Devan Sipher is a writer of the Vows wedding column in The New York Times and the author of the novels The Scenic Route and The Wedding Beat. He has also written for other publications, including The Forward and The Huffington Post. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
My first novel, The Wedding Beat, was loosely based on my experience as a single Jewish guy writing the Vows wedding column at The New York Times. (“Always the wedding columnist and never the groom,” is how the New York Observer described me.) There are a lot of things I learned that didn’t make it into the book, and here are a few of them:
1. MEN ARE ALSO FROM VENUS
Beneath the stubble and the SportsCenter addiction, most men are as confused, vulnerable, and romantic as women when it comes to falling in love.
I’m not sure where people got the idea that romance is primarily a female thing. When it comes to grand romantic gestures, from sweeping someone away for a weekend in Paris to getting down on one knee on a white sand beach, there’s usually a guy involved.
2. A RECEPTION IS A RECEPTION IS A RECEPTION
If you’re in the midst of planning a wedding party, trust me when I say no one will remember the color of the napkins.
Every wedding ceremony has a personal element unique to the bond of the two people getting married, but receptions tend to blend together. Some are fancier. Some are quirkier. But once the jackets are off and the guests are boogying down on the dance floor, the Rockefellers don’t look much different from the Rubinsteins. And I can say that with assurance because I covered two Rockefeller weddings – and one of them married a Rubinstein.
3. THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ATTENDING A WEDDING AND WORKING AT ONE
The New York Times has a strict policy about accepting anything that could be construed as a gift. So when I go to a wedding I don’t eat. I don’t drink. Bill Cunningham, the iconic Times photographer (and the subject of the documentary film “Bill Cunningham New York”) has said he doesn’t even accept water.
Working at a party is precisely that. Working. Watching other people enjoy a gourmet meal is a fat-free and frisson-free experience. As an added bonus, when guests see me with a pen and pad in my hand, they often mistake me for a waiter and give me their drink orders.
4. SAYING “I DO” ISN’T WRITTEN IN STONE – OR NECESSARILY EVEN IN INK
Oddly, a lot of people who make submissions to The New York Times wedding section aren’t planning a legal wedding. And I’m not talking about gay weddings. There are couples who have previously eloped and never told anyone. And there are couples who want a wedding party, but haven’t yet decided if they want to make a legal commitment to each other. But the most popular reason for making non-binding vows is that many couples want their ceremony performed by someone who isn’t legally sanctioned to officiate, and they don’t want the hassle of a separate civil ceremony at City Hall to make the marriage legal. This is what divorce lawyers’ dreams are made of.
Before writing an article, I always have to verify if a legal marriage is taking place. And it can often take a great deal of detective work. A colleague has joked that the name of our department should be “wedding investigations.”
5. GREAT LOVE IS NOT PERFECT LOVE
I find the healthiest relationships are the ones based on mutual respect – not just for each other’s virtues but also for each other’s flaws. Couples that can acknowledge (and laugh) about their partner’s imperfections (and their own) seem to have the strongest foundation.
Love stories that are too good to be true usually are, and when I hear someone describe their mate as “perfect,” it’s a red flag. “Perfect” is not an option in politics or marriage. A truly happy bride isn’t someone in a state of bliss but rather someone looking forward to what’s coming next.
6. HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE
I think people like reading Vows columns for the same reason I like writing them. They affirm life by showing that love can happen at any time, at any place and at any age.
So many things belong to youth: such as time, health, and Justin Bieber hair. But it turns out that love isn’t one of them. Happiness is always possible. As long as you’re alive, there’s always hope that something new and exciting is around the corner.
Falling in love is a little like writing a book. You can feel a spark about a person or an idea. The trick is paying attention to that spark and choosing to pursue it.
Devan Sipher graduated from the University of Michigan, received an M.F.A. from New York University, and he is a former junior cantor of Temple Israel. Read more about him and his work here.
- How to Woo a Jew: The Modern Jewish Guide to Dating and Mating by Tamar Caspi
- The New Jewish Wedding, Revised by Anita Diamant
- Essays: Dating, Love, and Marriage