Afew years after graduating from college, Tamara Weaver figured she had dropped out of American culture for good. “I was living in Mexico, writing and doing graphic design for a tourism magazine,” the 29-year-old said. “I grew my hair down to my butt, wore flip-flops and straw hats. The U.S. was at war-that had happened while I was away. I just didn’t feel like an American.” Tamara (pronounced like “tomorrow,” but with an “ah” at the end) was living in an abandoned hotel close to the beach, driving a dusty, dilapidated Jeep around town, and reassessing her expectations of life. “At some point, I had a major realization that I didn’t have to do a lot of things that were culturally mandated,” she said, “like work a 9-5 job, or get married.”
Walking through the dusty streets of her village one day, she came upon an open ditch running the length of the street. As she looked around for a way to get across, she saw a young man take a running leap and clear the six-foot gap. “I’d seen him around before, and I’d noticed him immediately,” Tamara, now The Indy’s associate art director, remembered. “He didn’t seem like a backpacker, but as a tall gringo, he stood out.” She continued on her way, but when she arrived at her destination-a law office-she opened the door only to see the same young man sitting in the waiting room. “I had this weird moment where I felt, ‘I need to say something to him,'” Tamara remembered. “I asked whether he was there to get a visa. It turned out his name was Bret Van Derhyden, he was from Santa Barbara, California, and he was in Mexico to help his father work on a beach property he owned just a few miles away. Before I left, he asked for my phone number, but I didn’t even know it. We ended up exchanging email addresses instead.”
Bret had showed up at a complicated time in her life, and Tamara was tentative at first. Finally, she decided to make contact. “We went out to a party on a little island and drank too much tequila,” Tamara said. “Driving him home, I backed into a bus. Bret was trying to be chivalrous, but the bus driver was still screaming at me when we high-tailed it out of there. That was our first date.”
At first, Tamara was worried about the amount of time they were spending together, but her anxiety soon faded. “We traveled all through Mexico; we had the best time,” Tamara said. “It never got old. We had disagreements, but we were always able to move on.” Things were going well, but both Tamara and Bret began to feel it was time for a shift. “We felt we had to come back to the States to further ourselves and our professional lives,” Tamara said. “We decided we didn’t want the relationship to end. Before I moved to Mexico, I’d been living in New York, which seemed like an overwhelming metropolis to return to. The alternative was Bret’s hometown, which was a little more laid-back but had a cosmopolitan flair. Santa Barbara seemed like a good place to reintegrate.”
Three and a half years ago, Bret and Tamara moved to Santa Barbara, where he eventually got a job as a machinist making parts for observatory telescopes, and she was hired by a graphic design company. They started to talk about getting married, and Tamara began anticipating a proposal at every holiday and special event. Each time it didn’t happen, she found herself disappointed. “Eventually, I told myself I had to stop it,” she recalled.
For their three-year anniversary, Bret and Tamara planned a camping trip to Santa Cruz Island. They arrived on a Friday afternoon, set up camp, and started on a hike along the bluffs. “The ocean was a crisp, bright blue,” Tamara remembered. “You could see dolphins in the water. We were alone, and I was sort of having this ethereal moment. I remember talking to Bret about how this must be what it’s like after you die, just walking along and feeling peaceful and content. Then I heard him behind me rustling around in a bag-I was kind of annoyed; I thought he was fiddling with something and not even listening to me-and when I turned around, he was down on one knee. He was proposing. We finished the rest of the hike, but we couldn’t stop laughing. We were in a kind of joyous shock. We couldn’t believe we were engaged-we were getting married.”
That was March 2007, and they planned the wedding for November of that year. In preparation, Bret and Tamara chose an officiant who specialized in premarital counseling. “She helped us work through some stuff we needed to work out,” Tamara said. “I definitely think every couple who gets married should have counseling first.” Because neither Tamara nor Bret belonged to a religious community, they opted for a non-denominational outdoor wedding at Elings Park in Santa Barbara. They selected readings from Pablo Neruda and Paulo Coelho, planned a sand ceremony symbolizing the unification of their lives, and wrote their own wedding vows. “We thought, ‘If nothing else goes right, at least we will have spoken our own words in front of our family and friends,'” Tamara said. “A few months before the wedding, we went on a hike with some notebooks, sat in a meadow under an oak tree, wrote our vows, and read them to each other. I think I was even more emotional then than I was on my wedding day.”
Three months into married life, Tamara is still figuring out what marriage means to her. “In a way, I felt like I had already made those commitments to Bret; we didn’t need the bonds of marriage to make that real,” she reflected. “But getting married has also changed our relationship in subtle ways; ways that go pretty deep.” Her advice to anyone planning a wedding: “Don’t do anything because you feel you have to; do everything because you want to.” And when it comes to married life, her suggestion is to “soak it all in-the good and the bad-because it’s all so fleeting. It’s important to savor the bitter moments with the amazing moments, because it’s all meaningful-it’s life.”
Five years ago, Tamara thought she’d never get married. “I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that I wasn’t the marrying type,” she said. “I’m fiercely independent. I like my space. And despite some great boyfriends, I hadn’t always had great experiences with guys.” But Bret was unlike anyone she had ever dated. “He was,” Tamara said, “the most compassionate, generous, open-minded man I had ever met. I’m really quirky and impatient, and he seems to get that-he understands what my flaws are and how to handle me without antagonizing me. It’s all very loving and mature and real-not like I’m a child. I feel like there’s so much I have to learn from him as we go through life together. That’s huge for me. I’ve fallen for people for all kinds of reasons: charisma, wit, a sharp tongue : but when it comes down to it, all those things are pretty superficial. It’s about someone with a big heart, with real sensitivity, who doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. I’m very much in love with Bret for those qualities. It still knocks my socks off-I’m amazed he’s as incredible as he is.