2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

My favorite parts of wedding planning

3. Creating our song list

It was challenging. Actually, quite challenging. There was probably more yelling than necessary, and some tears of frustration might have just about surfaced. But let’s face it, my partner and I love music, and we totally love dancing. We wrote the first draft of our song list within a week of getting engaged and then, a year later, when we actually needed it for practical purposes, could not find it. No problem; we started over. I think that creating the songlist was quite emblematic of a lot of the wedding planning process because it required an extremely delicate mix of considering my tastes, my partner’s tastes, what will please our parents, what will rouse our guests, and what will be most in line with our values (which in this case, include dancing, and lots of it). I think I am also still quite nervous to see how it will play out since, now made, this list is literally in the hands of our DJ.

2. Making the seating chart

Seriously, the seating chart was one thing I have been most excited about since the beginning of the process. I just couldn’t do it until now because I didn’t know exactly who was coming and who was not coming. I love making the seating chart because I love all the people who are coming to the wedding. I am having the wedding in the first place because I want these people to come celebrate with us. Making the seating chart is the one task in which I get to bask ahead of time in the glorious presence of all these friends and relatives. Each person matters, each person needs their seat. Furthermore, I can see the networks that we have supporting us, the webs of people that become so important to my decisions about who will sit where and with whom. It appears a pretty easy task of counting to ten (as in, ten seats at a table), but as I complete this task I am filled with joy at the physical promise that all of these people will be in the same room together, dancing with me.

1. (Re)writing our ceremony

Tonight we met with our friend the rabbinical student who will be officiating our wedding ceremony. Designing the wedding ceremony has been by far my favorite part of the entire wedding planning process. My partner and I are very verbal people—words mean a lot to us. Jewish tradition and liturgy also has meaning for us, but in a very complex way. In planning the ceremony we have carefully and critically considered each gesture, each blessing, each process. We are taking into account Judaism, feminism, humanism, our families’ tastes and our personal styles. It feels like us, like the core of what all this fuss is about. (Re)writing the ceremony is the one part of the wedding planning process that draws on our strengths as writers and as people actively engaged in reimagining spiritual and symbolic practices.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Navigating Family Dynamics

When my partner and I first got engaged, I went to my hometown public library and checked out three books on Jewish weddings. I read only one of them, and had to return it before I got the chance to write down and follow-up with any of the ideas it gave me. One particular piece of wisdom in this book, a suggestion that seemed forced and unnecessary at the time, I now regret ignoring. This wisdom was found in the section of the book addressing family dynamics.

One of the most difficult and inaccurate myths about weddings (in my humble opinion) is the idea that “this is your day.” A lot of well-meaning, earnest, and excited people have explained to me some variation on the idea that the wedding is all about me and my partner and that we should get what we want out of the day. They have said this to me maybe to encourage me to voice my desires, or maybe to comfort me that all the hard work and stress will be worthwhile because in the end I will have something that is completely mine, or maybe just because they had heard it said before and figured it might be a nice thing to say.

I rarely had a good response when people said that to me in the past. But now I say to all of them: That’s not true. The day is not just about me, or just about my partner and me, or just about our relationship. It’s about who we are, where we’ve come from, and the people who have been our role models, our guides, our sources of encouragement and support, and, in no small ways, our lifelines. It is about us; it is about our parents; it is about family.

And by “family” I mean everything so often meant by “family”: love; mess; drama; complex family histories; collaboration and conflict across political, religious, and aesthetic divides; yelling; crying; and still a whole lot of unconditional love.

The book I read on Jewish weddings recognized that parents and families are an important part of the process. The piece of advice that the book offered (that I foolishly ignored) is this: Sit down with your parents early on in the wedding planning process for a “visioning” conversation. The couple could sit down with all their parents at once if possible, or different parents at different times. Start by inviting everyone to share some feelings about the wedding planning process. Then have people share what they are most looking forward to—what elements of the wedding are most important to them. From there, a conversation about details can develop. What specific parts of a wedding does each person really want, or really not want, or really want to do a particular way? Everything shared during this conversation can be adjusted, reconsidered, and changed; but everything must be heard. I can see now, from my vantage point at the near-end of this process, how powerfully such a conversation could open up the lines of communication and create a collaboration of mutual respect and care.

Although we did not sit down with our parents for the purpose of such a crafted and carefully facilitated family conversation, many of the intentions of this conversation did inform our wedding planning. We tried to respect each others’ desires, identify points of contention and ways to compromise, and understand that no one person and no one couple had to have everything go their way.

