“I think that we tell these stories to put it in the record, to honor these people, to showcase them for who they really are.” Zibby is joined by former New York Times writer and editor Cate Doty to discuss their shared obsession with the NYT’s Vows section (which Cate began her career writing for), as well as what drove Cate to initially become a journalist and what her thoughts on marriage are today.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Cate. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Mergers and Acquisitions.

Cate Doty: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: I have been looking forward to this book for so long. When I first saw the cover image and the topic, I was like, I cannot wait for this, as someone who tried to get in the Vows column at one point in my life, successfully I might add, and have read it religiously, by the way, for years and years and years. I just couldn’t wait to talk to you. Welcome.

Cate: Thank you. I’ve heard several stories kind of like that, people who just read them religiously for entertainment or because they see their friends or a combination of the two or a bit of hubris or schadenfreude or whatever, so for whatever reason you read them.

Zibby: You know what? Then I want to go back so you can explain why we’re even discussing this. Okay, tell everybody what this book is about. Then we’ll go back into my own thoughts about it.

Cate: This book is overarchingly about our obsession with romantic love. What literally it’s about is when I came to The New York Times, to New York when I was about twenty-four. The job that they threw me into was writing the wedding announcements. I have been obsessed with weddings since I was about five years old, as the book details, right up to trying on mother’s wedding dress or basically stealing my new step-grandmother’s wedding bouquet when I was five years old.

Zibby: That picture was priceless, by the way. Thank you for that.

Cate: My cousin Mary Margaret does not know that’s in the book, so we’ll see .

Zibby: I won’t tell anyone.

Cate: I’ve just always been obsessed with weddings. When I landed at The Times writing the wedding announcements, I thought, this is a match made in heaven for me. Obviously, I love writing. I was there to be a writer. I love weddings. It was a great way to mesh the two. I’m not from small-town North Carolina, but I’m from the South where wedding announcements are very important. They’re not The New York Times wedding announcements. They’re not the things that people think about, like, what’s going to be on my headstone? I got married, I was in The New York Times, and I did whatever. I had sort of a steep learning curve. It was a great way to learn about a certain part of not just New York, but how the country feels about weddings. Then beyond that, it opened my eyes to how people think about commitment. At the beginning, I was learning about weddings and New York and getting my feet wet in the city, in a place that I loved and wanted to be in so badly. Then I really started thinking about what people think about weddings and commitment and why we commit and why we get married in the first place. In the middle of all this, I had started to date the man who eventually became my husband. We both had major anxiety about getting married and major apprehension about it for various reasons. It’s about all these things. It’s my memoir of writing The Times announcements, meeting all these people, talking to these people who I would never have talked to otherwise, learning cool things about them, but also understanding why they decided that marriage, to quote Anna, was the next right thing to make that final leap or whatever. That’s why we’re here.

Zibby: Wow, amazing. I loved, of course, all the stuff about the wedding stuff and column and everything, but I really loved your own relationship, especially your obsession with Adnan. Is that how you pronounce it?

Cate: Adnan, yes. That’s not his real name, but yes.

Zibby: Okay, whatever his name really was. I feel like you were so open about just how hooked you were. I feel like you said it, in fact, straight out. I was hooked. I was totally in it. It was hot. It was amazing. I feel like a lot of people don’t write about those relationships where you’re just so in it. You can’t even explain why. Yet it’s all you think about. You just captured that so well. I found myself not knowing whether I wanted you guys to get together or if I wanted you to stay away. When you hooked up before your trip, I was like, no, she went there. Then I was like, I don’t know, maybe it will work when she moves to New York. You just had me along for the ride.

Cate: Didn’t work even a little bit. Not a little bit at all. I think it’s important to embrace those relationships that we have. Whether we decide to commit and then decide that’s not what we want or whatever, it’s so important to talk about those part of our lives. They become building blocks of who we are. They’re pins on a map of where we want to go. It was amazing, I have to say, with Adnan. He’s still a friend.

Zibby: Is he? I was wondering what the status was there.

Cate: Yes, he’s still a friend. He knows about the book. We talked about it. It is what it is. I still count him as part of my heart because we had such a weird but great, but terrible, but fraught and kind of great and hot relationship all at once. We were young together. We helped each other through that part of our lives, post-college trying to figure out what you want. I can’t speak for him, but I learned a huge amount from that relationship about what I wanted, what I didn’t want, how to get out of something that was not really working. Although, frankly, he basically pulling the plug, but it was good. He was the one who was like, “This is not working. This is the end.” Otherwise, I don’t think that I would’ve just gone along for the ride, but it was helpful to have that person say, this is not what I want. That, by proxy, helped me figure out what it is I wanted. It turns out, what I want still is three rooms down the hall teaching a class on Zoom. We just had our eleventh anniversary on Saturday.

