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.

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Comments on Othering: the ways offbeat types push ourselves away

  1. This post has come at such an awesome time for me. I am not yet officially engaged, but my man and I are in serious talks. I wanted a very traditional pretty wedding… until he mentioned he wanted a Star Wars wedding. We’re both SW geeks so I was all for it and started thinking of a million and one kitschy ways to make it SW-y. But… this was not the pretty, traditional-looking wedding that I always wanted. It was campy, not gorgeous. So I realized a few days ago looking through my secret pinterest boards that I could meld the two and go less kitschy. There’s nothing that says I can’t incorporate touches of our nerdiness and still have the wedding my parents want to pay for with soft flowers (maybe silk/crepe handmade) and pretty china. And there’s nothing saying I can’t accept their financial help if I want to be Offbeat.

    I think “Offbeat-Lite” might be a misnomer. We’re all just as offbeat, in our own ways. Some may wear goth/steampunk clothing on a regular basis, while the rest of us practice yoga and envision the Force… It’s not just what others see, it’s who we are.

      • Aw crap. I didn’t mean to imply any hatred of the phrase. The linked article is a good one, and I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek use. I guess my point is that when people identify witha group, it makes it easier to Other in the way suggested by this article. I try to keep labels off of people (mostly myself) because I think it perpetuates the snap judgements we all make at one time or another. And I just don’t like being judge-y.

  2. I’ve been dealing with this in a very non-Wedding respect. I have spent my whole life TERRIFIED of the dentist after some really traumatic experiences growing up. It has been this strange thing, like, you may not like the dentist, but I have a PHOBIA. Ha! I win! It is a silly thing to incorporate into one’s identity, but that is what happened. And then recently, for the first time in about 6 years, I finally went back to the dentist. A really really good dentist that made me trust her and… I’m not so afraid anymore. It has been this weird re-evalutation of that part of my identity to cut out that fear. I think it can initially feel really uncomfortable to let go of a thing that we use to Other ourselves, but it also feels really good. In all aspects, I just have to take a deep breath and acknowledge that my Special Snowflake-ness shines without having to compete about it.

  3. Kudos, Ariel! I think more than anything else, what drives the awesomeness of OBB is that you’re such a keen, insightful, introspective, and compassionate observer of the human condition. I may not relate to or like all the featured weddings or other items, but I always find a nugget (or many) of self in your posts. You write about human feelings in a way that is anything but othering to me.

    I’m definitely Lite. But, my personal sense of other goes back so far. I didn’t feel comfortable with myself or “cool” until I stopped trying to fit the mold and went well in the other direction, sometime around 16 years old. My friends didn’t change, and I always had them, but how I presented and viewed myself did–and it worked for me. The othering was empowering. Some of it has stayed with me, although manifests in some different ways in my mid-30s. What’s stayed, though, is an almost disdain for all things popular. I tend to intentionally live in a pop culture vacuum…I have no idea who most A-list celebraties are, googled Gangnam Style less than a month ago…but it’s part of my “brand” of other. That, ew, I just don’t care about stuff like that. The reality, though, is that it’s more on principle (and the habit of not paying attention) than the need to establish myself as “me” and other, anymore.

    So, my wedding is only slightly offbeat, in an objective way (although my über traditional mom thinks it’s just soooo unusual), and it tends to be offbeat in ways that are sometimes “traditionally offbeat” and in some ways not. I had moments early in my OBT days where I doubted if this was the right place for me…hell, for months I was left thinking “what the hell is a tardis and why are people so excited about it” (I finally googled it). But, what kept me here and allowed me to get over othering (or fighting the othering) is the community, the philosophy, of OBB and OBT.

    What you said, perfectly, that no matter what kind of wedding you’re planning–it’s a ton of work, there are similar stresses, and everybody finding their way to the wedding that’s right for them. So, I’m wearing a white-spectrum dress, I’m not cooking or crafting the hell out of everything, there’ll be a plated dinner and DJ, many of the usual trappings. But it will be colorful and light-hearted and will reflect the joy we find in each other and having a hell of a party with friends and family.

