The joy of NO: What offbeat-types can teach you about saying "no," even to yourself

Guestpost by TorchyBlane on Feb. 25th

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Did I just hear you say NO? Oh my! Photo by Carmela

One thing I love about Offbeat Bride is that it's such a big, weird, wonderful tent. An unnumbered horde of households, all alike in dignity, united under the banner of doing things a little left of center. You and your burner, poly fiances planning a blood-sharing commitment ceremony on Fire Island at the Solstice? Come into the tent. Join the Kappa Gamma sister who is super excited about wearing her skull shoes and walking down the aisle to the Harry Potter theme song. You're both offbeat. You're equals.

Except… not really. I don't mean that our blood-sharing, poly, burner is cooler than our John Williams sorority sister — fuck that noise. Judging's for losers, that nosy bitch in your mom's yoga class, your Aunt Mildred, and the kids you went to high school with.

It's just that there are certain levels of offbeatness that can sometimes exist without engaging the ire of the judgers. If your offbeat tastes aren't too many standard deviations away from mall-culture lite, you can, for lack of a better term, squeak by. If your personal offbeat tastes run to skull shoes and Harry Potter music, then I give you mad props. But that bitch in your mom's yoga class might let your dangerous proclivities pass uncommented. The same is less likely if you're a poly burner on Fire Island.

Call this, for lack of a better word, the offbeat spectrum. On it, I fall definitely toward the tame end. I'm HOPELESSLY bourgeois. My idea of a night on the cultural vanguard is going to see a Shepard Fairey show and eating Ethiopian. I have a cat named Genghis Khan, and owl-print pillows, and I covet Le Creuset. No one in their right mind could possibly consider me subversive or countercultural.

Except I know how it feels to be on both sides. I grew up in the company of people who, for the most part, treated me like I was the second incarnation of Karl Marx mixed with Andrea Dworkin.

Being on the wild end of the offbeat spectrum does confer certain disadvantages and benefits. Disadvantages in that you can't pass for mainstream — you're always a threat, always a target. People attack you for no reason. But benefits in blocking all those attacks gives you some pretty sweet armor. You've gotten really good at deflecting or ignoring criticism, maintaining internalized self worth, and just generally saying NO. NO to feeling bad about yourself, NO to apologizing for your choices, NO to altering your life to suit the preferences of others. NO is a goddamn survival skill.

This is fucking invaluable as shit when wedding planning.

Never again will you be grabbed by as many different cultural and familial forces and pulled in the direction of as many senseless YESes. YES, of course I will be having a wedding in a church. YES, I will invite Aunt Mildred and the bitch from mom's yoga class. YES, of course we will buy that custom-monogrammed toilet paper. You say the one YES — the big one, to the partner — and everyone expects, like dominos, that a thousand other YESes will follow.

If you have been on the tame end of offbeat most of your life, your defense mechanisms, your armor, your NOs might not be sharp enough to initially resist this onslaught of YESes. Oftentimes, I find when I read Offbeat Bride Tribe entries, the writer is sad about a YES that they feel they have to say but don't want to. My budget is too small to do all the things other people want me to do; how can I possibly say YES to them? So-and-so will not understand my choices, so how can I say YES to theirs?

I don't worry about those brides; they're going to be fine, because they're here, and they have fairy blogsisters and Tribesmaids who will help usher them into the wonderful world that comes with getting really good at NO. Saying NO is about the single most liberating thing you can do, in life and in wedding planning. NO, I won't follow this tradition. NO, I won't buy that crap. NO, you don't get to make me feel bad about myself. Once we really wrap our heads around NO, are going to find our lives get a lot easier.

If you haven't been schooled by life in the fine art of NO, then saying it can seem overwhelming, even annihilating. But it's not. It's an event horizon. Once you cross it, the world doesn't necessarily seem easy — there's still the pesky matter of helping those you love accept and deal with the consequences of your NOs — but it does seem like it's a place you can walk through with integrity.

For example, when I bought my wedding dress, the entire process was landmarked by a series of graciously delivered and gently enforced NOs. The first NO was to my mother, who thought that bridal boutiques, and their white satin jeweled cupcakes, were the only dresses that were even conceivably appropriate for a wedding.

Then I NO'd dresses left and right, faster than she could blink. "Do you like this one?" "NO." "But it has this fancy beaded vagina protector…" "NO. I said I don't like it. Let's keep looking."

The last NO I said was to myself — I refused to talk myself out of loving the dress I chose, simply because it was a very popular style obtained from a chain bridal boutique. That was the hardest NO, I admit — denying myself the ultimate Offbeat Bride narrative, of having a fashion sense too refined and idiosyncratic to possibly be satisfied by an anonymous big box store perched between a Food Lion and a Radio Shack off of I-90.

Maybe that's the hardest test of our powers of NO, those of us who grew up on the wild end of the offbeat scale — do we have the power to say NO to ourselves? I know I'm not perfect when it comes to that, but as with many things this wedding business is teaching me, I am finding that kicking down the walls of my comfort zone is making my life — and the life I anticipate having with my husband once this wedding is over — something I'd happily say YES to.


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About TorchyBlane

My name is Sarah and I am the editor of a weekly newspaper in Salem, Massachusetts -- yes, Salem, with the witches. It's a fantastically weird and welcoming place, and I'm grateful every day that I ended up here -- not least of which because moving to the Boston area introduced me to my wonderful fiance, Mike. Our favorite things to do together are write -- I'm a journalist and also a published sci fi short story writer, and he's an aspiring young adult novelist halfway through a five book series of steampunk girl detective adventures. We also love cooking extremely elaborate things, and every year we throw a 'Meat-a-bration,' with dueling grills where everyone tries to outdo each other with exotic meats.

http://tribe.offbeatbride.com/members/torchyblane