Can we talk about the stories that we tell each other about life transitions? It seems as though, during wedding planning (and, as I'm learning, childbearing — and as I suspect most big life transitions) we tell each other a lot of scary stories.
I mean, of course people want to share their experiences with each other. But all too often this storytelling slips into fear mongering. It's sort of a pre-emptive commiseration — an anticipatory sing-song of Oh, you'll seeeee…. It's our way of telling each other, "I had this experience, and I'm assuming my experience is universal and you'll have the exact same one. And mine was like this, so yours will be too — and then we can roll our eyes and bond over how awful it was together." We all love a common enemy, and all too often in pursuit of this shared experience, we project our challenges onto others.
Oh, you'll seeeee… people say once you announce your engagement…
"It's going to be so high drama and hard and you're going to be forced to do all these things you don't want to." And maybe it will be hard and high drama — but it doesn't have to be. If you chose to side step the drama ("Actually we're planning to skip place settings completely and let people sit where they want, so I'm not worried at all") people then seem aghast. "But, you can't do that," they say. "You can't just skip place settings!" I think what goes unsaid is You HAVE to worry! It's what we're going to bond over, because bonding over hardship is awesome!
Certainly I experienced some of this in my own wedding planning — friends who told me, "Just accept it: you WILL be a bridezilla at some point." And I think I had exactly one moment, when our 10 minute ceremony walk-through got interrupted by some guests arriving early. I bugged out for a minute and then calmed back down. Oh wait! There was one other, when I wanted to get everyone out on the front lawn for toasts during the Golden Hour. That's why we're holding champagne bottles instead of glasses in the photos. NO TIME TO POUR DRINKS!
But a cumulative 5 minutes of freaking out was hardly the inevitable bridezilla prediction I'd gotten, and in fact now I've spent five years trying to get people to STOP FREAKING OUT ABOUT THEIR WEDDINGS. Recognize the challenges and meet them front on, but with compassion and intention and minimized drama. Stop telling stories about how awful it all is — it doesn't help anyone. Don't white wash the challenges, but stop projecting that the challenges you experienced will going to be everyone else's challenges.
The wedding fear mongering is just one of the stories we tell. The expectations of marriage after the wedding are often heavily weighted. "Marriage is a lot of hard work," people confide with furrowed brows.
"You'll never have sex again," they wink.
"You'll stop hanging out with your single friends," they sigh.
"My stupid hubs!" they laugh. "YOU know how husbands are. Stupid, stupid husbands."
They whisper about cheating and boredom and bed death. And certainly these things can happen if you fall asleep on your life and just start going through the motions. But if you pay attention and go into with a lot of intent and questioning your own assumptions about why you're supposed to do anything … it just doesn't have to be that way.
I'm learning this about another phase with the fear mongering around pregnancy, childbearing, and babies. I've never heard more sing-songy You'll seeeeee!s than I have when talking to people about becoming a mother. I've witnessed the other end of the spectrum too — people chided when they opt NOT to have children, told "Oh, you'll change your mind about having kids. You'll seeeee…"
Certainly I've seen it in other parts of my life — my career, my home, my education, etc etc etc. You'll seeeeeee, people have always told me. And maybe because I'm a brat and want to prove them wrong, or maybe just because I live my life differently, or maybe just because I've been blessed and lucky … I've found myself NOT seeing.
My husband being an irritating ball and chain that takes "work"? I didn't seeeeee. Ignoring my dog because I had a baby? No, I don't seeeee. Spending a lifetime locked in a meaningless job? No, I don't seeeee. I don't want to be naive, but when it comes to having to accept other people's visions as what I seeeeee … I don't want to seeeeee.
It seems that in our effort to find shared experiences, we turn to each other and tell awful stories about how hard it all is. And you know what? Sometimes it IS hard. Sometimes the wedding plans fall apart and relationships fall apart and it feels like our life is falling apart.
But rather than tell the horror stories, why not share the lessons? Learn as much as you can and share the positivity of what you learned, rather than the shared grumping about didn't work.
Snarking and bitching feels awesome for a while — I totally get it. Four years ago, my job involved writing a celebrity fashion blog called "Carpet Burn" that was all about insulting red carpet attire. But snarking just doesn't really get you anywhere. So that outfit's ugly. So that's stupid. So that's not quite your taste or your values or your nature. Who cares? Time spent bitching could be time making yourself smarter and stronger and more awesome.
So, here's to each of us vowing that once we've gone through one of life's big, rocky transitions (whether it be wedding, graduation, marriage, career shift, lifestyle earthquakes of all sorts) we'll turn to those around us and tell the stories of what we learned and how we grew. Here's hoping we'll offer each other encouragement and support instead of fear and snark.