My name is Nelle, and this is the story of how I came to propose to my beau Matt via a surprise, bedazzled, bikerideflashmob engagement party with 150 of our closest friends and family from around the world.
Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve never wanted a traditional wedding: the expenses, the material waste, the long odds of success, the celebrations of heteronormativity and wealth, conveying women as property, etc.
I’m bi, and like most people, have a tenuous relationship with monogamy. I have always planned to queer my marriage. When I was six, I told my mom I would like to marry Ellen Degeneres, and I asked her to make the introduction. For most of my life, I assumed I would partner with some dreamy person and that we’d pack up our Subaru and elope.
I was raised Unitarian Universalist by a hard-working woman in the suburbs of Denver. My worldview was shaped by my mom and a community that valued progressive beliefs, lifestyles, communication, and sexuality. It was awesome.
Back in 2010, I moved to Washington, D.C., to work in bicycle advocacy and help rewire the way people think about transportation. Enter Matt, a lovely cis-hetero fellow, who I totally fell for. Four years ago, he walked up to my desk at our local bicycle advocacy nonprofit and asked how he could help get more women on bikes. At this point, I’d dedicated all my professional and personal and spiritual time to this very question, also he was wearing very tight pants, also he offered a follow-up discussion over his favorite homemade pie. That was our first date. Two weeks later he told me he was in love.
At the time, I was dating other people (five to be precise), but it wasn’t long before Matt and I entered talks on exclusivity. He was just too much! We were just too much! Our limerence was made up of house shows, bike camping, foot rubs, yurt trips, poetry, graffiti, trips to foreign embassies, and this exuberance from learning about each other. We just didn’t have time for other people. We literally had to keep a running list of conversation topics we couldn’t get to.
Beyond public intention-setting and a big party, our primary reason for marriage is simple: legal benefits. Our relationship is tops. Really, it rules. We over-communicate and value our independence and space. We cook and clean and use power tools at similar rates. We think we’re above-average at working through lulls in romance, outside crushes, differing political views, varying emotional states, and seeds of resentment. We don’t need the State’s approval and a piece of paper to verify our unity. Matt and I are both excited about continuing to take good care of each other, and eventually rearing children. We know we’re in it for the long haul. So if we’re both excited to stay together — why not take advantage of sharing health insurance, filing joint taxes, hospital visitation, etc?
Even so, we both carry emotional and conceptual baggage around marriage. Matt worries that a permanent commitment will lead to complacency and takes philosophical issue with the idea of committing his future self, when we’re both so actively evolving. And he too wants to smash the patriarchy, etc.
If we are going to wed, we decided, it will be on our own sparkly terms. Instead of jumping into wedding planning, we laid out a thoughtful baggage-processing process to get there.
We started with our own version of peer counseling. We knew we needed insight and expertise, so we tracked down trusted sources invested in our relationship’s success: our friends! We coordinated a dozen dinners with married and previously-married buddies of various demographics and orientations. We plied them with food and talked through a checklist of questions. Some were personal (does monogamy get boring, and what do you do about it?), some were practical (how do you handle finances?), and some were repetitive (remind us again why exactly we should get married?).
We highly recommend this kind of DIY counseling. It’s cheap, it’s tailored to your relationship, and it can be a lot more insightful than advice from a stranger. We began the process with abstract aspirations and real anxieties about marriage. We emerged with a set of shared beliefs and a palpable excitement to build a marriage that met our needs.
I made Matt promise not to propose. I wanted to do it. My reason was simple: I wanted to bust some norms. I wanted our story to show that there’s not a right or a wrong way. The only “should” in this process is that relationship decisions should be made in a healthy, mutual, personal way!
Opportunity to propose thus claimed, I started spreadsheeting. How could I gather our closest friends and family for an experience that manufactured joy from thin air and committed them to our relationship and us to theirs? Most importantly, how could I get everyone on bikes?
Ten months, several logistical meetings, an org chart, a flight from China for Matt’s sister, an $8 ring, and several slide presentations later, I was ready. How could I not be — my mom thrifted for sequined flair along the mountain west for ten entire months!
I dressed our favorite people in sequins, put them on bikes, threw a bedazzled Matt on the back of my tandem, rode through the city, descended on our favorite local watering hole, proposed to Matt under a mariachi band and confetti shower, and then we danced our asses off for hours. The, most, intense, booty, shaking.
Clearly the most important thing we learned in this process: two is not enough people. I depended upon a huge community of friends and family to build the day’s experience, and Matt and I will continue leaning on these friends and family for… well, ever (hopefully?). We’re getting married!
Aimee Custis is a wedding and portrait photographer. She believes in the enormous power of photos in telling stories -- love stories, important moments, and the in-between moments of everyday life. She loves summer sunsets, sandals, and chasing light. When she's not behind the camera saying ridiculous, snarky things to make her clients laugh, you'll usually find her pedaling around her Washington, DC neighborhood by bicycle, or lost in the pages of a sci-fi novel.
Meet Kian McKellar of Key In Films: Most days you can find me dashing around trying to film everything. As a freelancer I choose to film for mostly nonprofits and small businesses. When I’m not working you can find me either rock climbing, doing improv, or making comedic camera gear videos. My gear videos are a result of me being a huge gear nerd. You might find me on a Friday night taking apart my gear bag and redesigning where everything goes. Just so I can move fast enough to capture that next candid moment.