Win the Judgey Olympics: transform your petty wedding snarks into personal growth

Who in their right mind would drape mis-matched plastic picnic tables in bedsheets from Goodwill?! Oh wait: I totally did. This is a picture from my wedding. Oh and PS: what, pray tell, is that fucking hose doing there? TACKY.
Friends, pull up a chair, because we have something we need to talk about today: JUDGEY-NESS.

You know what I'm talking about: that smirky, snarky, eye-rolly feeling that comes up. There you are, attending a friend's wedding. Or even more likely, there you are: looking at pictures on the internet.

And suddenly, what's that? TUT-TUT, did she REALLY!? Oh my lands, SHE DID. Can you beLIEVE? I would never! It blows my mind that anyone could possibly think this was a good idea.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

You can swap in your own judgment triggers: aesthetic choices (SO UGLY!), budget decisions (in these parts, judgments of OMG SO CHEAP! are just as common as OMG SO WASTEFUL), political/cultural statements (TACTLESS! OFFENSIVE!), and relationship choices (I CAN'T BELIEVE THESE TWO ARE GETTING MARRIED) are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the judgments around weddings that come up for folks.

Here on Offbeat Bride, of course, we're all about being supportive and constructive and cheerleader-y, but let's be honest: Of course judgments come up. They do for me as the publisher, they do for all my editors, and they do for every single reader.

As I said on Offbeat Mama last year:

For me, the goal is not to kill the judgment (impossible! irrational!) but to observe which issues make it flare up. I think there's a lot to be learned from observing one's judgments, and "Wow, I'm a judgmental bitch. Maybe I should work on that…" is just the first and most obvious lesson.

When I feel judgment flare up, I use it as a tool to examine my own motives and values. That judgey feeling tells me, "Uh, clearly this is a topic I have some strong emotions about…why?" I try to ask myself why I care — what are the ramifications of someone doing something differently than me? What can I do in my own life to ensure that I'm living with integrity on this issue? What are my personal experiences with this issue that make it so important to me?

My goal is not to find consensus. (Impossible!) Nor is my goal to eliminate all judgement. (Although I do eliminate judgmental comments.) My goal is to expose readers to as many perspectives as possible, so that we can examine our own beliefs, learn from our judgments, and gain greater insight into our OWN values.

I've been thinking about this issue more as I'm reading this book about non-violent communication, which talks about the difference between value judgments and moralistic judgments:

All of us make value judgments as to the qualities we value in life; for example, we might value honestly, freedom, or peace. Value judgments reflect our beliefs of how life can best be served. We make moralistic judgments of people and behaviors that fail to support our value judgments.
(From Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg)

In other words: your core values of wedding planning are awesome, whatever they may be. Rather than judge others for not matching your values, find ways to learn from those judgments to help you better understand what's important to you.

For instance, when you look at someone's wedding and think to yourself, say, "I can't believe they went so low-rent on the food like that… that's so cheap and tacky," what you're really saying is something more like, "Serving my loved ones food of high quality is part of how I show them that I care about them. Serving food like this would make me feel like I wasn't taking care of my guests in the ways that feel important to me."

Judgments are really just your own values bumping up against someone who has different values.

Judgments are really just your own values bumping up against someone who has different values. It's not about them sucking — it's just about different values. Rather than simply acknowledging the difference, and exploring what it says about your own priorities and decisions, it's easy to get caught up in projecting your moralistic judgement onto this person with different values.

More than just easy, it can be fun. Judging can become an epic sort of sport, the Olympics of Snark where you run the gauntlet with your burning bitching torch of hilarious snide commentary. You quip and blast better than all of them, passing the finish line first and humbly accepting your gold medal of Taste Arbitration. As they play the national anthem, you put your hand over your heart and think to yourself, "I'm so much better than all those fuckers."

I'm all for the occasional, self-contained Judgey Olympics. Keep it quiet, and no one gets hurt. Or rather, no one gets hurt but you… because you missed an opportunity for personal growth, opting instead to gloat in empty, petty, superficial superiority. (No shame, guys. I totally do it, too — and I enjoy it!) But every judgment is an opportunity to actually learn something significant about yourself.

When you view even the most petty of judgments this way, they can be used to help you better clarify your values and what's important. Rather than indulge in it (OMG DID YOU SEE THIS FUCKING SHIT!?) or beat yourself up (GOD, WHY AM I SUCH A BITCH), instead you can flip it over and welcome the flare of judgment as an opportunity for some introspection and reality checking.

What can this judgment tell you about decisions that YOU need to make?

