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Ask Team Practical: When People Tell You How To Feel


by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical

Ask Team Practical: When People Tell You How To Feel | A Practical Wedding

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

Dear VEXED,

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!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • One More Sara

    Spot on advice! I would just add that if we were all a little more honest with our responses to these kinds of questions, the asker(s) would probably realize that that may not have been the best way to phrase their question, and hopefully lead to less emotion-guessing-questions from them in the future.

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

    Due to various events (including wedding planning), my life has been a tidal wave of, “Aren’t you…?!”s and “Isn’t it…?!”s and “You must feel so…!”s, and it is madly difficult to find things to say. The most important thing I’ve taken from that so far is never to say things like that myself.

    But here’s the general solution I’ve come up with so far: smile, nod, agree (or thank people for their kind words, if they’re trying to be sympathetic), AND THEN, whenever possible, model different responses, such as, “Wow! To me, that sounds like a lot. Let me know if I can help with anything!” or, “How is that going, or would you really rather talk about something else?” And I just hope that maybe that seeps in to the collective psyche over time. With very close friends, I’m willing to say, “Well, actually…” but most of the time it is just not worth it.

    Maybe this sounds like weaseling out, but it has really worked for me, and it goes nicely with my wedding planning policy of, “smile, thank people for their advice, and continue doing what feels right to me.”

    • Betsy

      This solution really resonates with me. I’m in business school right now where there are lots of social interactions with acquaintances. One of the things I’ve learned through my experiences in b-school is that sometimes, people are just following a script, and in those instances, it is less painful for me to follow that script than to be honest with them. I save the honesty for the people who actually care about how my day/job hunt/classes are going and won’t judge me for it, and I’m doing the same with the wedding. If people just want to feel good and excited, I put a wall around my emotions and let them, but I also limit my interactions with them to an amount that I’m comfortable with. If people really want in, then I’m more than happy to talk about how I actually feel (always happy to talk about feelings!) and how it’s actually going, as long as they are supportive and accepting of those feelings.

      I don’t think you’re “weaseling out,” PA. I think the intervention into the way we talk to brides is at its strongest when we model the behavior we want or gently redirect the comments using humor, as I could see Sarah’s “Well, currently, I’m mostly just stressed about how Auntie G is going to sit with” comment doing.

      • Liz

        Yeah! This almost exactly mirrors a conversation I had with some friends a few years ago. Her point was that sometimes folks are just trying to sound nice and really don’t care, in which case it’s sort of rude to burden them with tales of woe when all they really wanted was a, “Nice day, isn’t?” surfacey social chat. My other friend insisted that if you didn’t want an honest answer, you shouldn’t ask at all, so if you ask, she will be honest. There has to be some middle ground there between allowing room for surfacey niceties without feeling dishonest to yourself, right?

        • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

          Also, yes. It can be brutal when all I want is to say, “You know what? No. That’s not how I’m feeling,” but I try to remember that most people who ask don’t actually care.

          There’s definitely room for a happy medium, though, especially since if you say, “Actually…” people may open up about their experiences – it’s possible they’re also stuck in the trap of feeling like they were the only one who got stressed (or not stressed) planning their wedding!

        • Betsy

          I think so, Liz! My middle ground (which may be different for other people) is recognizing when I’m in a performance of surfacey-social-chat and protecting my deeper emotional self accordingly. And, maybe this is because I was born and bred in the midwest, but sometimes I really appreciate the gesture of making that surfacey-social-chat from people, even if they are projecting crazy stuff onto me.
          They may not know what they’re doing, and usually there is some degree of goodwill in the gesture. Plus, sometimes building social capital through the chitchat opens up opportunities to change the cultural conversation about weddings, which is always welcome.

          • http://theaftercath.blogspot.com Cathi

            Fellow Midwesterner here, whose standard cultural social niceties go something like:
            “Hey, how’s it going?”
            “Pretty good, thanks for asking! How about you?”
            “Pretty good as well, thanks!”

            It does seem nice for people to even pretend to care, when they don’t have to, ya know?

        • http://theblogwhisperer.tumblr.com HeatherG

          Yes. I think there can be a middle ground. A surface-y friend expects a surface-y response because maybe they’re not ready to be responsible for the less than surface-y answer. So maybe it’s possible to convey what you’re feeling (self-honesty) while also conveying that it’s not this person’s problem? Kind of like the person’s comment below about the seating chart. Like, “Hey, sometimes it sucks, but I’m dealing with it.”

          • Marisa-Andrea

            Well not only that, I tend to think that there are a great deal of people who simply are just not self-aware and don’t know they are projecting crazy stuff. And that makes surface-chat easier for me though ocassionally I do like to be contrary to be contrary. I can’t help myself sometimes.

      • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

        I think you hit the nail on the head with, “I put a wall around my emotions” – part of it is certainly that I feel uncomfortable letting acquaintances into that level of my life. If I’m not feeling too raw, though, some humor can remind people that there are non-sunshine-and-rainbows aspects to it, too! I’ve been blessed with close friends who remember the stressful aspects of things and are careful to ask me if I need any help or to talk about anything.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Civilization is paved with “white lies,” but they’re so thoroughly part of our civilization, they’re not lies. When you meet someone and they ask, “How do you do?” of course you don’t say, “Actually, the foggy weather has me bummed, and I’m having a bad hair day, and I missed lunch.” Though grammatically a question, “How do you do?” is just what we say when we meet someone, and “Fine, thank you. How do you do?” is just the response.

        But lots of situations are tricky in-between stuff. A brand new professional acquaintance gets the “Fine, thank you…” Mom gets the “Actually, the fog…” But my boss of 4 years who’s been away on business all week? When he asks, “How’s it going?” sometimes he needs to hear, “I’m swamped with the Smith report,” so he doesn’t give me more work from across the country, and sometimes he’s just being polite.

        • Liz

          Yes! The nuances of civilized conversation. ;)

  • Sarah

    Definitely you just need to be honest. Also if you think you aren’t stressing but you feel the need to yell back into someone’s face, well maybe you need to be more honest with yourself.

    I also have to say that I enjoy it when people say something like, “how excited are you?!” If I’m not at that moment, I just tell them that “well, currently, I’m mostly just stressed about who Auntie G is going to sit with” and for the (majority of the) times when I am excited it’s nice to know that someone understands that. Also, I feel really lame when someone asks me how I feel about wedding planning/getting married and I have to say “excited.” Now I feel that my emotions are not sufficiently complex! But I will try to not ask so many directed questions in the future.

    • http://metamorphocity.com/ Sarah Nicole

      I was going to say the same thing about the urge to yell when someone assumes you’re stressed out. I find if I’m genuinely not stressed out, it’s just water off my back and I can correct people with a smile.

      Although I get that assumptions are frustrating, and yes, the ideal thing for us all to remember to do is just ask, not assume, I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt in these situations. They’re probably just fumbling for some way to connect with me or give me a chance to vent or gush, and if they’re surprised by my response, well, that’s just food for thought for the next time they start to project.

  • http://nickandnoragettingmarried.wordpress.com Annie

    The “Stop stressing out!” comment reminds me of how people will say “You look tired.” I guess it’s meant to acknowledge that you look like you’re under pressure, but unless you’re not going to follow up with “Let me arrange those flowers for you” or “Here’s a cozy bed to nap in while I do your laundry,” these are not helpful comments. Why do people keep saying them? And if you’re not tired/stressed, it makes you feel like you just look awful.

    For the most part, I think it’s not worth arguing with someone about. If Great Aunt Ethel says you look so excited/stressed, a polite but honest comment is fine. Like “We’re really looking forward to being married,” or “It’s a lot of planning, but we’re having fun with it,” or whatever. It might not teach the other person not to ask about how excited/stressed you are, but sometimes I think it’s easier to let comments slide instead of adding them to your stress level.

    • HH

      Sideline here- I HATE the “You look tired” general statement. I find it so rude! I admit that I probably hate it because I have genetic “allergic shiners,” because those damn circles are the only part of me I really detest and there’s nothing to be done, so maybe I’m biased.

      I ALWAYS cover up my dark circles as well as I can with makeup, and I find it just. so. rude. when random people (doctor! has my doctor not figured me out by now?) mention how tired I look. Not to mention that if someone says it, I instinctively agree and slouch before I realize that “no! I’m not tired! I’m just trying not to make you feel crappy and rude like you are!”

      Sorry. Rant over.

