September 26, 2003

The wedding dream

The wedding dream
By Elissa Ely
Boston Globe - 9/26/2003

IT WAS A beautiful day for a wedding, though most of us did not know the bride or groom.

The ceremony was on the lawn of an elegant hotel set just above a public beach walk. An invited crowd gathered inside the hotel fence. They sat on white chairs, fanning themselves in the autumn sun and checking their film. One little boy, prisoner to his suit, ran over to the grass and stood on his head in an attempt to free himself.

The larger crowd, uninvited, hung on the other side of the fence. We were strangers who had gathered together to witness the union of other strangers. Most of us had been meandering along the beach walk when we heard music and followed it upward. Competition for the best location was fierce.

"Stand here, honey," said one woman to another, clearing a spot next to her. "You'll see better."

She pointed to a place that looked directly into a tree.

"Think it will start on time?" said a third woman, prepared to be annoyed by any delay. Her husband looked at his watch. This was worse than shopping.

The wedding march began, and everyone sitting on chairs stood. A few little girls in petticoats jumped up and down. We, of course, were already standing, and so we had the long view. We could see the bride descending from the hotel deck, smiling uncontrollably. She was all curls and careful steps, wearing a sleeveless gown with long gloves and roses in her hair.

"She's a vision," said the woman who had no patience for delay. She sounded enraptured. On their side of the fence, the little girls were also enraptured, and the bride seemed enraptured, too.

All this rapture was for the wedding. That's fine, though it might be far more efficient -- certainly for paperwork purposes -- if marriages weren't actually legalized until years after the ceremony. Half of us on both sides of the fence were formerly married or due to divorce at some time in the future. Getting married is not the same as being married.

Maybe 10 years out is long enough for a couple to be informed. By then there is data behind the romance. They can certify their choice. They have withstood small disagreements blooming into large ones and large ones deflating, sorrows that should have pulled them apart, children perhaps, and pets. Ten years is also long enough to realize that each of us is essentially solitary, isolated in fate no matter how entwined biblical and marital sources promise we can be. Marriage saves no one from their own suffering; you can't hide in the institution -- suffering will sniff you out.

With luck, this marriage we wandered past might last 10 years. If it does, white will no longer be the right color to describe the union. The right color will be some long-lasting survivalist shade that doesn't show stains and cleans easily, something celebratory but practical.

The bride was not thinking any of this. Of course not. She walked in a dream, and dreaming was what the crowd sought from her. It is a lot to ask, but most brides seem to enjoy it.

Just as the ceremony began, an old man wandered up from the beach walk to the fence. He seemed frail and disorganized, and he hung onto the top rail for support. At first he didn't notice what was occurring, but then his gaze focused, and he watched intensely.

A few minutes later, a frantic middle-age woman pushed through our crowd. She saw the man and ran over to him. Her face was filled with relief.

"Daddy," she said, trying to sound light. "You got away from us! What're you doing here?"

"I was looking for your mother," he said. From his daughter's face, it was clear that the person he sought was neither in the wedding party nor in the world.

She took his elbow and started to lead him away.

"We're over here, Daddy," she said. "Come join us."

But the man kept turning back. There was something he wanted to find, something he wanted to see. We uninvited guests cleared a path to help her lead him toward the beach. As soon as they were gone, we surged back to the fence. No one wanted to miss the rings.

Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.

Posted by Brian at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2003

Dear Prudence...

There is so much conversation about wedding etiquette out there it'll make your head spin. Even Dear Prudence got into the act recently:

Dear Prudence: My fiance and I -- neither of whom have been married before -- are planning and paying for our wedding. Because we do not want a big, lavish ceremony (nor can we afford one) and because we have been to too many other ceremonies where the bridal shower, wedding gift, bachelor and bachelorette parties, etc., have amounted to a small fortune, we've decided to make things simple for ourselves and our guests.

There will be no attendants or groomsmen, no showers or parties, no multiple-store gift registries. As we're in our late 20s and have lived on our own for several years, we already have enough household items and do not need more. Instead, we are planning to ask our guests to give monetary gifts rather than buying toasters or dishes.

