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The Morning After

This past November, on our second anniversary, my boyfriend Andy and I went to the Lyric Diner, a cozy joint on 23rd Street in Manhattan. He ordered a turkey burger and I ordered chicken fingers. Outside, it was raining. Inside, … Read More

By / March 15, 2007
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This past November, on our second anniversary, my boyfriend Andy and I went to the Lyric Diner, a cozy joint on 23rd Street in Manhattan. He ordered a turkey burger and I ordered chicken fingers. Outside, it was raining. Inside, the radio belted “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The night felt art-directed by Edward Hopper.

Then, suddenly, Andy was down on one knee holding a ring, and the radio had switched to the Simple Minds song from The Breakfast Club, and we were halfway through a conversation I’d expected would take place in, oh, three or four years.

At 35, Andy is nine years my senior. His friends are all getting married and buying houses; my friends are all applying to grad school. His little brother has a wife, twins, and a rabbinical pulpit in Canada; my little brothers have roommates, bongs, and a cappella rehearsal. I’m certainly no child bride—the median age for marriage among American women is 25—but like most of my divorce-wary, commitment-phobic generation, I’d barely started to think about laying down roots.

I could picture us in ten years…in twenty…in thirty. I could picture our curly-haired babies. I just hadn’t spent much time picturing our wedding.

“Can I have a year to think about it?” I sniffled.

Now both of us were nursing surprise. “A year?” asked Andy. “Like, a year in which we’d each go off and have adventures and sow our wild oats?”

Well, no. That was a terrible idea. In fact, I was beginning to come around to the original proposal. I just needed to make sure of the terms. Did he want kids someday? Would he be willing to leave New York?

He said yes. I said yes. And there you have it: One day I was watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force in a crappy Brooklyn apartment with my boyfriend, and the next day I was watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force in a crappy Brooklyn apartment with my husband-to-be.

Getting engaged turned out to be easy. These days, the wedding is the hard part. Since 1990, the price of the average wedding has risen 73 percent, to $26,327; you could hire your own editorial assistant for less. Surely this wasn’t what our parents’ generation had in mind when they jettisoned traditional wedding strictures to get married barefoot in the backyard. But as weddings got less religious, they lost some of their meaning. We promptly filled that gap with the nation’s other faith—shopping. We looked to the frilly Victorians for inspiration and turned the send-off to marriage into the biggest, most expensive party most of us will ever throw.

The term “Bridezilla” entered the common parlance with a show on the WE channel and marked the beginning of the backlash, as women fed up with the rampant materialism of mainstream weddings began turning out on websites like Indiebride.com and buying books like The Anti-Bride Guide. The emerging indie-bride movement aims to restore authenticity—and a sensible budget—to the ritual by taking a do-it-yourself approach and making room for the couple’s individual tastes. But the difference between mainstream weddings and indie weddings is too often merely aesthetic. Replacing seared ahi tuna with tuna sandwiches doesn’t necessarily make the ceremony more meaningful.

About a year ago, the New York Times car-crash column “Modern Love” (I dread it, but I can’t help staring) ran a comic essay by a man who got deeply caught up in his wedding plans—a groomzilla. Get it? The joke only works because when we visualize a wild-eyed spouse-to-be throwing a tantrum about invitation stationary, that spit-flecked lunatic is always female. And her battle cry is first person singular: “It’s MY day.” Note that this is exactly the attitude monstrously spoiled teenage girls take in my favorite MTV reality show and harbinger of the apocalypse, My Super Sweet 16. By telling women that their weddings should be bride-centric fulfillments of all their girlhood fantasies, we’ve taken a ritual that’s all about adulthood and infantilized it. (Disney even started designing wedding gowns for women who want to look like Snow White or the Little Mermaid, which must be awesome for men who want to marry small children.) But, more importantly, the whole point of getting married is to forge a partnership. It’s not about mine, but ours.

Shortly after I got engaged, I signed us up for the popular wedding site theKnot, giving it our tentative summer 2008 wedding date. It replied with a list of 34 things I had to do immediately, most of them involving a pricey transaction of some kind and each marked with a pale purple exclamation point. And we wonder how our sweet-meaning gal pals transform into rampaging materialistic monstrosities?

Carley Romney, the founder of theKnot, insists that the site encourages men to be a part of the process by alleviating the embarrassment of carrying around a wedding magazine. But I can’t picture many men, Andy included, who feel like pastel exclamation points really speak to them. And I don’t see why a marriage of teamwork should begin with 12-to-16 months of me neurotically trying to get those little boxes checked off. In fact, I don’t see how anyone benefits from that at all, other than the 70-billion-dollar wedding industry.

So I can appreciate the indie-bride ethos. I’ve checked out The Anti-Bride Guide, The Conscious Bride, and I Do But I Don’t. I’ve logged hours reading the terrifying but addictive Horror Stories thread on Indiebride. But when a close friend mailed me an essay from Bust magazine (sadly, not available online) about how to have an indie wedding, I began to wonder if the alternative wedding scene was really so different from the mainstream. After making the classic anti-materialist case against modern wedding madness, the piece launched into laudatory examples: the couple who loved Halloween so much that they had a blood-and-tombstones theme, or the sci-fi bride who walked down the aisle to Princess Leia’s Star Wars theme. Over on Indiebride, meanwhile, people were squabbling about whether there’s a price cap on an indie wedding. Superficially, the indie world appealed to me, but it still seemed more focused on the aesthetics of the wedding than the strength of the marriage.

There is one obvious way for us to make sure our wedding is about more than the clothes we wear and the food we serve. A close friend recently got married in a traditional Jewish service—a piece of theater that has been perfected over hundreds of years. No wonder I cried my eyes out. I also signed her ketubah, which felt infinitely more significant than being a bridesmaid—rather than just attending to the bride on her big day, I’m a witness and signatory to her union with her husband for all time.

Luckily for us, Andy’s brother is a Conservative rabbi who immediately offered to do the ceremony. I’m wary that a set procedure—even a Jewish one—may imply a sort of insta-meaning. It also feels a bit like cheating, given that neither of us is particularly observant, but I’m glad to have a tradition that can provide us with both structure and significance.

It might not be the worst thing that the wedding tradition has expanded to include so many options. The New York Times Style section routinely makes the situation sound like a bleak battle between Cinderella and Princess Leia, but the actual weddings I’ve witnessed have been lovely: There was the nondenominational ceremony that lasted five minutes and involved a keyboardist whistling “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, the Jewish-Catholic one that took place on top of a castle in Italy; the gorgeous eighteenth-hole wedding of Andy’s golfer cousin. The barefoot brides of the ’60s got it right when they threw out the rules; the range of options is daunting, but it can also be beautiful. Now that Andy and I are engaged, our job—and my goal with this column—is to figure out what to take, what to leave, and what to add to make it our own. I imagine we’ll piece together our marriage in much the same way.

Next column: I know you want to hear about the ring!

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