I've just finished Subway Idol: a NYTimes video about a man named Joe Taylor who auditions for the Music Underground program in the New York subways. He sings an original love song entitled "All Around The World," proclaiming to the judges before his performance, "This is guaranteed to make you smile."
I occasionally watch the NYTimes videos, but they're not my favorite part of the NYTimes. Neither is the international section, which I read almost exclusively for the first three years I had my online account, which I registered for when I was 15. And it's not the sports page or even the crossword, a staple of my college chemistry career. It's not even the fashion section (which I read religiously.)
And no, it's not Nick Kristof's column.
My all-time favorite, best-loved section of the New York Times is the Vows.
Every week on Saturday, the paper publishes a feature article on a recent wedding, complete with pictures of the bride and groom and sometimes guests at the event. The article also features details of the couples' courtship, often giving in intimate details the defining moments of their relationship along with describing the decor at the wedding venue. In their wedding pictures, the couples are not always dressed in white (less and less often these days) but they invariably manage to look very much in love.
Last week's article was the story of a couple who met during their freshmen year of college and instantly became best friends. They remained platonic best friends for the next eight years, calling each other almost daily while offering support and advice during the other's romantic relationships. The relationship changed suddenly on an unplanned visit one made to the other. Soon the two were dating, and very shortly thereafter the two were engaged. Their wedding picture is one of the happiest I've seen on the vows. Both the bride and the groom look radiant.
Their story almost sounds a little too traditional for the Vows, however. The week before the Vows featured the marriage between a peace corps official who married a stuffy, closeted professor. While she traveled across the world managing the emergency response teams for the International Rescue Committee, he was a workaholic academic with three Ph.D.s and a career in evolutionary biology. They met after seeing each other's profiles on an online dating site, and after negotiating a long distance relationship for several years, married in her apartment in Brooklyn. She left for Kenya the next day.
Other articles have featured U.N. diplomats falling in love with other during peace mediations and across five conflicts, a celebrity hairstylist finally proposing to one of his first clients he saw more often on T.V. then in real life, an Alvin Ailey dancer tying the knot with a corporate lawyer, a female marketing executive getting hitched to a professional clown, the women who wrote a book against marriage taking the plunge... Indeed what stands out about the Vows is precisely the unpredictable and wide range of love stories. Against all odds, the people who are featured in the Vows seem able to make their love work and decide to unite their lives together, even when that unity means giving up rescuing orphans in Ghana and learning how to make brown paper lunches for step children. There is no practical or logistical reason for these couples to get married. Few share a similar upbringing or share childhood memories. Defying statistics that say you should marry someone who grew up in a thirty mile radius of you, none of these couples were raised in the same home town. Many are not of the same race. Few share the same religious beliefs. Some I've mentioned don't live on the same continent for longs parts of the year. Others hate the profession of the one they love. Some, having been married before, swear they will never love again only to find themselves at the altar. Love, as expressed in the Vows, quite literally brings the world together.
So why do I love the Vows so much? Perhaps because the variety of love found in the Vows stands as a testament against the worst parts of my character and the social world in which I date. As a single Mormon women intent on marrying another single Mormon male, the vast majority of men in my dating pool are not only the same religion as I am, but they are mostly the same ethnic background, attended the same undergraduate university, and have grandparents that live in the city that my grandparents or my parents do. Most of them, like me, have more than one sibling-- including a sister who forced them to watch Anne of Green Gables. They grew up eating a lot of hot dogs, jello, and chocolate chip cookies and they drink milk because in their heads they hear their mothers' voices telling them to grow big and strong. They don't listen to a lot of rap music, prefer to recycle, and own a bike. Once upon a time they started learning how to play acoustic guitar and dance the cha-cha. They like opening doors for women as much as I like having my door opened for me (more so, often) and feel slighted when the woman picks up the tab at dinner. Some of them celebrate the Passover even though they aren't Jewish, like my family does. They get uncomfortable when a movie gets too raunchy and listen to classical music on Sundays and know how to change a tire and iron a shirt and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. So do I.
If the people in the Vows can make it work with people that live on separate continents, why have I not yet found love with one of the many kind young men who share my race, religion, family background, major categories of interests, and values?
The answer has a much to do with myself as it does the young men in my dating pool. I suffer from the pickiness and general dating malaise that maybe settles when you don't have to work hard to find people who (at least in surface ways) are compatible with you. There's the boy next door I grew up with who played the trumpet with me and walked me home from school every day in ninth grade and shared most of my major experiences in high school who I didn't date because I felt I couldn't respect his opinions (which often mirrored mine). And I didn't marry the boy in college who liked me because I didn't want to go grocery shopping with him (he married my sister and they spend hours at the grocers together) or the other boy because he was my best friend and liked football too much. I'm not dating one boy I know because he "reminds me too much of Mr. Collins"-- and I yet haven't mentioned the freckled funny boy who makes me laugh like crazy and takes me to my favorite hamburger joint for sweet potato fries because that's right-- I'm not dating him either. For no good reason.
My ex isn't married to me partially because I "give too much of the time" and the boy I've liked for the last two years isn't dating me because I'm not "skinny enough to be paired with him in his brain." I'm sure there are others who have rejected me without even a date because I have red hair or have taken to wearing purple on occasion, because I wave my hands when I talk, because I can't open containers, or because sometimes I come out a little on the liberal side of conversation or am starting med school in the fall. Or because I never wear makeup or am not as physically active as I should be. I feel like I'm in a perpetual round of mutual passive rejection.
How do I change my heart to be more accepting of people, even when they're very different from me? I don't have a good answer to this question, although I've been trying to work on it a little bit at a time for several years. Maybe the answer is that I just need to get out of my homogeneous dating pool and marry a Northern Indian Hindu who works as a guide on Mount Everest. We could live in a yurt together and I could cook yak. Or maybe I just need to learn to overlook the little things and focus on building on the already solid foundations of our commonalities instead of rejecting the future because of temporary habits. As the Vows teach, even a career as a diplomat is negotiable.
I love the Vows because every week, I get a little reminder that I should stop looking at the package and start looking at what is inside-- that I should take chances on people and be patient and wait for romance to develop instead of steeling my heart against the possibility of change. As the Vows illustrate, when love is in the offing, anything can happen. Hearts can be melted. Long term difficulties can evaporate. I, too, can change my heart to accept not only a person who is very different from me, but maybe someone who shares all my major characteristics and my belief in God too.
Perhaps more selfishly, I love the Vows because they give me hope that someday, maybe someday, someone will take a chance on a little redheaded West Coast girl who loves Catholic schoolchildren and viruses both. And if that somebody happens to be a flaming-haired man from Cali who only wears flip-flops in the lab too, then so be it. It might be true love.