But at this point of the process, I am struggling to find a way to compensate for the lack of extreme openness and, clearly, that certain element of touchy-feely-ness that the above conversation might have precipitated. A few ideas float through my head, the most prominent one is this: What if I try to facilitate an analogous conversation on the Friday night before the wedding (two nights before our Sunday wedding)? We will be having a small family dinner, mainly parents and siblings and us. While simply sitting together for a small, intimate meal will, I hope, help us develop a family connection that we will build on throughout the weekend, the facilitator/community-leader in me wants to come prepared with some go-round questions, for example, asking everyone to share what they are most looking forward to for the wedding weekend, or one hope they have for the weekend, or one thing they have been thinking about most in the week leading up to the weekend. Any suggestions would be welcome!

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

“I promise we will not get in a huge fight over your wedding”

I have great friends. The wedding-planning process has made me realize lots of things, including this fact.

Before getting engaged, I also knew that my friends are great. But planning this wedding has made me feel so vulnerable in so many ways, and this vulnerability has really allowed me to new explore aspects of my friendships. Maybe it’s that my fears and anxieties feel so strong and so urgent that I am voicing them more often. Maybe it’s that my communication skills are getting both strained and strengthened in many ways on a regular basis. Maybe it’s that my friends are kind, insightful, generous, loving people. (Yes, you!) Whatever it is, I have really benefited from all kinds of support from my friends during this process.

The “promise” at the title of this post is just one example of such support. As I told a friend about my anxieties regarding the “social politics” of the wedding process, she stopped the conversation and firmly committed to me that she would not fight with me through the process of wedding planning or over something occurring at the wedding itself. She just said it. She took responsibility. And it made so much sense to me. It was such a comfort. She wasn’t saying it descriptively—it was not a guess or a hope. This particular friend and I certainly conflict on occasion, so it was not unimaginable that we might fight over the next several months (it was March at the time). She was assuring me that she would actively take steps to not get into a fight with me. Of course, that does not mean I am being careless with our friendship. On the contrary, I feel a heightened commitment to enhancing the positive aspects of our friendship and enjoying the positive roles she is taking in the wedding process.

Living free from the fear that those closest to me might put our friendship on the line at any moment has been incredibly empowering. I could describe many other examples of the ways in which my friends have expressed forgiveness, understanding, and genuine support for my personal decisions even when they disagree, even if they disagree avidly. All in all what it comes down to is this: I can throw myself into wedding planning (and, in thirty days, the wedding itself) with the freedom to embrace vulnerability, explore anxiety, respect fear, and feel empowered that whatever goes right or wrong, those who love me will continue to love me, and I will continue to have their support.

And they, I can assure you, will continue to have mine.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Focus on the Marriage, not the Wedding

I had a moment this afternoon that justified my decision to spend one month writing about weddings on a blog that is dedicated to explorations of sex education. I was at a meeting of people who work as sexuality educators in various capacities around the state, reviewing Sex Ed curricula. The leader of the group, who has spent decades working as a sexuality educator and advocate, was talking about the need for education that is inclusive of students who come from a variety of backgrounds, including, in this case, conservative Christian backgrounds with abstinence-until-marriage values. As advocates of comprehensive sexuality education for all students, we need to learn to reach those students also, she explained, and in a way that respects and builds on the strengths of their cultural backgrounds. Then she commented about how even individuals who do pursue abstinence until marriage have the right to learn how to have a healthy romantic and sexual relationship during marriage.

Then she brought up weddings. With all the focus on weddings these days, she asked, who is focusing on the marriage? The young couple is caught up in a storm of wedding planning, and then after the wedding, are they prepared for the marriage? Are those people who helped them plan the wedding and enjoyed the colors and flowers still around to help them navigate the challenges of partnership and the pursuit of shared life?

I started nodding vigorously as this woman and another colleague sitting next to me both elaborated on this point. Eventually she noticed my nodding, and I felt the need to explain, “I am getting married in 31 days.” And I was relieved that my disclosure was not the conversation-stopper it sometimes can be. She picked right up on the theme—

“Have you and your partner thought about what life will be like after marriage, and how getting married will have an impact on your life?”

Have we? Will it? How am I supposed to know if we are prepared for marriage, and what that would even mean?

To be fair, we have had many conversations about life after the wedding, the meaning of marriage, and the specific and serious nature of the commitment we are making to each other. But this woman, herself married for possibly longer that I have been alive, was talking about something I can only now imagine.

I consider myself pretty well-versed in the language of relationships, but the more life experience I get, the more I realized how many vital topics are so often left out of high school sex ed.

Marriage. So much more than just a wedding.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

My June Journey: 30 Days of Blogging, Working and Wedding Planning

June has 30 days, and I have decided to write a short blog post for all 30 of them—or at least to write one post for every day during which I have Internet access. Why? These are the 30 days leading up to my wedding. The wedding ceremony will be on July 3, so July 1 marks the day the families start arriving and conjoining and, in addition, the day I go to the mikveh, where I will immerse myself in water to mark the transition.

