Agendas

We did the formal pamanhikan last night, over Skype. I prepared an agenda to help W- and his parents talk to my parents:

130720

The agenda provided a running joke throughout the video chat. ;) The structure helped, too! We documented the decisions made, and I’m responsible for e-mailing people the minutes. W- and I keep planning information in Google Wave, a shared spreadsheet, and other notes.

Yes, we’re that kind of couple.

W- and I have joked that IBM’s helped us get a lot of experience in working with global teams and coordinating projects. ;)

Also, in other news, I’m engaged. =)

How not to propose marriage

More correctly: How to not propose marriage

During the formal meeting of the two sets of parents, my mom asked us to tell the story of the engagement. W- and I looked at each other, puzzled. Fortunately, our videoconference ran into some technical problems, and we took advantage of the break to formalize the proposal. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Tada!

What? No dramatic tension? No wondering about what’s next? No getting down on one knee and not knowing what the answer is?

The most Hollywood-uncertain moment we’ve had was at the start of the relationship. We had just watched Rigoletto, and we were talking about how reading the libretto with English translations had helped us recognize some words during the opera. “You can call me buffone,” he said. “Or even buffone mio.”

His last word couldn’t have been accidental, knowing the delight we take in the subtleties of words. We had been good friends for a while, and I was resolutely ignoring a crush on him. In a movie, this would have been the point at which soaring music would play, we’d kiss, and then credits would roll.

None of that happened. Instead, I blinked a few times and babbled, preoccupied with figuring things out. Later that evening, when I was alone again, I mindmapped what I wanted to say and wrote him a letter to clarify what he meant. On gridded paper, too, as that was all I had. The next day, I read his reply confirming his feelings. So that’s how our formal relationship began.

Since then, we’ve had many, many conversations, which gradually included longer-term plans. Marriage isn’t so much a big change as it is a useful formalization of our plans and a commitment to work things out together. I might have even started the process by bringing up long-term thoughts. Technically, I guess that means I proposed to him, but it was less of a “Will you marry me?” and more of an “Okay, let’s look at where we want to go with this. If we want to do B, we should probably do A first.”

No fancy engagement story. No engagement ring, either. (I think diamonds are overpriced and there are better ways to use that money, such as saving for long-term goals.)

The difference between “Will you marry me?” and “So, when do you think we should get married?” is fascinating. I love how our conversations grew into the second question rather than the first.

So that’s how it happened!

(Reflecting on it now, I remember those lessons on assuming the sale: instead of asking people if they want to buy something, ask questions like if they prefer to pay cash or use their credit card… ;) )

On vintage portaits and wedding photography

With my dad and my sister both professional photographers, I have a deep appreciation for the way pictures can bring a story to life.

W- and I are getting married on August 21. We’ve been thinking about whether we want to do the full-blown wedding photography package or go with something simpler.

I don’t particularly feel the urge to have every little detail of our small ceremony memorialized. Pictures would be a nice way to share the spirit of the celebrations with friends who couldn’t make it, but then again, we’ll probably have plenty of snapshots from both our camera-happy families. Given a choice between budgeting for fancy photographs (which can go well into thousands of dollars) or, say, helping my family come and experience Toronto, I’d pick snapshots + experiences.

I do want to have some formal pictures, though. I’ve always liked the look—no, more than that, the story—of vintage photographs in family albums. Pictures of parents and grandparents when they were young and just starting out.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Photo uploaded in 2007 by dlisbonaCreative Commons Attribution Licence 2.0

Photo uploaded in 2008 by Spiterman – Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic Licence

And just imagine, now, people can actually smile instead of holding a stiff expression for minutes!

I’m happy to skip all the other typical wedding pictures – the rings casting heart-shaped shadows on a book, the bridal party getting their hair done, the bouquet, and so on. I just want a few good portraits of us and of our combined families. Given that people managed to take these great photos back when they didn’t have speedlights or Photoshop, it should be so much easier now.

But I’m having a hard time looking for a photographer who’s okay with large groups and simple set-ups, who knows a lot about working with light, and who’ll do just a few set-ups instead of a full wedding package.

It would be nice to have a picture with everyone. If we have to, we’ll fiddle with the self-timer or remote. There’s gotta be some way to do this. We’d be happy to pay someone a reasonable amount to get great pictures with less stress. So, know anyone who can make ~25 people in Toronto look timelessly good?

Getting ready for a new adventure

image

I didn’t think about weddings when I was growing up. I didn’t clip pictures of pretty dresses or fantasize about flowers. I thought I had to choose between making a big difference and living a “normal” life—with a great relationship, perhaps, but still constrained by the obligations of joint decision-making. I didn’t dream of white gowns and lace. I dreamt of living in an apartment, perhaps near a university or a library, and perhaps with two or three cats.

I was surprised to learn that a great relationship can help you grow in unexpected ways.

For example: I was beginning to feel the tic of stress building up around the typical tensions of planning a wedding. We had wanted to keep the guest list small in order to avoid overwhelming ourselves and our guests. Limiting the guests to just our families seemed to be the easiest and least stressful way to do it. A clear boundary. No difficult decisions about who to include and who not to. And perhaps W-, I, and our two families would get to know each other better without the distraction of other friends. I still wanted to host a get-together thanking my friends for helping make Toronto a second home, but a second party could do for that. Limiting the wedding and the reception to family seemed like the least stressful way to plan that day.

