Suzanne Walker

I was not the little girl who planned and rehearsed her wedding day, dreaming of the perfect dress and Prince Charming.

That’s not to say that I was indifferent to the topic: I was a devout Disney fan. I did grow up watching the happily-ever-afters at the end of “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” but when I went outside to play on my own I did not re-enact the wedding day. Instead, I was Ariel longing to explore the world above the waves, or Belle searching for “something more than this provincial town.” The first wedding dance was the furthest thing from my mind as I set off on my next imagined adventure.

Twenty-some years later I found myself the heroine of my own happily-ever-after. I also found myself wishing that I had practiced a little more as a girl. Did Mrs. Pot plan Belle’s wedding? Was Sebastian the crab in charge of catering Ariel’s big day? Did the Beast write his own vows? As the tasks on the to-do list began to mount and the days flew by, I began to feel more than a little anxious (and wishing I had a few woodland critters to help me find a DJ).

Weddings have always been (and will always be, I imagine) an occasion. Even a small civil ceremony is ripe with emotion: You are committing yourselves to one another. You are now, in the eyes of your family and friends, community and country, bound to one another.

Regardless of the reason or the venue, that step is a serious one. So it stands to reason that such a life-changing event would be cause for celebration: Bring the family! Invite friends and neighbors! Share an evening of food and drink and dancing: You’re getting married! And don’t forget the party favors and decorative lighting! You did book your venue two years ago, right?

What about the monogrammed napkins, bridesmaid T-shirts and table centerpieces? Before you know it, your big day has become much bigger. This increase in expense and expectations is a natural step for an industry that thrives on the $31,000 the average American couple will spend to tie the knot. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but wish for a fairy godmother to whisk the event into existence with a wave of her wand.

“It must be even more stressful doing a destination wedding,” a friend commented as we discussed the details over drinks. I stopped for a moment, chip and dip midway to my mouth.

“Destination wedding?” I parroted.

“Yeah,” she continued, “In Moab? I mean, it must be that much more work to coordinate where you don’t know vendors or anything.” She wasn’t wrong, I realized. It was a destination wedding for all the guests coming from Colorado. But my fiancé and I had never seen it that way. It was Moab: It was the reason we had met, the place we went with family and friends. It was our escape when we needed a weekend together, safe from the distractions of home DIY or that one last email to the office. It was where we had become engaged, and where we would get married. It wasn’t a destination. It was simply our place.

“It is a destination,” I finally conceded, “but not a destination wedding.” My friend took a sip of her drink, eyebrows raised.

“Well, it’s got the sand, but it’s missing the beach,” she replied with a laugh, “And I don’t think many destination wedding packages hold the ceremony at a campsite!” I chuckled in agreement: It certainly did not fit the mold.

Days later, I found myself thinking back on her comments. The truth is that we are not so alone in this. We have been overwhelmed with support from friends and family, Utah and Colorado alike. Thank goodness for my mother, who found a caterer with just a few strategic phone calls to her network of friends. And another thank-you to friends willing to lend tables and chairs for the reception. Outdoor lights? Turns out another neighbor has a box full. With every step, we are offered a hand. This, I’m realizing, is the root of the whole celebration: Everyone is coming together. Yes, it’s a day for my fiancé and me. At the same time, it’s a gathering of family and friends. And as with so many things in life, we feel the most pride, satisfaction and enjoyment when we have helped bring it about. So to everyone who has helped us, thank you.

To everyone planning their own wedding, just remember that fairy godmothers and helpful woodland critters may not always look just as Disney portrays them.

Suzanne Walker is from Boulder, Colorado, and has been exploring the Moab desert for more than a decade.