shimmer on my finger, that the news got out! We were engaged! Almost like married! Almost like married before having a kid! Savior Bless Thy Soul! The Ring Hath Saved Thy Noble Reputation! The excitement in the air was palpable. Amidst stretch marks and puffy feet, I checked e-mails from friends ready to plan my wedding yesterday.Give me a minute and an epidural. Then we can talk.

   A side effect of taking Life out-of-order was my diminished enthusiasm for discussing napkin patterns and shades of ivory. I had bigger fish to fry and birth, so I ignored the generous pushes of the Southern population and focused soley on the task at belly.

BIG fish.

  Labor sucks, but as with most unpleasant circumstances, it is only temporary. Before I knew it I had birthed that ten-pound fish. I only asked my stomach to do a sit up now and again, hardly daunting after growing and housing a small man for 9 months. We moved. We settled. Things simplified.
   And then the anxious questions from my wedding-happy group started up again. Wedding now? What about now? Now? NOW! I felt ready to tackle the Tulle Beast.

   First things first. I turned to the ever-flowing fountain of knowledge that is the television. As the baby napped I watched Bridezillas, intent on mimicking the demeanor of a  true bride. I felt this was a good move at the time as my natural inclination was to have a picnic, shoes optional. I needed a mentor of sorts to show me how this blissful union was supposed to go down.
  Weeks passed and my research and training proved fruitless. I showed no signs of progress in my quest to flourish into a lady fit for marriage. Despite my best efforts, I was incapable of possessing the “bride factor” displayed on the show. Namely, a girl must be one-part lady and one-part beast. She must perfect a crazed glare to scare away her loved ones. Most importantly, the quintessential bride must pay no regards to social decency.I could not seem flustered at the thought of mismatched shades of white. I couldn’t hurl a high-heel across a room in response to a bridesmaid asking for lip gloss. I couldn’t tell which screwup on the caterer’s part was funny and which was worth a smack down. I always wanted to giggle and shrug things off when a real bride would’ve been knuckle deep in a bridesmaid’s weave.

    Second in my search for education was the magazine aisle at the market. I bought a stack of glossy bridal books and set home for a crash course in How To Bride It Up. From the harsh, violent tempers of Bridezillas I was pleased to find page after page of plastic-looking smiles. Mostly nice. Almost smiling like they meant it. I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl and could not master the artificial face pose. Upon further inspection, I learned that weddings (particularly in the South) are extravagant affairs. By extravagant I mean Holy Mother of Dollar Signs! That’s Expensive! On to cheaper pastures…

Ew girl. Better get a coupon.

    And then I found it. The answer to my veiled head of questions. COMMON LAW. A friend who now insists she was joking, recommended the no-cost option in conversation. No money! No Planning! The Lazy Lady’s Guide To Legitimizing Her Love Child! All you have to do is stay together until the State realizes they aren’t going to get that $100 for a marriage license. State gives in, calls you Man & Wife. Done and DONE. It was a while before a slight flaw presented itself in our Lack of Plans.

   Over the months since the proposal, I’d followed the subsequent engagements of friends on Facebook. I discovered Tennessee does not offer Common Law Marriages. The friends get married in churches and fields and the occasional bar. We have to move to New Mexico. Friends announce their pregnancies and 1-year wedding anniversaries. We have to set up pueblo in New Mexico for 8 years. These friends have babies and give them precious names like Billy. After 8 years the New Mexico will give us an authentic certificate for sticking together for 8 years. Common Law Victory! Billy graduates college. I miss Tennessee. I have arthritis, and this was a lot more of a pain than planning a fancy wedding.


Just Married! Thank You State of South Dakota!


    It was April of last year when the reality took hold. Even the Free Option comes with a price. So we settled on April, 2012 for its fresh Spring weather and distance from right this very second.

