In spring 2010, Emerson encouraged Nik to join him for a midnight swim in the ocean during a long weekend break in Eleuthera - an island in the Bahamas. As Nik waved his hands beneath the surface of the sea, a ring his mother Pat had given to him slipped off his finger and sunk into the water below. Despite his best efforts, a distraught Nik was unable to locate the precious item.
A day later the couple returned to the same spot, determined to find the ring, but they knew the odds were against them. Still, they persisted. Over the course of the day, the couple took ten dives, all to no avail, before they returned to the shore. But, when he noticed the current drifting towards their right, Nik decided to give it one last chance and head slightly in that direction. As he submerged himself in the water, he saw a glimmer on the sand. There it was.
Seven years later, Emerson and Nik returned to the island and indeed, the cove that hosted their 11th dive. Here, Emerson took a different ring - a diamond ring - and asked Nik to marry him.
Emerson - who is American - first met Nik - who is Irish - at the party of a mutual friend in New York City in 2008. Though they didn’t know it at the time, their respective heritages would play a large role in their wedding celebrations years later.
Shortly after they started dating, Nik and Emerson decided to visit Ireland. Wanting the trip to be unique to them both, Nik selected West Cork - a place he had never himself visited - as the destination. It was the middle of an unusually snowy winter in 2009, and temperatures in Baltimore had plummeted. Moreover, the house they had rented had little to no heating. Nik was worried that Emerson’s first impression of Ireland would be coloured by the icy temperatures, but this wasn’t the case. Emerson didn’t complain once. In fact, he embraced every element of the trip, and as they rang in the new year in Cork, Nik realised he really loved this guy.
Having both come out at a time when LGBT+ couples couldn’t wed, marriage wasn’t at the forefront of their minds for quite some time. However, after the state of New York passed same-sex marriage in 2011, they began to consider it a little more.
Come 2015, both Emerson and Nik found themselves heavily invested in Ireland’s campaign for marriage equality. The momentous victory prompted more discussions about getting married, and then those conversations gained momentum. Before long, they both were clear on what they wanted, and in 2017 their minds were well and truly made up.
Keen to separate ceremony from celebration, Nik and Emerson married in City Hall in New York. The ceremony itself was minimal - the couple were joined by Nik’s mother and father and a witness. In fact, the legal service was so small that Nik is hesitant to even use the word ceremony to describe it. Emerson and Nik were moved by the ordinariness of the process. “There was something really beautiful in the civic-ness of getting married that way,” Nik adds. “Particularly given that it was a relatively new thing for same-sex couples to be able to do. It felt almost as civic-minded as going to get your driver’s license renewed, or registering to vote. There was something really beautiful about that.” The ceremony itself was relatively short - they were married in less than five minutes - but they acknowledge that what was said in those five minutes was so important.
Though the wedding itself was brief, Emerson and Nik had extensive plans for their celebration. They marked their union with parties in both New York and Ireland, ensuring that those closest to them would be able to join in the revelry on either side of the Atlantic.
For the Irish leg of the celebrations, the newlyweds returned to West Cork, where they were met, this time with sunnier climes. Coming back to this spot meant so much, not just because it was a throwback to a pivotal moment in the early stage of their relationship, but because they were now joined by their friends and family.
The trip had come full circle. “As beautiful and as sacred as the vow exchange was in New York City, to be able to have a summer in Ireland surrounded by our friends was everything,” Nik says. “It made us realise that while it’s beautiful to have these private moments of love, it is also really special to be surrounded by friends and family for those public declarations of love.” At one point over the course of the Irish festivities, Emerson and Nik brought their guests down to a glade.
Here, they invited them to reflect on their own relationships, and to share. Many of their friends hadn’t been to a wedding of their contemporaries for quite some time, and this moment allowed them to open up about how they wanted to try harder in their marriages, or to have more fun. It is a moment that stands out particularly for Emerson. “The glade was unbelievably perfect at the time, and think it was really great for a lot of the American visitors to see a true Irish landscape. Before the wedding, thought this element would be the part that I’d be less interested in, but it ended up being one of the most defining moments.”
If that wasn’t memorable enough, in place of a first dance, there was a truly original synchronised swim inspired by that fateful 11th dive.
Emerson and Nik spent over a year planning their weddings and the celebration, so they decided to take a different approach when it came to their Honeymoon. “We did it as a lark, and without any planning,” Emerson says.
“We just looked at a map and picked a place that neither of us had been before. We wanted the honeymoon to be a new experience for both of us.”
The couple looked to see where Ryanair was flying to for less than €100 and they decided on Crete. “It was completely unplanned, the perfect compliment to end a year-long celebration.”
Looking back on their years together, that moment on the beach in the Bahamas has come to symbolise the spirit of their relationship. The 11th dive serves as a reminder to always go that extra mile when it comes to navigating difficulties, as well as the effort involved in building and strengthening relationships. They return to it as a touchstone, and the ring embodies their relationship - as long as they have each other, they will never be lost.