I grew up with a mom who, when she signed her checks, wrote three names. When I was younger, I’d watch spend the time it took to write out the words. Now, unlike my father (or me for that matter), my mom has very good hand writing. You could actually read her signature. She spent time on every letter and it flowed together. At first, I thought nothing of the fact that she wrote three names when she signed her checks. I didn’t understand, or even know, that wives typically take their husband’s last name. I didn’t really know why they did that, what it meant, and why, in our society, that was the default behavior of couples. I did know that I didn’t know any other woman my mom’s age who wrote three names. I never asked her about it – I always figured it was just her thing.

Of course, as I got older, I started to learn what “default” in our society means. When it comes to marriage, women took their husband’s last name and it all harked to the idea that a woman left her family, her history, her tradition and joined another. At least, this was how it is done in the US and English speaking countries. And I understood that my mother had replaced her middle name with her maiden name and taken on my father’s last name as her family name but, and this always struck me, she never felt like my father’s last name trumped hers. Her last name wasn’t lost or replaced- it was merely moved and it was worthy of appearing along side of her chosen family name.

my future sister-in-law’s wedding

As I got older, I never had the desire for my future wife (whoever that ended up being) would take my last name. If she wanted to, that was her choice. If she didn’t, that’s fine too. If she wanted to hyphen it, great. It didn’t matter to me necessarily. I always felt that a name is merely a name – it’s who the name represents that matters. And, in fact, in the early stage of my relationship with my fiancee, I did mention my very opinion on this and mentioned that I could end up taking her last name. She was kinda thrilled about that idea, in fact, but that’s also because she’s very proud of not only her name, but also who carries that name – specifically herself, her family, etc. And her family name isn’t that popular and with only sisters in her family, there’s a risk that her last name would stop propagating (at least in the US) rather soon. She’d rather that continue and I think that’s a very good reason to want to keep her name.

So, great, I’d take her last name, life would be peachy. And since I live in a state where I’m allowed to change my name on my marriage license, there wouldn’t be any problems or hassle to get this done. We didn’t talk about it for a few years but, as I got older and the actual realization that I’m getting to the point where I could become a dad, I suddenely had second thoughts. Well, not necessarily second thoughts about me taking her last name. I had second thoughts on the name my kids were going to have.

And so I started thinking.

And thinking.

And pondering.

And then it hit me. My mother was always proud of her last name and she always included it in her signature. It was a part of her and belonged to her and it was worth writing. Now, I never received her last name but why didn’t I? Why is my name only three words long rather than four? In fact, who determines why we only get one last name anyways? I’m Mexican-American, dagnabit. Have you ever met a latino that didn’t have eight names? I thought not! Why shouldn’t my kids have the option of having 100 names?

And by ditching my last name, and not passing it on to my children, does that then disconnect them from my cultural heritage? Does our connection to the larger Mexican-American community disappear when their names contain no Mexican reference at all? Will they not realize where they come from and what that means? And will they, in a sense, be denied the inherent opportunity to embrace their heritage and to discover where they come from because I, as their father, made a conscious decision to deny them that? Will they end up suffering the same disconnect with society in general that I did growing up because my father made that very choice?

The name choice, in a sense, became less about me and more about giving it to the nameless future beings that, if God graces me, I’ll help bring into this world and raise. Part of parenthood, in my opinion at least, is giving them opportunities or at least chances to experience things in a different (and a better) way that I did. If my kids choose to embrace their ancestry, I want them to have that opportunity and owning my last name, and my fiancee’s, can be one way for them to do that. It doesn’t mean they have to but it’s there and ready for us and that’s something they should at least have, I think. Which, all in all, makes me realize that if my fiancee didn’t to keep her last name, I’d probably insist that our future kids still have it somewhere. It does mean that our kids will have four names, and, in our society, they might only end up ever using 3. But if that happens, that’ll be their choice.

So, in the end, our family name (legally) will be my fiancee’s last name. My middle name will expand from one name to two. Our kids will, hopefully, have two middles names as well with one being my “maiden” name. They won’t have two last names – this isn’t that great of an idea because then the order of the last names matters which means that my fiancee’s last name would have to be the first one in order but everyone in the US would assume that mine, which is 2nd, is our real last name and that’s not kosher – but they’ll have access to it. And in case they don’t end up being called Maria, Fernado, Jesus, Luis, Lucinda, Xavier or what not, at least they’ll have one name that’ll make applying for financial aid at college easier. Viva la acci√≥n afirmativa!