      • Maddie

        Oh “You look tired” is the worst. It’s like the passive-aggressive-if-only-sometimes-well-meaning way of saying “You look like shit.”

        • KEA1

          And even etiquette guides who don’t explicitly cast themselves as “practical” condemn it! %)

        • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

          In grad school, I actually had a friend walk into my lab and say, “You look like shit.” I had a giant bruised scrape on my leg and mosquito bites EVERYWHERE. I *did* look like shit and I totally appreciated she said so.

  • 39bride

    This was so great to read–I had thought I was the only person like this. I’m an older first-time bride and so I thought maybe that was why my feelings were more subdued than other brides I’ve seen. I’m THRILLED at the idea of marrying my wonderful FI (counting the days), but the wedding as an event/party is a whole ‘nother matter. It’s stressful, worrisome and a huge hill yet to be climbed in the next 30 or so days. And as wonderful as my FI is, there are the associated anxieties of navigating our new lives together (he got past all the walls!), the fact that we’re going to be on a very tight budget, etc.

    So when people say, “You must be soooo excited!!!” I don’t know what to answer. Mostly my stomach gets upset when I think of all I still have to do, and what I really want to do is just go find a JOP and then wake up next to my Beloved tomorrow (we’re not moving in until after we get married). I’m sure the wedding will be beautiful and enjoyable, but I haven’t hit the “wow, I’m so excited!!!!” phase, yet… honestly don’t know if I ever will. Maybe the morning of the wedding? I do wish people wouldn’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel! :P

  • secret reader

    I realize this is preaching to the choir, but I don’t understand why the standard response isn’t a neutral, “How are you feeling?” I’m “lucky” enough to have had life changes recently that are complex on their faces. When it’s harder to distill the change into a one phrase/sentence/word summary, people are much more open to finding out how you really feel about it without ascribing emotions onto you in the asking of the question.

    So I’m now making a conscious decision to (attempt to) interpret the emotion-ascribing questions as poorly executed versions of the open-ended questions, and just responding the same to both of them. That said, I still almost cried in public when a family member insinuated that I must be feeling terrible about an upcoming move. Sometimes it’s worst when there’s a grain of truth in the assumption the asker is making.

    • RJ

      For me the “How are you feeling” question can be a bit personal.

      I like the phrase “how’s that working out for you? or “how are you finding it?” coupled with a scene-setter.

      E.g. “Preparing for a wedding can be tiring/exciting/a lot of work/stressful/can have its challenges, how are you finding it?

      It acknowledges the common stereotype, and also that individuals are different.

      So the person can say “yes it is tiring, or “we’re going OK”, or “actually we’re doing OK on the stress front”.

  • ALM9212

    Thank you for this post and for many others. I’m planning a September wedding while also full of jitters, and we are both finding it very difficult to be as excited as everyone else. I think this then lends itself to more jitters, i.e., wait, if I’m not walking on cloud nine at all times, does that mean that this is the wrong thing to do? We’ve even brought this up with the rabbi as their seems to be this communal need for us to be going through life high-fiving everyone we meet. We’re much more low-key than that and just really want this to be one day in a lifetime of happy memories.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I tell lots of people, “We are very happy to be getting married, but we’re just not very excitable people.”

  • SW

    This is really interesting. I am definitely guilty of the “you must be so [insert expected emotion]!” thing, and also of giving the expected “yes, I am so [insert expected emotion]!” response to that question. I have become more aware of it since being on the receiving end during wedding planning (and since reading APW). I have tried to figure out why I ask those closed questions. I think it is because, particularly with casual acquaintances, it feels less intrusive to make a general “yay! major life event excitement!” affirmation rather than asking about innermost thoughts and feelings. Maybe in future this is a good chance for me to work on developing more honest, meaningful relationships with those I don’t yet know well, both in asking more open questions about their true emotions, and in giving more honest responses.

    • Jessica

      For me, I think the urge to say things like “You must be so excited!” comes out of a desire to feel like the person and I are on the same page, connected in some way. But if what I really mean is “I’m so excited for you!”, I should just say that. And if I really want to feel on the same page with the person, talking about how they really feel, not how they “must” feel, is obviously a much more effective strategy.

  • Senorita

    Not to be off topic, but it needs to be pointed out that the beautiful photo from today was taken by the equally beautiful Katch from Kateryn Silva Photography who also happens to be getting married today!!!!!

    Happy Wedding Day Katch!!

    Hope the day is as magical as your photos :)

  • Lynn

    Before my wedding, people kept asking me if I was excited. I was honest every time. “No, right now I’m just overwhelmed (frustrated, stressed out, nervous, etc). Maybe next week I’ll be excited but right now I’ve got too much going on to be excited.”

    On a completely different note, I’m not sure that I ever did get excited. Ready to do it, happy to be marrying my PA, eager to see far-flung friends and family. But excited? No.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      I often really want to say “Well, it’s exciting, but the wedding is almost a year away, and I have no intention of emotionally wearing myself out until at least the night before, if at all possible”. I am not sure I can sustain being excited for that length of time, even though it appears expected that I will be constantly excited. I then realize that this is much to sarcastic-sounding for anyone but close friends, and stick to more acceptable social discourse. My personal favorite, when I don’t want to get into talking about wedding plans, is “Oh, of course I’m excited, but right now I am focusing on school work/the thesis/job hunting”

  • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva by definition

    I’ve definitely been dealing with this. I’ll say “well, we’re trying to decide between x and y,” when asked about something, and I’ll say it simply, because x and y are not big things, and the response I will get is “stop stressing over it! brides are always so stressed and it’s not good!” Which makes me stressed because do I sound stressed? Why must I be stressed?

    Conversely, when I’m trying to make a decision about bridesmaid dresses because my bridesmaids ASKED me to pick the dress? Stop telling me to make them pick!

  • http://teanhoneybread.com/ Tameka

    Bravo! As someone who recently discovered she planned the perfect wedding for the person she wishes she was, and not who she actually is–I can totally relate. I am filled with lots of varying emotions which none of my eager pals have guessed yet. I’ve managed to catch the ear of a few and express the complexity of major life changes, but I think they’re still more interested in the production. Le sigh. I’ll keep trying, hopefully the next one of us to experience a major life change will be spared.

  • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

    I think the reason this is a gendered thing is because men aren’t supposed to have feelings. Men are supposed to be indifferent about everything. Getting married? Only because his fiancée nagged him into proposing. Besides, he’s not planning the wedding anyway because that’s Lady’s Work (TM). Having a baby? Dads are LOLZOMG so clueless. Dudes are only supposed to care about sports, video games, and finding out which bar has $1 beers and 25 cent wings.

    • Jashshea

      Which, sadly, are things I care about. Instead I have to pick out napkins (which are apparently called linens at weddings).

      • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

        Because choosing linens is Lady’s Work. (Even though my fiancé cares more about the tablecloths than I do.)

        • Jashshea

          I care about tablecloths in that I don’t want the room to look crappy. I wish someone had told me that the stuff I did want (Party! fancy dress! dancing! food and booze! people!) would lead to stuff I didn’t care about (tablecloths, “colors,” envelopes, timelines). :)

    • Liz

      Where are the 25 cent wings, yo. I want some.

      • Paranoid Libra

        How to distract Team Practical….mention food, cute animals or alcohol.

        Oh look a puppy!

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      I think you have an excellent point. As an additional point, women find that sort of cultural attitude/expectation to be extremely frustrating or even damaging, but I think men also find it affects them in a similar manner.

    • suzanna

      Molly, well put. I totally agree. I would say the “you must be indifferent” assumption can be filed under the same heading of “you must be so excited/stressed” assumption. Dudes get just as many dumb assumptions thrown at them as we do.

      I find it sad that weddings “belong” to women. It’s so dumb, and it must hurt guys when people assume that they don’t care about this major life change. It must be a really big fight for them to say how much it means to them. These dumb questions being thrown at us ladies sucks, but dudes aren’t being asked about it at all!

      Also, this ties in to the whole “society loves to undermine women’s confidence” thing that unfortunately, most of us buy into at some level. We are easily unnerved and our confidence is easily shaken. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it was common for us to just shake these dumb questions off.

  • Amy March

    but on the otherhand “how are you feeling about xyz” feels so much more intrusive to me than a- you must be so excited!! The only response I need to give to !! Is Mmm-hmm, and have you heard the news about TomKat? But to someone who asks about my feelings, well, I don’t want to share that with every acquaintance who is just trying to demonstrate that they care.

