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My Italian family clung to superstitions when I was growing up, but it wasn't until I was planning a wedding that I did, too. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

How my (many) wedding superstitions saved my marriage

Following every good-luck rule was just one way of managing my fears around making it to forever.

I was raised in a family of wildly superstitious Italians. Black cats and broken mirrors were our warm-up act. My relatives would not exit from a different door of the house than they entered, pass a baby over literally any surface, come within a hundred yards of an owl, or buy, rent or honestly even visit any property in any way associated with the number thirteen. But the rules that scared me most as a child were the superstitions about marriage. Omens about the groom seeing the wedding gown (or God forbid the bride!). Predictions about what happens if it rains on the day (nothing good in my family’s personal system of belief — yes, I know that’s opposite what the rest of the world believes). Grave guidelines for that cute old-new-borrowed-blue rhyme (my aunt bought hundreds of sixpence in the ’80s so not one family shoe would be in jeopardy). And the grandmother of them all: Never accept a vintage engagement ring. To enter marriage wearing the karma from someone else’s relationship?! Mamma mia!       

Somewhere around high school I became the gray sheep of my family in many categories (full black sheep was a step too far from the family lasagna). One among them was my unwillingness to stay in line with that long list of superstitions. I started brazenly walking through front doors then dancing out the back, and I once opened an umbrella indoors — on Christmas. Naturally I thought I would also be the first rebel bride. What modern, free-thinking woman would let ancient practices rule her love life?  

Cut to me seconds after my boyfriend of three years finally asked, “Anything I should know about your taste in rings?”

I did not breathe before yelling, “It has to be brand-new!”

My new novel, "The Heirloom," was inspired in part by my own long-held superstitions around heirloom engagement rings.

Thankfully he got the (very clear) memo, but my 180 on how to guarantee a “happily ever after” only worsened in the months leading up to my wedding. I downloaded six different weather apps, hid my gown in my parents’ basement and had three backups for each old/new/borrowed/blue item (so a dozen individual items). Somewhere around considering an entire rain date wedding, I started to wonder if there was something deeper at play. Why was I suddenly so committed to following every single rule? To be clear, I think it’s lovely to honor family traditions on your big day, but for me this ran much deeper than decorating with the same lucky peonies my ancestors chose to bring prosperity.

It hit me when I tossed a straw hat onto my bed, breaking a non-wedding rule­ without a second thought: This wasn’t about my relationship with superstition, it was about my relationship with marriage. Following every good-luck rule was just one way of managing my fears around making it to forever.

I started to see each superstition as this sort of emotional litmus test for my feelings about the future — my brain’s way of dealing with the huge life decision I was making. The real question wasn’t, “Will a rainy day, missed item or heirloom ring mean a bad marriage?” It was, “Can anything actually guarantee that I won’t end up divorced?” Not, “What if the sixpence falls off my shoe?” but “What if I fall out of love with this man?” I decided to focus my attention on trying to answer those questions before I walked down the aisle (instead of looking for a fourth something blue). What was I afraid might happen to my marriage, and why?

Once I let my fears do some talking, I realized some anxieties were based on things still unsaid in my relationship. My fiancé and I had talked about many versions of our future but never had a firm conversation about parenthood. I also realized I needed to hear all his truest feelings about being tied to a writer who might never have truly stable income. And how exactly would he react if I said, “Sorry, no cats … ever.”? Quickly the idea of not having these very foundational talks became scarier than sitting down to hash it all out. I felt a hidden-wedding-gown-sized weight off my shoulders after we finally did. I was also more convinced than ever that I’d picked the right partner.

And yet there was still no way in hell you could have convinced me to let him see my wedding dress before the day. 

Jessie Rosen sitting with her husband after wedding ceremony
My husband and me on our wedding day.Courtesy Jenny Anderson

The more air time I gave my worry the more I realized that underneath it all was a deep distrust in the entire concept of marriage. The couples in my immediate family are together, but I’m a child of the ’90s. Growing up, more than half my friends split their time between Mom’s house and Dad’s house. But I was also able to see how much I craved certainty and control over my life, and how much angst I felt around the idea of the opposite. I started seeing a therapist for help working through those feelings, which were spilling over into much more than my wedding planning. At first I felt so much shame around all my uncertainty. A bride with cold feet? Mamma mia! But the closer I got to my wedding date the more pride I felt in my decision to battle the fears versus ignore them, and the more comfort I felt with all the new tools I was developing to know whether or not forever was for me.     

Any relationship is a leap of faith. Marriage takes that hope in lasting love and makes it legally binding. The truth is you can follow every single rule in the Italian superstition book (yes, there absolutely is one in print), and still not know for certain whether you’ll make it to “‘til death do us part.” To me that’s what makes the decision to enter into a lifelong commitment so incredibly romantic. You’re saying, “I know how big this is, and I’m doing it anyway.” Or as I came to decide, that’s why I’m doing it. Marriage is the biggest way that I have to say that I believe we should be together for life. 

In the end, it rained on our wedding day, and despite all the options my “something borrowed” was the same thing as my “something blue” which was — irony of all ironies — an heirloom butterfly brooch from my Italian grandmother. But on May 10, my husband and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary, and I firmly believe we’ve made it this far because of those wedding superstitions I became obsessed with over a decade ago. Walking through that process showed me that my sudden rule-following was a sign that it was time for me to examine my motivation. And I say bravo to any bride that faces those fears head-on before saying “I do.” To get married without exploring your deepest feelings about the decision?! Mamma mia