Nobody Likes a Grouchy Bride
In my defense, we got engaged just a few days before packing our lives into two storage pods, driving across the country, apartment hunting, job hunting, and starting a new chapter in a new city. This timeline made for an epic and romantic journey along Route 66, but it did not allow ample time to enjoy our swift engagement or reflect on the major life changes that were happening all at once. But happen they did.
When I pictured my theoretical proposal, I imagined excitement, confusion, onlookers, and (ideally) an emphatic “Yes!” When my real proposal happened, it was all that and more. But no amount of daydreaming or planning could have prepared me for the surprise or the momentousness of my answer. It was exciting but also extremely overwhelming.
The rest of the day, I walked around in a state of delirium. I felt like my head was full of cotton balls. Shockingly, I managed to go onstage in this state and perform in a sketch comedy show later that evening. It took a few days for our “engagedness” to really sink in, but the laundry list of other peoples’ expectations and questions began almost immediately…
“How did he do it? What did he say?”
“Have you thought about a ring?”
“Have you set a date yet? Venues book up really fast!”
“Oh my gosh! Are you SO excited?”
It was a lot. All at once. Just 24 hours earlier, I was fretting about how to find a new job and a place to live. Sure, I was excited, but there were so many new decisions to make and things to freak out about.
Friends, family, and strangers alike suddenly felt free to voice their opinions on my taste, my religious values, my body, my sense of tradition, and (frankly) the amount of money that I was willing to spend to celebrate love. I wanted to give these people the benefit of the doubt. After all, they meant well. They were happy for me. Most of them were trying to help (I think?). Maybe I was missing something.
Countless little girls (and boys) dream of getting married and having a big, fancy, fairy tale wedding. I was not entirely immune to this phenomenon. Passions for party planning, sweating the details, and all things aesthetic run deep in my veins. Even so, I like to think that my expectations were pretty reasonable. I thought that if I kept an even keel, I could keep everything in perspective throughout the planning process.
Certainly I would never become one of those over-the-top nutbag Bridezillas with spreadsheets and itineraries. You know, the kind who breaks down crying whenever something doesn’t go their way? “Not me,” I assured myself, “I know better.”
In truth, I did not.
The first time somebody called me The Bride, it was a little jarring. “Are you The Bride?” asked a very pleasant salesperson in a Beverly Hills bridal salon. This was my first time trying on dresses and acclimating to the bubbly, hyper-positivity of bridal appointments. “Oh, me? Yes, I’m… The… Bride…” I said, not sounding entirely sure.
I was quickly ousted from my tufted and bedazzled seat, offered champagne, asked to strip down to nothing, and shimmied into a series of lacy cupcake costumes (hard pass). I would go on to grit my teeth through many, many more appointments, trials, tastings, walkthroughs, emails, and conference calls.
I’m a performer. I’ve played characters from ingenues and witches to cannibals and amorous dogs, so I’m used to being in the center of attention and occasionally making an ass of myself. But becoming The Bride made me the center of attention in a new way. This time, I was playing a character that I couldn’t really identify with. It was a version of myself seen through a funhouse mirror of blush colored roses, kitten heels, and weird undergarments.
All the while, I did my best to assure everybody else involved that I was having a great time. After all, this was all for me. I was The Bride.
Planning our wedding took a little over a year, and it was definitely one of the longest years of my life (thanks, in part, to the 2016 election). At the start, we really intended to keep our wedding small, simple, and low-key.
“Maybe a brunch wedding?”
“We’re thinking 75-100 people tops.”
“It’s just one day, you know?”
However, when we sat down to make a guest list, it became abundantly clear that keeping it small would mean a lot of tough decisions. We have a lot of family and friends. This is a great problem to have, but it either meant excluding lots of people or increasing our headcount. We chose the latter. The impact was a snowball effect where our intimate, low-key wedding took on a Frankensteinian life of its own.
Planning a wedding across state lines proved to be much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. As an anxiety prone, detail-oriented Libra, I was constantly overwhelmed by this unexpected mountain of choices. Endless emails, documents, spreadsheets, pamphlets, fabric samples, and Etsy packages passed between both states. I flew back to Chicago five times to see options in person and solidify details (“working trips” as my mom jokingly referred to them).
Luckily, I had lots of help from my family, my friends, my in-laws, my fiancé, and our vendors during the process. Even so, I found it difficult to invest in my new life in Los Angeles (and, at times, my new life as an engaged person) while I was wrapped up in endless thoughts about our wedding. I scrimped and saved so that we could afford gifts for parents and attendants, nicer card stock, and express shipping, but the credit card bills were less than ideal.
I felt stupid for allowing things to get so complicated. Between the sales pitches/nudges from industry professionals and our own internal drive to keep up with the Joneses, the process became pretty overwhelming and emotionally charged. When you have hundreds of people and a great deal of money involved, it just sort of happens.