    • Liz

      But at least you have the option there! “How are you feeling about the wedding?” or even “Are you excited about the wedding?” still gives you room to gloss over and say, “Good!” or “Mm hm!” even if you don’t want to get into, “Well, I’m sort of nervous and a little stressed.”

      And I think even that second response doesn’t need to be belabored. “I’m sort of nervous. But have you heard the news about TomKat?” could work, too, right? An honest response doesn’t always necessitate a novella.

      My thought is, that’s fine if you’re more reserved about what’s happening in your life and you’d rather not share with every shmo who decides to ask. “Good! Great! Mmhm!” all the way. (I felt this way especially about pregnancy. “How are you doing?” isn’t exactly a request for every bodily discomfort or gross oddity.) But I do think we can be more careful about how we ask about others, and resist the urge to box people in.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      It’s very cultural. I’ve read about “mental health surveys” that find Danes (I think it was) the happiest people on earth, while Americans are less happy than Danes but happier than Germans, or something.

      I don’t really think you can measure a whole industrialized nation’s happiness. There’s a lot of cultural pressure in all contexts of US society to be up-beat but always moving forward, whereas other societies think “fine” and “not bad” are perfectly acceptable mental states.

      • Liz

        It’s funny that you mention this! I was chatting with friends in the UK, and one mentioned that “EXCITED!” is a dead give-away that you’re from the States.

      • HH

        Also funny- I’ve noticed that in certain parts of the US, it’s often culturally acceptable (in some places, appropriate) to respond to a typical “How’s your day?” or “How are you?” with a dismissive, almost negative response (“stressed!” “busy!” “exhausting” etc). I’ve found it very hard to break that habit, even when I don’t feel negative at all. So for me, by contrast, I rather like people asking about the wedding, because my honest default is a big smile and “really looking forward to it!” or “so excited!” even though it’s ten months away. When I break out that smile, I’m often surprised because it’s the first time I’ve smiled that day. Negativity pervades some places. Oy.

        Funny, cultural conversations. Funny indeed.

  • daynya

    I too am of the honest response camp. My work causes me to interact with people who are getting married all the time, so I get this question daily about my upcoming wedding. I have nothing to gain from a polite generic response, so I finally started being fully honest. “Oh you must be SO excited!” Usually gets a “Uuuuum, actually I’m kind of freaking out about how my to-do list right now” or, more often, “Well, I am looking forward to it, but, it’s a few months off, so, just kind of taking it easy for now.” I sometimes get sympathetic nods, but most often I actually get them to engage in a real conversation with me, about what’s fun, what’s stressful, and how it will all be wonderful. It feels much better to speak my truth in that way. When I am talking to people about these things I *try* to be as non-prying as I can, and just ask, how’s it going, or, are you excited? Rather than assuming they must be. I don’t know if that’s a better approach, but it’s what I’d rather hear!

  • Jashshea

    Valet guy at bach party: You must be so excited!
    Me: Excited for it all to be over.

    ETA: That might sound kinda bitchy. I said it really upbeat and happy sarcastic and the Valet actually said back: I hear ya, my wife had a rough time the few months before our wedding. So, sometimes sarcastic honesty can lead to good things.

  • KB

    I think the solution may be to cut people some slack. For the most part, people making those comments or asking those questions haven’t actually been in the situation, i.e. planned a wedding, so they don’t know that it’s not one big ball of shiny happy unicorns. Or they’ve watched too much Bridezilla and think that you’re going to start crying on them at any point. I feel like people who say, “You must be SO EXCITED!” just don’t know what else to say to open the conversation to more details. Actually, I think that particular phrase is the best possible one because it gives you the opportunity to shut down the conversation with a “Yes/No” answer, or go into more detail for people you actually like.

    Something Liz alluded to in the answer – it’s incredibly annoying when people ask if you, as the bride, are excited and then turn around, elbow the groom, and ask if he’s nervous. This has happened to me several times already and I just want to smack the person with whatever I happen to be holding at that second. But I think people fall back on these gender stereotypes because it’s short-hand for empathy – it’s easier to assume things about people because it cuts down on the hard work of thinking. I have to remember that they will someday experience it for themselves and realize their past social errors – or they really don’t know me and I don’t give a *&$% what they think about me or my fiance.

    • meg

      I don’t know. THOSE people I find easy to cut slack. But I was often asked these questions (or non-questions) but people very close to me, who I was looking to for support, who had DEFINITELY been through it. And in that case it can, well, hurt. And you have to start telling the truth.

      When it’s, say, a doorman or a saleslady, then it’s sort of sweet that they care enough to ASK if you’re excited. Totally different!

    • Sam

      As I am recently engaged, and being flooded by questions about my ring, the date of the not-even-a-little-planned wedding, the non-existent dress, the “aren’t you so!”, I am now looking back on some of my friends engagements and weddings with some guilt about these exact comments.

      I realize now when I found out one of my best friends had gotten married at the courthouse without telling me or having anyone there and got upset at her, she was doing it the way SHE wanted. I would have loved to be there, but it wasn’t my wedding.

      When another friend got engaged and all I ever asked her about when we got together was about the planning process, I feel terrible. We used to talk about lots of things. But I kind of thought that she would WANT to talk about that stuff. I can’t say for sure that I ASKED if she did. Really, I just wanted to be supportive and this really is just a social short hand, esp. for those uninitiated to the WIC and all of the emotion I never imagined I’d have. And we did talk about all of the stressful and not-so-fun parts, as good friends will get to, even if I blundered in my opening remarks.

      And as far as the ‘don’t worry about your kid’ comment, I think sometimes as friends, we want to ‘prove’ how well we know them. We hope that by ‘knowing’ what is going on in our loved one’s heads, we show how much we care and think about them. I agree, that it probably mostly is just annoying, however there is an intense love that creates that comment.

      • Liz

        This is good to remember, but you know what? I think “trying to be supportive” comes across, no matter how you phrase your words.

        • Moz

          Yeah and that’s why I am a little uncomfortable with this column. Because in my experience people DON’T generally ask if they don’t care, not really.

          I know language matters (it’s a big part of my job, dissecting language) and yes, we should be more attentive and ask better questions, but generally when people ask these things they’re not just being polite.

          I get that’s it’s frustrating and of course we should be honest – but let’s not write these people off as being dreadful and inattentive and uncaring.

          People often say these things to be supportive, at least in my experience. We shouldn’t forget that. Most of these comments are made in the spirit of being excited for whatever wonderful event is up for grabs.

          • Liz

            I’m in agreement there! I don’t think anyone is writing anyone off as dreadful.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    People dictating to you how you must be feeling is one of the most frustrating experiences in life to me. If only it were just related to weddings and babies and major life changes, but some people will find any excuse to do it.

    And, from experience, if one person is continually telling you how you feel it does get important to start to have a real conversation about what you are feeling and that it’s not ok to assume and then tell you. That behaviour needs to be shut down before it gets to be a major problem.

    But for the one off comments where people are just trying to engage you about something big going on, like a wedding? I’m usually a fan of the middle ground. Future aunts-in-law or acquaintances don’t necessarily need to know the details of how you’re handling things – if they’re asking aren’t I so excited it’s usually just because they want to share in the happy with me. I usually respond with something along the lines of “I’m really looking forward to being married to Bunny, but I’m a little stressed about xyz right now.” It still validates their interest in what’s going on but makes it clear that I’m a person with my own emotions.

    • KEA1

      As someone who grew up being told how I felt, I cannot “exactly” your comment enough.

  • http://thesnarkybeagle.blogspot.com Lizzy

    *GIANT SIGH OF RELIEF* Thank you all so much for this. I’m planning my wedding for next month and it’s definitely not what I would have wanted had it just been my decision. In short, I wanted 10 guests and we ended up with 75. So when my maid of honor asked me the other day if I was excited I sort of inadvertantly exploded with a rant of, “this is all crazy… I can’t wait till its over… no one understands me” angst. She then chided me for being too negative and that she wouldn’t allow her best friend to be such a bummer on my wedding day which of course I have spent the rest of this week brooding over.

    While maybe my reaction wasn’t the best, I know she had good intentions. I don’t want to lie about how I’m feeling, or feel guilty about how I’m feeling, I just can’t seem to find a constructive way to tell people my true feelings without sounding ungrateful/”abnormal.” I appreciate all of your comments so far on this topic. Very helpful.

    • Ros

      Excellent timing for this entire discussion, and I hear you about the “sounding ungrateful/”abnormal.” ” thing.