Zibby: Aw. Yes, I saw you posted about it. It was really cute.

Cate: We got away.

Zibby: Good for you. That’s amazing.

Cate: Thank you.

Zibby: I loved seeing that. How does he feel about this book? Everybody knows that it’s coming out. How does he feel reading about how sexual a relationship you had with somebody else?

Cate: Oddly enough, my mom asked me the same question. I was like, “I’m not going to talk about that with you.” He’s a real traditionalist about books. He refused to read most of it until the hard copies arrived, which was ten days ago or something like that. We unboxed the books. He went and sat on the couch and took the day off from work the next day to read this book straight through, which was so sweet and so adorable. He had read parts of it. He read the parts of the book that told the stories of our lives that we were both involved in, not for fact-checking purposes, just for me to make sure that he’s okay with me telling this part of the story from my perspective. In terms of the Adnan stuff, he had a pretty good idea of what that relationship was. I will say, he was like, “Why didn’t you write about me like this?” I was like, “Because I’m married to you.” We’ve been together for seventeen years. There are some things that are just as obvious as oxygen. I almost don’t feel like I needed to write about that. I have said I’m not going to write anything about our marriage. That, to me, is off limits. Not everything is copy, I think. I will say, we’ve been joking about if it’s made into a movie. Adnan was very tall. My husband is not blessed in that way. It’s sort of a joke. We’re both pretty short people. He said the one thing he wants to make sure of is that the person who plays him is taller than the person who plays Adnan.

Zibby: That’s so funny. Oh, my gosh, men are hysterical. That’s so funny. Height would never be a factor in the casting of myself in a movie, I have to say.

Cate: No, not ever. Never.

Zibby: Not even on the table.

Cate: My license says I’m 5’1″, and that’s a lie.

Zibby: I’m 5’2″, so I get it. I can stand by that, I think, pretty confidently at this point, but when I slump, which is always… So back to the Vows part of the book, which was super totally interesting also in addition to watching your love life unfold. Let’s go back to what it was like. You paint such a great picture of arriving in New York and how your editor was suddenly the most important person, the guy sitting next to you who’s all of a sudden in people’s world. He becomes the guy for a short period of time. Then of course, they get married and move on and kind of forget about it.

Cate: Totally, one hundred percent. It’s hysterical. The guy who Ira is based on, he’s no longer with The Times. He’s retired for health reasons. He is just the loveliest man. When you talk to him, he’s just very — what’s the word? Almost courtly, I would say, in his presentation of himself and the way he talks to people. Not speaking for him, but I would say he absolutely knew his power and knew the sway that he held. It was funny seeing this dichotomy of this guy who’s not necessarily shy in retiring — I would never call him that. It was almost a Jekyll and a Hyde. He was this very quiet guy. Then he would deal with these couples who were really demanding, or they could be really demanding. They could also be lovely and be cool and just be so thrilled to be in The Times in the first place. There were people who not only saw being in The Times as a privilege, but they saw it as their right. It was something like, of course, that would be part of their lives’ trajectory. Why would that not be a thing for them? Of course. It was very funny listening to him on the phone. He also, he went into the office, he came home, that was it. He didn’t ever go to parties. As far as I knew, he never made any society appearances. He was never out on the town. Bill Cunningham would never have caught him in a photo. He still, for a very short period of time, held a huge amount of power. He totally reveled in it. He’s such a sweet man. I feel like I’m kind of trash-talking him.

Zibby: No, not at all. I can tell you have respect for him. It’s interesting. You wrote about what it takes to be a journalist, and perhaps that kind of journalist in particular. You said, “Underneath it all, they, we, are all weird. Weird precisely because of the personal cost and little glory of the profession, maybe. Weird because we live for other people’s stories. Weird because we don’t blink an eye at working when the rest of the world stops to react. Weird because we drive into storms instead of away from them.” I loved that. That was just so cool.

Cate: Thank you.

Zibby: I feel like there’s something about it. There’s this instinct that you get if you want to report on the world, not instead of live it, but that you want to have that role in your lifetime.

Cate: One hundred percent. My husband is still a working journalist. He also teaches at the University of North Carolina. He is very passionate about it. I have stepped away from it and am a writer, not that kind of writer. I’m not practicing journalism anymore, but that’s still very much a part of our lives and our ethos and the way we’re raising our kid. We’ve been talking about skepticism with her since she was about three years old, which is probably going to come around to bite us in the ass, but whatever.

Zibby: I have a six-year-old boy who might like to have that conversation with your three-year-old girl in about thirty years. Maybe they could go out.

Cate: Six is hard. Six is so hard for me.

