Othering: the ways offbeat types push ourselves away

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Are we ALL othering ourselves? Original photo by Cherie J Photography. Remixed by Creative Commons license.

Over the years, I've seen something come up time and time again from Offbeat Bride readers: people will send an email, post on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, or leave a comment that basically amounts to, “Do I REALLY count as an Offbeat Bride? Do I really belong here?”

Most recently it was a post on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, wherein a Tribesmaid admittedly (guiltily!) she was working with a sizable wedding budget.

Thanks to the reader survey, I can tell you that exactly 21.0% of Offbeat Bride readers have budgets between $10,000 – $20,000, with another 10% having budgets over $20,000.

High budget weddings can be offbeat. Church weddings can be offbeat. Courthouse weddings can be offbeat.

Over the past six years, we've featured a lot of different weddings, all of them in some way a noteworthy and authentic expression of the couple getting married.

They all belonged here, and yet still: there's a huge amount of anxiety from Offbeat Brides about not belonging.

I think of it as the Offbeat Bride's version of othering: those of us who've defined ourselves as non-normative push ourselves away from other people. The push makes sense, of course — if you live in a region where your politics aren't aligned with those around you, of course you're going to feel a push, and like you need to clearly define yourself as “not that.” There are a lot of social and cultural contexts where it makes perfect sense that people who feel a little bit off the beaten path would push against the people and society around them.

What makes less sense to me is when I see us push against each other.

  • Oh, I'm not offbeat enough, so I can't even read the site
  • Oh, someone shared advice that might hold a piece of truth for me, but it's not EXACTLY a match with my situation so not only will I ignore it, but I'll point out the ways in which it's not relevant to me and therefore stupid.
  • Oh, my aunt offered to help with the flowers and we're totally broke but I bet she'd just do stupid carnations from the grocery store, so I'm going to turn her down even though we could really use the assistance.
This picture was taken the night of the dance event in question.
This picture was taken the night of the dance event in question.

Let me not cast the first stone, here: I am absolutely guilty of othering. I went to a community event recently that was about 90% just right for me: hippie-ish dance event in a yoga studio with electronic music being played by a DJ I know and like. It started early in the evening, so I wasn't fighting against my circadian rhythm. It was all ages so even my son could go dance. I had several friends there. And yet what did I spend most of the night doing? I stood back and “other-ed” myself, finding all the ways in which I didn't relate to the people around me. Ew: people are doing contact improv? I hate contact improv. Ew: that old hippie guy wants to give me a massage — BOUNDARIES, people! Ew: are those people actually doing yoga on the dance floor? Too much: stop being so pretentious. I spent most of the night making my bitchface.

Sure: maybe the event wasn't a perfect fit for me… it happens. But rather than sink into the joy of finding the pieces that did lined up (dancing! connecting! authentic aha moments!), I spent most of the evening setting myself apart, other-ing.

Some of this is just human nature, of course. But some of it is a unique challenge-point for people who've grown up defining themselves by their otherness. If you were the weird kid in high school, you probably have a lingering alienation fetish. Feeling different and “other” can become comfortable and almost reassuring. It's your jam. You're the weird one! (Even when you're surrounded by other weird ones!)

You might think, then, that our more traditional readers wouldn't deal with this as much. Since many more traditional readers are a bit less “out there,” a bit better integrated into mainstream culture, and a bit less other-y, you'd think they would wrestle with the siren song of other-ing themselves.

And yet, we see it constantly on Offbeat Bride, with more traditional readers writing in fretting, Oh Noes, I Think My Wedding Will Be Normal! and asking, Am I still offbeat if I love white chair covers? I worry that sometimes, this sense of alienation is what binds Offbeat Brides to each other — I might be weird feeling marginalized by mainstream society, and you might be normal feeling marginalized by some nontraditional wedding website!

I worry that I contribute in some way to this anxiety, despite the fact that over the years I've practically written a second book about how brides do not need more ways to feel bad about our weddings, your wedding is not a contest, and engaged women don't need another voice telling them they're failing. (Nor do they need another voice tell them they're an outsider.) But what I'm recognizing more and more (both in myself and my readers) is how often that voice is internal.

No one made me feel like an outsider at that dance event I went to. I was offered back rubs, approached to dance, hugged and smiled at. So why did I spent the evening finding all the ways that I had nothing in common with anyone else in the room?

I think of it as like picking an emotional scab. It's a familiar sensation (ah… delicious alienation where I am the specialist, most differentest snowflake!) and can even be deeply motivating. Heck, I started this website as a reaction against feeling “othered” by mainstream wedding websites, and not even disliking the way nontraditional wedding websites were structured. Pushing against can be powerful… but it can also be tremendously isolating, and a huge waste of time. Construction is so much more valuable than demolition!

I would argue that Offbeat Brides need support as much or more than other couples, because they're questioning wedding traditions and a wedding industry and a wedding culture. But in our efforts to find our ways to a wedding that feels like an authentic, realistic expression of our relationships and communities, we must work not to push away those who want to help us or those who want to relate to us.