Throughout the past months, when June was mentioned in a conversation, I would think to myself (or remark out loud) that I have little imagination for what June 2011 will be like, feel like, entail. Excitement? Insanity? Overwhelm? Calm? I’m curious. Slightly nervous, but mostly really curious. I also feel that June might go by so quickly, with so much jumping from one thing to the next, that as the next months come and go, I might not remember what June felt like. And I want to remember—partly because I am grossly enthralled by this phenomenon of bridedom and wedding prep, and partly because I want to pursue a way to feel centered during this time. I hope that introducing this daily opportunity to write will give me a structure in which to reflect, to be with my emotions and to contextualize them.

I want to add that during the 30 days of June, I will not only be blogging and wedding planning, but also working as a research assistant and serving as the Health Education intern at a local public school district. I will likely be feeling a lot, and a lot of different feelings, throughout this month.

This month on my blog I will be trying lots of different things. For one, I have never before tried to blog daily. I imagine that blogging every day will mean that the content of my posts are very different. I am entering this process in order to record my thoughts and feelings in the moment, which is clearly a much more personal endeavor than my previous posts about my job, volunteer work, and opinions on current events. I hope that you, as a reader, will find some of these posts interesting and, above all, that you will comment. The words of my friends, families, colleagues, and allies have been a source of motivation, inspiration, and hope for me throughout my life and especially during the wedding-planning process, so I expect June to be no different. I look forward to hearing from you.

And with that, let these 30 days begin.

2. Weddings, Marriage, & Divorce

Wedding-planning While Feminist

Chloe’s blog post on Feministing last July put into perspective some of my recent thoughts regarding weddings and wedding-planning—and even marriage itself. It’s good to know that so many other self-identified feminists chose marriage and pursued wedding planning, and it’s good to hear them write about the ups and downs of it. In this post, I will mostly share passages of what moved me from Chloe’s piece and from the comments section. Perhaps in the weeks and months to come I will write more posts on this topic…

Here’s the conflict: As a young feminist, I learned about the history of the heterosexist institution of marriage, about the patriarchal systems that rests on this institution. Chloe writes:

And try as I might, I can’t help thinking of marriage as something that traps women, something that, despite my best efforts, will take away some of my freedoms. Perhaps it’s my personal fear of morphing into a woman I don’t want to be, a woman who doesn’t have the time or energy to prioritize the things that matter most to her, but like some fellow young feminists, I worry about how hypothetical marriage might change me.

Chloe is describing her experience at her cousin’s wedding. She knows her cousin is a feminist who, like Chloe, understands the feminist critiques of marriage and wedding rituals. With that social and self-awareness, what devout feminist would decide to get married? Well, Chloe’s cousin did:

Here they were on a warm July evening, under the chuppah, getting married all the same. Here they were, making this choice together, bringing two families together not for the traditional purposes of sharing wealth and power, but to add new members to each family – a daughter-in-law whom the best man called his “new big sister” and a son-in-law who had already lived for a year under his in-laws’ roof, just like a son.

Marriage can be about something else, something besides a father “giving away” a daughter and a man “gaining ownership” over a woman. Marriage is, when coordinated in a certain way and orchestrated by certain cares and values, about intentional family. Brianna comments:

Marriage needs to be opened up . . . marriage is a way of telling the world, this is my family. This man, or woman, or people, they are my family, even though I’m not their biological relation nor are we connected by adoption . . . and I have only their best interests at heart. And you, my family, should respect that and treat him as your kin too.

Here is the dream I had since my partner and I first started discussing the possibility of a wedding:

One of the nice things about being a feminist is taking shitty institutions that have traditionally given women a raw deal and making them progressive, personalized, and fun.

However, one bride takes on this opportunity to reinvent, and make the wedding personalized in her own feminist way, by not caring “what others think”:

As the “fiance,” I’ve come to discover that, while this role is circumscribed by icky stereotypes, this actually makes me feel more free. The fact that women in these roles are damned if you do, damned if you don’t anyway means that you can do anything you want . . . because we are trying our darndest not to care what others think, it’s much easier.

Part of my challenge in planning my own wedding is that I do care what others think. I profoundly care what my partner thinks, and I care what my partner’s parents think, and I care what my parents think. I even care about what my friends think. I especially care about what my brother thinks. I want people to enjoy our wedding, and also to feel comfortable. At the same time, I want us to be able to express ourselves. But our wedding will not be an expression of only our own values. Since we want our wedding to be about family, our families (and friends-who-are-family) are critical parts of the process of planning and creating this celebration. So it’s not just mine, or mine-and-my partner’s. In an ironic twist, the very value that Chloe identifies as redeeming the wedding as a process to be reclaimed by feminists—family—also means that our wedding will be a little less explicitly “feminist” in favor of incorporating our family in key ways. I know more than anything that it will be a wedding of feminists—but what would qualify it as a “feminist wedding”?