By KJ Philp, August 2018 Issue.
Three summers ago, Michael Bartley and Justin Gonzalez set out on an international summer vacation. The itinerary included stops in England and Greece – and not one, but two proposals.
Neither Bartley nor Gonzalez had any idea that the other was planning to pop the question, but after 12 years together it’s not surprising these lovebirds were both on the same page.
First, Bartley surprised Gonzalez with a proposal along the Thames River. And he said, yes!
“Knowing that I still had my own proposal planned, I told him, ‘Let’s enjoy this day without calling our parents, posting on social media or other distractions,’” Gonzalez recalled, adding that his now-fiancé was hesitant, but agreed.
“Little did he know that I had a proposal planned for a private tour inside the middle ring of Stonehenge the next day,” Gonzalez said. “Needless to say, he too said ‘Yes.’ Nothing was exactly like we had planned in our own minds, but it was perfect in every way … totally unexpected and as it was meant to be!”
They newly engaged couple spent the next two years planning their big day and, on July 15, 2017, they exchanged vows surrounded by family and friends at El Dorado Royale Spa Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
“We both love to travel and make our own adventures,” Bartley said. “A destination wedding was perfect for us to celebrate with our families and friends, creating experiences that we would all remember forever.”
With the goal of creating a wedding that was more about the joys and journeys of life shared with loved ones, than the trappings of a traditional wedding, the grooms-to-be decided on a destination wedding at an all-inclusive adult resort.
“It was surprisingly easier to pull off than we thought, and once we arrived and saw everything first hand, we knew we had made the right decision,” Bartley said. “It was a beautiful tropical locale with blue skies and blue water.”
Bartley and Gonzalez were married on the resort’s pier, with the ocean behind them and their closest friends and family before them.
“Neither of us is particularly fussy, so working with the great team at the resort allowed us to select from the packages and little details that could make the experience simple, elegant and perfect for us,” Gonzalez said. "The wedding coordinators at the resort provided us with options for every detail of the wedding, from the ceremony to the reception.”
By opting for one of the resort’s wedding packages, the grooms eliminated the need for multiple vendors, which can be especially challenging when it comes to destination weddings.
"The resort took care of the rest, so we didn’t have ... to mess with choosing from a florist, catering company, photographer or any of the stress of the ‘wedding headache nonsense,’" Gonzalez said. "Plus, an all-inclusive resort has something for everyone, and at the end of the day we were beyond happy with everything about our wedding."
As beautiful as a beach wedding can be, Mexico in the middle of summer is not exactly the place for formal attire. Still, these grooms had one rule: No flip flops!
“We definitely didn’t want a beach-themed wedding, but it needed to be practical to the environment,” Bartley said. “We selected about four wedding colors, and just asked everyone to dress nicely and to complement that color palette. We loved the idea of our wedding party dressing in similar colors without being identical.”
The grooms followed suit in classic jacket and pant combinations accented by vibrant pops of color that they felt expressed their collective taste while showing their individual uniqueness.
“I probably bought about 10 different suits while shopping, changing my mind until I found exactly the deep blue suit that I knew was right," Bartley said. "Justin looked damn handsome in a stylish grey suit, and we both had pops of bright color that referenced each other. It was ultimately about feeling and looking wonderful in what we wore, so that it could be about beauty of the moment together."
When it came down to the details of their big day, the grooms created a balance between mainstream traditions and custom modern touches.
“We both walked down the aisle with each of our two parents, because we could never have gotten there without them,” Gonzalez said. "Our families are a big part of our lives and their attending our wedding and support made our day and continues to make our lives extra special. We are so appreciative of all our guests who were able to join and them being there meant the world to us."
Both of the grooms’ brothers served as their best men, and their best friends were their maids of honor (or best bi*tches, as they liked to be called).
“We each are lucky to have best friends who are family, and best family who are friends,” Bartley said. “Having them stand beside us for one of the most important moments in our lives meant everything.”
Another essential element was having someone meaningful officiate the wedding.
“We didn’t want one of the generic officiants the resort could provide, as we felt that would have been uncomfortable and impersonal,” Gonzalez said. “We were honored that one of our dear friends stepped up to the plate and took on that role.”
Bartley, who has officiated weddings for friends and family, knows how much this personal touch can add to a ceremony.
“… I will never forget the joyful tears, the love and laughter that I felt in my heart from the words of our amazing friend [the officiant],” he said.
With friends and family in attendance from all over the U.S. and abroad, Bartley and Gonzalez wanted their reception to be a social atmosphere
“It was not the traditional, all-out reception,” Bartley added. “For me, it was about less stuff and less showiness, so that we could have more of a genuine experience with our friends and family.
The reception included a cocktail hour on the beachside pier (hello, photo op!) and wedding-crawl to several onsite bars and clubs.
“I’m actually still shocked to this day [at] how many of friends and family were able to join us for the wedding,” Bartley said. “It is a lot to ask anyone to commit to traveling for a wedding, let alone to a different country … it was amazing that we could have so many of our loved ones be there to share in this special day alongside us.”
Surprisingly, neither groom put much thought into the meal that was served at the reception.
“While dinner was great, I couldn’t even tell you what I ate, and I’m glad,” Gonzalez said. “There was so much happening and I’m thankful that what was most memorable wasn’t the meal on the plate.”
The Biggest Lesson
Bartley admitted that he was a little stressed about everything that surrounds the planning of a wedding, especially a same-sex wedding.
“By virtue of being us, we are already confronting traditions,” he said. “What I discovered is that none of that matters, as long as you remember that a wedding is solely about the two people getting married. Whether you’re religious or not, queer or not, traditional or radical, it has nothing to do with [it]. Make it everything to do with you and what comes next for your life in love, together.”
With this shared perspective, Bartley and Gonzalez achieved the ultimate wedding goal: they created an experience reflective of them and their love for one another.
“There are no rules,” Gonzalez asserted. “Do what truly makes you happy, then everything will fall into place ... and it will be the most incredible day of your life.”
On July 15, 2018, Bartley and Gonzalez celebrated their first wedding anniversary with – you guessed it – a getaway vacay.
"After an engagement and a wedding abroad, we are keeping our passports at home this time, and enjoying some time together in California," Bartley said, adding that he
"[We took] an extended weekend to ourselves and enjoy[ed] some time on the beach," Gonzalez said.
The grooms reflected on the past year to offer insight to other newlywed couples.
"Wisdom for newlyweds, don’t be too clingy, take on separate interests, keep each other on their toes with mystery and trust each other. Love hard and accept that every couple has disagreements,"Gonzalez said. Then, focus on the fun by keeping something exciting on the horizon that you can both work toward so that you can both share in the journey together."
"Justin and I have been together for more than 14 years now, and I honestly love him more and more, most days," he said. "I can’t wait to discover what our next adventure will be!"