   It was just yesterday that The Gentleman asked how plans were coming. His eyes got big in a way that almost looked like excitement. It was the twitching bottom lip that tattled on him. His face, in no uncertain terms, screamed “You need help“, and for once I feel convinced he was not talking about a prescription-happy head doctor. I called an event planner recommended by Google. We’ll call her Erlene. Because her name was Erlene. She tried to make small talk:

Erlene: So what is your vision? Do you see magical twilight ethereal glow? Or maybe more southern princess lu-

Me: How much?

Erlene: Well, I would need to know your true vision first. So, maybe a French countryside meets Parisian socialite soiree fee-

Me: Money? How much of it?

And so on and so on and magical visions of Paris nights and dainty teacups.

Erlene wants more glitter! Where are the unicorns?

With a year before the Big (Little) Day, I found myself looking for a free, creative, spunky, fresh and funky wedding planner to help me understand the difference between regular and salad forks and how to throw a hoedown on a budget.

The same friend who suggested Common Law and absolutely was not kidding about it also suggested a creativespunkyfreshandfunky FREE team of planners: ALL OF YOU! I think her wacky idea might just work.

So, blog friends, slap on your pantyhose and let’s get to planning. We start tomorrow, Erlene(s). Bring coffee and some ethereal, magical visions.

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59 thoughts on “Common Law: The Very Long Engagement

  1. I’m in, although not tonight. I’m out of ideas. Blog themed wedding, hmmm? How might that work (picture thought bubbles coming out of my head now).

    • A magical, ethereal, princess in Paris, bloggy wedding, that is. No worries. I’m not up for planning right now either! Friday morning you get your first assignment, Erlene!

  2. Um, if you want to keep up with the picnic theme you could have like a pot luck reception? I want my wedding (when ever that is going to be… hopefully not soon) on the beach, and then throw a big “block party” as my reception. Buy the booze in bulk, and have a good time! ;)

    • The fiance would KILL me. He is all for casual but not the same kind of hippie-barefoot-casual I tend to love :)
      I think you are right about the Booze in Bulk, though! We will be partying it up, COSTCO style!

  3. Can’t claim to know a damn thing about wedding planning, since I can’t legally marry. However, Sara and I do throw one hell of a party. Your friend was VERY smart to suggest you let the blogosphere plan the event. What a fun prospect!

    1. How many people might you invite? This will determine just about everything else in terms of cost.
    2. Why April? The most affordable way to throw a wedding is outdoors at the home of someone who will let you use it for free. However, outdoor wedding in April could be kinda, well, wet, damp, drenched! If you have an outdoor wedding at say your mother’s house the other options open way up–assuming your mother or someone has space.
    3. Other question–do you have any kind of budget in mind?

    Now after all this–don’t tell me this was all a joke, and, no, you’re not getting married after all–cause I’m up for this. Have you found anyone who planned their wedding via blog? How fun it would be to be one of the first.

    Okay, I’ll shut up now–Congrats and hugs to all of you!

    • Oh Kathy Erlene, I can already tell you are going to be GREAT at this!
      1. Around 100 guests at most (probably closer to 80-85)
      2. We can’t move our date back because a family member is also getting married. So, we thought we’d stick to the original date! We found a pretty, historic house with indoor/outdoor space, so we move the party indoors if the weather is gross!
      3. Tiny. The cheaper the better!

      Can’t wait to hear your magical ethereal visions tomorrow!

  4. I planned my entire wedding from top to bottom and was not once a bridezilla…I can save you thousands! Mine only cost 12K (and that’s in southern california!). I am totally willing to offer my services…for free! (oh and my wedding was a blast- one of the best ever!)

    And congrats!

    • I don’t think I have the capacity to be a Bridezilla. All that yelling! Over taffeta! Oh. My. Gosh, and the Weave Pulling! Girlfriends are way to uptight about it!
      Can’t wait to hear your ideas. I could use your budget tips like nobody’s business!

