Yesterday my mother and I talked about the engagement party she and my father are throwing over Thanksgiving weekend. L's parents are flying in from Chicago for the weekend and just about every relative and family friend we have in the Northeast will descend upon my parent's home in Massachusetts. It will be big. My parents suggested getting some sort of entertainment - a jazz trio perhaps - as an alternative to popping in a few CDs to the changer and to add an element of class.
As this will be the biggest event my parents have thrown for one of their kids since my sister's bat mitzvah 13 years ago, I jokingly suggested they hire Bonaparte, a magician who entertained at just about every Jewish teenager's rite of passage and birthday party in the Boston area and beyond when I was a kid. I'm sure Bonaparte does lots of corporate gigs and shows for adults, but somehow the image of a tuxedo clad magician pulling a rabbit from a hat and doing card tricks in front of my grandmother and 30-year-old friends seems a tad incongruous with the concept of an engagement party.
Apparently my mom doesn't always get my sense of humor. She called me at work today to tell me she had booked Bonaparte. "Hey kids, watch me make this ring disappear!"
In a notably thinner "Weddings/Celebrations" section this week - it's Rosh Hashana, so no Jewish people are getting married for a couple of weeks - the New York Times undermines my previous accusation of classism, racism and traditionalism by featuring an Hispanic female administrative assistant who is also a Golden Glove boxing champ. Cool.
Then again, simply picking one couple to focus on doesn't necessarily send my theory to the mat for ten. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, no matter how qualified, can't make up for a presidential administration that is wholeheartedly against affirmative action and other minority-benefitting social programs.
Of the twenty other photos over three pages, there is only one black couple, one Asian couple and two couples of mixed ethnicity. I'll make no assumptions about the announcements that don't have an accompanying photo (although names like Mamie and Aidan hardly suggest diverse flowering roots). True to form, there is also a solo picture of a bride who was sold to - sorry, married to - a guy with a Roman numeral after his name.
Someone will have to tell me why L and I are submitting our info. I forgot.
The issue of what to call the other person is something couples talk about from day one of any nascent relationship. First you have a "date." Then, if things go well, you start using phrases such as "this girl I'm dating." Then, if things go even better, this woman you've been "seeing" becomes your "girlfriend." You sail along as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" until your relationship comes to the enchanted isle of engagement.
In the almost one month since L and I got engaged, I haven't quite figured out what to call her. Yes, she is my fiancée, of course, but neither of us is so comfortable with that word. Plus, with the anti-French sentiment these days, perhaps a new word is in order (freedom girlfriend, anyone?).
"There's no avoiding sounding pretentious when you say it," said a newlywed friend. "My fiancée and I..." "Well, let me ask my fiancée..." "This is L, my fiancée..." The word almost italicizes itself.
In Spanish, one word covers both girlfriend and fiancée, making life easier for engaged Spaniards and Mexicans. Pedro goes on a date with Maria and she becomes his novia. Whether they date for three months or three years, she remains his novia even after they get engaged. It isn't until they get married that Maria becomes Pedro's esposa. Perhaps this is why I'm considering Spanish lessons and a trip to Spain for the honeymoon.
L, though, has come up with a better solution. Until we are married, she has decided to call me her Beyoncé.
L and I had a brief conversation about whether or not we want to send our photo and wedding announcement in to the New York Times's "Weddings" pages. She wants to. I'm ambivalent.
I read the "Weddings" pages with as much interest as any guy in New York. That is to say, not much. L reads every detail: where the wedding took place, who officiated, how the couple met, etc. I skim through the listings, but with very different questions, questions that I believe have greater social relevance.
Is the bride hot? Is the groom loaded? Is that how he got a hot bride?
Before my ritual journey to the Times magazine and its crossword puzzle each Sunday, I entertain myself with these and other important questions. Is there any guy listed who isn't an investment banker? Are any of the investment bankers marrying a woman who isn't a promotions director, ad sales representative or production assistant? And if I find couples in non-traditional careers - actor, chef, writer, mortician - I then have one last question: are their parents loaded?
Part of my aversion to the "Weddings" section is that it tends to reinforce traditional upperclass roles for men and women, where the husband is the obvious breadwinner and the wife is destined to become a card-carrying member of the ladies who lunch. It is still common to see pictures of brides without their new husbands, as if to suggest the woman is no more than property akin to the car ads or real estate listings a few sections away. In such an allegedy liberal publication, the announcements are an awfully patrician tradition.
But to me, more troublesome is the underlying racism (or at least classism) in the "Weddings" pages. Despite the dozens upon dozens of listings each week, it is still rare to see minority couples among the sea of white faces. Even though the New York Times has plenty of color photography, usually the only black part of the "Weddings" section is the newsprint.
