Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages

[Putnam and Sons; May 4]

As the former wedding announcements writer for The New York Times, Cate Dotynow living in Raleigh and working as an adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill—was privy to many machinations between members of high-profile partnerships. In her new memoir, Mergers and Acquisitions, Doty spills the tea on what it was like behind the scenes while working at the Times and reflects on what she learned from the couples she profiled. She also explores her own journey that led her down the path to saying “I do.”

INDY: Your book is half memoir, half tell-all about your work at the Times. Why did you choose to present the stories together?

Cate Doty: When I was going through this idea with my book agent, we agreed that this shouldn’t be a sociologist text. I’m not a sociologist and it’s not anthropological. During the time I was writing the wedding announcements, I was ending one post-college relationship and falling in love with the man who would become my husband. That particular part of my life was inextricably intertwined with writing wedding announcements. It helped me understand what I felt about commitment and to come to the conclusion that ultimately I did want to get married—and to marry this person.

Covering weddings for so long, would you say you are an expert on love?

Oh god, no. What gives you a perspective on love is time and experiencing love in all the forms that it takes. Hopefully, many of us are lucky enough to experience all the different kinds. Marital love and romantic love are sometimes not the same thing, funnily enough. It’s not like the romantic phase. Marriage is its own mythical beast. I would not consider myself an expert about love, I would consider myself a critic. I’m not critical of love—I just take a more educated perspective on it now than I did 15 or 20 years ago.

If you didn’t learn to be a love expert, what did you learn?

One of the questions I would routinely ask each person was: tell me about your fiancé, tell me about this person you’re going to marry. Often I’d be writing about fantastically rich people who had their own private jets or didn’t have to lift a finger to do anything. Or, I was writing about people who had incredibly interesting careers. The way they would talk about their fiancées was always quite revealing.

I wrote the wedding announcement for Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, who, as most people know, lost her husband in a horrible accident several years ago. When she was the vice president of Google, I remember talking to her a couple weeks before her wedding. She was so clear-eyed about their ambitions together and the things that they needed from each other—how they truly wanted to be each others’ helpmates. I talked to her now-late husband and he said the same thing. I felt that that was incredibly revealing and instructive.

That leads into your title. Is marriage sometimes a business?

(Laughs) Oh god, yes. As someone says in Little Women, marriage is an economic proposition. Marriage has been used to join family bank accounts and  join up centuries of societal and economic power. When heterosexual couples get divorced in this country, it’s usually the woman who lowers her standards of living. But mergers aren’t just for rich people. We have emotional mergers as well.

At the Times, how do you pick which announcements to include?

You have to have the mindset of someone who thinks, “Yes, I want my wedding announcement in The New York Times.” Second, you have to follow the instructions and submit all the info they request and be on time and, the most important thing, is not to lie. Because if you lie, your wedding announcement will not get printed. People do that. They adjust their titles up a notch, say they graduated from some place they didn’t.

The applicant pool is [also] much smaller than people think. Now, in the summer months, you could get hundreds of people applying and it comes down to the basic requirements. And then it is this complicated formula of, are you from New York, where did you go to school, what did you do? They really love public service, which is funny because you’re not going to see many firefighters in there. But I guarantee you, if more firefighters or teachers [submitted], they would make it in.

The pages have gotten more diverse. They’re starting more to reflect America as a whole instead of just rich, white, upper middle class/upper class society that tends to be drawn to the wedding announcement.

What have you learned from your relationship with your husband?

Probably the main thing I’ve learned from being married, or being with my husband for 17 years—even through the pandemic, even through some of the darkest days—is, it’s pretty great to have someone to wake up to, and say yes to, even when all you want to do is run for the hills. You never know what kind of great stuff is around the corner and that’s why we commit to anything—nothing is sure. As humans we like to place bets. What I learned from writing the announcements is that sometimes bets pay off in a pretty magical way.

For a skeptic, you sound optimistic about the prospect of marriage and love.

I happen to have fallen into a pretty good one. My parents are getting divorced, surprise—after 44 years of marriage, they are calling it. Sometimes it’s hard to remain optimistic or even romantic in the face of what life can throw at you. But I am lucky enough to be with someone who helps reinforce that.

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