Fear mongering & you'll seeeee

My First Xmas Present of 2013
Photo courtesy of Stewart Butterfield

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.

  1. People really tend to do this with so many major life situations. I (unfortunately, but necessarily) don't have a relationship with my parents and it really gets me when people hear that and knowingly nod their head and tell me how we'll all come around or how all families experience periods like that. It's just so not appropriate for acquaintances to make comments like this about any serious experience in someone's life.

    I think it happens because relationships are formed on common ground… but some people just don't THINK before speaking.

  2. "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."

    — Best Quote Ever.

  3. I have found this post so helpful in reducing my wedding planning stress. I feel like at least once a month in our year and a half long engagement I've had someone telling me "You'll seeee…" about life after marriage. I have this post saved under my favorites & refer to it when I feel overwhelmed by it all. Thank you for this post.

  4. i totally needed this today, i feel a lot better, thanks Ariel

  5. This is one of my bookmarked all-time favorite posts… I even printed it out to remind me I'm not alone amongst the unsolicited "advice" and kept it at my desk at work!

    I also find I get left out of discussions amongst my (divorced, widowed, or just plain disillusioned) coworkers of relationships and the like, and I think it's BECAUSE I don't have a hateful relationship with my future husband. Such a shame that a feeling like (my theory anyway) jealousy can make others give someone the cold shoulder. I guess it just goes to show who are friends really are! (or, aren't!)

  6. We had a lot of 'you can't' and 'you must' comments being said when we got engaged. 'You must have an engagement party' um, no. We don't want one. 'You can't invite people just for the ceremony and not the reception'. Well we did and people were fine. We had a six month engagement, planned everything ourselves, with minimal input from others, had 50 people at our ceremony – in a garden (free venue), and only had bridal party, their partners and close family at the reception. It was a great day. And it was ours. Our day, our party. No one else's. and that's important to remember. So don't let people tell you can't and must. And don't listen to the 'you'll see' sayers. It's your day, your life, your memories. Not there's.

  7. Love this.

    I've heard a few wedding warnings, but more horror stories about marriage and children. "You'll never have sex again" is one of the worst. If you're not getting any from your partner, maybe you're with the wrong partner – that isn't how marriage should be. But the one that really gets to me is, "Don't have children, you'll regret it," or, "If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't have kids." It makes me sad and angry to think that these people wished their children didn't exist. Perhaps if they spent more time trying to be good parents and to raise their children to be good people, instead of whining and complaining and regretting ever having them, maybe they would enjoy parenthood a little more.

    Someday, when I'm talking to new brides and telling them stories about my wedding, I'll make sure to tell them the positive – how thrilled I was when he proposed, how much fun it was to envision and create our dream wedding, how I cried when I found The Dress. These are the stories brides should be hearing from their friends!

  8. This post = awesome!! The number of "You'll seeeee…"s I get now is ridiculous seeing as though my BF/Hubby/DH/Common-Law Partner/Lover (I change his title depending on my mood:)) and I are having our first baby (we weren't planning on having kids…oopps) and we are NOT married!! OH you should hear the comments!!

  9. A lot of people want to feel all smart and experienced and stuff, but have no idea how irritating unsolicited advice is to others. I'm sure I've probably done it too in moments of weakness — about other topics though.
    I deal with this "you'll seeeeee" crap by saying. "Sure. I'm allowed to change my mind." and they get all confused and have nothing else to say because I'm not playing the game anymore. And truly… we are allowed to change our minds, or not. It's not their call and no one is keeping some kind of score (or rather, they shouldn't be). Live life and don't explain yourself to others – tell them to deal with it and move on.

  10. This is so spot-on. Seriously, though, people are going to bitch and give their two cents to you. It's hard when that is coming from your immediate family who you so desperately wish would emotionally support you during some pretty exciting, probably once-in-a-lifetime events.

    With wedding planning, I've gotten to the point where I do not include the negative people… which basically leaves it to my fiance and I and some distant girlfriends over text message. (How many times can I politely tell someone we don't want to get married in Vegas… but, I'll see the greatness in that idea someday, right? Not to knock those who do get married in Vegas – just completely not our style.)

    This same principle can be applied to step parenting. I'm a step parent and have been for two years now since our little man was 2 years old. SO many people have bombarded me with their thoughts on what I'll eventually see about step parenting (because everything happens the same way to everyone…. right.).

    I'm constantly surprised with just how negative people are about it. I have had a wonderful, positive experience and completely love co-parenting with my fiance. The negative crap everyone wants to remind me of that could happen just has never happened. Of course, there are growing pains with any blended family, but that's to be expected. My issues come from other people's negative attitudes!

    And regarding child birth – who ever said to just stop people if you think them telling you about their experience is too negative… I say go for it. I refuse to talk to my family members about child birth. Nothing positive comes from it.

    I prefer to look at it in a wonderful light (like step parenting) and I'm realistic of what is a natural part of the process (labor pain). I don't need to hear about how I'll see that I won't want any more kids after my child birthing experience.

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