Then my mom asked if we could invite four close family friends, people she hadn’t seen in a while but whom she has kept in touch with and who have been wonderfully supportive throughout the years.

I wavered. Should we offer to host another party? Should we include them, even if they might feel a little left out? Should I then go ahead and invite some of my closest friends as well?

I explained the situation to W-.

He said: “It’s their wedding, too.”

In that moment, all that stress went away. All it took was the right perspective.

As much as all those wedding planning websites and blogs would have us believe that it’s our day—or worse, that it’s the bride’s day—our families are the reason why we’re celebrating a wedding instead of heading down to City Hall with two witnesses.

It’s our wedding. By that, I mean it’s not just W- and my wedding, but it’s our families’ too. And friends. And worlds.

(Friends are wonderful and I’d love to include as many as possible, too, but once I start including friends, I get tempted to throw a party for 150+ people, and then my introverted side hides under the imaginary table and eats chocolate. So we’ll plan one party at a time, and maybe have lots of small parties instead of one big one. =) And there are even more friends I’d like to include as a way of thanks for helping me get here as well as for future insights and advice. Challenge: I don’t know everyone. It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, and y’all are an amazing village.)

English is quite limited when it comes to this idea of “ours”. A tangential story: My mom once told my sister, “We’re going to Hong Kong.” My sister was excited about the idea of going there. My mom clarified: “No, we—your dad and I—are going to Hong Kong.” In Filipino, it’s the difference between kami and tayo. We-exclusive versus we-inclusive. Namin versus natin. Our-exclusive versus our-inclusive.

And I love that W-, for  whom English, Cantonese, and French do not capture that distinction between our-exclusive and our-inclusive,  reminded me of that and helped me get an even better perspective on things.

See, this is one of the wonderful things that gives me a lot of hope about the scary thing called commitment. Making decisions with another person, having another person’s perspective, sharing experiences with another person, and being inspired by another person—by golly, that really can make life even more amazing.

On role models

Mel Chua’s comment about relationships and role models made me think. She’s right, you know. It was something that had felt very alien before, and I’m gradually coming to terms with it.

Growing up, I remember feeling anxious about relationships.  I knew my mom and dad had managed to raise us and do well in entrepreneurship at the same time. I was surrounded by godparents whose loving relationships also served as good examples. But as a bookworm, I’d also read lots of scary statistics.

All of the happily-married couples I knew were of previous generations, of course. Towards the end of my university degree, as I heard of high school batchmates starting to marry and have kids, these early matches were spoken of in hushed, gossipy tones.

The thought of relationships really only started becoming more “normal” for me over the past couple of years. In graduate school, I met people who pursued their degrees while raising kids. Thanks to W-, I got a sneak preview of parenting (turns out to be pretty good), and I saw that separation and divorce could stabilize into amicability. At work, I saw people with different kinds of family situations do well. I looked for stories of executives who valued work-life balance and other people who’d left and rejoined the corporate world. I listened as people told stories about their families. I listened as people who chose not to have families talked about their relationship and their other priorities. I learned that people have figured this out before, and things will be okay.

It’s pretty interesting to think about this in terms of the diffusion of ideas, too. In this, it turns out that I’m a mainstream adopter, opening up to a idea once I see that lots of people around me are exploring it with good results. W- makes it easier, too. We’ve probably got the best starting point for this kind of an adventure.

So, yes, role models. Very important. More common than people would think, and more mutual than people might expect. A great benefit of having a diverse workforce, too. I’m looking forward to exploring, to sharing what I’m learning with others, and to learning from others along the way.

Keeping my name

Sacha Chua. It’s hard to pronounce, hard to spell, and frequently changed into Sacha Chau, Sacha Chu, or Sasha, or Sascha, or even the occasional Sachua.

But it’s my name, and I’m keeping it when I get married in two months.

I’ve published a lot as Sacha Chua: articles, papers, blog posts, open source code… If I change my name, it will be harder for people to make that connection. It helps that I’m the only Sacha Chua on the Net (at least, according to Google). There’s already a Sacha Y-.

It’s a lot of paperwork to change my name and update all my records. I don’t see why the woman should be the only one who traditionally goes through all that fuss. ;) I don’t want to always carry marriage documents to justify my name change. For example, the entry form for Singapore asks if you’ve ever entered the country under a different name, and to provide supporting documents if you have. It’s easier if I keep my name.

I like my name. It’s a small reminder of the diversity of this world. If anything, it would be cooler if it was even more Filipino. (For example, Kidlat Tahimik has a really cool name.)

Keeping my name means taking one small step towards greater equity. =) Isn’t it fantastic that I can consider this choice? Likewise, I’ll probably keep Ms. instead of Mrs. if people insist on courtesy titles. (Why isn’t there a male equivalent of that?)

There are worst-case scenarios to think about, too. If we split up, I’d rather not have to go through the fuss of changing my name again.

Will people be confused? Maybe. But my friends Joey de Villa and Wendy Koslow are doing fine, as are Michael McGuffin and Alice Servera.

Will I get addressed as Mrs. Y-? Maybe. But it’s a good opportunity to say, “It’s Sacha Chua, actually. Ms., if you insist.”

Will W- get addressed as Mr. Chua? Maybe. That’ll probably be amusing. <laugh>

Many people change their name, and it works out for them. That’s great. =) Me, I’m keeping mine.