Great Reads on Weddings and Marriage

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
April 13 2013 7:30 AM

The Good, the Bad, and the Gay

The Longform guide to marriage.

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Lady Diana, Princess of Wales; and Charles, Prince of Wales; are seen during their wedding at St Paul Cathedral in 1981.

Photo by /AFP/Getty Images.

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.

There’s nothing simple about being legally bound to one person for the rest of your life (I have the authority to say this, as I’ve been in a blessed union for a full five months). Marriage can be beautiful, controversial, expensive and murderous. It can also be short. And sometimes—sometimes—it can make you a queen. Here are seven stories about the storied institution.

The Worst Marriage in Georgetown
Franklin Foer • New York Times Magazine • July 2012

The murderous tale of Washington D.C. fabulist Albrecht Muth and his late wife Viola Drath.

“On Aug. 12 last year, Muth called 911 and reported that he returned from his morning walk to find his wife splayed on their bathroom floor. A 91-year-old tumbling in a bathroom is hardly uncommon, so detectives didn’t initially investigate her death. It took the medical examiner to point out, a day later, that her scalp was bruised, her thumbnail torn and the cartilage in her neck fractured. She had been strangled and bludgeoned to death.

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“Drath’s murder seized the front page of The Washington Post, which was as awkwardly tangled in the story as the rest of the city’s elite. One of The Post’s columnists attended the couple’s dinners, as did the reporter who covered the case for The Wall Street Journal. Over the years, Muth flooded the in-boxes of his media contacts with messages containing his thoughts on the day’s events and knowing tidbits of insider gossip—speculations about covert operations gone awry or rumors about fights between top generals—a habit that didn’t end with his wife’s death. Four days after he supposedly found Drath’s body, Muth forwarded a note that he originally sent to officials in the Pentagon. He intimated that the police considered Drath to be the unfortunate victim of an assassin who was hunting for him. ‘I have to take a slain wife out to Arlington,’ he wrote, ‘mourn her, then find her killer.’ “

Remains of the Day
Matt Mendelsohn • Washingtonian • December 2012

A wedding photographer catches up with his past clients.

“Stephanie and I met recently at a Mexican restaurant in Ballston, and though we’ve kept in touch over the years — I photographed both of her pregnancies — it’s the first time we’ve discussed life after her wedding. She, of course, remembers the dress with the cuffs, the rain that morning, her giggly vows.

“But when she tells me she hasn’t looked at her wedding album in probably seven years, I’m reminded of how fleeting it all can be. The bridal industrial complex, in which I’ve been a cog for 14 years, desperately wants couples to believe that it’s all about Your Day!—the emphasis firmly on the ‘your’ part—that if you throw enough fondant and tulle and calla lilies at one eight-hour event, newlyweds might forget about the 438,000 hours yet to come.

“Wedding photographers now spend almost as much time shooting pictures of things like hors d’oeuvres, place cards, and rings—’details,’ they’re called, a deliciously ironic term—as they do the bride and groom, the meaningless detail shots only masking the fact that there are precious few real details yet.

“So much energy for just one day, one blip on a graph that will go on for years, decades, half centuries. Or not.”

The Wedding
Katherine Goldstein • Slate • July 2012

Erwynn Umali, Will Behrens, and the first gay wedding on a military base.

“The ceremony is decidedly Christian. Chaplain Reeb reads Bible passages and evokes Jesus’ name in her prayers. In his vows, Will points out that they both come from conservative, religious families. He speaks of how glad he is that God made their paths cross. “I never met anyone that it was worth giving it all up for, until I met you,” he says. He closes with, ’I give you my heart, my faith. I choose you today—forever and a day.’

Erwynn speaks about all the trials they’ve been through together. After choking up, he jokes, ‘I’m trying to keep my military composure.’ He vows: ‘Just like I would fight for my country and sacrifice for it, and even die for my country as a member of the Air Force, I would do all of that for you. You are my last love, forever and a day.’ ...

“Will and Erwynn are pronounced husband and husband. They kiss and light the family unity candles. The kids give white roses to the family members in attendance. Then the couple intones, ‘Umali-Behrens family: ATTENTION!’ The kids snap to attention. Together, they yell, ‘Cordon POST!’ The honor guard—a ceremonial unit that can be requested by members of the military for special occasions—enters the chapel, takes its position, and raises swords in an arch over the aisle. The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night’ starts to play. The boys don aviator shades, and each kid takes a turn dancing down the aisle. The grooms go last.”