      I’m getting married in 2 weeks (excuse me while I go hyperventilate in a quiet corner, kthx), and I’m totally freaking out about it. Not the planning – I’m a project manager with a background in event planning, and we’re going for a casual down-home kinda thing – but the entire, y’know, THING. The “center of attention” thing (social anxiety ftw). The “people being judgmental idiots about other people’s weddings, combined with my general Issues about Not Living Up To Expectations ™” thing. The “eeek! emotions in public! run!!” thing.

      Honestly? It took 2 years for O to convince me that marriage would be a good idea (Issues). I was all for signing papers and taking off to spend a few weeks in Spain/Portugal/Morocco. He wanted a wedding, and it’s really important to both our families, and I love him enough to give in when it’s really important to him, and this is, so. Wedding. But people who keep coming up with “So Excited!!!!” or “obviously you’re just stressed about the planning, you must have forgotten something” (eff you)… Grrrr.

      AKA: I’m stupidly in love, ridiculously happy that I get to have this amazing person in my life forever, and I want to hide under a table until it’s over and I can just be married already.

      And re: your maid of honor… geeze. If you can’t talk over and process your emotions with your close friends, who the hell can you do it with??

      • http://thesnarkybeagle.blogspot.com Lizzy

        Yes! Exactly! I HATE being the center of attention. My maid of honor is a childhood friend whom I love but who isn’t exactly in touch with my current idiosyncracies (and who can keep up honestly?!) Luckily, my fiance’ is very understanding :o) and of course I have the internet at large to talk to lol.

        Hang in there! We socially-anxious-brides-who’d-like-to-hide-under-a-table have to stick together!

  • Lee G.

    I LOVE doing this to people, now that my wedding is 9 days away. They say “You must be so EXCITED!” And I say, “Oh! Is that how I’m supposed to be feeling?”

    It makes it super awkward for everyone, which I really enjoy.

    Also, it really upset my future mother-in-law and my mom all at the same time. Ten more points for Gryffindor!

    (ps. My future mother in law is actually a very nice lady, as is my mom. I just really enjoy pushing their buttons. That’s my job as their kid, right?)

    • meg

      AHAHAHAHA. I might have to try that, vis a vie the pregnancy. Ten points for Gryffindor indeed.

    • Linnea

      I have a similar response to the “Aren’t you EXCITED??”:

      “I guess… does terror count as excitement?”
      This always gets a pause before a response. Satisfyingly awkward. I might have to try your approach too, just to mix it up.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      “So… are you nervous?” was my least favorite question. So I started responding by asking them what exactly I was supposed to be nervous about. It kept me amused :)

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    I have complicated feelings about this topic (how fitting, given the post).

    On the one hand, the experience described by VEXED was one I shared, and one that made me crazy. Now, I have friends going through the same process, and the gendered aspect is something we have talked about. In one meeting with their florist the paper person actually asked her fiance if he wanted a beer while my friend and the person discussed flowers, and my friend wanted to throttle her, saying “I WANT A BEER, and you guys can talk about flowers!” So yeah. Assumptions. They suck.

    On the other hand, now that I’m much more removed from my own wedding, I sort of view those emotion-assuming comments as a fairly natural attempt to get closer to another person. A good friend of mine probably wouldn’t ever say to me “Oh, you must be so EXCITED” because we’re beyond that. But, I sort of came to the conclusion that acquaintances saying things like that were doing so to actually invite conversation — they’re not actually saying “You had better be excited, because that’s normal, and obviously you can’t be feeling anything else or else you’re flawed as a person.” Maybe they are, but I don’t think that’s the norm, and those people are just jerks. I feel like, in most circumstances, if someone said to me “oh, you must be so excited,” and I said something like “actually, it’s been a trying few months, and here’s why, and this is what I’m really feeling,” most people would actually be open to the clarification. One of my big life-lessons from my wedding was that sometimes, I just need to give other people the benefit of the doubt — which is not something I’m good at!

    So yeah. Complicated feelings. If someone were to say to my husband “Oh, finally getting married? You depressed about that?” or something condescending and gendered like that, I’d probably launch into rage-land. But, someone verbally assuming that I’m excited about getting married (or having a baby, or graduating, or getting a new job) isn’t something I think is necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are actually interested in listening to my response to their comment.

    But the yelling and demanding that we stop stressing? That’s different, and not ok.

    • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva by definition

      YES! The demanding we stop stressing is beyond frustrating for me. “Oh it will all work itself out!” is also one of my favorites. I’m like “so, can I borrow your work itself out fairies because MINE HAVE GONE MISSING.” isn’t a welcome response, but it’s like there is not much understanding that weddings involve work and somethings will work themselves out, but not until after you’ve spent hours or days poking and prodding to get a process worked out.

    • Sarah

      I agree, people saying “you must be so excited!” are well meaning, and letting you know it’s ok to talk about it (I for one might change the subject of the wedding if I’m tired of hearing about it, or, if I’m going on about my own to someone else, would hope I could pick up on cues to move on.) I guess I’m saying I would be gracious to get a response like that from people. I don’t understand the offense, why should someone have to walk on eggshells to figure out what to say to someone who’s getting married? Maybe those people should wear mood rings so we know if they are excited before we assume they are.

      • Liz

        Hm, I’m not sure if guessing what people are feeling is exactly the point. The point to me is that if you’re genuinely interested in how a person is feeling, you’ll ask them instead of tell them. There’s a small semantic but huge connotative difference between, “Are you excited?” and “Aren’t you excited?”, with one having an implied correct answer.

        • Sarah

          I guess that makes my point for me. It’s a small semantic difference that personally I am incredulous sparks so much offense. Is that person really wrong to assume one is excited for their wedding? And if you aren’t excited at that moment, is it earth shattering if someone thinks you are? I guess I just apply the normal niceties to the innocuous moments in life when people are going through the motions of social interaction. Say thanks, I am excited to get married.

          If you’re not excited to get married… well that’s a different can of worms.

          • Liz

            As I said, a small semantic difference, but a huge connotative one.

            Many commenters have suggested above that they never actually were “excited” about their wedding. Pleased maybe, ready for it to be over. But not “excited.” To say that their weddings are doomed or their relationships are flawed seems to be reaching to me, and again, fitting folks into a box that isn’t entirely necessary. Some people just aren’t excitable types, and everyone handles large life changes differently with different accompanying emotions.

          • Sarah

            Can’t reply to your comment no link, but given we’re talking semantics and connotation here, I said to get married, not to have a wedding. Yes, I think one getting married would be excited. Doesn’t have to mean excited about the wedding, but at least excited to get married. And I guess I’m lumping excited here in with “happy” or “eager.” But if you think that’s too far of a jump, I guess you think about these things in a deeper sense.
            But i guess we won’t agree that comments like these are innocuous. My point of view is that they are pretty harmless and making a big deal out of it seems way worse than someone “assuming” you’re excited, which kind of leaves us at an impasse.

        • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

          I really like “How is everything going?”, which is what I use when I may really want to ask about their wedding or new job, or insertbiglifechangehere, but I really don’t want to seem too nosy or pressure them into feeling like they have to exhibit a particular emotion.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Re: mood rings and weddings. APW will love this story.

        After 34 years of marriage and 3 babies, Mom’s gold-with-diamonds wedding set doesn’t fit anymore. Also, she can’t wear diamonds in the operating room. She’s taken to buying costume jewelry rings that cost less than $20. Her latest is a mood ring with dolphins, which she got at Yellowstone, ’cause there are so many dolphins to see in Yellowstone.

        Anyway, real marriage-related mood ring.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Oops. “APW will love this story.” Haha. I guess I missed the whole point of the post.

          • Liz

            Oh, knock it off! ;)

          • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

            Ahahahahaha

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        I dunno. I think my main argument is that there’s more to the interaction than just the question, and that’s what we should pay attention to, without assuming that someone saying certain things is being an inconsiderate jerk. Someone gushing “Aren’t you so excited!” to me could be a wonderful, caring person who will listen to my rants or excitement, whereas someone saying “How are you feeling?” could be using the question for selfish reasons, like to talk about themselves or criticize me if my answer is “not great, it’s stressful.” The interaction is more than the sum of its components.

        • Liz

          I agree, here. Like I said, usually people are just expressing interest in your life. I think we can look at the social implications of assuming that all women feel the same things at the same time, without villainizing someone who was just genuinely trying to ask about you. But the social implications are still there, to me.