We have received some flak from our family about the lack of tradition. I know this is our day, and it is completely up to us how we want to celebrate it, but we would like an objective third party (you!) to give your opinion. Thank you very much. -- Bride-To-Be

Dear Bride: Tradition is taking it in the neck these days, so don't get too worked up about the flak you're receiving. We are living at a time when a dog has served as "best man," couples tie the knot on Ferris wheels, and more than a few brides have waltzed down the aisle in maternity clothes. For better or for worse, we are making new traditions.

To tell you the truth, your thinking is sound about needless presents and multiple parties. But because wedding gifts of cash are associated with the Sopranos, humor might soften the situation, especially since your wedding sounds like it's going to be a warm and informal affair. Perhaps enclose a note with your invitation saying, basically, what you wrote to Prudie. For example:

We're having no showers or parties and such.

We've got all our "stuff," so our needs are not much.

What we could use most (and it's one-size-fits-all)

Is the check of your choice . . . and no trip to the mall.

-- Prudie, audaciously

Posted by Brian at 06:44 AM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2003

Men Marry, With and Without a Church Blessing

An interesting article about gay marriage in Russia. And you thought the New York Times listing commitment ceremonies was a big deal.

Men Marry, With and Without a Church Blessing

IZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia, Sept. 5 — Standing at solemn attention with embroidered bridal crowns on their heads, two young men were married here this week by a Russian Orthodox priest, defying both religious and state law in this conservative country.

Nothing like this had happened in the church's 1,000-year history, said a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, Viktor Malukhin, and it was blasphemy.

Newspapers and television reported the event with bemusement. Homosexuality is legal in Russia, but it is mostly hidden, little understood and generally condemned.

Russian civil law does not recognize same-sex marriage, and the two men were turned away when they tried later to register their union at a government office. The issue is not a subject of debate here as it is in the United States and Canada.

Church officials immediately suspended the priest and issued a statement condemning homosexuality as a mortal sin.

"Under no circumstances can this be considered a church marriage," said Mr. Malukhin, who is deputy director of communications for the patriarchate, in a telephone interview. "The church still views a marriage blessed by God to be a union between a man and a woman."

Before going into seclusion, the priest who performed the ceremony, the Rev. Vladimir of Rozhdenstvensky church, spoke to a local reporter. The priest denied that he had performed a wedding ceremony when he went to a small, empty church with Denis Gogolev, 26, and Mikhail Morozov, 24.

However, photographs taken by a friend who went with them show the priest blessing the couple, placing the crowns on their heads, slipping a ring onto one of their hands and leading them in a ritual procession in what appears to be an Orthodox wedding ceremony.

Mr. Gogolev, a former military officer with a degree in economics, said he had bribed the priest to perform the clandestine ceremony. The priest muttered, "How shameful" just before he performed the ceremony, Mr. Gogolev said.

"This isn't a joke," he said, pacing his apartment in agitation as he spoke. "This wasn't a registry office, this was the house of God. Open any Bible and there's nothing in there about gender in marriage, only love. I spit on the church when it says our marriage is not valid."

With homosexuality rarely spoken of except in jokes, news of the wedding seemed to cause astonishment and nervousness among some people.

"Well, I'll be darned," said a chauffeur named Slava. "That one's hard to get your mind around. You never know what's coming next."

Another chauffeur, named Oleg, exclaimed: "My goodness, a man kissing a man. What if they've both been smoking? What's that like?"

Most Russian homosexuals hide their sexual identity, and the men's announcement of their wedding on Monday in this ancient city 250 miles east of Moscow was an unusual public assertion of gay rights.

They had already been in the news, though, after Mr. Morozov was accepted as a contestant in the Miss Nizhny Novgorod beauty pageant in June.

Government officials were aghast, and Mr. Morozov was quickly removed from the list of contestants. In a television interview, though, the contest organizer, Dana Borisova, said, "If he changes his sex he can compete next year, because he's a truly beautiful boy."

Since then the two men have appeared on Russian MTV and two talk shows that are pitched to a more tolerant urban youth culture that has been emerging in recent years. This is also the audience for a pop duo called Tatu that has drawn attention with affectations of lesbianism.

But there is even less public understanding of lesbianism than of male homosexuality in Russia, and researchers say many lesbians in this country suffer in ignorance and loneliness.

When Yevgeniya E. Debryanskaya, manager of the gay club 12 Volt in Moscow, was asked whether she was agitating for gay rights, she answered: "No. Russia is not ready for that yet."

When Mr. Gogolev was asked if he met with abuse for his open homosexuality, he said: "Of course. This is Russia."

He did not disclose his homosexuality to his family until he was 20, he said.

"My mother cried and said, `I love you,' " he said. "My father, after cursing at me, said, `Don't let anybody know about this.' "

Feeling angry and rejected, he left home to make his own way in the world. "I wanted to prove to my parents that I am a real person," he said.

Nevertheless, the status of homosexuals has improved in Russia after decades of enforced silence and criminal prosecution.

Among other things, the glasnost — or openness — of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, opened the way for public discussion of homosexuality by scientists and journalists at the end of the 1980's.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, a gay rights movement gained momentum and lobbying groups and gay publications appeared. There is now a small gay subculture in major cities.

In 1993, during a period of nationwide liberalization, homosexuality was decriminalized. But there is a movement in Parliament to restore the criminal penalties, with its supporters fueling their effort with long-held stereotypes.

Gennady Raikov, an author of the proposed law, said it was easy to identify gay men because they speak in high voices. Anti-gay leaflets distributed in Nizhny Novgorod say homosexuals stand out because of their long hair, earrings and behavior.

"Dirt, perversion, stockings and lipstick" is the way Mr. Gogolev characterized the public portrayal of gay men.

"On television," he said, "you won't find your good homosexuals, your attractive homosexuals, your pure homosexuals, your articulate homosexuals. And I would like to add, we are happy homosexuals."

Posted by Brian at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2003

Twenty-three couples wed on track

Its a few weeks old, but still an interesting story about wedding traditions... this time from the world of NASCAR.

Twenty-three couples wed on track
By Justin Hagey
Saturday, August 23, 2003

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The bride wasn't blushing, that was just a little sunburn, and her jean shorts and orange Tony Stewart tank top went nicely with the groom's jean shorts and red Dale Earnhardt Jr. shirt.

Anything goes at the start-finish line at Bristol Motor Speedway, where 23 couples tied the knot Saturday morning in what some might consider a sideshow to the night's Sharpie 500.

The speedway's sign touts the track as the 'World's Fastest Half-Mile,' and these may well have been the world's fastest weddings, too. A Winston Cup crew would have to be on top of its game to have a pit stop as quickly as each ceremony.

Tana Garrett slips a lugnut-wedding band on Thomas Garrett's finger as the Kansas City, Mo., couple tie the knot at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"The most important thing in the world is supposed to be your wedding," marveled Wayne Estes, vice president of communications and events for BMS. "It's kind of weird if you ask me."

It's true you won't see any of this in Bride magazine. But considering that Matt Goff, 32, proposed to his 29-year-old bride, Julie, last year in front of the No. 3 car at Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., a racetrack wedding seems fitting.

"We took the plunge," said Goff, who didn't have much trouble convincing his bride-to-be that Bristol Motor Speedway was a better venue than a church or courthouse.

"Last year I saw the wedding highlights on TV, and told Julie about it. She didn't believe me at first until she saw it. For both of us this is our second time around, we've each got two kids, so we just decided to do something different."

Some carried the race theme to extremes. One bride worked hard to slide a lugnut onto her groom's ring finger while cameras snapped. Hey, everyone needs wedding photos.

But not everyone wore NASCAR gear. Terry Sims wore a white suit and his bride, Brenda, was in a black dress. The couple, who live in Scottsdale, Ky., had been planning their wedding attire for a long time.

"We dated for 20 years," Brenda said. "We'd always talked about wearing these outfits. I always said I'd wear black, and Terry would say, 'Then I'm wearing white.' "

NASCAR fan Danny Strope seals the deal with wife Sherry following their wedding at BMS.

