“This is supposed to be fun.”

The florist might as well have said, “What is wrong with you?” and handed me a wearable sandwich board reading “DEFECTIVE BRIDE/WOMAN/HUMAN.” I was sitting across the table from her, my mom on my left, talking about flowers for my wedding—and I was in tears. I was ashamed of my emotions, which, as usual, only made it worse. If the florist thought her comment was going to help, she was delusional.

Why was I crying, you ask?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I am a persistently anxious person prone to depression. Or because we were about to spend a bunch of money on me for a day when I would be the center of attention I didn’t want or feel I deserved. Or because I had to make decisions. Or because I was about to have my period. Or because I had to communicate my wishes to a stranger. Or because I was about to go through a huge life transition in a year that had already had too many of those. Or because I’d had a bad day at work. Or because my friends were getting divorced and I was sad for them and terrified of that prospect for myself. Or because I worried people would judge my choice of flowers. Or because I hadn’t been feeling very good about myself. Or because I was convinced I was incapable of being a good wife and mother. Or because I was in the process of going off one of my antidepressants. Or because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before. Or because I had stopped drinking coffee 4 days before that. Or because I can’t know or control what will happen 10 years down the road. Or because I have an utter lack of self-confidence. Or because wedding planning makes people crazy and emotional. Or because I’d been “trying” (not very hard) to lose weight and failing at it. Or because I was hungry.

Or, you know, because all of those things were happening inside me at the same time.

Perhaps the most difficult part of wedding planning for me has been that at times there has been a conflict between how I feel and how I think (or others tell me) I am supposed to feel.

How I think I am supposed to feel: constantly happy, giddy, exuberant, and mushy-gushy romantic; blushing at every mention of my wedding or fiancé; always more than happy to gab about the details of my dress or decor or wedding party (oops, don’t have one of those); forever smiling, laughing, and being generally bubbly about wedding plans and the sure expectation of marital bliss.

How I actually feel: excited, nervous, happy, sad, energized, depressed, productive, paralyzed, thrilled, terrified, confident, uncertain, quick to laugh, quick to cry, giggly, deer-in-headlights, loquacious, tight-lipped, open-hearted, closed off, beaming, withdrawn, feminine, mannish, self-affirmed, self-deprecating, bouncy, frozen, effervescent, flat, overjoyed, overwhelmed, calm, stressed, relaxed, tense, eager, anxious, romantic, frigid, gregarious, antisocial, encouraged, disappointed, beautiful, ugly, idealistic, cynical, magnetic, repellant, cheerful, frustrated…

Well, you get the picture.

My emotions have been all over the map during our engagement and especially since we began planning the wedding in earnest. And I’m finally realizing…that’s OK.

I’ve recommended this site before, but A Practical Wedding has been a godsend for me, not even primarily in the details of wedding planning (though there’s great stuff there) but in helping me understand and sort through the emotions that have come with it. They have honest articles from women wrestling with anxiety and depression (and/or run-of-the-mill emotions) while planning a wedding, and reading their stories and the comments they elicit has helped me feel less alone.

Because the truth is, although many parts of wedding planning are fun for me, there’s plenty that just aren’t. Like trying to make sure I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings. Like juggling others’ expectations with trying to discern my own wants and needs. Like explaining some less conventional decisions we’ve made, especially when I’m already wrestling with low self-esteem. Like thinking about being the center of attention. Like trying to avoid the wedding-industrial complex but getting sucked in anyway. Like feeling pressure to make my wedding look amazing and adorable in photos and on social media. Like learning to say no to things I just don’t want to do. Like being a friggin’ 9 on the enneagram (9’s are infamously indecisive and unclear about their own desires).

What does this have to do with smashing the patriarchy, you ask? I’ll refer you to the featured image for this blog post (source). People, especially men, feel they have the right, even the obligation, to tell women to smile. Women get criticized for being afflicted with RBF (Resting Bitch Face). Women are expected to be happy, upbeat, and agreeable. Having a bad day, being angry, or just having your face in a neutral position demotes you on the beauty and desirability scale, and, in extreme circumstances, puts them in danger. (Here’s a good article about this phenomenon.)

Sometimes, questions and comments about wedding planning (especially those like the florist’s) sound like someone telling me to smile. Now, I don’t blame people for asking me about wedding plans in a way that tells me they expect a bubbly, positive answer. I’ve done the same to countless engaged women, and I know folks are excited for me and just want to connect.

But I’m thinking about it a little differently now that I’m in the thick of it myself. I’m going to adjust how I approach those conversations in the future. I’m not going to assume that everything about wedding planning is fun or exciting for the woman I’m talking to. Maybe it is, and that’s great. But maybe it isn’t, and that’s OK too. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with her. It means she’s approaching a huge life transition marked by a high-pressure event, and she is largely responsible for the story, script, production, direction, and starring role, all of which are expected to win metaphorical Oscars by votes cast in likes on Instagram and Facebook. For some women, these things are energizing; for others, they are incredibly draining.

My fiancé has encouraged me to let go of some of the junk related to wedding planning and focus on what really matters: our relationship and our soon-to-be marriage. It helps that we have an amazing honeymoon planned, that we are already building an incredible life together, that we have plans and hopes and dreams for ourselves and for the family we’re forming. Because these are the things that are actually important.

