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Wedded Blitz! Love in the Winter of Life

Breaking down the January New York Times 'Vows' section

In all my days as a New York Times wedding-coverage enthusiast, I’ve seen many a memorable sentence. There’ve been the long Faulknerian explanations of how a great-grandfather’s ranch first came to be owned by a family; the bitchy parenthetical asides that make you long to know more about the relationship between the writer and the bride’s mother; the gloriously deadpan descriptions of bizarre occupations; and the verbal gymnastics required to create clear but polite euphemisms for “these two totally cheated on their exes.”

And then there’s this:

The bride, 97, is keeping her name.

So much intrigue in one tiny sentence! What’s the ruling on Six-Word Memoirs — do numbers count? Probably, but if not we’ve got one of the most compelling micro-novellas since “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The story (and the photo! Oh, the adorable photo) is of 97-year-old Ada Bryant and 86-year-old Robert Haire, who moved to the same Delaware retirement community with their spouses, both of whom later passed away. Haire asked Bryant, a painter, if she would do a portrait of his late wife, with whom she was friendly. She did, and the two grew closer while choosing a frame.

Their relationship deepened from there, and “even though they knew it meant they might be labeled a ‘couple’ by the other residents (a ‘couple’ being a widow and a widower who do things together)” they began eating dinner together every night. After several months Haire made the first move when he “slipped a sonnet vowing ‘friendship and affection’ beneath Mrs. Bryant’s apartment door.”

But as their relationship deepened (Bryant’s daughter reported that when she would talk to her mom on the phone, “her voice was kind of glowing”), Bryant remained hesitant about marriage. “There’s a great difference in our ages, as you can see,” she told the Times. “I didn’t think it was the thing to do because I don’t have that many years ahead of me, but he said, ‘That’s all the more reason,'” and boy oh boy is it getting kinda dusty in here.

Ultimately — after another sonnet, and a sapphire — they married at Bryant’s son’s home. “I like him very much,” Bryant explained. “I love him. So we’re going to be married.”

Those are the nicest few sentences I’ve read all month.

Ada Bryant may have played a little bit hard to get, but it was nothing compared to some of the stories this month of couples who were not immediately enamored of one another. It’s always fun when a column about how two people met throws a little bit of shade on their interactions early on. Like this one:


Although the couple had met briefly at an event in 2009, Dr. Cohen had not left any impression on Ms. Gross, and a subsequent meeting in June 2011 at a benefit event in Manhattan just barely registered. “It was a very vanilla conversation,” she said, but they learned they lived on the same Greenwich Village block.

“I didn’t take her phone number,” he said with a verbal shrug.

Wow, this might be the first thing I’ve ever read in the “Weddings & Celebrations” section that I’ve actually related to. Eh: A Love Story. But it’s also “very vanilla” in comparison to the initial meetings between a chef and the woman with whom he would ultimately open a restaurant:

The couple met at a bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in the fall 2010 [sic], and after a 10-minute chat Ms. Soule had just as much as she could take of him, even though they were both fans of the Washington Redskins of the N.F.L.

“He has a bravado about him,” she said. “The more he tried to impress me, the more he turned me off.”

Mr. Wallace was well aware of his strong personality.

“I tried to impress her with my wit and charm and failed miserably,” he said, adding, “just in general I’m a pretty arrogant guy.”

However, they had mutual friends and more chances to run into each other.

Ms. Soule managed to steer clear of him the next couple of times, but had no place to hide during a friend’s birthday bar crawl in November.

“Mommy, how did you and Daddy meet?” “Oh, honey, well, really I just had no place to hide from him. Greenpoint can be a real small neighborhood. You’ll understand one day. We both love YOU, though!”

Congratulations to this month’s winningest couples, all of whom have earned their spot on the legendary Society Scorecard (seriously, Caroline Astor’s 400 has nothing on this) with high ranks based on our proprietary NUPTIALS algorithm. Considerations include, but are never limited to, one’s lineage, schooling, career, and location of beach houses or winter chalets. A big thank-you, as always, to Alex Morrison for his help putting together the Scorecard!

