Our lopsided guest list has me afraid of being a stranger at my own wedding

Guest post by brockenblue
Rainbows! Bunnies! Totoro!

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.

Comments on Our lopsided guest list has me afraid of being a stranger at my own wedding

  1. With this kind of thing it is good to remember it is QUALITY that counts, not quantity. If the relationships you have support and nurture you, if they feed your soul then you have what you need.

  2. I wrote out a list today… I will have 12 people, two of which are mutual friends of my partners. And to this I say: YAY! I would be overwhelmed trying to catch up with 50+ people! this way I can meet people and not feel too rude if I don’t mingle with everyone all night. I really prefer it this way, and now I get to meet most of his friends when I am dressed all fancy and done up. Not bad.

  3. For me its the opposite. Of the 32 people on the guest list, only 8 of them are invited by my fiance. I’ve asked him how he feels about it because I know how weird we both are around strangers and he said he’s fine with it because once we say our “I do”s everyone there will be family (we’re only inviting family and super close friends that are “chosen family”)

  4. My husband was in this situation, social anxiety and all. We only had a guest list of around 30 though which helped. But he had a total of 5 people that were “his” guests (our one groomsman type dude is a mutual friend so that helps).

    But there are some things we did and some ways of thinking about it that helped us.
    – You do not have to talk and spend time with everyone. With a big guest list you just can’t. You can say hello but there probably won’t be time for meaningful conversation and your guests expect to entertain themselves. Even with a smaller list, I did not spend a ton of time with everyone and so my dude wasn’t expected to either.
    – take “time out” breaks. My dude knew he’d need that and I totally understood. He slipped out and ended up giving food and dessert to the security guards at our venue. He’s thoughtful like that. It got him away from all the guests and let him just be himself.
    – Find ways to avoid highlighting the difference in numbers so you feel less like everything is set up as a contrast. Everyone was in free-for-all seating at the ceremony and reception. It ended up that the dude’s friends sat together because they all know one another. But I got to visit with them at least as much as with my friends which was very nice. But there were no set tables or “sides.” The speeches were to us both.
    – Spend time with one another. It sounds dumb, but we were both doing our own thing which is kinda how we often are. But he would come up and hug me and kiss me and that was a great reminder that we were in it together, that the celebration was about us!
    – Remember your own personal relaxation techniques and pampering. My dude had some booze. He felt relaxed and could just enjoy himself. It was his favourite rum. If you feel a little spoiled it helps remind you it’s your party. 😉

  5. Depending on how far-off your wedding is, you can also make plans to get to know some of his big friend-group. Maybe prioritize having a few for dinner, plan a weekend away if a bunch of them live in the same place, etc. That way, even if they aren’t your closest friends, they’re people who you share good memories with that you’re meeting again.

  6. I will only have my two daughters at my wedding, due to the location, the rest will be my OH’s family and friends 🙂

  7. Our actual wedding ceremony was just the two of us and our photographer. But our wedding party is 4 of my friends and all the rest about 20 are his friends and family, partly because I moved countries to live with my husband but also because we both have very small friend groups for various reasons… I am trying to focus on the effort my friends have taken to visit and that I have become close with some of his friends… … I agree with the advice above though 🙂

  8. I had this same issue. The biggest thing that helped me feel better was to get to know my partner’s family. Having them not be strangers (mostly), even though we had to fly to Michigan to meet them all, made all the difference in the world. Suddenly my stress melted away, and I’m excitedly awaiting seeing them again.

  9. My fiancé is a much, much more socialable person than I am. Being around people I don’t know makes me.. immensely uncomfortable. So he has 20 times the friends I do, as well as triple the family (since my immediate family is estranged from all our other relatives.) The guestlist is going to be so one-sided it’s almost kind of funny.

    The fact is, I find other people terrifying. (Horray, crippling social anxiety!) Spending time with his friends and family, which I’ve done on quite a few occasions now, hasn’t seemed to help.

    I guess I just need to accept I’ll be a quivering, frightened mess on my wedding.

  10. Thanks for this lovely article and to everyone else for their comments. I don’t have social anxiety *at all*, but I’m *extremely* solitary (“psychologically independent” I think it’s called) and have very few people whom I would consider dear enough to me to share a day like my wedding (also my family is next to non-existant). So I do worry about this, especially since some people do genuinely seem to think it’s weird to have so few significant people in your life. Anti-loner bigots! I find this discussion very comforting and validating, and a boost to my confidence to just go with it. All guests will be wanted, regardless of how they came to be there.

    • Between the post and this comment, I now feel 1,000 times better, as I’m struggling with near identical issues.

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