ACM’s own Ashley Ruybal describes her experience with Catholic Marriage Prep, long-distance relationships, and wedding-planning during a pandemic.
Tell me about your husband.
His name is Christopher, and when we met, he was a student at Colorado School of Mines getting his doctorate. Right now, he is a special agent for the EPA.
How did the two of you meet?
We met back in 2015 at Old Chicago, oddly enough. I was there with my friends, he was there with his, and it went the old-fashioned way: we started talking and he got my number. Completely spontaneous: right place right time. It was crazy!
Why did you need to complete marriage prep long-distance?
When he graduated, he got a Fulbright scholarship to South America. He went to Chile for nine months while I stayed here in Denver. He was doing satellite remote sensing and research for environmental reasons at the Universidad de Concepción in Chile.
He proposed a week before he left—a huge shocker for me! We had no choice but to do an online marriage prep. It was crazy since I was planning the wedding from here in Colorado. We had a four-hour time difference. We had to work on marriage prep right after work for me and right before bed for him.
Christopher proposed to you a week before leaving for Chile! Were you expecting it?
I was not expecting it at all. He needed a headshot for his trip and his best friend’s wife is a photographer. She suggested that they take the headshots in the mountains for a pretty background, and he asked me to hang out with him and some friends during the shoot. They planned it all out, where Christopher asked if I wanted to jump into some photos with him. As she was taking photos, he got down on one knee and proposed. I didn’t think he was serious at first! We have it all on photograph and film, which is great because we’re able to share it with our parents and families.
Did you feel overwhelmed after the proposal?
It was extremely overwhelming, but it also brought a lot of comfort because most of the concerns I had going into a long-distance relationship subsided. We were engaged. I needed that comfort because I was especially nervous about him going all the way Chile—you can’t just hop on a flight and visit.
How did you hear about Online Prep through Agape Catholic Ministries?
I worked for the ministry. I’ve been working for CMP for six years, and it was awesome because we got to utilize the very ministry I work for! It was cool to go through it with my fiancé because I had been recommending it to other couples, priests, deacons, and directors, but it was a whole new experience to do it ourselves.
What were your expectations of the marriage prep course going in? How did expectations line up with reality?
Christopher and I had both grown up as cradle Catholics—Catholic our whole lives. I knew the concepts that we were going to cover and did not think that anything would be a surprise. But it was so different than what I expected because certain topics that were brought up, we had never actually talked about before. The assignments are designed to take an hour and a half each, but we were definitely that couple that took four hours. And it’s nice that online, we were able to do so. In a live class you don’t have the luxury to talk about the assignments for as long as you want.
Having those deep conversation starters was great for me in a long-distance relationship because I was craving more than just “how was your day?” We would facetime during the assignments while I filled in the answers, and then we would again while we read the responses from our instructors. It brought up new topics of conversation.
What parts have most stuck with you into your married life?
It’s surprising, but it was the NFP portion called “Say No to Contraception”. I had always struggled with feeling like I was not going to be good at NFP. My mom and sisters both use it and have had many pregnancies, planned and unplanned. The assignment really changed my point of view. I hadn’t known the deep details of why the Church believes what it does. After I took that assignment, I knew that we were going to master [NFP], and we have. Sometimes I go back and read the feedback and watch the video again! I need that reminder.
Have you encountered anything in your marriage that you didn’t feel prepared for?
Well, the pandemic was a big one. Our wedding was in 2020. We had planned this day for over a year, so to have everything shut down and basically uninvite everyone to our wedding, to have everything paid for in full but be unable to use the resources, was nothing that we were at all prepared for. It brought so much stress on the relationship. It felt like we were planning so many different weddings: from 250 guests, to 10, back to 50, as the guidelines constantly changed. We were planning and replanning, down to the wedding rings. Three days before our wedding, our rings were ready, but we couldn’t get them because the store was closed. Same with my dress—but thankfully they left it out and I wore a mask to go grab it.
How did you overcome the challenges that the pandemic placed upon your ceremony? How did you navigate that without compromising your relationship too much?
We were so happy just to be getting married. We decided that we were blessed regardless, whether the ceremony was with friends, family, or just each other (and the priest and two witnesses). We thought, we want the sacrament, we want to be married, and both of us had that same mindset.
The day of, we just made the best of it. Our photographer was amazing and still showed up on our wedding day, so we got goofy photos in our masks and of the empty pews in the church. We kept the mindset that whatever happens, we’re going to be happy.
What advice would you give to long-distance couples?
Don’t treat marriage prep as just a checkmark because the Catholic Church requires it. Really take the time to build your relationship through the assignments, and don’t be stressed if the conversations are taking more than an hour and a half. Take the time to talk about the tough topics. I’m so thankful that we did that: it builds you closer to one another. I think that because of the marriage prep, and being bonded through it, we were able to get through the stressful parts of the wedding planning.