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Love and Marriage

In the months before ‘I do,’ romance falls prey to planning

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(Nickolas Murray, courtesy George Eastman House Photography Collection)

I don’t have plans for Valentine’s Day this year, and to be honest, I’m not likely to make any. No gifts, no reservations, no surprises. It’s not that I love my fiancé less. My adoration of her wit, beauty, and charm grow stronger each day. But we’re getting married this May, and when it comes to romance, nothing stifles it like an engagement.

Romance is a fickle thing. It begins with the slightest glance or shake of the hip, and can take various paths. If things progress well, those paths lead to engagement, when knees are bent, yeses are uttered, and romance steps up to the majors. It’s a defining act of over-the-top amour. Then you catch your breath, your cheeks de-flush, and questions inevitably begin:

Where? When? Whom to invite?

You can contain the news as your little secret only so long before your parents find out.

“Mazel Tov!” gushes Mom No. 1. “Where should we have it? At the temple? Sarah’s daughter’s wedding was there and it was wonderful–elegant, but still haymish. Also, what about the flowers?”

“As for food,” says Mom No. 2. “What about EatSpressions? You should taste their miso-glazed black cod!”

From this point until the moment you sign your ketubah, you both assume the job of Toyota PR flacks, tackling a never-ending stream of suggestions. In true Talmudic tradition, each question only leads to others. What invitation design? What font? What paper? What font on which paper? What envelope? What font on the envelope? What paper stock for the envelope? RSVP cards? What should they say? What font? What paper?

Just today I fielded no fewer than 20 emails debating whether we should give guests the meal option of poultry, fish, vegetarian, or kosher; poultry or fish; poultry or vegetarian; poultry or kosher; or just poultry, assuming the vegetarians and kosher guests will let us know somehow. Back and forth we went, the fifth such exchange on this one detail. To be honest, I still don’t think anyone’s clear on the answer.

This void of planning consumes your waking moments. You spend weekends tasting the hideous fake “buttercream” with artificial chocolate banana flavor at the cake company, going on tours led by confident women in pantsuits of synagogues, halls, and oddly-shaped event sites, and comparing five nearly identical bone-white china sets, at $90 to $150 per setting.

Then you have visits to the rabbi, who discusses contracts, financial arrangements, and Tay-Sachs tests, all of which hit the romance like a bucket of cold water. You take a 160 question multiple choice personality exam (with a No. 2 pencil), assessing how compatible you’ll be and highlighting every conflict you could have in the coming decades. I’m looking forward to finding out if we’ll fight more over the number of children we want or whether those children will attend Hebrew day school.

After talking in circles all day, you both collapse in bed, spreadsheets and Martha Stewart Weddings open until well past midnight, costing out the perfect centerpiece made of wheatgrass (both beautiful and sustainable, according to my future wife). Yes, there is love, and there are caresses still, but don’t expect scented candles and deep tissue massage right now.

On February 14, there won’t be any gifts or fancy dinners. We’re going to order some pizza, slip on our sweatpants, and not mention a single thing about this wedding. With any luck, we’ll be asleep by 10. We’ve got our whole lives to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We just have to get through this year together first.

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Emily Rosenberg Chaleff says:

While i don’t have children, I think planning a wedding is what they say about childbirth – once you have the product, you don’t remember the pain. We just celebrated our first anniversary and when I look at our wedding book all I remember is how much we loved the day – none of the numerous inanities that went into planning it. Just make sure you both chill out on the day, have fun and it will be the blessing it should be.

jennifer says:

i have to disagree with this article. i think this is the writer’s truth, but it’s not mine. my fiance and i are getting married this october, and i find that with each passing day i grow more and more excited to be with him. details of the wedding are important, but i find that we hold each other a bit longer, kiss each other more and overall feel closer this valentines day than in years past. this is the year we will pledge our lives to one another. i can’t think of anything more romantic than that.

I hear ya, David. Our wedding nearly collapsed under the weight of all the hyper-emotionality and expectations of relatives. I laud you for keeping enough perspective to see the craziness for what it is. I can only encourage you and your fiancee to focus on what you will each find fulfilling about your day, but more important, about your lives together. You also might enjoy seeking out other skeptics and writers who see right through the marital industrial complex. More than anything else, keep those relatives in check. This ceremony (which is the really cool part that trumps the party, if you ask me) is for the two of you. Invest your energy in customizing a ceremony to remember, and the food and unreasonable demands of others will more easily fade from view. Mazal Tov!

Michele H. says:

Oy! I can resonate with the author in that my fiance and I will also
marry in May. However, let me recommend a destination/elopement wedding for anyone who can do it. My sweetheart and I will take off to Hawaii with my grown son and his fiancee. We’ll be married under a chuppah on the beach, have a nice dinner that night with a small cake, and then sightsee and relax for a few days. Once back on the Mainland, we’ll have a series of small dinners with special friends and one with his family to celebrate. Later in the year, we’ll go back East to dine and celebrate with my family. This is my fiance’s first wedding, but he’d be happy to go to the courthouse and tie the knot in 15 minutes. He’s admitted that he is enjoying all of it as we move closer to the date, but he also said he knows he’s one lucky guy to be wearing a white Hawaiian wedding shirt and khakis for the ceremony. We have been spared making our lives into The Wedding Project for the greater part of a year, or even thinking about lodging, logistics, auditions, and general wedding craziness. I know that it does help that we’re both older, that this is my second wedding, and for relatives on both sides to be far, far away. But I would recommend a small run-away wedding to anyone and everyone as we have NOT encountered a bit of stress in making plans or looking ahead to the day. And everyone we know well and love a lot will still get wedding cake!

I’m so interested in the wedding planning rabbit hole. Before I fell into it, I always wondered why people got consumed by it. After coming out the other end and having some time to view it from a healthy distance, I’ve concluded that the minutia are tied to something bigger.

There are few other times in life when you take emotional inventory of your entire community and your place within it, or put a stake in the ground publicly around the kind of life you are committed to building. Planning a wedding is an intense time that magnifies everything. You are forced to consider a lot of absurdly small questions, as well as overwhelmingly large ones, and both are often unromantic. But you also see the best and the worst in people, and experience transcendent, meaningful moments before, during, and after — all of them *because* of your engagement with the banalities.

A cynic might say that obsessing about napkin colors is a sign of the consumerist culture taking hold or an absurd tradition that puts so much import on a single day. But after much consideration, and while allowing that these are valid and often true criticisms, I feel that it’s about more.

Have your cake and eat it kind of a dillema. What should today’s brides do? Have a great reception or save for a house? I would take the second without a doubt

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Michele Levine says:

I’m the leader of The Klezmer Connection (www.KlezmerConnection.com); a band that’s done hundreds of weddings. And the best, and most enjoyable for everyone involved are the ones where the bride and groom don’t let themselves be swallowed up by endless tiny details that truly don’t matter at all! Find a place with a big dance floor; find a band that does great American and Jewish music (like us!), give your guests a good meal….and let yourselves celebrate! If you have family members or close friends who are detail obsessives, let them know your parameters re cost, style, etc. and gift them with a task.

I try to offer advice and problem-solving to make the planning as relaxed as possible….because this is a joyful event, and the time leading up to it should be joyful as well!

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Love and Marriage

In the months before ‘I do,’ romance falls prey to planning

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