Zibby: They’re all hard.

Cate: This is a different conversation. Anyway, I think we do feel like that. I remember, and I think I wrote about this in the book, the first story I wrote, I went down to the medical school. I interviewed this guy, David Wohl. He was working on the AIDS cocktail. He’s still there vaccinating people right now. He’s in the paper and on the local news all the time. This is the same guy working to improve lives and help people stay healthy. I remember coming back from the medical school and sitting down at this 1997 Mac or Apple, whatever it was, and thinking, this is amazing. You can ask almost any question you want. If you’re naturally curious and if you’re naturally nosey, it’s a great thing to be a part of. There is a mission to it. There is a sort of, I wouldn’t say advocacy. That flies in the face of it all. I wouldn’t say activism, but there is the idea of upholding the public trust and facilitating a rigorous public conversation about whatever it is that may be happening. The Times has a particularly obviously vaunted perspective on that. When I read that first story, I never thought, I’m going to go work for The New York Times, I just thought, I’m going to do this. This is cool. When I saw my first byline, I was like, this is exactly what I want to do. There is a driving into the storm aspect that I think I still have in my heart and probably will never get rid of.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I love it. We need that in society, people going in as everybody runs away. I think what, also, you’re saying about people’s stories fits so well into this Vows obsession. I was trying to analyze, why did I read them all the time? I looked forward to Sunday. I would grab that section and race over and pour over every listing. I remember thinking, every one, I’d be like, these guys aren’t going to make it, or yep, I think these guys — look at this. This mom and mother-in-law situation, this is not going to work. I can already tell. There were so many warning signs just in the facts. There should’ve been some sort of black-market predictor for which Vows things made it and which didn’t. Actually, there probably is somewhere. Maybe I don’t want to know about it.

Cate: I bet Fair’s on it. Gawker did that thing. They scored the nuptials that I wrote about. Sometimes they would say, these people are not going to make it. There’s just no way on earth. I forget what their criteria was or were. Yes, I used to do the same thing. You talk to these people. You hang up the phone and be like, no.

Zibby: It’s also the stories. I think that’s why, and maybe it’s because I’m getting older, that I’ve started not pouring over Vows as much as I do the obits. Now that’s what I like to read the most. I know that sounds ridiculous.

Cate: No, it’s not.

Zibby: What it is, it’s just a glimpse at a life. It’s a story. It’s a story in two paragraphs that it would take a whole book to read. You can just imagine. What if? What happened? Who is this person? What do you think?

Cate: I always said that if I could get my dream job at The New York Times, it would either be to be the weddings editor — I think with this book, I’m never getting my dream job at The Times, but this is fine. It’s fine. I think we’re done. I would either be the weddings editor or the obits editor. It’s because those are two, again, pens in the mouths of people’s lives. I always thought that the people who got to write obits, even if it was for somebody like Idi Amin or some tin-pot dictator, it would still be an honor to be able to trace this person’s life and to be able to do it in a way that was multifaceted and really held them up to the world. Your wedding in the Vows column, announcement, whatever, that’s a special day. Your death is a special day too. I think that we tell these stories to put it in the record, to honor these people, to showcase them for who they really are. I think that that’s the truth for both Vows columns and obits.

I love reading profiles of people who have done cool stuff. I love reading profiles of people who are trying to change the world, however they feel that it needs to be changed. I love that because just digging deep into a person is so important, so important. I think that it’s good to show everybody that, here is when my life — obviously, all lives matter, but here is a point in my life that really mattered. Here is a point in my life where I could say, I did this. Here’s a point in my life when I cared about this. I agree, I love reading the obits too. Also, some of the obit writers like Marga Fox, they’re amazing too. Those obits are chosen just as judiciously, even more so because more people die than get married every week, even more so than the Vows columns. I totally agree. Especially now over the past fourteen months, the way that they have treated the obits, as you well know, have been with such care. It made think me of — remember after September 11th, they did the People We’ve Lost?

Zibby: The profiles.

Cate: The profiles, yeah.

Zibby: Profiles or something. I bought that book. They came out with a book after of all the — I have it here somewhere.

Cate: Do you remember the Vanity Fair portrait of the team that did the September 11th profiles? They did the cover, as you know, has a picture of the Metro editor. It was not funny, ha, ha, but it was so important and somber. I think Annie Leibovitz shot it. It was at the Metro desk. I just remember looking at this portrait and knowing most of the faces behind those very — and just thinking about what they had to go through to write those portraits. I think a portrait of a person, no matter what point they’re at in their lives, is so valuable. That’s one reason I valued writing the Vows columns and writing the wedding announcements so much even though it was also wildly entertaining.

