A few years ago on his 29th birthday, I gave Ben a copy of A Book of Beards, featuring gritty photography of bearded men in high-definition black and white by Justin James Muir.
His work is beautiful, and the proceeds from the sales went entirely to help pay the medical bills of Justin’s friend and brother who were both fighting cancer. It was a plus to find photos of the late Ryan Dunn, arguably my biggest high school crush and a dear friend to the Muirs, on its pages. Soon, I found Justin’s instagram account and followed along with his beautifully documented life in dramatic natural settings flooded in golden sunlight, his model girlfriend (now wife), Veronica, their life in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and travels around the northeast that make me want to be part of their tight-knit group of friends. Justin and the incredibly talented Sasha Israel are the folks behind We Laugh We Love, an artful wedding photography studio whose work many of you have probably seen and drooled over in recent years. Shortly after Justin and Veronica married, I reached out to the Muirs in hopes they may be interested in sharing their thoughts on marriage, and I feel lucky that they took the time to do that. Welcome, friends!
Tell me about how you met and how you felt about each other that first day. What eventually happened that made you each believe you would get married some day?
Veronica: Well, there’s two different stories to tell here, if you want to hear them both. Technically, the first time we met was at a music venue I used to bartend at here in West Chester. Justin was a touring musician from Rhode Island, and I happened to be working the night his band was playing. It was an an all ages show, so unfortunately for me, the place was packed with underage kids, and there weren’t many people drinking in the bar area, except for the guys in the bands. I remember taking notice of Justin because he was tipping me a couple bucks for every drink he got. Not to stereotype guys in bands, but in my experience, band guys rarely tip, and if they do, they aren’t tipping much. Oh, and did I mention how cute I thought he was? It’s funny because Justin doesn’t strike me was a shy guy what so ever, but he was so shy that night! However, other than a few flirty glances back and forth there was no conversation outside of serving drinks. At the end of the night he came up asking if he could get anything for $3. I knew he spent most his money tipping me so I bought him a shot of tequila to say thank you for being generous. And that was it! About a month later he friend requested me on Facebook, but I didn’t recognize the name so I declined him. He wrote a really sweet message and then I remembered exactly who he was. We casually chatted on Facebook for about 8 months before we saw each other again. Cut to… our second meeting.
I had a job up in Cape Cod and on my drive up there we met for a quick dinner. I remember being really nervous to see him again, since the only conversations we had were through Facebook and text. Although I thought he was so handsome, I was only expecting our hangout to be friendly, nothing more. We went to a sushi restaurant and walked along the river in Providence all night. We had so much fun chatting all night he decided to drive up to Cape Cod a day later to see me. It was April and almost everything on the Cape is closed at that time of year, but we found little restaurant and bar that the locals went to. It ended up being so romantic and it wasn’t even supposed to be a date. We had oysters for dinner and then went for a midnight stroll on the beach and had our first kiss under the moon. He pretty much swept me off my feet. Nothing was ever the same after that night!
As far as realizing when I knew we would get married, I’m not sure I can pinpoint an exact moment. Justin is so kind and generous to everyone around him, but he was also smart, trustworthy, responsible, and could take care of himself. He demonstrated all the best traits of a partner from the very beginning. Most importantly we just had so much fun being together. We went on adventures and could be silly together. We also made a great team without losing ourselves in the process. I wish I could say there was this fairytale moment where we just knew we were supposed to be together forever, but the reality is it happened more organically. I’ve come to realize that those fairytale moments can be really misleading. To base your entire relationship off of one pinnacle moment can only lead you down. Instead of just having one, we like to say we have one everyday. Everyday our lives together get better and better. And because of that, we always have something to look forward to.
Justin: So the first day we met was a bit more memorable for me than it was for her. I was a musician at the time and had been touring around the country from a couple months. Our second to last stop of the tour was in city called West Chester, Pennsylvania, at a venue called The Note. I saw my lovely wife walk out of her car and into the club and she immediately made my head turn. She turned out to be the bar tender for the show I was playing. I didn’t talk to her all night, but before last call worked up the nerve to say hello and ordered a whisky. She gave it to me for free, so I took that as a sign. Didn’t end up getting her number, but through the wonderful world of Facebook was able to track her down and charm her via the interweb. She eventually had a job close to where I lived, so we decided to meet up and the rest as they say…
The reason I knew she was it, was because she is the easiest person to be around and the most fun to be around. I don’t think there was one moment that made me realize we would be married. I think it was a combination of all the time we spent together and figuring out how awesome we were together. Oh and we both love unicorns.
Photo by With Love and Embers
Tell me the things that mattered most to you about your wedding day.
Veronica: Of course every girl wants their wedding to be beautiful and all that jazz, but one of the most important things to me was I wanted our friends and family to feel as special as possible. Every single person at our wedding contributed to our lives in so many ways, and we wanted to our guests to feel like it was about them too. Our success as a couple is undoubtedly due to the love and support that we have received from each and every one of our guests over the years. We wouldn’t be who we are without them.