So, when you're confronted with your own judgey-ness, instead of indulging the bitchery OR flogging yourself for being critical, consider whether you've got the time and the bravery instead to examine what the judgments say about your values, your fears, your priorities. What can this judgment tell you about decisions that you need to make? Remember: demolition is always easier than construction. It's taking the next step that's hard, so don't let yourself get trapped in the judgments. See if you can determine what the judgments say about your values, and how you can pro-actively make decisions that help you live out your own ideal.

  1. Seriously, did you write this for me? I have been slipping down this slope all too often lately (wedding-related and in the rest of life), and even when it is only in my own head and not vocalized, I know it plays a part in my interactions with people. When I find out that everyone thinks I'm angry or sad that day and I'm just overworked and overstressed – I guess people can read on my face what's going on in my head.

    I'm going to work harder on this. I consider myself called out and I will keep trying to be better. It's the most we can do. Thanks for this post!

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  2. This is a great read – and a good way to examine judgements we make about the choices of others. Thanks for posting this!

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  3. I love that way of thinking!
    I don't like this, why not? What does it mean about what I DO want for my wedding?
    Way better than just snarky snark bitching, my wedding will be better than theirs!

    This can totally be related to all other aspects of life other than just wedding planning

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  4. I so needed this. I'm in the early stages of a photography career, and it is so important to learn and grow instead of just judging people. Thank you, Empress!

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  5. I judge that this post completely and totally rocks! I'll try to keep it in mind next time the Academy Awards roll around and I get the urge to tear apart the red carpet styles (and anyway, there are bloggers out there who can serve up the snark far more entertainingly than I ever will). Definitely a good bit of consciousness to have around OPW (other people's weddings).

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    • True story: a few years before I launched Offbeat Bride, I used to write a celebrity fashion police column for Movies.com called "Carpet Burn." So, I totally get the impulse to snark… it is what it is, but there's a lot more to be gained from introspection.

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  6. Although my roommate and I never really put a name to it, this is pretty much what we do while talking. We laugh at our own judgement, and we try to find the bright side of the other person's opinion. Still, even we're not totally understanding, and that's okay.

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  7. Really nice post, Ariel. I think it addresses something that's just reality, tastes/values/customs/whatever differ so vastly. And, yes, anywhere I look at wedding stuff (in particular, and other stuff in general) there are times that my judgey-snark comes leaping to mind. I think one of the most awesome things about OBB and OBT is that the rules of engagement here push this kind of introspection and the ability to embrace that what brings somebody else immense joy doesn't get the same reaction from me. The Offbeat emphasis on being supportive and constructive in comments really fosters this. Somebody has an idea and throws out "what do you think" and my gut may be "oh, good grief, are you kidding?!?" but then I stop and actually think about it (not that I would voice my snark, anyway). It may be subjective taste, in which case the mouth and fingers stay shut, but there also may be a reason behind that reaction that warrants mentioning. "I had an experience like that and, as a guest, this is how it felt for me," or "have you considered factors X, Y, and Z and how that might impact the overall vision you're trying to create." And this post is another good reminder of the values we've agreed to embrace in this community, and I think these values are what really make OBB and OBT special.

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  8. I've always noticed that the things i'm most judgemental in others are the areas of life where i personally get stuck. It's tempting to point my finger and declare what i don't like or don't respect. Generally, it's attributes that i want to put energy into changing about myself but haven't gotten around to yet. It seems that finger pointing is so much easier than the hard work of introspection and self-motivated change. As for weddings, i don't think i've ever felt judgemental about someone else's choices. How they choose to get married is about THEM….the couple…not me. As long as they give me some food and don't throw rocks at me, i'm good.

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  9. I'm just excited that you spell "judgment" properly without an E. I try not to be judgey of people's grammar, but I work as an editor/proofreader – that part of my brain never shuts off. :)

    In all seriousness, this is a good way to turn our internet-national-pastime of snark into something more productive, and I appreciate that!

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    • Fellow word-nerd here! Bit of trivia – while judgment is standard American English, standard British English accepts judgement with an e as a variant (and is the historically older spelling, interestingly.)

      Yes, I am excited about your excitement about spelling!

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      • I'm English and would never spell it without the e! I think, if in doubt, us Brits usually have the extra letter when Americans don't (e.g. colour)!

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  10. LONG comment below. :)

    I went to a wedding last year that could've come out of a rom-com. Or a WIC blog. 150 guests, a lovely outdoor venue, a preacher, a slim young bride in a white dress with train and veil, matching bridesmaids, a groom (along with several groomsmen and a couple dozen male guests) in military uniform. It was big and beautiful and obviously well-planned. And I felt REALLY out of place.

