5 Lessons from Dating my Boyfriend of 4 years

Today, October 23rd 2014, marks a historical day in my personal life. I have officially been dating my boyfriend, Scott, for four years. We celebrated last night by going out to a nice dinner at Red Lobster and I only managed to embarrass Scott and myself once.

Our first big date at the Theta Chi Formal in Canada - Courtney 19, Scott 21

Our first big date at the Theta Chi Formal in Canada - Courtney 19, Scott 21

After we ordered and started digging in to the heavenly garlic butter biscuts, our waitress, Jennifer, asked, "Are you two dining in tonight for any special reason?" and me being me said, "Yup! It's our 4 year anniversary." She wished us congrats and went about to her other tables and we didn't really think it was that big a deal until she returned to announce, "As a special congratulations, we are going to complimentarily give you any of our sharable desserts tonight.", with a very friendly twinkle in her eye. Scott and I sat there looking at each other and then thanked her for that nice offer and said we'd order something once we had finished eating. But then the manager came over.

The manager came out to wish us a happy 4 year WEDDING anniversary. She said, "Wow married for four years congrats!." I quickly corrected her by saying, "Oh no not wedding anniversary, dating anniversary." The words sort of fell lamely out of my mouth, as suddenly it seemed like dating for four years wasn't all that big a deal. It felt this way to me because the manager quickly followed up with an "Oh, Well. Congrats on your four year . . dating . . anniversary. Enjoy your evening.", and she hurried away, but not before I saw her face contort at the word "dating" and the way she slowly stumbled over her response. Scott and I sheepishly hid our faces behind our water glasses and decided we were too full to accept the dessert, and even to full to take it home with us.

Just hanging out at an Adrian College football game - our alma mater

Just hanging out at an Adrian College football game - our alma mater

Scott said, "There's always something with you," referring to me and my incapacity to just have a boring, uneventful evening. I replied, "I said four year anniversary! I didn't say wedding anniversary and besides our hands are sitting right here - no rings. They assumed marriage and now we feel bad."

The whole evening I began reflecting on my and Scott's relationship over the last 4 years - has it been that long? - and what I have discovered about dating the same man for four years and about relationships in general. I have summed these thoughts up into lessons for every year I've been in this relationship (plus 1 for the year I new Scott before we became "official").

We make goofy faces . . .   a lot.

We make goofy faces . . . a lot.

Lesson 1 - You know you have a keeper when your boyfriend doesn't scare easily.

When I first met Scott, I didn't have as clean a break from my ex-boyfriend as I might have thought or that I had hoped for. Scott was there for me at a time that was very stressful and he always reassured me that he wasn't going anywhere and that he didn't care about my past with this guy. A lot of guys don't want to deal with potential "drama" of ex-boyfriends, but Scott said I was worth the inital drama to get to a place where we could just start fresh as "us" Courtney and Scott. (I think I heard Nicolas Sparks typewritter chime in approval of these sentiments.)

Lesson 2 - You know you have a keeper when your boyfriend is good in an emergency.

Remember Scott's thoughts on me never having a dull moment? Well in our second year of dating, my off-campus apartment complex caught fire and basically burnt to the ground. Thankfully I was blessed and my particular apartment mostly only sustained water damage and structure collapse damage.

Scott showed up during this blazing event to help calm me down and also really stepped up in helping me figure out where I was going to live - because I was basically homeless - how to get my stuff out of the building within the alotta 5 hour period the firemen gave us access, and just proved how much of a giving heart he has and that when shit goes down he doesn't run away, he sticks it out.

Lesson 3 - Communication is one of the most important factors in a relationship.

Scott hates it when I say this, but I can talk to him like I talk to one of my closest girlfriends. You have to be able to communicate with your significant other and cannot be afraid to talk about the big stuff; religion, marriage, politics, money, and life goals. You don't always have to agree explicitly with the other person on this stuff, but you have to know where their philosophy on these topics rests. Scott and I are good communicators but as in every relationship, romantic or friend, there are times when you have a difference of opinion and fight. As long as you both can communicate to each other your thoughts and feelings without being hurtful or unfair fighting (low blows like name calling) you are well on your way to having a satisfying relationship.

Lesson 4 - In every relationship there is an inevitable friction point that will make or break you.

In marriage, they call this friction point the first year. While still dating I believe this takes place around the 3 year marker. At this point in the relationship you have to evaluate how the relationship is or is not working and your goals and dreams moving forward. You will inevitably have to have the hard "talk" with yourself and your loved one. Where are we going? Are we happy? What do you want out of life? What do I want out of life?

At this friction point all of the previous lessons/abilities come in handy as your significant other will most likely feel scared, like your relationship is in a state of emergency, and that they need to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Lesson 5 - Celebrate your love.

As a wedding photographer I get to spend my days around couples who are so in love and then make the ultimate commitment to spend their lives together. Marriage is a big deal and celebrating your years together is something you should cherish, but I also think celebrating your years together in general is something you should cherish married or not.