The Sims may never have gotten hitched if not for BMS, which began offering weddings free of charge last year after a NASCAR schedule change left the track available Saturday mornings.

Eleven couples wed here last August, and that's when Brenda decided maybe it was time. She and Terry had been engaged for four years.

"We just never got around to it, I guess," Terry mused.

"I didn't want to plan a wedding," Brenda said. "All we had to do here is show up."

Show up, and let Sullivan County court clerk Sue Jones make things legal. Jones doesn't charge a dime for her services, and neither does the track. All it requires is that everyone buys a race ticket.

Cost considerations were a big selling point for Brad Martin and Amber Pennington, who traveled from Lebanon, Ind., to experience their first Sharpie 500. Amber's parents are NASCAR season-ticket holders.

"We couldn't afford to have a wedding," said Amber, her white dress sporting a Sharpie's pin where a corsage would normally go.

Amber ran into J.C. Penny's on Friday and bought Brad a pair of black pants and white shirt. "I just said to him, 'You're going to wear this,' " she said. "And I got him some shoes that are hard to run in, so there was no way he could run."

The young couple kissed. Trucks began infringing on the post-wedding festivities, and the 23 couples from 12 states were shooed away. There's a race to prepare for tonight. The newlyweds will have to get off the track.

Posted by Brian at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2003

Book Review: The Marriage Trap


The Marriage Trap
A new book wrestles with monogamy and its modern discontents.
By Meghan O'Rourke
Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The classic 1960s feminist critique of marriage was that it suffocated women by tying them to the home and stifling their identity. The hope was that in a non-sexist society marriage could be a harmonious, genuine connection of minds. But 40 years after Betty Friedan, Laura Kipnis has arrived with a new jeremiad, Against Love: A Polemic, to tell us that this hope was forlorn: Marriage, she suggests, belongs on the junk heap of human folly. It is an equal-opportunity oppressor, trapping men and women in a life of drudgery, emotional anesthesia, and a tug-of-war struggle to balance vastly different needs.

The numbers seem to back up her thesis: Modern marriage doesn't work for the majority of people. The rate of divorce has roughly doubled since the 1960s. Half of all marriages end in divorce. And as sketchy as poll data can be, a recent Rutgers University poll found that only 38 percent of married couples describe themselves as happy.

What's curious, though, is that even though marriage doesn't seem to make Americans very happy, they keep getting married (and remarried). Kipnis' essential question is: Why? Why, in what seems like an age of great social freedom, would anyone willingly consent to a life of constricting monogamy? Why has marriage (which she defines broadly as any long-term monogamous relationship) remained a polestar even as ingrained ideas about race, gender, and sexuality have been overturned?

Kipnis' answer is that marriage is an insidious social construct, harnessed by capitalism to get us to have kids and work harder to support them. Her quasi-Marxist argument sees desire as inevitably subordinated to economics. And the price of this subordination is immense: Domestic cohabitation is a "gulag"; marriage is the rough equivalent of a credit card with zero percent APR that, upon first misstep, zooms to a punishing 30 percent and compounds daily. You feel you owe something, or you're afraid of being alone, and so you "work" at your relationship, like a prisoner in Siberia ice-picking away at the erotic permafrost.

Kipnis' ideological tack might easily have been as heavy as Frederick Engels' in The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, but she possesses the gleeful, viperish wit of a Dorothy Parker and the energetic charisma of a cheerleader. She is dead-on about the everyday exhaustion a relationship can produce. And she's diagnosed something interesting about the public discourse of marriage. People are more than happy to talk about how unhappy their individual marriages are, but public discussion assumes that in each case there is something wrong with the marriage—not marriage itself.

Take the way infidelity became a prime-time political issue in the '90s: Even as we wondered whether a politician who was not faithful to his or her spouse could be "faithful" to the country, no one was interested in asking whether marital fidelity was realistic or desirable.