  5. YAY!!! Congratulations on setting a date! : ) My Hubby and I have been together for 15 years, engaged for 13 of those years and no wedding date in sight. Florida didn’t have common law either, figures! lol
    Hubby and I have thought of 2 ways that would work for us. One way is to have a big potluck kind of party. Have everyone bring a dish and keep it very casual. Only problem is half of our family is up north and the other half is in Florida. The other idea is to have a courthouse ceremony with our two children there, send out cards saying “WE FINALLY DID IT!” and spend our wedding budget on an awesome honeymoon! Of course somewhere along that road we’d have to get dressed up in pretty clothes and have some pictures taken! lol
    My Mom and Step-Father got married in Vegas and had a party on the beach in FL when they got back. The theme was “Holy Sh*t We Did It!” It was a blast and didn’t cost that much.

  6. Yeah……. snort.

    I’m tired of my own wedding. I went to my church hall tonight to find out that I won’t be able to seat everyone I was planning on inviting. I am over planning. Bring on the common law or the sweet justice of the peace nuptials.

    But I want a party with all my family and friends :(

    • Can’t anybody just provide FREE services anymore? Haha! I’m in the same predicament as you: I have days that eloping sounds so gloriously cheap. Then I realize no one would be there to celebrate with us :(

  7. Oh, heck yes! The years 2008-2010 were the years of weddings in my neck of the woods, my friend. In 2008, my husband’s best pal married HIS best pal (who is now one of my NEW best pals–we wives have to stick together, you know). Then, in 2009, my husband decided to hitch his buggy to this crazy horse. And then, last year, in 2010, my sister married her boyfriend of they’re-practically-already-common-law-because-they’ve-been-together-since-high-school (translation: umpteen) years. Actually, there’s another wedding in the works later in October this year for another one of my husband’s pals. And then yours in 2012? The weddings just don’t stop! Haha.

    No, seriously, though, I’m pretty good at planning weddings. Big, small, picnic, cathedral, I can offer some tips, tricks, and general “don’t strangle them, it’s not worth it” advice. I’d be happy to serve on the pro-bono team! :D Let’s do this thing!

    • Seriously, Mrs. H. You are David Tutera in a skirt! I will definitely need help on the Creative On A Budget front. Babydaddy says we cannot use Baby’s college fund… JK!

      • Lol, I love David Tutera. He makes my life so happy. Robert doesn’t understand, since we’re all finished planning our wedding, but still…it’s nice to see other people’s wedding dreams develop. :)

      • I’ll tell you one thing. I would take a David Tutera wedding any day of the week! Who else insists on diamond-covered dinner plates? Haha!

  8. I am not the best at planning weddings, unless you want one like mine: “The Bride Wore A Wetsuit”-themed. Disclaimer: I didn’t even plan that wedding MYSELF; it was all left up to our kayaking guide, whom we had known for all of three days. He done good! Despite my greasy hair and grimy body (five days removed from a shower), I have to say that my wedding was The Best Wedding In The History Of Time. Cheap, too!

    For reals, though: I would heartily recommend a potluck for your reception. It’s way more casual and relaxing than a formal, sit-down reception with too many forks and special spoons to keep track of (and pay for!) No need for a DJ, either– that’s what ipods and speaker sets are for. (Plus, there will be a ton of people who can offer their own playlists to keep things interesting.)

    My final pieces of advice (for now): Shop for a pretty dress *outside* of a bridal boutique store. That will save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. And enlist the talent of a gung-ho baker friend to make your cake (if you’re even having a cake). Marty’s mom made us the most beautiful (and delicious) wedding cake for our post-wedding potluck– mmm, raspberries! FREE CAKE! Everyone wins.

    • God Bless the wetsuit that fits over my bum. Haha! I think you are SO right about the dress. I can’t bring myself to spend more than $30 on jeans… I definitely can spend thousands of dollars on a one-time dress. The iPod thing sounds great, too. I have a tendency to hate cheesy DJs anyways :)

  9. Hahaha. I was married at a jail house after a whopping week long engagement at the ripe ol’ age of 19! We had to pause and wait for prisoners to be checked in, then were able to continue with our “ceremony”!!! Not sure if my wedding planning advice would be helpful or not! LOL! I say, go for cheap and save the big bucks for a nice “honeymoon” just you two, no baby!!! :-)

  10. “melting from the uterus out” If your wedding is half as creative as your manipulation of the English language, you will rock it. And creativity, as you already know, is free. Some of the best weddings I’ve been to have cost next to nothing. Oh, I am awash in ideas….

  11. I fell in love with a $5K gown; since the entire budget for the wedding with 66 guests was only $6K, the math wasn’t working. I took the gown photo to a seamstress, who made me an amazing replica for $380. My advice is find a great seamstress ASAP and make her your new BFF!

  12. Well, I supose I could serve as the “blog husband” if your Mister would like to bounce some ideas off me for bachelor parties and how he should respond when he finds you curled up on the floor surrounded by torn up pieces of what used to be a seating chart. Sign me up!

  13. Congrats on getting married! I was useless for planning mine. My mother-in-law was a genius. Had it been my decision, it would have been a courthouse, sign-the-contract event. But families like to celebrate unions, you know?

    I really enjoyed reading this post and I think your hubby is blessed to have someone who’s not so complicated.

  14. My ex and I decided to spend wedding money on a down payment on a house instead. So we got married under the maple tree in our back yard with just immediate family in attendance, and a bit later threw a big party in our back yard for all of our friends. While the marriage itself was a disaster, I highly, highly recommend our approach to the wedding itself!

    • We are kin dof stuck (house-wise that is) for the time being so we don’t have a backyard option. I would LOVE to have a FREE outdoor space. The more I look around at venues the cheaper and cheaper I feel. Did you know you can pay thousands of dollars just for an empty house with no chairs? Yikes!
      P.S. My dad lives by the mantra “Divorce is expensive. Because it’s worth it.”

  15. My Gentleman and I got married in April 2009 and we pulled it off on a budget! We tied the knot in his parent’s 5 acre backyard between two trees (which were leafless, I might add–the grass was green, though). We had a friend of the family make the cake and she gave it to us at cost. We hired a great DJ who made sure the entire reception went however we wanted it to. The caterer was also a friend of the family’s and served a plethora of finger foods rather than a full blown meal (trust me, no one left hungry!) Our photagrapher was a close friend–super talented and perfectly priced. (
    We planned our wedding in a hurry, so it’s nice that you’ll have time to work on everything. My Gentleman and I definitely wish we had more time to plan things out the way we wanted–and that we hadn’t caved to family pressure on a few things.
    Whatever you do, do it your way. Outside in Tennessee in April should be gorgeous. Make sure it’s exactly what you want and forget about everything else.
    I’ve been really impressed with You can get tons of inspiration for things you can pick up in second-hand stores.
    Good luck! Have fun with it!

  16. You could always do the cow theme…you know, cheese platters, cheese puffs, steak, and milk – chocolate or white.

    I hope you know I’m kidding, but last night I did start honing my bridal cow skills. ;-)

    I had a small reception. Cookies my grandmother bought, a punch fountain and a wedding cake. My cake cost more than my dress. My mother’s friend, a Brooklyn baker, made the cake. It fell and crumbled in a NYC pothole. I often think I should have eloped.

    • BRIDAL COWS! We are keeping it small and simple, which is the same thing as small and cheap (hopefully). I wonder if we should elope every time someone tells me the price for renting tables!

      • Tori, by ‘bridal cow’, I meant a painted FringeCow in a veil. I should explain. I forget people can’t read my mind and know what I’m thinking. I am going to paint you a cow in a veil and send it to you as a present. I mean, it’s pretty much safe to assume you won’t get a duplicate. Just don’t tell anyone it was from me. Let them think your niece painted it or something. Kay? ;-)

        For me small=cheap too. Eloping is very tempting, isn’t it. I still sometimes wish I had done it. You’ll have a fabulous wedding! I can’t wait to see pictures.

  17. Ok so my mom thinks you should just go on a Caribbean Cruise and get married. They will plan everything for you haha. Both Nonie and mom said if you need help with the desserts or food they can help.

  18. Ha! We’re one in the same! I was 4 months pregnant when we got married. I wasn’t when we sent the SAVE THE DATE cards…and found out AFTER we sent them in the mail. We had to call everyone to say “oh, you’re going to receive…ignore that date…I’ll be having a baby right around that time!” I wanted to wait until after birth and things settled down, but my husband wasn’t going for it!

    My advice: simple is BEST. Less $$ is BEST. I had no stress, we did a little tiny BBQ/Neighborhood tiny park thingy between a couple of houses. My father-in-law lived in the neighborhood it cost like $50.00 to rent. We rented a small amount of chairs that a company dropped off and our friends set up. There was a cute tree/trellis area. There was a point where we took off our shoes, because my feet were uncomfortable. We had our reception at the restaurant within that neighborhood (called Waters) because it was on the manmade lake. It was perfect and hassle free. Bill basically planned it all…We avoided expensive flower center pieces (way over-priced!) buffet style food, and about 70 people. We got compliments from guys saying it was quick and to the point and they loved that! QUICK IS BEST! Let’s face it, everyone wants to be at the reception…partying down! :) Single ladies want to catch that bouquet! AVOID HOT MONTHS…everyone is miserable dressed up…


  19. Only in the South would her name be Erlene!
    I’m not much of a wedding planner because A) I’m a male, and B) I’m straight. So I’ll leave the suggestions to your fine female blog friends.

    • You don’t even want to know what her last name was. Ohhhh, it was so country it hurt. Mark, I totally get that you probably aren’t hyped up to pick flowers. When we get around to the Food & Alcohol portion, though, I’m gonna need some dude opinion!

  20. I’ve got zero experience in wedding planning, but could easily write a primer on living in sin. However, a friend of mine here in Seattle wrote a book about non-traditional weddings called “Offbeat Bride.” This has since blossomed into a whole “Offbeat” blog-iverse. Definitely worth a visit.

  21. Thanks for sharing your personal story. And I wish you well on your wedding! My advice is to pick the place first. Whether it be your backyard, or a fancy hotel. Just pick it. Get it done, and the rest will fall into place.

    Weddings are so personal, and so exposed at the same time. You’ve really got to do what makes you happy. Then your fiance will be happy too (that’s really all he wants, I’m guessing, is for you to be happy). And if you and he are happy, your little one has a much better chance of following that example!

    You’re a mom now. So you know there are bigger things than bows on chairs to make life special. No matter what you do, some will like it and some not. All that matters at the end of the day is that you have a wonderful shared memory of a moment in your life you will forever treasure.


    And another congratulations: I just awarded you with the Versatile Blogger Award (it’s a fun little award passed around within the blogging community). Here’s the shortlink: Looking forward to reading your “fun facts!” –Melissa

    • I think my new Momdom is definitely the reason I am not getting so worked up about it. It’s hard to stress about flowers when your toddler is teething :)
      Thanks SO much for the award, Melissa! I’m going to do my acceptance post as this week’s Sunday Paper post!

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  23. I know.. I know.. just come to Portland and get married at Voodoo Donuts. I hear the throw in a donut cake with the wedding. Or just steal a page from my book: tuxedo t-shirts, converse shoes, gramma’s backyard, sloppy joe’s, pie, and a pastor that refuses to do the deed because we lived together before and “we’re going to hell”. there, all planned. easy peasy.

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  25. This post had me cracking up at my desk at work. I can imagine how people must have acted when you did things out of order! Can I just tell you – coming from just planning a wedding (although it never happened, haha), don’t get all wrapped up in what you see on TV and in the magazines. I would write a list of what you want your wedding to look/feel like before you get sucked into all that. And trust me, it’s sooo easy to get sucked in. What do you want your guests to think and say about your wedding? What kind of feeling do you want when you walk down the aisle? Will it look eclectic, calming, romantic? Once you pin those things down, it’s just about realizing that vision. If you start with the TV shows and the magazines and the wedding expos, you’ll get overwhelmed. And from that vantage point, it’s hard to focus on what really matters. Good luck with the planning! It’s going to be wonderful and perfect, no matter what! :)

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