2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Patriarchy in progressive Judaism/ In the middle of a shame experience

As they sign their Jewish marriage covenant, I feel the various threads of emotion start to twist and tangle again.

You’re in the middle of a shame experience, I gently remind myself.

I breathe deeply and feel the knot unfurl. It is a subtle shame – not enough to impede my enjoyment of the wedding, but just enough to seep into my thoughts. Thoughts telling me I’m tainted, that I shouldn’t get too close to the happy couple, that they don’t want to be associated with me. Telling me to make myself smaller.

You’re in the middle of a shame experience, I repeat. This may be harder than expected.

I had expected to be completely divorced by now. Done. Finished with the entire process. It’s been over two years since our court date in Cambridge, which was super sad and also relatively smooth and followed by getting food together at the Cambridgeside Galleria. When the civil divorce was finalized four months later, we started seeking a ghet, a Jewish divorce document.
They feel sorta parallel – the civil process and the ghet. You submit your paperwork, then you go in front of a court, then you get some letter confirming that the divorce has occurred and you are now considered independent entities. Except in Judaism, it’s super gendered.

I want to talk about patriarchy, and I want to talk about shame. I want to explore these topics to better understand the psychological experience caused by systems of oppression in general, and to illustrate the specifics of how patriarchal oppression continues to impact me as a so-called “progressive” Jew today. I believe that as a Jewish community, we need to do better to address and eradicate patriarchy from our systems and rituals. This belief comes from my principles as a queerfeministJew. And it also comes from my own need, out of the depth of my own experience… as a response to my own shame.

Charlie Glickman talks about shame as an experience of disconnection that tells us how we’re doing by our community’s standards of behavior. Sometimes shame can be really helpful, when we’ve done something that betrays our values and we need to work to reconnect. But when something’s off in the social system, shame is often part of the problem.

I experienced a lot of shame throughout the divorce process. I felt shame as I watched myself hurt someone I love. I felt shame about having made a personaland publiccommitment that I did not keep. I pulled back from the Jewish community that we had been involved in together – I didn’t know how to show my face.

I had also faced a lot of patriarchy throughout the wedding process. I felt it when I went dress shopping, I felt it when I tried to talk through the details with my partner, and I felt it especiallyin the Jewish ritual we were working to reimagine.

I’m no Jewish legal scholar, but let me explain what I think happened:
I walk in with the person who had been my husband. A kind rabbi smiles and shakes our hands. We meet the two men asked to serve as witnesses for us. Very generous of them. They shake our hands with reserve and sympathy. We sit down in an overheated room, and I’m uncomfortable and thirsty.
This will only take twenty minutes, I assure myself. Then it will be over, I’ll drink water, and we’ll get lunch. I’m excited to see if Inna’s Kitchen is open, and to get time to catch up with Matt, my ex.

The rabbi gives us an outline of the ritual. Matthad made the official request for the ghet(the divorce document) to be drafted and delivered to me. The witnesses were there to confirm the delivery. Mattwas there because, no matter the legal meaning of the ritual, this was really about both of us. And like, for “closure,” maybe?

Maybe, but it doesn’t work. There is an error in the paperwork. Someone confused something about our Hebrew names and the ghet in the rabbi’s hands is not valid. It will not do the trick. This is not done.

That’s when I start to really feel it… if we’d moved through the ritual smoothly, would I have felt it in the same way? I’m not sure. But there I was, sitting in a room with four men: a rabbi, two witness, and the person who had been my husband. And they were frustrated. But I was the one most impacted.

I don’t feel ashamed of the tears. I don’t feel ashamed of needing a few minutes to take off my sweater and get water and use the restroom. I don’t feel ashamed of asking questions.

I feel ashamed because I feel subordinate, dependent, and powerless. I feel ashamed because at the most fundamental level, my status in the community is on the line. Because of the patriarchy. Because the function of the ghet is for a man to release a woman from marriage, as delivered by a rabbi, with two men witnessing. Back to the days of gender binary hetero patriarchy power system. (Back to the days of Pooh?

>We were both raised in affiliation with the Conservative Jewish movement, we got married within that movement, and we were trying to divorce accordingly. And the patriarchy only got thicker as we went along. Something about wanting to make sure the ghet would have as good a chance as possible of being honored by Orthodox communities should anyone ever care. The rabbi starts saying that we do it that way so that if I have a child and my child wants to be Orthodox then an Orthodox rabbi would respect the ghet as somehow a legitimate divorce that then allowed me to be legitimately remarried and have so-called “legitimate” children. It’s a long hypothetical dystopian fantasy in which this divorce remains a shadow that can call into question everything yet to happen in my life. I will continue to be suspect and this ghet will be the thing that will satisfy people that I am okay, that my actions are okay, that I can love again and build a family in acceptable, “legitimate,” ways.

Shame. Tangled, twisted knots of shame.

And this was very clearly directed towards me, not towards Matt.