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            Absolutely. It can be very hard to talk about these larger cultural/linguistic norms by using specific examples, because of all of the different things that could be “meant” in the speech-act. People can be so sensitive to being told how to “behave,” but we’re told (subtly) how to feel all the time, and there are all these mechanisms and seemingly innocuous behaviors that reinforce those cultural expectations. The “brides=gigantic stressballs” and “male fiances = disinterested boozehounds” narratives are two particularly damaging examples that can be activated and reinforced by even well-meaning people… but this can be done with all varieties of behaviors, not just poorly-formed questions. So yeah. I think that my bottom line here is that if people are really intending to make you feel one way, they suck. If they are accidentally doing so, some of that burden is on you to gently take back control of those words that are being spoken to you by someone who probably isn’t really even thinking about them.

  • http://theblogwhisperer.tumblr.com HeatherG

    “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.”

    Yes. I don’t know about others, but I sometimes don’t disclose how I feel because I don’t want to make the other person feel bad by pointing out he or she is wrong. I’ve realized I don’t need to do this. People can take care of themselves. I can tastefully correct them by being genuine without making them feel responsible for my feelings.

    Case in point: Our honeymoon was wonderful. But we also learned more about how we’d like to vacation in the future based on that honeymoon. And we learned that we really like our lives and were looking forward to getting back to them (and our pets!). So when people said, “Oh it must have been so hard to come back?!” Or “Wasn’t it the most wonderful thing ever?” I said, “It was nice, but we like our day-to-day lives, too.” Maybe they felt bad I didn’t agree with them and I didn’t notice, but mostly I think they appreciated a genuine response.

  • Margaret M.

    I have a strategy that has worked well for me. I only allow a few chosen people into my confidences, and I use the party line with everyone else. I have two or three people who really GET me, who offer insightful counsel, who I feel comfortable talking about my feelings. I really, really trust them and can talk to them about The Big Stuff.

    Then I come up with an elevator-type speech about shit going on in my life. It could be the wedding, or job changes, or moving. “This is a time of transition, I’m focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.” Or whatever, and change the subject. Not everyone is the right person to get into the mucky emotional stuff with and having some boundaries really helps me.

  • Jessica

    Okay, so what IS the appropriate question to ask when someone is engaged or pregnant?

    I usually ask “Are you excited?” … “How is the planning going?” … “How are you feeling?” … Are these not appropriate questions to ask?

    It seems rude to only say “Congratulations!” and not express interest when someone tells you they are engaged or pregnant.

    BUT I also understand the feeling of “OH MY GOD I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS TOPIC EVERY MINUTE OF MY LIFE.”

    In fact, when it is ME being asked the question, I *LOVE* when people refrain/refrained from asking about my wedding planning or pregnancy – largely because I am very private and a bit of an outgoing introvert. I’ve actually become a master at dodging these questions and/or quickly changing the subject.

    BUT I still feel the need to ask these questions to others when I’m the friend/acquaintance — to be polite and social.

    Am I a hypocrite? Thoughts on this?

    • Jashshea

      I think “Are you {emotion}” is different from “You must be {emotion}”

      • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva by definition

        I agree! My biggest suggestion is honestly to not ask “how is the planning coming along” every time you see someone you know is planning – at least, not right out of the gate. that one bothers me. I’m 10 months out from my wedding. Not a whole lot is happening right now. I’m still struggling with how to answer that question in a way to subtly change the topic.

      • Jessica

        Agreed. But I also think there is a separate matter of whether the ASKING is practicing good manners or just being annoying/prying.

        Here is an extreme example: I have a friend who has always been very offended when people ask whether/when she is planning to have children. I always thought this was a little crazy… until I became at the stage of my life when I’m making that decision and now I HATE when people ask me if/when I’m planning to have children (although I suppose the “if” is better than the assumed “when”). It brings up so many complicated emotions and makes me very uncomfortable – particularly when I’m around people I don’t know very well or if I’m around someone with whom I work. I never ask people that question anymore.

        Is it the same with “Are you excited?” and “How do you feel?” If so, how should we respond to “I’m engaged!” or “I’m pregnant!” other than “Congrats. What are you having for dinner?”

        • Jashshea

          I affected a weird verbal tick where I say something like “so your thing (work, bar exam, wedding, pregnancy, unemployment) – How’s that going?” It means I both remember and care about what’s going on with them, but I’m not presuming anything (happy/sad, etc). And they can either say “fine” or give me details.

        • Liz

          Oh, jeez! To me there’s a HUGE difference between, “When are you making this huge and personal life decision?” and “How are you feeling about this currently occurring huge and personal life event?”

          • Jessica

            Well, yeah. I said it was an extreme example. I’m just pointing out how sometimes asking “open-ended” questions can still be really hurtful even when not intentional. I never would have thought that asking someone if they were planning to have kids in the future was rude – especially someone with whom I shared a close relationship. But now that I’ve experienced being asked this question (and other pregnancy/fertility related emotional issues), I’ve changed my tune. I don’t even ask close friends this question anymore. It just makes me think about how much we should monitor our questions… or whether we are all being oversensitive. Just makes me think.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        Sort of agree, sort of disagree. I think the former can be just as annoying as the latter, depending on the person’s intent when making the statement. Really, everything after the statement is what matters more, in my opinion (like how they take your response)

    • Liz

      I’m confused! This is what I’m encouraging!

      Are you excited? How is it going? How are you feeling? All are terrific, right? Did I say something that seemed to imply they aren’t?

      My concern is more along the lines of, “You MUST BE ____” or “AreN’T you ____?” both of which make assumptions.

      I think questions make for great conversation and demonstrate an interest in someone. They also allow for someone (such as yourself!) to gently close a conversation you don’t choose to discuss with a, “Good” or “It’s going well,” and a transition or segue to something else. Questions that imply only one correct answer (which is what i’m talking about above) don’t demonstrate an interest so much as imply an assumption.

      • p.

        I sometimes throw out a few options when asking someone how they’re feeling about a big life events. For example: “Are you excited or freaked out about the wedding?” If it’s someone I know well, I might also share how I felt: “My coworker loved the wedding planning process, but I couldn’t wait for it to be over. How’s it been for you?”

      • Jessica

        Sure – I understood your point in the post but I think one is often making an assumption when asking “Aren’t you EXCITED?!?!” I also think one is usually just trying to be sweet and social by asking that question. I also think it can be annoying. Sometimes you don’t want to be asked if you are excited when you’ve just had a really hard day/week – particularly during pregnancy. Sometimes you don’t want to talk about being pregnant or engaged. But, I don’t know, maybe we all need to calm the f*ck down and gently close the conversation per your suggestion.

        Anyway, I’ve been on both sides. It’s just been something that’s been on my mind and seemed relative enough to the conversation.

    • http://www.ameripriseadvisors.com/cristina.l.caruso Cris C

      From my very recent experience with this, just Congratulations is ok. For me, its more than ok.

      I got engaged about 3 weeks ago, and I’m not crazy excited about it. For us, its just a formality. A commitment to all of the other stuff life is throwing us right now like job changes and a 400 mile move. We aren’t even going to THINK about thinking about a wedding until mid-2013.

      That said, either an offering of “Congratulations on your engagement!” or the response “Congratulations” when I share the info, is totally welcome. Depending on who it is allows me to share if and what I feel like sharing. I hate answering that there is no date, that there is no plan and that it wasn’t a huge surprise and it was a very laid back proposal.

      I don’t want to pretend that I am feeling things I’m not. Am I happy that we have made it official? Absolutely! Am I thrilled to be spending the rest of my life with my partner? Yes, but I was before we were engaged too.

      • Kira

        Oh, totally! I got engaged about six weeks ago, and some close friends who got married about a year ago were visiting us and witnessed several conversations in which we shared the news with various friend groups. After a few of them, our friend rolled his eyes and said knowingly, “Isn’t it a pain?” We had a nice talk about how frustrating it is to reiterate your “excitement” over and over again, be grilled on the details of a party that is a year away on a continent you have yet to return to (we were living abroad at the time), and in general talk about a deeply emotionally significant experience in a very shallow and formulaic way. No one we had talked with did anything wrong, but it was still so bizarre for us to have the same conversation over and over.

        As I see it, a big part of getting married is moving your relationship from the private sphere to the public one, so these formulaic conversations with acquaintances are part of the process. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a painful transition sometimes. It’s cozy there in the private sphere, where everything is furnished just the way we like it.

    • Newtie

      After getting married myself, I no longer ask other women about their weddings or their pregnancies. I do ask them about their jobs/hobbies/obsessions as Jasheah describes. And theoretically, asking about a wedding SHOULD be the same kind of “hey, I care about you enough to know what’s going on in your life” comment. But I found, in my year of being engaged, EVERYONE asked me about my wedding ALL THE TIME — and I know they were just being nice, but it made me feel like the fact that I was going to be a BRIDE OMG!!!! was the most important thing about me.

      So now I don’t ask about weddings/babies unless my friend or colleague brings it up. If a woman starts talking about her wedding, I say, “Oh really? How’s that going? How’re you feeling?” etc. But I don’t start the conversation with wedding questions anymore. I figure chances are they have plenty of people asking them already — and if they want to talk about it, they will.

      • Jessica

        Yeah – that’s been my recent approach too.

      • One More Sara

        I want to be more like this, but when a friend of mine got engaged a couple weeks ago, I had a REALLY HARD TIME not asking her about her wedding plans (which are at this point non-existent until she gets closer to finishing her PhD). I am the first one out of my group to be married, and she’ll likely be the second, so I was just so excited to have something new in common with her. But all the bad questions just kept coming out and I couldn’t stop them. I tried to at least ask “Have you thought about a general month or year for the wedding yet?” as opposed to “What’s the date?” It’s just without someone going through the same thing as me, I was so excited to have someone to share this with, but my friend (who was a bit more surprised about the engagement than I was) was still trying to wrap her mind around what happened. It can be so hard to reach that medium sometimes! But I’m definitely more conscious of it.

  • Ambi

    I’ll just add that, as someone who has recently talked to my parents and closest friends about the fact that my guy and I are planning to get married soon, after many many years of dating, I didn’t even get the “oh, aren’t you so excited?!” response; I got “Yay, I am so excited!” – the responses and questions all pretty much related to how excited THEY are that we are getting married. Which, honestly, is fine with me – I feel more comfortable with that.

    • Ambi

      By the way, this can be a nice way to react to a friend or coworker’s engagement as well – rather than assume that they are super excited or ask how they feel about it (which can be fine, depending on how close you are, or could be a bit awkward), it is easy just to respond with “I’m so happy for you two!” or “That’s exciting news!” or “That’s wonderful!” – anything that focuses on how YOU feel about it.

      • One More Sara

        It’s interesting that you say this. I’ve heard that when in an argument, you should try to stay away from “you” statements (“you never take the dogs out! you never help me! you don’t understand me at all!”) and rather let the other person in on how their actions make you feel (“I feel unappreciated when I always walk the dogs without thanks/help”). In the same vein, when talking about positive events (marriage, pregnancy) it is also emotionally safer to stay away from “you” statements like Ambi suggested. “I’m so excited/happy/[emotion] for you” is so much better than “You must be thrilled! nervous! whatever!”

  • Marisa-Andrea

    You know, probably because of my wedding experience, I really don’t discuss the two most recent life events, which people find even stranger. When I was pregnant I was so uncomfortable with people assuming or telling me how I felt that I simply refused to even answer the question. Usually my response to “I bet you’re so excited” or “babies are such a blessing. You’re going to love” or anything along those lines was literally “I don’t discuss my pregnancy. Thanks.” A lot of people interpreted it as rude (though they didn’t think telling me how I felt or SHOULD feel was rude) and I was fine with that, because I found that my closest friends recognized how complex these life events are and that there can be a myriad of feelings about them. So I did have some safe space to tell those few people how I really felt. Now that the baby is here, I don’t discuss that a whole lot either. Unless you already know me, I tend not to disclose my parental status unless of course, I am seen with my child, but I am not often which raises a whole other set of questions and assumptions. Example: I went to a barbecue when my baby was two months and a woman there I hardly know went on about how she couldn’t leave her baby until it was 6 months and she kept telling me not to worry, that she was sure the baby was fine — um, I wasn’t worried. She was with her father. Why would I be worried? So I guess my strategy is to avoid altogether. That works for me.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Although I will also add, that a lot of times for the people who are close to us and genuinely do care, I do think that we are parroting the societal expectation that weddings are exciting, babies are exciting, etc. And in that realm, I do think it is important to be honest so that we can have honest and authentic conversations. My first few months of parenthood were filled with “no one told me this” and “no one told me that” and I spent so much time agonizing over if I was normal, if I was horrible, etc, when I WAS because I wasn’t the only one! It’s important to know that and we never will if we do not have these honest conversations. Sometimes the process of getting marriage is emotionally hard. Sometimes being pregnant is emotionally hard. We need to talk about these truths.

    • Liz

      This comment is exactly what it’s about, to me.

  • Allison

    Great question and even better answer. I would like to add two things that I experienced during wedding planning:

    1. Not only did I get “those questions” (Aren’t you so excited?!), but I also felt like if I wasn’t SOOO F@#$ing excited!!!, that I should just shut up about it. The best example I can think of was that a cousin asked me if I was excited about our wedding (which was two weeks away). In complete honestly, I said that I was mostly tired and I was looking forward to it being over. My mom tsk-ed at me and then tried to correct my feelings by saying “you mean, you’re looking forward to the PLANNING being over, not the wedding. I corrected her and told her I was excited for ALL of it to be over (which was true for a variety of complicated reasons). Definitely NOT the response she was looking for.

    2. And secondly, “those questions” really bothered me because I was far more excited to be ‘Darling Husbad’s’ wife than I was to be a bride. So when I was asked those questions, my mind immediately went to the calm that I knew would follow the wedding and sometimes I would respond with “I’m really excited to begin my marriage with ‘Darling Husband'” and leave it at that

  • Sarah

    Well, i always thought it was generally acceptable to assume that your friends are indeed excited about getting hitched, and that stating that they were in a “excited-together” type of way was non-offensive, I guess now that’s “telling them how to feel.” (how in the world is one supposed to know you had a bad night/fight with a friend? is this related to our present interaction? does it make you not-excited for your wedding?)
    This whole thing makes me feel uncomfortable with the idea of congratulating anyone on anything. Who knew there were so many social land mines in just expressing excitement for someone? If someone responded to me saying “you must be so excited!” with offense, I would not even know how to react. I know how I would react the next time she told me she had a life-milestone coming up. “Oh. Ok.”

    • Victwa

      Hmmm…. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that people not ask about life events. Well, at least I’m not. From my own experience, I have a 4 week old baby and if one more person tells me to savor this time, because it goes so fast, I’m going to smack someone. I love my baby, AND I’m really looking forward to her being older because I do not enjoy breastfeeding on the couch for hours. It doesn’t make me feel maternal or nurturing or whatever– it makes me feel stir-crazy and like I want to get out of the house. When someone tells me I should be savoring these moments, or that I should be excited about having my baby, I feel like I’m doing it “wrong” because I am so much looking forward to her being a little older. I’ve gotten to the point where I am fine with my feelings, and I recognize that people are trying to share in my experience in some way, and I appreciate that. What I would appreciate more is them being interested in what the experience is like for ME, and telling me to savor a time that feels like a lot of sore nipples and couch boredom at times does not feel like there’s space to have my own experience of something– it should be what they’re assuming infancy is like for all mothers, apparently. I think it’s the “you must be” part of the “you must be excited” that is hard, because if I’m not, well, then what option do I have? I’m a fan of people who tell me how excited THEY are that I have a baby, as some friends and colleagues have done. That feels warm and THEIR experience, which I would never presume to assume to know. When people tell me they’re excited FH and I are getting married, it feels supportive and like they are trying to share in our joy, which is awesome– and it doesn’t make me feel like I have to feel a certain way.

      • Sarah

        I can definitely understand the pregnancy/babies thing, because it’s so personal, and there isn’t a way you can be completely private about it, if those are your wishes, because it’s a baby and it’s out there that you have one/will have one. and if someone is telling you to savor the experience because it will be over soon, that IS telling you how to feel. It’s almost like they are assuming you don’t know to savor the experience, or something.

        But a wedding, well, I feel it’s rude to be outraged over someone saying “you must be so excited!” of course people want to make that connection. It’s a wedding, which I guess most people would associate with excitement. I think that’s totally different. It’s just… innocuous or innocent I guess, to assume one is at least excited for their wedding. It seems to be crazy overreacting or expecting someone to read your mind by being offended that they assumed (not told you to be) you were excited.