My First Dilema: What domain name to use?

Yeah, I know. This might not be the first question that springs to your mind when you think about getting married but then you don’t do web programming for a living. Or maybe you do. And if that’s the case, this was probably the 2nd thing you thought of, was it? Yeah, we’re a strange breed.

Those dumplings, like domain names, are cheap. At Fried Dumpling, you can get five for a dollar. At mad dog domains, you can get domains for less than 9 dollars a year. I own about 10 which isn’t a lot for the field I’m in but it’s probably more than the average person owns. Blogs, portfolios, random words that I thought were funny – yep, I have it all. And I’ve probably own roughly 20 other domain names over the year though they all lapsed once I decide that I wasn’t doing anything with them. They might not seem expensive at first but, like those dumplings, eat too much and you’ll pay for it later.

So the first thing I looked up was our two first names with an and between them .com. Of course both were taken for weddings that happened in 07 or 08. My was taken though is available. I thought about using a hyphen but only one of those works and, honestly, that’s not the most visibly appealing way to do a domain. Hyphens, when used in this way, looks like a minus sign and, in that regard, probably work best for a divorce rather than a wedding. Could I have used .net rather than .com? Sure but I don’t trust that people will remember .net rather than .com in case they lose the invitation. Usability, my friends, is very important when it comes to web development and even more important when it comes to weddings. Do you really want to try to blow the mind of your computer illiterate family members? Because, as amazing as it might seem, they still exist. And people still lose pieces of paper. The best is to keep it simple.

So why not myfirstname plus herfirstname dot com. Well, for some reason, I don’t find it appealing audibly. Not that our names are weird or anything – they’re quite normal. But when you put them together, the domain seems less about marriage and more about someone who was given a female middle name because their parents really wanted them to be a girl. It doesn’t scream “these two people are getting married” which is what I wanted. An and in between makes sense because there are two people getting married. That’s how a wedding domain name should be, right?

Okay, so I might sound vain but I think it’s important to view a wedding as less than single event and more as a series of events that culminate in the writing of a bunch of thank you notes while sitting around in your underwear. A domain name should reflect this series of events. So it was a struggle. I gave my fiancee many choices (she nixed most of them but I think the one that made us sound like spanish matadors would have been pretty awesome) and we finally came up with one. And, yes, I’ll be using a sub domain but I think it’ll work okay. The domain will actually say what the website is really about. It’s not clever, witty, or extravagant but it’ll work. And, even better, it can be used in the future for other family weddings (if I decide to keep renewing it year after year). So what did we decide on?

It’s going to include her last name with attached at the end. And why her last name? Cuz it’s gonna be my last name. Being an Engaged Groom means you’re breaking tradition and if you’re breaking tradition, why not break it in more ways than one?

I’ll explain more about that tomorrow.

How an engaged groom actually becomes an engaged groom

I’m trying really hard to not just make my posts a reaction to the two or three wedding blogs I read but, man, some of them make it really really hard. I can’t wait to start talking about trying to find a photographer (which is something I should start doing) because, damn, I’m feeling the urge to snark.

Anyways, so I mentioned that I’m an engaged groom. I stole that phrase from a book titled, amazingly enough, The Engaged Groom. The book, which is a very general outline about weddings in general is OK. It’s not actually what I wanted, or need, frankly. I’m not clueless when it comes to weddings – I’ve gone to a couple, I watch tv, I’ve read all the blogs that call weddings a big mass produced worship ritual of mass consumer idolatry. I’ll review the book once I’m finished but I did like the phrased “an engaged groom”. It’s one of those perfect little labels that make sense.

So how did I get to be an engaged groom? Well. I probably should relate that story so I can do what I always enjoy doing – which is talk about myself.

