February 13, 2003
Step aside, gentlemen. You will have no interest in this column, I guarantee it.
Okay, girls. It's about the wedding pages. Come on, admit it, how many of you turn to those pages in the Styles section of The New York Times every Sunday morning? No matter what else is going on in the world -- and these days, Lord knows, there is plenty -- it is the first section I turn to every week. Even the most well-educated, sophisticated and accomplished women I know -- friends and professional colleagues -- read these pages religiously. Together, we can dish about some of the couples, particularly those portrayed in the Vows feature, as if we knew them ourselves and had just attended the wedding. "Can you believe she met him at a bar?" "What was she thinking when she picked out that hideous dress?" "They got married on a ski slope?" To quote the mother of one of the men featured in the first gay commitment announcement, "Oy vey!"
A former colleague of mine referred to the wedding pages as the "women's sports pages." The difference being, of course, that on the wedding pages, everybody is a winner.
The pages are such a draw for women, and perhaps particularly for Jewish women, that one of the ads that appears fairly regularly on the main wedding page reads as follows: "WOMEN [in large, bold print]. Are you feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated and unfulfilled? Is your personal relationship less than you would like it to be?" And so on. "If the answer is yes to any one of these questions, then the 'Kabbalah for Women' course at the Kabbalah Centre of New York is for you!" Clearly, stressed out, neurotic and mystically challenged women constitute the wedding pages' target audience.
In an effort at full disclosure, I will admit that I placed my own wedding announcement in The Times. But I got married at a time when The Times' wedding announcements were a much more low-key affair. There was no Styles section, nor a designated spot where you could find the announcements each week. I got married on Thanksgiving, which of course was a Thursday, and so my announcement ran the next day, in an obscure part of the Metro section where no one except me and my parents could find it. Why'd I do it? What can I say? I'm a journalist; I've always wanted to make it into The New York Times.
But there's no way I'd make the cut today. First of all, I don't have a glamorous enough picture, nor the right kind of pedigree to go with it. And besides, I met my husband on a blind date. What kind of a story would that make?
So what is it exactly that attracts me to these announcements? It's not as if I actually know any of these people, although once in a while I'll recognize the name of a former colleague or classmate. Most of the time, the people on the pages are so ridiculously wealthy or overly educated or their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, that there's no way I would ever cross paths with any of them.
Sure, there's the element of sheer voyeurism. It's a glimpse into the lives of the rich and not-so-famous at one of their happiest moments. It's also like reading a series of romantic 19th-century novels in miniature -- as in Jane Austen, where the entire point of a woman's existence was to get married -- and to marry well -- and where everything always ends up happily ever after. Or so it would seem. At least Austen had a sense of irony.
As I get older, I find myself reading the wedding pages much the way my mother does. I look for the Jews. Yes, my eye goes straight to the Jewish names in the headlines. Then I look to see if it's two Jews marrying each other. Then I look to see if a rabbi is officiating. I quietly bemoan every mixed marriage, and every ceremony that a priest conducts with a rabbi "participating" -- or vice versa. Every week I get a thumbnail version of the unbridled assimilation of American Jewry, especially among the upper echelons of society, and it is sobering.
So with all the allure and sociological information that can be gleaned from the wedding pages, why is it a universally acknowledged truth that only women read them? Too much romance? Not enough competition? My husband has a different theory. Men avoid these pages for the precise reason that women read them. "It reminds us of our own wedding day," said my husband, in one of his more endearing moments.
So, my fellow females, keep enjoying the wedding pages, and all the other narrishkayt (nonsense), that fills the Styles section. In a time of impending war, a lousy economy and the constant threat of terrorism, what's wrong with a little escapism? So let's break a glass, drink a l'chaim and let's pray for a time when who's marrying whom really is all we have to worry about. Â
Rifka Rosenwein is a writer based in Teaneck, N.J,. and a regular columnist for the New York Jewish Week.