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Love and Marriage

In the months before ‘I do,’ romance falls prey to planning

David Sax
February 12, 2010
(Nickolas Murray, courtesy George Eastman House Photography Collection)
(Nickolas Murray, courtesy George Eastman House Photography Collection)

I don’t have plans for Valentine’s Day this year, and to be honest, I’m not likely to make any. No gifts, no reservations, no surprises. It’s not that I love my fiancé less. My adoration of her wit, beauty, and charm grow stronger each day. But we’re getting married this May, and when it comes to romance, nothing stifles it like an engagement.

Romance is a fickle thing. It begins with the slightest glance or shake of the hip, and can take various paths. If things progress well, those paths lead to engagement, when knees are bent, yeses are uttered, and romance steps up to the majors. It’s a defining act of over-the-top amour. Then you catch your breath, your cheeks de-flush, and questions inevitably begin:

Where? When? Whom to invite?

You can contain the news as your little secret only so long before your parents find out.

“Mazel Tov!” gushes Mom No. 1. “Where should we have it? At the temple? Sarah’s daughter’s wedding was there and it was wonderful–elegant, but still haymish. Also, what about the flowers?”

“As for food,” says Mom No. 2. “What about EatSpressions? You should taste their miso-glazed black cod!”

From this point until the moment you sign your ketubah, you both assume the job of Toyota PR flacks, tackling a never-ending stream of suggestions. In true Talmudic tradition, each question only leads to others. What invitation design? What font? What paper? What font on which paper? What envelope? What font on the envelope? What paper stock for the envelope? RSVP cards? What should they say? What font? What paper?

Just today I fielded no fewer than 20 emails debating whether we should give guests the meal option of poultry, fish, vegetarian, or kosher; poultry or fish; poultry or vegetarian; poultry or kosher; or just poultry, assuming the vegetarians and kosher guests will let us know somehow. Back and forth we went, the fifth such exchange on this one detail. To be honest, I still don’t think anyone’s clear on the answer.

This void of planning consumes your waking moments. You spend weekends tasting the hideous fake “buttercream” with artificial chocolate banana flavor at the cake company, going on tours led by confident women in pantsuits of synagogues, halls, and oddly-shaped event sites, and comparing five nearly identical bone-white china sets, at $90 to $150 per setting.

Then you have visits to the rabbi, who discusses contracts, financial arrangements, and Tay-Sachs tests, all of which hit the romance like a bucket of cold water. You take a 160 question multiple choice personality exam (with a No. 2 pencil), assessing how compatible you’ll be and highlighting every conflict you could have in the coming decades. I’m looking forward to finding out if we’ll fight more over the number of children we want or whether those children will attend Hebrew day school.

After talking in circles all day, you both collapse in bed, spreadsheets and Martha Stewart Weddings open until well past midnight, costing out the perfect centerpiece made of wheatgrass (both beautiful and sustainable, according to my future wife). Yes, there is love, and there are caresses still, but don’t expect scented candles and deep tissue massage right now.

On February 14, there won’t be any gifts or fancy dinners. We’re going to order some pizza, slip on our sweatpants, and not mention a single thing about this wedding. With any luck, we’ll be asleep by 10. We’ve got our whole lives to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We just have to get through this year together first.

David Sax’s latest book is The Future Is Analog: How to Create a More Human World, out this month.