        • Allison

          I don’t think ‘”outrage” is the right word. I wasn’t outraged when people said “you’re so excited”. Exhausted, yes. Frustrated, yes.
          In the year before my wedding, I started and finished my Master’s degree, worked part-time, and planned our wedding in our hometown which was 3 hrs away. And I was seeing a therapist to help deal with my escalating stress and anxiety.. I was rarely excited and when people assumed I was excited, it made me feel more and more like I was doing something wrong. Like if I wasn’t excited I was somehow emotionally broken.
          So when someone asked “how ya doing?” it gave me the freedom to admit that I was tired, or happy, or stressed, or hungry, or whatever. But when they asked “Aren’t you so excited?!” it felt like I would be judged if I wasn’t feeling excited.

          • Marisa-Andrea

            But Allison, this is exactly it. The judgment comes. And then you’re in even more hot water. Getting married for some can be a very complex process — it can be exciting and scary and exhausting and frustrating all at the same time. I think it’s okay for us to acknowledge that and then move on. I am reminded of when Meg wrote a post shortly after she and David married about what getting married felt like and I remember she said, among other things, that it was an exercise in being present and it was gritty (Meg, correct me please if I got this wrong!). When I read that, I let out a sigh of relief because I thought “ok, so I’m NOT the only one that didn’t think it was candy coated in hearts and flowers.” It just seems to me that with something as huge as what marriage is, why not transition into this HUGE thing with authenticity and honesty? It doesn’t make marriage any less huge or any less wonderful. But it does make marriage honest and frankly, I think that’s what it’s all about.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          Sarah,
          I don’t know if I’d say outrage is rude. I think the point of the conversation is to have REAL conversations about our experiences and add more voices to the script, as opposed to the way it is now, where society basically tells women how they are supposed to feel (much like society tells women what they are supposed to want). For me, the wedding process was very isolating because I did not feel and think all of the things people told me I should feel and think or what they assumed I was thinking and feeling. And I don’t know about anyone else, but it was uncomfortable telling people the truth because I didn’t feel like I had the space to do so. It’s hard to say to your mother who is raving about how exciting it all is that you aren’t really that excited and actually, you’re nervous or you’re tired or whatever it is. I’m not talking about complete strangers. I’m talking about people who are actually in your life and people with whom you have the kinds of relationships where you should have the freedom to be honest. Pregnancy was even MORE isolating but since I’d had the wedding history, I was more prepared for feeling like I was alone much of the time. Now that I am a parent, I feel pretty alone even though I have a close circle of friends who are parents. It’s hard. But I’ve had practice so I chalk it up to it being what it is and deal with it. But having these conversations would definitely help and normalize a lot of stuff that many of us go through but don’t say it.

          • Sarah

            I guess if someone isn’t ready and willing to hear about all the deep angsty feelings someone else is having about their wedding, they should not comment at all. Sometimes a polite comment is just a polite comment, not an invitation for grievances.

          • Liz

            Not at all. I think there need not be a lengthy whiny discussion, just room for honesty. “Are you excited?” won’t always be met with, “WELL, my mother in law is making a huge mess of the seating chart, and my bridesmaids are TERRIBLE about the dress color, I mean I can’t even…” (at least I hope you guys would know better than to unload all that in a quick social chat- that’s just basic social skill stuff) but can be met with an honest, polite, and even sociable, “Well, things are stressful right now. But how’s your new job situation been treating you?”

            But, I’m confused as to why you acknowledge that it’s a small semantic change, but simultaneously defend it so? It’s not very hard (less letters, even!) to change, “Aren’t you excited?” to “Are you excited?” Are we just talking theoretically, here?

      • Kristen

        I totally agree. I loved when people said, “I’m so excited for you! How is everything going?” But I hated the comments like, “Ooh, it’s getting so close! You must be so excited!” Because then I was forced to either 1) lie and put a smile on my face, which is the smoothest option or 2) tell the truth, which was that I couldn’t WAIT for it to be over and just be married. And when I opted for telling the truth, I had so many people tell me that I would regret not savoring this special time in my life, and I needed to soak up every moment of being engaged. I hated, hated, hated that response. It made me feel invalidated and like I wasn’t having the “normal” experience.

        • Sandra

          if you just want it to be over, then why not just elope and be married? no one should ever be forced into a wedding, especially if you aren’t excited about it. you can be excited to be married and not excited for the actual wedding day, that’s fine. but in that case, why spend all this money for something that causes so much stress? really does not make any sense to me. at all. i say, stop whining and do what makes you happy. all this pressure seems to be self-inflicted. and if you’re being pressured into having a wedding by family members due to family or cultural pressures then how about telling whoever is pressuring you that if YOU having a wedding is so important to THEM why don’t they go ahead and plan it and pay for it. it seems like women stress over the details of their wedding so much but when the day actually comes it doesn’t really matter what color the napkins are or what flavor the cake is.

          • Liz

            This seems a larger discussion than intended for this post, but of course, weddings are personal choices that sometimes eventually cause more stress and heartache and familial drama than originally expected or intended. To ignore that it’s possible that there is well-intended familial pressure from several sides, possibly from friends, whoever else, seems short-sighted. And that’s without considering those who plan weddings during family crisis, illness, following the death of loved ones, etc.

          • Kristen

            Because it was important to the people I love, which makes it all worth it. Besides, you can want something and still not love every part of it. And I preferred to be honest about how I was feeling and admit that it was a crazy, roller-coaster ride of emotions. I was excited to get married and even to celebrate with everyone I love, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t break down crying over it just the same. I don’t consider that whining; just authentic.

          • Allison

            I think after a quick flip through a wedding magazine, the societal expectations to be a “happy” “glowing” “beautiful” “excited” “gracious” bride are on just about every page. So the pressure that brides might feel to be excited is definitely not completely self-inflicted. Also I think we need to be cautious about the assumptions we make about how much money people are spending on their wedding. I don’t see any mention of money in Kristen’s post, yet there is mention of her spending “all this money” in Sandra’s post, which I’m not sure is fair.

          • Ros

            Because “what makes YOU happy” isn’t necessarily the same thing for both parts of the couple.

            Having a wedding was very important to my (male) partner, my (very ill) grandmother, my parents, and my partner’s very close-knit family. I’m the only one who isn’t enchanted with the notion of having a wedding. That being said, O is important enough to me that what he wants counts a fair amount, and I’m ok with going through with a wedding if it’s important to him and to our families.

            That said, I’m very frustrated that no one assumes that HE is excited about it, but I’m supposed to be absolutely over the moon about it. What makes ME happy would be to elope, sure, but it isn’t the right solution for us as a couple. So I deal, and I stress, and I deal some more, because, really, options are limited.

          • Lisa B.

            I don’t want a big wedding. I’ve told my fiance several times that my dream wedding is to elope.

            We’re not eloping because he wants to have the wedding, and we both have family and friends that want to see us get married.

            So because I am accommodating the important people in my life, I don’t have the right to feel frustrated or exhausted with the process?

    • Paranoid Libra

      I think its a lot to do with the wording of it all. The “You MUST be so excited!” is more dictating that if the person isn’t currently excited the person is abnormal. Asking, “Are you excited?” is more open to discussion I feel.

      My bridesmaid thought it was weird I never posted any of the stereotypical facebook posts about Yay getting married in XX days! or the likes of those. I didn’t feel excited about marriage while surfing the internet and facebooking. I had my moments of excitement with my hubby. Those moments usually happened when we were spending quality time together. I am not going to go ruin quality time just to go run to facebook to seem ‘normal’.

      I am, as someone above said, an outgoing introvert. I love to talk to people, but I am so very guarded about what I reveal to others even though it doesn’t seem like that. The bigger the thing, the quieter I usually am about it in a public sense. I’ll post about my dogs all damn day, but if I have natural children I doubt I will post that newborn mobile pic, or the going to the hopsital to pop out a kid status.

      Sorry I have some pent up frustrations about what is supposed to be posted on facebook. Somethings I feel like still deserve an old fashioned phone call to inform people of.

