About a month or so ago, I took to wandering around the house saying, “Thank god we got married before I got knocked up,” and then cracking up and adding, “But totally not like that.” Which is to say, it turns out I was glad we got married first, simply because all of those painful emotional lessons that I learned during wedding planning are getting put to very good use for the second time around. (Least you get offended, I’m pretty sure this would work in the other order too, and I could have been wandering around saying “Thank god I got knocked up before we got married,” but I’ll leave that to those wiser than me to confirm or deny. Who wants to write a post on what you learn doing it in the other order?) But the moral of the story is, none of it was wasted.
Last week, we ran a post about how wedding planning was like project management, and @Kathleenincanrah (who I met on book tour, and who wrote this post on women and finance) piped up on Twitter to say, “Sort of, but sort of not.” Her response was that, “The heavy (and important) work is the emotional stuff. The to-do lists are false processes to do the real work.” And I think for me that was mostly accurate. Half of our wedding planning was project management (something we were blessedly good at, after being a former theatrical producing team) and half of our wedding planning was emotional work (which we felt like a total disaster at, doesn’t everyone, always?). The project management half of wedding planning didn’t end up being a life lesson. The emotional work, however, is still paying dividends. Or rather, is suddenly paying huge dividends again.
Of course I’m writing this for those of you who have been up half the night, at any point in the last few months, sobbing over something vaguely related to wedding planning. Because you and me both sister. Eye to eye: it’s worth it.
As I have been making my way through pregnancy (I want to feed our Hallmark-y images of pregnancy by saying I’ve been drifting through it, but instead I’ve been grinding through it and surviving it, so you’ll have to turn elsewhere for more diaphanous images) issues keep coming up, and the solutions feel like muscle memory. As anyone who’s ever been vaguely athletic knows, it’s painfully hard to build up a muscle the first time; it’s much easier to tone it up the second time around. Emotional muscles work much the same way. Once you’ve tuned up your emotional response to something, figuring out how to do it again, even after a lengthy pause, is much easier (if not exactly painless).
So, for those of you in the trenches of wedding planning, and for those getting ready to go for another round (be that in baby acquiring, or other major life decisions) here are the wedding planning lessons that are proving to be priceless in my current state (for your reference, here are the lessons as recorded the first time around, in my own wedding graduate post):
It’s not your business what other people think of you. This gem came to me via Christina of Steady Happy (her amazing wedding graduate post is here). This ended up being my mantra during wedding planning, when I wasted way too much time worrying what other people were thinking of the way we were planning the thing, or what they might think about the wedding. First of all, it really did all work out in the end. Learning to stand up for the way we do things was the single biggest lesson of wedding planning. Second of all, honest to God? It’s not my business what other people think of me. Interestingly, this time around I get that. Sometimes I have to remind myself hard not to care about the widespread cultural conversation about what I should be doing, but on an individual level? We’re just doing our thing, and letting people think whatever they think.
It’s your job to present a clear plan to your loved ones, if you need them to follow your lead. Looking back, I realize that I made wedding planning more complicated than it needed to be by being too nice (I know, right?). That is to say, instead of politely telling people what was happening, I asked them how they felt about what was happening, or what they wished was happening, and then got myself in a total tangle doing things that I knew were dead wrong for me in an effort to make other people happy. (Hot tip: that almost always ends in disaster.) Now, if I know what we need, I do my best to guide friends and loved ones through it, kindly, but without apology.
Some (many) people will not respond the way you need them to respond, but with some work you’ll be able to find people who can support you and your personal experience. There is something about major life markers that makes people want to tell you how to feel (oddly, I think men have less of an issue with this… though sadly, I think no one gives men’s feelings any real weight at all). People like to assume this is a happy magical time for you. It may not be. If it’s not, or if it’s complicated, do the work of digging up the people you can talk honestly with. They will save your sanity. You can only put on a brave face for so long without cracking.
Reconciling the way things are and the way we wish they were is hard. It’s funny, because I’ve used that phrase a million times on APW and in the book. But I’m having to learn it all over again, which sucks sometimes. During major life transitions, most of us convince ourselves that the difficult parts of our lives and relationships will be somehow… different for this big important moment. And when the people around us carry on behaving in the same flawed and wonderful ways they always have, the difference between the dream and reality can be hard as hell.
Ask your partner for help when you need it. Be specific. Because for sure, surviving this without them is going to be hard, and they may not know what you need until you ask for it very clearly.
Some people will be really hurtful. Other people will be staggeringly generous and loving. The good won’t make the bad go away, but the good will be more important. Weddings and babies (and many other big life decisions) are complicated because they bring up people’s own baggage. And sometimes, that baggage is not positive. So in any of these high intensity situations, there will be people who are totally awful to you. Learning how not to take it personally is a lifelong project that I haven’t begun to really master. But the easier project is to learn to accept the unexpected generosity that comes your way with open arms, and to realize those moments are way, way, more important than the horrible ones.
Sometimes it’s easier to apologize than to ask permission. Just tattoo this on your arm. For everything.
And, this time around, I’m learning a new lesson:
Don’t borrow trouble from the future. This new mantra also comes from Christina of Steady Happy (she’s a smart one). She paired it with “Worrying is meditating on a bad outcome” and I hung it over my desk. This would have come in handy the first time around. But it’s fine, I’ll use the shit out of it now.
Photo: Moodeous Photography (APW Sponsor)