Zibby: Which, thank you for sprinkling into the book too. That was really funny. What’s your overall takeaway on marriage after this whole book in a sentence or two? I keep hearing from younger people now that I’m in my forties that marriage is not even such a thing. They’re like, why get married? They’re just like, it’s great, we live together, or we don’t, and whatever. Why do it? Is that where the world is going?

Cate: Oh, my god, I had a conversation about this on Friday. I wish I had a clear answer. I hear the same thing. When I was teaching at UNC, I would bring it up to my students. These are obviously nineteen, twenty, twenty-one-year-old kids. When I was twenty-one years old finishing up college, the MRS degree was a thing. People would meet in college, move to DC, work a couple years, and get married, or move to New York or whatever. There would be this sort of trajectory. This is not even a thing. I was talking to one of my husband’s former students who became our nanny. She was like, “I’m not getting married ever, ever.” I was like, “Okay, cool, whatever. I’m not judging. I’m just curious.” We went through this a lot. My husband and I were together six years before we got married. We obviously, as documented in the book, we had a lot of anxiety about going into the final frontier. We decided we wanted to do it because we wanted to stand up in front of the people that mattered most to us, our family, our whatever, and say, this is the person I choose. I think that you need a community to help a marriage keep going. You need your friends. Your spouse needs their friends. You need your family. Sometimes you don’t need your mother-in-law, but that’s neither here nor there. Most of the time, you do.

You need these support pillars around you to help. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, I think it takes a community to help maintain a marriage or help maintain a relationship. You can do that, obviously, without standing up in front of a priest or a rabbi or a justice of the peace or whatever. I think that it’s still a really good thing to have those markers in your life. This is the day that I stood up and said yes to this. That’s the value I see in a wedding anyway. A marriage, you can’t have a wedding without — well, you actually can have a wedding without a marriage, but a successful wedding usually culminates in a marriage. I don’t know. I should be more coherent about this since we just celebrated eleven years. I get to wake up next to this person most days and think, this is what I’m going to do today. As you know, the past year or so has really tested everything. It’s tested the bonds of spouses and parents and children and friends and all of these things. I think my relationship with my child has gotten a lot more challenging over the past year. My relationship with my husband has become even more solid than it had been just because I had this teammate. Again, you can do that without a wedding. You can do that without a marriage. For me, and I’m guessing for you too and for a lot of, maybe, women in our cohort or our age group, it feels like bedrock.

Zibby: I agree. I’m divorced, and I got remarried as quickly as I could. Everyone’s like, why? I’m like, because I have to. I wanted people to take it as seriously as I felt about it, in a way. So what advice would you have? I barely even talked about your writing because I could talk to you about this other stuff for so long. I feel like we’re only scratching the surface. I’m sorry.

Cate: That’s okay.

Zibby: What advice would you have to aspiring authors?

Cate: Oh, golly. Get a good group of writers — well, let me backtrack. Women writers, I would say get a good group of women writers around you who have no problem with kicking your ass and being like, did you write today? What’d you do? What’d you do? What are you doing? What are you doing? When are you going to do it? I don’t mean that in a jerky way, but I mean that you need that. Just as a marriage needs community, I think a writer needs communities as well. That’s one thing. Number two, I feel particularly vulnerable right now because I’m trying to work on a second book. I think many first-time writers think the second book is never going to happen. Also, many people who have never written a book think their first book is never going to happen. I think that you just have to have faith in yourself, as trite as that sounds. That’s one of the hardest things to do. I think a community will help you do that. The other thing is, everybody says read. Read. Yes, of course, but go be quiet. Especially, this year’s been so hard to find time for quiet, especially if you have children. You’re trying to do this and juggling seven thousand different things. The quiet of the mind is so vital to this, as you well know. Having that space to do that, it feels like a privilege at this point. Being able to find the quiet of the mind I think is one of the most important things. I say that. I wrote this book while working full time, juggling a child, dealing with a husband who had gotten laid off. There was all of this stuff coming on. I don’t know if I can necessarily practice what I preach. Going forward, I hope to. I will say that I could not have written this book without a supporting community of loving women, honestly.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Cate, thank you. It was so nice to chat. I want to continue this because that was too short. I loved your book. I love the title. I just love everything. It’s awesome. How out there you are, I just loved it, everything from your saying, let’s just say that we’re hot women when we’re twenty-four years old, to your totally unobscured hot sex relationship, and all the intellectual stuff too. It was just great. Totally loved it. Thank you.

Cate: Thank you. That is so kind of you. I really appreciate this. It feels very weird to be so out there, but I can’t take it back now. Here we are.

Zibby: No, but those are the best parts, the parts you’re afraid to put out there.

Cate: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Zibby: My pleasure. Take care. Bye.

Cate: You too. Bye.



Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts