My grandma always said, "It's not about the wedding. It's about the marriage." She knew what she was talking about. By the time my mother, their second child, was born, she and my grandfather had separated. Their subsequent divorce and her single parenting of two children -- almost unheard of in the 1940s and '50s -- always haunted me.
I spent my 20s living and working in New York City. I went on lots of dates with smart, interesting men. I was like a nice Jewish Carrie Bradshaw, but more chaste (I usually ended the evening dissecting my date with the doorman). While I dated, my girlfriends got married in quick succession. Each bride was more wedding-obsessed than the previous one. I was a bridesmaid a dozen times, donning shiny dresses that I never wore again, and grinning my way through endless posed photos. I even co-founded a website, BridesmaidAid.com, that poked fun at everyone else's Big Day. I thought the weddings were silly and excessive. If these Bridezillas were really so in love, why did the color of their centerpieces matter so much? Surely real love would make them blind to these details.
Then, at age 29, I fell in love. I got engaged. I didn't know if he was my one soulmate, but figured he was one of at least a handful, so I'd still lucked out. And a switch went off.
Suddenly, I -- who had scoffed at Bridezillas -- became obsessed with all things nuptial. I approached the role of bride with the same energy that had fueled other phases of my life -- applying to college, landing a job, and finding an NYC apartment. Hours after my boyfriend slipped a diamond on my finger, I was scouring bridal magazines at a Soho newsstand. People said I had to hurry up and plan -- our wedding was a mere 7 months away. I attacked each decision with gusto, choosing a dress, videographer, band, and china pattern within 3 weeks. If marriage required exceptional organizational skills, we were set for happily ever after.
Our wedding was beautiful -- an elegant but not overdone ceremony and reception at our family's synagogue, where I'd had my Bat Mitzvah, too. Everyone told me it was so lovely and warm. And at the time, it was the happiest day of my life, even if I regretted choosing a three-tiered cake instead of a five-tiered one (a detail I obsessed over even on our honeymoon).
The million dollar question: Was I happy with my new husband, too? Yes. I remember how handsome and happy he looked. I remember how his arm wrapped around me as we walked from table to table greeting our guests. I remember how he played with the gold wedding band on my finger and smiled.
In other words, I was on Cloud 9. But to this day, I second-guess myself. Was I 100 percent sure that day that my marriage would last forever? Well, maybe 90 percent. I'm a pragmatist, after all. But everyone had said that 90 percent was "good enough."
"Good enough" works, sometimes. But four years ago, my husband and I separated after five years of marriage. Our marriage fell apart for the same reasons many others do. The specifics vary by couple, but the hurt is the same. I became a single mother to two young children, just as my grandmother had been sixty years earlier. The ugliness of my divorce paralleled the beauty of the wedding.
In the end, I was left with two great kids and the support of my family and friends. I also faced staggering legal bills and a closet full of nuptial relics. My silk taffeta wedding gown lives in a dusty box. Our handpainted ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) was torn as part of our get (divorce). Then, during Hurricane Irene, a pipe burst and destroyed the whole document.
And then there are the marital "advice cards" that wedding guests dropped into a bowl for us. I reread them, wondering if I somehow missed that one piece of advice that would have made a difference. Half the guests advised, "Never go to bed angry." The other half counseled, "Remember, it's OK to go to bed angry." No one knows the magic formula. No wonder so many of us fail.
Last month, my 8-year-old daughter unearthed my wedding album. She thumbed slowly through the pages, looking at the smiling photos of her dad and me. She barely remembers us together. "Were you happy ?" she asked. "Yes," I answered. I'd loved her father. I'd loved my wedding. I will never regret the marriage because it gave me her and her little brother.
My advice to brides? Don't sweat the wedding. Focus on the marriage, and pray for the best. As for me, I'm wary of marrying again. But if I do, I'll choose same route that Carrie and Mr. Big did for their wedding. Straight to City Hall.