After our night at Red Lobster I told Scott, "It's a big deal to make it four years in the dating world. Why was that manager any less impressed with it because we weren't married?." I in no way undermine the importance of marriage or relate it to dating in anyway but I added to Scott, "Why shouldn't we celebrate this four years? I mean if we get married we have to start back at the 1 year anniversary again and it's almost like we loose these 4 or whatever years."

Scott replied with, "Well, babe, you're right and that's why I love you - even though you are a disaster sometimes."

Cheers to us Scott! And I hope you enjoyed a look back on a small glimpse of our four years together!

Love Always,

Courtney

Our first Chi Omega Formal - Courtney 20, Scott 22

Our first Chi Omega Formal - Courtney 20, Scott 22

Journeying to Kentucky with Scott's church on a mission trip in 2012

Journeying to Kentucky with Scott's church on a mission trip in 2012

A trip to the Binder Park Zoo! I think I'll pet a giraffe.

A trip to the Binder Park Zoo! I think I'll pet a giraffe.

Attending numerous Michigan State Football games together, including this one from 2009 - Go Green! Go White!

Attending numerous Michigan State Football games together, including this one from 2009 - Go Green! Go White!

Doing the college spring break trip to Orlando in 2011

Doing the college spring break trip to Orlando in 2011

Our last Chi Omega Formal in 2012 - Courtney 22, Scott 23

Our last Chi Omega Formal in 2012 - Courtney 22, Scott 23

courtneycarolynphotography-michigan-photographer_0381.jpg

What are some things you've learned about dating or marriage? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Photography Workshop in the Windy City with Jasmine Star

Chicago is a city after my own heart, it is a city that is full of beautiful art and architecture, and a place where I am able to dream. I recently drove the 4.5 hours from Michigan to Chicago to attend a professional photography workshop with the fabulous Jasmine Star.

Jasmine invited myself and 20 other photographers from all over the country to this workshop with the goal of helping educate us on different posing strategies, using a natural light technique, and to strengthen our individual brands. The night before the official workshop began, I navigated my way around Chicago to the Robyn Rachel Photography studio where I was greeted with a big hug and smile from Jasmine and her husband JD. Ok - so let's backstory for a minute - I lovelovelove learning all I can about photography, business, decorating, and well everything, so I read blogs constantly because there are so many amazing resources online that can educate you on pretty much any interest you have. With that being said, Jasmine Star's blog is one that I read often and so for her to just walk right up to me and hug me was surreal, a bit like meeting a celebrity in the most nerdy, fangirl kind of way -but for photographers.

So after I recomposed my "I'm totally cool with Jasmine Star hugging me, she's just a human" face, I breathed a deep sigh of anticipation as to what was going to happen next. I got to talk with so many really cool chicks who work in the photography industry and who just like me were a little nervous and excited.

Photo of all us girls and our cameras courteous of the talented   JD  !

Photo of all us girls and our cameras courteous of the talented JD!

After some girl talk and light-hearted business questions, I headed back to my hotel room where I got to swim in the biggest jacuzzi tub I've ever seen (I love vacations, even work vacations) and mentally prepared for the full day of information ahead. Robyn graciously welcomed all of us back to her studio the next morning where we really got into the how's and why's of Jasmine's business and the way she approaches photography. I took serious notes and loved hearing all the amazing questions from the other photographers there. Sometimes being in an environment with a high level of information coming at you, it's hard to remember all the things you are supposed to ask so it was great to be surrounded by like-minded photographers who asked questions.

The day started out overcast but quickly got bright, hot, and sunny as we progressed into the photo shoot segment of the photography workshop. With the help of some amazing vendors and a real couple, Jimmy and Jen, the whole day is something I will never forget.

I learned so much from Jasmine, but I believe that there were 4 key lessons I learned at this Chicago photography workshop.

The 4 Keys:

1. Don't be afraid to talk to the couple when posing them.

A lot of the time I like to look for moments that happen naturally throughout the wedding day without any interference from me, but during the bride and groom portraits I have to give direction and set them up. So I have to keep a human connection to my bride and groom and not get lost adjusting camera settings while the crickets chirp. I've discovered that when it is too quiet, and I'm not talking them through the pose, then the bride and groom start to feel lost or unsure of what they are supposed to be doing. Working alongside Jasmine showed me how she is always trying to connect with her couples and making them feel relaxed.

2. Understand your brand

In today's world we are all surrounded by brands, but when someone asks "What is your brand?", it can be a tough question to answer if you haven't taken the time to develop what the brand for your business is. A brand is a series of expectations and experiences that make you choose a particular business, seems simple enough right? I took this gem of knowledge from Jasmine on branding to heart and always want to empower my couples to identify with my style. I learned that with my brand I need to be consistent and to only focus on things that I want to do more of in the future and not be a jack of all trades when it comes to photography.

