Greetings, readers! Today I’m thrilled to have Mark O’Connell here to talk about his book, Modern Brides and Modern Grooms: A Guide to Planning Straight, Gay, and Other Nontraditional Twenty-First-Century Weddings! First, we’ll start with the cover and blurb, then head on into the interview with Mark!
This book is for any couple—same or opposite sex—seeking a personalized wedding that dignifies the relationship and the individual self. No “new normal” here—this guide emboldens you to harness your unique, brazen, queer truth; to be creative; and to plan your wedding your way.
Every fiancé faces the question, how do I become something new without losing myself? Using his own story, author Mark O’Connell reflects on conflicts that arrive during wedding transitions, as well as various other transitions throughout your lives.
As a psychotherapist, O’Connell offers ideas to bridge relational gaps with your partner, family, and friends. As a professional actor, he also offers insight into the ways your wedding is a theatrical production and how this can help you to conceptualize the event, consolidate your efforts, and increase creative collaboration as a couple. This will serve you not only on your big day, but also for the rest of your time together.
Whether we’re straight, gay, or other, weddings inspire us to carve out more fun, freedom, recognition, life space, love space, and connubial space than we’ve ever had before.
Purchase your copy on Amazon. (Paperback edition releases January 3, 2017.)
Interview with Author Mark O’Connell
Tell us about Modern Brides & Modern Grooms.
My guiding question for this book was: Why does anyone get married anymore? Now that we can all get married in the U.S., and relationships are more gender neutral and equitable than ever before—gay or straight—why do so many of us still choose to get married and to have weddings?
I interviewed a wide variety of couples—of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and religious backgrounds—whose wedding planning journeys were each unique and distinct, but at the same time, at the core they were all after the same thing: to prepare for a life together, not just for a perfect day—with a perfect, white fluffy princess and a frilly cake at the center. And I use those very personal, idiosyncratic journeys to drive much of the book, to help inspire and encourage each individual reader.
I was also interested in how the processes of collaborative communication, negotiation, and creativity that go into wedding planning, help to decide much more than what color napkins are best and where to put the ice sculpture. More significantly the wedding planning process helps couples to practice how they will arrive at every major mutual decision they have to make down the line. (I’m a psychotherapist as well as an author). So unlike most wedding books, Modern Brides & Modern Grooms offers therapeutic advice for improving relationships with one’s partner (same or opposite sex), as well as one’s friends and family. That communication advice is based on my years of clinical experience. Whether the reader is gay or straight, this book is designed to help him or her to plan a meaningful life together, not just a day.
Modern Brides & Modern Grooms is also the only book on the wedding or marriage shelf that is truly for any DIY wedding planner, male or female, gay or straight (not just brides).
Also, as a trained, professional actor, I offer the reader a perspective on how their wedding is a theatrical event that can effectively reveal their authenticity, and how they can go about achieving that.
And there are lots of TRUE, painfully honest, sometimes hilarious, sometimes cringe-worthy, stories, from my own wedding planning, and from a wide variety other couples, to give the reader a bit of entertaining schadenfreude, and to validate and invigorate readers as they embark on their own unique marital journeys.
Why is there a need for this book? And I see that you say it is for both gay and straight couples – how would a straight couple benefit from a book targeted at same-sex couples?
The very first line of the book is “Marriage equality has arrived, and it’s not just for the gays!”
Marriage equality has liberated us all. We can all now follow the lead of same sex couples who have always favored gender neutrality and equality in our partnerships, and, creative freedom in the celebration of our unions. All couples now have the opportunity to bust out of traditional molds of marriage and weddings.
There was no single wedding or marriage book before this one that addressed how the concept of marriage equality emphasizes our likenesses more than our differences—whether we are gay, straight, or anything else. So I wrote one book to cover all those bases.
I wanted a guide to exist for the various people out there who want to celebrate their unique relationships their own way. I also wanted to inspire and empower each unique couple to reveal who they are, as opposed to conceal their individuality behind tired social norms. And I wanted the true stories I shared in the book—mine and many others—to not only help people to navigate their own wedding planning, but also the entire course of their marriages—again, based on my work as a therapist who specializes in identity, family, and relationship conflicts. I also wanted the book to be a good read, to flow, so that people could pick it up and get lost in other people’s true stories to help them make up their own minds about what to do, rather than to be told what to do.
One of the specific motivations for writing this book was the number of straight women friends of mine who had been inspired by my queer wedding, because it modeled for them a way to celebrate their individuality and the specificity of their relationships, eyes wide open and on their own terms, without having to sleepwalk through the steps of misogynistic traditions (like being given away by one man to another).
Also, I wanted to address something that gets missed in even the most modern, progressive, wedding books: wedding planning isn’t just for brides.
Men (both gay and straight) are more and more interested in helping to plan their own weddings than ever before. Especially when they are encouraged to think deeply about the specific purpose of the event. It’s the couples’ day, as a team, not just the bride’s (if there even is a bride). It’s the couple’s opportunity to tell the story of who they are as a pair. But unfortunately, most (if not all) of the wedding planning self is still aimed at women exclusively (and straight women at that). I wanted to expand what was available and to help readers to consider all the rich, meaningful, and fun, things that are at the core of any wedding, none of which have to do with the problematic, age-old, and superficial theme of “here comes the bride.” I wanted to create a resource that any couple could look to as they co-produce their own personal piece of theater, so that, when the event is performed, they will effectively and meaningfully celebrate the integration of their families with their tribes.
How does a same-sex wedding ceremony differ from a “traditional” wedding ceremony? (I’m reminded of my mom, who got married this past summer. She went very non-traditional with her wedding, almost exactly copying a same-sex wedding she had been to the previous year. Rather than being steeped in centuries of tradition, they instead allowed for freedom, creativity, and inventiveness—and just had fun!)
You answered your own question! Brilliantly.
There is no difference, really. Other than the fact that same sex couples do not have the option to sleepwalk through tired old wedding traditions, because we don’t have any. We are forced to be, as you say, “creative and individualistic, and free” to build our own, unique, events from the ground up.
But, again, as you say, the truth is that more and more straight couples are inspired by their queer peers and are refusing to perform antiquated rituals that hold no personal significance to them—as individuals or as couples—choosing instead to be just as awake, and creative and free in their celebrations, as their gay and lesbian friends and family members. So as time goes by, weddings are becoming more alike than different, no matter the genders or sexual orientations of the spouses to be.
Can you tell us a funny or cute or romantic story about your engagement and/or wedding with your husband?
Yes! Our entire relationship has been guided by Samuel Beckett’s wise words: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” and our wedding was no exception.
We chose a venue near the college where we first met, as awkward sixteen-year-olds. We had been fast friends (he made me laugh!). And one night he told me that he really liked me. And I told him I was *straight* (because it was 1993 and I had NO gay role models, and too much internalized homophobia). So we stopped talking. FAIL.
Then, six years later, after I had the chance to find myself sexually, I saw him on MTV’s The Real World, and heard him talking about an unrequited college love… and decided to write him a redemptive letter (on letterhead with my phone number at the top…) And he called me one night (which was wild, because I was watching him on TV, at that moment—I saw him travelling with his housemates through India as we talked on the phone). And we picked up where we left off, and became the boyfriends we never could have been at sixteen, had he gotten what he wanted. Then, six months later, we were walking, hand-in-hand, in Boston Common, and came across Ellen DeGeneres, playing frisbee with her then girlfriend. And I thought, how auspicious: I should tell him why I wrote that letter. And I said, “Remember when you were talking about me on TV?…” and he was like, “Um… That wasn’t you.” Oof. FAIL AGAIN.
Our good friend, Joy, officiated our wedding and told that story to our guests, emphasizing that Justin was not talking about me on the show. But also that he was…
And getting things wrong turned out to be a theme of our entire wedding. As beautiful as many things were—like Joy’s speech—we also failed, repeatedly, throughout the day, including and especially when we realized, too late!, that we hadn’t prepared for our first dance… FAIL BETTER.
So, after being together for 17 years, I can say there’s definitely something to be said for trying and failing, and failing better, as opposed to hiding behind the illusion of perfection. Failing keeps you connected to other people in an authentic way. And to this day, I find it meaningful that we celebrated that concept at our wedding in a variety of ways.
What is the core message of Modern Brides & Modern Grooms?
That marriage is a personal and independent choice. That each of us can make that choice with an awake, creative, and free mind; not only when we choose to get engaged or have a wedding, but again and again throughout our lives, every time we reach a major crossroads with our partner—in the form of family planning, or careers, or home-owning, or sex, or artistic goals. Weddings are opportunities to not only celebrate, but to truly prepare us to collaborate on all of those big decisions ahead, no matter who you are or whom you love.
Purchase your copy on Amazon. (Paperback edition releases January 3, 2017.)
Learn more about Modern Brides and Modern Grooms at Mark’s website.
About Mark O’Connell:
Mark O’Connell, LCSW, is a New York City-based psychotherapist in private practice, author, and public speaker on issues related to gender, identity, and relationship conflicts. As an expert on modern relationships and marriage, he is frequently interviewed by popular wedding planning sources such as Brides Magazine, The Knot, and Inside Weddings, and he is an official expert on Marriage.com. He writes for The Huffington Post, PsychologyToday, Truthdig.com, among other popular sources, and his clinical writing has been published by The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. His website is www.markoconnelltherapist.com.