Because patriarchy.

It was a female rabbi who had prepared the document actually – but she lives elsewhere, and the rabbi trying to deliver it is male. So that’s a quirk in the ever-quirky system of Conservative Judaism. The witnesses were to be men, but the rabbi could be any Conservative rabbi? The (male) rabbi explains it as a sort of wink to the Orthodox movement, just in case, to try to make the document as “acceptable” as possible. I keep asking questions until the rabbi stops and says: I think this is interesting, but you probably want to get on with your day.

To him it’s interesting. How to be a progressive rabbi in a patriarchal religion. An intellectually and probably morally satisfying mission. But see, it’s not just intellectual for me. Shame is social feeling. I want to be a “legitimate” community member. I want all my functioning and rights – I shouldn’t have to give that up just to avoid this experience of patriarchy.

It’s not only about injustice – that makes it into something that is intellectual, theoretical, something we can all be “against” together. We are all against disempowering women. Especially the “we” of progressive Jewish community. We’re committed, in concept.

It’s not only about microaggressions – the men were sweet to me even though they didn’t know what to do with my tears. They expressed a mix of “pleasure to meet you” and “sorry we meet on this occasion,” and then, after it didn’t work, they uttered hope for something to come of the process. They were trying, in concept.

What it was really about for me, that day, was the psychological experience of being in that room and being subordinate, dependent, and powerless. My status in the community was in question, and – and this centuries old system of power persisted through these men in the room who considered themselves my equals in every other way and yet were participating in, defending, upholding, honoring that system of power. As was I, in my own way.

Shame is a social emotion about not feeling part of a community. Not because I’m being shunned or feel disliked – but because I can tell that I’m not being cared for. My needs aren’t being met. I feel ashamed that my community would desert me so – leave me so subordinate and alone. Even when I actually get the ghet, that’s a psychological experience that I will hold with me. It’s the psychological toll of systems of power and oppression that we know we are “against” but – but are still here. I can’t reject it on my own; I would be even more isolated. I can only ask questions and accept the tears and seek help. And that is all compounded when the room is full of men, and the men respond to me with intellectual attention, as I keep hearing the rabbi say: I think this is interesting, but you probably want to get on with your day.

No, rabbi. I want to get on with my life.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Striving for thinness, and the toll it can take

Last week, I saw lots of uproar over news about brides-to-be taking on extreme measures to lose weight, the most recent of which includes putting a feeding tube through one’s nose for 10 days while refraining from eating anything through one’s mouth.

Ridiculous, right? Crazy, like, who would do that, besides the most vain, shallow people looking to throw money down the tube (no pun intended)?

To avoid blaming the victims, let’s look at the culture and at the industry. The wedding industry is set up under the assumption that brides will want to lose weight for their wedding—no matter what their present weight actually is. I had one friend who told me that a salesperson had actually encouraged her to purchase a dress that was too small because “obviously” she would be losing weight before her wedding day.

A few months after I got engaged, I was visiting an old friend of mine at her parents’ house. They were ordering pizza and her mom offered me a slice. When I turned it down she said immediately, “Oh! Of course! You have a dress you need to fit into.” Wait, what?

When I started looking for wedding dresses, I very quickly recognized the game of “does this dress make me look fat” and “does this one emphasize my small parts in all the right ways.” Personally, I was more interested in “does this dress make me look like myself” and “does this dress let me hug and dance and jump in all the right ways,” but such questions seemed secondary to those trying to sell me their products.

What does this industry-wide focus on bridal thinness teach young girls about love and romance?

The industry of bridal thinness is part of a culture conflating thinness with goodness and desirability. Young girls are taught to dream of the perfect marriage as the height of their personal accomplishments—and in a culture in which weight is a sign of a woman’s success or failure, weight becomes a key aspect of her success or failure at being a bride. Furthermore, as the wedding industry—and the brides themselves—play into the idea that a bride’s weight is of utter relevance on her wedding day, the sexualization of women becomes reinforced. By “sexualization” here I mean the reduction of a woman to the value of her body as a sexual object. Another meaning of sexualization includes reducing a body to specific body parts, and in many of the articles I see references to a stomach that is flat enough, thighs that aren’t too wide, and biceps that aren’t too flabby. It’s not just about the size of the body, but the “perfection” of the pieces. Women are taught to pick themselves apart. Aren’t there so many other ways in which women could eagerly prepare for marriage?

How do dieting and sexualization set up a bride to participate as an equal partner in a healthy relationship?

Um, that might be a trick question. Well, I will offer five brief thoughts on how it hurts her and holds her back from her partnership and her other close relationships:

1. Sexualization—Being sexy for someone else is different from being sexy with someone else. Does she need to feel thin enough in order to feel worthy of receiving and enjoying sexual pleasure? Studies have found a connection between self-objectification (which includes dieting behaviors) and lower sexual agency and sexual assertion. If her focus is being diverted towards being sexy for someone else, is that diverting or otherwise compromising her focus on her desires and what she deserves?