I guess it's a chicken-and-egg sort of question. Does the Times pick more white couples because more white couples send in announcements? Are black people less inclined to send in announcements because they don't see themselves represented in the "Weddings" section anyway? Do they even care?
At least the Times finally started including homosexual committment ceremonies. L and I agreed that if the Times was still holding onto the outdated practice of outwardly excluding some couples based on a hateful legal technicality, we'd forget about the Times altogether.
So, in the end, we probably will submit our information to the Times to see what happens. Who knows? Maybe someone just like me will see our picture one year from now and wonder, "How'd that guy get such a hot bride?"
It's beautiful in New York City today, the literal calm before the storm. Isabel is on her way and, while no one is boarding up their apartment windows or stocking emergency kits, everyone knows they're going to get wet.
And so it is with our wedding plans. The hurricane is approaching and, depending who you ask, it will either be downgraded to a tropical depression or pack the biggest punch this side of Tyson. Most of our newly-married friends predict the latter. "A and I have never bickered so much in our entire relationship," emailed one friend. "You might have it all under control now, but a year from now you'll wish you had more time," said another.
Perhaps L and I are naive to think we'll survive this year with a minimum of fighting, but so far we seem to have a lot under control. The date, of course, is set. Thanks to L's sister's wedding, we know what caterer and florist we'll use. We know who will be performing the ceremony (more about that in a future post).
Still, we're being careful. We've put up our own little sandbags to protect the relationship. Friday and Saturday nights are "wedding-free" zones, leaving us free to enjoy our weekends and giving us more than enough time during the week to take care of whatever details pop up.
That's cute, the veterans say. Sandbags! How droll! It's as if L and I are in our parents' car, surfboards strapped to the roof, zipping past miles of people driving the other way along a coastal evacuation route. As we head to the beach while everyone else heads for the hills, the traffic-stuck minivan drivers mutter under their breath, "Stupid kids."
After work tonight, L and I took a trip to Barnes and Noble, or as I like to call it, my local library. We had some questions about - surprise - wedding stuff and weren't finding the Web to be the most reliable resource. Sure, there are some good sites out there (The Knot and Wedding Channel being the most helpful) but for the most part, my ADHD-riddled brain can't sift through the tables, links and flashing "You're A Winner" banner ads competing for my attention.
At the bookstore we found a copy of Emily Post and started flipping. I looked around. As we sat in the "Wedding/Etiquette" section I thought that the decision to combine both subjects couldn't have been a coincidence. Everyone has their wedding horror stories, right? At one wedding I attended, a guest stumbled around drunk and then cried, lamenting the folly of finding true love in New York. "It's just so hard, you know? New York makes it so tough. This city just doesn't want anyone to be happy." As she lamented her perpetual singledom, I nodded politely and wondered if she remembered that the couple we had just witnessed affirming their mutal love and committment lived on the Upper West Side.
L and I had one big question: who pays for what? While perhaps not being the root of all evil, as far as couples are concerned money is definitely the root of most fights. So in an effort to avoid unpleasant conversations with our families, we turned to Miss Post as our guide.
We got our answer, but it only reconfirmed our initial suspicions. I won't bother going into what we learned, because you are probably less clueless than I am. If you aren't, just be careful looking for the answer on a Web Site. Trying to shoot the moving monkey on the banner ad is just too darn distracting.
Like a horde of twelve-year-olds waiting for the doors to open at a Justin Timberlake concert, details could not be held back any longer.
First, The Date. August 27th - 29th, which is noted on my calendar as "Not Labor Day Weekend." August 29th, when the ceremony will be held, is also L's birthday. So I luck out in that for the rest of my life I'll have one less important date to remember (although, as L reminded me, not one less present to buy).
One detail we had to take care of was the ring. The ring was a gift from my grandmother. My grandfather, whom I was fortunate to know until he died when I was a kid, presented it to my grandmother when he asked her to marry him 57 years ago. There was some debate among the family about the ring. Should it go to someone outside the bloodline? But the debate didn't last long. It's truly a testament to what a special person L is that all the women in my family - my sister, my mother and my grandmother - agreed that L was worthy of such a generous and sentimental gift. Asking L to marry me with a ring so steeped in family history made the moment that much more special. Plus it was free.
My grandmother had the ring made larger some years ago to accommodate the inevitable big-knuckle syndrome that goes hand-in-hand with aging. It didn't fit on L's slender finger and we had wrap scotch tape on the back to make it fit. This was not an appropriate solution for such a beautiful heirloom so yesterday we took it to a store in the Diamond District.
Anyone looking for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis need only spend some time on West 47th Street in New York. There, Orthodox Jews and Arab vendors offer a dizzying array of jewelry, all the while sharing store space. Despite the Fort Knox level of precious metals, there was nary a police officer in sight. Let's hope President Bush's "road map" to Mideast peace remembers that the F train stops at 47th Street.