    To start with, I didn't know anyone at all but my date, who had known the groom while living in another state about a decade ago. As someone who carefully reviewed my guest list to only include those nearest and dearest who support me and my beloved 100%, I couldn't imagine having strangers at my own ceremony. But being in that position gave me an added sense of responsibility. How would I want a stranger to act at my wedding? Basically: DON'T JUDGE. Which was harder than I would have thought, honestly.

    There were definitely choices I would not have made. Some of them were matters of taste — I think that most if not all of the bridesmaids were wearing false eyelashes, for example. Hmm. I like false eyelashes. Maybe more for Pride parties and less for formal family occasions, but whatevs. As the author of "Accordions and Lace" noted (and I was linked to it, I believe, from APW), a difference in taste is not a moral failing. And the ceremonial arch of crossed swords? The traditional vows? Elements of a culture that, while perhaps mainstream, is not mine. I knew what to expect, so I didn't find it difficult to witness.

    But the constant reminders that "male and female He created them" for the purpose of marriage? My queer feminist atheist self, awash in the fallout of California's Proposition 8 and its "Marriage is between one man and one woman" language, was very uncomfortable. And the reading of Ephesians 5:22? ("Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord," says the apostle Paul.) VERY uncomfortable. And there was also the crowd demographic: much more Christian and heterosexual than I'm used to. Out of the 150+ guests, it looked like my date and I were the only queers. And we were out in the middle of the country with a crowd of good ol' boys and an open bar. And I can't run very fast in these heels.

    And you know what? It went just fine. The wedding was of two people that were obviously in love (even to a stranger's eyes), and they made solemn promises in front of their friends and family. And obviously THEY wanted the reading from Ephesians, so I could just sit still and be happy for them and know that no one can make me do that at MY wedding. My date and I were visibly Other just by being there, and no one threw a nasty glare (that I saw) or made a rude remark. JUST FINE.

    Anyway, my point was that reading APW and OBB over the months before this wedding reminded me to be receptive to outside ideas and to judge as little as possible, and especially it reminded me what the important parts of the wedding were.

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    • I went to a wedding once where the pastor advised the bride, during the ceremony, she could keep the marriage alive by always dressing up for his husband when he came home from work.

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  11. Talkin' shit! I love that this topic is brought up on a wedding blog, of all places (that's why I keep coming back!) I have always gravitated towards being incredibly snarky and judgey. Not exactly a personality trait I want to perpetuate. I have improved greatly just by maturing but it's more due to the "WHY AM I SUCH A BITCH?" feeling and being way hard on myself. But, if I am trying to curb my shit-talking on others, I should probably stop shit-talking on myself. It's interesting how planning a wedding has released that valve on some major self-judgement. My thoughts have evolved from, "Oh, who will judge that and how?" to "Fuck it, this [insert likely meaningless choice here] makes sense for us. Let's do it!" I end up happier. And nicer.

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  12. Ariel, if Judgementalness was the nail — you just hit it square on the head.

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for giving me a practical way to re-examine my judgement. Telling me it's wrong is one thing but you gave us the tools to examine and change our behaviour and THAT IS AWESOME!

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  13. This is true not only for weddings but all aspects of life, great article!

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  14. The Judgey Olympics! WE NEED THIS!!

    I can see the events already:

    Holier-Than-Thou High Jump
    1000 Meter Superiority Dash ( can also
    be held as a relay race )
    The Luge of Looking-Down-Your-Nose

    And curling.

    Participants would be required to trash-talk each other .. so professional athletes will be encouraged to join.

    (Yes, this is what I'm taking from the article.)

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  15. I love the timing of this post. We are attending a friends' wedding newt month, and they are verrrrry on-beat. I was afraid my judgemental self would surface, but this post helps me in my perspective work.

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  16. Oh my, Guilty (raising my hand)! But only in the selfish constructive sense, giving my daughter the Bride the benefit of my years of attending various weddings gone wrong, pitfalls and disasters so that she doesn't repeat the same mistakes. We're 3 weeks out from the Main Event and just last night she covered the photography question again with me, making sure our photographer wasn't going to do what so-and-so's photographer did at their wedding when he monopolized the bride and groom all night and no one saw them. Not too terrible in the snark sense, but still, I don't want to be in the race and win.

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  17. I am automatically critical of movies and literature, I've had a lot of fun tearing books and movies apart with snark and sarcasm. I find lately it's been creeping into my judgments of people and their life choices. I need to go back to keeping my judgments silent and having that character growth half of the inner dialogue.

