Friday, May 14, 2010

Relying on our Strength

One of the reasons I keep writing sanity check posts, seeking out sanity check inspiration from you, and heading back over the the Wedding Graduate series at A Practical Wedding is because I need reinforcement that we're right about our particular wedding choices. I need it when I hear an offhand comment about how tacky someone's homemade wedding decor looked. I need it when a loved one makes an offhand disparaging remark about a non-traditional dress I've fallen in love with. I need it when people keep offering me unsolicited advice on how to make our wedding better (which usually means more expensive and "traditional"). Because the flip side of holding onto our own personal wedding truths is that we're going to run smack up against other peoples' judgments about our weddings.

After Tuesday's amazing "It's Almost All Small Stuff" post, I received an email from A Cupcake Wedding that raises really important concerns and realities about that flip side:
As someone not sweating many of the details, let me add that you have to be prepared to brace yourself for when other people comment on that inattention to detail. For example, some guests invited themselves at the last minute, so we told them to come. Now they are fussing that they didn't receive our printed invitations. No shit, I want to tell them, because you weren't actually invited. People are also fussing that I want to serve my guests our own cake, fussing because I don't want to save cake for a year, fussing because we are getting married in a park.

I think we get so absorbed in these blogs to the point where we really believe that all that matters is the love. And I do believe that. But remember that your Great Aunt Norma might not. For her, its about the invitations and the pearl necklaces and the formal first dance.
You have to be really strong to stand up to your entire clan and say I want to do things my way.
I think we all are this strong, but it is not easy, and sometimes it feels very hurtful. Hurtful because you are hurting the elders' feelings. They expect things a certain way and think you are rebelling against what they taught you. And hurtful because you wish people would realize it is all about the love, so who cares if I didn't rent formal china for 100 people to eat from and do you have to scowl like that every time I tell you about my unusual wedding?
It's one of those emails where I wish I had some great advice to make it all go away. Or where I could wave my magical wedding wand and get everyone to look past their own preconceptions about what a wedding is and isn't and towards the love and joy at the heart of it all. But there isn't any advice that can make it go away. You can find ways to manage the arguments, but many of us have a Great Aunt Norma muttering in the background and wreaking havoc on our emotional equilibrium. And, not only is she wreaking havoc because her words are hurtful, but also because we love her and want her to love our wedding plans as much as we do. We want her to love us for us and not just because of bloodlines and habit. She's important and our wedding is important and it's so heart-wrenchingly awful when our loved ones don't respect and value the wedding choices that are so meaningful to us and our true selves. 

But I don't think there's a completely satisfactory answer for that besides picking our battles and relying on our strength. Cupcake Wedding said "I think we are all this strong, but it's not easy." I'd actually amend that to say: I know we are all this strong. In fact, I think the wedding helps make us this strong, and working through the hurt is part of what makes this wedding planning process worthwhile. 

If you'd given me a choice a year ago between an engagement period punctuated with familial challenges, hurt feelings, and midnight tears of frustrations versus an engagement period supported by parents who handed over a blank check and world with no judgment whatsoever, door number two would have been the obvious choice.  But now, after nearly a year of managing the complications of an imperfect reality, I'd choose these complications, hurtful conversations, and mini-heartbreaks. Because somehow, via this complicated engagement journey, we've ended up closer to being married than ever before. At this point, marriage really is just a piece of paper and the wedding has become a chance to publicly bless what has already privately happened. Because we've had to become strong together in order to manage the challenges of wedding planning in a way that we never needed before. Yes, life had already thrown us a few curveballs and yes, we'd already learned to rely on each other to make it through. But, somehow, there was a subtle shift that came with the engagement as we said Yes to a life together and then learned how to jointly say No to everyone else's expectations about that life. 

No, none of this is easy. But it's worth it, and perhaps that's something even more important. And it's something that keeps us strong when Great Aunt Norma rants about pearls and missing details and tradition. And it's how we'll overlook any hurtful comments that attempt to mar our wedding day as we cling to the joint definitions of meaning and joy that we've developed together during the engagement. It's how we know, in our core, that this is really about love and nothing else.


