Photography by Phil Chester
“I like to believe that in the act of following our hearts and veering away from tradition, we created some observances and principles of our own that would guide us.”
Names and current city of residence:
Nathan and Jessye Okuley / Westerville, Ohio
When was your wedding date and how long have you been married?
September 1, 2018 / Two years
What did you enjoy most about being engaged?
Nathan: I’m a planner. There is a Google Document for nearly every aspect of my life, especially parties, events, or trips. So I loved the research and planning process. For our elopement ceremony, we got to plan an entire week of travel around that moment, which helped queue up a really personal experience.
What event do you remember best from your engagement? Any particular moments or events that stick in your memory?
Jessye: The entire day was a well-crafted event. We had just bought a house and were supposed to be moving that morning. Nathan left to go pick up the U-Haul and several minutes later my phone rang. He had left the confirmation paperwork on the table and needed the information. EXCEPT, there was no paperwork — there was a letter. It explained that, given my disdain for moving, today was instead going to be filled with relaxation and fun.
As stated above, Nathan is a planner and no detail was left undone. I got ready and awaited my first surprise. A dear friend picked me up and off we went to breakfast at my favorite local restaurant. We laughed and joked and sipped our tea and then he handed me another letter. What ensued was a series of letters, drop offs and “next stops” all catered around my favorite things and people...
Breakfast with Bryant, a fresh manicure and estate shopping with Jon, and lunch with my lifelong girlfriends at the restaurant where Nathan and I had our first date. After lunch I was taken back home. As I walked into the entryway there was a set of brand new luggage and — you guessed it — a letter. I was told to pack my bags for an overnight stay and head to the hotel to rest up for a couple hours.
Once I settled into my hotel room there was a knock on the door, it was Susie and we were off to get our hair done. I feel the need to add that up until this point I really had no idea what was happening. Nathan is a natural gift-giver and pulls off elaborate dates really well. When I was taken back to the hotel and walked in the room, it had been turned into my own personal fashion suite by two of our amazing friends. They had a rack of outfits all with corresponding shoes, jewelry and accessories. We spent the next hour playing dress up, drinking champagne and making memories. I assumed at this point I was likely going to a fancy dinner until the car turned left out of the parking lot instead of right. Turn by turn I quickly realized we were heading to our new house. We pulled into the driveway and I was told to walk around back.
There he was.
The patio had been turned into a candle lite bohemian wonderland equipped with hidden photographers. It was perfect. And the fun didn't end there. After our engagement, Nathan drove us back to the hotel. As I walked into the lobby I was surprised by all of our amazing friends who were there to celebrate us.
When you were engaged, what were you most looking forward to on the wedding day/weekend?
J: Early on, we had decided to elope. As you can imagine this wasn’t a favorable plan for our families, but Nathan and I wanted to remain true to our dreams and desires. For us, that meant eliminating the fluff and stress of a typical wedding. Our focus was going to be on each other and the commitments we would spend our lifetime honoring. We invited a few of our closest friends and spent a handful of days celebrating in Napa and Big Sur, California prior to our wedding. I looked forward to the joy and authenticity of the day. The declaration that our words and our hearts made was what mattered most.
What traditions did you carry through to your wedding, or what traditions did you start yourselves?
J: I like to believe that in the act of following our hearts and veering away from tradition, we created some observances and principles of our own that would guide us. As a team, our vision and desires come first. We commit to adventure-seeking and following what feels right. We decide. Also, I love that we have an amazing cliffside on the west coast that holds special meaning and will forever be a place we can return to reflect and celebrate life’s wins.
Describe one or two memories or individual moments that you remember most from your wedding celebration.
N: The day before we said our vows, Jessye and I drove out to Big Sur on the search for the “perfect” spot. It was sunny, beautiful, and picture-perfect. We pulled over on the side of the road near some amazing cliffs, started walking around, and picked a spot that we felt would be perfect. On our elopement day, the clouds rolled in and we thought that it was going to ruin the entire experience; but the pictures tell a different story. We had PERFECT lighting; outside of some shivering and sniffling, it was extraordinary. I thought it would be stressful to find a spot (and we certainly felt pressure to make it “perfect”) but it’s fun to know that now we have a spot that is forever the spot; it’s not a church or a venue — it’s a cliffside in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
What is one way you made your wedding “your own”?
N: Our first trip together was to Napa / Sonoma, California, where we sat at vineyards and talked about our dreams and aspirations. To pay tribute, we flew out to Napa with some of our best friends a few days before we eloped. We did a private wine tasting, explored Napa, sat around a fire with morning coffee — it was like sharing some of our favorite parts of that first trip with people we love.
Once we got back and had our party for family and friends, we did it exactly as we wanted: a curation of food truck catering, an open bar of cocktails using Weller bourbon, and the best dance party you could ask for (brought to us by The Wild Path). We didn’t invest in the stuff that no one remembers; and we know with confidence that the barbecue pit and taco truck tacos are still remembered by many today. #humblebrag
What is one thing you learned about one other during your marriage thus far?
N: I think we entered into our marriage with very different expectations on how to communicate when things are hard. We knew that we had different personalities, but didn’t put time into learning how to handle it well or come to accept that one way was or wasn’t better than the other. When things are hard, it’s easy to hang it up due to incompatibility or something just not being a good fit; but now I think that we realize how valuable and complimentary our personalities can be, so long as we aim to be healthy in our process. I feel like once we were married, I unlocked a new level of grace, patience, and commitment to putting in hard work.
What is one piece of advice for currently engaged couples?
N: If it stresses you out, ask what happens if it gets removed from the experience. Our family may disagree with us, but we tell so many couples to do whatever is going to help the day be about the thing that matters most: you and your partner. In our situation, it was eloping somewhere beautiful and then coming back to celebrate with our people. We got rid of any distractions or things that stimulated more fear about the wedding day; and while it was hard to tell family and some of our closest community that we were going to do this on our own, we don’t regret it for a second.
Our general story:
N: During one of our first dates, Jessye said that she had two expectations for her wedding day. She wanted to elope somewhere beautiful like the Redwoods and she wanted Phil Chester to be the photographer capturing the moment. I was hesitant because I had always imagined a massive party with friends and family (and if you wait until your 30s to get married, you’ve got a lot of people to invite). Over the course of time, both of us fell more and more in love with the idea of eloping somewhere amazing and making sure the focus was on us; no distractions, no crazy decor budget, and no worrying about things that no one ever remembers about their wedding.
The week after we got engaged, I reached out to Phil Chester via his website and caught him up on the story from the first date. A few days later, Phil replied with the wildest response: not only did he grow up in Columbus, Ohio just down the street from our new home, but he was planning to be in Big Sur for another shoot the day after the date that we had proposed just a few months ahead. So, the photographer of our dreams that books years in advance was suddenly was going to be in the exact small town as us on the same weekend. It felt like destiny and we knew that this would be our story.
We invited a few of our closest friends to fly out secretly a few months later and spent a few days exploring, sharing meals, and raising many cheers before we officially eloped.