I’m liberal. I hug trees. I recycle. I sign petitions to legalize gay marriage. I’ve protested. I suffer white guilt even though I’m only half white. I am, for all intents and purposes, your typical New York liberal. And how does your typical New York male liberal suppose to react to engagement rings? Easy. He waits for all his friends to forward him articles about how diamonds are a fraud, Debeers is evil, that money could be better used on a house, and all that nonsense. And then he waits for his more conservative friends to explain to him that 3 months salary, while traditional, is fake. What matters is the carat size of the diamond and that 1 carat doesn’t cut it anymore – you go 1.5 carat or you go home. Then there is a third set of friends who remind him that diamonds are ugly, gold is ugly, and that the only worthwhile engagement ring is from a cracker jack box. And then, his brother likes to remind him that when he got engaged, he didn’t have a job so that, technically, he spent an infinite months salary and that there’s no way that I can match up with that. Engagement rings, for all intents and purposes, is a competition. You have to compete with tradition, with society, with your family, her family, and all your friends. And you see all those ladies on the subway with rings the size of grapefruits? Yeah – you’re competing with them too. Or at least that’s how it seems.

But it’s all bogus. This pressure of competition is something that I, as an engaged groom, feel constantly while planning for my wedding and it’s something that starts at the very beginning when you realize “oh hell, I want to marry this girl”. The trick is not to make the mistake in assuming that competition automatically means fulfillment. You’re not here to compete with yourself, your family, your friends, the world, God or anyone. You’re here to fulfill something. And that’s what the engagement ring should be. Once you realize the woman who fulfills you, then you want to seal the deal, make your relationship backed before the power of the state and God, and you want to fulfill that woman’s ideal on what her engagement ring should look like. She might not want one. She might want one the size of a bus. She might want a diamond, a halo setting, a sapphire, or a ham sandwich. It doesn’t matter matter what she wants but I feel that as Mr Groom, it’s my job to meet that want and need. Or at least get as close as possible.

And I know that a rock doesn’t make a love more solid, or a relationship better, or solve the worlds problems. It’s not suppose to. But I do know that an engagement ring makes it external. The commitment and love I feel towards my fiancee is now set in stone for all the world to see. I’m make a statement that I want to marry this girl. And, really, that’s a pretty important statement to make. And if you can’t say it loud, then don’t say it at all. Big or go home. That’s how it should be done. So when a liberal New York is stuck in a place where half the world is telling him to go large and traditional, half is telling him to go small and different, and the other half is telling him you’re never going to match up with us, what does he do? He listens to the one person who really matters in this whole process.

Or at least tries to when she says, over dinner in a restaurant before Christmas, that me and her should get married. And then, right in the middle of her sentence, the music turns up loud and you stumble hearing her words and the first thing out of your mouth isn’t “I think that’s brill” but “what?” because you sometimes speak before you think and, really, that music didn’t have to be that loud. That’s how our marriage talk began. It wasn’t a specific question, there wasn’t a proposal, there was a simple statement. And there didn’t need to be a question because we were at the same place, at the same time, which is why our relationship works in the first place. Some people need the knee and ring before they can say yes. My girl didn’t even though some people can’t seem to understand why she didn’t want that. Remember what I said about competition earlier? It’s prevalent in everything and it’s not something that only the groom feels; it’s thrown onto the bride as well. Welcome to what it means to be engaged and getting married.

But you know what’s great about talking about marriage than having to propose? You can go ring shopping together. That makes everything so so so much easier. Not that I didn’t know what she wanted, mind you. I had a good idea – how else could I figure out how much money I needed to save during our relationship? That’s another trick, btw. When it comes love and marriage, there are those guys out there who wait until they feel it’s right to get married and then they marry the person they’re with. The problem with that little theory is that you probably haven’t been saving for a ring, you already have enough credit card debt to sink a small warship, and you suddenly realize that your love of Chipolte every day has made your debit card worn through. One solution to this problem is to suddenly, and without warning, tell your girlfriend that “you’d like to become frugal”, and hope she doesn’t get too ticked off when you’re eating ramen noodles and hot dogs every day. Or, you could have been smart about it, and realize when you were young that you’re an adult and that there are certain things in your life you want to do, like get married. Money is a big enough problem in life to let it stop you from being in love and getting married. So start saving early, even when you’re single. Keep a frugal lifestyle, brown bag your lunch every day. Buy used, only own two pairs of shoes, and stop taking taxi cabs from your house to the laundromat down the street. If I had to label something a wedding hack, that would probably be my first one. Learn to save and start early. Don’t waste time because of money if you don’t have to.

