Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Goin' to the Chapel: Three Connubial Conundrums

As recent readers of this blog will know, I am going to be officiating my cousin Hans's wedding next month. I am not a real minister, obviously, and I have no responsibilities for this wedding beyond showing up and saying a few happy words, but I have been thinking (just for fun) about what I would say to the young people (ha) if I were a real minister and they actually did come to me for premarital counseling. And because I have no personal experience of marriage to draw upon, I have basically been thinking about what I would give them to read.

The list includes novels like Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers; short stories like "Tell Me a Riddle" by Tillie Olsen and "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro; poetry: "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" and "The Good Morrow" by John Donne, or "Ordinary Life" by Barbara Crooker; plays: "The Lady's Not for Burning" by Christopher Fry (or maybe "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" if I'm feeling mischievous and/or cruel); and nonfiction, most especially the excellent Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose, or any of those "getting to know you" books so they can ask lots of questions of each other and make sure there aren't any last-minute dealbreakers. ("What do you mean, you want our first child to be named 'Cherry Garcia'?")

Then once the book or play or whatever is read, I would ask questions: "How would you define the marriage(s) in this book? Are they 'good marriage(s)' or 'bad marriage(s),' and what makes them so? How would you two react if you were faced with the situation this married couple faces? Let's talk that through." I am not sure how useful this would be for Hans's and Megan's long-term relationship, honestly, but at the very least they'd get to read a good book together, and do a little thinking about what makes a marriage work. Any other suggestions for good books on marriage, or books that feature fascinating marriages?

The second wedding issue that's been on my mind this week: My most excellent church, Park Slope United Methodist, recently reaffirmed its commitment to a nondiscriminatory marriage policy -- that is, until our gay and lesbian congregants can be married by our pastor in our sanctuary, no one will be married by our pastor in our sanctuary. Thus we all feel the weight of exclusion and share the burden of the anti-gay policies of the United Methodist Church. It's an amazingly brave stand for the church to take (and apparently one that costs us money, too, as we can't rent out the church for weddings), and I'm very proud to be part of such an incredible congregation, even as I'm sad that I probably won't get to be married there in my lifetime. If you'd like to hear more, NPR recently did a terrific little piece on the church policy:

And lastly, I am officially shopping for a Hot Minister dress. It has to be pretty and proper enough for me to make a respectable officiant in Iowa, but interesting enough that I would want to wear it again afterward in New York; elegant, feminine, flattering to my slightly weird figure (no strapless), less than $150 -- and not white, obviously! Fortunately for me, dress shopping is my favorite kind of clothes shopping, but I'm not finding much that fits the bill. Let me know if you have any suggestions.


  1. J. Crew--website or catalog--might have a pretty dress. Maybe Banana Republic?

  2. What an impressive church you belong to!

    I officiated my first wedding last year for some friends who thought that, since I write children's books, I'd probably write a decent speech. I don't think I did too shabby. And I'm doing my second wedding this year. But a word of advice...if you plan on using them, make sure the microphones are turned on.

    - Jay

  3. No dress suggestions :), but I do have some book suggestions:

    A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott.


  4. I always turn to Ann Taylor -- they've got some nice ones. How about this?

    Just under the $150 mark...

    Ministers often wear black, so even for a summer wedding it could be ok. And if the top is too exposing, perhaps a light sweater? then you can take it off and be even hotter for the reception...

  5. Cheryl,

    I found some dress options for you...a simple linen and satin trimmed dress and a pretty gauze dress -- both under $50 bucks.'s+Apparel%7c%7c%7c%7c%7c%2f%2f%2f%2f+++++++++++Dresses+%26+Evening+Wear%2f%2f%2f%2fAttribSelect%3dType%3d'Dresses'&pagename=prod's+Apparel%7c%7c%7c%7c%7c%2f%2f%2f%2f+++++++++++Dresses+%26+Evening+Wear%2f%2f%2f%2fAttribSelect%3dType%3d'Dresses'&pagename=prod

    then a pretty green necklace up by your neck will bring out your eyes and compliment your hair.

    As to what to say to the couple...communicate, communicate, ccommunicate! Also, when the kids come along remember to stay as a team--don't let the kids divide and conquer. I've been happily married to my highschool sweetheart for twenty years.

    Good luck!

  6. I'm a jeans and T-shirt sorta' girl so I can't help you with a dress but I was curious about where In Iowa this wedding will take place. I'm in Iowa right now and we've been having tornado warnings, thunderstorms and hail all evening. Be sure to bring an umbrella! A big one...

  7. I wish my church would do that.

    Good luck with the dress finding. As an inhabitant of the rural northwest with a less than traditional shape myself, it's hard to find ANYTHING that fits.

  8. My greatest success story involving a dress was a trip to a store like your Macy's, where I tried on many, many choices (sigh) and ultimately found something perfect. I have worn it dozens of times since, and it still looks and feels new. Not bad for $'s a sleeveless black jersey with v-neck front and back that skims the body, ends just past the knee, forgives a few pounds here and there, and travels well. The brand is "Benjamin A," but I don't know if it's still around.

  9. Hi Cheryl,
    Here are some more dresses for you to check out: is my favorite Nice Clothes at a Big Discount site. Only thing is, you can't try on in advance so you've got to order them and ship 'em back if they're no good. These are all under $100, and you can search for dresses to see tons and tons more.

  10. The best advice I ever received on how to have a successful marriage was "Be as polite to your spouse as you would to an absolute stranger." It's worked so far.

    As for books about marriage "Madam Bovary" wins hands down for how to have a miserable life and relationship. But Emma was pretty much a shallow, nasty person to begin with. It wasn’t her boorish husband or the country town that ruined her life. She did with her selfish, greedy actions.

    Perhaps there aren’t many examples of happily married couples in literature because happiness for the most part is boring. In “Great Expectations” Wemmick has a happy marriage but it is interesting because he lives in “The Castle”, in a pretend world of his own making. He makes his own reality.

    “Busman’s Honeymoon” isn’t so much about being married over the long haul but about honeymooning, getting to know each other and settling in. I’m sure that Peter and Harriet had a long and well deserved happy marriage but it’s curious that the story stops there. Sayers wrote a few short stories of childbirth and idolized parenthood but for the most part the Lord and Lady Peter live “Happily ever after.”

    Good luck with the dress.


  11. Books suggestions: Your Aunt Leslie has this really awesome little book called something like "50 questions to ask your soon-to-be spouse" (everything from what does the living room look like in your/our dream house? to serious stuff, although I'm sure many a marriage has been ruined by a dream house living room) It was so cool I asked her the second I am engaged to pop it in to the mail.
    As for a dress: girl, your in NYC, go shopping!

  12. Dad is sending you $150 for a "hot minister dress?" You better believe I am getting an awesome pair of running shoes.