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Wedded Blitz! The October Marriage Season

A very serious statistical analysis of the New York Times wedding section

Today is Election Day across America, and as we celebrate it by muttering obscenities about petty municipal grievances or harassing our neighbors into voting yea or nay for pet causes, it’s worth remembering that even politicians are people, too. And there may have been no better reminder recently than the New York Times wedding section, where limousine liberals and knee-jerk conservatives alike can agree on one thing: One thousand bucks just for the tablecloths? What the …? And here they thought Congress was bad.

There were many proud political papas walking their daughters down the aisle over these past several weeks. Among the fathers of the bride were Dennis Kucinich, Al Franken (whose daughter Thomasin Davis Franken was “named for his former comedy partner on the show, Tom Davis”; I look forward to the birth of Jimmye Kimmella Simmons one day), and George Pataki, whose daughter and son-in-law were this month’s overall highest-scoring couple, based largely on the strength of having the most NUPTIALS “Identifiers” of any duo that has been scored since the inception of this column. (“Facebook,” “dormitory,” “thought he was kind of a jerk,” “lacrosse,” and of course “governor,” among others, appeared in the announcement.)

Pataki and Levy are a lovely young pair, and I mean that, but there is one detail tucked into the story of their blossoming young love that I simply can’t let go unremarked upon:

Not long after the midterm exam, Ms. Pataki realized that Mr. Levy was a catch, too, and asked him to dance at a party at Toad’s Place, another New Haven bar. Then she kissed him.

Toad’s Place is not just “another New Haven bar.” Toad’s Place is a venue that was once described thusly: “With a booty cam that flashes shots of our most ridiculously decked-out classmates freaking their way to the limelight and Chester-the-molester townies around every corner, it is nearly impossible to take the place seriously. Anyone that has ever seen the production that goes on during ‘The Thong Song’ on the upper stage — the highlight being bouncers that physically remove all lingering males — can’t help but be amused.” Toad’s Place is the type to have a cafe permit yet serve only Chex Mix. I once went to a Bone Thugs-n-Harmony concert at Toad’s.

My point: Having the fact that you “asked him to dance at a party at Toad’s Place” written up in the New York Times is like being a high school freshman, sneaking out to some senior dude’s house for a rager while his parents are away in St. Barts, dropping E, going skinny-dipping, waking up in a tree wearing novelty antlers, and then going home and casually telling your parents, “Oh, Bobby just had a few people over, we had a lovely time.” Now you know, former Governor Pataki. Now you know.

Now that daylight savings has ended, it’s officially that time of year when the New York Times’ target reader is brewing a fresh one-cup of Keurig, sitting down in their well-appointed breakfast nook, flipping open the “Sunday Styles” section, and saying to their significant other: “Honey, I saw Patagonia is having their semi-annual sale and it reminded me: Where should we go skiing this winter?”

The Times knows this, which is why over the past month it tucked away some of the most perfect ski-travel service journalism you can find. We start with the marriage of Erin Darboven and Douglas Havlina, both of whom work for the Bureau of Land Management. But that’s just the bride’s Monday-through-Friday job: On the weekends, she “also does avalanche control work with the Alta Ski Patrol in Alta, Utah, set[ting] off avalanches with dynamite to reduce the risks to skiers.”

Alta is a mountain so old school that snowboarders are not allowed and the avalanche-control work is done using vintage Korean War-era military surplus shells. And so it’s no surprise that Darboven would become devoted to a man she met when she “went to Boise for a weeklong fire ecology class” that he was teaching, or that one of their first dates involved “an evening run through the foothills of the Wasatch mountains.”

As with any new couple, the pair had to battle divergent interests:

“I told her I liked to hunt big game — deer, elk and bear,” he said. “She told me of the avalanche control and skiing, and that was totally foreign to me. She didn’t understand big-game pursuits, and I didn’t know about skiing.”

But “when he recited some lines from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets,'” the former Fulbright fellow bride knew she had met her match. Before long they were riding bikes to Basque restaurants in Boise (that sounds, by the way, like the kind of line I used to have to lisp out in speech therapy; I had a rough childhood) and climbing Mount Borah, where they said their first “I love you” atop the summit, with its “sweeping views of Idaho, Utah, and Montana.” So outdoorsy. So rugged. So totally Alta.

