If you’re hearing strains of Carly Simon right about now, you are welcome to go ahead and assure yourself that I’m not talking about you, specifically, if that’s what you need, because really I’m talking about everyone and no one at the same time. I’m talking about the evil sorority troll that lives in the dark recesses of my heart, hoarding kate spade clutches and obsessively applying eyeliner.
Besides, if my emotional baggage requires you to question your choices, that’s not really my problem.
What this post is really about is my issue with the bulls**t that pop culture (read: my mom. your mom. everyone’s mom.) throws at us about weddings in general, and the difficulty I have with not collapsing under guilt over wanting what I actually want, over not toeing the cultural line, and over being okay owning all of it.
the sweet sounds of cultural brainwashing
As a child, I never had any serious fantasies surrounding my future wedding to my future husband. Like all of the early expectations I had for my future, a wedding was simply a static fact without the embroidery of detail. I assumed – in the same way I’d been told I’d go to college, lose my virginity, meet a husband, buy a house, have a family – that I’d be told what I should do when I got to that point. For all the trumpeting my mom did over “making sure my choices weren’t limited,” I never once actually thought about what I wanted for any of it. I was very good at doing as I was told, when I was told.
Imagine my confusion when it became clear that not only were those who’d been telling me what to do and who to be were utterly full of s**t, but that I’d never once made a real, true, from-my-own-heart choice in my life. To say the least, anger and resentment ensued.
the barbie dream wedding
First, I must say that, unlike Monica (see Friends episode 4.23), I never took a pillowcase and hung it from the back of my head. I was too busy making my barbies be quiet while they had sex in the master bedroom so that Skipper wouldn’t hear it up in her attic suite… or writing collaborative hardboiled detective fiction with my best friend Morgan.
the ring ::cue squealing sorority girls::
My closest sorority sisters love to tell the tale of my taste in engagement rings. They can recite my incantation of disdain from memory: “Any man that buys me a diamond engagement ring clearly doesn’t know me well enough to be asking me to marry him to begin with. That guy had better show up with the deed to a tract of land with water on it!”
Setting aside my histrionic tendencies, this may be the first counter-culture truth about myself that I was proud to own. Even before my adventures in “home ownership” through the late oughts, there was something offensive to me about the gigantic rocks I saw sprouting up on the left hands of girls in the classes ahead of us. I’m sure a therapist and I could delve deep into this one subject alone.
First was the cost alone (something I failed, at that point, to see as a relatively modest purchase compared to the size of the parental contributions, trust funds and starting salaries my peers commanded). My innocent-verging-on-ignorant frame of reference was the very small stock portfolio my grandfather had built up in my name over my entire life – amounting, at graduation, to about $600 per year of my life. I had never seen a mortgage statement; the only real pay stubs I’d ever seen, thanks to my parents owning their own business, were those I collected from my part-time tutoring job. The prospect of someone else blowing so much on a piece of jewelry that I would then wear every day, out into the world, flat-out scared me; there’s no other word for it.
Second was the comparative value that, I’m sure, came from years of overhearing my older male relatives discuss their very libertarian, survivalist views combined with my own emerging liberal ones. The thought of choosing a piece of jewelry – overblown in value thanks to both clever marketing and unethical mining practices – over something real, something stable, something future-oriented… well, it just didn’t jibe with me. In my 20s, I couldn’t have told you exactly why, and I’m still not 100%. All I can say is that, for me, the thought makes me feel icky. The prospect of an expensive engagement ring fills me with only small, mean thoughts of what I can take, of what I’m worth, of my value compared to others.
That said, whether I have given in to cultural programming too deep to overcome or I genuinely do want it, once we decided to get married, the thought of a wedding band filled me with a terrible longing. C doesn’t want a ring (and who am I to ask someone else to toe a cultural line against their own baggage and preferences?), and we (oh, let’s be honest, I) chose to prioritize more practical things over a ring – an HVAC system, a washer & dryer, credit card debt, a new mattress. I try to remember those reasons each time I notice my empty left hand (which seems to only happen when C is away). I try to recall that defiant “tract of land” declaration I made so many times all those years ago; I try to recall the feel of his hand in mine (always my left thanks to his bad ear) and it makes it easier.
the dress that heard “yes”
As a fat girl, I’ve spent most of my life in a world that didn’t offer me the option to wear the same cute clothes as my peers. Let me tell you – today, we live amongst a veritable smorgasbord of fat girl fashion options (case in point – just bought the AWESOMEST bikini and I can’t wait for it to be pool time!). Back in the day, Lane Bryant was basically your only option – and your option was a flowered muumuu. Combine that with the fact that I have weird-shaped feet that are tall and wide, and even cute shoes have been a far-away fantasy for me.
