Etsy Journal

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The Bride I (Never) Wanted to Be

by Meg Keene

Sep 10, 2012

Weddings appeal to our sense of fantasy, but how do we reconcile the dreams we may have had with the person we've become?

I run an indie-wedding website, so what I'm supposed to tell you is that I grew up as a feminist tomboy who never imagined getting married. And I sort of wish I could tell you that story, because frankly, it sounds a lot cooler than the truth. The truth is, somewhere around the age of four, I discovered my parents' wedding album on the bottom of their bookshelf and spent hours slowly paging through the photos. Not long afterwards, I announced that I never wanted to cut my hair again. After some puzzling, my mom discovered that I thought her cathedral length wedding veil was her hair, and that you needed to have hair that dragged on the floor before you were allowed to get married. I'd done some basic calculations, and decided if I wanted hair that dragged on the floor when I was an adult, four years old was about the right time to start growing it out. And that's not even getting into how I dedicated my first piggy bank to buying my (Glinda-the-good-witch) wedding dress, much to the horror of my feminist mother. These are all funny stories, except I never exactly grew out of loving weddings, I just started loving them very differently, and then I got married. (My hair does not drag on the floor though, just for the record).

Past Meets Future

Which brings us to the question: how do our past thoughts about weddings influence our actual weddings, and how do they shape our planning? Among the readership of my site, I'm something of a rarity, as many women who are into no-nonsense feminist weddings never thought they'd get married. And for those of us who did imagine our wedding as children, our real life weddings have very little to do with our (rather dramatic) imaginings. And it turns out that that moment where our past meets our future can be emotional, and also unusually instructive. I wanted more information, so I polled the hive-mind on Twitter and Facebook, and some of the most interesting answers I'd ever read poured forth. First, there were the wedding imaginers. For those of us that had fantasized about our wedding days, the dreams mostly revolved around our outfits. No surprise, given the kind of tiny girl who spends a fair amount of time thinking about weddings, our dresses were going to be HUGE and SPARKLY. Also, we were going to have veils: big ones. The women who didn't think about their weddings still imagined themselves in the future, but they imagined themselves as, and I quote, a princess baker president, a horse breeder, a park ranger, a hermit, a lady who lunched, and an Oscar winner. Occasionally they imagined themselves as wives, but they just skipped right over the bride part. (Which isn't to say those of us convinced we would get married in a Glinda-the-good-witch dress weren't equally sure we'd be president of the United States.) As for whether or not it was better to dream up your wedding in advance, well, the jury is out on that one.

Little Girl Bridal Dreams

For those of us who dreamed of our weddings as children, it seems there are two models for getting married: realizing that we are not, in fact, the same people we were at four, and throwing a wedding for the person we are now. Or, trying to live up to that castle in the sky we envisioned. The pressure to plan your childhood dream wedding is huge. A woman who was trying to plan a wedding that reflected her real life said that, while at the bridal salon, "I said the dress [I wasn't going to get] made me feel like a princess, and the saleslady wanted to know why I couldn't be one." Because on some level, the wedding industry is built around the dreams we had as children: bigger, fancier, sparkly-er. And some let their childhood bridal dream go. One respondent commented, "As soon as we got engaged, the bride I'd imagined disappeared from my mind completely. She was just ludicrous." For others, it was people they loved who hadn't let go of that little girl and her plans. Someone said, "I did envision myself as a bride when I was younger. It was problematic because I was also vocal about my pint-sized musings (apparently), and those conflicted heavily with what I wanted as an adult bride. This created a lot of tension between my mom and I, for some reason." But in the end, there was a firm consensus: "Imagining did conflict with reality, but reality was so much better."

I'm A Bride? This Wasn't The Plan!

For those who never imagined themselves getting married, the bridal twist of fate came with serious confusion. If you've never really thought about weddings, you don't have any preconceived notions; this can be wonderfully liberating, or totally baffling. As one respondent told me, "I never imagined being married. My first wedding, I did everything society and people said I needed to or was supposed to do. I was miserable." But another said, "I think it made planning our wedding easier! We (two brides) knew our style, but since neither one of us had any concrete life-long imaginings of what our wedding was going to look like, I think it made it easier to go with the flow and create an event that reflected both of us." The truth is, the ruling cultural narrative skews to those of us who imagined our weddings as kids (and assumes we are still determined to live out those dreams). Someone commented, "I always got weirded out when I read articles that began 'You've been dreaming of this day since you were little...'" Another respondent said, "Sometimes I felt awkward and self-conscious during planning, due to my being so vocal about 'never getting married.'" Finding yourself standing on the little platform in a wedding salon, surrounded by onlookers, when you never intended to be a woman getting married, can make you question how you got there and what you really believe. Arguably, this is a very good thing, and the kind of thinking all of us should be engaged in during wedding planning.

Embracing Reality, Loving Ourselves

As it turns out, the solution is simple, even if the implementation it is anything but. The (totally hippy) sign under the clock in my acupuncturist's office sums it up best: "The only time that matters is NOW." We can only be who we are in the moment, and if we create a wedding for a past or future version of ourselves, we're fools. The best we can do is give a wave to our past self and tell her we love her, and give a nod to our future self and tell her we'll be thrilled to meet her, and then get married just as we are. For me, that meant a short vintage dress that was exactly what I said I'd never want to wear. Three years later, I look back at it and grin, because that past self, she is awesome and happy. And she knows exactly who she is. Cheers to her, and the tiny four-year-old too!
Meg Keene

Meg Keene is the founder and executive editor of A Practical Wedding and Reclaiming Wife. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was released in January 2012.