Marisa Renee Lee, who worked under the Obama Administration to create My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and is currently a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who runs her own mission-driven consulting business called Beacon Advisors, and Matthew Bolssen, a microbiologist working in public health and now in COVID-19 testing, met after her mom and childhood friend set up an eHarmony account for her.
Almost exactly two years after they met, he proposed in Central Park. She had just arrived from her family’s home in the Hudson Valley to their friend’s place near the park, and they suggested they all go for a walk. “I was annoyed because I was A) hungry and B) stuck with two boys talking football, when my own friend, who lived just a few blocks away, had just had a baby. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing with these boys instead of snuggling this new adorable baby,” she says. “I decided to get myself a snack, so when poor Matt went to propose, I was holding nuts and a bottle of water!”
Once engaged, the couple knew they wanted a wedding venue that felt like “them” in the Hudson Valley. Ultimately, they found Glynwood Farm—a non-profit focused on sustainable agriculture and only 15-minutes from her grandparents’ home. “I was gifted a wedding planner from The Knot by their CEO at the time, and she found the venue and immediately reached out,” Marisa explains. “It was beautiful, and it felt really good to have at least some of our wedding budget go to a good cause. We are still friends with the people who run the organization, and the woman who was most involved in our wedding is still a friend. We really lucked out as they only did about five weddings a year back then.”
Their October 3rd, 2015 wedding shares an anniversary with the Obamas, with a slight 23-year difference! Below, Marisa shares the details on finding her dress with a silk allergy, running out of bourbon too quickly at the reception, acknowledging Loving Day in a biracial marriage, and more.
How did you choose what you wore?
“The dress was a major source of stress for me because I am highly allergic to silk—think hives, itchy swollen eyes, and non-stop sneezing. You can’t even wear silk around me without me starting to have a reaction, and something like 85% of wedding dresses contain silk…In addition to the silk allergy, I knew I wanted to showcase my waist, and I didn’t want a full skirt. I also knew I wouldn’t change, so I wanted the dress to be something I could dance in all night long. Of course it all worked out in the end and I had a beautiful dress, that didn’t make me break out in hives!”
“For jewelry, I am friends with the girls at Dannijo, and when my mom was alive, she loved them, so I knew I would get stuff from them as a part of incorporating my mom. My mom’s 25th wedding anniversary ring also served as my ‘something old.'”
“Hot pink is my thing and we got married during breast cancer awareness month—the disease I lost my mom to—so I needed pink shoes to complete my look. I was thrilled and have zero regrets about anything. For hair and makeup, I had a dear friend who is an insanely talented hair and makeup artist, and I knew he would take very good care of me, and he did!”
Any style or dress tips you’d give a bride to be?
“Just remember what really matters—this day is all about you and your partner. Don’t obsess too much about the details or make yourself crazy, but do focus on making sure you’re comfortable. For instance, bring something you can throw on over your dress, if it gets cold late night, or buy fun shoes to change into, so you can dance till 2:00 a.m! I had custom, hot-pink Chuck Taylors for late night and was thankful I packed a jean jacket when temps dropped post ceremony!”
Did anything funny or unexpected or disastrous happen?
“Umm there was a hurricane that impacted the entire East Coast the weekend of our wedding. Thankfully, we could still have the wedding, but all of our plans had to be changed to account for the weather, and I was not thrilled at the time, but of course, it was still fine and beautiful and made for great lighting for pre-wedding pics!”
What song did you dance your first dance to?
“‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ by Otis Redding. Coincidentally, my childhood best friend was married two months before, and at one of our bachelorette parties or showers, I mentioned that we had picked a song and shared it with her. Of course, she and her husband had selected the same one.”
What is one thing you would do differently if you could get married again?
“I would make it all even longer because it was so fun! I would get more bourbon because we literally ran out two hours into the wedding, and I had to send my best friend’s kid brother to a liquor store right before they closed. I would also have paid more attention to the details of the ceremony. We secured my childhood pastor, who I love, but who, it also turns out, is a bit more conservative than I am…I would have directed him more.”
What else did you think about along the way?
“As a biracial couple, in addition to our anniversary, we also take time to acknowledge Loving Day. We currently reside in Virginia, and it isn’t lost on us that our marriage has only been legal for just over 50 years.”
A piece of wedding planning advice:
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I struggled planning my wedding initially in the absence of my mother, and thankfully, lots of folks stepped in to help me—especially my childhood best friend, who had previously lost her father, and my Supportal co-founder Jackie Scharnick. I couldn’t have had the wedding I had without those two.”