From the day Aleksa got down on one knee, we’ve been plastered with questions about our binational situation. How we met, where we will live, and if long distance relationships are even real.
But when the engagement ring made its shiny appearance, there was one question everyone had: where will you have the wedding?
Before a novel coronavirus took the world by storm, Aleksa and I had all of these brilliant plans. He was to return to New York in May 2020 on a work and travel visa; he was to spend that summer working at the Statue of Liberty. And by October 2020, when his visa was expected to end, we would have a better idea of what we were going to do about our wedding. He was going to return to Serbia, and I was going to meet him in Munich for Christmas. We imagined that he’d be back in spring 2021 on yet another visa. And we believed we’d have a big, extravagant wedding in New York City later that year in the fall. I imagined one of the big city churches and a venue with enough greenery that you could see the changing of the leaves outside. We thought that we’d have a small, civil gathering in Serbia, too. That was the initial plan.
But as we all know too well by now, the virus changed our plans. Instead of spending the summer of 2020 planning my future autumnal wedding, I spent it online, mostly visiting the Embassy of the Republic or Serbia. I waited everyday for an update on travel restrictions, desperate to know if the borders would reopen. Eager to know when I would reunite with my fiancé.
You’d think that with all that time apart, I would have viewed wedding planning as an escapism. I’m sure for some brides-to-be, it was; and I hope that it was a cathartic experience for them. The difference is that I was not in lockdown with my fiancé. I didn’t have the luxury of being cooped up indoors with him, saving photos to Pinterest boards and binging wedding films together. Without seeming bitter, we just had different things to worry about — namely, how we would see each other again.
And when we finally, happily reunited a year later, our wedding had new challenges. One, how would Aleksa get into the USA? During the pandemic, his visa process was paused. Eventually, the visa he applied for expired because he outgrew the limitations.
It was tragic. You know how Beast watches his precious rose wither away under glass? That was what that visa seemed like. So our only option was to wait out the pandemic and the travel restrictions so that Aleksa could apply for a different visa.
Initially, we were okay with that. But then there was all this talk of the pandemic’s longevity. Predictions that this virus and its variants could last for two, three, maybe four years. As the hypothesis began rolling into 2024, we watched our wedding date slip further away into oblivion. For any other couple, this might not be so bad. But for a long distance couple, that just means we were delaying living our lives together.
So we started wondering — is having the wedding in the USA the best decision?
A few days after reuniting with Aleksa in 2021, it was Christmas in Serbia. We had just finished setting up a tiny, plastic Christmas tree with tinsel and metal balls.
“It would mean a lot to me if we had a wedding in Serbia,” Aleksa said. He may have said it out of nowhere, but the idea had been there for a while.
“My family and friends won’t get to come to a wedding in the USA. And we don’t even know when I can go to the USA.” Aleksa was fiddling with the tree lights, by this point. “And there’s a lot of Serbian traditions I would like to experience. That I always thought I’d get to do.”
I was actually really pleased to hear my fiancé had put thought into his wedding day. In America, we have a culture of encouraging young women to daydream and fantasize about their “big day.” But men’s expectations of the wedding are rather overlooked, if not ignored completely. It touched me that Aleksa had envisioned his wedding and wanted it to happen.
But it wasn’t only that. We are in love and want to be together. And we knew that we were going to have to fight, and make sacrifices, to have a future together.
And suddenly, all started to come together. I called my mom and dad that night and explained that we were going to try shooting for a summer wedding in Serbia. I called up some friends and booked a bridal appointment at Kleinfeld. Two weeks later, Aleksa and I found our wedding venue. Two weeks after that, I found my dress in Manhattan. It was such an exciting experience. But it was also completely chaotic.
Our decision to have a wedding in Serbia downright upset some people and deeply confused others. It all stemmed from an invitation I sent out. Inside, I disclosed that the wedding would be in Serbia and that we understood people could likely not attend given the travel expense and the pandemic — but that we wanted to share our happy news with them, and to treat this invite as a wedding announcement. And that when Aleksa is finally in the USA, we will host another reception to celebrate our marriage.
Essentially, anyone who wanted to come could fly to Serbia for the wedding. But we didn’t expect anyone to do that. We’d have a future event for our American side.