So on all fronts, I’m habituated to wearing what fits, not something that’s fun, that makes a statement, that expresses something about my personality. I think this all worked to create a sour-grapes mentality about all clothing that spills over into the subject of wedding attire 1. It’s only very recently that I’ve thought about wearing things because I like them, as opposed to wearing them because they’re “flattering”, “slimming”, or “appropriate”.
Despite the recent freedom I’ve found in wearing whatever I want, shopping still makes me panicky; I get sweaty and my ears ring and I incessantly calculate post-percentage-discount prices. The idea of shopping for a dress more expensive than my entire wardrobe, a dress that I’m meant to wear once and then preserve for my nonexistent future child, in no way appeals to me. I’ve still got the sweater I wore when C and I got married, and I wear it all the time. It’s one of the most comfortable things I own. I’ll be sad when it falls apart, but between now and then, I’m going to wear the s**t out of it in no particularly special fashion.
the family factor
Speaking of shopping for a wedding dress – let’s talk about the massive amount of planning that goes into a wedding, the sheer number of decisions that must be made, and the overwhelming navigation of family dynamics that comes with it.
Excuse the acronyming, but OMG. I can not, for the life of me, see how one gigantic party makes up for the year or more of utter misery leading up to it. I was so happy when I finally didn’t have to go clothes shopping with my mom (who loved to dress me like a little old lady who’d retired to Florida… or a new mom who only shopped the Eddie Bauer catalog). While the idea of revisiting those days through an endless matrix of decisions about food, flowers, clothing, etc. in NO WAY appeals to me, the prospect dragging C through such a mess terrifies me to my very core.
Last year I tried to make Christmas plans for our families, and it was an utter disaster that included multiple illnesses and absolutely no one getting what they wanted. Throw in the weird expectations that go along with weddings, the discussions over who pays for what and who gets an opinion and where everyone sits and did everyone get invited… and I can’t say enough how very happy I am to have sidestepped all of it with an elopement.
the obscene display of & bald request for money
Given the multiple traumas I’ve experienced in regards to money over my lifetime, and the fact that at the time of our marriage we had even less than we do now, I cannot fathom choosing to spend it on a wedding. I do know women whose parents have savings earmarked for their wedding; by the time my nuptuals rolled around, my parents had blown on through any hope of a wedding fund straight into crippling real-estate debt.
Further, the prospect of asking far-flung friends and relatives to come to heel at my date and location of choice while also showing up with a present that I’ve chosen ahead of time in no way feels joyful or celebratory to me.
I already have to spend my own money on things I’d prefer not to, like health insurance and taxes and business licenses. The thought of spending our scant savings on a year-long descent into a day that is pretty much my idea of hell seems flat-out insane. I 100% admit to my own baggage around gifts and money, but I will not apologize for it.
the princess bride
I took three semesters of theater classes while in college, two of which were acting. In Acting II, my (indisputably wise but equally blunt) professor, in her notes to me on my final scene, said:
Now, how can you be prepared for a scene to avoid what came to be regular panic/anxiety issue just prior to beginning? The pain it, acting, seems to put you in – in such a state – that I question why you do it? If it’s not pleasurable let it go! Learning to control your terror comes with practice.
While I’m still – still – learning to control my terror, I’m also learning to let things go. Being a capital-B Bride would be a scene for me. I would be acting. I would be questioning why I was doing it at all. I have never been comfortable in leading roles. Not to say that I don’t crave praise or attention, but I’ve never wanted to be the star. It’s much more satisfying to play a supporting role, to make the lead shine, and know that I’ve had a part in the work at large. And there are so many things that bring me pleasure now: yoga, playing at the dog park, losing myself in a book, napping, sitting backstage at a show watching C work, riding shotgun on spontaneous road trips. The idea of planning an event where everyone stares at me as I slowly descend into a sweaty panic attack while facing an equally miserable man that I’ve forced into the situation in no way brings me joy. I don’t care how nice it would be to have a makeup girl on standby to fix my mascara shadow; I’d rather be in yoga pants somewhere.
the accessory groom
It seems appropriate that it’s taken this long to get around to talking about my husband. Weddings are touted as “your day!” – all the rhetoric casts the groom as one in a faceless line of men, differentiated only by the fact that he’s tethered to you by a very expensive engagement ring.