Justin: You can get married by yourselves at a courthouse, but we didn’t. We invited 200 people and had them track to PA to watch it. So an important part of our wedding was the people. We both come from different states and now live together in a different state than our families. So there were a lot of different worlds colliding… it was the best. There are pictures from our wedding of people who had never met before having the times of their life with each other and those make me so happy. And for Veronica and I, just having a relaxing day was important. No stress was our main goal… and we nailed it. On the day of, at least.
Photo by With Love and Embers
Planning a wedding can be stressful. It’s expensive. Your feelings all become so elevated about the event, and before you realize it’s happened, your relationship and the actual marriage can get put on the back burner almost like a reward for getting through the enormous party. How can a wedding become less about planning a party and more about the new family that’s beginning?
Veronica: Wow. Yes. This is so true. I think the planning was even more stressful than I ever could have imagined it would be. First of all, it was extremely important to me that we did premarital counseling. I don’t think Justin was totally into the idea when I first brought it up. It took a bit of convincing on my end, but he was willing to give it a shot. After our first meeting with Dawn, Justin was sold, and it ended up being one of his favorite parts of the planning process. We were able to learn how to fine tune our communication with each other, and see things from new perspectives, while also making the time for each other during a relatively stressful process.
We also made a pact that the week before the wedding we would just let everything be what it was. If things weren’t completed to our expectations, we were just gonna be okay with it. And it gave us time to unwind and relax before the rush. Also, the morning of our wedding, I had planned to have our officiate, Dawn, do a yoga class with the girls in the morning. That was SOOO helpful in keeping me relaxed and present during our entire day. That is something I would recommend to every bride on their wedding day. It’s so important to have a relationship with yoga and meditation. Over the past few years I’ve learned healthy ways to deal with my stress and it’s been life changing for me. It definitely helped me stay focused on what’s important during the times when you think everything is about to fall apart!
Justin: So Veronica and I were very aware that this could happen so about 6 months before we got married we started a marriage counseling class. I’m not sure that’s exactly what you call it, but we met with Veronica’s yoga instructor and counselor about 15 times before we got married. Talking through what was important to us in our relationship and what was important to us on our wedding day. It was my favorite part about getting married. We really sculpted a ceremony that we were proud of and that meant so much to us both.
Photo by With Love and Embers
How are you involved in each other’s career goals?
Veronica: Well, I’m probably Justin’s biggest fan when it comes to his career. I think he’s amazingly talented and such a hard worker. I think being happy in your career is so important, for yourself and your relationship. If Justin ever became unhappy doing what he was doing, I’d be the first person to encourage him to try something else. To me, your happiness is more important than the money you make. I’ll be happy as long as I have him by my side. Justin also has been a big supporter of me going back to school too. If it wasn’t for him, I might not have made the leap to do it as an older student.
Justin: Veronica is my biggest supporter and I am her biggest supporter. It’s really that simple. Right now I work A TON and she is very understanding of my hectic schedule. She even works with me from time to time on various shoots and projects. Veronica is still navigating her final career choice, and is back in school trying to work towards something that is meaningful to her. Its easy to say “do what you love,” Veronica and I say it all the time, but it’s harder to do something that is meaningful, and she is trying to find that.
What advice would you each give to a newlywed?
Veronica: Well, I guess we haven’t been married long enough to say our advice should definitely be followed by newlyweds, since we are newlyweds ourselves. But what I can say is, through the 5+ years Justin and I have been together, I have realized there are three extremely important aspects of keeping a successful relationship going strong.
First is communication. It is so important that a couple is able to talk to each other about anything. Now this might sound easy, but it’s actually a lot more difficult than most people realize. It takes a lot of work to understand how to properly communicate with your partner so that they actually hear what you are trying to say. Find out what each other’s love languages are. Figure out if you are passive, passive aggressive, or aggressive communicator and then practice talking assertively. This leads in to the next important piece of advice.
Take responsibility for yourself. Be the kind of person you would want to be with. Sometimes we focus too much on what our partner isn’t doing that we forget to look at ourselves. When you focus on bettering yourself, everything around you will get better too.
And lastly, as much as it is important to spend time together and be a unit, I think it’s just as important to be your own person too. I think sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself in your relationship, and as long as you are doing things for yourself you will never lose that sense of yourself.
Justin: I don’t think I’m fully equipped yet to give advice on marriage… it’s only been 3 months. But relationship-wise, romantic or platonic, communication is the number one thing. If you can’t say how you feel, or listen to how the other person feels, it’s going to make things a lot harder.
Thank you so much, Veronica and Justin. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and enjoyed reading your thoughtful answers.
You can keep up with the Muirs here: We Laugh We Love, Justin’s website, Justin’s instagram, Veronica’s instagram, Justin’s Twitter