“What does this mean?!” People texted, called, and voicemailed. They were offended by this. And no, it wasn’t because I implied they can’t afford the travel expense — they were offended that it didn’t align with their expectations of my wedding day.
I tried explaining that this was likely going to be one of two weddings — the one in Serbia being for Aleksa’s family and friends, and the one in the USA being for mine. But this response seemed to gauge more judgement — like, why does *she* get to have two weddings? — or provoked dismissive ideas. There was an assumption that one wedding was the “real” wedding and the second wedding was the faux wedding. And people were eager to know which one the Serbian wedding was.
Others felt betrayed by me, somehow, for planning a wedding in Serbia. When I attempted to relay information about visas and travel restrictions, I was met with anger. Anger that it was a destination wedding, anger that it wasn’t in the USA, anger that I was buying a “real” wedding gown for this event. There was no sympathy for the circumstances we were in — the fact that my fiancé and I could not be together, the fact that we have no choice but to be separated due to our countries — but rather pure anger.
“There’s really no reason to have two weddings,” one person said to me, irritated. “That just seems excessive.”
I have to imagine that underneath this anger was misunderstanding and sadness. Because the reality is that it wasn’t an easy decision. Of course, I’ve always imagined my wedding in Connecticut or New York, where I have lived my whole life. I imagined my wedding ceremony in English — I imagined saying “I do.” I imagined my best friends being there, my aunts and uncles running around the morning of, my little cousin as the flower girl. And I always, always pictured a picturesque fall wedding. I’m talking about pumpkins, people! A long sleeve wedding dress. I never imagined things to go this way.
But when you’re in a long distance relationship, or any relationship, really, you make compromises. And this was ours.
If we want to have two weddings, we will. To me, at least, it’s important that my family and friends hear our vows in English. It’s important that the people who mean something to me be there on my big day. For Aleksa, it’s important to him that he meets my relatives and experiences American wedding customs.
The next question that follows: what will this American wedding be like? Or, translation: is this a real wedding? It’s real to us, so we hope it’s real for you. As for all the trimmings — the dress, the cake, walking down the aisle — I don’t necessarily know at this time. I want to be clear about our wedding in Serbia: it was perfect. The church ceremony was gorgeous and meaningful, even if it was in Serbian. Our wedding venue was decorated in the most whimsical pink and white flowers. Aleksa was the most handsome groom. The music was amazing, the food was outstanding. Aleksa’s family and friends were wonderful and accommodating to us. It was the happiest day of my life. There are elements that I just can’t replicate or do again — not because it would be taboo, but because it simply wouldn’t work. You had to be there in Belgrade, on June 26th, 2021, to experience it.
This second wedding is going to be different for sure. We won’t officially plan anything until Aleksa is in the USA, but we already have some ideas churning. For one, I want my wonderful friends and family, who do support me, to be there this time. Especially my New York friends — they have been excited for me from the start! Many of which put together envelopes that said “do not open until the day of the wedding” and sent me off to Serbia with them. (You can believe I was crying reading those letter — they meant so much while I was so far away!)
Next, I would like us to do our vows in English this time. We never got to do that. Rather than a whole church ceremony again, which isn’t necessary, it would be nice to do our vows to each other.
Things like bridal parties and garter tossed are probably out of the question. I imagine this being more like a big party. Preferably in winter. I know, I know, I dreamt of this whole autumnal wedding. But in an odd way, there’s something about letting that specific dream go and accepting this new one. Marriage is about compromise. And so are long distances relationships. Building up this new dream rather than trying to live up to the old one feels, in many ways, very 2021. The year of moving forward.
I would love to rewear my dress, maybe with faux fur this time, maybe with a red lip and hair don. Maybe. It would be beautiful to do photos in a snowy woods. And having all of my girlfriends over for some kind of flannel-pajamas, hot-chocolate bachelorette thing. Maybe! I think it would be magical to celebrate our love with amazing dinner with friends and family inside some king of Christmas-esque inn. I have many different ideas. But who knows what will happen? I suppose that anything is possible given these not-so-typical circumstances. Whatever we decide, wherever it is, and whoever decides to come, is going to have a lovely time. Be on the lookout for your invitation. These things only happen … twice!