Since the moment Jacob had his Old Testament altar-side surprise—tricked into marrying the ugly sister Leah instead of his beloved Rachel—love and marriage have had a capricious relationship. Over the years, this mysterious emotional force and the institution that legitimizes it have pursued each other through cultural obstacles and the disapproving eye of countless societies. Today, while not completely uncontroversial, these two entities amicably cohabit in many a contemporary society. Marrying for love is timidly viewed as the ideal—one that fortunately, we Americans have a much better shot of attaining thanks to the absence of dowries, the loosening of social, religious and ethnic constraints, and cell phones.

Weddings, on the other hand, can be seen as having very little to do with actual love. While marriage is premised on the romantic notion of committing oneself to another (and ostensibly to raise a family), the wedding has only indirect relations with the underlying emotion. It is the art that decorates the love, and the vehicle that promotes it, but the traditional wedding is so draped with tradition and presentation that the love itself can easily be obscured behind the pomp. Still faithful to ceremony and seduced by self-celebration, the wedding flirts with the forces of love, but is ultimately unwilling to commit.

No vestige of matrimony more smacks of shameless self-promotion than the infamous newspaper wedding announcement. While ceremonies can be personalized, vows written, printed wedding announcements betray the pretense of genuine ardor just by appearing in the "society pages." Here, one can advertise the "specs" of their forthcoming union, realize a childhood dream of having their picture in the paper (and a posed one, no less), and indulge that delicious fantasy that the boy or girl who broke your heart might come across your glorious triumph over their Wheaties.

For the purposes of this piece I am going to stick with the industry standard (and the form I know best): The New York Times. Each week, the Gray Lady offers us a breath of levity from inside the heft of the Sunday paper. The Weddings & Celebrations section is a comforting grounding amidst more pressing issues—from the Gaza Strip to Michael Jackson's bedroom—and a seductively voyeuristic glimpse inside an exclusive segment of our society. But more than that, these notices are a record (if a highly edited one) of who mates in our culture, evidence of the ongoing evolution of marriage and they capture the increasing emergence of true love within this glorious institution.

For the rest of us, the W&C section has a certain voyeuristic appeal. Readers can amuse themselves with an admirably accomplished crop of intendeds (mostly) youngsters whose roster reads like an Ivy League admission list. But looking past the Asian violinists, WASPy blondes flashing pearly Nantucket whites, and the occasional beaming same sex couple, the section, I would argue, actually serves as an immutable record of contemporary love. The most recent revolution of this is the inclusion of same sex unions. The Times began printing same sex unions in August 2002 and unlike the State of New York, the Times gave gay couples the same treatment as their straight counterparts from the beginning. They adhere to the same submission and editing guidelines, and their unions are presented in the same format as the weddings. The only detail that sets apart their announcements is the addition of directionals in the text if there is a picture, so readers can identify each member of the couple. I do not mean to suggest this as an example of activism on the Times' part (or that they came to this on their own sense of equanimity). Rather, that without visible struggle, Weddings & Celebrations independently—almost organically—evolved to the changing notion of love, to reflect what indeed turned out to be an increasing public acceptance of homosexual love.

But the grand foray of gay couples into Weddings & Celebrations has by no means been the only change of note to this journalistic institution. Though it has been accompanied by less fanfare, the other evidence of modern love can be seen in the details that have crept in—or have been left out. A round-up of any given Sunday will offer a bevy of lawyers, doctors, actors, journalists, MBAs, Fulbright scholars, Peace Corps volunteers, divorcées (and divorcés), senior citizens, philanthropists, and yes, those ubiquitous violinists. While the selection of couples veers towards the particularly accomplished, there is an intersesting level of diversity: Many of those MBAs are women, the Peace Corps volunteer met his fiancée while they were both stationed in Uganda working with AIDS patients, and that corporate lawyer was married in an outdoor Hindu ceremony officiated by a rabbi.

Further, because of their loyalty to impeccably clean and formulaic wording, the section has normalized certain "love practices" into the vernacular by the incorporation of phrases into the section's rigid code of syntax. For example, replacing the "who was until recently" after the bride's married name with "who will be using her name professionally," says in W&C's cryptically euphemistic jargon not that the Times is actively trying to promote a more diverse face of marriage, but rather that readers understand, accept, and enjoy these kinds of unions as, if not the norm, than perhaps as embodying much of it.

Weddings & Celebrations should not be charged with either adhering to a normative standard or setting the ideal—it is not the job of a newspaper to issue lifestyle edicts. (Martha and Oprah take care of that already, thank you very much.) Yet by incorporating elements of both the normal and the admirable, what it can (and does) do is inform readers of the prevalence of love across traditionally impenetrable barriers, and, in doing so, serve as evidence of the state of modern love.

On a recent episode of The Sopranos, the quintessential post-modern family man, Tony Soprano, quipped that wedding announcements are like the women's sports pages. I disagree. To me, they seem a lot more like the obituaries. Like the obits, wedding announcements offer an edited but unbiased account of life on a human level (rather than on a political, regional or theoretical level, like the rest of the paper). They both deliver news of record, in an unhesitatingly respectful way.

The tradition of publishing wedding announcements is arguably antiquated, undeniably rooted in elitism, of questionable social value, and yet they endure as a reflection of contemporary love. In the end, the Weddings & Celebrations section may not inform in the same way as the rest of the newspaper does, but it still upholds the same standards and performs its requisite function by showing us exactly what's fit to print.


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