So my fiancee and I went diamond ring shopping. Well, scratch that. I first had to talk to her parents to get permission to marry her (which I did which was just as strange as deciding to get my love a diamond ring. You think buying a diamond causes your friends to look at you funny – asking for a father’s permission makes your friends assume you’re a two headed alien from the 1950s but I digress). First rule of ring shopping is don’t go to Zales or Jareds or any store that is in the mall. If you go into a jeweler and a big chunk of their diamonds are rated by a scale “i.e. from F-I” rather than one specific letter, leave. You’re gonna buy a crappy stone for way too much money. There’s a reason why they’re cheap and it has nothing to do with economies of scale – it has to do with being able to get a bunch of guys to be complete suckers when it comes to diamonds. Don’t be one of those guys! Please! The only way these people are going to vanish is if we stop giving them money. Every kiss does not begin with K – it begins with your wallet being stolen behind your back. So research, research, research – which is what I did. What follows isn’t extensive but should be general enough for any of you guys out there who want to be an engaged groom to actually do it wisely. And if you’re not aiming for a diamond ring, then stop reading this and wait for my next post tomorrow. It’s going to be a good one.

Anyways, I’m going to go against the grain and say that the first thing you should think about when buying an engagement ring is what your wedding band is going to be. Not the brides. The grooms. Mine. I had to know what my wedding band was going to be. Isn’t that jumping the gun? Shouldn’t the wedding band be decided on by the couple? You’re completely right. I’m not talking about whether the band should be engraved or have diamonds in it. I’m talking about what metal it’s going to be because, and I might be in the minority on this, but I think all the bands of all three rings, engagement, bride’s band, and the groom’s band should be the same metal. Different metals for different rings is just not my style. And I don’t care if someone won’t be able to tell the difference. White gold vs platinum is something that I would know and would squid me out a bit. Being an engaged groom doesn’t mean I can’t be vain.

I knew that the engagement ring would be platinum even before I knew it was her preference. I can’t wear gold because I’m allergic to zinc. Zinc is one of the metals that is mixed with gold to make gold hard (it’s naturally a very soft metal that can squish and bend easily). White gold is just yellow gold with more zinc in it. When I wear zinc (like in a cheap metal necklace), I break out in hives. It’s genetic (my father has the same problem) and it’s probably something I’ll pass down to my kids. It’s normal, about 15% of the population has it, but that little nugget of knowledge is why I knew that the ring had to be platinum. And even if she had wanted yellow gold, I’d have had to insist on platinum. When I said you’re suppose to fulfill her dreams, I said as close as possible and this is one of my “close as possible” moments.

So, with the metal down, then you need to figure out what setting she wants. Does she want the simple Tiffany style single stone ring? Or maybe one of those creepy and ridiculous halo arrangements? (Okay, that was a little judgmental but unless your fiancee is a huge Green Lantern fan, I don’t see the reason for that setting). Does she want side stones? Does she want a wedding band rather than just a single stone? The reason why you need to know this is because this is when your budget starts to come into play. If she wanted two stones flanking a large one, you need to pair down how big the middle stone will be to fit your budget. She might want the 1.5 carat stone in the middle but those .4 carats on the side are gonna eat into what you can afford. Simply pairing down the 1.5 to a 1.37 is definitely going to help you out.

So now that you have the setting picked out (my girl simply wanted a single Tiffany style solitaire), now it’s time to focus on the stone. You’ve probably heard of the 4 Cs, the different cuts of diamonds (rounds, princess, hearts on fire, etc) and you might not know what any of that means. Don’t feel overwhelmed – it’s not the complicated. All you need to do is break it down.

When a diamond comes out of the grown, it’s a little rock that’s ugly. It’s covered in dirt and looks more like quartz from the sidewalk than a shiny polished diamond. Now that slab of rock needs to be cut down from the ugly piece of mass into something more manageable and pretty. This is where the cuts of diamond come in.

