Imagine this: You’re at a chichi cocktail party, standing in a small circle of folks, making the usual small talk about preschool admissions and Central Park cyclists. “And what do you do for a living?” someone asks. “Oh, I’m in equity derivative sales,” says one person. “Partner at Dewey Cheatem,” says another. It goes on like this until the most powerful man in the room finally speaks. “Society editor,” Bob Woletz says. “New York Times.”
What must it be like to be this man? In my mind’s eye, this grand arbiter of marital worthiness takes on many forms: He is The Wizard behind the curtain; he is Jerry Jones glowering from the owner’s box; he is, rest in peace, Joan Rivers in a suit and tie, determining who’s in and who’s out this season.
“For better or worse,” he told Clark Hoyt, public editor of the Times in 2009, he’s the guy who decides what names and photos make it into the back pages of “Sunday Styles.” “The basic premise is that we’re looking for people who have achievements,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what field these achievements are in.”
This is true: August includes couples with bona fides ranging from being the grandson of Whitey Ford to being a Greek in the shipping business to being “a representative to the boards of several biotechnology companies in which his family’s trust holds investments.”
But only one wedding story this month was written by Bob Woletz himself,1 which means there’s only one wedding story this month that truly matters. Society. Adultery. Kennedy. The three pillars of the contemporary high-class world. I can just feel Graydon Carter seething in jealousy.
He gets all the good ones: Alec Baldwin! Patrick Stewart! These two scientists!
It took Larry David three tries to introduce Cheryl Hines, his costar from Curb Your Enthusiasm, to Robert Kennedy Jr. The first two attempts, in Banff and Deer Valley, didn’t take; it was the third try, in Aspen, that did. (Who knew that Larry David was such a li’l ski bunny?) Later, he told Kennedy, regarding Hines, that “nothing you ever do will rattle her.” (There’s totally a plotline to be mined out of that. YOU PROMISED I WOULDN’T RATTLE HER, LARRY!!!)
The article is noteworthy for its headline — “No Curbs on Their Enthusiasm” — for its Hyannistastic photo, and for the alarming juxtaposition of these two paragraphs:
By 2010, Ms. Hines had filed for divorce. Mr. Kennedy’s second wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy, took her own life in 2012.
Mr. Kennedy said he was taken with the fact that he “had never seen Cheryl do anything that seemed small or selfish. She has as much integrity as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
It’s also worth pointing out for its best-in-breed correction:
A report on Aug. 3 about the marriage of Cheryl Hines and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. included a quotation from Mr. Kennedy that referred imprecisely to Ms. Hines’s marital status when they began dating. While she was in fact still married, as he noted, she had filed for divorce several months earlier.
Too much clarification really ruins the mood, man. But more people should use language like this during confrontation. “YOU CHEATED ON ME! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO US?” “Well, in fairness, you may be referring imprecisely to ‘us.'”
That wasn’t the only wedding announcement correction to run in August, and just like that one, many of the others took on the clucking, passive-aggressive tone of a neighborhood busybody. One mother of the bride wasn’t on a charity’s board after all, she just helped with fund-raising! Another man wasn’t a director of Broadway shows, he was a mere “music director and vocal arranger”! I like to think the mild emasculation of a CNBC anchor was part of some sort of grand and convoluted Andrew Ross Sorkin–related turf war that threatens to tear commuter trains from Connecticut apart. (Either that or it was a small act of #unfollowaman solidarity by a defiant copy editor.)
The Times’s wedding announcement fact checking is notoriously thorough and stringent, but I kind of like it when they let mistakes through and then correct them like this. I’d like to see a weekend when the Times just runs, unverified, the claims that people make about themselves — and then follows it all up with polite point-by-point refutations that undermine the entire thing. Pretty much looking for something just like this.
A hearty congratulations to all of the superior citizens of the world who qualified for this month’s Society Scorecard, compiled as always using the tenets of NUPTIALS, our proprietary people-ranking algorithm. (Many thanks to Alex Morrison for his help with the visual.)
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I lied earlier when I called Bob Woletz the most powerful man in the room, because Bob Woletz has a boss, and that boss got married this August, and you’re out of your mind if you think he’s not winning.
The story here, though, isn’t that Times honcho Pinch Sulzberger wed a hotshot woman who has degrees from Princeton and Harvard, sits on the board of Whole Foods, and somehow looks about two decades younger than her age in a non-cat-eyed way. (Nor is it that this woman wasn’t whom he was “madly, and conspicuously, in love” with back in 2012.) The story also isn’t an investigation into whether the entity “Harvard Business School Program for Management Development” sounds made-up. No, the story here is that “Flash Wiley” is the best name for an officiant. And if it’s this guy, he lives up to the name.
Rounding out the top five of August: The daughter of a pre-IPO Goldman Sachs partner married a nice boy from Newport at her family’s Nantucket house; neurology wed Munchery; Cheryl Hines became a Kennedy; and a couple whose future children will be legacies at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford tied the knot. A special shout-out to the seventh-place couple on the list, who met as babies because their dads (both of whom have a III in their names) were pals. Which led to this:
Just as they once played house in a refrigerator box, Mr. Burke and Ms. Fitzgerald began having dates at each other’s home. He invited her to his Super Bowl party, and she invited him to her housewarming, where they shared their first adult kiss.