Kipnis' answer to that question is a resounding no. The connection between sex and love, she argues, doesn't last as long as the need for each. And we probably shouldn't invest so much of our own happiness in the idea that someone else can help us sustain it—or spend so much time trying to make unhappy relationships "work." We should just look out for ourselves, perhaps mutually—more like two people gazing in the same general direction than two people expecting they want to look in each other's eyes for the rest of their (now much longer) lives. For this model to work, she argues, our social decisions need to start reflecting the reality of declining marriage rates—not the fairy-tale "happily ever after all" version.

Kipnis' vision of a good relationship may sound pretty vague. In fact, she doesn't really offer an alternative so much as diagnose the problems, hammering us into submission: Do we need a new way of thinking about love and domesticity? Marriage could be a form of renewable contract, as she idly wonders (and as Goethe proposed almost 200 years ago in Elective Affinities, his biting portrait of a marriage blighted by monogamy). Might it be possible to envision committed nonmonogamous heterosexual relationships?

Kipnis' book derives its frisson from the fact that she's asking questions no one seems that interested in entertaining. As she notes, even in a post-feminist age of loose social mores we are still encouraged, from the time we are children, to think of marriage as the proper goal of a well-lived life. I was first taught to play at the marriage fantasy in a Manhattan commune that had been formed explicitly to reject traditional notions of marriage; faced with a gaggle of 8-year-old girls, one of the women gave us a white wedding gown and invited us to imagine the heartthrob whom we wanted to devote ourselves to. Even radicals have a hard time banishing the dream of an enduring true love.

Let's accept that the resolute public emphasis on fixing ourselves, not marriage, can seem grim, and even sentimentally blinkered in its emphasis on ending divorce. Yet Kipnis' framing of the problem is grim, too. While she usefully challenges our assumptions about commitment, it's not evident that we'd be better off in the lust-happy world she envisions, or that men and women really want the exact same sexual freedoms. In its ideal form, marriage seems to reify all that's best about human exchange. Most people don't want to be alone at home with a cat, and everyone but Kipnis worries about the effects of divorce on children. "Work," in her lexicon, is always the drudgery of self-denial, not the challenge of extending yourself beyond what you knew you could do. But we usually mean two things when we say "work": The slog we endure purely to put food on the table, and the kind we do because we like it—are drawn to it, even.

While it's certainly true that people stay in an unhappy relationship longer than they should, it's not yet clear that monogamy is more "unnatural" than sleeping around but finding that the hum of your refrigerator is your most constant companion. And Kipnis spends scant time thinking about the fact that marriage is a hardy social institution several thousand years old, spanning many cultures—which calls into question, to say the least, whether its presence in our lives today has mostly to do with the insidious chokehold capitalism has on us.

While Kipnis' exaggerated polemic romp is wittily invigorating, it may not actually be as radical as it promises to be: These days, even sitcoms reflect her way of thinking. There's an old episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Kramer anticipate most of Kipnis' critique of domesticity; Kramer asks Jerry if he and his girlfriend are thinking about marriage and family, and then cuts him off: "They're prisons! Man-made prisons! You're doin' time! You get up in the morning—she's there. You go to sleep at night—she's there. It's like you gotta ask permission to, to use the bathroom: Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?" Still, love might indeed get a better name if we were as attentive to the intellectual dishonesties of the public debate over its failings as we are to the emotional dishonesties of adulterers.

Posted by Brian at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2003

Brian's Right....

I tried to prove him wrong and find some parts of the wedding planning process that are completely about the guy or at least welcoming to the groom being a major part of the planning process. I thought I had found the ticket when I saw an advertisement in a wedding magazine for a website that said it was just for the groom-to-be: What a LIE?!?!? The site doesn't even exist, but instead takes you right to - which in name and actuality is targeted toward the BRIDE! I am holding out for the future and even thinking of some career possibilities in which we could open the world of wedding planning to men (or at least those who want it opened to them). A little while ago, Oprah did a show on men who were "taking over" the wedding planning process and went so far as to call them "groomzillas." Most of the brides seemed kind of pleased that their men had taken on stronger roles and helped with making some of if not all of the decisions and also saw it as a practice run for all of the decisions that will need to be discussed and made during the marriage. I think they're on the right track.

Posted by Karen at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)