2. Inauthenticity—How does this pressure to diet and be thin affect her ability to advocate for her own needs and desires not just in her sexual relationship, but in all her relationships? Planning a wedding is a complex process of negotiating a lot of different people’s values and opinions. A bride being pressured to turn away from her natural appetites and instincts may also learn to turn away from her needs and instincts in other contexts, thus compromising her ability to be present and genuine in already tense relationships, including with her partner and with close friends and family.

3. Energy drain—Food provides energy. Calories=energy. A person needs calories to think, to get things done, to move around and make decisions and be assertive. Reduced calories means reduced energy means reduced action. Not to mention the spiritual drain that guilt and shame around weight and eating can take on a person.

4. Performance—I didn’t like to think about how many people would be looking at me throughout my wedding day. Seeing me; viewing me; thinking about how I appeared. I made an intentional decision that I didn’t want my wedding day to be about performing for others. Instead, I wanted it to be about my experience of my own life, joy, friends and family. And I think this choice needs to be made every day, and it starts at home before we leave the door. Do I consider myself and my body as something that performs for others and is viewed by others, or do I get to embody myself through my own experiences throughout the day?

5. Beauty as power—the princess/queen for a day fantasy. In the wedding industry it’s about looking like a princess. In Jewish tradition, brides are to be treated as queens for the day. So if the bride’s job is to be thin, what does this say about women entering positions of power? Is power only earned through the achievement of thinness? Are only thin women worthy of power? Or maybe it’s simpler. Maybe it’s thin=powerful. Except that directly contradicts #4, above, reduced calories=reduced energy. So what is it? Maybe women are pressured to be thin in order to divert their power from that of a true leader to that of a figurehead. A bride may be the face of the wedding, the body front-and-center in all the photo opportunities, but where is her true power? And for what can she use her power, on that day and in the future?

I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions and tensions.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Why am I still crying over my registry?

I thought I could be everything that other people needed me to be, but I can’t. There’s no way I can.

So why am I still crying over my wedding registry?
a) Because I didn’t originally want to make a registry at all
b) Because I worked so hard to make my registry look right to others that I didn’t make it right for me
c) Because I feel it’s my responsibility, even though it’s really our responsibility
d) Because I had assumed I could make the right decisions in the right moments, and then I didn’t
e) All of the above

In my series analyzing the role of capitalism, patriarchy, and materialism in the process of wedding planning, how could I overlook this one ever-so-obvious element: the wedding registry? Well, when I was blogging in the month leading up to our wedding, I actually wasn’t thinking about the registry at all. Sure, I was enjoying our beautiful gifts—some of which I certainly remembered choosing myself—but I wasn’t facing head-on my experience with the registry process. No, the registry process began far earlier, more than a year before the wedding itself.
And now that we’re approaching our first anniversary, I’m learning that the registry is also an element of wedding planning that lasts long after the event itself. (At some point I’ll also share my thoughts on the wedding photos…)

What is the registry really about? No, scratch that, what is a wedding present really about? Is it about the couple and their wants and needs? Is it about the friends and family and what they want to get for the couple? Is it about the wedding-industrial-complex playing off the insecurity of couple and guests alike, creating and exaggerating need and want on all sides?
And what about the narrative of “you may not think you need it now but you will love having it later”? In all fairness, I don’t know that this narrative is definitely false, but it seems suspect. It seems all about creating need where there is none. If I have something that I’m not using, I will return it, give it away, or create a need for it so that I can start using it. But that doesn’t mean I actually needed it—or wanted it—in the first place.

I hesitate to rant and rave too much because I am so grateful for the loving, generous support of the many people who helped me put together my registry. After all, they were truly trying to help. And I am so grateful for the loving, generous gifts I received from friends and family, both gifts from my registry and off-registry surprises. And while I am nitpicking a few specific decisions that I probably would do differently if I had another chance, I totally understand the practical nature of producing a registry during a year when you expect lots of people to want to buy things for you. However, the nature of the market is not simply practical. In my first round of registry-producing, I tried to really focus on things we needed (e.g., pots and pans, plates and bowls, cutlery) and things we wanted (e.g., games, electronics). But then people told me that it wasn’t enough. I simply didn’t have enough items on the registry, enough things for people to choose from, enough nice things. The registry wasn’t fancy enough, apparently, and people would want to buy us “nice” things whether we wanted them or not. Things we really needed, like an iron and ironing board, we still don’t have. And a lot of people went off registry—maybe that would have happened anyway, or maybe indeed they were not satisfied with the range of items on our registry. I don’t know. There seem to be many different forces at play in these dynamics, but too many of these forces feel like they are working against me/us and what we really want.