A Major-League Divorce
Vanessa Grigoriadis • Vanity Fair • August 2011

The marriage and divorce that bankrupted the Dodgers.

“You would almost pity the man if he weren’t such a scoundrel, or a schlemiel, depending on your perspective. Always with a fine suit on, his thin lips moving constantly as they work their way into some new sort of trouble, he’s been owner of the team for seven years, since he blew into town with Jamie, his tense, skinny Chihuahua of a wife who favors a look that could be described as Real Housewives Business Casual—tight navy skirts, highlighted blond hair, and enormous handbags. Los Angeles was initially welcoming of them, as it is of anyone with money, but when it became clear that they were using one of the city’s biggest franchises—part of what put Los Angeles on the map as a world-class destination—to pay their personal expenses, among other shenanigans, the ire in the normally placid city exploded.”

The Marriage Cure
Katherine Boo • New Yorker  • August 2003

In an Oklahoma City neighborhood usually left off city maps, the federal government is implementing its $300 million anti-poverty plan: teaching poor Americans how to get married.

“Oklahoma has rarely found itself in the vanguard of antipoverty thinking, but the class to which the two women were heading embodies a vigorous new idea— something known locally as ‘the marriage cure.’ Traditionally, singleness has been viewed as a symptom of poverty. Today, however, a politically heterodox cadre of academics is arguing that singleness—and particularly, single parenthood—is one of poverty's primary causes, for which matrimony might be a plausible tonic. For the past few years, the state of Oklahoma has been converting this premise into policy. In an initiative praised by the Bush Administration, which aims to seed marriage-promotion programs nationwide, the state has deputized public-relations firms, community leaders, and preachers (among them the pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church) to take matrimony's benefits to the people. Last summer, that marriage drive reached Sooner Haven. ‘Come learn about relationships!’ said the recruiter who knocked on the housing project's beat-up doors.”

Soft Porn, Hardening Hearts
Jonathan Tayler • Brooklyn Ink • January 2012

The dissolution of Brooklyn softcore skin-mag Jacques and the marriage of the couple that created it.

“Why start an erotica magazine at a time when porn magazines were rapidly losing money? Both Jonathan and Danielle expressed a desire to showcase an aesthetic they felt was missing from mainstream adult magazines.

“‘Our girls are much different than what Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler are offering,’ Danielle said. ‘Those girls that they’re showcasing, I could easily hop on my computer and get millions and millions of pictures that are those girls. I would like to think our girls are different. They’re curvy and not airbrushed. I feel like this is filling a gap that does not exist right now.’

“The Leders started their magazine in Williamsburg and tried to recruit women in the neighborhood to pose. The inaugural issue was ‘awful,’ in Danielle’s mind, riddled with spelling errors and printing problems. But subsequent releases improved on quality, and the magazine started gaining notice. Major chain bookstores had begun adding Jacquesto their newsstands. A deal was struck with PowerHouse Books to put together a calendar for a 2011 release.

“Then things began to fall apart.”

The Wedding of the Century
Marie Brenner • New York • August 1981

The frenzied few days before the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.

“Is Lady Diana here? Is that Lady Diana in the turquoise hat?

“She was, it was. The future Princess of Wales was at her first official engagement with the queen. Soon, Diana's blond hair came into view. She had swept the so unregal Sassoon fringe under her brim, but her face was camouflaged by the netting, a piece of brilliant fashion theater that separated her from the dowdy Windsors, stealing all the attention from her sour sister-in-law-to-be, Princess Anne, and her future mother-in-law. Diana's presence electrified the Tongan diplomats and the charity workers. Suddenly all was frenzy, as if they had spotted Elton John. There was a stampede from the queen's middle lane. The 7,000 loyal subjects of HM raced across the lawn in their haste to get to Diana's path. But the question was, Which path would she take? The north route, toward the royal tea tent and the herbaceous border? The south route, toward the gray-and-green-striped tent? The crowd, as if possessed, surged toward the right, then pushed toward the left, straining, shoving, jumping, fighting to see which way Lady Diana and her fiancé—the fellow who used to attract all the attention—would head. All that nicey-nice collective ritual broke down. Manners vanished. Not a "sorry" to be heard. And when Diana floated eastward toward the gazebo and the delphiniums in a cloud of turquoise-and-mauve chiffon, the guests in their droopy dresses and morning suits got even more frantic to grab a spot in the right-hand path to get a really good look at their next queen.”

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

Gretchen Gavett is a contributor to Longform.org.

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