Why the hell didn’t we just go to City Hall and go out for pizza afterwards? Like really nice pizza!
It felt like every conversation I had centered around the big day. People started to introduce me as, “This is Maggie. She’s engaged!” as if I had ascended to some new level of human achievement. But, to me, it felt like an erasure of my entire identity apart from being an engaged person. What seems like benign small talk can actually be really anxiety-inducing when it involves such a big, emotional event. With nothing but curiosity and good intentions in their hearts, friendly faces pummeled me with questions about impending decisions, deadlines, and even dollar amounts.
“What are you doing with your hair?”
“Do I get a plus one?”
“Who’s walking you down the aisle?”
“You’re eating carbs?”
Amid this barrage of questioning, everyone seemed to want constant affirmation that I was happy. On a daily basis, I struggle to present a happy face to the world, and engaged me was no different. If I was honest, the answer was rarely a resounding “Yes!” The mounting pressure of details, decisions, and deadlines had my stomach in knots for weeks at a time. I lost countless hours of sleep ruminating over who to invite, which thank you notes were left to write, and whether every piece of the puzzle was in place. If not, the whole investment of this crazy, stupid, beautiful, decadent party could come crashing down around me.
If I had any spare creative energy, it was immediately funneled back into wedding planning, which meant that I wrote less, I performed less, and I socialized less. I began to roll my eyes instead of smiling when the subject of my wedding came up, I was intermittently anxious and depressed, and I developed immense shame and guilt for not enjoying the magical twilight of my bachelorette days. At times, I questioned my relationship.
Within a few months, I became a very grouchy bride. I knew intellectually that a wedding and a marriage were not the same thing, but I was so ready to get out of the holding pattern. Ready for my life to start. Ready to talk about ANYTHING other than bar packages, itineraries, party favors, and the amount of money being spent.
Then, something magical happened. About a month before our wedding, other engaged, married, and divorced friends started getting real with me…
“Are you so ready to be done?”
“Doesn’t being an engaged person suck?”
“People whose opinions you value the least seem to feel the strongest.”
“Yeah, the week before is pretty miserable.”
Finally! Some camaraderie! Where were all of these grouchy brides hiding for the last year? Why didn’t they feel like they could be honest with me before?
It was like I had entered a secret society. I couldn’t help but wonder, if most people were eventually willing to admit that their wedding planning process was (at some point) a miserable/stressful experience, why do we encourage each other to keep up this tradition?
When our wedding day finally arrived, lots of things went wrong (though not as intensely as my nightmares predicted). There was a lot of last minute scrambling. My hair got caught on the back of my dress all day, we forgot to hold a napkin during the Hora, we didn’t have time to say hello to everybody, and my great uncle passed out during the reception and had to be taken to the emergency room (don’t worry, he’s okay).
A lot of things also went really right. From the venue and playlist to the readings and the cake, it was really rewarding to finally see our mountain of decisions come to life. The flower arrangements were perfect and full of twinkling lights. Our ceremony was short but sweet and had the perfect blend of traditional Jewish solemnity and modern, secular levity. The string quartet learned the themes from Edward Scissorhands and Star Trek: The Next Generation just for us. We got to eat our dinner, and the filet mignon was totally worth the up-charge. I cried (but not too much) at all the right moments. I hope that our guests had a fraction of the good time that we did.
There were so many unexpected, touching moments that day, and I would not trade them for the world. After all, how many times in your life can you gather (almost) everybody that you care about in one place to celebrate the fact that you found somebody you want to share your life with? Despite all of the hiccups, I believe that our wedding was (almost) entirely worth the trouble and the months of sleeplessness and nausea. I’ll get back to you about the expense when it’s all paid off…
I love my husband. I love that life is starting to return to normal. I just wish that I didn’t lose a year to the fever dream of the Wedding Industrial Complex.
In retrospect, I don’t really blame women for pressuring each other into having extravagant weddings. As with most ills in the world, I blame capitalism and the patriarchy. For making us buy into the idea that the add-ons are necessary to meet your guests’ expectations. For supporting a corrupt diamond industry. For quadrupling the cost of goods and services by tacking the word “wedding” onto them. For making women feel unfulfilled if they do not find a suitable romantic partner. For bolstering sexist language via dusty religious texts and traditions. For creating a transactional infrastructure for marriage in the first place.
To any #RecentlyEngagedWoman out there, there isn’t much advice that I can offer. Every couple, family, and financial situation is unique. There can be no basis for comparison. I am not planning another wedding anytime soon, but if I had it all to do over again, I would take more time to enjoy our engagement before diving into the planning process.
To anyone considering engagement, look before you leap, try not to do it when you have a lot going on, and please remember to take care of yourself.
Always and Forever,