A note on gender dynamics. As I’ve written about, I am a female who married a male, and while in our partnership we commit ourselves to addressing structures of power both at home and in the world, we certainly got to experience some of the workings of the patriarchy first-hand through the process of wedding planning. When it came to the registry, he had the privilege of not having an opinion. Not wanting to decide. What made this even more complicated at the beginning is that he is the one that does all the cooking. So when I made the first pass at registering for pots and pans, it seriously made no sense. He did come to Crate and Barrel with me one day to use the zapper, and we sat down together to create our Amazon registry. But when it came to the border-line calls, the hardest elements, and the pressure from friends and family—those decisions felt like they fell on me, because he would look at me with “BORED” written all over his face, honestly not knowing even how to try to have an opinion, and let me make the decision on my own.

And you know what? I LET HIM. He was actually the one to point this out in a recent conversation: “Mimi,” he said, “Sometimes, you need to tell me that I need to have an opinion. Just shake me until I engage.” He recognized the ways in which male privilege gave him the space to back away, leaving me with the burden of decision and diplomacy. And he honored me with this invitation to call him out in such future occasions—to say no to his boredom, to tell him that I need him as a full partner. I needed to tell him to go figure out how to have an opinion, how to think with me. I wonder what was going on in my psyche when I didn’t do this last year: was I protecting him? Did I so dislike the task of registry management that I thought I might as well deal with it on my own, leaving him free of that one source of stress? Of the many things I learned from wedding planning, I think one of the lessons I learned is not to “put up with” stress that seems unfair. I had the right to ask for him to be a partner on my side; I had the right to say “no” to tasks I didn’t want and didn’t value; we have the right to try to do our life our way, even when it means we can’t be what other people think they need us to be.

I thought I could be everything that other people needed me to be, but I can’t. There’s no way I can. So now, I’m trying to be what I need me to be. And that’s hard enough as it is.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Why write about weddings?

I was quite surprised that nobody asked me how writing about wedding planning fit into the broader mission of this blog. Why write about wedding planning on a blog called “Sex Ed Transforms,” created to promote transformative sexuality education for adolescents and young adults? The more I think about this question and reflect on the process, the more reasons there are. I’ll explain three of those reasons here.

1. For the teenagers.
Marriage is one of the organizing principles of sex education in our public schools. Abstinence Only until Marriage programs teach that sex and sexuality are only legitimate in the context of marriage. On its own, this concept means that sex is framed in the context of these traditional gender roles and capitalist pressures that accompany weddings and marriages. Even teenagers lucky enough to receive comprehensive sexuality education that focuses on how to form healthy relationships at any age are still exposed to the media. In magazines, TV shows, and movies, marriage is the ultimate point of reference for romance. And weddings are the climax of romance, the height of the love and drama. Not only does this perpetuate the idealization of weddings as perfect and beautiful, but it also fails to teach anything about healthy and happy marriages. If weddings are the height of romance, then what comes next? Rather than learning the skills they need to have healthy, pleasurable, and fulfilling relationships at any age and with any shape or size of religious, legal, or private commitment, teenagers are instead learning that they must get married and enter into this specific kind of relationship or else they will never have legitimate sex and they will never get to live out their dreams of true love. Which everyone should want. And if they don’t, they’re missing out on something that they should want even if they don’t want it.

2. For us, the young adults in our 20s and 30s.
Young adulthood, in our society, is stereotypically framed by the achievement of certain milestones that mark the transition from being a kid to having kids, including launching a career, getting married, and, well, having kids. In reality, however, so many young adults enjoy such varied paths, which can result in much success and happiness. It’s said that today’s young adults are more likely to explore multiple careers in their lifetime, to live with a partner without plans of marriage, and perhaps to choose not to have children. Unusual paths are becoming more, well, usual. Why, then, is marriage still this ultimate point of reference? Even for young adults who don’t get married, the weddings of their friends and siblings mark the calendar year with showers, bachelor/ette parties, and the big days themselves. The culture of weddings thus becomes an intricate part of the culture of young adulthood. The involvement of friends and family in the wedding process is also seeped in both patriarchy and materialism, perpetuating unhealthy gender roles for men and women. Although I didn’t write a lot about these particular influences on friends and family, I just need to say that it’s not only about the bride, it’s about how weddings are embedded in the broader culture and thus create problematic and, at times, quite detrimental gendered and classed power dynamics.

3. For the children. Do it for the children.
I’ll keep this simple. My thought is just that if wedding and marriage are drowning in patriarchy and capitalism, and people who marry later go on to have children, the messages sent to the couple about what marriage should be like and what they should care about are going to trickle into the foundation of their relationship. That, in turn, will affect the environment in which the children are raised and the implicit and explicit messages the children receive, thus perpetuating the patriarchy and burying us deeper and deeper in sexism.

