The engagement cards began arriving a week or so after we announced the news. They came from family and friends in Maryland and Minnesota, North Carolina, New York and beyond. Some included little gifts – a check to help celebrate, a gift card to a wine store – but the best parts were the handwritten messages, those heart-felt words of excitement and advice. I began to realize that weddings (and marriages, really) are about more than just the bride and groom and their immediate families. They're about the sprawling, crisscrossing network of our extended family and friends, near and far.
One great part of being engaged is that we've had an excuse to see these people more than we have in years. High school and college friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles have come to visit, marveling over the ring and our plans and us. Reese and I have introduced our childhood friends to each other – incredibly, they already seem like they've known each other for years – and we've gotten to know old friends in new ways, sharing parts of this process we've never experienced before.
Soon after we got engaged, we started talking about our wedding party. Choosing the eight bridesmaids and eight groomsmen was easy, though it did feel at times like we were playing favorites with our friends. It also proved to be an unexpectedly awkward topic to bring up with most. Looking back, I think we tried too hard to find the perfect moment to ask each of them, and three months after we got engaged, we were still putting it off. We ended up calling the final few out of the blue, which worked just fine.
My maid of honor, Regan, has been my friend since second grade, and the word "friend" isn't nearly strong enough to describe our relationship. She was there for me through those boring high school classes and long after-school sports practices, proms and graduations. While we went to different colleges and now live in different states, we haven't missed a beat. Reese's best man, Mark, is also a childhood buddy, and they share the same kind of goofy jokes and irreplaceable bond that only come with being an old, old friend.
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The rest of our wedding party is a good mix of high school and college friends, siblings and friends from Charlotte. The people we see every weekend, and the people we only get to see every few months. Eight sounds like a lot, but the number feels right. We're honored to have each share this process with us, along with the rest of our close friends, who are equally hilarious, smart, supportive and wonderful. A handful of my girlfriends got engaged around the same time Reese popped the question, and it has been crazy coordinating dates and parties and bridesmaid dress colors – but exhilarating. Going through this with them – exchanging tips, worries, all the ups and downs – has been more fun that I could have imagined, and far more helpful than anything from a book or Web site.
Our families have also been behind us every step of the way. My parents and future in-laws have been overwhelmingly generous. I've laughed and cried at countless toasts and gladly accepted their advice on everything from wedding flowers to married life. Our parents and grandparents, married for decades, are undeniable role models, teaching us throughout our whole lives the importance and intricacies of marriage. Which brings me back to the engagement cards. I collected them from the mailbox, tearing the envelopes open on the way into my apartment, then reading and rereading them in the days that followed. I've tucked them into a shoebox designated for wedding memories, and I'm certain I'll pull them out through the years when I need a reminder of how lucky I am. I've always known it, but more than ever, I've realized these people will be around us this next year and the years to come, holding us up when we fail, celebrating when we succeed and keeping us laughing all along the way.