    I tend to other myself with music, and it’s something that’s niggled at the back of my mind…what to tell the DJ, do I give her a no-play list and a play list filled with the semi-obscure stuff I enjoy, so that I don’t feel like othering myself at my own wedding. The answer is clearly HELL NO! Because, then I’d be leaving my guests out in the cold, my husband, too. I hired a pro, and I picked her because she’s done many if my friends’ weddings and is great at her job. So, of Gangnam Style plays, I can take that as an opportunity to hit the bathroom, get a fresh drink, step outside to cool off.

    But, your post has made me reflect on the feelings about it…I might have been predisposed to other myself (and be a bit resentful that *gasp* something that’s not my thing is besmirching my wedding), but with new self-awareness, I think I can step away and enjoy moment to myself and be happy to watch my friends doing a silly dance and having a wonderful time.

    So, thank you…for your keen observations and your conscious effort to identify and reflect on human behavior and use it to continue to foster a compassionate, helpful, and tolerant community!

  4. This is a wonderful piece and it extends so far beyond wedding planning. I love that you gave of example of a time you did this recently in a non-wedding context. I “other others” less now that I’m older, and when I do it now I try to figure out what I am responding to instead of falling down a wormhole of criticism. It is way to easy to spend a whole evening dissing someone you don’t even know that well for one little thing they did that rubbed you the wrong way.

    EXAMPLE: An acquaintance of mine just got engaged in a very romantic locale and then put it up on the internet with a whole buncha hatchtags and a photo of her and her ring and her now fiance. My husband and I proceeded to “discuss” this event for the entire evening, but what that really meant was that we pretty much just dissed her and her fancy proposal. UNTIL, I said, “Wow, we don’t know her that well. There must be something about her that we really respond to,” and from there we went onto trying to figure that out and that was a much, MUCH more rewarding conversation.

  5. Thank you for such a fabulous reflection!

    This post just gave me one of those AHA! moments. I’ve totally done that for a lot of my life, and not ever articulated it.

  6. This is an amazing post because it’s something that I definitely do in every aspect of my life. I have definitely found as I am maturing that I am trying to do more of the constructive things you mention than sit around with bitch-face, but it’s a hard habit to break. My problem is family members who have different political/religious views than me. I want to be connected to them, but distanced at the same time. That’s especially hard when planning a wedding ceremony and I still haven’t found the right way to go about it.

    • I struggled with the issue of the ceremony for quite a long time during my planning process.

      My family is very religious, I am not, and the mister is very anti religion. How on Earth could I possibly please everybody? Simply put: I could not nor did I need to. We (*ahem* I) wrote the ceremony focusing on the love between the mister and I. There was no mention of God or Jesus or religion of any kind during the ceremony. You know what there was a whole butt load of? Mentions of how our new stage in life NEEDED the support of every single person present that day. There were metric tons of references to our love for one another.
      You know what nobody missed (or at least had the sense not to mention to us)? G-O-D

      If you are spiritual or religious or not, ultimately your ceremony is the part of the day that binds you and your partner together. It’s the reason for the whole gosh darned thing. In my opinion, it would be very sad to have a ceremony that spoke to something that you didn’t believe just for the sake of placating someone else.

      Little side note: we kept my parents happy by asking Dad to say grace before the meal. It didn’t change our day or make us uncomfortable… it felt very good to let him express his wishes in a way that was appropriate for us

      May you find the way that works for you and yours 🙂

  7. I think also that another point worth making is that “offbeat” is a relative concept depending on where you are. Where I was living before, church weddings were the standard, typical thing to do. Now I live in a very secular city and the fact that I’m having a church wedding has raised a few eyebrows. Here, a church wedding is the offbeat thing to do! So there’s no point in worrying about how offbeat you are. As has been raised before, it’s about authenticity to what is most important to you.

  8. I am so glad to see this post. I had a conversation two nights ago with a friend about this very thing in a non-bridal context. She had been doing some serious othering at a work event and I was trying to point it out to her. I used to do the same thing all the time as a teenager because I had been so badly bullied as a kid. You describe it SO WELL here, because that sense of being different, being other, becomes almost a survival mechanism. This idea that different = better and weird = awesome gets so woven into who we are that it’s really hard to get outside of that box we’ve so cleverly built for ourselves.

    When I got to university, I found myself constantly feeling inadequate because I wasn’t ever geeky/gothy/nerdy enough for the people I was hanging out with. I liked fashion magazines AND D&D, but somehow they never believed I was REALLY into gaming (serious “fake geek girl” attitude going on there). I got called out numerous times for not being alternative enough, and it wasn’t until I moved away that I realized how much it screwed me up. I started meeting people with whom I had lots of things in common, save that they didn’t really game or they weren’t really into the etymology of the English language (or whatever my new thing was). But we had fun, and they were cool, and my old friends hated I that I liked them because they were “too normal” (read: boring and threatening). My “alternative” friends kicked back hard against anyone who was mainstream – god forbid you enjoy some Britney Spears alongside your Nightwish. It was like I was a traitor to the Weird Kid Club by having mainstream interests and “mainstream” friends. However, if I hadn’t taken a step back and stopped othering myself, I wouldn’t have met my husband or some of my closest friends. Having fewer options in my new city meant I had to give people a chance that previously I wouldn’t have spoken to at all, and holy crap did I benefit from that! (Plus I got some killer stories out of the friend-dates that went really badly).

    My theory is that the very things that help us get through school as weird kids who are othered by our peers are the same things that make it really hard to stop othering ourselves as adults. We’ve convinced ourselves that being super different is what makes us unique and special and awesome that we overlook the real things making us unique, special, and awesome. We focus too much on whether we’re different enough instead of celebrating the fact that we’re just plain cool. So we stand back and avoid talking to anyone who might reject us for being weird because we’re a lot cooler than they are. Daisy got it when she realized her coworkers had been trying to hang for weeks and the only reason she could come up with for avoiding them was that she thought they looked too normal and wouldn’t “get” her. I had to remind her that I look totally normal these days and no one would ever suspect that I had been a massive weirdo as a kid. Books, covers, all that jazz ;).

    • Too bad we didn’t go to school together- I get just as excited checking out the latest fashion shows as I do for reruns of my favorite Star Trek episodes.

  9. “If you’ve developed your identity around a sense of alienation… it can be disconcerting to suddenly be part of a larger community.”

    Most of my friends are the ones I met at the Honor’s Dorm in college. All of us were super excited to suddenly be around people as smart as we were. To have in depth, intelligent conversations where people didn’t get bored or annoyed. At the same time, though, a lot of us had trouble adjusting to the fact that were not automatically the smartest kid in the room anymore. Heck, some of us are STILL pissing each other off because of our arrogant or condescending tones. It is not uncommon to hear someone say “You know, you aren’t smarter than me.” We went from being a default authority on whatever it was we were talking about to hanging out with a group where people might not only disagree with us, but actually be able to prove us wrong. It’s intimidating.

    So that sentence really struck me – in a way that has nothing to do with weddings. I feel like so many of the conflicts in the nerd/smart kid community almost always come back to that.

    • YES! I went to a top engineering school and it was a huge shock to go from breaking the curve in high school to suddenly being average, or below average, in certain situations. At the same time, though, it was so liberating to not have to be “the smart one” anymore and actually figure out who I really was. It’s still an ongoing process, but not being put in someone else’s “NERD/SMART” box right away was an awesome revelation.

  10. Ariel, I don’t mean to detract from the awesome philosophy contained in this post, but I admit that I got terribly distracted by the hotness of your bitchface.

    Turns out I’m a shallow pig. Who knew??


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