All I’m saying is, all of this wedding stuff I wrote about does not just affect me as a bride. It affects our whole society and everybody in it. Another thing to consider is that most young brides are doing it for their first time. And after they do it once, they often don’t get a second chance any time soon, so the industry gets to remain very stagnant, constantly getting new clients without having to woo old clients back again. And that’s part of the reason I decided to speak up and say something. I don’t plan on having another wedding, but I do plan on sticking around and engaging in this society for a while more, and I think all of this stuff is still going to matter even now that my wedding is over. So, nobody asked, but these are my reasons. Now I’m asking you, what should we do about it?

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

The Detriment of Internalized Femininity

Planning that wedding woke me up. In addition to the wonderful sense of joy and community (and there was so much of that), I also experienced moments of deep despair, helplessness, and fear, in ways I never had before. But at none of these times was I unable to understand from where these emotions were coming. I knew.

Planning a wedding revealed to me places within myself still very much under the influence of patriarchal sexism. While working on my master’s thesis during this period, I came across Emily Impett and colleagues’ breakdown of femininity ideology (2006), in which they looked at how girls internalize the dominant messages in our society about how girls and women should behave. They breaks down femininity ideology into two pieces: body objectification and inauthenticity in relationships. Planning a wedding revealed to me in such a magnified and concise way how I am still affected by both of these elements.

Body objectification is perhaps the more obvious element, based on what I have written here so far. The entire wedding culture is premised on the idea that a bride will be utterly focused on losing weight and/or keeping her “figure.” As much as one year before the wedding someone commented that I must have turned down her offer of food because, she said, “you have a dress to fit into.” But body objectification isn’t about what other people say, rather, it’s about the internalization of these messages. It’s about how these ideas can creep into my own thoughts and twist and turn the way I feel about myself. Suddenly there was this whole element of the wedding that I had not anticipated, and that element was me, a specter of myself, sitting in the corner, looking at myself as a bride and judging whether or not I looked skinny enough, beautiful enough, bridal enough. I think this element has been re-triggered this week because we got the professional photos back, and I was so nervous to look at them. I was nervous not because I thought they would be bad or I thought I wouldn’t enjoy looking at them, but rather because ever since the wedding I had been able to dismiss those cries of self-objectification. Looking at pictures of oneself, it is hard not to ask oneself, “Am I beautiful?” However, one thing I can say happily and proudly is that on the day of the wedding, all my prep paid off, and I felt present and engaged, very much not the self-conscious wreck about which I had been so concerned. And that paid off when I then looked at the pictures – I look so ecstatic, both mouth and eyes wide open in almost every picture, and nothing else matters. Nothing besides that ecstasy, those looks of joy. Right?

Inauthenticity in relationships. Now this one is a little harder to explain, and I don’t think I wrote about it as much at the time. This concept is based on the idea that females are taught to be the ones to smooth things over, to make things better, to make things work. That girls and women are supposed to avoiding standing up for themselves, not speak up for what they want and need, and not cause problems. Being socialized in such a way strongly affects one’s relationships with others, in which assertive communication and clear expression of one’s thoughts and feelings help strengthen relationships and help individuals get their needs met. I had been working already on developing these skills and, in various capacities, teaching others these skills. But maybe this whole wedding planning challenge was just too much too soon. Planning a wedding involves so many different aspects, and so many details, and so many decisions that I did actually have feelings about (in addition to many I didn’t). I didn’t realize early enough how important it was going to be for me to speak up, express what I felt and what I didn’t feel, articulate my wants and needs, and assertively negotiate with my partner, our parents, and our friends. Most of all, I was not very practiced in this process and so, I am afraid, often I did not do it so nicely. Often panic, frustration, and inarticulate tears would seize me. Sometimes I would just say too little, too late. Sometimes I said nothing at all because I was too afraid of the consequences. And sometimes I definitely said too much, and I was too mean. However, sometimes it worked just right, and I owe much to my partner, our parents, and our friends for bearing with me (and each other) and for working through the process together. I learned a lot, and I believe that I experienced a lot of growth not only in my own communication repertoire, but more specifically in opening channels of communication in a few key relationships that I hope will stay strong the rest of my life.

These are just two examples of the ways in which I had to face the effects of sexism and patriarchy on myself, personally, through this process. In addition, as I have written about in other posts, the culture of wedding planning has in itself more elements of patriarchy than I had ever before directly encountered in my lovely, liberal, northeastern American world. The relevance of this process to my work of transforming sex education will be the subject of my next post.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Our Ketubah Text

A Ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract. Considered a legal document, it is signed by the couple and two witnesses on the day of the wedding. While the structure of this text is based on the traditional formats, we worked diligently to craft a text that would reflect our intentions for our marriage. We would love to hear what you think!
———-

On the 1st day of the week, the 1st day of the month of Tammuz, in the year five thousand seven hundred and seventy-one since “the creation of the world,” corresponding to the 3rd day of the month of July in the year two thousand eleven here in Massachusetts, the groom Matthew Lowe, son of Jeffrey and Fonda, and the bride Mimi Arbeit, daughter of Susan and Robert, entered into the Holy Covenant of Marriage. The bride Mimi said to the groom Matthew: “With this ring you are consecrated unto me as my partner according to the spirit of Miriam and the tradition of Moses and the Jewish people. I shall treasure you, nourish you, support you and respect you as Jewish adults have devoted themselves to their partners with love and integrity.” The groom Matthew said to the bride Mimi: “With this ring you are consecrated unto me as my partner according to the spirit of Miriam and the tradition of Moses and the Jewish people. I shall treasure you, nourish you, support you and respect you as Jewish adults have devoted themselves to their partners with love and integrity.”

