One of the frustrating parts about wedding planning is people keep assuming they know how I feel, and their assumptions aren’t even consistent. Like, one day, someone will say “Oh you must be so EXCITED” when I was up the night before crying over the way my friends were acting, so, awkward. Or someone will yell at me, “Stop stressing out! Brides are so silly always stressing out. RELAX.” When I’m not stressed out at all. No one does this to my (male) partner, and it pisses me off. What can I do about it? Why do people do this? Is there a way to handle it gracefully or should I just yell, “YOU STOP STRESSING! SHUT UP!” back in their face like a frustrated four-year-old?
Very Emotional Xcept Everyone Dismisses
Life changes are emotional events. Think about the big things—marrying, sure, but also other events, like going off to college, moving in with someone, or having a baby. People are quick to assume how you feel, with a, “You must be so proud!” or, “How excited are you?!”
I don’t know about you, but my emotions are usually complex and conflicted. I experience a complicated mix of feelings when I try to order a drive-thru burger (hunger, guilt, desire, embarrassment), let alone when I’m facing something major.
So first off, I need to address The World at Large. Dear VEXED, this isn’t for you, but you can listen in. Everybody, let’s just all stop doing this, okay? No more projecting what you assume other folks must be feeling. A big piece of being supportive is listening, and that means, yes, you may need to shut your mouth for a full five seconds while someone fills you in on how they’re actually processing things. It’s sort of, well, half-assed to ask someone how they’re feeling but to also provide the answer. It makes it clear that you aren’t actually interested in what she’s feeling. It also makes her think you find her incredibly predictable, or even boring.
Probably more significant than that, it forces a person into a box instead of allowing room for who they really are. “You must be so excited!” assumes everyone in this situation would be excited, so if you’re not, there must be something wrong with you. Need an example? I’ll make it personal, sure. I was out with friends a few weeks ago. My mom was watching my son, as she’s done plenty of times before. And as I’m looking over the drink menu, possibly furrowing my brow as I try to decide between expensive sangria and margaritas, a friend puts her hand on mine. “Hey,” she says gently, “Stop worrying about him. He’s fine.” Worrying? About who now? Puh! I wasn’t worried! And then I realized, oh right. SHOULD I be worried? Am I a bad mother for leisurely enjoying a cocktail rather than being wracked with concern? Am I an emotionless robot of a woman?!
But that’s just one example. Imagine the same of some poor bride who just had a nasty fight with her partner over place cards. Then a friend asks her, “How excited are you?!” when she’s anything but. It may seem overstating things to say that one off-handed comment would send you spiraling into a fit of self-doubt, but most folks are a tad sensitive around the major life stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to know if the way you feel is “normal” or “acceptable,” or if it’s something that should concern you.
I’ll concede. These kinds of niceties could be a bit of a social habit. Maybe you don’t even realize you’re doing it! Forgiven. But from here on out, let’s try to give one another the room to process the big stuff how each person needs to in his or her own individual way.
That said, how do we react to this stuff? How do you respond when someone tells you how happy you are about your own wedding? How should I answer when friends tell me to “stop worrying” about my kid?
I think the best anyone can do is to be polite and honest. People are asking about you because they want to show concern. That’s really very nice. But, you know what? You don’t need to pretend. You don’t need to be forced into a mold. When someone says, “You must be so happy you’re having a baby!” you can honestly and politely answer, “No, I’m honestly just really nauseous.” When someone chides you to “Stop stressing!” about your wedding that you haven’t really thought about in weeks, you can kindly and candidly say, “I really am not stressed at all.” There’s no need to be rude to the folks around you kind enough to express interest in your life. But there’s also no need to allow their assumptions to impact how you process your emotions, how you perceive yourself, or how you express yourself. Plus, every time you’re honest, you help break the mold of how women have to think and feel. And I think we can all get behind that.
Team Practical, how do you respond when someone projects how they think you should feel? Who’s dealing with this? Why is this such a gendered thing?
Photo by APW sponsor Julie Randall Photography.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!