May 27th, 2012

The Marriage, 1989 by Stephane Sednaoui

I had the best day of my life a few weeks ago. It was my wedding. It was exactly everything that Justin and I wanted it to be. Because our friends and family placed no particular pressures or expectations on us, we were able to make it whatever we wanted. That involved making many decisions together. It also involved carving out identities of Bride and Groom. Despite how simpatico our relationship and how collaborative the wedding planning process was, some choices had to be made on an individual basis. Since nobody forced a veil over my face or clamored for my bouquet, I could be a bride of my own design. Early on I had to ask myself, what bride will I be?

I was captivated by the above photograph, found at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in the midst of our wedding planning. This bride has something of the iconic and something of the strange. Clearly, she didn’t spray tan for the wedding. She didn’t do eleventh hour P90X to tone her upper arms. She’s heading uphill, but there’s a pull to the sea. She’s connected to her groom and keyed in to her officiant, but she stands on her own, independent. I really like all of her fabric– she can negotiate it, but so will the wind.

Interpreting photography is fun, but at some point a bride needs to make some decisions. She needs to decide not only what to wear and what vows to say, but whether or not she’ll change her name. While a pro/con list might work to make one important decision, the myriad of decisions involved in a wedding requires a matrix. I used this matrix as a tool to investigate the origin and symbolism of various traditions, determine whether or not I like what it represents, and decide what to do. Sometimes the (dis)approval of the representation does not align with the decision, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like my choice. Sometimes the pull to do or not do something was as elusive as the wind on this strange bride’s turban.



Tradition Origin and/or symbolism Do I like what it represents? What do I do?
Diamond engagement ring See diamonds post. No Aquamarine.
White dress Class. Started in the 1840s with Queen Victoria. No I do it.
Veil Virginity and modesty- the lifting of the veil represents the groom’s right to conjugal relations. No, but I try one on, which was fun. Flower.
Father giving bride away Exchanging property, or now, showing approval of the groom. No We walk down the aisle together.
Garter toss Deflowering- in the middle ages the groom’s men would rush at the bride to remove her garters. No Don’t do it.
Cake: tiered, feeding one another, saving a slice Symbol of fertility. Keeping one piece protects against husband’s infidelity. No, plus fondant doesn’t taste good. Gelato & Italian cookies.
Throwing bouquet to single ladies Whoever catches it is next to be married. May be connected to golden apple of discord, which in Greek mythology led to the Trojan War. No, but I like Greek myths. Don’t do it.
Chuppah In the Jewish tradition, symbolizes the home a couple will build together. Represents hospitality to guests. Yes Chuppah of birch branches.
Stepping on glass Warning against excessive joy. Remember the tragic destruction of the temple in Jerusalem! I guess so? L’Chaim! We both step on it.
Unity Candle Recent tradition, mostly practiced in the US. Yes Catholic Menorah- it’s what happens when there are six parents- it just looks menoric.
Officiant Civil or faith-based. We are not religious, and having a stranger marry us doesn’t feel right either. Lindsay becomes a “reverend” online.
 Bachelorette Party Night of debauchery before you’re tied down. Sexual freedom became emphasized in the 1960s. No Co-ed outing.
 Bridal Shower Grew out of dowry practices, when bride’s family couldn’t afford the dowry. No Co-ed outing.
 Bridesmaids/Groomsmen Originally bridesmaids served to distract evil spirits from the real bride. Groomsmen were meant to help the groom capture his bride. No Special people do readings at the ceremony, but they don’t wear matching outfits.
Tim is my “man of honor”.
 Taking man’s last name Family names aren’t universal. During the imperialistic age of European expansion, many cultures adopted family names for administrative reasons. I like the idea of having one family name, but does it always have to be patrilineal? I do it, but legally I keep Schneider too. Justin plans to add Schneider and get an S tattoo. Too bad Schneider Gumiran sounds like a German artillery company.

During my research, I learned of the epithalamium, a song written for the bride and sung on the way to her marital chamber. May this epithalamium express what a matrix can’t.

EPTHALAMIUM, by a bride, to a bride

Verano Porteño
a Buenos Aires summer all years long
place you’ve been and not been
perpetual treehouse balcony
he spins a cup of wine for you
plucks mint from nearby soil
a coppery dog at your feet
his cottony sock on your knee
your laser beam focus in his Ritalin hand

Verano Porteño
a person from a landlocked port
places not been yet, your collective map
it’s not inertia, it’s a readiness to go
to eat an olive you deliver without preview
you feel resilience in his skin
the energy of lifting pianos
the angles of elegant eyebrows
so let’s walk down these stairs into the fold

Tango en Skai
accompanied by tiny guides
to a friend in a fiery dress
you knew she’d speak her poem to a tango
and prepare your hands for Tying the Gap
reminding you of trial and error debriefs
the cutting of lesser candidates
it lets you close the loop
around the chosen finger

The balloon of our excitement will go up, up, up
to that land which is the land of true living
promise the friends who always lift you
they speak of deprogramming your brainwashed brain
at risk of pain and chance at authentic love
I think I am willing to try
to eat an olive he delivers without preview
to close the loop around the chosen finger
to walk further down these stairs into the fold

And it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
an inherited friend singing endorsement
then suddenly six parents grip points of light
a sister cries, a brother chimes
further in the fold they fold you in
your laser beam focus in his Ritalin hand
you spin a candle for a new family
it lets you close the loop

Your grandmother in a flowery blouse
ignores her paper and flashes her eye
her laser beam focus looks back on ancient times
the energy of lifting pianos
they were changed into an oak and a linden tree
intertwined, and never again apart
that’s you guys

that’s us
so let’s walk down these stairs into the fold



Verano Porteño / Astor Piazzolla
Tango en Skai / Roland Dyens
Tying the Gap / Rima Rantisi
Jon / George Saunders
i carry your heart with me / e. e. cummings
Baucis and Philemon


5 comments to “Brides”

  1. Hi Katie!

    I’ve followed your blog since your friend Tim put it on his blog, and I’ve loved everything I’ve read. I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this post! I am nowhere near getting married (the always single friend in my various group friends…), but for some reason I have thought a lot about marriage lately and the various traditions as people my age are starting to get married. I feel a lot of conflict about most aspects of marriage and my values, but I love the information you put here, and I hope that one day I can look at it as a guide when I am making these decisions. Thanks for giving this information in such an open way. You rock!

    Congrats on your wedding! However you celebrated, I hope it was a joyous day with lots of friends and family.

  2. Thank you, Elli! I know that conflicted feeling you speak of. It’s a complex and sensitive topic. Let me know if you ever add categories to the matrix!

  3. You are inspiring.

    Cried again.


  4. This was dynamite- and exactly represents the way you and Justine turned a complexly emotional day into a monument of love and caring while joining your families and friends. Thanks for inviting us to be such a part of it- the girls will never forget it and I’m so glad they will have your wedding to “model” for themselves as they grow into independent young women!

  5. I wish I had stumbled upon this matrix before I got ‘married’ in front of friends & family (4/28/12), it would have been a great resource for logic behind my wishes. I ultimately caved in to family wishes, but was lucky enough to get married quietly on Good Friday earlier in April to my husband in NYC’s City Hall. For me, that was my ideal wedding 🙂

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