On the flip side is Aspen, home to some pretty great skiing that is overshadowed by its ritz and glitz. If Alta is a place where fire ecologists and resource managers find each other, Aspen is one with a newspaper column called “The Princess’s Palate, which was supposed to be about food but quickly turned into a rant, a funny rant, about life as a single woman in a ski town where men outnumber women, and often infuriate them.”

The palated princess in question, Alison Berkley, “rides a pink bike and is bubbly almost to the point of being airborne”; she also “grew up in Connecticut, teaches yoga and once taught snowboarding, has a slow metabolism and terrible eyesight, a tendency to overspend on facials and shoes, and friends who are skinnier, taller, and fitter than her.” And while “she might now have the endurance for climbing mountains, she certainly has stamina when it comes to love.”

A girlfriend of mine who lives in a similar ski town once told me, when I remarked on the favorable male-female ratio, that the saying goes: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” Berkley had a similar experience in Aspen, where most men “are looking to avoid commitment.” She worried that she was “destined to be a cougar.” Instead she met, après-ski on New Year’s Eve, Ryan Margo, a man with a bike he calls Frankenstein, a former gig as a DJ and a current one as a maintenance man, and a New York Times-style knack of speaking in perfect pun form. “I burned through ladies like I was spinning CDs,” he said of his bachelor life.

You know what happens next: They meet at a restaurant called “Cache Cache” and the rest is beautiful history. So totally Aspen.

So, we know that October was a good marital month for the children of politicians, and for skiers — let’s call it Kennedy Season. Which brings us neatly to another of the featured “Vows” column couples, Victoria Anne Bonney and Joseph Kearns Goodwin. The groom grew up “steeped in politics” as the son of Doris K-G, “the presidential historian,” and Richard N. Goodwin, “a writer who advised John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.” After returning from a Bronze Star-earning tour in Iraq, the groom joined the Senate campaign of Stephen Pagliuca, an owner of the Boston Celtics, where he met his match in Victoria Bonney.

With 18-hour workdays spent in close quarters (often Mr. Pagliuca’s pink Lexus sedan, with Mr. Goodwin driving the candidate to events and Ms. Bonney sitting in back), their romance bloomed fast and evolved even faster, though it remained a secret for the duration of the campaign.

Pink Lexus? They didn’t mention that in addition to being part-owner of the Celtics, Pagliuca was also moonlighting with Mary Kay. But I digress: The couple ultimately realized just how many values they shared, and were “unafraid to challenge each other, whether over their positions on the death penalty or how soon to get the pet of their dreams, a Bernese mountain dog.”

More than 200 guests attended their wedding, among them John Kerry and a requisite Kennedy spawn (Joseph P. the III, grandson of Bobby).

Some other October observations:

