Real Talk: Here’s What I’ve Learned in the Year Since Saying “I Do”

Philly Mag Editor at Large Ernest Owens shares some of the biggest lessons over the last year.

Penn Museum wedding

Ernest Owens (left) and Barry Johnson at their Penn Museum wedding in October 2021 / Photography by Ronald Gray Photography and Derrick Dean Photography

Here at Philadelphia Wedding, we spend a lot of time talking about the months leading up to your Big Day — the planning, the venue, the decor — and the celebration itself. But what about after the Big Day? That’s when your new life together really takes shape. So here, we had the opportunity to chat with Philly Mag Editor at Large Ernest Owens, who just celebrated his one-year wedding anniversary on October 16th. You can read more about his marriage to communications specialist and business owner Barry Johnson here. And below, Owens talks about some important life lessons, their recent move into a new place in University City — and the biggest surprise over the last 12 months.

This story is part of Philadelphia Wedding’s ongoing Real Talk series, in which real Philly couples share their unique approaches to wedding planning and marriage. If you have a unique story or experience worth sharing, we’d love to hear about it.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since October 16, 2021? Planning ahead and communication is crucial. We definitely are planning and dreaming ahead about what the next year looks like, what the next five years look like. We’re having those conversations now and being proactive. That’s something I think is unique. A lot of people get married and wait until the time they want something or desire something [to talk about it]. But we’ve been having lots of deep conversations and planning the future.

Would you have done anything differently on your Big Day? Funny enough, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. But going to other people’s weddings, I’m getting reaffirmation about the decisions we made. One example is we funded our wedding ourselves — we didn’t have parents help or take out any loans. That gave us a lot of control and made us the executive producers of our wedding. … We took the reins because we knew that’s the only time we get to do something like that. It was about celebrating our love and the people who love us. It was an unconventional wedding. I didn’t want it to feel patriarchal.

Share your advice for soon-to-be weds. Make the wedding make sense for you. Don’t follow conventional themes if they don’t make sense for you and your partner. For example, we didn’t really do a first dance — we just kind of did a waltz to the cake and cut the cake, which kicked off the party. We did the speeches during cocktail hour. We also made it a point to take photos with everyone. … We had a woke playlist that was substantive to our crowd’s taste and our personal politics. We picked vendors that were of color, women and queer people. That was intentional. Oh, and everyone should have a day-of coordinator. Don’t make your friends do any work for your wedding.

Anything you’ve discovered about each other or yourself ? We will prioritize whatever makes us happy over whatever is coming up. If there’s a day that he needs me, I’ll move things around. And the thing that I love the most about our marriage is all of our friends know each other. … We’re kind of integrated, beyond biological or genetic family. That makes the relationship so much stronger, when it’s not like your spouse is a distant person to your friend group. It’s not separate islands.


So, any surprises? In our larger social settings — not within close friend circles — some people in our networks who are single, in that hookup culture on dating apps, don’t necessarily think they can salvage a relationship or friendship with us because we’re married. They look at married people as irrelevant to whatever the hangouts are. … So if you’re someone who’s off the market, they don’t find you as relative to their social life anymore. It’s weird because before I was married I was dating Barry, we had a long-term relationship, but being married has changed the atmosphere.

Favorite anecdote? The rule when we got married was we weren’t going to open any of the gifts before we moved into our new place. And one of the things we have done since then is cook a restaurant-style dinner every weekend — either he cooks or I cook. We try to compete with each other about who is going to make what shocking thing. I made a whole red snapper two weeks ago, and he made a Persian lamb. It’s become this thing we’ve done, with our love of cooking. I’m one month sober of not using any dining apps.

And how did you celebrate your anniversary? The plan was to go to a restaurant that both of us have not been to, which is hard. We preserved Alpen Rose for anniversary dinner. We’ve also been following the Hallmark gifting themes for anniversary gifts. So paper is the first-anniversary theme. My gift for him was a star constellation map with our wedding date and time, and it’s in print.

Ed. Note: Click here to see what Barry got Ernest.

This story has been edited for clarity and length. 

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