  1. I could not agree with you more. Even though we know we're doing what's right (because its what's right for us), I still want our families to love our wedding as much as we do. And so far, that hasn't been the case. The phrase "well, usually, a wedding is/has..." has come up too many times to count and its hurtful each time.
    As for the other point that a couple often becomes closer throughout the engagement and wedding planning process, I must say "heck yes, that's so true". Like you said, we'd had hurdles before the engagement, but such emotionally charged issues as those that come with weddings have proven to us that we're capable of really pulling together. Saying no to everyone else whilst reinforcing the feelings we share with one another has proven to us both that we're right for each other and that we'll be capable of getting through life as a team. And honestly, with a month and a half before the wedding, that's the best lesson we've learned thus far in our relationship.

  2. it's a this-side thing. once you're married, it won't happen as much- just because people will have an awesome time, and the stupid ish (like "what the hell is the bride wearing?") will be a passing thought for a rare few bitter souls.

    when people start questioning your choices NOW, you have no rebuttal other than, "cause i want to." after the wedding, after everything has panned out, you're married, everyone had an awesome time- the majority of your loved ones won't remember the silly things they disagreed with.

    we had some very... well, rich. and worldly. people come to our wedding. josh (broke guy that he is) is from a very affluent town, and his mom has gone to weddings that are on the level of "celebrity." i have uncles that have traveled the world. these people have seen it all. when i would think about things from their perspective, i would feel like a city-equivalent of a bumpkin- uninformed in the ways of the world.

    but then the wedding came and went. and those very folks that i worried would look down their noses at our lack of taste- they were the ones to congratulate us on having such a happy wedding. "i've never been to such a happy wedding." was the most-heard post-wedding phrase.

    not, "i've never been to such a lavish wedding" or "unique" or "pretty." in the aftermath, your family (mostly) WILL love your wedding and your choices, because they'll see how it all fits together into a happy party.

    /optimistic rant

  3. I'm always amazed that people complain about someone else's wedding decsions. I know it happens with unecessary frequency. But I've also witnessed innocent comments interpreted as complaints. "I've never seen pie served at a wedding" or "Really, you're not wearing a white dress?" aren't always criticisms. Sometimes people just want to show they are interested in our weddings and are making conversation.

  4. @anon- yes, sometimes the comments can be innocent interest. But more often, they haven't been. There's a clear "eww" nose wrinkle that happens. Perhaps it does put me in an immediately defensive position on the neutral comments, but even some of the innocent comments have still tried to push thier vision of a wedding. "oh, pie? But *you're* having cake, right? It's not a wedding without a cake." I'm fine explaining, of course. But the nose wrinkle and outright derision is far more common, even when people aren't aware what they're dong, and it's terribly hurtful.

    @Liz - thank you for the optimistic "rant." I'm pretty sure that will be everyone's response to the wedding itself. And if not, it's really their sad loss. But it's still hard now, and it's still hard thinking about the mor judgemental folks who may never come around. But I like hearing about the other side, even if we agree it's sometimes challenging getting there.

  5. My mom, whom my brothers and I all love dearly and who is generally considered to be one of the most open-minded people of any of our acquaintance, still wrinkles her nose when the topics of my brothers' weddings come up. One brother served a giant hoagie sandwich, keg beer, and Baskin Robbins ice cream cake. (Nose wrinkle) The other brother had a spur-of-the-moment courthouse wedding that involved waiting on the bench with criminal defendants and only had a cake and a bouquet for my SIL because my mom insisted and provided them. (Nose wrinkle) They did it so suddenly that I was not able to arrange to take time off from work to travel to the wedding. (More nose wrinkle) Both brothers are very happily married, and mom adores their wives and her grandchildren, but the weddings were not to her taste. But you know what? My brothers don't care. My mom still says my brothers' weddings were "weird," but everyone converges on her house every Sunday for family time anyway. They married the women they adore, and they have beautiful and happy families. The brother who served hoagie sandwich at his reception has been happily married since 1991. Yes, that's right. Next year is their 20th anniversary. My point is: someone is going to think your taco truck is nose-wrinkling tacky and they may complain about the lack of a proper wedding cake, or the fact that you didn't have your ceremony in a church. They may hold on to their dislike about these elements of the party for as long as they can remember them, but that doesn't mean that they don't love YOU or that they don't support your MARRIAGE. The wedding may not be their sort of ceremony or their sort of party, but that doesn't change one iota their affection and support of you. So have your wedding, give them something to wrinkle their noses about, and smile. Feel free to say with a smile, when confronted with their snark, that YOU had a great time and it was exactly what YOU wanted. Then give them a hug and a kiss and walk away from the conversation. It's their snark, not yours.

