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

Guest post by TorchyBlane
Nope Patch by Culture Flock Clothing

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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Comments on The joy of NO: What offbeat-types can teach you about saying “no,” even to yourself

  1. Being on the tame end of the offbeat life, I know that I can’t say no. I just can’t. I’ve been trying to work on it now that I’m planning the wedding, but it’s just so much easier to handle when you just say yes and get done with it.
    It’s nice to read such an article, I agree with every word. I just wish I had the courage to start saying NO.

    • Nathalia, as Sarah said – you can start small with No. It gets easier the more you do it, like exercise or deep frying. Like both exercise and deep frying, sometimes it will hurt you, but ultimately it will be worth it. Do you really want to look at pictures of your wedding day wistfully thinking how it would’ve been if you’d done something you actually wanted? Other than marry your husband, obviously.
      There is no good to come from being a doormat – first it’s your wedding, then how you raise your kids or keep you home. Anyone who isn’t you or your husband may have a right to voice their opinions, but it is YOUR RIGHT to tell them what you are going to do instead. Be polite, thank them for their input, but remind them that this is your wedding, not theirs.

      Strength and courage can start small, and from little things big things grow.

  2. This is the number one piece of advice I give to friends who are soon to be married, to learn to say no. It can make you feel like an awful person, like something you should apologize for, but it’s not! Saying NO means saying YES to who you truly are.

  3. Thanks for this! The hardest part of the wedding planning for me is learning when to say “no” and stick with it and when saying “no” is not worth the stress that will be caused by having other people be unhappy. For the most part I haven’t compromised on anything I feel super strongly about, but lately I have been second-guessing my dress purchase. I wanted a super cheap and super “offbeat” dress, possibly from a vintage shop somewhere. I ended up with an expensive (although cheap by bridal boutique standards) vintage style dress from a bridal boutique, after going there to satisfy my mom’s wishes of seeing me up on that traditional pedestal in front of all those mirrors. I didn’t compromise with the style I wanted, but I did compromise with the price and going to that cookie-cutter bridal boutique. I think you made me realize I’m only second-guessing because I’m having trouble with the fact that I actually like my bridal boutique expensive-to-me dress!

  4. I am in the middle of it all I think. I have long been steeped in the traditions of a churchy christian wedding. But I grew up and went off to college and started wearing black and watching R rated movies *gasp*. However I chose not to get married in church by a pastor. In fact I’ve said no already more times than I can count! I’ve tried very hard to keep my parents relatively happy but they seem to understand (even if they’re hoping I’ll call the whole thing off any day now). I am wearing a white dress though. I have been dreaming of wearing a white dress and looking EPIC since I was a little traditional girl. I think my wedding will be just a enough of both ends to please everyone!!! Oh my goodness…I’m a people pleaser…

  5. Holy god where has this post been for the last 8 weeks of my life. I just wrote about finally getting to the point of being able to consider “No” in a real way to my mother’s terrible treatment and selfishness with regards to her participation in my wedding (or not… check out the post if you have some emotional endurance and want to know more 😛 ). Not to shout, but seriously, THANK YOU!!! from the bottom of my heart, for writing this. Talk about cathartic.

  6. I agree, the act of saying NO can be so hard! My fiance and I walk the offbeat line too, and it can be hard to make the wedding feel like us without it feeling like we are trying to make it offbeat just for the sake of offbeatness.

    Also, thank God someone else had trouble with the chain store dress thing! I had grand plans for a homemade steampunk tuxedo dress when I fell in love with a decidedly on-beat dress from David’s bridal. It was a battle with myself to give in to that love and be true to myself. It was great to hear I’m no the only one!!!

    • My fiance put it a funny way: If we did the more traditional thing of getting married after knowing each other for a couple years, we would have had a crazy gothbeat wedding. But since we did the non-traditional thing and waited (9 years), we’re having a more traditional wedding. It’s hard to walk the middle of the road between “yourself” and being unusual for the sake of being unusual. It’s awesome to hear the same thing from other brides!

  7. I found it helpful to couch some of my “NOs” in gentler terms. Some concept, different verbiage. I practiced saying, “I’m the bride, it doesn’t bother me that (fill in the blank.)” As in, “I’m the bride; it doesn’t bother me that we’re all going to the venue in mom’s minivan.” Or, “I’m the bride; it doesn’t bother me if the bridesmaids dresses aren’t identical.” I found that it made other people more accepting of the outcome and even freed them from pushing bridal concepts they thought I needed. Turns out my mom was happy to drive me and the bridesmaids and was relieved at not paying for a limo when the ceremony and reception were happening in one place.

    She wanted me to have a limo because she thought that a good mother of the bride would want one for her daughter, even if she privately thought it was wasteful. By hearing that it truly didn’t bother me not to drop $400 for what would have worked out to exactly 10 minutes in a limo, she was able to drop the idea without feeling like she was shortchanging me. I got said NO LIMO without having to say the words “NO” and “LIMO.” No is a hard word for me, but “I’m the bride; it doesn’t bother me” was easier.

    • HA! I had the exact. same. scenario. with my mom and the limos. She was so worried about making sure to find one because we ‘needed’ one, and I kept trying to tell her I didn’t want it/ need it/ wouldn’t die if we didn’t get one. She went all over the county asking for prices, and came back shocked every time. Finally, it got to the point where saying “I’m the bride, and it will make no difference to me whatsoever if we don’t have a limo” actually had an effect. It all worked out even better in the end without it, anyway!

  8. I appreciate what this article is saying, but I am really, really cringing at the use of “pass”.

    • KJ, original writer here. I’d like to address this concern – how did you interpret my use of the word ‘pass?’ I know the term from its use to refer to lgbt people who don’t effect stereotyped mannerisms – and of course those people aren’t any less authentically lgbt.

      • Historically, the term has been used for black people “passing” as white in an effort to assimilate and avoid discrimination, and I bristled a bit at connection… while I appreciate the idea of an “offbeat spectrum,” the comparison read as inappropriate.

        In no way do I think it was meant that way – it just read that way.

        Thanks for following up!

        • KJ, that is a completely valid criticism – I wasn’t even thinking of the racial antecedents of the term when I used it. I will ask the mods to change it to something else. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

        • I definitely read your original comment as referring to “passing” as trans* nomenclature, so I deleted my original reply.

          Which is sort of odd, considering that I am on Offbeat Bride in order to shirk my homework, which is a film analysis of 1959’s Imitation of Life, and “passing for white” is sort of the main impetus of the whole dramatic arc of that movie. Maybe I should just go to bed.

    • “Pass” is pretty polysemic. It refers to a certain way of being superficially appraised by a hegemonic figure or group and found to be superficially acceptable, or, more specifically, absolved of any further questioning. It’s not exclusively trans* nomenclature, if that’s what you’re referring to.

      However, if you’re referring to “passing for white” i.e. Imitation of Life/Human Stain/IRL historical “one-drop” rules, then I could perhaps understand the squirminess.

      But still, it’s not like a ‘reclaimed’ slur or anything like that…

    • Hi KJ, thanks for your comment. The use of this term got flagged at our weekly meeting and we decided that it should be changed to “pass for mainstream” because we too saw the issues you saw (not just “pass” as term for passing for white but also passing for heteronormative, cisgendered, etc.). Unfortunately, the change was never saved properly. Thanks for flagging it again and for the dialogue with the author, who then submitted an edit to the post itself.

  9. A beautifully written piece, funny and insightful, with the perfect balance of profanity and sincerity? Be still my heart! A rare beast, especially on wedding boards. Very nice read, thank you.

  10. Almost 1.8 years after the wedding, I can say it’s far easier to say “no” now. Partly because I can look back on the wedding process and see where I didn’t say no, out of fear of how the no would change things. The consequences of not saying no were hideous, and I’ve learned that I really do need to listen to myself. Not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m hoping it will be worth it.

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