They also agree to the following: Our partnership is invested with the vision of radical feminism, which guides us in queering structures of power and seeking justice for ourselves and others. We promise to try to be ever open to one another and to cherish each other’s uniqueness: to comfort and challenge each other through life’s sorrow and joy; to share our intuition and insight with one another; and, above all, to do everything within our power to permit each of us to become the persons we are yet to be. We pledge to establish a home that welcomes the spiritual potential in all life: a home wherein the flow of the seasons and the passages of time are celebrated through symbols of our values and our heritage; a home filled with reverence for learning, loving and giving. Through our partnership we will strive towards wholeness for ourselves, for one another, and for the world. And if a time comes that either of us chooses to end this marriage, we each pledge to act with integrity, respect, and compassion towards each other in civic and religious domains.

The groom and bride also accepted full legal responsibility for the obligations herein taken on, as well as for the various properties entering the marriage from their respective homes and families, and agreed that the obligations in this Ketubah may be satisfied even from movable property. Both the groom and the bride formally acquire these obligations to the other, with an instrument fit for such purposes. All is valid and binding.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce, 5. Connection/ Community

To my support network

I wrote this piece to share with several wedding guests who came to spend time with me in the hour before the ceremony, in a tradition called a tisch, which means “table.”

I have been experiencing this wedding in three layers, three perspectives, three ways in which I understand and express my own story. The initial layer is the personal relationship I share with Matt. Hopefully, you will hear the meanings of this deep layer as you witness our marriage ceremony, right after this tisch. The second layer of my experience of this wedding is political. Throughout the last month, I have expressed many of these thoughts and feelings on my blog, so I will not repeat them here.

The third layer of my experience of this wedding was actually the key motivating factor in my decision to have a wedding and reception to celebrate the marriage that Matt and I are undertaking. This layer is what I would like to focus on now, because it is about you. It is you. To my family, my friends, my loved ones, and those who love Matt and are here because they are open to loving me, too… welcome. Thank you for being with us today and throughout our lives. We have put all this thought and energy into preparing for today because we wanted to share it with you. It was because of you that I wanted to have this wedding today.

I once had an assigned reading for a gender studies class in college that addressed the Wedding Industrial Complex and analyzed many problematic and patriarchal aspects of modern weddings. One part of the critique that really struck me was he role of the guests in the wedding process. The couple and their parents plan the wedding, then everyone rushes in to celebrate for a day or for the weekend, and then the couple is left alone. Sealed off and isolated as they begin their marriage. Where the struggles happen, where the hard stuff comes up.

I don’t want to do it that way. First of all, we haven’t done it that way so far. We have been so blessed to have the effusive love and collaboration of each other and our parents in planning this wedding, but it didn’t stop there. Our best friends, our new friends, our parents friends, our cousins, they all helped us in planning this wedding. And each offer of help, each volunteering to take on a task, meant so much to be. Because not only was it extremely helpful in terms of getting this thing to happen, but it also, to me, implied a willingness and perhaps eagerness to help us in the times that will follow this wedding, whatever those times might entail.

We need you. I need you.

Our relationship cannot thrive in isolation. We need your support, in times of struggle and in times of joy, to help us thrive and reach our potential as a couple. I want to take this opportunity to ask you for this support, and for your patience, compassion, and wisdom as we navigate the joint and individual challenges ahead of us and cope with what that means for our relationship with each other and for our relationships with each of you.

And in addition to your support, I want to offer you mine. In the theme of approaching my wedding day as a personal Yom Kippur, I will start with an apology. I am sorry for all the times I have hurt or offended you or others that you care about. I have been distracted, I have been careless, too fast to speak, too soon to leave, and I have been selfish. Please forgive me. Know on this day, as I renew my dedication to living a life in which my words, actions and relationships reflect my values and passions, I am committing to you as well as committing to Matt. I want to be there for you, and I will be renewed because of this day and because of the strength I gain from my relationship with Matt. Please know that as we solidify our relationship to each other, as we invite you here to celebrate our commitment and rejoice with us, we hope that you will find joy and comfort in welcoming us into your lives, as well. As I set many important intentions today, I take this moment to set the intention to be your friend, to deepen our relationship, and to support you with love and caring. And, I will need your love and care to nourish me as Matt and I pursue a partnership thriving with health, happiness, and the pursuit of justice.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Why I will wear white

I originally imagined that I would wear blue jeans and a pink tank-top for our wedding. It’s my favorite outfit! And I wanted to wear something that would allow me to be and feel like myself. Upon further consideration of occasion and dress code, I considered a flowing skirt and a tank top. Seemed reasonable.