      • KEA1

        I am going to have to start using the term, “outgoing introvert.” I enjoy meeting new people, I generally handle social situations well in which I don’t know anyone at first, I tend to be pretty enthusiastic and all…and some parts of my life are absolutely, positively, no-way-in-hell-are-you-hearing-about-them OFF LIMITS. If I ever get married, I doubt I’ll be able to elope due to family pressure, but I am *hoping* that I can put my foot down that no aspect of the wedding will be discussed, ever, unless FH and I bring it up first. Short end of a long story: I am SO with you on the boundaries of what gets onto FB! %)

    • Maddie

      I think the idea here is that there is a big difference between “Are you excited?!” and “You must be so excited!” because one allows your friend to tell you how they feel, and the other assumes that you know how they feel. It’s not that you can’t congratulate someone for good news, but assuming that there is only one way someone must feel about something negates the fact that we all experience big things differently. Maybe someone is excited, but also nervous? Maybe they are excited, but worried about the financial strain? “You must be so excited” doesn’t leave any room for those feelings and can make your friend feel bad for having complicated emotions because, as you said, they “*must* be so excited.” You know what I mean?

      But I don’t think they are going to respond to you and be like, “NO I’M NOT EXCITED OK?!” And I think that’s the bigger point here. Most people will just smile and nod and say “Yup, I’m excited” and then go deal with their complicated emotions all by themselves. By asking more open questions, you leave space for them to tell you their real feelings and be a good friend in return.

      • Sarah

        but apparently if you’re just making a nice comment, you’re driving the bride into a rage or depression over something they are going through you don’t know about? why does it have to be so overly complicated? people are just being nice, that’s my point. i know if my friends want a deeper conversation, they won’t just say something superficial about being excited. and i also know if they assume i’m excited and i’m not, i can talk about it with them without being “not normal.” because to me, it’s ok if someone thinks i’m excited and i’m not. I can say i’m not excited. It’s not that complicated!

        • Sandra

          Yes. THIS. Exactly.

        • Liz

          “Rage?” “Depression?”

          My concern isn’t that some woman is going to collapse in an emotional heap, but that by assuming we know what emotions a person is feeling, we limit the range of what’s “normal” about experiencing life changes. In my mind, assuming that every woman in the same place in life has the same emotional experience is the same as assuming that every wife packs her husband’s lunch. It’s a small thing, but represents something larger, socially.

        • Maddie

          Listen, I see your point. I don’t think anyone is saying that words of excitement are going to be the thing that makes someone fly off the handle or spiral into wedding depression. The only point being made here is that there is a way to express your excitement for someone’s pending nuptials that doesn’t make assumptions about how they feel. It’s a small semantic change in the name of empathy, which I think might just be the opposite of overly complicated.

  • http://theaftercath.blogspot.com Cathi

    Another side of the complicated “emotions about weddings” cube keeps happening to me. Someone I know (most often a coworker) will ask me how it’s going, I’ll respond with “pretty good, thanks” in whatever level of enthusiasm I’m feeling about life in general at that point, and they’ll then tie my emotions to the wedding. For example:

    “How’s it going?”
    “Pretty good. Thanks.” (with lackluster enthusiasm, maybe my voice is a bit hoarse; perhaps my mom’s illness flared up and I’m on my 50th hour of work this week and I didn’t sleep well)
    “Really? You don’t sound very well. Wedding planning’s finally getting to you, huh?”

    Or “How’s it going?”
    “Awesome! Thanks!” (I’m in a great mood! I have the day off tomorrow and am finally getting to see my best friend! We’re getting tapas!)
    “You’re getting awfully excited for the wedding, huh?”

    Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    • Paranoid Libra

      This is part of the reason why I was glad my engagement was spent not really working within my own department. I got to avoid most of that at work which would have driven me nuts. I already have one guy constantly telling me to have a shot whiskey if I have the sniffles and I don’t drink. I told him enough times I don’t drink so it’s hit a point of personal offense, but i know if I even said that to him it would still be brushed off.

      You just made me so thankful for how much of those you’ll sees and assumption convos I was able to dodge.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        It took me almost a year, but I realized Dr. Mom talks about my wedding all day at work. She’s the boss, and a gynecologist. She gets to set the mood for the office, and it’s all women. Also, her work life is very stable, so these are people I grew up with.

        I, on the other hand, never talk about the wedding at work. I’m in a male-dominated law office. Guests put in for the time off before I got around to asking for time off myself.

        It was an important realization because now I understand that Mom has more WIC influences than I do, and can play defense accordingly.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I find _excited_ to be a particularly difficult emotion to have projected on me during wedding planning because it’s a catch-22.

    Either I’m not excited, and my interlocutor is embarrassed for having their assumption denied. Also, I’m ungrateful to everyone contributing time and money to the wedding, and maybe I’m not 110% sure I’m marrying the right guy or something. Because if I were absolutely sure, I could not be ambivalent about any part of the process.

    Or I am excited, and then all I care about is the wedding, and I’m obsessed with dresses and flowers and place cards and am that mythical creature the CDC says to appease with water and chocolate.

    • Ros

      This. So much this: “and maybe I’m not 110% sure I’m marrying the right guy or something. Because if I were absolutely sure, I could not be ambivalent about any part of the process.”

      Because ugh, falling in love doesn’t magically get rid of my social phobias and complete lack-of-caring about flowers/colors/whatever else everyone around me seems to think I should care about, and throwing my relationship in question because I don’t care about flowers seems a bit… tenuous. Also insulting.

      • Kristen

        This is why I love this site so much.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    One of the things I enjoyed most about wedding planning was confusing people who thought they knew what they were talking about. Does that make me weird?

    My favorite answer to “You must be getting to excited!” was, “Nope, already excited, not getting there. Getting MORE excited yes, but I’m already excited.” And when they’d tell me I must be nervous I’d tell them I made a decision and now it’s just the follow through, why would I be nervous?

    I’m not always so honest. Sometimes it’s easier to just go along with the meaningless social script everyone follows.

    But sometimes it can be a real relief to be honest. Wednesday morning we found out our fifth round of IVF didn’t work. Our first pregnancy would’ve been due in four days if I hadn’t miscarried. And my heart was tired. I held up a mask for the most part, but the mask slipped just a bit Wednesday night and someone noticed and asked how I was. For a split second I thought about saying “fine” because that’s what you are supposed to say when people ask how you are doing. But I knew it was clear on my face at that second that I wasn’t. So I said I wasn’t fine. And it felt good to say it.

    Sometimes going along with it is easier. But sometimes you’ve just gotta be honest. Maybe it will make them more thoughtful or honest in their own life in the future.

    • Jessica

      XOXO

  • Joanna

    “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.

    Read more: http://apracticalwedding.com/#ixzz21v7DWRIB

    AMEN to that comment! I thought maybe I was the only one panicking at the drive-thru window.

    My beloved and I consistently hear jokes about our impending marriage, such as, “Good luck with THAT!” or other various comments pertaining to your life ending in misery. I think it’s incredibly rude for someone to come back at you with something like that when you’ve clearly expressed your excitement and/or happiness at the prospect of marrying your soulmate. We’ve taken to answering these types of statements by saying, “We can’t wait until we’re married so we can stop hearing obscene comments like yours.”

  • Beth C

    here here.
    I was asked these types of questions a lot over the weekend with my soon-to-be in-laws. My approach when asked how excited I am, acknowledge something that I am excited about (even if that excitement is a tiny fraction of my overall emotions) “Yes, I am excited to have all my friends and family in the same room” but follow up with some honest feeling, “I am nervous about finding the right caterer” or “terrified of dress shopping”. I try to keep it light because I know that people are trying to be nice, but it’s also good to remind folks that planning a wedding isn’t always that much fun and that at time we don’t want to talk about it, or think about it, or get emailed about it! For the most part my family (and my soon-to-be family) have been pretty responsive and they are learning more about my personality, likes, dislikes etc as we go along.

  • AM

    I wanted to elope but ended up agreeing to a wedding because everybody expected it. And then I realised I had made a big mistake because people continually projected their feelings onto me. First, during the planning process, which I hated, I was told “You’re supposed to be enjoying this” ….. and all I wanted to say was “I hate doing all this f-ing wedding shit”. Then on the actual day I also had to be a fake, smiling at everyone, and pretending I was having a nice time just to be socially acceptable due to the guests, meanwhile I felt like I was being emotionally raped. Now for 2 years afterwards when people talk about what a nice wedding it was, I have to bite my tongue because I just want to scream “WELL I HATED IT”!!!!!!!!!

    IT MAKES ME SO ANGRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • AM

    The best advice I can give to anyone who really does not want to have a wedding is: don’t put yourself through it. It’s not worth it. Be assertive and just do whatever you want, whether it means eloping or getting married in court or getting married in your yard. Don’t ever do something just to please others, it’s not healthy. And then you will be the only one having to live with those negative feelings and resentment.