Happily Ever After, Beyond the Bottom Line
How wedding announcements spurred my desire for a marriage of business and romance
The wedding announcements in the New York Times provide a socially acceptable portal through which we can peer into the private lives of our neighbors — an opportunity to romanticize about strangers’ love lives and impressive professional accomplishments. I find them irresistible reading, a perfect recipe that combines the revealing with the opaque to cook up intrigue. Essentially, they present two individuals as adjacent lists of statistics; add the two columns and you tally the sum of the union — job, parent’s job, school attended, etc.
This spare and reductive portrayal of the wedded couple is livened up when seasoned with stories of love, whimsy, and idiosyncratic personality traits: “He wants instant gratification and often eats his dessert before his entrée,” or “Was this love at first sight? “I’d never felt electrified by the sight of a perfect stranger.” As I scan through each couples’ short profile, I long to use what I read to build a fantasy and romance that will bring to life each photo of two faces, frozen in time and imprinted with “forever smiles.”
Crashing into cynicism
But I realize I’ve become frustrated. Amidst words intended to convey compassion, urgency, impulse, and longing, I couldn’t help but notice how unromantic most people’s jobs sounded; it really killed my mood. A couple meeting on a subway platform is very romantic, but imagining the bridegroom as a sales manager at a technology company overseeing the accounts of Fortune 500 companies wasn’t helping. Sure, working at Google is great — a dream job for many — but still, do I want to know what kind of corporate clients he has before I learn how “He waited with infinite patience, and some pain, for the day she would see him not as her best friend but as a boyfriend, a husband maybe”? The drab functionality of these job tiles would march into my constructed romantic fantasies like boring automatons and take them apart. Director of Marketing and Communications, The Operations Manager, or the Analyst who specializes in leveraged buyouts — these identifications would send me plummeting back to reality, and worse, I’d plunge deeper, crashing into cynicism, as in contrast to the romantic, the transactional became all the more amplified.
CALL TO ROMANCE: “…burst in, walked up to her and, in full view of their mutual friends, gave her what she described as “a long dramatic kiss that was the start of our relationship.”
ANSWER: “…works with clients in the retail, technology and insurance industries …”
Ugh! I’m left envisioning an epic retail-industrial techno-face-suck, and why are there clients involved in this anyways — this is supposed to be a wedding? I am mixing and matching announcements now, of course, but the disjoint blend of language is having a dramatic effect on me. I’m unsatisfied, and so binging — consuming pages of announcements in one sitting, the romantic and business words refusing to blend together, creating the indigestible brew that now bloats my mind.
I proceed through a sampling of postings from every year since 1985. I imagine a kind of a digital conveyor belt stamping certifications and degrees on people who meet the grade, and then shoving them down a series of branching algorithmically governed chutes to meet their match while the wedding announcements are already printing. Only the names need to be filled in to lend some specificity. No wasted time, predicable, convenient, and cost effective!
Some research tells me I am far from being the first to have caught a whiff some peculiar anti-alchemy in the Times’ Weddings/Celebrations pages. The Onion satirized them, and Todd Schneider created Wedding Crunchers, a database that allows users to search for common words among postings over time. Wedding Crunchers became an ancillary addiction, as I tried pitting various words against each other; the word “artist” is on a steady decline, and the word “strategist” is on the rise.
Let’s face it: Romance and work seem uncomfortable bedfellows, and it’s even worse when the work is a typical “corporate” job. Full disclosure: I just traded in my pointe shoes for an MBA, trading the absolutely romantic title of “ballerina” for an acronym. Maybe that’s why I want so badly for there to be a way for these couples to have it all—that’s why I’m trying so hard.
I compare two wedding announcements from this year—one, a school teacher marrying an artist, and the other the union of two consultants—and an insight strikes me. We as business people strive to divorce work from feeling, conceal our hopes, and inner personalities from our colleagues and find strength in claiming that our decisions are a result of numerical analysis alone. In business culture, work is partitioned from life, friends are often separate from colleagues, and anything valuable must be quantified and benchmarked! Perhaps the way we see ourselves creates not just our culture, but also our shared language—a language that dooms us to dry the passion out of the wedding section with the language of our job descriptions that act like those neat little pouches of silica desiccant packaged in a seaweed snack. But these words reflect the way we live within our work, and so perhaps the problem is deeper than my disrupted fantasies.
Most working adults spend 8.8 hours a day on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s more than half of our waking hours. In the wedding announcement, we can see our business identity collide with our other “personal” self. Is it impossible for business to accommodate romance? Do we as business people have a choice other than to live unromantic lives? My ideal world, in which work activity is heightened, meaningful, and infused with sensation and emotion, is just not possible. Or is it?
What if business were different?
After all, underneath the markets with their sophisticated financial products and trading technology, are exchanges built on our desires, fears, hopes, and at the root of it, our trust in one another.
Tim Leberecht, author of the new book The Business Romantic: Give Everything, Quantify Nothing, and Create Something Greater Than Yourself, describes how important work culture is in building our identities. He cites examples of people defining themselves within their work culture and community of colleagues. “When we seek meaning, work is our arena” Leberecht states. He goes on to write:
“We suffer under the constrictions of the traditional market system and models of decision making that assume we are fully rational beings. And we suffer when we continue to create false distinctions between our business personas and other, larger parts of our humanity, when we divorce business from our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. Many of us clamor for more.”
I relate to this. When I enrolled in business school, I hoped to gain permission to enter the world of making, needing, providing, and delighting, to participate in the wills of objects and moments that define the structures within which we live. The world of business that I then imagined and still long to be in, invited me to be fully myself, all the time — full of hope and vulnerability. I could change direction when necessary in pursuit of something greater or better, or more beautiful. In the “Business Romantic” world, an announcement of love wouldn’t sound so dissonant when stated next to the important contributions we make in our work.
I’m not imagining a story ballet — to me romance doesn’t just mean flowers and lace, but difficulty and desire and even suffering sometimes for the things we want and believe in. It’s that way in love, and if we can bring romance to business it will be that way, too. I’m not deluding myself and am certain there’s a lot to sort out. Seeing the possibility comes first….
…but if you are left craving a happy ending to this piece, try this wedding announcement — it’s a story of how one woman threw away her data and ran after a man exiting the subway train…
This essay was first published by Elyssa Dole on Medium.