I simply could not stomach the associations I had with the white bridal dress. The association with virginity and the implication of purity are not ideals that I seek to embrace and support. I have discussed with other women who are both sexually active and getting married how it feels insincere to get married in a white dress that implies virginity.

I’m not getting married to make myself into “an honest woman.” I have been honest all year, living with my partner, making a life together, and enjoying each other both emotionally and physically. I think both our past and our future are part of the process that we will celebrate on our wedding day.

As we started to talk more and more about our wedding, I learned a little more about the Jewish wedding ceremony. Matt mentioned his hope that he would be able to fast (not eat) the day of the wedding, as is tradition. I attended other Jewish weddings and saw the grooms don kittels, white robes. I found out that Jewish tradition considers one’s wedding day as if it were a personal Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year. Both fasting and wearing white are elements of Yom Kippur that symbolize renewal: seeking forgiveness, separating oneself from past transgressions, and getting the opportunity to earn life anew. One element of Yom Kippur that I always appreciated as a child is the way in which it acknowledges error as inherent to human life. The central prayer of the service on the eve of Yom Kippur is Kol Nidre, and it declares that all vows made in the year to come shall be considered void. This prayer is a legal process in which Jews, together, declare and embrace their human weakness. Although they will spend the day ahead of them fasting and repenting for what they and others in their community have done wrong, they are not expected to become perfect in the year to come.

I felt really drawn to this imagery because it focused on process, on improvement without perfection, and on the wedding as a day on which to renew oneself and one’s life intentions.

Upon discovering this association between one’s wedding and Yom Kippur, I said to my partner: I’ll wear white if you wear white. Let’s both wear white. Let’s have ourselves our own Yom Kippur. And he said yes!

(Note: our wedding takes place on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Jewish month, on which fasting is prohibited, so we will not be taking on that element of repentance.)

When I put on a white dress this Sunday morning, I will make no claim to virginity, or purity, or perfection. Rather, it is a move in which I will be reckoning with my own imperfections, failures, and weaknesses. It will be a statement in which I declare my intention to enter the wedding with a sense of repentance and renewal. I have erred in the past—in this relationship, in other relationships, and in other areas of life—both intentionally and unintentionally. On Sunday, I will seek forgiveness, and I will seek a new start. When I approach my beloved under the chuppah (wedding canopy) and see him, too, wearing white, I will know that he also seeks forgiveness, and that he also loves himself and me as imperfect beings. We will both make mistakes in the future—within our marriage, with our management of our household, with our other relationships. And the commitment we make to each other in the wedding ceremony includes standing by each other through those future mistakes.

The white we wear symbolizes the freshness of our relationship, the pursuit of personal improvement, and our celebration of our own and the other’s human fragility. For the wedding ceremony itself, we will emphasize this symbolism through putting on the ceremonial white robes. Throughout the rest of the day, our white outfits will communicate that we take this day to pause for renewal and celebration amidst a long and complex process of partnership.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

The beginning of the rest of our lives

Another guest post from my partner. Check out his writing on secular spirituality at his blog, The Empty Throne.

My wedding will happen in 21 days. But as far as I’m concerned personally, the beginning of the rest of my life began a little over a year ago, when my partner and I began living together. That was the day my bachelorhood ended, even though I am still technically a bachelor today. We moved in together after getting engaged six months earlier, so the domestic move was not one of trial, but of commitment. So, for me, all of the major life changes that come with marriage began on that day, not on the upcoming day of my wedding.

The above sentiment has greatly affected my hopes and expectations for the wedding. And it leads to an interesting riddle I’ve been thinking about—will I cry at the wedding?

My money is on yes. I think of myself, watching my one and only person walking down the aisle to me (walking down to a song that I also know will make me cry); I imagine myself, standing under the chuppah, looking at my life partner looking at me, surrounded by our family and friends… I tear up now thinking about it. And I know, I just know, that many times during the ceremony, I will think about how real this all feels. Real—meaning, this is happening, this is it, this is that transitional ceremony, that threshold I step through with my partner, into the adventure of life together. This is real life happening before one’s eyes, major life moment, check.

The irony should be obvious—real life is not standing under the chuppah. Transitional rituals work by serving as a discontinuity, a moment in which we mark life change by stepping out from everyday life. But “real life happening before one’s eyes” is what happens every day. The process and substance of partnered domestic life—that is the adventure of life, and I have been watching and participating in it for over a year now. Throughout the wedding planning, one of my favorite lines to repeat to my partner is that the wedding will change nothing. That the wedding, rather than move us from unmarried to married, will simply be a party we throw to celebrate something that happened last year, when our lives began again. So why this crying about the beauty of “real life” at the wedding?

