Monday, August 31, 2009

Rules of Engagement

I am old enough to not believe in fairy tales.  There is no Prince Charming and the happily-ever-after kiss does not fix all problems.   In fact, it’s kind of where the problems begin, since all of a sudden you and your life partner learn the value of compromise and negotiation  - as you work towards common ground in areas where you KNOW you’re right, suddenly it's now it’s more important not to insist on your-way-or-the-highway.  Because, if it really is your life partner, that highway suddenly seems like an awfully lonely place, and finding new boundaries in your personal comfort zone suddenly seems exceedingly worthwhile.

And so it was with our process of getting engaged. 

My background:  I grew up in a household where my father made our school lunches (he was a teacher who loved teaching) and my mother earned more money in a management job, so gender roles were always a little fluid.  My parents decided to get married over house-buying discussions, never had a proposal or an engagement ring, had a low-key backyard wedding, and both of them kept their last names, all of which sounded pretty reasonable and awesome to me.  With beer, barbecue, and love, what else did I need?  Certainly not an overpriced ring and a man-ask-woman proposal, since this was presumably a decision we’d come to together.  I figured any man should think himself lucky to find a woman who didn’t want an engagement ring at all (cue my comeuppance story).

J’s background: He was born and raised in Texas and, while I'd hardly call a Jewish, liberal, non-football playing  man stereotypically Texan (whatever that means), he’s certainly more traditional than I am.  He was raised by a full-time mother who took pleasure and pride in her role as a fun, supportive mom and a father who works hard to support and provide for his family. Whereas my feminism and social justice is rooted in a strong political and theoretical framework, he lived as a Jewish outsider in Texas and therefore came to his egalitarianism as a natural consequence of experience instead of based in discussions on gender and minority rights.  So he was actually looking forward to the on-one-knee-with-a-ring proposal and to the big-family-big-white-wedding.  In fact, the standard proposal was important to him, in a way I couldn't understand, as a way to show that he was actively ready for a lifetime commitment of marriage. 

So we compromised – If he wanted his on-one-knee proposal, I’d make sure it met my basic concerns about egalitarian proposal issues, diamond/gem/metal mining, and cost.  So, we set rules for the ring and proposal we were both comfortable with.  Yes, rules.

Our rules
  • No new diamonds or gems.  Heirloom diamonds and gems were fine.  Lab-created gems were also fine, and even preferred from a price, aesthetic and environmental perspective.  The case against diamond mining and pricing has been made elsewhere, so if you're interested, please take the time to learn more.  
  • No solitaires (that was an aesthetic request, not a moral one.)  I like interesting jewelry pieces and didn’t think an important ring should buck my overall style.
  • We both wear rings, because there’s something odd to me about a woman being visually “off the market” while a man walks around with a bare finger during the entire engagement.  If we’re both off the market, we’re both advertised as such.
  • We both get engagement presents.  Since I love jewelry already (I have a lot of unique metalwork necklaces) I could get excited about an amazing ring-as-present.  Since he’s not as excited about a hunk of metal, I had to find him something equally meaningful and equally awesome, in conjunction with a simple ring. 
  • Each of our rings/presents had to cost under $1000 - none of this three-months-salary thing.  We’re starting off our lives together, and we can use that money on something we’ll both enjoy instead of something that will sparkle on my finger or on whatever engagement-ring-equivalent I got him. 
  • We both get to propose, and it’s not “official” until we both proposed to each other.  Neither of us are passive “yes – I will” folks in this scenario. 

It may not sound like the most romantic-swept-off-your-feet scenario to work with half a dozen rules, but I’m still in schmoop city here.  I have a partner who listens to what’s important to me, even if these weren't considerations in his own initial approach.   And I have a beautiful and meaningful ring that I adore, because it suits my aesthetics and my values.  And he had an incredible experience-gift that he would have missed out on if we’d gone the standard on-one-knee route.  But then again, I got the on-one-knee story too, and it swept me off my feet more than I ever could have imagined.

Photo by Chris Craymer, via Le Love

Compromise is definitely romantically swoonworthy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to Basics

It all started with the ring.  No, I'm not referring to the proposal (which didn't start with a ring at all) but to my yearlong secret affair with wedding planning and wedding blogs.  It all started with my research for beautiful, inexpensive, environmentally friendly ring ideas and it ended up with budget spreadsheets, an overwhelming file of tagged inspiration photos, and a list of local venues I couldn't wait to call. 

Yes, I know I said I'm only starting to think about what I want our own wedding to feel and look like and, in large measure, that's true. But, in equally large measure, I've been mainlining wedding photos for over a year, charmed by hundreds of touching and personal ceremonies and celebrations, and wondering about the meaningful ceremony and day we would eventually craft together. Since I would be equally happy with an urban loft party, a barefoot beach wedding, or a mountain lodge forest weekend, it was never about taking control and planning My Special Daaaay, it was about reveling in the realization that this was a forever-love relationship, that soon we would get to plan our own meaningful ceremony and party, and that I had no idea where to start.

So I started with the internet.  I researched eco-friendly rings, which led me to freak out over ring prices, which led me to freak out over wedding prices, which led me to research inexpensive wedding options in Los Angeles (because even pre-credit crunch I stubbornly refused to believe I should drop $28,000 on a wedding), which led me to a $10,000 wedding.  And once I found another pre-engaged girl in Los Angeles who was researching weddings, I fell (ok, I jumped) headfirst into the rabbit-hole of wedding research, devouring information on venue options, wedding colors combinations, table runners, centerpieces, bouquets, Martha Stewart pompoms, birdcage veils, and non poofy wedding dresses.  

At some point, dazed by the endless pages of perfectly lit wedding photos of letterpressed name cards, wedding dresses on hangars, and chandeliers in trees, I stood back, blinked a few times, and thought to myself, “Screw this Bullsh*t. If I look at another "inspiration" board, I’m going to hurl.”

Don’t get me wrong, inspiration boards are very pretty.  But pictures of matching bridesmaids, flowers and shoes aren’t exactly inspiring me to get excited about my wedding.  I’ve never gone to a wedding and walked away thinking “The bridesmaids all looked so great with their Watters strapless dresses and green shoes.  They perfectly complimented the bride’s Amsale dress, triple-strand pearl jewelry and peony bouquet!  What a great wedding!” 

And so, before I even got started on this official wedding planning journey, I was done with the details.  Screw the favors, I care about the love and the fun.  Instead, my new inspiration looks like this:

There.  I’m feeling more inspired already.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

If I Were Getting Married Today

I haven't talked yet about my style or my "vision" for the wedding "look." Frankly, I don't have one. I'm equally drawn to modern & sleek as to vintage & romantic as to simple & sweet, depending on my mood. As for my clothing style, I tend towards a practical baseline of flattering cuts in neutrals, with major pops of color and boldness in shoes and jewelry. (I'm working on the bag/scarf/other accessory thing, but I usually can't be bothered.)

In other words, my mood dictates the day's fashion. And today, I'm feeling sassy. Because I just got my hair cut and styled somewhat like this:

Add some librarian glasses and tone down the Hollywood looks, and yeah, that's me now. (Ish.) Given that my everyday look draws from my closet of practical basics, I was clearly feeling a bit daring and sexy when I told my stylist to go for it (thanks Mandy M!) So, if I were getting married today, I'd clearly have to choose a sassy dress to match the sassy hair.  And since I've set a self-imposed dress budget well below the common stratospheric prices, I'd probably go for something like this:

Unfortunately, this dress wouldn't be flattering on me in real life. (The whole short skirt trend was created without my body type in mind.)  But today, with my new haircut, I almost don't care.  And, at $288 for the dress, I hope someone with properly sassy style and viv buys this dress, puts the $ she saved on a traditional wedding dress towards a rocking DJ, and parties in this short skirt awesomeness until her sexy legs can't bear it anymore.  

Hmm.  Perhaps, instead of growing our hair out before the wedding and enduring months of scraggliness, we should trust our incredible stylists and go for something daring the week before the big day.  Because who wouldn't appreciate some extra attitude oomph for her wedding?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jack White-Themed Date Night Downtown*

THIS is why I love Los Angeles.   Because Downtown Los Angeles is the kind of place where Jack White wants to host a pop-up store (ie temporary music shop) from Wednesday - Friday this week.  And it's also the kind of place where you can learn exactly why Jack White really is that awesome, by going to see the limited release documentary It Might Get Loud, a stunning film from the Director of An Inconvenient Truth about the history of the electric guitar via the musical development of three blow-your-mind-talented guitarists - Jimmy Page, The Edge, and (yep) Jack White - and gets them in a room jamming and talking about music together too.  
My partner is the true musician and music geek in our home, but I am a willing tagalong.  So I willingly tagged along to the documentary a few weeks ago and wow.  Just wow.  Not only was it a film, but I walked away with a completely new appreciation for Led Zeppelin, U2 and all of Jack White's work.  Whereas beforehand I was a casual fan of the Raconteurs and could appreciate the White Stripes, I am now unabashedly in awe of Jack White's raw talent and genius.  He truly lives, breathes and thinks in music (he made compelling music out of a coke bottle, really) and I would LOVE the opportunity to go to a pop-up store and see him perform live this week. According to LAist, The Dead Weather will be performing tomorrow (Wed) for a first-come first-served show at noon.  Unfortunately, my job does not allow for Wednesday morning gallivanting, so I wish the gallivanters all the best for what's sure to be a high-energy show.

So, if I were in town this Friday and I was looking for an awesome date night idea, I would probably:
  • Head over to the Regent Theater at 488 S. Main (which just got a yellow facelift to become a pop-up Third Man Records and Novelties) before they close at 8:00pm.  The store will sell music and merchandise related to The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. And generally, pop-up stores have a great vibe and invite/demand thorough exploration.  
  • Grab a quick drink downtown.  If it's as hot as they say it might be, I'd probably go for a glass of white wine on the nearby patio at Banquette (400 S Main St). If you were keeping with the Jack White theme of the evening, I think he'd appreciate a dive bar, maybe one like the King Eddy Saloon.
  • Head over to the Arclight, Landmark, Encino or Pasadena for a 10pm-ish showing of It Might Get Loud (I'd probably choose Hollywood, since you can take the Red Line from Pershing Square). 
*Oh.  You thought this was going to be a wedding planning blog?  Well, it is... but it's a Los Angeles wedding planning blog, so I'm probably going to indulge in some local awesomness for any local readers.  And presumably you're coupled if you're reading a wedding planning blog, so date nights where you immerse yourself in Rock and Roll instead of colors and guest lists might be nice, yes? 

Getting Engaged, In Perspective

The night he proposed to me, my parents were both out of the country. I tried to call their cell phone several times to share the great news but couldn’t get through.  The next morning, they phoned and, thinking they were returning the missed calls, I excitedly prepared to gush and squee with my mother.  Unfortunately, they were not returning my missed calls; my father was calling to tell me that my mother had an accident, broke her leg in several places, and was in the hospital. 

At the moment, she's awaiting surgery and I've been thanking every lucky star that they're in country where everyone speaks impeccable English and the hospitals can provide advanced medical care. Ultimately, she will heal, although the recovery will likely be long and painful and we don’t yet know when she’ll be able to return to the States or all the challenges she'll face during rehab. All I could think about on that call was how much I wished I was nearby to help out and hug her, or what I could do to help prepare their house for any wheelchair or mobility needs, and how lucky we are that it's not worse.

On the first few calls with by father, I didn’t mention the engagement because, frankly, it wasn’t important. I wasn’t thinking about sparkly ring stories while my father relayed his foreign hospital saga, insurance company phone calls, and nightmare travel logistical changes. A few days later, when I finally spoke with my mother and felt sure she was stable and comfortable, I finally shared our engagement story. And she swears the good news will help her heal faster (anything I can do!)

Weddings and engagements and marriage don’t happen outside of the context of everyday life.  Along with the good, bad things surprise us in life-happens moments. And that’s precisely why I want to have a wedding and get married. I want to get married because hard things happen – they’ll happen tomorrow, they’ll happen the week before the wedding, and they’ll happen the year after the wedding, but a strong partnership helps you look for the good and manage the bad.  I want to get married because I know I can trust him to take care of me, whatever the cost, if I end up in a foreign (or domestic) hospital.  I want to get married because this is a man who knows when to hug, who knows when to make a joke, and who knows how to just listen when it’s hard. 

So if I can get all that love and partnership with a marriage, why bother with a wedding and why not elope? Well, I want to have a wedding because I want to celebrate our joy with the people I love most in the world, not because I want a big party and a pretty dress. I mean, I want the party and a pretty dress too, but what I really want is my mother, safe and sound and stateside, to experience this and all of my future celebrations.  And I also want a wedding because ritual celebrations are about finding joy, despite hardship, and about fiercely refusing to let hardship stand in the way of our happiness.  Hardship will always exist, but I want to face it head on, fortified by the love of my partners, family and closest friends.

Mom, I love you, and I can't wait to have you home again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What's Traditional Anyhow?

In the past several years, I’ve attended a lot of weddings.  It’s that time my older friends warned me about, the all-of-a-sudden-everyone-is-getting-married stretch that comes right before the all-of-a-sudden-everyone-is-having-babies stretch.  So I’ve seen a bit of everything at this point – the 300 person black tie soiree, the hotel banquet event, the backyard casual affair, the 15-person guerilla style botanical garden wedding, the last-minute Vegas getaway, the long-sleeved church wedding, and the elopement-celebration restaurant dinner.  

Out of all the weddings, I think I’ve seen four “standard” white ballgown dresses.  I’ve seen a lot of short sassy white dresses bought off-the rack.  I’ve seen a few silky sheath dresses.  I’ve seen DJ-ed weddings, Ipod weddings, and weddings where the entertainment was magicians and fortune tellers.  I’ve had BBQ at weddings and sit down dinners. I’ve seen weddings where the couples wrote their vows, where the couples shared their vows privately, and where couples honored their commitment with religious vows. I’ve seen couples walk down the aisle together, or brides with their fathers, or the bride and groom with their respective parents, or skip the aisle altogether. Sometimes I got presents when I arrived at weddings (I’ve since found out they’re called “out of town bags” and “favors”) and other times I was asked to help out last minute with errands and decorating and loved jumping into the fray with our friends.

So to all of my friends and family who have tackled this wedding thing already and allowed me to share in the joy of your various celebrations, thank you.  Thank you for letting me experience the unique and specific happiness in each of your different celebrations.  The only common tradition or theme I’ve been able to sort out from the bunch is the constant of love and marriage.  So now, when someone questions my potential ideas for a DIY Jewish rocking outdoor/indoor urban/rustic wedding extravaganza because it’s somehow not traditional, I can politely demur and think to myself “shove it.” Attending all of your weddings shattered the notion of a standard white wedding or the associated “traditions,” leaving me with the freedom to craft something meaningful, heartfelt, practical, and hopefully beautiful (in its entirety, if not in the physical touches) in the process.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

About A Los Angeles Love

I am not that girl. You know, that girl who used to enact wedding ceremonies with Barbie and Ken, who carried around a mental list of her future bridesmaids, and who's been dreaming about the dress for ages.  Instead, I'm the girl who figured she'd never get married, so I never bothered to give it much thought. 

But a few years ago, my inability to picture myself married suddenly changed.  Because I was in love.  And it wasn't the sort of dramatic love I'd been involved with before, it was the heady-but-perfectly-comfortable feeling of life-partner love. Fast forward to the present, when we just got engaged and I'm giddy picturing the joys of our marriage and partnership, but still puzzling over picturing our wedding itself. I know that the poofy-white-dress-banquet-hall-event isn't for me, but the more challenging and important part is figuring out what is for me and for us.  So far, I know:

  • The ceremony is important - we want to write our own vows and ceremony, albeit heavily infused with our Reform Jewish traditions. 
  • The party is important - we want our wedding to be a giant party celebrating our love and our community. The reason we're having a wedding and not eloping is to spend time with our friends, sharing our joy.  
  • The people are important - We will not edit our guest list to make it affordable but we will focus on the people who matter most. Instead of cutting people, we will cut wedding "traditions" that are unimportant to us or take away from spending time with our friends and family.
  • We will not go into debt - we haven't figured out all the finances yet, but we expect to pay for most of the wedding ourselves, and our marriage goals are more important than paying for an expensive wedding.
  • We want a local wedding that reflects our values - we love Los Angeles (the non-celebrity parts of this city that we know and explore regularly) and we want to share its underground treasures with our friends and families. We want to support local businesses. And we want to get married in our chosen hometown, in a way that reflects our religious, environmental and social values.

As for details, logistics and the process of making these ideas come to life... that's what this blog is for. I wanted a space where I can learn to picture our inexpensive, meaningful, joyful Los Angeles wedding, with a lot of marriage planning thrown into the mix. I wanted a space to gather low-cost inspiration for Los Angeles brides and grooms because traditional wedding planning resources weren't inspiring me or generally reflecting my well-under $30,000 budget requirements. I wanted a space that captures the ethos over at A Practical Wedding or 2000dollarwedding.  And I wanted a space that focuses on uniquely Angeleno resources and needs because, as much as I love  offbeatbride and kvetch, neither has particularly active Los Angeles planning threads.

So if you're reading, welcome to my blog, and welcome to our wedding planning adventure.