My husband and I are married not because I said, "I do," but because he said, "I'll do it."
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Last year, when Jay got on one knee in Battery Park in Manhattan and proposed, I accepted and realized I was filled with joy — at the prospect of spending the rest of my life with him — then panic, associated with the idea of becoming a bride.
We were eight years into our monogamous relationship, so I wasn't a commitment-phobe, but the thought of donning a big white dress and playing the lead role in a family-filled wedding drama inspired a tsunami of anxiety I couldn't quell.
So after saying yes, I said, "Let's elope!" trying to make it sound bright, shiny and enticing. To my frustration, his response was, "No way!"
I threw my hands in the air and issued my challenge: "Fine. You're planning this thing."
Part of my PR job revolved around arranging events, but a press conference is not a wedding. I'd seen friends plan elaborate affairs with hundreds of guests, and I knew it required diplomacy and stellar organizational skills — as well as passion for the project. I possessed none of these prerequisites. Would I flunk the nuptials test?
Jay, a Jets-worshipping, Adidas-flip flop-wearing NYC firefighter, wasn't the most obvious candidate for the role of wedding planner either, but, mind-blowingly, he replied, "No problem" without hesitating.
I wanted to grill him on his folly, but I recognized what was at play. His father was from Pakistan, a culture that celebrated marriages with multi-day affairs involving everyone the couple and their families have ever met — from the neighbors up the street, to the corner vendor, to a fifth cousin twice removed. Though my future father-in-law had been in the U.S. for 40 years, he'd tried to bring a live elephant, a symbol of good luck, into one of his daughter's weddings at an exclusive Manhattan club. My parents, on the other hand, had gotten hitched in Rome, my mom in a yellow mini-dress, with one witness looking on. We'd come from distinctly different matrimonial traditions. Slideshow: Images: Brides get down and dirty
As the only child born to two only children, I'm a member of a neat, little family tree with few branches. Jay, on the other hand, is one of five. His tree is massive and has a huge root system.
I feared our families would meet and spontaneously combust. In eight years we hadn't introduced them, imagining that our mothers, two strong-willed Alpha females, would battle for supremacy. My mother, a Fox News fanatic, was a convention-flouting ex-Rockette. His, a Democrat, was a committed Catholic with an entrepreneurial streak. My mom was opposed to a wedding, calling it "a silly indulgence," while his felt the planet would stop spinning if I didn't get the perfect Vera Wang gown.
When Jay said he'd spearhead our marital march I was relieved. Then I wasn't.
The night he grabbed the wedding reins I dreamed I was walking the aisle in a flesh-colored pantsuit from the Gap. I was halfway to the altar before I realized it wasn't a pantsuit, but my birthday suit. The epiphany made me panic because my vows were in my pocket, but I had no pocket. I had nothing to say when I arrived in front of Jay and the officiant except "Hi."
I just wanted to slip quietly into married life. The thought of a gargantuan party intimidated me. Plus, after living together for years I didn't feel the need to register for pots, pans and plates, nor did I relish fielding comments like, "What took you so long?" I felt like I was missing a critical bridal gene. Jay was, however, incredibly stubborn. As a teenager he'd ripped his braces off with pliers — twice. I realized there was no hope of fulfilling my fantasy, but like a reverse Bridezilla, I fought doggedly anyway.
First, I lobbied to get the fest off-shored to winnow the invite list. I suggested Italy. Jay was on board initially, but soon realized our dollars were virtually worthless against the euro, so he torpedoed the idea.
Next, I deviously handpicked a couple I knew who had a particularly tough time managing the family feuds and invited them to join us for dinner.
At a Turkish restaurant in Tribeca, I leaned over the baba ghanoush and said to the pair, "If you had to do it again would you do anything differently?" They glanced nervously at each other, then in unison replied, "We'd elope."
My friends, who'd opted for the big white wedding, launched into their fairy tale gone wrong. At the horror story's conclusion, I turned to Jay, hoping he'd be aghast. Instead, he was completely composed.
Finally, I trotted out the last weapon in my arsenal — my ability to pitch a fit. One morning, after I'd awoken drenched in a nudie nightmare-induced sweat, I checked my email and found a missive from one of Jay's sisters chastising me for falling down on the bridesmaids' dress-hunting job. I called Jay at work sobbing. 13 celeb-inspired wedding hairstyles
"I can't do this. Please, please don't make me," I pleaded.
"I'll handle it. Tell her to talk to me," he said. "We'll be fine."
My bridesmaids' dress freak-out marked a turning point in our engagement. I can't say that the path was problem-free from that point on, but that morning, once I stopped hyperventilating, I decided to lay down my arms and stop sabotaging my fiancé.
Once I started to relax, Jay morphed from adversary into protector. He shielded me from everything, just as he'd promised he would. Since he no longer had to battle me, he was able to focus his attention on fending off relatives, managing vendors and making his vision come to life.
When my mother referred to the lake we were getting married on as "a puddle," he accompanied her on a visit to the site and reassured her. When the florist called claiming she'd been verbally abused by a member of our family, he spent two hours consoling her. When our parents overrode our music selection, insisting on golden oldies, he accommodated them.
Finally, I saw the authentic beauty of Jay's gesture. He wasn't giving me what I'd been asking for, but he was giving us what he thought we needed — something symbolic and grand to honor our union.
In October, on a stunningly sunny day, I met Jay in a spot between two trees. In front of our 14-person bridal party and more than 200 friends and family members, we read the vows we'd written to each other. As I made my pledge, I felt the weight of everyone's expectations — including my own — fall away. It was the most romantic, most hopeful day of my life.
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