  • As I’ve written before, there are no better corrections than wedding announcement corrections. My favorite one from October: The Vows column last Sunday about the wedding of Evan Wolfson and Cheng He misstated the given name of Mr. Wolfson’s mother. She is Joan Colter Wolfson, not Jean. The column also described the couple’s suits incorrectly. They were black, not brown. Yeah, rule of thumb: When reporting a gay wedding you do NOT accuse them of wearing, shudder, brown suits. That’s more damaging than this mistake.
  • This is honestly the most depressing weddings-related piece that’s ever been published in the New York Times, and I don’t say that lightly. The only way I’ve been able to get through it without having a nervous breakdown and/or losing all hope for humanity is by convincing myself that it’s just a massive hoax on the level of zippies, “swingin’ on the flippity-flop” and, most recently, bronies.
  • One of my favorite-ever pieces in Vanity Fair was this one about Deep Springs College, the 26-student, all-male “Utopia” at the California-Nevada border. This pair met “while on their way” there; I have a mental image of their first encounter involving, like, an Oregon Trail-style wagon. After their two years spent being cowboy poets at Deep Springs (seriously, just go read the article), they both finished up their education at Harvard, are now doctoral students at Princeton, and are but 25 years of age. My life feels like a failure.
  • Sometimes I wish the New York Times would publish a “The Rules”-style handbook consisting solely of the mundane-but-successful tactics used by their featured happy couples: For this bride, it was asking a cute guy at a sushi restaurant to take a picture of her table-o-ladies (“It was my single-girl move,” she said) while this guy struck gold with an “opening question [that] came straight from his New York heart: ‘So you’re an opera singer, what’s up with that?'” This is gold, Jerry, gold!
  • A few wonderful moments in parents’ job descriptions: First we had this groom’s father, an engineer for “Hillenbrand Industries, the company in Batesville, Ind., that makes hospital beds and coffins.” Listen, while I can appreciate the moxie of the enterprising young McKinsey executive who pinpointed those two industries as great candidates for horizontal integration, let’s just say I’m going to be checking any and all hospital beds of loved ones for the word “Hillenbrand” from now on. Do they even bother to move the body from one resting space to the next, or does the whole contraption just morph at the touch of a button? Profiting from the other end of the life cycle is this groom’s mother, “an astrologer in Long Island City who specializes in horoscopes for newborns.” Amazing. Whether this is short-term advice like, “Your baby was born under the sixth house of Jupiter rising; expect lots of poop,” or longer-term outlooks such as, “With Mercury in retrograde during your labor, your child will grow into a searing disappointment” is unclear; either way, it’s impossible to be wrong. (Though as someone who purchased the AstrologyZone iPhone app and checks my monthly horoscope at approximately 12:01 a.m. on the first of every month — right after saying “rabbit rabbit,” of course — I probably shouldn’t poke fun.) And then there are the parents of groom Jonah Crane: “The bridegroom’s mother teaches eurhythmy, a system of rhythmical body movements performed to a recitation of verse or prose, at the Rudolf Steiner School, a private school in Manhattan. His father is the athletic director at the Green Meadow Waldorf School, a private school in Spring Valley.” I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that those are not exactly the same jobs.
  • Speaking of jobs, this groom’s mother “was until May the president of Heights Casino, a tennis and squash club in Brooklyn.” Yay, I’ll take any chance I can get to link once again to the most insane NYT article of all time, one in which the Heights Casino is even more specifically described as “a private athletic club and renowned squash factory.”
  • Genuinely my favorite announcement of the month was this one; I could have read a 10,000-word treatment on these two. “The couple exchanged rings made of titanium (their favorite element)” — incredible. The best part is that the semi-sports celebrity reveal at the end really could not be more unexpected.
  • October’s best names: Nicole Love Popov (that must have been a hit freshman year); Benjamin Cake II, and his new father-in-law, L. Hardwick Caldwell III. (Gotta one-up him like that, huh?) Between brides named Weatherly and Hemmendy we have enough fodder for a kickass double dactyl. And props to the one announcement that alone had Laura Phinizy Nix (daughter of Maybeth Spalding Nix and Ivey Lewis Nix) marrying Gibbs Patton Fryer (son of Sade Dabbs Fryer and William Byrd Fryer). Oh, how I love you, The South.
  • After years of reading wedding announcements, I’ve become so jaded that when I see lines like “the couple met in 2009 when their summer shares — which happened to be in the same house but began at different times — overlapped one weekend in the Hamptons” I just find myself sympathizing with whatever poor drunken soul arrived back late from the Talkhouse on that overcrowded Saturday night to a house with no open beds and ended up having to sleep on a pool chair.
  • What is it with male ballet dancers overcompensating by being “bad boys” who ride motorcycles? Cooper Nielson is a fictional character, people! First we had one back in August, and now comes another mancer who also wooed a ballerina by “pick[ing] her up on my motorcycle” and OH MY GOD I JUST REALIZED THE TWO MEN ARE BROTHERS. You can’t make this stuff up if you try.

Katie Baker is a staff writer for Grantland.

Previously from Katie Baker:
The Rise of the Female Distance Runner
Benching Ovechkin
The Horrible Habs
Coming to Grips With the Winter Classic
The Endless Battle Over Hockey Fights
Week 1 in the NHL
How to Pick an NHL Team

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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