Transitions render us more vulnerable emotionally and psychologically than during other times in our lives. Being in a transition means that we are between stages and identities: no longer single but not quite married; no longer a non-mother but not quite a mother. These in-between zones are typically scary places when the familiar realm is out of reach and we’re left feeling disoriented and uncertain. Like the caterpillar who sheds its skin multiple times before weaving its chrysalis and transforming into a butterfly, when we’re in transition we, too, shed multiple metaphoric skins as we let go of ways of being, thought processes, habits, and possibly even friends that are no longer serving our highest potential.
When we’re in a process of shedding and letting go, the consequent disorientation and vulnerability causes many of us to seek reassurance wherever we can find it. This tendency isn’t a problem in and of itself; its natural and healthy to gravitate toward guidance during turbulent times. The problem arises when we find ourselves looking for reassurance in places that only entrench the anxiety further. One of the most common statements my clients say to me in our first session is: “I watched a movie last night that really spiked my anxiety. It was a romantic comedy and afterwards I was left wondering if I love my fiancé enough to marry him.” Variations on this statement are: “Every time I flip through a bridal magazine I feel anxious. I don’t feel as happy as those brides look and then I wonder, ‘What’s wrong me with? Aren’t I supposed to feel happy during my engagement? Aren’t I supposed to be looking forward to my wedding with excitement?’”
My quick answer? Go on a media diet! Avoid bridal magazines, popular movies (especially romantic comedies), and wedding websites – especially those that insist that if you feel any doubt or anxiety it means you’re making a mistake. During this vulnerable time, you’re highly susceptible to images and messages that reinforce the false mythologies our culture is bred on: that during your engagement you’re supposed to be happier than you’ve ever been in your life, that you should feel gleefully and unilaterally excited about your wedding, and that if you’re having doubts there’s something wrong with you, your relationship, or your decision to marry. The more you fill your head with the false images, the harder it will be to replace the pernicious messages they contain with the truth.
Replacing the pervasive messages with the truth is not an easy task when it comes to the engagement and wedding. Remember, from the time you were young you’ve been raised on the belief that the wedding and all that surrounds it is supposed to be an only happy time. You’ve been inundated with the belief that if you’re not joyously over-the-moon ecstatically happy about getting married than you shouldn’t get married. There is nothing in our popular culture that supports the basic human truth – not theory, but truth – that with any transition or any major decision you will experience a panoply of contradictory emotions.
When you go on a media diet you commit to protecting your inner space by filtering what enters it. By extension, it’s also essential that you wisely choose who you talk to about your vulnerable thoughts and emotions. When you tell most people – even your closest friends and family members – that you’re having doubts about getting married, the common response is, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t go through with it.” Given that we were all raised in the same culture, this response is understandable: your friends and family are just as indoctrinated as you are regarding the myths surrounding romantic love and weddings.
Very few people understand that you can want to go through with something and still feel uncertain, scared, and doubtful about the decision. We live in a black and white, either/or culture which transmits the message that you either feel happy or sad, excited or anxious. We generally fail to understand that any major decision, while initially eliciting one emotional response, will eventually activate the polar opposite response. In other words, you simply cannot be a thinking person and make an informed decision without spanning the polarities of excitement and dread, certainty and doubt, happiness and sadness, gain and loss, love and fear. So just like you have to avoid most popular media and wedding sources, you also need to be extremely selective about who you talk to about your less-then-blissful feelings.
It takes courage, patience, and commitment to be a conscious bride. The vast majority of engaged women (and men) succumb to the cultural expectation of putting on the face of bliss and excitement, successfully distracting themselves from their uncomfortable and socially unacceptable emotions through planning a “perfect” wedding (and often turning into bridezilla), then crashing after the wedding with a bad case of post-wedding depression. A very small minority of people – generally those who make decisions easily and glide through transitions without much anxiety – truly do feel excited about their wedding and enjoy being engaged. But for the rest of you who find yourselves anxious, depressed, confused, and disoriented, you need to orient yourselves away from places that imply that there’s something wrong with you for feeling this way and toward places that help you make sense of these feelings and view them as positive and necessary stepping stones toward your transformation into this next stage of your life.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998 she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.