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One of the items that we needed to tick off our Wedding To-Do List this month was ordering the ketubah. As an interfaith, same-sex couple, we were looking for a text that spoke to the myriad possibilities of what it means to be in a loving, committed relationship. In a moment in the wedding industry when interfaith and same-sex ketubah texts are relatively scarce, we were happy to find something that struck a chord with us.
The Church of England doesn’t have anything similar to a ketubah. The traditional wedding ceremony involves words and vows that have remained more or less the same since the Book of Common Prayer wedding service was first codified in the 17th Century. Our own wedding ceremony will combine these long-recited vows with elements of the Jewish tradition, so we won’t be taking the opportunity to express our more personal thoughts about marriage within the service itself (partly because the Church of England vows are very meaningful and beautiful, and partly because Vanessa would become a blubbering wreck). So, the ketubah felt like a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our conception of marriage and to verbalize our priorities and commitments for the years ahead.
In the end, we decided to choose a ketubah that encompasses more of a poetic, abstract notion of love. The design is relatively abstract too: an impressionistic tree with blue and gold leaves, with its roots drawing strength from the text underneath. Our ketubah tells the story of a partnership between two people using beautiful metaphor, but a metaphor that is rooted in concrete behavior.
Wedding planning can be stressful, and we’re combining it with finishing our graduate degrees and looking for jobs: So when we read our ketubah text that speaks of supporting each other’s dreams and comforting each other’s sorrows, we know that the beautifully-illustrated document is not just for show. The line that describes holding each other in both our arms and our hearts has never seemed more appropriate than in recent weeks, as we’ve huddled together under a blanket on our sofa, escaping the delightfully chilly weather/miserable freezing temperatures (depending on who you ask).
So, the ketubah is on its way. Many more things remain on the Wedding To-Do List, the vast majority of which relate to a single day. But this is one element of our planning that we’ll see every day for the rest of our lives, throughout our entire marriage.
We’re Michele and Vanessa, and we’re getting married on April 30, 2017. Michele is Jewish and grew up just outside Philadelphia; Vanessa was raised in the Church of England (more or less equivalent to the Episcopal Church) a little outside London in the U.K. We got engaged in May 2015, and are thrilled to be counting down to the big day and our interfaith celebration.
Amidst our wedding planning (more on that another time), we’re also—like everyone else—planning our holiday celebrations. This is a pretty big year for us, as it’s our first Christmas in the U.S. For the last couple of years, we’ve gone to the U.K. and celebrated with Vanessa’s family; but this year we’re staying in Philly. For a while, I (Vanessa) was pretty sad: This is the first Christmas in 31 years that I won’t be with my family, watching my sister stare with trepidation through the oven door at the cauliflower cheese and roast potatoes and listening to my mum attempt the descants to Christmas carols on TV. But talking this over with Michele, and planning the holidays with her has brought me a lot of joy, as I’ve realized that this is actually a really exciting opportunity: We get to figure out how we can create our own traditions, and not just do whatever our families do, as we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah.
This has led me to seek out cookie cutters in the shapes of dreidels and reindeer, menorahs and Christmas trees, and a variety of stars, both five- and six-pointed. I did a dance of delight in the Dollar Plus when I found Hanukkah garlands next to the Christmas tinsel. We started our own collection of tree ornaments that we’ll keep adding to each year, with a classy otter bauble from the Vancouver Aquarium on the first vacation we took together that didn’t involve either of our families. Our hope is that, in a few years’ time, our tree will be covered in ornaments that represent memories from our lives together. These things might sound frivolous, but for us, they symbolize the joining of our lives and our traditions; albeit in sparkly and (hopefully) delicious forms.
More seriously, we’ve had to negotiate with family members what holiday events we’re going to, with Hanukkah brunches and parties surrounding Christmas church services and the first Christmas dinner hosted by us for Michele’s family (complete with British stuffing and Christmas cake, sent all the way from England by my mum). We’ve had to think about what’s really important to us in terms of our own traditions, and about what elements we want to share with each other. I want to go to Christmas services because it’s important for me to hear a choir welcoming Christmas in with “Adeste Fidelis,” but I’m happy to let the cauliflower cheese go as we make the dinner kosher-style. Latkes are fairly high on Michele’s priority list, but being all together and visiting the various branches of her family is even higher.
