Sarah Callahan works as a financial analyst and Devin Callahan is a clinical psychologist. They live with their twin daughters in San Diego, Calif., where they have been happily married for four years.
The Wedding: A Mixed Blessing
Originally published June 2005. Republished May 7, 2012
I have dreamed about my wedding since I was a little girl. I pictured myself walking down the aisle in the perfect dress, carrying the perfect flowers towards my perfect prince charming. Missing from those childhood daydreams was an awareness of the planning and challenges that go into weddings today. From finding the perfect photographer, to locating a rabbi willing to co-officiate our interfaith wedding, our adventure in wedding planning ran into a series of unanticipated challenges.
Before we started planning our big day, it was helpful for us to understand the great emotional weight our wedding brought to virtually everyone in our lives — especially our parents. When, after dating for over two years, Devin and I decided to get married, that meant that we needed to have “the talk” with our parents.
When we told my parents that we intended to be married, my mother burst into tears and said, “I just don’t want you to forget who you are!” After hours of talking and crying, we all found ourselves exhausted and relieved. Our interfaith relationship had been the elephant in the room that nobody wanted to seriously discuss until this moment. Once we made it clear that we were serious about marriage, but we were just as serious about needing their support, we found two loving people ready to provide help and encouragement in any way they could. We made it clear that my parents could always voice their concerns, and we would always listen (even though we might not always agree). That day, Devin and I began to include my parents in our relationship and have never stopped.
The talk with Devin’s parents was different because Devin and I had spent a lot of time with them — they live close by, while my parents live farther away. The conversation went like this. Devin’s father said, “We know you would like to talk about your relationship, and your mother and I want you to know that we think that Sarah is the best thing that happened to you. We would love to have Sarah as our daughter-in-law.” In other words, we had two very different conversations, each of which we had been terrified of in advance. Both conversations turned out to be very important in our relationships with our parents, in a good way.
Weddings are supposed to feel like the best of times, but can sometimes feel like the worst. The challenges facing interfaith couples go far beyond the question of where to seat your Aunt Edna. First, weddings are a public ceremony. In a cozy corner by ourselves, Devin and I could ignore the differences in our backgrounds (I’m Jewish, he’s Catholic), but all of a sudden, we were conducting an orchestra of differing expectations—together. Matters of location, music and color, that at other times would just be quibbling differences in detail, assumed mythic and symbolic proportions. My family expected that I would be getting married in our family’s temple, Devin’s family had pictured their church. We chose a beautiful outdoor venue as neutral territory for our wedding, thus possibly alienating both families in the process. Our interfaith ceremony complicated and magnified the meaning of such details as the officiant. It was important to me to have a Jewish ceremony, but Devin wanted his family priest to be involved. Our decision was to create a meaningful Jewish ceremony with the priest participating through readings and blessings. Our wedding mingled families from two different backgrounds, and with great patience and some cleverness, we successfully coped and threw a memorable and meaningful wedding that blended our two faiths and our two lives.
As we designed our wedding day, we not only thought about what we wanted the day to look like, but also about our parents’ wishes and fears and about our changing relationships with our two families. Our marriage not only illustrated an immediate separation of us from our parents, but also highlighted how well our parents were able to let go. There was something significant about standing up in front of people and saying, “We are married.” It brought a sense of solidity to our relationship and a determination to work things out. Our interfaith wedding presented not only problems, but also opportunities for us to think more deeply than many engaged couples do about what we wanted to achieve through the wedding ceremony. In doing so, we had the chance to create a day that was exceptionally meaningful and beautiful for everyone that attended.
Devin and I used many techniques to deal with the challenges of creating a meaningful interfaith wedding and a strong interfaith family. First, we decided to always be persistent. We acknowledged that this was a sensitive time and that our tears and the tears of our families might be necessary to work toward a healthy relationship. We decided not to give up when things got tough, but instead to keep talking issues out.
Throughout the wedding planning process, we made a conscious decision to express our love for each other in purposeful ways. Romance is important, especially during the stressful time of planning a wedding. Once a week, we took time out to do the small things that expressed our love, such as going to the movies or cooking a nice dinner together. We found that it became important to remind ourselves what all the hard work was for — a decision of two people in love to commit themselves to each other.
One of the most important techniques we learned while planning our wedding is how to set limits. The wedding is a very personal expression of love and commitment that is made public. It becomes easy to focus on everyone else’s needs and too easy to ignore our own; therefore, setting limits with our parents, friends, and family became essential. By prefacing our requests with reassurances of our love and appreciation, we found that limits could be set without hurting feelings. We found that saying, “I love you and this is how I need you to do this” seemed to work better than, “because I’m the bride, that’s why!” We learned to set limits in a clear way, and also to reassure our families of our love for them.
Overall, one of the biggest lessons we learned throughout our wedding planning is that we are pioneers. As we explore what it means for people from two religions to live together in love and respect, we always keep in mind that we are pushing forward to a new frontier. The journey from engagement to a thriving interfaith marriage was harder than we imagined, but we have emerged from it both stronger and more respectful of each other as individuals and of our relationship. Our similarities were what originally brought us together, and we will never let our differences pull us apart.