As I recounted over here, sometimes we'll get blog comment saying something like, “We're wearing Converse at our wedding, and my parents think we're crazy!” And I'll reply with “Oh, you're not crazy… lots of people wear Cons!” I'm trying to be reassuring (“…other people have overcome these same challenges!”) but sometimes the response is heartbreak: “Oh, I thought we were special. Now I feel unspecial.” If you've developed your identity around a sense of alienation… it can be disconcerting to suddenly be part of a larger community.

In the push to define your wedding as your own, you have to watch yourself carefully to make sure you're not pushing away the family and community members who are ready to support you. They might be clumsy, or old fashioned, or have a different vision than you, but their intent is most likely good.

Likewise, even the most offbeat of us have more in common with folks planning more mainstream weddings than we may be ready to admit — everyone's stressed, everyone's dealing with family and money and event planning; we're all just freaking out.

I worry that sometimes we're all in such a hurry to “other” ourselves that we push ourselves away from the communities that are waiting to embrace us. I think it's critically important that we step back for a moment, stop fiddling over the differences, and start finding the shared experiences.

Comments on Othering: the ways offbeat types push ourselves away

  1. Thank you! For every word you’ve written! I just had my “Fuck, yes, dammit!”-Face! 😉

  2. Wow. This is profound, whether you’re getting married or not. I’m going to give a lot of thought to the idea that I’m one of those people who gets validation from alienation.

    I’m a wedding photographer who often does the same thing re: weddings. “Oh, I don’t do cute.” “Oh, I’m NOT this” or “I’m NOT that.” etc, etc.

    Thank you for a really, really important post.

  3. This kind of makes me thing of how EVERYONE in graduate school at some point experiences imposter syndrome, even though most of us are FINALLY finding a place with Other Nerds Like Us. We’re just so used to feeling like the weirdo that when we find the other weirdos, transitioning to being comfortable is a process that for some of us OBB’s, involves some questioning.
    I am so happy with the support of this community!

      • This made me of this TED talk, because the speaker describes that kind of experience at one point.

        That’s not the main topic of the talk – but now that I’ve thought of it, I have to leave this link here because it’s really worth watching. Maybe worth submitting to offbeat home as a life hack or something even! Check it out!

  4. Yeah, there is that weird way of us clinging onto what made us different or ‘special’ from the mainstream in our youth and finding like minded people is both exciting and scary.

    I’ve been very open minded. I can see how quickly people try to express their difference like its a competition. My own friends to it to another, in which i need to play mum and remind them that no-ones more special but were all unique. i think that’s key.

    So far, i’ve not had wedding envy or the feeling its a contest (i nearly did on another sites where brides started bragging about ‘budget’ they were!) in fact, the fact people have had done the same thing gives me confidence to do it! and backing to show my mum. I like being different but i also don’t like being centre of attention, so i tend to be quirky but almost blend in. like an inside joke. that’s why i regard myself as being offbeat lite.

    I have seen something and been a bit ‘other’ like some weddings and gone WOW WTF?! But then felt so guilty. everyone is different and if its their thing then let them do it! they were brave enough to do it so kudos!

    • Ah, the low-budget machismo, or as we call it “one-lowsmanship“:

      Budget one-lowsmanship, where how little money you spend is a matter of stern pride, and you get judgey about how much others spend. It’s all forms of status-seeking and seriously: that’s just fine. We all status seek — the issue is laying off the judgment of people who are seeking a status different than yours.


      • yeah, i mean i’m on a budget but considering others it’s not that tiny. I think were at £9000 max. in the UK thats low but i’ve known some to do it with £3000

        But considering what we both want and what we could do ourselves i’d like to think ours is modest, expensive looking but more importantly unique 🙂 so I’m not going to let that bother me anymore.

      • I had to chuckle when I read this because I most definitely am a culprit of one-lowmanship. In response to,”I love your dress!”, I have to reply “Oh thanks! It was 2 bucks.” I can’t help but gloat about my extreme stinginess because, hot dang, I am sternly proud!

        I hope I don’t come off judgey about peoples spending habits. I certainly don’t feel judgemental towards the big spenders, but my perplexity may indeed come across that way!

      • I’ve been on the receiving end of one-lowmanship. It’s not nice. It makes you feel wasteful, especially when we’re constantly surrounded by credit crunch reminders. Reading that article made me feel much better. We’re helping vendors do business! We’re helping the economy! It’s certainly not for any one-upmanship! It’s not our fault that we’re fortunate enough to have different priorities that allow a bigger budget. Ergh, I feel dirty saying that. The shame is there even though it’s not intended in any horrible way :-/

  5. Awesome, as always. Makes me think about my identity as a bride specifically: stepping back from the wedding choices that we feel need to be decidedly offbeat, there was first the choice of a significant other to be made. I would venture that there are a lot of older brides on this site (myself included), and that many of these older brides have spent years as the single women who got to be the Other because they played the “I’m never going to meet someone” mantra over and over again. I was busy being Jaded Single Girl like it was my job. So imagine my surprise meeting an optimistic, earnest, amazing man who believed in the optimistic, earnest, amazing part of me hiding underneath the hilarious but miserable overly social single party gal persona I had been working on for years.