There are many different types. You have rounds (which is your standard cone shaped diamond) to your princess (square), cushion (rectangle with rounded edges) to ridiculously named diamond cuts (hearts on fire) that are just modified rounds. If your love wants a diamond ring, she already knows what cut she wants. If she doesn’t, she’ll say she wants something “shiny” and “bright”. That’s code for “round”. If she wants a round, don’t get her a pear shaped diamond. If she wants a cushion cut, don’t get her a heart shaped diamond. If she wants you to “surprise her”, default to the round. It’s what movie stars wear and what pop culture defines is the ideal diamond so it doesn’t hurt to rely on society when you don’t have a clue one what to do.

Each cut has it’s value. Cushion cuts are an old style that are suppose to be the more romantic type of diamond – it was originally designed when electric lights didn’t exist so it was suppose to be the best at reflecting candle light. Cushions, however, are very thick and deep so the surface area on top of a cushion cut diamond will be less than a round. Since a round is a cone, the top looks much larger than it really is. A princess cut is also shallow like a round diamond but square and was made popular by Tiffanys back in the day. Etc Etc. Every diamond has a story and a reason for its existence (besides to empty your wallet). Your love will know what she wants and you can see, based on how much I talked about cushion cuts, which type my love wanted.

So platinum, Tiffany setting, cushion cut. That’s the large basics and you should know that before you go to the store. Stay with independent (or online) dealers, avoid mall stores, or, if you’re lucky, go to the diamond district in NYC. But when you go, come armed with more knowledge than just what you want. Did you know that diamonds, besides size, are also graded according to Cut, Color, and Clarity? This is where the 4 C’s come from and knowing what means what, and what costs what, will give you the most bank for your buck.

The first C is carat and refers to the weight of the diamond (i.e. how big is it). 2 carat is bigger than 1. 3 is bigger than 2, etc. The bigger the diamond, the more expensive it is. Up to 50% of cost of the diamond is associated with how big it is. So smaller is cheaper. The standard, as reported by life, is that a young woman won’t be happy with anything less than 1 carat but that’s nonsense. If you can afford bigger, go for it. If you can’t, that’s fine too. I keep bringing up money because you need to go into the ring shopping with a budget or else you’ll be eaten alive. My love knew what I budgeted and we worked around that. You haven’t been eating ramen for the past 4 months just to end up in huge debt. Work with what you have. This will help you immensely later in life when you have to nail down the wedding, kids, cars, a house, etc. Learn that budget skill now to save you a life of pain.

The second C is color. Color ranges from D, E, F, and down the alphabet. Color will be roughly 30% of the cost of the diamond. Color determines how white or clear the stone is. A D color stone is completely white – it means that when the light reflects through and passes back to your eye, it sparkles and you don’t see any color. D,E,F are the top tier when it comes to color. When you get down to G,H,I,J the color turns a little yellow but it’s really hard to tell in real life. And if you want to make sure your stone is a little brighter down on this color level, make sure it has a slight florescence. What’s florescence? It means the stone glows a little. The best stones have none because it means that the color returning to your eye is enhanced by some color in the stone itself. And the florescence can be blue, white, or other colors. But a light florescence works wonders in this 2nd tier of colors. It lowers the price of the stone, makes it shine a little more, and lets your stone look like a higher color grade than it really is. Playing with color lets you make up for it with a bigger stone. You lower the color a step and the carat size you can afford goes up. This helps you maximize the stone without suffering in a drop in quality too much.

The next C is called clarity, it represents up to 20% of the cost of the diamond, and it’s all about whether there are little imperfections inherent in the stone (i.e. black marks, scratches, etc). The business calls these pieces fancy names like “crystals” or “feathers” but it just barrels down to the fact that the stone wasn’t perfectly in nature. But the great thing about this is that most of these imperfections can only be seen by a magnify glass and won’t cause too many problems when it comes to making your diamond sparkle. So if your budget cautious, this is where you can play even more than you did with color. The scale ranges from F (for flawless) to VSS1, VSS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2, and farther down. A flawless stone will be very expensive as will a VSS1 and VSS2 stone. When you drop down to SI1, SI2 that means that the imperfections are clearly visible under 10x magnification (and possibly visible to the naked eye under certain conditions) but you mostly likely won’t see anything. It’s what is called “eye clean”. The diamond still sparkles, it looks bright, and you can’t see anything wrong with it. When all of your fiancee’s friends look at the ring, and shove it to their eyeballs going “oooh” and “ahhh”, they’re not going to see any imperfections. Her friends will love it and be incredibly jealous which is part of the fun, right? So stay in SI1 or SI2 land to let you increase the size of your stone.

And, finally, we’re down to cut. Everyone grades cuts differently but I’m going to say that you need to follow this one rule: go for high quality cuts. Ideal, extremely good, very good, etc. If it says something like that, then you’re good to go. If it says anything else, avoid it like the plague. And why? Because cut, while not the most expensive bit, is going to be a big deal when it comes to how the diamond reflects light and sparkles. Don’t sacrifice here. Make sure it’s a very good cut, high quality, and will reflect the light nicely. When the Giants won the super bowl, they wanted a ring that could be noticed at the restaurant ten tables away. That’s what cut gives you.

So that’s what I knew when my girl and I went shopping. We went to the diamond district, to old Blauweiss/Berkowitz, made an appointment to see some stones, picked one and were very happy with the results. Don’t go to a jeweler who pushes something at you. If they are, they’re trying a hard sell and there’s a good chance you won’t get what you want. Rather, focus on your research and knowledge. Ask them to explain things to you without technical jargon and, above all, be able to walk away. If she falls in love with the stone, you might be stuck but if not, then you’re at a good place to find a good deal on a good engagement ring. I got one and, in a way, I made my statement. I’m not claiming my fiancee as my own, per se – I’m just putting my money where my mouth is, which is what an engagement ring should be.

Hi my name is stynxno and I’m an engaged groom.

That’s right. I’m engaged. There’s a lovely young woman out there with a ring on her left finger that I bought for her. She said yes. We have a date. We have a plan. Hell, I even got her an engagement ring for her engagement ring. I’m engaged and I’m not afraid to admit it or celebrate it. I’m also not afraid to lay on a giant beach ball and have my portrait taken.

I am engaged to not only get married to the woman of my dreams but also I’m engaged with the process of getting married. The planning, the complaining, the reality checks, my desire for a ridiculously large cake – I’m there, in the process, willing to put in my opinion, to weigh options, to be involved. I know you probably just said a silent prayer for my fiancee but let me say in the very beginning that I’m a laid back guy who tends to go with the flow. But, and maybe I should bold this, I’ve got opinions and I don’t mind waving them around. And I’m going to blog about them. And why? Because the current wedding debate is only coached in terms of women who claim to not be into the whole process and those who are so into their big day that they post a website and spend their time reliving their wedding day for years after the event.. I know that there is a middle ground somewhere but the wedding debate is framed with this anglo-american faux middle class female point of view. From Indie Brides, to eco-friend brides, to those who elope, and those who rent out churches for denominations they can’t even spell – weddings are this big female centric event. Men are traditionally regulated to the roles of either being an accessory to the whole shindig or are reduced to the stereotype that big weddings are ridiculous and expensive wastes of time (even though they just bought a 60 inch flat panel tv). Grooms exist outside the event while brides (and their mothers) exist inside the event. Screw that noise. It’s my wedding day too.

So, in order to turn the tide a bit, this is my attempt to blog about the process of what a wedding means. A wedding is not just one day where, before God, family, and the state of New York, I pledge my love and commitment to one person. A wedding is a process that starts from the moment you decide to save for a engagement ring, straight through the proposal, the sending of invitations, the reduction of the guest lists, the arguments over the registry and straight on to saying “I do”. And why shouldn’t it be like this? Life isn’t a series of specific time defined events. Life is a series of processes that run into, over, and through each other. And shouldn’t the wedding process be a good way to test not only how you handle the process of life but also how you and your future spouse handle these process together? If the process is merely regulated to one side of the family, is that not setting the stage for the rest of the relationship to follow that framework? For some people, this might work. But it doesn’t work for me because, honestly, I’m not smart enough to pull that off.

So here it is. I know I’m not the only “engaged groom” out there but I at least will put my voice out there. And snarking the brides on the knot can only get me so far.