Note: this will be rambly and repetitive. I’m working through some shit, and I do that in writing, and I put it here so that I have to be thoughtful. Deal with it.
So it turns out that a wedding costs a lot of money. I know, I know, this is not news, but it doesn’t really hit you until you’re planning one how easy it is to blow your budget and how challenging it is to find reasonable options. I’ve been a big hater of the wedding industrial complex for a long time now, but it’s only since starting the process of planning my own wedding that I realize how emotionally fraught it is to try to resist that complex in the face of all the expectations about weddings.
In particular, even if you don’t want to spend upwards of ten thousand dollars, it’s easy to let everyone convince you that this day is uber extra special and it should be just perfect. The dress should be a perfect representation of you that flatters you in every way, the venue should give the “feel” of you as a couple, the decor should be tasteful and personal, the food should be stellar. You don’t want it to be boring after all, and you want to remember it for years to come as fantastic and awesome! It’s stressful to try to budget while also making it a special day that feels fun and important and makes your guests and family and you happy.
There are two things that I want to be true about my wedding at the same time: it’s an important day, one that I would like to enjoy and remember. It is also not the most important day of my life, and probably not even in the list of the top 5 most important days of my life. It’s not even the most important day in my relationship (though it is gonna be pretty awesome and I’m excited for the legal change). But like most people, I am fallible, and subject to influence, and full of all kinds of emotions about living up to expectations.
I’ve been spending hours each week researching and planning my wedding, and unsurprisingly, in that process I have started to internalize some of the messages that abound on wedding planning websites and blogs: The Dress will be perfect and special. Everyone will notice the Little Touches you bring to the day. People will be horribly offended if you don’t treat them right. Despite how helpful and supportive my family has been and how little I knew about weddings and wedding traditions leading up to my engagement, I’m finding that there’s suddenly a lot of pressure.
It’s come to a head with the dress. Now I’m going to be honest: I love dresses, and I’ve been watching Say Yes to the Dress for years, because I am SO EXCITED to wear something amazing that I can’t get away with any other time in my life. But as I’ve tried on dress after dress I’ve started to realize that there’s a message about The Dress that says it will be “perfectly, uniquely you” and it will stand out from all other dresses. It will be the kind of dress that makes you say damn the pricetag (because these messages are here to get you to spend money) and if you find it after you’ve already bought a dress, then you’ll just have to get a second one because it’s perfect.
I’ve started to feel as if no dress will be right. I have so many ideas and desires for a dress (I love them all), and I have no idea which one is The One. It’s started to become so intensely stressful to me that I don’t even want to look at or think about dresses anymore, which is basically the saddest thing ever because I love dresses. And that is what has tipped me off: this isn’t me. This is the wedding industrial complex. And I’m buying in. I’m letting a lot of marketing steal something that usually brings me a lot of joy. The point at which thinking about and planning for a day that I’m excited for becomes a stressful gauntlet of “is this exactly right” is the point at which I’m not doing it for me anymore.
And that’s where things get complicated. Because I am a perfectionist, and I’m an event planner, and I love details and I love finding just the right thing. At what point am I buying in to messaging vs. working hard to stay true to myself? None of us can entirely suss out what parts of ourself is “ME” and what is “INFLUENCE” because those two things are endlessly intertwined, and honestly there’s nothing wrong with being influenced sometimes. The hardest part of wedding planning so far has been that a wedding is supposed to reflect your identity, and nailing down my identity is basically the hardest thing I can imagine.
Here’s the truth: all of us will buy in to some extent. That’s not the worst thing in the world. We all live and breathe capitalism every day. The reason it feels like such a Big Damn Deal for your wedding is because your wedding is supposed to be You and Pure and Perfect. It won’t be. It will be a compromise. You will settle. I will settle. That seems like a good representation of me though. I’m pulled in a thousand directions every day, and my life is one of settling for the moment, settling for what I’m capable of, settling for what will actually make me happy instead of what seems like the “Right” choice.
There is no “the” dress or venue or anything. We all have a thousand facets and nothing will represent us perfectly. The trend in weddings right now is for the wedding to be “perfectly you” and that simply cannot happen for most o fus. How close is a close enough approximation? What is selling yourself out? How do you understand your own priorities? It’s easy for “unique” and “me” to be the new wedding industrial complex. Even Offbeat Bride, which I love, exists to sell things, which means that all of those gorgeously unique and quirky weddings are there to make you want them.
Most people will probably not care in the slightest about the details of my wedding or the dress I wore. That’s all me. That’s all the money that’s spent to make me think that people will be picking nits through the whole day. So I’ve bought into that. Ok. I have to deal with that anxiety now because it won’t just go away. I can’t make it go away by reminding myself it’s all made up. So I will use the same skills I use against my anxious brain any other time to continue reminding myself of what’s important, and to ground myself in the moment, and to get over the irrational fears I have. The wedding industrial complex is just my jerkbrain with a lot of money. I’ve got this. And if you’re finding that media and friends and family are getting into your head and making you worry unnecessarily, it might be time to pick up a few tips from the people who battle anxiety every day. We know how to get through when our brains tell us lies. You’ve got this too.