    Deciding to let go some of that was a major step: a major life change. There was too much good to be had in the new relationship. It took a while to drop some of the affectations of Jaded Single Girl but it has been well worth it. I guess that’s also why I like substituting the ‘offbeat’ title of the site with ‘authentic’.

    • Interesting! I see “othering” a lot in younger brides who are grinding through that intense identify-development mode that defines a lot our early-20s (it certainly defined mine!)… but you make great points about the ways that OLDER brides wrestle with this same issue! SO incredibly true.

    • As a second time bride, at 40, what Erin said totally clicks for me, too, only I was jaded, sarcastic woman who happened to be married. And then, a little less jaded happy single woman.

      Settling into the fact that ok, I’m getting married AGAIN, and this time the fact of marriage really MATTERS to me, and that the marriage is going to look a lot more traditional than the last, and I’m happy – hard work. And hard to just accept how happy everybody is for me, without panicking that I’m not *different* enough anymore.

      Well, a bit of navel-gazing, but you folks put together a lot of puzzle pieces that were scattered about my head.

  6. I feel this so intensely as an definitely Offbeat Lite.

    My wedding is getting close (5 months) and its shaping up a little less Offbeat than we thought. There are a number of things we wanted to do but realized cost more than we were willing to spend and are beyond our creative- DIY- abilities. So we’ve sacrificed and changed things.

    Does that make me less Offbeat? I know its making my wedding less Offbeat on the surface. Will my invited friends think I’ve ‘sold out’? When In reality, it was the unwillingness to sell my soul and want my family, guests to be comfortable.

    It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about.

  7. As the larger budget tribesmaid in question, thank you for writing this!!! I only felt a little bit guilty about our budget (honest). Funnily enough, as an older bride, I guess I haven’t truly grown fully away from that little nagging voice in my head that says ‘you don’t quite belong here do you’. I am pleased that I wrote the journal entry as it lead to some really interesting comments and made me realise I was not the only one having these thoughts.

  8. I totally felt guilty about how much we spent for our wedding and how nearly-normal it was. Sure, I had a lot of red on my dress, but it was mostly ivory. Sure, I had ZERO flowers, but we had other weddingy decor like centerpieces and bubbles. My man walked down to “Back in black”, but I wore a full veil. Several times in the planning process, I voiced my concerns to my fiance’ that we weren’t weird enough. We stayed true to US and had a great wedding, exactly what we wanted.. but I felt the way I’ve felt my whole life… less cool than everyone else I’d seen. I didn’t have that costume wedding like someone else fondly told me about. I didn’t have a food truck drive up and wow the guests with that. I didn’t have a smores campout in the woods people would be talking about for years. I worry that our wedding, even though it was what we wanted, was utterly forgettable to everyone but us. In an age of instant gratification and digital communication, I was scared that if it wasn’t CRAZYPANTS, it would be over and done in a week and that was it.

  9. It never even occurred to me to think this, I’ve identified as a freak my whole life… and having you feature my wedding was really just icing on the metaphorical cake! I hope other folks don’t think “oh no the reason they didn’t feature my wedding was it wasn’t actually offbeat!”. I know you have to pick and choose. If you hadn’t chosen me I’d’ve figured it was because you had too many goth/halloween weddings to pick from, not because it was too normal!

    The one way our wedding definitely wasn’t offbeat WAS the budget though. Which was pretty much exactly average for the area we live in. We economized on a bunch of things but then REALLY SPLURGED on awesome food because the spouse is a super foodie. So I think we actually had a cheaper than average wedding with more expensive than average food!

    • OMG… I’m using that mentality from now on
      We did not have a budget wedding either, but some things we totally skrimped on or DIYed so we could afford things like a 5 piece swing band.

      Now I’ll just remember our wedding as the below cost wedding with FAB entertainment 🙂


      • We totally had an OffBeat wedding, and by that I mean pretty much everything we did in our wedding we got from OffBeat Bride. The vows, the reading my kids did during the ceremony, the courage to not have *any* music during the ceremony, the guys’ attire, and so many other things were all gleaned from the Tribe.

        Our overall budget was about $20K, but $12K of that was for the caterer, which my parents generously paid for, and we decided to splurge for a friend’s 11 piece Cuban salsa band that accounted for almost half the remaining budget.

        And let me tell you, it was exactly the wedding we wanted! A simple, elegant wedding with fabulous food, and a kick ass band! We got a number of comments afterward about how touching and personal it all was, which was precisely what we were shooting for.

  10. Thank you! I’ve been feeling this way a lot with my identity, and to some degree with my wedding, but mostly with my entire identity. I’ve been “othering” from my community, such that I started drafting a bitchy reflection piece about how I don’t practice Judaism, but “I’m Not You”-diasm. Othering feels really good, but it also feels like a huge pain sometimes. You really captured this feeling!

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