My husband and I had a short 4 month engagement and an under $6,000 wedding. As a former wedding videographer, I’d attended hundreds of weddings. I’d even seen couples storm out of their receptions in separate cars, furious with one another under the heightened stress of too much spending and the imperfections of the big day. Wedding photos were beautiful but behind the scenes a lot of shit went down. I always knew that if I ever got married, I’d keep things simple, small and drama free. I didn’t want the frustration of a year of wedding planning to stray my fiance and I away from the ultimate goal of marriage. Unfortunately, some drama is harder to avoid that we think. Patiently Waiting to Get Engaged
Two weeks after we got engaged I learned that I was behind in dress shopping. Apparently brides chose their dresses a good 6-8 months in advance because ordering and altering takes lots of time. I would be restricted to “off the rack”. With junior high memories of shopping with my modest Muslim mother as my sprouting breast were rapidly revealing themselves, I opted to pre-shop with my friend. Little did I know that wedding dress shopping is a rite of passage reserved for mothers and daughters. I later learned it was the ultimate taboo to wedding dress shop without my mother. My first day dress shopping was a surprising success as I selected a champagne colored, beaded tea-cup Justin Alexander dress. The halter chest would be too revealing for my Islamic wedding, but my friend and I explored lace sheer sleeve and chest additions that complimented the dress perfectly. I whipped out my debit card and confidently made my first big non-refundable wedding purchase.
Days after my expensive purchase I shared a photo of my dress with my mother, explaining the intended modesty add-ons that would be made. The picture then circulated to my father and the drama began.
“She can’t wear that to a religious wedding! What is she thinking? Is she not intending to have a religious wedding anymore? What will his parent’s think if she wears that?! This is a disaster!!!
My small, drama free wedding had quickly escalated to drama only weeks into our engagement. My mother was deeply hurt I’d purchased a dress with a friend rather than her. I’d denied her a milestone moment. Both of my parents were deeply disappointed in my judgement that I would “choose such an inappropriate dress”.
Overwhelmed and exhausted by 20 years of post pubescent wardrobe fights I quickly folded and agreed not to wear my expensive non-refundable dress. My mother agreed to pay for the second dress which she would accompany me in selecting.
The Struggle to Adulting
My blood pressure rose in those weeks and my doctor referred me to a therapist. In therapy I learned that my unhappiness had little to do with the dress battle and everything to do with my “Struggle to Adult”. At 31 parental approval still meant a lot to me and disappointing my parents was devastating. Yet still I wanted to make my own choices and live my own life. If not at age 31, months before becoming a wife, then when would my Adulthood begin? Would it ever? Would I ever be free of judgement, strong opinions and the very vocal disappointment in my choices? Better yet would I ever be adult enough to accept my parents disagreement of my choices and move forward happily despite their disapproval. Think Free: A poem about Free Thought
A few weeks before the wedding my mother and I found a beautiful second wedding dress from the strip of Indian dress shops on Chicago’s Devon street. The dress was beautiful, but I felt some type of way wearing an Indian dress. I am African American and my husband is Somali. If I was going to wear a dress that wasn’t traditionally American style the only other culture that made sense to me would have been traditional Somali wear. But for years we had worn Indian dresses from Devon street on religious holidays. I battled with the idea that my traditional American clothes weren’t perceived as appropriate enough for our Islamic holidays. It wasn’t a battle I had energy to fight at this time.
The Invite List
With drama of the dress so heightened it became even more important to me to control other aspects of our wedding and ensure no additional drama. I requested our guest list be confined to parents and siblings, a total of 10 people. My husband insisted he have his two best friends and their wives, an aunt and two cousins who were more like siblings. I reluctantly agreed to the friends knowing that I also wouldn’t mind having four very close friends (no plus ones). I objected to the additional family in fear that opening up a new category of relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) would quickly spiral out of control. He insisted. Our wedding count had now quickly grown from 10 to 21 and we now needed a new venue. Our original free party room on the top floor of his apartment was no longer an option for this growing group. We instead rented a formal wedding space for $2500. In the weeks leading up to our wedding, my predicted fear came to light. When this aunt or that cousin learned that another was invited, our invite list unknowingly grew. On the day of our wedding I walked into the venue greeted by 40 people. Somehow my 10 person wedding had grown to 40, only 7 of which were related to me. Luckily my mother had ordered extra food, and the venue was large enough to seat exactly 40.
Post Wedding Drama
In the weeks that followed our wedding, my family began to express their hurt feelings over our wedding. My parents were perplexed as to why I hadn’t invited any aunts, uncles or cousins most of whom lived 20-30 mins. away from the venue. My husbands family had turned out in large numbers many flying in from around the country. I spent my first few weeks of marriage calling offended family to apologize.
“Did we offend you in some way? Are you upset with us? Are you embarrassed of us? What did we do that would make you not invite us to your wedding?”
I explained repeatedly how my 10 person sibling and parent only wedding had unexpectedly become a 40 person event. I explained that I myself had been blindsided by the turnout of his out of state relatives. Had I known so much of his family was attending of course I would have invited my family, I told them. My explanations were weak, and hurt feelings persisted.
At Thanksgiving, some 9 months later my husband and I flew back to Chicago to celebrate with my family. My aunt greeted us with,
“Well hello people who didn’t invite me to their wedding.”
Maybe we deserved that. Newly Wed Bliss: A practical poem about New Marriage
The Re-Ocurring Marriage Fight
In our first few weeks of marriage we had new jobs, a new city, a new beginning. I was very happy. But as the phone rang and I repeated my wedding apologies and justifications my patience grew thin. “Why hadn’t our pre-wedding communication been better? How had so much of his family ended up being invited and none of mine? I was pissed. I began picking fights and demanding explanations. He patiently explained how the invitations had grown out of his control, that relatives had learned of our wedding via word of mouth and invited themselves unknowingly. I argued that had I known I would’ve invited my relatives to be fair. Ultimately, had I invited an equal amount of my family it would have forced us to an even larger more expensive venue, a last minute switch we wouldn’t have had time to make. In our first year of marriage I initiated the wedding argument about four times, forgiving, forgetting and then reigniting. Finally a dear friend who has been married for 15+ years gave me the best marital advice. “Let it go”. I was projecting the unhappiness of my extended family onto my husband and our marriage. I had already apologized and almost a year had passed. It was done. In marriage, everything won’t be perfect or fair. We otherwise had a wonderful marriage, and we were only in our honeymoon stage. The wedding was over, and the ultimate goal of getting married had been accomplished. It was time to truly forgive, forget and move on.
Getting married is in some ways harder than being married. I’ve seen couples break up over the complexities of expensive wedding planning and family drama. We think that a wedding is about the couple, but in so many ways it isn’t. A wedding is the first big set of compromises many couples must come together to make. Likewise it is the coming together of two families and the first big test of managing pleasing your family, pleasing your spouse and pleasing yourself. Not everyone passes this test. We didn’t. But not passing the test also doesn’t mean you’ve failed at marriage. For us it was a vital lesson to apply to the future of our marriage. I learned the value of letting some things go. I learned that compromise doesn’t always mean both people end up happy. We both learned that our tendencies to please family were high and ingrained. In order to have a successful marriage and face future big life moments (such as the birth of a child or buying of a home) we would need to remember to always communicate and put each other first.
“a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife”
We still aren’t perfect, but this first year has been great. I appreciate the lessons we’ve learned in our first year of marriage and the growth we’ve experienced both individually and as a couple. Marriage, 4 Things I’ve Loved and Learned from my 1st Year
What’s been your experience? Married readers, do you have any advice for the newly engaged? Share your story.