When Jen Stankiewicz and Andy Van Zandt, both 37, first moved to Utah, they said the obsession with weddings surprised them.
The pair met at a Harry Potter conference in Dallas. That was back in 2008. They didn’t immediately hit it off, but after seeing each other at another Harry Potter conference in Chicago a few months later, they started seeing each other long-distance. Stankiewicz, a teacher at the time, took job in Texas to be close to Van Zandt. Then they moved to New York so she could get her master’s degree. Four years later, they moved to Uintah City.
“We just matched,” Stankiewicz said. “We were best friends, everything worked – emotionally, physically, everything worked out.”
The couple has been together for nearly nine years and seen a lot of the country together. Utah, however, they find unique.
“Living in other states, the first things people would ask me was, ‘Where did you go to school? What do you do?’” Stankiewicz said. “We moved to Utah, and it became, ‘When did you get married and how many kids do you have?’ It’s very different here.”
Jen Stankiewicz and Andy Van Zandt’s Wedding Day
Venue: Avery Hill Beads & More in Layton
Most creative cost-saving strategy: The couple networked social media to find an officiant and free venue.
Worth the splurge: The couple didn’t pay for much on their wedding day, but they did buy a set of rings after.
Who paid: Jeanne Tams, whom the couple met the day of their wedding.
Final wedding cost: $75
They were perfectly happy living together unwed. They legally qualified as domestic partners, which, they thought, entitled them to most of the same legal benefits. Then one day Stankiewicz checked her paycheck and noticed hundreds of dollars missing.
“You get taxed on the healthcare if you’re domestic partner but not if you’re married. It was like a dirty secret for me to find out,” she said.
Since Van Zandt works for a small, locally owned board game company, he got health insurance through Stankiewicz’s employer, Western Governors University. She discussed the issue with human resources.
“I was like ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘It’s because you’re domestic partners.’ I was like, ‘If we get married, do we still get that tax?’ and it was radio silence,” she said. “I called around to other people I know who work in HR, they said, ‘Just get married tomorrow.’”
That’s exactly what the couple did. Still relatively new to the state, Stankiewicz posted on a women’s social media group she joined to see if anyone could officiate a wedding.
“I just put out a call, ‘Does anyone have ordination and can do this?’” she said.
One woman, Christine Souliere, responded. She said could marry them the following morning.
When Stankiewicz asked if she knew of a free venue, Souliere suggested her mother’s shop, Avery Hill Beads & More in Layton. The couple had never been there.
Jeanne Tams, owner of Avery Hill Beads & More, prepped her space as quickly as possible to make it wedding-ready.
“It’s funny, we just wanted to sign the papers,” Stankiewicz said. “We walked in and she had bought cupcakes, flowers and decorated. We were like, ‘OK, this is the real deal.’”
Tams even made the couple matching bracelets, simple with an eternity symbol, because she learned they didn’t have wedding rings.
“I was witness, photographer and wedding planner,” Tams jokes.
In all, she figures she spent between $50 and $100 on Stankiewicz and Van Zandt — a couple she’d never met.
Many of the couple’s co-workers and family members didn’t realize they’d wed until months after the event.
The figure they’ll eventually have a party to celebrate, but their families are both resistant to travel.
“When we tell people, they think it’s funny,” Stankiewicz said. “It’s a party story at this point — like how we met at a Harry Potter conference.”
Although their wedding was mostly about legal benefits, Stankiewicz and Van Zandt said their love and commitment to each other is strong. They just don’t need a wedding to prove it.
“There wasn’t a lot of difference between before we got married and after,” Van Zandt said. “Doing it wasn’t like a big thing. People certainly like weddings for the sake of weddings, rather than because it means something to them.”
The couple had explored the idea of getting married before — they’d floated the idea of a destination wedding, maybe somewhere tropical — but were turned off by the cost and spectacle of the typical wedding.
“When we lived in California and Texas, it’s really common for people not to be married, just to live together for decades,” Stankiewicz said. “But we moved here, and everyone was like, it’s their day. That’s what they do before they become adults. Sometimes you’re adults before that happens, paying mortgages and raising kids.”
Weddings and marriage today, the couple said, is mostly a transaction.
“I think we’re going back to the business thing – you know, like how they used to use it ‘buy’ women, I feel like we’re going back to that,” Stankiewicz said. “It’s a business arrangement for inheritance, health benefits, things like that.”
They don't necessarily have advice for other couples planning a wedding, but they do have advice for those planning a life together.
“Talk about everything — if you want kids, if you want to move, if you want to change jobs. Things happen, plan ahead,” Stankiewicz said.