The Diamond District also rivals Disneyland as the Happiest Place on Earth. From nervous men buying rings for their unsuspecting girlfriends to recently engaged couples picking out wedding bands, I can't imagine anyone going there angry (except for the occasional divorcée who comes in to hack up an engagement ring into earrings or a necklace). L joked about the the Angriest Place on Earth, the lost luggage office at an airport. Whereas we thanked the jewler for sizing the ring so quickly and beautifully, she couldn't imaging anyone just stopping by the lost luggage office just to thank them for delivering their bags: "No, really, thanks for getting my stuff off the plane. It was the first one on the carousel. Keep up the good work."
Now it's on to trips. Trips to Chicago, where her family lives, and Wisconsin, where the wedding will be held, for showers and days of picking out flowers, tasting food and listening to bands. Although the airline industry is suffering through a bad economy, I think our trips might keep Continental afloat at least for another year. My advice to men everywhere: marry a local girl.
I got engaged on Wednesday. Actually, that statement is a little too passive. Makes it seem like I picked up something on the way home from work or dropped a subscription card in the mailbox or developed some sort of temporary condition for which medication or a topical ointment is available from my doctor.
Let's start over.
I proposed to my girlfriend on Wednesday night.
Using her birthday as grounds for a nice night out, I took her to dinner at Balthazar, the sight of one of our first dates. We shared a goat cheese and onion tart, a bottle of Riesling and amused ourselves over dinner by trying to pick the wealthiest person in the restaurant (note: it wasn't either of us).
When we came home we found a note on our door. "D & L, I have my telescope on the roof. Come up tonight to look at Mars. I'll be up late. Rob." While we do have an upstairs neighbor named Rob who owns a telescope, this note was left by our friends who, while we were at dinner, had set up flowers, champagne, candles, cupcakes and a blanket on our rooftop. I told L that I was going up to see if Rob was still there and that she should come up to say hello. So I ran up and found a lovely display waiting for us. I frantically tried to light the candles - smoking ban be damned, Balthazar still had matches at the bar - and then waited for L to come upstairs.
L and I have been dating for just over two years. Two months ago we moved in together, leaving Manhattan - where we surely would have killed each other in a too-small, yet too-expensive flat - for the brownstones and tree-lined streets of Brooklyn. We had talked about marriage before moving in together and it was just a matter of when, not if I would propose.
Back to the story. She said yes. If she supected something was up that night, she did a great job of not ruining my effort to surprise her.
I won't bore you with stories about how happy we are, how in love we are, how perfect this is, and all that romantic stuff. It was a great night. It's been a great week. We're excited. We love each other. Great. Everyone who gets engaged feels that way.
After dozens of phone calls from family and friends offering congratulations, we now have a lot of planning to do. The problem is that a wedding isn't just one event. Before you even get to the wedding there are showers, engagement parties, visits to family, and perhaps bachelor and bachelorette parties. It's a little overwhelming.
Fearing our initial joy would be overshadowed by too much planning, I declared a one-week moratorium on details. We should sit back and enjoy ourselves, I told L, and not let details take the place of our joy at getting engaged. Friends and family members hailed me as a genius. A one-week moratorium! How clever! What a romantic notion!
But the moratorium was no more than the proverbial finger in the dike. There is one detail that simply Will Not Be Ignored: The Date.
You see, L's father runs a summer camp in the midwest. She grew up there. Her older sister had her wedding there and, having visited twice, I can attest that it will in fact be a lovely setting. The problem is that for about eight weeks out of the summer, it's, well, a summer camp. When it's not overrun by kids, it's being used by different groups for retreats, conferences and the like. There aren't a lot of weekends to choose from and more are getting snapped up every day. So, we have to pick The Date. Soon.
I recently made a stink when two of L's friends each got engaged and scheduled their weddings for holiday weekends. Like most people, I tend to have plans on Memorial Day weekend and July 4th. How dare these couples tell ME what I'M doing on MY holiday weekend!
I'm sure the couples thought they were doing their guests a favor by scheduling their weddings for weekends when everyone has off anyway. But this is America. We get fewer vacation days than any other industrialized nation in the world. And now you're telling me I have to spend one of them talking to your Aunt Sylvia in between bites of my choice of chicken or fish? Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Which still leaves us with The Date. We can't very well turn around and schedule our wedding for Labor Day weekend, lest L and I feed each other a heaping plate of crow at the reception. We should know by tomorrow what's available.
Alas, despite my best intentions and efforts, details found their way around the one-week moratorium, which, incidentally, ends tomorrow at midnight. Let the planning begin!