On the mathematical wedding controversy

Wedding bouquet flowers

Image courtesy of Jina Lee, Wikimedia CC

Multiple news sites recently reported about a wedding planned between two mathematicians in which the happy couple decided to reveal their guests’ dinner seating arrangements as the answers to math problems.

The idea sounds pretty cool to me: “At the dinner, guests will be required to answer a mathematical question in order to find out where they sit. Each guest/couple will be presented with a unique, bespoke question: its difficulty and subject matter drawn directly from what we know their mathematical background to be.” The person who wrote the original Facebook group post even noted their audience: “In fact, a large number of our guests have research-level mathematical background, so for most of them, their question has been drawn directly from their research papers or thesis,” they wrote, adding “It’s been a rather consuming but very entertaining process to look at all kinds of papers that I wouldn’t normally ever look at.”

However, after the groom-to-be announced the idea in a Facebook group, someone shared the post (with the couples’ names redacted) on a “Bridezillas” Reddit thread. Update (as of 1/9/2019): Thank you, Nikita Nikolaev, for reaching out to let me know that this was about your wedding and that the original Facebook post was written by you! (Readers, you can find a public link to that post here, along with a second, more recent post explaining the original idea in detail and describing misinformation in the online coverage here.)

Without going on a rant about why I’ve always opposed the the term “bridezilla” being applied to any person, I think the comments people have made related to this couple’s wedding choice, as well as the widespread sharing of the Reddit thread, say a lot about current attitudes and feelings surrounding mathematics.

Some Reddit comments seem playful, such as the one posted by the username Swibly (“Upon looking into my background, they would likely decide to just sit me at the kid’s table.”) or the one posted by the username SassMyFrass (“I like this and expect nothing less than this at every wedding I attend from now on.”). Others call the move fun, sweet, cute or nerdy. However, there are also ones that discuss math anxiety. One person stated that they would decline even if the solving-for-seating-arrangements were scheduled to happen at their best friend’s wedding. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise in a world where a 10-year-old called 911 because he didn’t know how to solve a math homework problem.

Yet we make so many allowances for the personal preferences of couples who are getting married. Example: I once found myself shopping on Black Friday for “a floor-length dress in a seasonally appropriate shade of green,” when I’m not very keen on shopping or wearing dresses (and I’m usually not very tuned in to what color shades are deemed “seasonally appropriate”). However, I searched for the dress anyway, because I was to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding a few days after my finals ended for the semester. If we’re going to acknowledge that the wedding is about what the marrying couple wants in so many other ways, why do people balk so much at the idea of a few math-themed interjections, if the folks getting married not only love each other, but also love math?

One reason might be the same as the title of a post Samantha Schumacher wrote for her “Social Mathematics” blog: “Your Wedding is Not about You.” In that post, she provides various pieces of evidence to back up her claim, including a “Who talks at a wedding?” pie chart.

If evidence says the wedding itself might not be all about the happy couple, the vows still are. Speaking of vows, I love the math-themed ones that Tanya Khovanov posted on her blog.

Math-themed wedding or not, some wedding reception dance moves might bring to mind this post Ben Orlin created about “nonstandard dancing.”

Want to read about love of a mathematical sort? Check out John Baez’s Twitter thread about how he has “finally fallen in love with algebraic geometry” and his recent blog post in his series about geometric quantization.

If you haven’t already, check out Anna’s “Some Math for Wedding Season” post. (Sure, U.S. wedding season isn’t quite in swing for this year, but it won’t be long before it is!)

As usual, you can reach me in the comments section or on Twitter @writesRCrowell!

Correction: This post was updated on 1/9/2019 to reflect the fact that the original Facebook post related to wedding seating arrangements was written by the groom-to-be (not the bride-to-be) and to include additional information (including links) about that wedding event.

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4 Responses to On the mathematical wedding controversy

  1. Nikita Nikolaev says:

    Thank you very much for these comments. This actually happens to be our wedding, and if you want to know the full story with some example questions, see here: https://www.facebook.com/nikita.nikolaev.752/posts/2219088315014891?notif_id=1546999397516176&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic

    • racheljcrowell says:

      Thanks so much, Nikita, for reaching out and letting me know this was your wedding (and that the original Facebook post was written by you). Congratulations on the wedding!
      I have made some corrections to my original post. Please let me know if there are any other inaccuracies I missed or if there is anything else you would like to share with readers.

  2. L says:

    I am acquainted the author of the original facebook post, and it wasn’t the “bride-to-be” but in fact the “groom-to-be”. I thought it was curious that the rest of your post used the gender-neutral “they” and yet “bride-to-be” was used.

    • racheljcrowell says:

      Thanks for pointing out this inaccuracy, L. At some point as I was writing the post, it dawned on me that just because the original post was shared (with the couples’ information redacted) on the “Bridezillas” Reddit thread, that didn’t mean it was written by a bride. However, as you noticed, I failed to remove that original gendered reference in my original post (I must have overlooked it). I apologize for that mistake. As you can see above, I have made corrections to the original post. Please let me know if you notice anything else or if there is anything else you would like to share!

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