There are some forces in the world we don’t quite understand yet. The role of dark energy in the universe, for example. Or the exact boundaries of human consciousness. Or why everyone seems to get engaged at the same time. I say this as someone who recently got engaged in very good company (off the top of my head, I can think of five or six social media friends who have posted their own rounds of this good news in the past two months) but also as someone who previously dreaded “engagement season”. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t keep me up at night but it was more like the beginning of the Jaws theme song. First, there was one tell-tale ring post (bum-bum) of a high school friend. The another (bum-bum) proclaiming they said yes!!!! And another and another and another in more and more rapid succession (bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum) until I would have to close my laptop to stop the beginnings of a familiar inner monologue of simultaneous cynicism and self-doubt.
And the voice that belongs to that cynical, scared girl still hasn’t completely left my mind. Every time I am tempted to write anything publically with the word “fiance”, I pause. Yes, Leah, everyone gets it. Even though you’re batshit crazy, someone (an amazing, unbelievable someone) wants to spend his life with you. Cool, awesome, great. Do you really have to publicize it? Ugh. Who cares?! And on and on it goes, as long as I allow this to play out. Then I make the choice of hurriedly closing out whatever app or post I’ve half-written or hitting “Post” and ignoring whatever screen is near me until the mild wave of embarrassment passes. Why is this? Why can’t I allow myself to celebrate a rite of passage with my loved ones without a Looney Tunes debate with the proverbial angel of simple enjoyment and devil of forced coolness on either shoulder?
Well, it’s not without good reason. The wedding industry, as one of my Google auto-fill searches so accurately put it, is a racket. From the dress to food to flowers, I find myself casually speaking about dropping a total amount rivalling a couple semesters of my graduate tuition for the experience of a few days. Hurriedly following the suggested timelines, I’ve scrambled to book a venue, hire a photographer, and buy a dress almost a year before our date. I find myself spending the majority of my free time endlessly researching thread counts and cookware materials for the registry. And on the ads for every website I visit, there’s some bridesmaid vendor who wants to charge my friends somewhere around $150 to $200 for a dress that they’ll wear to stand by me for a few hours (at most) over the course of a day. Don’t even get me started on the sometimes temptingly adorable, sometimes eyeroll-inducing bridal party shirts or robes or hangers or hats or necklaces or shorts or water bottles proclaiming “wifey” or “bride squad”. Probably most of all, I hate the idea of any one day knowingly being designated as “the best day of my life”; doesn’t that just make the future prospects of graduating from my master’s program or having children or travelling to cool places or getting a puppy an automatic letdown?
That’s what makes it hard to quiet my inner cynic because, hey, as far as socially designated rites of passage, the culture surrounding weddings is pretty problematic. Still, because of my past choices, I haven’t been able to fully appreciate several major adult life events. As many of you know, I’m a recovering addict with over six years of sobriety who spent years almost 17 to almost 22 abusing a wide array of intoxicants with a variety of consequences, the least of which being hurting my loved ones. Then, even in my six and a half years of recovery, I’ve dealt with various mental issues (primarily bipolar II and an eating disorder) which at times was a distraction from anything or anyone else in my life. My senior prom? Did not attend, I was in my first long term treatment center, where I firmly believed I wouldn’t live past age 20. My high school graduation? Attended as an audience member, as I had left said treatment center AMA (against medical advice) several days before, and got blackout drunk at my friends’ graduation party that night. College graduation? Attended and enjoyed, although coupled with my 25th birthday, it set off my first major manic episode and a whole heap of personal havoc. This also doesn’t touch on other major events in my family (such as the death of my grandfather or the birth of my nephew or many other things I’ll never be able to revisit or fully atone for) that occurred while I was using and so I wasn’t present physically or emotionally.
So even though I’ve lost count of the “let’s just elope” jokes I’ve made to my fiance in the past two months of wedding planning, this event isn’t just about me or my fiance or even our bond. It’s also about all the people who loved me and supported me in whatever way they were able to while I was using, and who are incredibly happy to know I’ve met someone who can understand me and love me and share a life with me. Even the short amount of planning thus far has also allowed my fiance and I to grow closer to our future families. The greatest example is my mother, who has gone above and beyond already with the planning process. She and I have been able to connect with the memories of my late grandmother and great-grandmother through physical pieces that I can pass on to my own children (a veil and my future engagement ring, respectively). And because of that (as well as a novel opportunity for me to consciously experience a major life event) I’m trying to learn to ignore all of the inner backlash left over from my former self: a girl who felt left out.
Maybe this is just me but beyond all the (sometimes justified) disgust for this your-day-fairytale-blah-blah taught to myself and other countless women growing up, I fought with a constant nagging that I was lagging behind. It’s a perpetual fear in many aspects of my life (school, work, etc.) so of course, my social life is framed by it at times. The big FOMO, I know you well. While I’ve tried very hard to learn to be happy for the accomplishments and milestones of others without a resulting echo of self-comparison, it was a hard lesson to put into action instinctually and sometimes still is. In the beginning, it was even harder for me to not let that self-comparison morph into the delightfully wicked and wickedly easy practice of derision towards others, which I can (and admittedly sometimes do) lapse into, like any bad habit.
Luckily for me and everyone around me just trying to live their lives, that has changed. Maybe it was exhaustion from feeling like I couldn’t wholly enjoy anything stereotypically feminine or “cookie cutter” or maybe it was just getting older, but becoming grateful for my own circumstances has made it much, much easier to both unabashedly enjoy the banal details of my life and feel genuinely excited for other people in the past few years without boomeranging it back to my own perceived shortcomings. It turns out that, believe it or not, what’s going on in someone else’s life is not a reflection of my own circumstances and choices. In fact (again, suspend your disbelief with me for just another moment) it appears that the lives of other people do not occur simply for me to feel better or worse about myself. These conclusions further add to my previous findings that the universe does not revolve around me (note: I am still gathering evidence for this controversial hypothesis, more data is needed.)
It also helped me to give less of a judgemental fuck about what others are doing. Maybe some people view their weddings as the pinnacles of their lives. Maybe some people are genuinely happy dropping the equivalent of a mortgage on their wedding day(s). Maybe some people are able to vocally enjoy the time leading up to their celebration without having a sob story reason like a certain writer listed above. That’s okay!!! Because it doesn’t affect me or my loved ones!!! So I’m not required to care about their choices!!! This was a novel concept for the girl I was a few years ago who was caught in caring what others were doing, not for social justice reasons or to further the good of the human race, but only to distract from the shortcomings I felt.
I think the best joke of all on that disdainful past self who sometimes rears her ugly head is that I’ve become the person who was the target of my eye-rolls and faster scrolls on social media. And I hope that documenting all this will give me (along with an always needed dose of humility) permission to freely enjoy perusing bridal tiaras on Etsy or finding just the right salt and pepper shaker to match the sets of dishes on our registry. I hope writing will allow me a cathartic lens to view this entire process in a more realistic sense: that a wedding is far more than a popular pin but a chance to be a good member of my present and future family. But let’s be real. Before this is all over, I’ll probably own a mug from Target that says, “Mrs.” in a mass produced rose gold calligraphy script. Don’t worry, I won’t blame you one bit if you roll your eyes when I post a carefully postured Instagram picture of it along with our wedding hashtag.
Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.
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