It’s easy to get caught up in the mania of present-buying, tree-decorating, cookie-eating and playlist-curating, and to be honest I’m definitely enjoying all those parts. But Michele and I are able to use those things to have conversations about what the holidays mean to us, how our families traditionally celebrate them, and what we want them to be like in our married life together. Of course, I’ll still miss my family—but this December, I’ll be surrounded by the love of my new family, Michele and all the Zipkins, and I can’t wait. It’s a timely reminder that our wedding planning isn’t just about working toward a wedding, but a marriage. I feel incredibly lucky that we’re getting a head start on building our traditions for that marriage this year. Even if I’m covered in powdered sugar and my reindeer cookies look more like dogs.
Last weekend, entering the meeting with our florist, my fiancé, my mother and father and I had the distinct impression it may have been the first time a groom entered this sacred bridal territory, as though he were alien to this particular planet.
We’re five weeks out from our wedding. Life is truly insane. If InterfaithFamily did not have a mindfulness expert and three masseuses visit our staff retreat last week, I might have lost it by now. That, and having a fiancé who is actually planning our wedding with me. Shut the… I know, right? Let me repeat that: My fiancé, who is a dude, is planning our wedding alongside me. Times are a changing.
Marrying a person who cares about gender equality and feminism was important to me and now, seeing how my fiancé takes on the same roles in our relationship that I do (OK, he definitely does more heavy lifting, but most other things we share!), I’m thankful that I fell in love with someone who doesn’t treat marriage as a divvying up of “man stuff” and “woman stuff.” No matter how society might try to box us in–yes, even in 2014–we believe in a partnership where we seamlessly pitch in wherever needed.
Of course we’re in the honeymoon stage of our lives right now. I know neither of us are perfect and there may come a time when one or the other of us gets frustrated beyond belief. We’re human. But people say if you can get through wedding planning, you can get through whatever other challenges arise. Clearly, with the divorce rate in this country, that’s not true.
But how many couples planning their weddings are actually doing it together? I have yet to speak to any other couple I know where the groom planned the wedding equally with the bride.
However, on this Wedding Blog, I’ve seen a lot more involvement from grooms than I see anywhere else. One of our wedding bloggers is male and it’s obvious he’s involved in every wedding detail, one of our other couples often includes a guest post by the groom, and the couple’s blog that just wrapped up was co-written. Perhaps interfaith couples realize early on how much their wedding day is a reflection of their union and that it’s important for both parties to be represented.
I’m not advocating that my fiancé get a medal for helping to plan his own wedding (though I am a bit biased and were there a medal to give, I would certainly give it to him). I think men should always help out with wedding planning—after all, it’s YOUR wedding, and if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, it’s not your bride’s wedding alone and it’s certainly not her mother’s. I realize that not everyone enjoys wedding planning, and after seeing how much work goes into it, I can fully understand that. Many women will disagree with my point of view. But unless you’ve hired a wedding planner, someone’s got to do it and I say–it may as well be you.
If flowers or the venue are not your thing, find something that is: the rituals you will perform during your ceremony, the food you’ll eat, song requests for the band or DJ, finding your officiant, your photographer, the list is long!
But the fact is, wedding planning has a long history of being the bride’s domain. The old saying is, step out of the way and let her do what she wants. If the bride has big ideas and the groom is easy going, this may make sense. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be in the loop, help make some of the tougher decisions, and be there for whatever little tasks and errands and phone calls need to get done. And if the groom does have opinions, shouldn’t he be allowed to voice them? Shouldn’t he feel like the wedding represents him, too? Should he be silenced by an outdated idea that he doesn’t get a say in his own wedding? I love that my fiancé is involved, but what if I wanted to just have it my way? Should I be shutting him out of one of the biggest days of our lives that represents our future partnership?
While I don’t think my fiancé is doing anything that any other man couldn’t or shouldn’t also be doing, I happen to love planning our wedding together. I could NEVER do this myself, and taking for granted that he is going to make sure we pay all our bills on time, communicate with our vendors as needed, join me at all the meetings, make decisions together and keep track of our daily to-do list, is the kind of dependability I know he will have for the rest of our marriage. What a great experience to learn this before we get married!
We’re going to be tackling challenges good and bad for the rest of our lives. We’re a team, and we each want the other to succeed, to thrive, to be happy. This is why figuring out how to bring our friends and families together to celebrate with us as we express our love and commitment is such an important thing to do as a couple. We’re learning that we don’t always agree and how to compromise, how to prioritize what’s important to us, how to handle finances and family members, religion and many other things. Maybe I just got lucky with my man, or maybe, given the chance, many other grooms would gladly lend their fiancé a hand and play an active part in their wedding planning.
Are you a groom helping to plan your wedding? Brides, is your groom helping you out, or would you rather he butt out? Sound off in the comments.