The answer has to lie in the public nature of the event. If, as children, we gain our sense of self from experiencing the gaze of the other, this is surely a life-long human phenomenon. While my partner and I live day-to-day in the reality of our love and the new life together it has produced, we are almost always the only ones watching it happen. Our engagement was also something conducted privately, announced to a (mostly) unsuspecting family ten minutes later. But, when I think of the wedding, my goodness, all those faces watching us “become partners”! Nothing like an audience to make you very self-conscious. Our life together happens every single day, and I feel that reality every single day. But the wedding day is the day that our life together has its biggest audience. And, especially in our media-mediated reality, that will make it feel more real. There is just so much focus at a wedding, and the ritual, along with the gathering of family and friends, will invariably heighten our sense of life. Everyday life includes my commitment to my partner, the love and happiness, joy and excitement that life with her brings. But the wedding day— that seems to be a day solely dedicated to all this love and happiness, joy and excitement. This focus, and the step away from mundane reality that is necessary to keep such a focus, will impress the reality of it all upon me. So I expect to be crying.

Just to clear up the blind-spot lurking in this post, the wedding (with the consequent official legal/religious status of our marriage) will, indeed, change my life. When I say it will change nothing, I am thinking of life in a very small, private sense, of my day-to-day interactions with my partner. But just as the wedding holds meaning as a public event, legal/religious marital status greatly affects our experience as public individuals, which will also have its effect on us in our private lives.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

How not to start a fight, even when you really, really want to…

In the last week before our wedding, there are still several loose ends. Several decisions that still need to be made, several details we overlooked, and without doubt, many, many last minute changes. In the midst of all this stress, these conflicting values, and these deep and diverse desires, how will I maintain my sanity, pursue my vision for this event, and maintain my relationships with all my co-planners and other invested parties?

In this post, I list some advice to myself regarding how not to start fights this week, even when it seems like the obvious thing to do (as in, even when I feel frustrated, aggravated, or threatened).

1. Self esteem: Not starting fights is even more challenging in light of my last post, regarding my apparently plummeting self esteem. However, this week I will consciously try to access my calm and confidence. A wise friend gave me this advice: Take a moment every day to find the part of you that feels thoroughly strong and good. Although I haven’t been able to follow her advice as a daily practice thus far, I will try again this week.

2. Deep breathing: A pause. A moment. An interruption of the panic that can begin any time. Deep breathing is the link between #1 and #3.

3. Quiet voices: Once I take a breath and access my inner strength, I can then lower my voice. When I lower my voice, it often also means I say things that are less defensive. When I feel the need to defend myself, I speak loudly and authoritatively. But lowering my voice signals to myself, and hopefully to the person I address, that I am willing to let down my defenses, to share and listen to personal thoughts and feelings, to be vulnerable, and to compromise. I find even the slightest hint of increased harshness or increased volume in someone else’s voice to be particularly triggering during tense interactions, so I find it useful to take control of changing the literal tone of a conversation.

4. Check your assumptions: I have actually managed to address several conflicts in the past few weeks by doing the simple exercise of sharing assumptions. Once a conversation has been calmed down, I can take a step back and say, “This is how I am seeing it. Are you seeing it in a different way? Please help me understand.” This basic show and tell is essential to working through a conflict in a way that feels good and satisfies the most number of people.

5. Explore your flexibility: We have less than a week left. We cannot fix everything perfectly at this point. Furthermore, I do not intend to be a perfect person or have a perfect life, and I certainly do not need a perfect wedding.

6. Prioritize: Once I establish that I am flexible, I then have to determine what I need in the situation at hand. In what ways will the outcome affect me? What kinds of reflection, validation, or explanation do I need from the other person? How will the final decision reflect the meaning of the wedding ceremony, or my opportunity to celebrate and rejoice with so many loved ones? Identifying and expressing these priorities is not always something I can do the first time a conflict arises. I may need to take some time to reflect and then bring up the conversation again. Alternatively, I may want to enlist the other person’s help in thinking through my priorities. Either way, honestly and accurately identifying the relevant priorities is essential to finding a solution that feels good.

7. Make a decision: And stick with it. I am trying to close as many open ends as possible. I want as few details up in the air, or rattling around in my head, as possible. Conversations this week should be at least temporarily definitive. I want to make decisions, stick with them, and live with them through the wedding process. If there are any particularly strong conflicts with family or friends that I want to address later in July for the purpose of checking in and making sure our relationship is still strong, I may do that. But for now, I am here to commit, and I mean it.

If I raised my voice at you, responded harshly to something you said, or inexplicably started crying during a phone conversation with you, I apologize. And if I do so within the next week, I apologize ahead of time. I hope we can work it out. Let’s give it a try.