Our winning pair this month met as Harvard undergraduates, and their announcement also harkened back to the old-school syntax of referring to the famously bullish brokerage house “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.” Meanwhile, January’s runners-up include a bride who is “a descendant, on her mother’s side, of William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and of Thomas Willett, the first mayor of New York.” (Other descendants of these two men, per a quick Internet search, include David Crosby and Oliver Wendell Holmes. I demand a generation-spanning HBO miniseries about this clan; if you need someone to play the part of me sitting here and painstakingly crafting this parenthetical aside, I humbly suggest Jennifer Lawrence dressed in Moon Boots and a kimono.)

Here, a few observations as stray as a bridesmaid’s once-curled sideburn tendrils after a night on the dance floor:

• Sooo, what do we think of the Times‘s weddings pages redesign? I’m personally terrified by change, but I suppose it does make things a bit easier to pore over atop a tiny brunch table. Here’s how the press release described [PDF] the nouveau “Vows”: “now with highlights of quirky and eccentric weddings.” Such as this story about Joan Lunden’s daughter, who married a man 20 years her senior whose oldest child is nearly her age. “He has a young spirit, and I’m an old soul. So we met in the middle,” the bride said. It’s like reading an alternate history of The First Wives Club.

• Joe Flacco: Super Bowl champion, MVP award winner, wacky wedding photo sensation. This article makes me want to hang out with the Flacco family: His dad accuses Joe’s four brothers of being responsible for the novelty photo shoot, which included stops at a movie theater and a football field and showcased a different side of Flacco than we normally see during games — although his father insists that the Flacco we already know is the real Flacco. “Joe is dull,” he says. “As dull as he is portrayed in the media, he’s that dull. He is dull.” Love ya, dad!

This bride works on MTV’s True Life, which rocks. “She researches episode topics,” the announcement says, leading me to imagine her in an office surrounded by color-coded binders that have things like “I’m a Staten Island Girl” and “I’m a Chubby-Chaser” hand-lettered onto the spines. Best job ever.

• The first time they met, these two came to a crazy realization: Not only did they both attend Princeton, “they had lived on the same street on the Upper West Side, with their windows practically facing each other, and had frequented the same coffee shop, yet they had never met.” No word on whether they also were concurrently reading J.Crew at the time.

• I have so many questions about a line in this “Vows” column about a Goldwater Institute communications director and her lawyer man. Describing the Facebook flirtations that preceded their first date, the article casually drops this: “And then they talked of other things: his vast knowledge of conspiracy theories and love of Velcro; her love of the poetry of Philip Larkin.” Look, I’m not one to judge — if the Times were ever to try to reduce some of my more substance-addled correspondence into a sentence like that, it would probably turn out to be something like “she spoke of many topics dear to her heart, from mandarin oranges to yurts to the paintings of Alex Katz.” We all have our vices. Still, love of Velcro? How does that one come up? “Sometimes when I get stressed out, I just close and open the wrist strap on my ski jacket again and again — that Velcro sound really soothes me after a long day of arguing about Obama’s birth certificate. Want to get dinner next Tuesday?”

• The singles scene at the Metro-North Scarsdale stop sounds surprisingly robust.

• January was, unsurprisingly, the hip month in which to get hitched in Hawaii. Four different couples got married in our 50th state; two of them even at the same venue on the island of Maui. But if you were looking for where the REAL action was, the place to be was undoubtedly Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. Just think about all the wild after-parties that must have taken place after the wedding of these two:

“When we played Scrabble with friends one night, she kept making sexual references in her Scrabble choices,” [he said]. “She didn’t mean to, but the words kept coming out that way. That made her stand out a little bit, and that she wasn’t too prim and proper.”

It was the word BOINK, wasn’t it? MELONS? It was totally MELONS. Either way, I feel like this must be their Flickr album.

• Best random celebrity cameo of the month came in this story about the marriage of former Perfect Stranger Mark Linn-Baker to actress Christa Justus: Wondering where to propose to her, he “wanted some place that was filled with love and filled with passion. And I’d gotten to know Marlo [Thomas] and Phil [Donahue], and they’re crazy for each other, and they’re wonderful people, and they are New Yorkers, and they have a beautiful home.” I look forward to home-crashing being the next hot trend in engagements. Dibs on my childhood friend Polly’s house — her backyard has a trampoline!!!

When your “Vows” column includes the phrases “fueled by yak dung,” “competitive classical pianist,” “the elder Mr. van Dalen’s pigeon coop,” and “one-week motorcycle trip,” you’re really doing all kinds of things right in life. I’d be wary of using the phrase “E-bomb” in the wrong places, though — someone might think you’re distributing molly. (Also, LOL at that CNN headline.)

• Last month I went to Ufa, Russia; on my last day there, I was headed to see the city’s big monument and was treated to a gold stretch Hummer rolling up and a bride and groom stepping out for some photos!!!! Thank you, benevolent Wedded Blitz gods! It was genuinely heartwarming to see that weddings are just as ridiculous on the other side of the world.

Wedding

• There’s an obscure clause in the original NUPTIALS rubric that gives a point if “the announcement contains a line that sounds like it’s been lifted from a cruddy résumé (‘He develops strategy for companies’).” That happens a lot, but this announcement contains what I am pretty sure is an entire copy-and-pasted cover letter. The phrases “a federally financed project in Washington that seeks to show how technology can help provide better health care at a lower cost” and “works directly with the participating communities to ensure that the technology investments are being used effectively” and “coordinates partnerships with other health-care financing and advocacy organizations” ALL APPEAR IN ONE PARAGRAPH. It’s a shame, because it totally buries the best part of this announcement: that the groom’s dad “owned the Petal Peddler, which sold flowers through carts and stalls in malls in Southern California [and] also worked for the sheriff of San Diego County as a collector of fines and other civil judgments.” Amazing! So his dad was basically the California version of the florist in The Town.

• Here are some more suitable career-path descriptions: (1) “Her maternal great-grandfather, the late Robert Butler, was a United States ambassador to Australia from 1946-48, and to Cuba from 1948-51,” and (2) this groom was Senator John Edwards’s national political director from 2005 to 2008, and then was Michelle Obama’s deputy chief of staff in 2009. Just a minor life upgrade.

• I’m quite frankly a little bit intimidated by this month’s Chosen Couple — the two of them may only be 24, but they are definitely the most badass pair to receive the special distinction. The bride went to Cornell and “received a master’s in public health, in emergency/disaster management, from Tel Aviv University in September”; her husband just finished his IDF service as “a sharpshooter for a mechanized infantry battalion just outside Gaza.” In case all of that is a bit too heavy for you, though, you can relax to the smooth stylings of SoulAviv, a “Jewish spiritual music group in Santa Barbara” led by the groom’s father and managed by his mother.

There’s plenty to mock when it comes to this article about women who plan their weddings while overlooking the small detail that they’re still single. (One woman, who is now 34, even scouted locations and reached out to a wedding planner during her 20s.)

But while some of the characters sound a little bit out there, in general, the gist of the whole thing is actually pretty benign: Most of what the piece deals with are women who have wedding-related Pinterest boards without having a ring. Which leads to this completely awesome and catty quote from one merchant of matrimony:

Claudia Hanlin, the founder of the Wedding Library, a boutique location in New York where couples can research vendors, said that one could look at Pinterest “and realize that there are far more people pinning pictures of weddings than there could possibly ever be brides.”

Oh snap! You and your Pinterest board titled “WiShFuL tHiNkInG ……… )” filled with photos of calla lilies and monogrammed napkins should pack up and go home now. Don’t you have an elderly relative to move in with and tend to or something? It’s not personal, it’s just math.

Blessedly, the Times enabled comments on this piece. (I’d read a doctorate thesis on the machinations behind the Times‘s decisions on when and when not to do this, by the way; I’m still cackling over the fact that they let people comment on this infamous marriage story when “Vows” columns rarely have that ability.) There are some real hoots, ranging from defensive wannabe brides — “I view wedding planning as much akin to fantasy football — it’s a fun way to relax and enjoy running something without the pressures of reality” — to eccentric readers like “elektra in portland,” who I chose to read in the voice of Fred Armisen as the feminist bookseller:

i’ve auditioning “readers” for my funeral/memorial service for years and frequently remind the 2 women selected to do the 2 readings how glad I am they’re my choice. (A bit weird) I’m mid 70s, but I decided on these two lovely voices about a decade or mo ago!”

And then there’s those who insist that this time could be better spent finding a fulfilling career. “Maybe they should be event planners or stage broadway shows?” suggested Reader in Wash, DC.

“Simple really — ” explained Susan in New Jersey. “Every time I told my mother some other extravagant wedding idea I had, she told me that I better study hard and get a good job to pay for it. I’m now a successful lawyer.” I really hope she explained that story at her first job interview. Gloria Steinem would be so proud.

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes

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