It’s one of the top five questions I’m asked by my clients: Does it really have to be this hard? A typical client will come to me full of anxiety and doubt, confusion and loneliness. She wants to know if this means she’s not supposed to get married and she takes immense comfort in learning she’s not alone in feeling anything other than pure joy in the months before and after their wedding. But as she struggles with the various manifestations of grief and fear, she continually wonders if it’s supposed to be this hard. Then she equates the struggle with making a mistake. In other words, she thinks that if she weren’t making a mistake she wouldn’t be feeling these difficult feelings. She would look and feel more like the brides on the magazine covers she’s been seeing since she was old enough to see.
And therein lies the problem: our culture has conditioned her from the time she was a little girl to believe that the wedding transition, from “yes” to “I do” and into the first year of marriage, should be the most blissful, exciting, magical time of her life. She’s been conditioned to believe that she’s supposed to enjoy every minute of planning her “perfect” day when she will wed her “perfect” man. She thinks her family and friends are supposed to gather around her, supporting her unconditionally without any of their own feelings intercepting this support. She believes, either consciously or unconsciously, that she should be filled with unequivocal joy.
So when the fear of marriage hollows her belly and the grief of letting go of being single shimmies up to her in the middle of her work day, when her fiancé’s chewing habits suddenly become intolerable and her best friend hasn’t asked one question about the planning, she wonders what’s wrong. She wonders if she’s not fit to be a bride. She wonders if she’s making a mistake. Because surely it’s not supposed to be this hard.
Actually, it is supposed to be this hard. Here’s the truth that belies the images we’ve all ingested from every available media source: Transitions are hard. Adolescence is hard. Leaving home for the first time is hard. Becoming a mother is hard. Job changes, midlife, empty nest, retiring, old age… all hard. That doesn’t mean there isn’t great joy inherent in all of these transitions, but before we can truly receive the joy, we have to be willing to let go of the old life, to confront our fears, and to tolerate the uncomfortable in-between zone when the familiar stage of life is over and the new stage and identity have yet to be born. In fact, transitions, because they render us so vulnerable and inspire us to evaluate who we are and what’s important to us, carry the capacity to increase our joy, self-esteem, self-trust, and general state of ease. But the positive aspects of transition cannot occur without trudging through the muck that defines the early stages of letting go of the old life. What makes it so hard to accept that the wedding and all that surrounds it is challenging is that we don’t expect it. At least in this culture, muck and weddings just don’t go together.
It’s the expectations that are so damaging for women on the threshold of marriage. Because the engaged woman (or man) expects bliss and perfection, she’s completely thrown when the other feelings invade her days and nights. She thinks she should be skipping toward her wedding day giggling and gaily tossing rose petals behind her. When the reality of inner world fails to match the fantasy image, she wonders what’s wrong. But as I often ask my clients, do you think pregnant women daydream about their glorious labor, longing for the day when her contractions begin and she’s plummeted into the worst physical pain and most intense spiritual experience of her life? No! Women prepare for labor as best they can and they understand that it’s a means to an end – the birth of their child – but do they look forward to it? Of course not! Now a wedding day is usually a lot more fun than giving birth, but the principal remains the same. The wedding is the transformational day and, as such, is the portal we walk through to become a wife or husband. But the months preceding and following the wedding are usually fraught with an array of emotions that span the gamut from depression to exhilarating and everything in between.
So it’s okay not to look forward to your wedding. It’s okay to struggle before and after the big day. It doesn’t mean you’re making a mistake. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It means you’re in the midst of an enormous life transition, one in which your previously solid ground is shifting beneath your feet. It means you haven’t distracted yourself by obsessively planning an impossibly “perfect” wedding, and without this distraction you’re left feeling the normal and necessary feelings that define this transition. It means you’re being brave and honest and daring to break the steel-clad cultural taboo that says that struggle and wedding don’t go together. It means you’re striving to be a conscious bride which will inevitably help you become a conscious wife and have an honest, real, meaningful marriage. Congratulations.