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Andrea Neff photography gay queer non binary covid-19 elopement San Diego America marriage Dancing With Them magazine

Karen & Mari

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SAN DIEGO, USA

 

Who are Karen & Mari?

Karen: I work in marketing as a content strategist, which is just another way of saying I write a lot. I’m a bit of a workaholic (just ask Mari!), but when I do peel myself away from my laptop, I’m a big horror and sci-fi fan. I eat up true crime documentaries and have watched virtually every ghost and zombie movie on Netflix. I’m like a sponge when it comes to facts (and conspiracies) about aliens, cryptids, and mythical creatures – ask me about the Fermi paradox, and I’ll talk your ear off! 

Mari: I’m an avid hobbyist. When I’m not working from home as an insurance adjuster, I’m in the backyard taking care of our “plant babies” and figuring out creative ways to grow more edible plants in our backyard. All that time spent outside meant I found myself bird-watching, too, and these days I spend lots of time outside trying to spot, photograph, and identify birds! We just bought a house together, so I spend lots of time on home improvements with Karen doing the “planning” and I the “actual work”!

We’re equally obsessed with our five-minute bundle of fur and attitude, Mr. Pickles – the cutest and sassiest Shih Tzu on the planet.

 

How did you meet?

We’ve been together going on four years. We met on Halloween 2017 while Karen was on another date- whoops! We spotted each other at the bar and struck up a conversation. The attraction was instant for both of us, but since Karen had someone waiting for her, all we got to do was swap names.

Of course, I forgot to spell my name, so it wasn’t until over a month later that we accidentally re-connected on a dating app. Karen’s profile photo was of the back of her head about twenty feet away, so I didn’t recognize her right away. But when I realized who I was chatting with, I tried to play it cool (unsuccessfully, according to Karen). We started officially dating on Christmas day that same year, and the rest is history! 

 

Aside from your wedding, what is your favorite memory together?

Oh, man, we have so many. But if we had to choose, it would be a trip we recently took to Galway, Ireland. We ended up taking a ferry out to the Aran Islands for a day. It was rainy and dreary, but we decided to make the best of it and hired a horse-drawn carriage to tour the island (motor vehicles are limited on the island). The driver was an Irish man we hardly understood whose vocabulary mostly consisted of “feckin” and “baaastard,” along with his horse named Bill Clinton (seriously). He was hilarious, and we had the best time cracking jokes, sharing stories, and laughing about how lazy (and farty) Bill the Horse was. It was fabulous.

 

Tell us about the proposal.

Mari had a plan to propose on a morning hike, but the evening beforehand, we had tickets to see a favorite band of ours, La Santa Cecilia. Mari’s impatience took over, and they decided, “tonight’s the night!” Mari is an introvert through and through, so the idea of standing up in front of a bunch of people at a concert to propose was a big deal. I was shaking like a leaf, didn’t even let them finish before I said “YES” and kissed them. People behind us applauded, and during intermission, I got so many congratulations from total strangers! It made me feel like I was in a romantic comedy- such a perfect memory.

Talk us through the decision to elope.

We had a destination wedding planned in this beautiful wine region in Mexico. Plans were made, table settings selected, vendors chosen, and then COVID-19. We initially decided to postpone the wedding, but as time went on, it became clear to us that any big wedding amid a pandemic would not only be risky but way too stressful. 

When we decided to cancel the wedding, our next step was to figure out how to get hitched (we’d waited long enough!). On a walk around our neighborhood, we talked about the idea of running away to California. To get married outside with a few close friends and a picnic blanket. We FaceTimed our friend Jessica and asked her to be our officiant and got planning! It’s honestly the best decision we could have made. 

 

Tell us about telling your loved ones that you’re now married.

It wasn’t the “traditional” elopement in that most of our family knew we were getting married that weekend, but our friends didn’t! It was such a relief to be able to post ‘WE GOT HITCHED’ on social media. Honestly, it felt like such a long time coming that many people responded, “wait… you aren’t already married?”

 

Talk us through the day.

We had a small group of friends that we knew we could convince to take a trip to San Diego to visit our friend (and officiant) Jessica without much thought. We cooked up a plan to invite the group for a “friend’s trip” to the beach and planned the whole thing without telling anyone what the real plan was. We even told the group that we had a “fancy meal” planned, so they knew to bring along nice clothes.

When we arrived in California, we planned an (outdoor and masked) meal at a patio restaurant in downtown San Diego. We’d written everyone an individual card letting them know what the real plan was. When we handed them out, it was so much fun to see everyone’s face go from confusion to realization to pure excitement! We even managed to make a few of our friends cry happy tears.

 

Karen: The next day, we spent the morning on the beach, and I got a crazy sunburn on my feet. Of course, I was so excited that I hardly cared, and we came back to the hotel to get ready together. The wedding itself was under a big, beautiful tree in Kate O. Sessions Park in San Diego, which overlooked a beautiful ocean horizon. After we said I Do (with cheers from total strangers within earshot at the park!), we sat down on the same blanket for a pizza picnic reception, a park dog came to say hi, and we stayed until it was so dark we could hardly see where we were walking! It was utterly perfect.

Photography by Andrea Neff