I am inviting eight people to my wedding; the rest of our 120-ish guests are my fiancé Hass's crazy quilt of associates. Now my biggest fear has been feeling like a stranger at our own wedding.
I am afraid of being left alone, or left out, on the big day. I am nervous overall celebrating my marriage surrounded by a huge group of people I don't really know. I feel like a failure because I have no friends, no community, nobody but a few family members to support "me" in this giant celebration of "us."
So I took a step back and started to work through my issues. We are not completely through the ups and downs of this issue, but I am feeling much better. After a few months, this is what I have figured out:
1. Understand why this social anxiety is a problem at all
I came to realize that a lot of my anxiety came from how I define a civil wedding — as a communal affirmation and celebration of two individuals' personal union. I felt like a fraud because the loving community celebrating my union with my spouse was somehow not "really mine." I felt that the communal celebration was all for my fiancé, and I was some kind of interloping impostor.
Once I was able to understand where my anxiety was coming from — the root cause and not just the symptoms — I was better able to put that anxiety in perspective and begin to resolve it. This was so much more helpful than just accepting my unusual social nervousness as "typical bridal anxiety."
2. Acknowledge when "stranger danger" anxiety is affecting other choices in your wedding planning that you may think are unrelated
Going into the early stages of wedding planning, I was aware right away of my fear of social awkwardness and isolation on our wedding day. I tried to not bring it up, discuss it, or dwell on it because I don't want to reinforce my fears and give them legitimacy. But Hass and I have had disagreements about seemingly unrelated things that, when I parsed it out later, I realized were related to my social anxieties.
For instance, we bitterly disagreed on the tradition of not seeing one another during the morning before getting married. I got downright churlish about the issue. But somewhere in the middle of it, I realized that my objection wasn't to the tradition, per se, but rather the fear I was going to be left by myself all morning, and that once we were together, we would never be allowed to be alone with just each other. Once I could see "FEAR OF BEING LONELY" squatting in caps-locked oversized emotions at the root of my anger, I realized I needed to approach my objection to the tradition with more care. We have since reached a happy compromise on the "first look" tradition.
3. Remember to be grateful for the social support network you do have, and that your fiancé's social support network is yours now, too.
The lasting support network I do have is amazing. On the other side, my fiancé Hass also has a wonderful circle of family and friends. I look forward to getting to know these good people better in the (hopefully) many years of our married life. But at the moment, these aren't my friends yet. They are not my community… yet. But I am joyously confident they will be eventually!
4. Be ready to find offbeat solutions to put your anxiety at ease. Even if being offbeat is really just as simple as delegating.
From the beginning of our engagement, Hass and I quickly grew to think of our wedding day as a screw-the-rulebook let's-be-authentic-to-ourselves event. We had no problem choosing a cavernous waterfall as our natural cathedral, making alien invasion Save the Dates and Tetris-themed invites, ditching a hired DJ, and asking Hass's friend to officiate. This same offbeat attitude has made finding solutions to soothe my social anxieties possible as well.
One solution was that, when I was going through the worst of my anxiety, I handed over the wedding planning reins to my future husband. Hass taking over gave me the space I needed to work my issues out. Now that I am through the worst of my anxiety, I am discovering that I am interested again in planning. I come up with ideas spontaneously and with excitement again.
5. Finally, remember that the steps needed to work through wedding-day social anxiety are pretty much the same regardless of what type of issue you are working through.
When I started confronting my fears that I would feel like a stranger on our wedding day, I felt like I was the only bride that ever felt that way. After all, I thought brides were always supposed to be happy, enthusiastic and the natural center of attention. But as I worked through my stranger danger anxiety, I realized that the steps I was taking were useful not only to my particular issue, but also to many types of wedding-related anxiety.
I had to understand the root of the issue and acknowledge when that issue was hiding and creating havoc in seemingly unrelated choices. In order to resolve the issue I had to free myself of the emotional traps created by messages that my feelings were invalid or inappropriate. Only then could I find the offbeat solutions that addressed the issue at hand fairly and effectively.
Realizing that this same process of understanding, recognizing, and validating in order to reach resolution and find solutions was not unique to my situation alone lifts my spirits. Even if my form of wedding-related anxiety is not the most common, I am not alone in this.