  6. I completely needed this post! We've made our own invitations, we're doing all of our own decor, and are having a lot of non-traditional elements in our wedding, so this post couldn't have come at a better time.

  7. Holy crap, I was wordy today. Sorry about the long-winded response.

  8. A friend of mine recently informed me that my fiance and I should "say something funny" in our ceremony so it isn't so "maudlin" like so many other wedding ceremonies are.

    I sort of snapped. I told him that everyone wants something from us, and we can't please everyone, so if he wants a comedy show, he can go find one somewhere else. This did serve the effect of shutting him up, but then I felt like awful bridezilla snapping at my friend (even though I still think he was totally out of line.)

    This is all to say that my wedding is in 2 weeks and I'm still dealing with this judgey-BS. I think it is because all of the guests want to be a part of your important day is some way by offering advice and making it less tacky/maudlin/boring/pie-filled/insert-other-judgement-here. But, a lot of them also want to take more ownership of it than they really are allowed to have, and sometimes I think it is okay to just look at the wrinkled nose and hopefully more gracefully than I did, thank them for their input and then explain why you're doing it differently. Because, like you said, it really is all about the love and the relationship you've forged with your partner-- they should be able to recognize that too.

  9. @Sarah - I've been known to get a bit long winded myself, and I always appreciate thoughtful replies :)

  10. I loved how you talked about working through these challenges deepening your relationship.

    And I love this this:
    "But, somehow, there was a subtle shift that came with the engagement as we said Yes to a life together and then learned how to jointly say No to everyone else's expectations about that life."


    And I will add that before our wedding there was some wrinkle nosed feedback, but during the wedding and after...none, that I heard about anyways! (Thankfully!) My mom, who I think probably couldn't really imagine what we were trying to achieve (which was very atypical to what is "normal" where I am from), had a BLAST. So...I think most people actually enjoy the wedding in the moment and after, probably just because of all the love, happiness, and well wishes floating around. And most people are polite enough to keep their mouth shut about things that aren't really according to their own preferences.

    Good luck! :)

  11. "we said Yes to a life together and then learned how to jointly say No to everyone else's expectations about that life."

    This. From the other side, (been married 10 months now) this was the most important thing I gained from wedding planning. And not even just how to say no, but how to start that conversation and even WHEN to start that conversation! I learned the difference between when to say "Oh, what an interesting idea" and when to say "I've thought deeply about your suggestion, because your ideas are valuable to me, and ended up deciding on something else due to these particular values which I'm sure you agree with." I learned patience while walking my loved ones through my decision making process over. and over. and over again.

    I wouldn't want to do it again. But I'm glad of where it brought me--I'm a better person than I was before I got engaged.

  12. You will never regret, you will never regret, YOU WILL NEVER REGRET HAVING THE WEDDING YOU WANT.
    But, I've said this before...

  13. A few weeks ago, I would was so embarrassed to talk about our wedding with friends and family. I would make excuses for our decisions and act like I wasn't excited, even though I really was excited and the butterflies in my stomach were having a kick ass dance party. Sorting through feelings of guilt and embarrassment, I finally got real with myself. How can I expect people to enjoy my wedding if I can't even talk about it like I will enjoy it? So I changed my attitude, stood up for my wedding, and most importantly myself. It's a good feeling.

    I still catch myself getting embarrassed when someone asks me wedding questions, but then I remember the sweet dance party going on and I can't help but smile.

  14. One of my best tips is SERIOUSLY to with hold information, and be really vague when asked direct questions.

    It's funny. I never would have pegged myself for secretive or even private. But I'm glad I learned this (really learned this) wedding planning. You can be sure I'll be using it X10 when I have a baby.

    And people almost always think whatever you did was wonderful when they see it, and it's all about love. So if they don't know in advance, you get to skip a lot of "No's."

  15. What is it about weddings that bring out the crazy in everyone? Everything from my own sister/bridesmaid complaining that I don't mind if my bridesmaids to wear different dresses and don't mind that they choose it themselves, to my own ATHEIST mother complaining about my ceremony not being held in a church. It goes on: You're getting married at a place called the Smog Shoppe? You're okay with that on your invitations? You aren't taking your fiance's last name? Even people threatening to not attend the wedding because so and so wasn't invited. (I'm sorry we have a budget that only allows 75 guests!)

    Isn't this why everyone who wants to, gets to plan their own wedding? So that they can do whatever *they* want?

    Sigh. 22 more days until I'm married.


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