The announcement thankfully leaves out the specific locations of where they once and later played doctor. But while it seems to have mastered the art of the segue, it’s got nothing on the opening to this masterwork:
Robust, complex, balanced — such are the words that oenophiles often use in the pursuit of their passion: the obsessive, competitive world of wine.
And so, too, might a casual observer limn2 the long-term relationship of Thomas Pastuszak and Jessica Brown, a pairing of two emerging young sommeliers who began their aging process before they graduated from college.
Limn alert!!! Limn alert!!!! Is Michiko Kakutani moonlighting as a society scribe?!
The headline is “Growing Together on the Vine.” I now need a drink.
One thing I noticed in August was how many D.C. couples there were, which I guess makes sense what with the fall being election season and all. But reading through the announcements for political types can be difficult for me, because with the exception of this one dorky Young Leadership camp that I went to back in 2000 I’ve never had any exposure to the nuanced taxonomy of D.C. society. I like being able to make snap judgments on things, but I’m left at a loss.
All the job descriptions in a Washington marriage announcement sound like the most powerful careers imaginable; they also simultaneously all sound like bullshit. Like, “A disaster operations specialist for the Office of United States Foreign Disaster Assistance at the United States Agency for International Development” could mean everything, or it could mean nothing, and I have zero idea. One announcement included a position described as “professional staff member”!
Just to get a bit of a handle on things, I emailed 30 of the various descriptors to a select group of important and highly connected D.C. operatives (in other words, to a few of my friends) and asked them for rankings3 and comments.
My verbatim rankings directions: “please gut-impulse-rank these from 1-5, with 1 being ‘lol lamest paper pusher ever’ to 5 being ‘smooth operator who secretly runs the nation.’”
I learned a ton! For example, one friend noted, “Adviser and aide could really be anything — it’s the ‘editor’ of politics, or like a gated community of Florida.” Ahhh, so it’s akin to “vice-president” in finance. Noted. I was also told that being a “fellow” is like being an intern except you’re in your thirties. “Communications director” and “press secretary” garnered equivalent scores. And as for the polling and research director at the Sierra Club: “Sierra Club is so ’90s.”
“4 — this person is probably really intense,” is how one friend ranked “a director of strategy and plans for the Department of Defense in the office of the Defense secretary.” The former “senior director on the National Security Council staff at the White House” earned a 5: “This person could send a drone in to get you, or go bowling at the White House whenever they want,” my source explained. (Are you surprised that the guy left the Beltway for Harvard Business School?)
But even my sources didn’t always agree on exactly what everything meant. Like the “secretary and chief rules officer for the standing committee on rules and procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States” — ratings for this role ranged from a 2, to a 4, to a lone question mark. “OOOF,” wrote one friend. “This person talks like a robot. HOWEVER, everyone needs this person, so the power is there.”
Everything I suspected about D.C. I now know to be true.
I considered making a donation to charity in lieu of handing out these little wedding favors, but I just couldn’t resist …
• It’s usually the brides who wear white, but lately grooms have been opting for the color themselves, according to an article about the increasing popularity of white dinner jackets. (“I haven’t yet seen a guy wear a white dinner jacket who didn’t look cool,” explained one wedding planner.) These fashion-forward men have a style icon in Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a “groomzilla” who changed outfits three times during his wedding and told the Times “I want everyone to turn and see me when I’m walking down the aisle. I want my entrance.” His new bride, actress Gabrielle Union, joked awesomely to the paper that “he really Kanye’d himself and really doubled down, and it’s his princess day, and I’m just along for the ride.”
• These two may look sweet and innocent, but don’t let it fool you. The groom is “a microfabrication engineer, developing devices used to grow synthetic human organs, at the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering,” and he is marrying the daughter of “the director of the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind.” There’s no way this isn’t the start of a nefarious dystopian sci-fi plot in which we are all donated to science.
• “The bride’s father is also the president of the American Zionist Movement, which has its headquarters in New York.” I didn’t choose this couple … This couple chose me.
• It’s nice that this groom took a page out of an Adam Sandler movie when he proposed to the bride, “burst[ing] into a live rendition of ‘Grow Old With You,'” but still, kinda upsetting he didn’t use that Rick Moranis scene from Parenthood for his inspiration.
• If your bride hasn’t described you as “handsome in a husky kinglike way,” then what are you even doing with her?
• I … I can’t look away from this photo. The bride has the exact haircut and color that I strive for right now, while the groom has the exact haircut and color that I will be striving for when I’m an old woman clad in Eileen Fisher and a beaded eyeglass chain. I’m genuinely not making fun — that front swoop is next-level.
• A product development manager for Google X married a founder of “NakedRoom,” further evidence that Silicon Valley ought to have submitted for the Emmy in the reality TV category.