    The short of it is: I'm using this advice for life! :)

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  18. I come from the fashion world where judgement really is more or less a sport. I know exactly what I judge people on ("oh god, she's doing the pajama trend, shoot her") and what those judgements say about me ("I wouldn't be caught dead in something with poor tailoring and not made from exquisite fabric.") It's fine to judge others, you just have to remember that style and taste is different for everyone. A girl who wears more of a sporty style would undoubtedly cringe if she saw me in velvet and lace in an airport but neither of us is technically wrong or even off-trend, we just take different paths. It pays to remember that people are also making judgements about you all the time but chances are they keep it to themselves and you should keep yours to yourself too.

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  19. So timely! Been reading my thoughts again, I see!

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  20. Thank you for writing this. I get more, and more exhausted reading snarky comments under the guise of being funny, witty, or harmless fun. Most of the time it is just mean instead.

    Lately, I've been steering away from internet sites that let snarkyness be the standard. I'd rather spend my internet time with sites that are supportive, intelligent, and thought provoking rather than feeling like I'm back in high school where being one of the "cool kids" means picking on others because it is supposedly funny.

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  21. Thank you Ariel, I needed this post badly. It's a true wake up call for me right now. I hate being nasty and I recently have been. I'll use your advice to change my life. I'm fed up with mine and other people's negativity (as is my FH). So now I have the chance to act!

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  22. Love this! I am in the midst of planning our crazy low budget, pagans on a farm, November wedding. And throughout it all I have been struggling with the emotions that have been brought to light by my two cousins recent catholic church, open bar over the top weddings by comparison. Thanks for the reality check!

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  23. Hmmm. really we are still in the what if thinking about stuff stage. We've picked a theme and such. This is so helpful to help guide us to the things that we value, and what we want to do to celebrate our union. Thank you for pointing this out and giving it direction.

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  24. Wow, I felt such deja vu reading this! I have been thinking about this issue for weeks, and not necessarily in a wedding context, and I feel like I've crossed a huge bridge in the way I think about others.

    I know a girl who is The Exact Opposite of OBB – cookie cutter in every imaginable way. She's beyond stereotypically girly, just pure pink and cheesy romance and cutesy hair bows. On top of that, she conforms to every beauty standard the rest of us are trying to escape from: she's tanned, has enormous curly hair and long legs, and always waxes everything and dresses up in doll-like dresses before she sees her boyfriend. She's like if Disneyland was a person.

    And it pisses me off!! Every time she says something narrow-minded about gender, or buys another pair of pale pink lace stilettos, or pins a Big Cheesy Rom Com wedding picture on Pinterest, I get really visceral feelings about her. It got to the point where I felt angry if she repinned anything of mine, or commented on any photo – no matter what the content was. Just her presence was enough to get my hackles up.

    Recently I decided that rather than getting so angry over tiny things, I should figure out WHY I was feeling like that. And I realised exactly what you said above – I was cross because her tastes and values conflicted with my feminist, sexuality-tolerant values. Her frightening levels of conformity really grated, because I've always felt so judged by 'more stereotypical' girls for NOT conforming.

    To be honest, realising that didn't make me like her. In fact it probably made me dislike her even more. But the important lesson was that I should be THANKFUL to her, and other girls like that, because they're a constant reminder that I'm NOT a pink powder-puff, and that I don't want to conform to these stupid 'girl' standards. Knowing that my judgey feelings come from the values I DO want to represent makes it easier to live and let live, too. Because after all, she does have a right to be a powder-puff, even if I think she's submitting to the patriarchy ;)

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  25. I really love this article! I would also love to see suggestions on how to handle judgey comments from others, especially at wedding where it feels like a necessity that drama not make it back to the bridge and groom. I don't know why, but I seem to be in the middle of comments that make me feel VERY uncomfortable lately. And while with my own friends and family, I would without hesitation tell them to "shut the f*** up" just that way, not ever sure how to handle these situations when they are made by people that are loved by friends or family of mine. Some examples: 1) Wedding last year, bride's sister said "I hope they never have kids" during the first dance. Along with several other terrible comments ranging from judging the wedding decor/venue/dress to going "mean girls" on one of the bride's bfs and constantly talking shit. 2) FH friend referring to his step-nephew (a 9 year old) as a B word (not female dog, the other Jon Snow version) in a very public setting, 3) FH family saying sexist/stalkerish/slut shaming comments.

    Never sure what to do if the consequences could make things bad for people I love instead of 100% of the consequences landing on me and/or the moron misunderstood or misguided person that is saying such awful things. I'm not interested in starting a fight, but some comments are so over the line I feel like something needs to be said as well.

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