Cate Doty unknowingly unearthed a family secret while writing her memoir, “Mergers and Acquisitions.”
Doty, a former reporter and editor for the New York Times, had acquired copies of her grandparents’ wedding certificate, and included them in her book. After reading a completed copy, Doty’s mother texted her, “Well, the cat’s out of the bag.” Turns out, her grandparents had been lying about when they got married: March instead of January.
“Apparently, it was because my grandmother was pregnant with my aunt, and nobody knew,” Doty says. “My grandmother always said that they had just lost their wedding license, they never could find it — which is not actually true. They just backdated it.”
During her tenure writing wedding announcements at the Times, Doty was trained to probe and check factual details for the couples who appeared in the newspaper’s pages. Getting legally married during a different week than the wedding ceremony was cause for exclusion.
Doty and her husband, also a former journalist for the Times, recently celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. The couple, who met while working in New York, now have a young daughter and live in North Carolina. After relocating in 2017 back to the south, where she grew up, Doty connected with a group of female writers who encouraged her to finally dive into the book idea she’d been mulling for many years. “It took being away from New York and the Times, having perspective and distance to really think about and process what happened,” she says. (Turning 40 was also motivation.)
Her book recounts her experience as a weddings reporter at the Times, as well as the history and broader social context around wedding announcements and newspaper society pages. “Mergers and Acquisitions” is also a personal account of Doty’s own coming-of-age story and romantic relationships, and reconciles how power has been passed down through her lineage. She also offers some tips for couples hopeful for a NYT wedding placement, including getting married in a cold-weather month or having a notable last name or noteworthy accomplishment, be it mountain climbing or a bestselling novel.
Writing “Mergers and Acquisitions” was similar to her experience reporting on weddings in that she approached both through a reporter’s eye: with skepticism and curiosity. Most of her coworkers at the Times are no longer there, and Doty writes honestly (and lovingly) about her fellow journalists. She praises her editor — she refers to him in the book as “Ira” — for being skeptical of power, no matter what form it appeared in. When “Senator X’s daughter” was upset about getting her announcement in too late for it to make the paper, “Ira, and all the other people [on the desk] would just kind of roll their eyes and say, well, that’s life,” recalls Doty.
The power inherent in names like Roosevelt and Bloomberg and Rockefeller is obvious. Less obvious are the ways in which wedding announcements showcase that power being passed along. While weddings are on the surface a celebration of romantic love, they are also an economic proposition (particularly for women) and have functioned to protect and consolidate power between influential families. The book also touches upon how seemingly frivolous society reportage chronicles and reflects systemic inequality — who has been excluded from wedding coverage and why? While the tide has changed over time — today, not every featured couple that makes the cut is white, wealthy and cis-gendered — being Rockefeller-wealthy still helps.
There are various narrative threads within the book and, likewise, Doty had several readers in mind while writing, including the women she profiled while at the Times, and her own mother and daughter. “Even though she’s six and will not be reading this book for a very long time,” Doty says, “thinking many years down the road, what does she need to know about her own origins?”
She also wrote the book for someone like herself. “Who gets up in the morning, and the first thing they do is they check the Times, read New York Magazine. They probably click through way too many links on The Strategist. They look skeptically and adoringly at New York and all the crazy things about it,” Doty says. “And the wedding announcements, to me, are one of them.”
And even though her days as a wedding reporter are behind her — she’s currently at work on a novel, and teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — Doty remains a loyal reader.
“I don’t think I’ll ever not read them as long as they exist, even though I’m skeptical of their reason for existence,” she says. “Because they’re people’s stories. And people’s stories are always going to be fun to read.”
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