• If you would like your marriage announcement to make it into the Times, there are two surefire routes. One is to travel to South America: This pair met while they were both working in Venezuela, while another duo first encountered one another in an airport “just outside” Buenos Aires. (“I saw a young woman with a Stanford sweatshirt on,” the groom recalls fondly.) And while these two had already met at age 13 “at the bat mitzvah of a mutual friend in Washington,” it wasn’t until later in life that “their paths crossed in Buenos Aires, after which they traveled together to Colombia and Peru.” AND TO THE ALTAR.
• The other is to be the child of someone who works in the flight industry. This month alone we had a groom whose dad is a pilot and mom is a flight attendant (“and an author of several cookbooks about baking”); a bride whose father is a steward; and a bride whose mom is a pilot for US Airways. That last couple even met on a plane — one en route to Madagascar, where they were both about to volunteer for the Peace Corps, of course.
• Here’s your Mayflower Descendant of the Month!
• Here’s your Presidential Descendant of the Month!
• Many men have tried and failed to build a career as perfect as this one: “The groom, 37, is an actor whose work includes a 2014 Super Bowl commercial for Diet Mountain Dew and a role in the 2011 film ‘Sal,’ which was written and directed by James Franco.”
• I cracked up at: “The couple met on Myspace, which is appropriate as they are from two different worlds. Ms. Jabado is Muslim; Mr. Benowitz is Jewish.” I’d like a similar construct to be used for the couples who met on other online dating services. “The couple met on Classmates.com, which is appropriate as they were both using the Internet for the first time.” “The couple met in 2012 online through coffeemeetsbagel.com, which is appropri— you know what, I have zero idea what coffeemeetsbagel.com even is.”
• This bride directs a mountain bird-watch project, which reminded me of this tweet by Emily Gould about the saddest avian descriptor of all time: drab gray bird lacks any distinctive features. Life is meaningless and we all die alone.
• Dear lord, can you imagine a tearful Phil Simms doing a father-of-the-bride speech? “I sure am glad that she’s marrying heeeeeeem,” he’d yell. “Well, we talked about it!!!”
• August is the annual month of Maine showing up in wedding announcements, so in its honor here is a mini-Maine tournament of champions. Pre-tournament seedings are in parentheses:
(1) Married in Seal Cove, Maine, at the “summer home of the bride’s maternal grandfather, George Putnam”
(8) From Maine, but got married in Vermont
• • •
(2) Bride and groom met at Bowdoin
(7) Groom went to Bowdoin but couple now lives in Los Angeles
• • •
(3) Bride and groom met at Bates
(6) Starting a job in Portland next month
• • •
(5) Married at an aunt and uncle’s place up in Belfast
(4) Married in Kennebunkport
• • •
(1) DEFEATS (5). Sorry, islands always win.
(2) DEFEATS (3). This is not a referendum on Bates or Bowdoin, just to be clear. It’s just that …
(2) DEFEATS (1) … only in the New York Times would you find the daughter of the ambassador to Serbia marrying the son of the Unicef country representative to Uzbekistan after the two of them met at … Bowdoin.
The two questions I get most often about this column are (1) Do the people you write about ever contact you? and (2) Are you going to write about yourself? The answer to no. 1 is yes, sometimes, generally to argue that they’re deserving of a few more points. To the second my answer has always been of course — although first we’ve gotta make the cut.
We will not make the cut.
I’m not saying this with any sort of faux-humility — you guys, I’m soooo gonna fail this test — but rather because, for starters, I missed the six-week deadline on the submission website by like eight and a half hours. (It was the middle of Labor Day weekend, get off my back!) The online form still accepted my attempt, but when I set the date a gentle message that you blew it, dear popped up. Like all effective high-societal gatekeepers, the little note was withering in its pity. I don’t wish to revisit it for research purposes, but in my memory the phrase “timely manner” was involved.
With our candidacy already severely in doubt, I swung for the fences, attempting the equivalent of the MTV Rock n’ Jock Challenge’s 50-point shot. The Times is interested mainly in direct descendants of noteworthy individuals, sure, but relationships such as “adopted great-niece” or “dad’s grandfather’s uncle” must be close enough. Look, if you’re not leveraging your tenuous connections to unelected governors or the inventor of the Dopp Kit, you may as well not even bother to upload those hi-res engagement photos.
I clicked submit on the whole sad and grasping package. If anyone needed any follow-up information from me, a confirmation screen said, a representative would be sure to get in touch via the email associated with my Times account. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. I looked at the account information that popped up on the screen and chuckled mournfully: It wasn’t my email, but one belonging to a former editor and current fantasy football league commissioner whose log-in I’ve been mooching for years. (Wedding announcements and the 10-article-a-month limit do not mix.) Quelle faux pas!
It was the first time in the whole supposedly humiliating process that I felt actual embarrassment. Now I’m holding out hope that the best way to kiss the ring is to neg the queen. Karma’s a bitch, but she has a sense of humor. Unless Tony Kornheiser or, better yet, John Skipper want to make a few phone calls, only Bob Woletz can save me now.