I have a hard time doing anything other than work, chores & self-care when C isn’t around (although I will admit that this blog has been a delightful exception – I’ve shooed him out of the house more than once to turn my attention to the writing of it). As codependent as I’m sure we are, the fact is I simply don’t want to go have fun without him (cue toddler with arms crossed, stomping her feet). When he’s gone, I have to deliberately cultivate a life of my own; it does not come naturally. He’s my absolute favorite person on the planet, hands down, ever. If I’m having fun, I want him to be having that fun with me. Hell, when I’m miserable, I still want him with me, because the very fact he’s there makes me less miserable.
It is, however, one of the central challenges of our marriage for us to do something together that neither of us likes without driving each other mad. We work at this in small, deliberate, controlled ways: just last month we spent four hours cleaning up the back patio at our rental property together and neither of us yelled at each other, which was a massive win. We accomplished this by having a specific to-do list, committing to a specific time frame, and not involving anyone else. Afterwards we napped, and it was glorious.
But the idea of involving C in something he would hate, over the course of 12-18 months, relatively early in our relationship – something that would also drive me six different kinds of mad – only to have it culminate in a day we spent apart and an event that neither of us were interested in attending – seems excessively cruel and unusual, even for marriage.
a waterfall of bridesmaids’ tears
Another story my college girlfriends will tell on me, closely related to the tract-of-land screed, is that I have repeated over and over how much I never want to be a bridesmaid. I’ve now done it twice, once for my one female cousin and once for one of my sorority sisters, and after the last experience I think I’ve finally reached the point where I can confidently say, calmly and in the sweetest way possible, “you’ve got the wrong cowgirl, sister” to the next person who is foolish enough to ask.
Weddings can certainly be fun. Last year, I attended three lovely weddings. I wrote about one here, and I may write about the others at some point, but for now suffice to say that none were traumatic. They may have been exhausting, but they were also sweet and delightful. I was happy to be there, happy to see my friends joyful, surrounded by love.
Bridesmaids, however, are not surrounded by love. They are surrounded by people they don’t know, wearing something they would never wear on their own, and asked to do ridiculous and uncomfortable things2 in a pageant they rehearse once.
I suppose there are girls who enjoy this particular endeavor, and to them, I say, “Ma’am, you are clearly not an introvert.” By the end of both of my stints as bridesmaid, I was sweaty, miserable, sore, and exhausted in every way one can be. Asking someone else to do this for me seems even more cruel than forcing C into it, since at least he’d be getting lucky at the end of the whole shebang.
When I ask my friends for something, it is because I have thought long and hard about how much I need it and how much I need them to do it. In the thought experiment where I’m forced at gunpoint into having a wedding, the budget includes covering expenses for the entire bridal party and the promise of a future kidney or liver should the need arise… not disrupting their lives and bank accounts with a play that I’m putting on.
Additionally, in the category of I’m-not-sure-where-this-thought-goes: what I like about parties is getting to spend time with people I love where everyone is comfortable, relaxed, and happy to be there. Weddings up-end all that: the bride and groom are stretched beyond their capabilities to spend any significant amount of time with anyone, everyone is wearing uncomfortable clothing, one half of the crowd doesn’t know the other half (often for good reason), and everyone in the bridal party – supposedly the people you’d most want to be spending your day with, although more often it’s the people you know you’d look the best next to in photos – is too exhausted to really enjoy anything.
suddenly you’ve found a christian god
I’d say that at about 80% of the weddings I’ve been to, when it comes time for the ceremony, people who I know pretty well – who I’ve spent time drinking and thinking with – suddenly seem to have a deep relationship with Jesus. Regardless of my own personal belief system, what shocks me about these ceremonies is that the two people who the whole day is supposed to celebrate, suddenly feel the need to invoke a religion that they haven’t practiced since their childhood, or at least allow it to be invoked all over them.
