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Wedded Blitz! Rise of the Machines

Computer dating, Chosen Couples, and the rest of the New York Times 'Vows' section explained

These days, asking two lovebirds an innocent question like “So, how did you two meet?” can be as fraught as asking a college senior what they’ll be up to next year. You’re either giving someone an opportunity to happily babble on cue, or you’re making them sigh with a heavy look that says here we go again.

It’s not that people don’t want to tell the story of how they got together — they do. It’s just that it can be hard when they’re one of the rapidly growing numbers of happy couples who have met [lowers voice to a whisper] online. These days it’s not just Match.com that pairs people up, either: It’s things like “Oh, well, he followed me on Tumblr for months” or “We both commented on the same blog.” As someone who has long made friends (and “friends”) online, I fully support this. If I were a wedding section editor, though, I might be freaking out.

One of the things that makes meeting via the Internet so great is also what makes the resulting unions so difficult for the people trying to seek out the dramatic narrative. You spend so much time stalking profiles and then sending witty e-mails back and forth to your “matches” that, if things go as planned, by the time you actually meet in person you feel like you’re just two old compatible souls. That, combined with a lot of people wookin’ pa nub online actually being serious about settling down, removes some of the drama from the equation. I can just imagine two people sitting down with a Times reporter:

Bride: And we agreed to meet for dinner, and we just hit it off — all those e-mails, it was like, I didn’t have to go through all the usual boring chitchat.
Groom: Yeah, it was like, I already knew about her siblings from her blog posts, and all her recent vacations from her Instagram, so we could just get right to the important matters at once, like how I really want to practice elimination communication with my kids.
Bride: I’ve already started Pinteresting cute bowls!
Reporter: Wait, so — was there ever a moment where the relationship seemed in doubt? Any races to the airport to try to stop her from boarding a plane?
Groom: What? Oh no. We were matched on 97 levels of compatibility, so we got along great from the start.
Reporter: But wasn’t it difficult, having to admit to your family and friends that you met on the Internet?
Bride: My mom makes $75 an hour spamming affiliate marketing links into comment sections.
Groom: Our friends join flash mobs.
Bride: Everyone’s really happy. I actually don’t think we know anyone who met analog.

What’s the Times to do? Well, based on the month of April, it looks like they’ve got a few tactics.

Make social media the hero

João Crisóstomo, “a butler to members of New York society” including Jackie O, was once a carefree Portuguese expat living in London and lusting after a young Yugoslavian lady in the early ’70s. But life, marriage, and a move to Brazil got in the way, and decades later he had lost touch with Vilma Kracun. He even enlisted diplomatic assistance in the late ’90s: “When a friend from Portugal became the ambassador to Yugoslavia, Mr. Crisóstomo asked him to look for her. She became elusive.”

You know where this is heading. On Valentine’s Day 2011, Mr. Crisóstomo got a call from his former sister-in-law. “She and her daughter had discovered Ms. Kracun on Facebook. A search engine had ended the search.” Viva the Zuck!

Counter with some old-fashioned meet-cutes

This month we’ve had a couple who met while taking flying lessons and a pair who didn’t even realize they worked for the same company until they met while taking a surfing class in Laguna Beach. (Obligatory “JESS’CA!”) All of those Cosmo articles that say to sign up for zany classes to Find A Man were right, after all.

Raise the dramatic stakes

“Mr. Mabe said he was about to cancel his [Match.com] account when he received an email matching him with Ms. Roberts.” This sort of line crops up from time to time and it always reminds me of some scene out of an old cyber-terror movie like The Net where someone is trying to transfer data to a disk and there’s a really dramatic scene involving a slowly moving status bar. It’s like “HIS CURSOR WAS HOVERING OVER THE CANCEL BUTTON … UNTIL A NEW HEART ICON CANCELED THOSE PLANS.”

Show social media who’s boss

After making a bet with her friend that she could go on 100 dates in 100 days (“I assured the restaurant owner that I wasn’t the world’s oldest hooker”) 55-year-old Twist Phelan looked through profiles of men who hadn’t contacted her on a dating site.

As the faces flashed by, something clicked. She saw Mr. Chapple, who had blue eyes and tousled red hair. His profile said he owned an investment firm and lived in Boulder, Colo.

“This guy looked cute,” she said. “I wondered why he didn’t write me. I checked his preferences: no lawyers, not taller than 5-4, no blondes, must downhill ski. I’m a 6-foot-tall blond lawyer who doesn’t alpine.” Unabashed, she e-mailed him: “Why didn’t you write? I’m perfect for you!”

The same thing happened with another older couple:

At the end of the date, Mr. James pointed out that Ms. Weaver must not have read his profile very closely, because he had specified that he was looking to meet someone within 30 miles of Cincinnati, and Louisville is about three times the distance away.

“I don’t read instructions well,” she responded.

