Happily Ever After?

At a certain age, many of us turn to the obituaries after scanning the front page of our daily newspaper. Since I’m going to be 91 later this year, I’m deep into this morbid habit, but I recently discovered the perfect antidote. I’ve started to read the "Engagements and Weddings" columns, those paid notices inserted in newspapers by proud parents or by the happy couples themselves. Here are found the hopes and ambitions of life, put down at the moment of maximum anticipation—and in face of the fact that the statisticians tell us about half of all these marriages will fail. Never mind.

The announcements begin, "Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So are pleased to announce the marriage of..." The operative word is usually "pleased," although sometimes parents confess to being "happy" or "delighted" to announce, or even wish to "joyfully announce" the engagement.

Parental divorces lead to oddities. The groom is given as "the son of" both Jane and John and Mary and William—four parents no less. Most likely divorce of the parents may be divined from their current residences, usually one up North and the other down South.

Sometimes the happy couple boast about one or another set of parents: dad is a "senior partner" in this or that (named) prestigious law firm. Or the groom is not only the son of so-and-so but also the grandson of the late Navy commander so-and-so, or perhaps his "paternal great-grandfather" also deserved to be named. Occasionally this history gets out of hand. I remember reading about one bride and groom trading "greats" back to the American Revolution, and I imagine they never resolved which of them had the most important ancestry.

An intriguing part of this pursuit is what it tells me about the current employment of the happy couples. First, and strikingly so, I haven’t seen any bride-to-be telling us that she is simply planning to stay home and raise the children. They all have jobs, and some let you know that "the bride kept her maiden name." Many couples are in graduate school. Some work at the same place: Ms. So-and-So "is the corporate sales manager" while he is the owner of this named company. Or she "does medical research" while he is "president of the software firm." Or she is employed by a stockbroker, he by a bank. Or he, proudly, was "the starting quarterback" at his named university and now is "a graduate assistant in the football program" at another university while she is "a fifth-grade teacher" at a public school.

Here’s an unusual pair: they "met in Ecuador where she taught English" and "he established a bouquet export business." Increasingly, both bride and groom are into the dot.com world, though I’ve never seen anyone be crass enough to mention stock options.

One wonders how these youngsters’ dreams will turn out. I’d bet on the couple who "met at" this particular church "where they are members of the choir." The "professional ballerina" marrying "a licensed real estate agent" seems iffy. And it’s hard to tell about those whose wedding dates are given as May or June of 2002. Or the pair who plan to have "a medieval wedding" followed by "a second celebration."

I’ve never seen a paid notice for a couple of oldsters, but here’s a story I found in a county weekly. The widow, 79, and the widower, 78, were introduced by friends, but what sealed it was a mutual interest in the Internet. Said she: "I like to think Ken and I are a romantic testimony to computers." Well sure—anything to keep the newlyweds busy, along with five children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.