Smile Peace Love Photography submitted Karen & Chelsea’s wedding. They share the couple’s story, “Growing up, Karen and Chelsea both knew that when it was time to get married, they wanted elaborate proposals, white dresses, and traditional weddings — all of which they thought would go by the wayside when they came out the summer before going to college.
“One of the biggest heartbreaks about coming out was thinking that I wasn’t going to have any of those things,” Karen said.
Karen, who graduated from Penn State in May 2011, and Chelsea, who graduated in December 2011, were married in September of 2014. Though they were married in the state of New York, their story began at Penn State.
Like any couple, the two remember their first meeting differently. Karen maintains that they met when she was hanging out in a friend’s dorm room and Chelsea came in to borrow a DVD. Chelsea has no recollection of this. But in the ensuing months, they crossed paths a few more times. First it was at Webster’s Cafe, and later — when Karen asked Chelsea out on a date — it was at the LGBTA resource center, where Karen was an intern.
“I was working on an edition of the newsletter when Chelsea came in,” Karen said. “We were both finally single, so I thought, ‘Now’s my chance to finally ask her out.’ But first I asked her what she thought of the cover of the newsletter.”
The two decided to go a movie right before Thanksgiving break. The day before they had planned to go, Chelsea was out late at the bars and Karen offered her a ride home, which Chelsea accepted.
“Of course I wanted to give her a ride home, so to stay awake, I did what anyone would do and went grocery shopping,” Karen said. “There I was, pushing a cart around Weis in the middle of the night waiting for her to call me.”
When Chelsea called and Karen picked her up to take her home, Chelsea — who admitted to having had a few drinks — asked if Karen wanted to come back and study together.
“I knew she was brilliant, so I asked if she wanted to do some reading,” Chelsea said. “She was like, ‘It’s two in the morning,’ but I didn’t care. We’ve been together ever since.”
Talks of a ring (or two) began at the end of a trip to the mall in the fall of 2013. Though it was just casual browsing at first, both Karen and Chelsea realized that they should browse with a bit more intention if they wanted to end up with rings they were happy with. Once they had both acquired rings for each other, they decided that whomever proposed first would claim the title of ‘partner who proposed first,’ though the other would still have to put on the elaborate production of her proposal.
Knowing this, and knowing how much a proposal would mean to Karen, Chelsea moved fast.
“It sounds like I was trying to win a race, but that’s not what it was about,” Chelsea said. “I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing that I could give to her, and I wanted her to have that moment.”
So on Christmas eve, Chelsea suggested the two go for a drive to see Christmas lights in Karen’s parents’ neighborhood. When they got out of the car, Chelsea handed Karen her Christmas present — a leather journal — and got down on one knee to propose while Karen was reading the inscribed note. “It took me a few minutes to say yes because I couldn’t believe she had beat me to the punch, but of course I said yes,” Karen said.
Shortly thereafter, Karen reciprocated — though this time, the proposal happened on the steps of Old Main, where they had given each other promise rings the year prior. “I got down one knee and told her, ‘Nothing’s perfect. There will never be a perfect moment or a perfect person, but I don’t care about perfect. I love you and I want you anyway.’”
Though Karen and Chelsea aren’t sure if or when they would permanently reside in Pennsylvania since their marriage wouldn’t be legally recognized in the state, Penn State remains a big part of their story and a university that Karen said was a great place to be a member of the LGBTA community.
“There are so many events and campus programs dedicated to educating people and building a community,” Karen said. “Once you decide to go and get those resources, you’ll find a community at Penn State that is really affirming and really welcoming.” And while her undergraduate experience wasn’t completely free of hateful remarks, Karen said that for the most part, she has no complaints about State College. “It’s one of the happiest, most welcoming places to be whether you’re gay or straight,” Karen said.
“Karen set out to make sure I had everything I could ever want and need in a person, and that’s exactly what I got,” Chelsea said. “She’s sweet, she’s thoughtful, she’s hilarious, and she’s brilliant. Even in a five hour car ride, we won’t turn on the radio because we’ll be talking the whole time.” Likewise, Karen said she feels very fortunate to have found Chelsea. “She’s has the most compassionate, gentle heart of anyone I’ve ever met,” Karen said. “She’s an amazing listener, and the kind of person who makes the world a better place.”