Here’s what it boils down to when it comes to being told to smile, the patriarchy, and wedding planning: no one can tell me my emotions are right or wrong—including me, because that’s not how emotions work anyway. The majority of my wedding anxiety has been about the fact that I’ve been anxious and I think I shouldn’t be—it’s anxiety about anxiety. Now that I’ve named that, my anxiety levels are way down, and when they spike, they’re more manageable.

So don’t tell me to smile, and don’t tell me this is supposed to be fun—but give me space for both. Depending on a zillion factors big and small, I might be jumping-up-and-down-excited about my wedding one day (or minute) and ugly-crying-anxious about it the next. But I’m learning to accept that and go with the flow, because I can only feel the former when I let myself feel the latter.

ICYMI: Check out Part 4 of this series, about same-sex weddings and how to make your wedding more inclusive.

Published by Sarah Howell-Miller

"I believe in kindness, also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when it is not necessarily prescribed." {Mary Oliver}

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for your honesty, Sarah! Wedding planning is actually one of the worst things, I think. And, I guess, the best. I think you totally nailed it, and you are certainly NOT alone in feeling this way.

    Personally I am SO GLAD that I got married before Pinterest and Instagram existed. Even without these insanely self-promoting mediums, I felt that there was SO MUCH PRESSURE on the wedding, which totally undermines the fact that it’s about a MARRIAGE. Without Pinterest and all the hype, I was able (sometimes) to prioritize what was actually important to me, rather than worrying about what things might look like to others.

    Did I still think after the fact, “Oh! I wish I’d spent more on our invitations/photographer/flowers, etc!” sometimes? Yes.

    Day of, did I care about any of those things? No.

    The day was perfect because Danny and I got married and all the people we love most in the world were around us and showering us with love. I was worried about the attention, too, but it’s attention growing out of LOVE for you and it’s a beautiful thing. That’s a feeling you’ll never forget, and something you likely won’t experience again.

    Keep up the good fight. As my sister said when planning her wedding, All flowers are pretty.” So I think you should be good to go, at least on that front. 😉

    -Lauren

    1. I totally agree about it being one of the worst/best things! I’m sure I would have felt pressure even without social media, but it really does add a whole new level of craziness (and of what people think is their business!). Love the comment about all flowers being pretty–I’ve had a few moments where I’m like MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE ORDERED [INSERT SOME FLOWER HERE]…but seriously, it won’t matter. I also appreciate the point about “attention growing out of LOVE for you.” I anticipate that although that feels anxiety-inducing now, in the moment, hopefully it’ll feel more like that. 🙂

  2. Sarah,
    Thanks for all this. As I read your blogs, you put so much in them that I had felt when I got married 7 yrs ago. One of the girls I watched grow up at my church is getting married in Oct and it’s been hard for me to grasp that (she’ll always be a little girl to me!). I wanted so bad to step out of the expected bride role in my wedding, but my mom, who is very liberal, still wanted to see me in a beautiful dress doing all the girly bride things. I eventually broke down and conceded. Besides, at the time, there weren’t many options when it came to less-fancy wears for the bride (although I did heavily consider a “Mormon” style wedding dress, but my mom was dead set against ordering a dress online).

    Out of curiosity, the other night I looked up bridal pantsuits. Crazy how much is out there these days compared to when I was getting married. Part of me mourned… there are so many times I wish I could go back and talk to my mom about how this was MY day, not hers. And I knew her mom did a lot of the same things with her, so she was trying to live out her desires through my wedding.

    At least I was able to put my foot down on one thing… I didn’t want the wedding march or canon in D played as I walked down the aisle. I chose a beautiful version of Ode to Joy for my bride’s maids and a beautiful version of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring for my walk. It felt good too. The recessional was Enya’s Book of Days too (instrumental), which felt awesome to walk back to. I also had a lot of untraditional songs playing in the prelude (well, Wedding Song is kinda popular). I guess the music is what was the only “Me” part of my wedding, and I felt the better about it than any other part of the wedding.

    So I encourage you to keep doing YOU. It will mean so much more in the end. Anyone who doesn’t think you’re doing it right will see on your wedding day that it’s what was supposed to be in the long run.

    ~mary

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Mary!! It’s funny, I can see now that if Colin and I had gone ahead with our original wedding date (January 2016), I probably would have had a very similar experience to what you did. Although it’s been a long journey, I’m grateful we had a longer engagement, because it’s given us the space and time to decide what we actually want and put our foot down about things. (Also, since I’ve had a ring for over 2 years, I think people are either over the initial engagement excitement, just relieved we’re actually doing it, so they’re less inclined to butt in, lol!) I’m glad you at least got the music you wanted!!

  3. Sarah, I am enjoying your wedding blog entries. If you look at how you are moving through this process from the perspective of your readers, you might find a place to be more self-assured. You are wonderfully describing the trek (I almost said ordeal) in spite of emotions bouncing around like ping pong balls in a bingo machine. I smile with you, feel your sadness and appreciate the depth of your feelings.

    I can assure you that you will end that day married. Sara and I learned at the last minute that one of the groomsmen had been given immediate travel orders by the Marine Corps. Sara was pretty upset and let me know it. I told her, “You are here. I am here. The minister is here. We will become a family tonight and I will love you forever.” God provided a stand-in groomsman, we were married and 50 years later I still intend to love her forever.

    To maybe help your self-esteem, I have four granddaughters. If everyone of them grew up to be alot like you, I could not be prouder.

    Ross

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: