Thursday, September 12, 2013

Navy Girlfriend Guide: What Every Navy Girlfriend Wants to Know about the Courthouse Wedding

Naval Air Station North Island, Calif. (May 1, 2003) -- Lt. David Kozminski, from Grand Rapids, Mich., a Navy pilot assigned to the Blue Wolves of Sea Control Squadron Thirty Five (VS-35) and his new wife walk down the white carpet while military honors are rendered after the couple are married within the squadron's hangar. The wedding was televised live on the national network television show "Good Morning America" and took place one day after Lt. Kozminski's return from a nearly ten-month deployment. VS-35 had been deployed aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraqs weapons of mass destruction, and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Ted Banks. (RELEASED)
As a Navy Girlfriend, you will start to hear about Navy Wives' weddings, and you may start to notice that a lot of people are not describing the groom in his uniform and two rows of Sailors creating a steeple with their swords for your wedding isle. No, usually they go something like this: We went to the courthouse.

Wan, wan, wan . . .

My husband and I went to the courthouse too. Oh, trust me. I didn’t want to go to the courthouse! I was wearing a pair of brown pants and I had a cold sore! I did not want to go to the courthouse! I problem-solved and fought with all my might to figure out a way for us to have the wedding of my dreams, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Why? Why do all these Navy couples get married in the courthouse? 

Why? Why? Why?

Here’s why:

Time – The first factor is time and the fact that usually you don’t have enough time to plan a wedding before his next deployment. A lot, a lot of Navy couples rush into marriage because he’s leaving and there isn’t enough time for a wedding. Sometimes they would get married regardless and sometimes they wouldn’t have done so if circumstances were different.

Fear Fear that if you remain a Navy Girlfriend while he is deployed, and something happens to him while he is away, no one will tell you. You will be the last to know. He’s afraid too. If something happens to you, you might not have any support, certainly none from the Navy. Further, both of you are afraid that it will be too easy for you or him to leave or cheat while he is away if there hasn’t been that level of commitment and promise to one another.

Security – If you are married, you have the health benefits; you have military resources to help you in an emergency; you have the security of knowing what’s happening to him; and the security of being taken care of if the worst were to happen. A lot of times, Navy Girlfriends will move to the place their boyfriend is stationed and will literally be alone. That was the case for me. I considered being a Navy Girlfriend while he was deployed, and it was horrifying to imagine myself alone, completely – no insurance, no income other than his, no resources for when things got bad, no one to help me when something went wrong.

Money – Who has the money for a wedding? Even a small wedding can be pricy! One of the reasons my husband and I eloped is because we didn’t have the time or the money to get a wedding together before he left. Also, we were barely surviving on his income, and the Navy gives Sailors an extra stipend for their spouse.

Pregnancy – This one applies to people whether they are in the military or not. If you are with child, a lot of times you want to get married before the baby is born. Again, you also want all the benefits the Navy will provide for a wife and child.
photo credit: bloody marty mix via photopin cc

Whoa, whoa, whoa. It sounds like I’m trying to talk you into a courthouse betrothal, doesn’t it? Not my intention. I’m explaining why that is so common, but trust me, that is not your only option, and I’ve known many, many, many Navy Wives who did it their way. 

Sometimes the courthouse wedding is followed by a big traditional wedding and sometimes it’s not. I’ve heard of the courthouse wedding that is in secret, and I’ve heard of the one that has parents and friends in attendance, even a white dress can be involved. I’ve known women who have had the traditional wedding first and those who had it later, those who had no wedding and those who had two weddings, one for each side of the coast. I’ve known women who have married in secret and divorced in secret, no one other than the Navy ever knowing. I’ve known women who have stayed a Navy Girlfriend for years until they could do the wedding, and I’ve known women who have secretly went to the courthouse but didn’t tell friends and family until the actual wedding. They didn’t look at it as marriage but as a legal agreement for their own benefit because they knew they were going to do the wedding, just later rather than sooner.

Keep this in mind! Nothing says a fast, cheap wedding has to be forgettable and no one can promise that your dream wedding will be fun at all. I’ve heard of a man in a tux and woman in a white dress on the beach with a priest and a single friend in attendance and that it was absolutely beautiful. I’ve heard of the biggest most elaborate wedding being the worst mistake and and a huge waste of money.

The vast amount of nontraditional weddings is due to the Navy and to the convenience and security provided by marriage in the Navy, but if it is not in your heart to do things that way then you do not have to. Consider though that your desires may not match his. The first step of marriage for many Navy couples is compromising about how to get hitched.

NEW YORK (June 11, 2009) Senior Chief Explosive Ordnance technician Aaron Ryan and his bride, Barbara Borowy, pose for photographers in Times Square following their wedding ceremony on the famed Military Island. They joined four other military couples pledging their love and commitment for each other as well as the country in a ceremony covered widely by the New York media. A small number of family and friends were on hand to witness the ceremony coordinated by WE tv and the USO of Metropolitan New York. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cpt. Angela Webb/Released)
Whatever you do and however you do it, know this: It doesn’t matter in the end how you get married. It’s that you are married. I’ve seen courthouse marriages that are still going, twenty and thirty years later, and I’ve seen big traditional weddings end in divorce. Marriage is not about a wedding. Marriage and wedding do not have the same definition.

Still, weddings are something women dream about from girlhood, and it’s important that you don’t start this marriage out with resentment because you didn’t get to have that experience. You need to both look deep, deep inside yourselves and ask what does this really mean to you, why is it important, why is it worth it, and why will it matter after you’ve been married for two years or fifty.

So let’s talk weddings. What kind of wedding did you have or do you want to have? What kind of wedding do you wish you had or wish you hadn’t had? Navy Girlfriends or Navy Wives, what has your experience been and what options have you considered or witnessed?   

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

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