3. Have a system for your business

96% of all small businesses fail within the first 10 years because they don't have a consistent client management system set-up. Hearing Jasmine speak about all the different parts of her process when working with a wedding client made me realize that in order to reinforce my brand, I need to have a system to ensure each client experiences my brand in the same way. I learned that I need to have a system of organization for all legal and business related things, a system for connecting and communicating with my clients that is effective, a good technique that I employ while behind the camera, and a consistent post-production process that my images go through that in the end will look like me and my brand.

 Jimmy looked very dapper in his tuxedo and bow tie.

4. The value of critique

I've attended a few workshops and they all have been different and wonderful experiences individually, but at this photography workshop something happened that I hadn't experienced before. Jasmine took the time to personally visit all 20 blogs and websites of the photographers present, including me, and then offered some helpful, and honest critiques of our work.

It was a sweaty palm, heart thumping experience as Jasmine pointed out the flaws in the images we all were showing and my first reaction wasn't to feel deflated but that wow she cares. She cares enough to tell us all what isn't working and by doing that she is encouraging us to grow and learn from our own art. I have enormous respect for Jasmine and the work that she does and really value all her amazing thoughts.

As a photographer, and as an artist, critique is vital to survival. You sometimes need an outside, unbiased but constructive opinion from someone to help you keep pushing beyond your current boundaries and to reevaluate your artistic vision.

(This shot of all us photographers, Natalie of Photography Lane, Jackee of Jackee Austerman Photography, Nikki of Nikki Marie Photography, Michelle of Mentz Photography, Caitlin of Caitlin Alexander Photography, Brittany of Brittany Bekas Photography, Robyn of Robyn Photography, Annie of Annie Steele Photography, Kali of Kali Norton Photography , Whitnei of Whitnei Photographei, Dory of Dory L Tuohey Photography, Brandi of Balee Images, Amy of Amy Long Photography, Melissa of Melissa Friloux Photography, Jennifer of Jennifer Soots Photography, Jennifer and Laura of Sweet Sisters Photography, Kaitlin of Kaitlin Sheran Photography, and Jasmine was captured by the amazing JD!)

 Jen looked so gorgeous in her Valentino gown and jewelry that was reminiscent of the 1930's

You could definitely feel the love these two had for each other even years after their wedding day.

I drove away from this Chicago photography workshop with newly acquired knowledge to navigate the invisible road ahead and with support and encouragement from Jasmine and all the other photographers to ensure my creative tank never reads empty.

Want to say again, thank you to all the vendors that participated in this wonderful workshop!

Hair: Nicci Loiacono

Makeup: Megan Hauser

Accessories: Left Bank Jewelery

Dress: Valentino from Belle Vie Bridal

Tuxedo: Formally Modern Tuxedo

Flowers: A Stem Above

Host: Robyn Rachel Photography

Location: Salvage One

and most importantly . . .

Educator: Jasmine Star

Fun Backyard Family Portraits Lansing, MI: The Beasley Family

I believe family is one of the most important things you can have in life - or more specifically, a really loving and supportive family. So whether you appoint friends as family or whether family is the one you were born into, having a group of people who are there is essential to the pursuit of happiness. To me family are there to share holidays with, to celebrate love with, to pick you up when life has run you over, and they are there to make you crazy, but help you grow. I had the extreme pleasure of spending the day with a family who are goofy, driven, fun, and gorgeous - did I mention I'm related? Most of my family sessions are spent getting to know new families and documenting their life and love, but for this family lifestyle session I drove to the home of my mother's sister, Cheri, her husband, Wayne, and my cousins, Heather and Victoria; a home which I've visited countless times in the past for graduation parties, christmas mornings, and sleepovers where we all wore footy pajamas.

The afternoon started out with some laughs and giggles with the family dog, Lincoln, who has a completely unique personality all his own, but he fits in perfectly with these goofs.

As we walked around their family yard, we stopped to capture some classic - and some not so classic - head shots of the whole family. And my Uncle Wayne felt compelled to show us his gun collection.

The whole family loves being outdoors in nature, with Victoria studying for her Master's in Marine Science, Heather a former member of the SVSU waterskiing team, to Wayne who collects all matters of creatures and to Cheri who enjoys going for walks everyday, nature needed to be a factor in this session. They took a few minutes to look for frogs and check out the ecosystem in Wayne's new lily pond.

I just love them to pieces and the fact that Lincoln was thoroughly enjoying this faux tug of war between the sisters.

The family walk continued into the back field and they took a minute for a collective group squeeze with Lincoln looking on in the distance.

As they walked and chatted about all the comings-and-goings of everyone, Wayne decided to open up one of his wooden bird houses. A bug infested surprise awaited their discussed faces.

Heather and Victoria you both are seriously so beautiful and Heather, you tooootally rocked the America's Next Top Model "smize."

As the session wrapped the group walked through Cheir and Wayne's veterinary clinc's memorial garden and admired all the beautiful change.

As we all hugged good bye I had to capture the family with their home as it is just as much a part of their life right now and has grown with them, creaking and sighing with the love protected behind it's walls.

What is it about your family, today, that you always want to remember? I'd love to hear in the comments!