So naughty! But also, I feel like the Times is trying to disrupt the online dating industry for boomers in particular!! You read it here first. Maybe it’s because they don’t want all their senior subscribers pairing off and consolidating their print subscriptions.

Remind everyone of the pleasures of the flesh

“When he hugged me, I think my heart was in my feet,” said one bride.

“It sounds almost storybookish, but it felt like I could finally feel my heart beating,” said another. “Normally, you go around life, you don’t think about your heart beating, but I could feel it in my chest. It felt like it was growing.”

This is the equivalent of that Wendy’s commercial where the annoying smug lady is like: “I don’t want to tweet it — I want to eat it.” The New York Times just wants you to share things with your taste buds, not your social networks. Got it?

Here is this month’s Society Scorecard, which uses our proprietary NUPTIALS algorithm to suss out the couples who have gone above and beyond the call of marital duty. (A huge thanks, as always, to Friend of Grantland Alex Morrison for helping to put the Scorecard together!) This month there were several badasses on the leader board who are or were tasked with protecting the country and yet still found the time (and the inclination!) to pursue other interests.

The no. 14-ranked groom served in the Marines and now teaches national security policy while working in robotics. I got really excited that his bride was the real-life Zero Dark Thirty lady, but sadly she is not. (That would have been amazing casting, though.) Still, she’s an analyst in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and she has a “certificate in Serbo-Croatian from the Defense Language Institute,” which sounds like an excellent premise for a ’90s political thriller.

Right behind them in the rankings is former Army captain Matt Mabe, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his wife, Megan Roberts, an officer with the foreign service. The groom “is writing an academic study about the 2011 merger of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center-Bethesda that is to be taught at Harvard’s business school and at the school of government.” (He has a Columbia journalism degree in addition to a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.)

Even the month’s top couple has ties to national defense: the groom, Forbes Reynolds McPherson, “is known as Renny,” and until 2007 served in Iraq with the Marines. Like Mabe, McPherson has spent time in Cambridge (he’s a Harvard graduate and earned his MBA there as well), and is also an author (of “the monograph ‘An Economic Analysis of the Financial Records of Al Qaeda in Iraq'”). But that’s not all:

The groom’s mother, an actress, played Lillian Raines on “Guiding Light,” the CBS soap opera, from 1983 to 2009, and appeared in the film “Black Swan.” She is the author of a memoir “Changing Shoes” and wrote and performed a one-woman play based on the book. His father is a founder and a managing partner of Teton Associates, an executive search firm in Manhattan and Hobe Sound.

The groom is a great-grandson of Stephen Mather, the Chicago industrialist who was a founder and the first director of the National Park Service.

Now we’re cooking with gas. Throw in a Jupiter Island wedding to a woman who graduated magna cum laude from Brown and worked for the Clinton Foundation in Rwanda until January and you’ve got the makings of a true no. 1 couple. We salute you!

And now for the something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue …

• Don’t you wish you could mash up various weddings sometimes? Like, it would be awesome if groom Cornelius Van Schaack Armentrout could mingle with grandmother-of-the-bride Mrs. Hampton Pitcher Stewart (who simply has to be the American South version of the Dowager Countess and Olenna Tyrell).

• I’m just going to present this here without comment or context, because it’s presented in the article without comment or context.

A few months into their relationship, in a poetry class, Myriah was moved to write “Lobster Salad” (excerpted here):

muscle baby legs, red rock roe, white claw flesh
roughly slopping in oil
egg yolk
tarragon twigs.
I finish up
when you walk in
barefoot as a cool stone slab
all man and mass

Within a few months, Mr. Kulin said he couldn’t help but notice that “Myriah was falling in love with me.”

• “There is nothing frivolous about my work,” says a man who charges up to 900 bucks to professionally preserve wedding dresses.

• Absolutely a first-ballot unanimous selection for the Lesley Stahl Lipstick Award this month. Anne Hathaway is going to start bringing a tattered copy of the picture to her stomatognathic stylist and being like “Give me this.”

• It would be pretty cool to have a whole county named after your great-grandfather and everything, but having the same name as a place swarming with Florida swing voters has got to be a pain in the ass every election cycle. It’s a wash!

• If Christopher Guest made a mockumentary of Nancy Meyers adapting a Joshua Ferris novel into an Office Space meets You’ve Got Mail screenplay (An Office Park to Remember, maybe), it might sound a bit like the announcement for Elizabeth Sidel and Christopher O’Neill. Both the bride and groom work for a fake-sounding company in Delaware (she “part-time” and he as the CEO and founder), and they met “on the street in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as they were all looking for the same conference center.” He stared at her business card for years after that. She added him on LinkedIn and noticed something she considered to be a “romantic” sign: “On his profile it says it was his birthday that day.” Then her e-mail was hacked, and he “looked at it as an opportunity to reach out.” It’s just a missed opportunity that the phrases “circle back,” “leverage our resources,” and “deliver the ask” don’t appear anywhere in the story — but I guess we need to save something for the film.

• I have a vague sense of what the children of this couple might look like.

• Perhaps the best Chosen Couple yet: Rachel Isaacs, the “campus rabbi” at Colby College, married Melanie Weiss, the communications associate for a Portland, Maine, advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews. The announcement contains three rabbis, a doctor, two master’s degrees in Jewish studies from women’s colleges, Maine, Prospect Park, and a hilarious correction. This really ought to have been a 5,000-word feature.

• Are the lead photos in some sort of arms race to see who can make me feel the most confused and uncomfortable? This one is pretty standard in its way, I guess, but what’s the deal here? Why are they chilling in work clothes on the floor? I kind of miss the days when a Will Ferrell or a goat photobomb was about as wacky as you could get.

• The juxtaposition between the content of the third and fourth paragraphs in this announcement is pretty darkly hilarious.

• A Lincy and a Lancy got married on the same day, which is kind of like how my high school lacrosse team had a Connie, Kakkie, Cookie, and a Katie all on the practice field at once.

• Have you ever felt a little bit awkward at a party? You know, really related to that National lyric that says “looking for somewhere to stand and stay / I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away”? We’ve all been there, felt the big anxieties of small talk and the perceived magnetism of our own insecurities. All eyes have been on us, we’ve assumed as we endlessly circumnavigated a room, even as we’ve scarcely been noticed at all.

And so it was for one bride who went to a party with her boyfriend:

Though the word [love] itself was not spoken, the feeling did manifest itself, as in the time he took her to a party for one of his friends. She knew almost no one other than Mr. Wong and felt utterly out of place. Afterward, she apologized for not being more outgoing.

She said he smiled and reassured her with comforting words. “I may not like every part of you,” he said, “but I accept all of you.” Ms. Hsieh later said that she “literally could feel my heart and soul heal from his words.”

What is this guy, a shaman? That’s almost chilling. I think I’d rather get the Angry Sorority Girl response. (According to the article, the groom is a big Justin Bieber fan, though, so who knows — maybe he was just reciting some other entry scrawled in the guestbook of a tragic historical would-be Belieber.)

After reading this article I’m kind of furious at my parents for not running “a traveling carnival in Florida” when I was a young girl so that I could have a wedding “under giant pinwheels” that featured a 70-year-old chimp named Cappy.

• Which is your favorite line from April? (1) “When I saw that it was her, I immediately had an internal grin on my face,” or (2) “But they agreed that ‘cook’ was a noun, not a verb”? I vote no. 2. Maybe “cook” is just doing a vacation home swap with “summer”! Now I’m thinking of lame puns involving “Verbier,” which means that it’s time to wrap up.

Ruth Graham recently wrote a great essay for the Poetry Foundation about the troubles of finding the perfect thing to orate at a wedding.

A wedding poem can’t be too irreverent, too abstract, too weird, too long, or too sexual. It must speak to a private relationship in a public setting. (The poet’s own private lives mustn’t be too distasteful, either: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath are out.) Your grandmother should enjoy it, but so should your friends. Like the baby names favored by couples who have wildflower-and-mason-jar weddings, the poem must somehow be classic and unusual at the same time.

Her timing was impeccable: I noticed this month that the New York Times has started to spill the beans on what people are having read at their ceremonies. This kind of information has long been disclosed in longer Vows columns, like this one about Twist Phelan and Jack Chapple. (“The ceremony began with a reading from ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by a fellow crime writer, Jan Burke, who became a Universal Life minister for the event.”) But it’s starting to crop up even in short run-of-the-mill announcements. These two grooms went with “Touched by an Angel” by Maya Angelou. The ceremony of this couple “included a reading of ‘Union,’ an essay by Robert Fulghum.”

I’m all for describing every last detail, but at first something about this almost felt too personal. Are you going to tell us about the awkward jokes cracked by the best man, too, or the name of that one high school guy friend’s plus-one who thought it was OK to wear white? (Why is there always a girl who shows up at a wedding in white? It’s like the one rule you have to remember.) I’d rather get a few lines of info about the hors d’oeuvres or the shady bridal-party hookups, myself.

On second thought, whatever: I’m all for it. This has amazing potential for lazy brides and catty readers alike, and that’s pretty much the target demographic for the whole damn industry. Hell, make it a standard part of the announcement: name, parent names, occupation, education, and also a total public callout of whatever weepy or offbeat prose you selected, thanks to all those hours of trawling WeddingBee.com, to honor your relationship. Oooh, and then it’s only a matter of time before we start getting transcripts of the couple’s homemade vows. I can see it now:

Our love is like a macaron
A colorful and festive treat
Light and airy, était très bon,
And purchased on a Paris street.

I already know what I’ll be going with when my Big Day comes: a verse from the instant modern classic “Lobster Salad.”

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes