What Marriage Means to Us

All Photographs by  Jenny Soi

All Photographs by Jenny Soi

The first year of marriage, they say is the hardest. And, for my husband Nate and I, I believe them. It takes time married to really understand each other. It takes to find the rhythm of living together, the rhythm of moving through life as one couple, yet individuals.

In our sold-out issue, The Pioneer Issue, I shared some of our struggles as well as advice on how to overcome some of those early arguments and miscommunications.

But, it's not all struggle. The first year of marriage is also exciting. I'm always interested to hear the advice of other couples, what their challenges are and how love wins for them.

Today, Erika and Kevin Pon share with us their love story and marriage advice, accompanied with this beautiful session they did with photographer Jenny Soi and thoughtfully styled by Joy Nicolas to celebrate their first anniversary. 

What advice do you have for the first year of marriage? Share below!

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Cottage Hill: Tell us about how you met. Was it love at first sight? Or did it take some time?

Erika and Kevin: We met at a mutual friend’s birthday party in 2007 after we had both just graduated from college. Kevin was late to dinner so I definitely noticed him as he walked through the door of the restaurant -  the only person I didn’t recognize, and he was cute! I was newly single at the time so I wasn’t ready for dating again quite yet, but was definitely intrigued in finding out more about this new stranger! He learned about my love of Italian pasta and lack of geography knowledge, and I caught his attention with my terrible parking job because I was so nervous (I am an excellent parallel parker, by the way). A month later, he finally asked for my number, but apparently didn’t know the 3-day call rule because he waited 4 days to call me! Either he’s trapped me or I trapped him, but we will be celebrating 10 years together this year.

What attracted you most to each other?

Erika: Of course his handsomely good looks caught my eye first, but physical attraction doesn’t last long without good character. He is confident, yet mysterious. He has a thirst for traveling and adventure, which I love. Most importantly, his drive and ambition are extremely sexy to me.

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Kevin: Erika is reserved, but intellectual with a sly sense of humor and a little "square bearish". She listens more than she speaks which creates a sense of intrigue. Erika is full of surprises. She has strong opinions and values, yet is open-minded to respecting different perspectives. We share our importance of family.

Tell us your engagement story? Who proposed and how?

Erika: My good friends from LA (Hi, Mike and Diana!) were planning a trip up to San Francisco to visit us in December because I was planning a New Year’s Eve party at our house. My friend called me a few days before tell me that her sister-in-law had bought a Groupon for a 4-person sea plane ride but didn’t get around to using it and it would expire soon. So she asked if Kevin and I would be interested in joining them two. Of course, we said, “Yes!” After an amazing bird’s eye view of the entire Bay Area, as soon as we got off the plane, Kevin stopped me in my tracks.

When I turned around, he awkwardly asked what I thought about turning our NYE party the next day into an engagement party. Soon after, he was down on his knees proposing, and I was in tears. It turns out there was no Groupon after all, and that he bought four tickets as part of the scheme so I wouldn’t suspect anything. He was supposed to propose during the ride but got too nervous, and couldn’t even enjoy the ride at all because of the anticipation! He arranged dinner plans after the proposal as well, and when we got to the restaurant, my entire immediate family was there waiting for us!

The next day, we surprised many of our friends with the news of our engagement at our NYE party (the same day he officially asked me out 6 years prior). It all came together perfectly.

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What was most important to you in planning your wedding?  

Erika: Hospitality. Our guests were at the forefront of my mind through every step of wedding planning. As much as people say weddings are your big day, the reality is you are putting on a very big show for your guests. We were honored by their company and time, so we wanted them to enjoy themselves. Will they like the food? Is the hotel affordable? Is there going to be too much downtime between the ceremony and reception? Will they have a good time? Luckily, we received many compliments after the wedding. If our guests are happy, then we’re happy.

Kevin: Making sure our vision was aligned. Wedding planning is the best preparation for marriage. There are a lot of joint decisions and preparation required, but it’s worth it! We focused on making sure our guests had great food and could enjoy each other’s company in a comfortable environment.

From your entire wedding day, what single moment was your favorite and why?

Erika: Our first look. The anticipation of seeing each other reminded me of the first time we met each other - those same butterflies in my stomach. However, my favorite moment was reading our vows to each other privately before the ceremony during the first look. It felt like a very special moment to share those words with just each other and no one else. The whole day is so busy, rushed, and having a private moment is nearly impossible, so I cherished that short time with just the two of us.

Kevin: There are so many special moments to choose from. I’ll say during the ceremony when we read our vows to each other, and the moment after when I tried to kiss Erika prematurely before the priest said: “You may kiss the bride.” Everyone had a good laugh.

Where did you honeymoon?

We spent two weeks road tripping in over 20 cities in New Zealand (not nearly enough time for such a beautiful place!), and one week relaxing by the beaches in French Polynesia (Tahiti and Moorea).

There are so many special moments to choose from. I’ll say during the ceremony when we read our vows to each other, and the moment after when I tried to kiss Erika prematurely before the priest said: ‘You may kiss the bride.’ Everyone had a good laugh.
— Kevin Pon
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What sort of home did you want to create together? Style? Mood?

Erika: We bought our first house at the age of 26, not an easy feat in the Bay Area, so we had to start off with lots of mismatched, hand-me-down furniture. Shortly after, we had to start saving up for a wedding, so building a dream home was not high on the priority list. However, this year we will be tackling our first remodeling project with inspiration from Scandinavian interior designs - modern, clean lines, functional, comfortable, and lots of bright, natural light.

What has been the biggest lesson learned in marriage thus far?

Kevin: A successful marriage requires being in tune with the other person’s needs and emotions.

Erika: Always remembering that you are on the SAME TEAM. There will be disagreements and arguments, but no matter how tense things may get, you are not enemies. You are trying to accomplish the same goals (which means winning together, not on your own), so you need to work as a team to get there, not as individuals. Talk it out, work it out, compromise, COMMUNICATE with RESPECT. Otherwise, resentment can easily blindfold you into forgetting why you chose each other in the first place.

What is your top piece of advice for newlyweds?

Kevin: Have a willingness to pick your battles. Stand firm in your core values and what you believe in, but make sure you’re in agreement of your joint core values. Have the flexibility to adapt to what makes the other person happy.

Erika: Two books I’d highly recommend for newlyweds are “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (discovering you and your partner’s love languages so you can best meet each other’s emotional needs), and “Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg  (the importance in the way we communicate and how to have productive, rather than resentful arguments that make your relationship stronger, not weaker.)

Knowing how to communicate your needs to your partner in a “language” they understand, and knowing how to speak your partner’s “love language” are the keys to still loving each other after 80 years together.

What do you love to do together for fun? How important is it to have fun?

Erika: We love to travel and explore different cultures! We are both proud to have over 30 stamps on each of our passports at the age of 32, and don’t plan on letting life get in the way of our traveling. It’s the best way to experience new things and grow together. We are also huge photography buffs so love taking travel photos and GoPro videos. There’s so much to see and do in the world and only one lifetime for it all!

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Imagine years from now, you're both 80-years-old—what sort of life do you hope you've lived together to look back at?

Kevin: A life of adventure, fun and loving memories. We want to enjoy the full range of emotions of marriage, parenthood and growing together as one unit.   

Erika: We want to be able to say that we didn’t waste time taking each other for granted, but instead enjoyed lots of adventures together. We will have made many great memories and experiences (rather than material things) that we can pass on to our children, and reflect on, even in our final moments of life. My mother’s life ended too soon at the age of 52,  so the biggest lesson her death taught me was to not waste our lives working so hard we forget to live, waste our time worrying/being angry instead of laughing and loving, and waiting until retirement to start enjoying life together rather than enjoying every moment now while you have time and energy on your side. “Someday” may never come, so start living now.

Full Image Gallery

Full Story Credits: Photography by Jenny Soi Designer and Stylist, Joy Nicolas Florist, Kim Wakatsuki HMUA by Emma Chuang