I suppose that this piece of it goes right along with the other obligatory pieces of the ceremony, but it is the one that bothers me most deeply. It is a moment when two adults, standing before their friends, their families and their god (or not), making a public promise to each other about how they intend to live their lives henceforth – and the bulk of the rhetoric & ceremony in no way reflects their relationship with each other or themselves. Srsly?! There are many things about various religious practices that both appeal to me and unnerve me, but the hypocrisy inherent in this part of so many of the weddings I’ve attended leaves me extremely sad.
since I’m the boss of me
There are plenty of things I think are cool about weddings, and most all of them have to do with the particulars of the reception. In an alternate universe where the timeline gives me the luxuries of time, money and energy, C and I throw one hell of a party to celebrate our legal contract and thank all the people who helped us get to that point. In this universe, the one with limited resources and choices to be made, eloping was the absolute kindest choice to make for ourselves. The fact that it pissed some people off was just an added bonus.
thank you, crippling anxiety
For those of you lucky enough to have not experienced me during a panic attack, this is probably because I was smart enough to know my limits in that moment. Many of you may have actually been around me during a panic attack, only to write it off as me being bitchy, standoffish, inattentive, holier-than-thou, a sweaty fat girl, high maintenance, histrionic, entitled, attention-whoreing or selfish. While I have been and will again be rightfully described by all of those words, the person that I am when I’m having a panic attack is, more than any thing else, terrified.
This post is not the space to explore the nuances of my anxiety disorder (or its attendant chronic pain), but it is pertinent to mention, because a wedding is a petri dish of all the things that trigger a panic attack for me: large groups of people, the need to ‘behave’, uncomfortable clothing, being the center of attention, making polite small talk with strangers, my family, lack of rest, spending large amounts of money, asking people to do things for me, and feeling responsible for how other people feel. There are plenty of times when I push my own limits, but these days I do it in controlled ways for good reasons. Like Terryl admonished me so long ago: “Learning to control your terror comes with practice.” That practice comes at a price for me. One of those prices was eloping.
I love not having debt
Whenever my mother makes a snide remark over the fact that we didn’t have a wedding, I’ve gotten to the point that I laugh, and it comes from a place of genuine amusement. The idea that, at the time we got married, we could have afforded to have anything resembling a wedding is, by the standards of anyone with any fiscal sensibilities, utterly ridiculous.
I object mightily to the idea that, at a time in my life when I…
- had spent over two years struggling with an illness that manifested itself with urticaria, joint pain, migraines and exhaustion…
- was only a year past declaring personal bankruptcy thanks to said illness…
- was shacking up with my boyfriend in a 600 sq. ft. apartment that dedicated 30% of the space to his drum kit…
- had, only three months before, quit a minimum wage job to dedicate myself full-time to pursuing my own business…
- was still carrying several thousands of dollars in debt in order to hold on to the assets I managed to keep…
would turn around and ask my partner to join me in the bonds of even further debt in order to service some imaginary obligation that neither of us would have enjoyed. That’s not to say that we didn’t have some money that we chose to spend celebrating our commitment while still carrying some debt. And there were a few people who, despite the fact we did not fete them with rubber chicken, contributed to that celebration. The more weddings I witness, the more I appreciate those people – the people who were just happy for us, no questions asked.
I love my partner and myself
There are so many things that have changed about me since I met my husband, and I love all of them about as much as I love him. But there are also things that I have discovered about myself – things that I didn’t know before we met but that aren’t necessarily a change. Getting to know C has included getting to know myself better. Sometimes the things I discover are new (I like Mötley Crüe?!), and sometimes it’s more like I finally have permission to own an opinion that I was squashing before (I do NOT want to have kids).
At this point in the process, I often find myself saddened over the idea that anyone would ask me or him to be anyone other than who we innately are, because each of us is awesome in so many ways. We’re imperfect, too, but that makes things fun! Neither of us sprang fully-formed from Zeus’s forehead. We’re on an adventure, we’re telling a story… I want to see what’s next! Why on earth would anyone ask either of us to change our story to suit someone else?
In this case, our story does not include blowing a crap-ton of money on some barbie dream wedding where we abandon our authentic selves to meet a set of cultural expectations just to make other people happy. And I like that about us.
if you made it this far
I respect you mightily. This entire post is more for myself than anything else – thinking through my own desires and getting stuff off my chest. I don’t want to be bitter or resentful about other people’s choices, I just want to really understand my own.
1 I’m not even going to get into the insanity of attempting to lose weight to fit into a dress or look thinner on The Day. That is a topic for like 20,000 other posts. Suffice to the idea of it makes me nauseated.
2 Please note that, while I’m using this an example of something that most people would find ridiculous and uncomfortable, that I am 100% on board with this particular trend, as I am usually on board with any trend that would offend someone’s mother. It takes very little for me to show my ass. Any opportunity to do this as a part of any wedding in the future will be seized with gusto.