I started having emotional breakdowns about a month into wedding planning. Sweaty palms, heart racing, knees weak, teary eyes, total immobilization. I would find myself staring at a web page filled with tiki torches or green bridesmaid dresses or centerpiece ideas, and I would just stop dead in my wedding tracks.
It became the worst when Patrick would ask me for ideas or advice. Two questions in a row about the wedding and I’d be a shaky, sweaty mess. All of a sudden, my mind was deluged with worst-case scenarios and paralyzing fear of judgment from others. How do you plan a party everyone has already been to before, but also make it the paragon of amazing loveness that super-embodies the perfect lovey-face of your wonderful and unique relationship?
Moreover, will our venue let us put party lights up and what if we don’t have party lights and we trigger Armageddon right then and there?!
Wedding planning is the worst.
I realized a few weeks ago that this wedding shit was making me crazy and sad in a way that made me wonder if it was even worth it at all. Yes, I still wanted to be married. But what I found myself wanting less and less was a wedding. Which is a hard thing to admit when most people expect brides to have one emotion (blind-assed excitement) and a one-track “all wedding, all the time” mind.
In my secret heart, even in the midst of planning a karaoke reception with our favorite Tex-Mex foods that sounded like the most fun thing ever, what I really wanted to do was go to Las Vegas with our close friends, get hitched in a sparkly sequined gold mini-dress from Neiman’s and gamble, eat and drink a few days away in a boozy, loved-up haze. But I didn’t think my parents would ever forgive me if I eloped, and Patrick really, really wanted that capital-W Wedding.
And so the wedding planning plowed on. And by “wedding planning,” I mean “Andrea Googles, e-mails, signs up for forums, makes phone calls, researches caterers and so on while Patrick makes occasional suggestions and gets generally giddy.”
This is not what we in ostensibly feminist relationships would call “equal division of labor.”
But I had insisted on taking on planning responsibilities, I think, for two reasons. First, I am a bossy, controlling person who believes no one besides myself is capable of doing things properly. Second, it was my job, as the lady in a heterosexual partnership, to do most of it.
The second reason was infused with (and confused by) the many ways in which I consciously and subconsciously perform a certain kind of femininity because of cultural conditioning and expectations. I know how to plan a wedding like I know how to shave my legs or put on eyeliner. Since I knew how to do it — or at least knew about things like, say, save-the-date cards and chair covers, whereas Patrick didn’t — I just started doing it.
Which fits in precisely with the results of a California sociological study that looked at wedding planning in terms of labor and work — specifically at the ways in which wedding planning is perceived as being stereotypical “women’s work,” and therefore invisible or less-than.
Think about all the domestic tasks women are socialized and encouraged to do (and thereby become perceived as being naturally “better” at or “more suited to” than men, even though dudes are obviously as capable with a vacuum cleaner as women are): There’s decorating, shopping, planning meals, coordinating family members’ schedules. Any of that sound like wedding planning to you? It sure does. And because it these are manifestations of domesticity, they are seen as being easy or, worse, unimportant. Of course, they’re not not easy or unimportant — running a household is difficult, challenging work. But for some reason, we tend to think of “real work” as being only something that happens in an office. It isn’t.
Yet, over the course of our engagement, questions about the wedding have usually been directed to me, even if Patrick is sitting next to me. Suggestions for wedding things get sent to me, even by people who know us both well and have both of our phone numbers and e-mail addresses. How did I end up organizing a wedding I’m only half interested in, and not organizing six plane tickets and a suite at the Palms?
Because “women’s work” has been classically devalued in American culture, I found myself in a position I’m betting a lot of brides have found themselves in: worrying constantly about creating the perfect party, while others assume that it’s as easy as making a couple of phone calls and slapping some flowers on a table.
Patrick is a loving, supportive partner who’s all up with gender equality, all the time, and yet our relationship was playing out in this very stereotypical way. Piled on top of the existing stress of wedding planning, I found myself growing resentful.
After the third or fourth meltdown, I finally decided to stop. I can’t remember what started it — Patrick probably asked me about what time the sun is supposed to set on our wedding day or something — but a few weeks ago, I gave up. I laid down the law. I told Patrick that if he wanted his big to-do wedding, he was going to be the one leading the planning.
So he took over. I relinquished control. And it’s been great. He signed up for the forums. He goes to the venue and asks about party lights. I do lower-key, lower-stress things like designing and ordering save-the-date cards and looking at shoes.
Alas, something still nags at me: the prospect of doing something deeply personal in front of 100 people. A wedding is an opportunity for people to get up in my business, to watch me do something that is intimate and secret to my heart. Really, though? Sometimes, I don’t even really think even my closest relatives have any business watching me profess undying love to Patrick. That is something that belongs to the two of us — or at least, the two of us and an Elvis impersonator I’ll never have to see again — and the thought of expressing those emotions in front of a large group of people really, truly makes me nervous and almost … offended? Like, say, I invited a bunch of people to come hang out in our bathroom and then got mad when someone opened the medicine cabinet. That stuff is ours.
Ultimately, the idea that makes me the most horrified is a life without Patrick at my side. It’s sappy to say, but it’s true. So I’ll say a few awkward lines of love in front of my parents if it means he’s happy, and he’ll plan a ridiculous party for us, if it means I’m happy. And really, who isn’t happy with a belly full of tamales and “Friends In Low Places” up next on the karaoke queue?
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter at @AndreaGrimes.