How I Read When I Read the Weddings Section

Sometimes we all need a little reinforcement...

Sometimes we all need a little reinforcement…

This week’s soundtrack is here.

Assiduous readers (yes, all three of you) may have noticed that last week didn’t feature a weddings update. There will be a fuller summary in normal vein for the 1 December section, but I hate the feeling that I’ve neglected the many couples who featured in the last column before Thanksgiving in 2013. (Even my clutching for significance date-wise seems forced.) Instead of inundating this site with a full rundown of two weeks’ weddings in one post (because then, what else would I have to discuss?) I thought that a primer as to how I read the Weddings Section might be helpful. I’m using the 24 November section as my exemplar. Feel free to use others.

Of course, this approach comes with caveats. The New York Times’ Weddings section performs different roles in different people’s lives. Some people skim it to find people they know. Others use it to find ideas for romance, stories to tell at dinner parties or on dates, or excuses to inhale their tubs of Ben & Jerry’s that night. (If you fall into this last category, please try to find something more original than “All by Myself” as backing music. I suggest anything by Ke$ha instead.)

My own goal is simpler. Humanist that I am, I use the Weddings Section to help me to understand the meaning of life.

And, to find meaning and answers, I have to ask questions. After my initial read-through, my first question is usually: are there any good names? In New York, “Jr.” counts for a lot (including as a signal for your father’s narcissism). A “III” is rarer, but there was one last week, in the form of a Raymond Stephens III. This clearly demanded initial attention.

I often move from an examination of the announcement when a name is interesting to try to find broader trends, or reveal the lattices that hold the section together at an ionic level. For instance, both Mr. Stephens III and his husband, Mr. Stalis, work for the government, at the US embassy in Nairobi. Their public service careers run, interestingly, in close parallel with the careers represented in the union of Robert Berry and Alejandro Cedeno. Mr. Berry works for the U.S. government’s development finance institution, with a particular focus on investing in Jordan, Iraq, and Liberia. (Jordan is apparently his “easy” country after he was landed with the post-conflict zone hospital-passes of Iraq and Liberia.) Mr. Berry’s new husband also works in development finance, in his case for the World Bank. His areas of interest are Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Liberia may not have had much in common before this week’s Weddings Section. They do now.

For a broader trend, the Stalis-Stephens and Berry-Cedeno weddings both had  Episcopal priests officiating. So did the third gay wedding that featured on the 24th, between William Stubing and Ronald Thomas. Any fears of homosexual homogeneity that I might have had were soon allayed when I read that Mr. Stubing and Mr. Thomas both work in the private sector. (This is a nice continuum, from the Stalis-Stephens embassy work, to the Berry-Cedeno investment interests for governmental organisations and NGO arms, to Stubing and Thomas, who are decidedly in the private sector, with jobs in bioethics and computers.) The age differences provide variation, too. Stalis and Stephens are three years apart; Berry and Cedeno 9; and Mr. Stubing had celebrated his sweet 16 before Ronald Thomas was born.

Sometimes, though, even a promising name gives you very little to digest. Such is the case with the wedding of Jennifer Lerner to Milton-David November. Despite a wonderfully hyphenated first name, and a surname that he shares with the month in which he married and that allows him to associate himself with the title of my favourite song by The National, Mr. November’s wedding announcement isn’t particularly noteworthy.  This rather unremarkable précis, after such a promising headline, reinforces a point that I’ve made before. Gay weddings may save the Weddings Section from oblivion.

Still, the 24th wasn’t an altogether bad week to ask the big questions in the Weddings Section. In some cases, you might even have been lucky enough to find answers to them. As a result of the Roullet-Bak union, I now know what “hematopathology” and “otolaryngology” mean. From a distance, and if the resolution on the photograph isn’t too high, the pretty Ms. Bak looks a little like Jennifer Garner. So I also now know that attractive doctors who look a little like Jennifer Garner (if you’re sufficiently drunk) evince the irritating American habit of calling “drinks” a “happy hour”.  (From experience, they never last for just an hour. Nor are they always happy. More often, they’re just soaked in sexual tension.) If they really want to get a chap drunk, though, these low-resolution-Mrs. Afflecks throw wine parties under the pretence of forging links with their French ancestry. (Ms. Bak invited Mr. Roullet to her “Nouveau Beaujolais” party one year. Even the name of the party sounds amorous.)

Other blurbs from the 24th beg questions to which answers aren’t as easily forthcoming. “I’m not into groupies,” Clyde Lee III – a second “third” for the week: wow! – told Jennifer Hayes when trying to get her attention through rejecting other women’s advances. Mr. Lee is “the marketing director at Viggle, a mobile media applications company in New York.” This makes me wonder whether: (a) groupies are becoming really low-rent in this post-crisis era; or (b) his definition of “groupie” is completely different to mine. Their first date was meant to involve running in Central Park at 7 a.m., which raises more questions. Like, how seriously was Ms. Hayes taking things if she was willing to see this fellow without makeup on when potentially hung over? (And, for similar reasons, how seriously was he taking things? Did he even wash in advance? If he did, wouldn’t this have been a waste of soap and water given the moisture that was likely to drench him after the double exertions of running and being in such close proximity to Ms. Hayes?) More generally, is seeing anyone before 10 a.m. ever a good idea? In the event, naturally, she overslept. It rained, inevitably. So their joint planning and lack of forethought did them no favours. Eventually things started properly, with Ms. Hayes cooking Mr. Lee lasagna, and then they started running, but it could so easily have turned out so differently.

My written notes in the margins of the Nadine Haobsh-Erik Courtney piece raised even more confusing conundrums. Taken at face value, it’s the simple story of a 39 year-old man who married a 33 year-old woman who he met in California. They also both attended Columbia, apparently. This is where things get murky: both were Columbia undergraduates. Although there was a six year age difference, the “couple attended Columbia at the same time and moved in the same social circles.” One theory is that Miss Haobsh was precocious (as presumably you’d need to be, if you’re going to grow up one day to write Beauty Confidential: The No Preaching, No Lies, Advice-You’ll-Actually-Use Guide to Looking Your Best). The other explanation – and this is the one that I give more credence – is that Mr. Courtney led a really interesting life before Columbia. So, major question number one: why are avid readers not told about this pre-Columbian life? Isn’t this omission inappropriate on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the holiday that effectively commemorates the obliteration of a pre-Columbian way of life for Native Americans? (Mr. Courtney also worried that Ms. Haobsh would be just some “Ivy League Princess.” I don’t think fellow Ivy Leaguers are allowed to have those worries.)

The second major question that this profile raises is more universal still. It is about okcupid, which is how the couple met. He was “intrigued” by her profile (“witty, down-to-earth, no grammatical errors”). She claims not to have looked at his photos until reading his profile – “(her standard online dating practice)” we’re told, parenthetically. But did he look at her photos, and is he just covering up his fascination with her swimsuit photos? Perhaps her beauty secrets aren’t as confidential as her book title suggests?

Miss Haobsh also suggests a worryingly Manichean choice at the end of the piece. The future bride and groom travelled to Japan together early in their relationship. In Miss Haobsh’s telling, they “were either going to come back in love or I was going to have the world’s best story. I fell in love.” This is the age of Sheryl Sandberg and leaning in, so I must ask: why can’t a girl fall in love and have a really good story simultaneously? To my mind, some of the world’s best stories do involve people falling in love. Usually they’re better than Miss Haobsh’s – Troilus and Cressida, Pride and Prejudice, and Wedding Crashers come to mind – but, still, their existence doesn’t mean that Nadine Jolie Hobsh was prevented from falling in love and still having a story that was quite good. I hope that she aims to get more from married life than she did during her courtship.

And finally, there’s the stunning, precocious Elisabeth Sacks. At 29, Miss Sacks is a resident in internal medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital, has a summa cum laude degree from Columbia, a masters in Classics from Cambridge and a medical degree from Mount Sinai. Why’s she here? Oh, yes: she married William Baker. Mr Baker also has three degrees, but from slightly less high-powered institutions. Don’t get me wrong: Carleton College (where he was magna) and a masters degree in information and library science from Southern Connecticut State University are great. Unfortunately, Baker had to go and blot his copybook with another masters from NYU (in museum studies). First big question: why did he go to NYU? (And why does anyone?) Second big question: how did she manage so much at such a young age?

Most pressingly, how did they meet? Clearly they both live in New Haven, but rumours about the precise dynamics of their first meeting swirl in ever-decreasing circles (at least in my head). Was the on-water rowing machine at Yale their point of introduction? Perhaps he fell into the shallow pool and she gave him emergency CPR? Or was it the likelier story of a slightly grimy gin-and-whisky bar across the road from Mory’s at 2 one morning? Presumably both were cold and looking for comfort. In Miss Sacks’s case, I can only  assume that she was trying to escape the burden of expectation that she felt the world had placed on her immaculate shoulders and turned to an NYU-educated stranger’s limp embrace. Mr Baker? Well, in my imagination, he was just trying to avoid sleeping in the reference section of the Institute Library for the third night straight. (Another thing that assists with making sense of the world is forcing people to write about how they met in their announcements. Doing otherwise risks bored strangers formulating uncharitable scenarios about your initial encounter.) In any event, and even with all of these unanswered questions, I take some solace from the fact that the officiant at the Sacks-Baker ceremony was an Episcopal priest. The couple is not completely out of place here.

24 November 2013 was a bumper Weddings Section for Episcopal priests. It also heralded a return to form for the Section after a couple of rather dismal weeks in a row. I’m pleased to have unearthed a few patterns this time. With luck and practice, I am sure that you will get what you want from your Vows experience, too. In seriousness, all of these happy couples hopefully had a great deal for which to be thankful this Thanksgiving. Thanks to them (and the recent news of the Monty Python reunion), so did I. And I hope you did, too.

So happy Thanksgiving, all. This year we can all be grateful that, even if we haven’t yet reached an understanding of the meaning of life, at least we have the Weddings Section to help us to ask the big questions to get us there.

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4 Responses to How I Read When I Read the Weddings Section

  1. mnovember says:

    For what it’s worth, we had submitted a longer, far more interesting announcement to NYT. It was heavily edited (almost to nothing) by their editorial staff.

  2. Please feel free to post the full announcement here (or elsewhere). I’ve no doubt that there’s a fair bit of bias inherent in who and what gets into the Weddings Section each week. You deserve a vows column that lives up to your name, even if the Times was too capricious to give it to you.

  3. Pingback: Marriages that Mattered, 5 October 2014 | Misanthropic Mutterings

  4. sally says:

    Also, Nadine didn’t go to Columbia…but Barnard…so

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