“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.