2016-06-30
Excerpted with permission from The American Enterprise Magazine.

An estimated 98% of contemporary American couples launch their joint life as husband and wife by going away for a few days or weeks on some romantic adventure. They thereby begin married life on precisely the wrong foot. The honeymoon--taking place in a union's crucial and precious first few days--not only misleads individual couples, but also serves to undermine the best foundation for stable marriage in this society.

Consider the underlying message that the honeymoon habit conveys. Even when the bridal pair is fortunate enough to enjoy a very public wedding ceremony, they follow this occasion with an abrupt escape from the very community that helped them consecrate their vows. No sooner are bride and groom legally transformed into husband and wife than the damaging tradition of the honeymoon tells them they are on their own. Isolation is emphasized, with the most desirable honeymoon destinations those that are most remote from everyday life: Hawaii and the Bahamas are good; Fiji and Tahiti and the Seychelles are even better. The idea is that the new couple needs time alone to decompress and to refresh their relationship after the whirlwind of wedding arrangements that they've just survived. In place of the intensive worries about catering menus and floral arrangements and where to seat your cantankerous Aunt Agatha, it should come as a relief to spend time basking on the beach, concentrating on your new spouse and--let's be frank--exploring the glories of sex. The honeymoon sounds like a splendid idea, in fact, to absolutely everyone--except for the principals who experience it.

In recent months, I've talked with several friends and acquaintances who tell revealing stories about honeymoon experiences that have been uncomfortably edged with loneliness. One mother talks about the "perfect wedding" her youngest daughter enjoyed, with relatives reunited from all across the country and joyously dancing together till the small hours of the morning. The very next night the newlyweds found themselves alone together in an exotic hotel in the Florida Keys, and the bride called her mother with the simple message, "I miss you." After offering profuse thanks to both parents for the lavish and elegant celebration, and asking about the current activities of all the long-lost aunts and uncles who had gathered for the occasion, the daughter (and new wife) began to cry. She insisted that nothing was wrong--that her husband was adoring and ideal and that the resort they had chosen was glamorous and comfortable, complete with the sound of lapping, moonlit waves soothing them to sleep. She only observed that the wedding had been so magical, with so many friends and family members expressing their love and best wishes, that it somehow felt "weird" to find themselves suddenly cut off and alone.



Michael Medved, chief film critic of the New York Post, is the author of numerous nonfiction books, most recently "Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children From the National Assault on Innocence," with Diane Medved.

It is weird, of course--weird and destructive. Large public weddings, once again in style, make a powerful statement, which the institution of the honeymoon then powerfully contradicts. The nuptial celebration says that the marriage is a communal event, important to many more people than just the bridal pair, but the honeymoon trip suggests that the real business of their union involves just the two of them.

The contemporary honeymoon hasn't single-handedly destroyed that communal context so necessary to the survival of a marriage, but it certainly contributes to disconnecting couples from the setting they need for marriage to succeed. At best, the indulgent excursion that follows a wedding sets up an artificial romantic ideal that the day-to-day realities of marriage can't possibly approximate. At worst, it leaves the newlyweds feeling that something is missing from their relationship when the honeymoon fails to deliver the amorous ecstasy they've been led to expect. Something is indeed missing--that messy, organic involvement of family, friends, and neighbors that is far more vital to marital success than china, bed linens, or white-sand beaches.

Not surprisingly, our ancestors understood all this far better than we do and favored more nourishing post-wedding practices than the relatively recent innovation of the honeymoon. Jewish tradition, for example, offers the alternative of Sheva Berachot--"Seven Blessings"--the weeklong wedding celebration that has welcomed new couples into the community of Israel for at least 2,000 years. The Talmud describes the custom in considerable detail, and leading sages date it all the way back to our forefather Jacob. After he mistakenly marries Leah, his new father-in-law, Laban, commands him to "fulfill her week" (Genesis 29:27), which the rabbis take for a sign that even then, in the misty dawn of Jewish history, the practice of a seven-day post-wedding celebration was already well established.

To this day, Orthodox communities in every corner of the world uphold the ancient tradition of Sheva Berachot. Rather than escaping to some exotic locale as soon as their vows are exchanged and their wedding dinner consumed, traditionally observant Jewish couples remain for a week in the community in which they plan to make their lives. During that time, neither bride nor groom will work at their regular jobs so they can spend their days together in rest, privacy, or setting up a new household. In the evenings, however, they are honored at different dinner parties every night, hosted by various members of the community. If possible, these celebrations should each attract a minyan (prayer quorum) of 10 adult males, as well as including at least one "new face" who didn't attend either the wedding itself or any of the previous Sheva Berachot meals. In this way, Jewish tradition makes explicit the importance of expanding the circle of celebration, broadening the context in which the new couple is significant.

At first glance, this notion of seven days of feasting with friends may sound like something of an ordeal, but as someone who has experienced the ritual at first hand, I can assure you it is not. When Diane and I married some 11 years ago, we approached the Sheva Berachot process with some trepidation, since neither of us had been raised in Orthodox homes that maintained this practice. Somewhat to our surprise, however, the gradual unfolding of our week of "joy and gladness" brought one magical occasion after another, giving us the chance to extend the golden afterglow of our wedding. As the sun went down each night on those first seven days of our marriage, we found ourselves eagerly awaiting another chance to laugh and sing and luxuriate in the company of the family and friends who meant most to us in the world. Jewish tradition suggests that for the first week of their life together, the new husband and wife are considered a king and queen, and we can honestly say that never before--and never since--have we felt more thoroughly royal.

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