For the decade that I’ve spent writing about weddings, I’ve noticed one thing, over and over. Womxn have a hard time being celebrated, being the center of attention, and frankly just… throwing a big party in their own honor. (Which when you think about it, is what wedding planning has really become, in this modern age when it’s you—not your mom—planning this party.)
In some ways, I didn’t really relate. I am, after all, I was pretty much built for the stage. Put me in a room and I’ll be the life of the party, put me on a stage and you’ll have to pull me off the mic. Being the center of attention at our wedding didn’t bother me at all, because any sort of performance is my very favorite thing. (I’ll nap for a day afterwards in a quiet room, but I’ll love every second on that stage.)
But then, we decided to throw an ten year anniversary party. There were a million good reasons to do it. We’ve just gone through the loss of both of our fathers and my grandmother in very short succession. I spent a good chunk of last year caring for my father as he died. I’d planned two funerals, and wanted to plan something that wasn’t sad. And, you know, I do this for a living. Doing something similar to wedding planning was a good research project, and a good write-off. Besides, anniversary parties are a pretty common and utterly delightful kind of party.
Except. I felt terrible about it. Who were we to invite people to show up and celebrate us and our family? Who were we do put on big dresses and fancy suits and celebrate surviving the past four pain-filled years? Who were we to…. I don’t know… throw a really nice party for our family and friends? Who do we think we are, anyway?
It felt, frankly, like taking up entirely too much space, and being way too flashy. And while anniversary parties are different than weddings, I suddenly deeply understood the many letters and comments I’d gotten from womxn over the years. I understood all the folx who were uncomfortable being the center of attention, or were just uncomfortable with the whole performative aspect of a wedding. Because of course. As womxn, we’re taught to take up as little space as possible, not to brag about ourselves. And what is a wedding (not to mention an anniversary party) if not an exercise in taking up space?
I’ll tell you what snapped me out of it. At least, to the extent one can ever be snapped out of a lifetime of training. It was a commenter. A single commenter, who proved why “don’t read the comments” is a thing. That commenter laid it all out there. Every thought or fear I’d ever had about an anniversary party, down in print, opening with a classic “No offense, but…” I’m not going to quote the comment here, because mean comments shouldn’t get airtime, but it read about like this:
How dare I? Who did I think I was? It is unnecessary and unreasonable to ask people to celebrate your relationship more than once a lifetime. How could I demand the spotlight again? Only rich people have parties. This wasn’t meaningful. My marriage was as old as a fifth grader. (This is true, our Godson was an infant at our wedding and is now a fifth grader so I can attest.) It was old news, and didn’t deserve any celebration whatsoever. This was emotionally meaningless.
It’s funny, when people do that. The write down the meanest stuff they can think to say about you, and when you look at it, it’s nothing worse than what you’ve said to yourself over and over in your own head. Except when it’s in print, it’s clear that it’s unkind, untrue, and derisive. Which means you’ve been speaking to yourself in an unkind, untrue, and derisive way, and you probably should stop.
Because once you push through all the social conditioning, here is the thing I know to be true: life is short. We should all make it count. Life is tragic. We should pack as much joy into it as we can. All parties are unnecessary. All parties that celebrate joy and family are also wildly necessary.
I will show up for anyone I love to celebrate them any time I can. If a free meal, some drinks, and a chance to dress up are included, I’m extra delighted. Weddings (and anniversary parties, and baby showers, and baby namings, and baptisms, and birthday parties, and graduation parties and… you name it) are an excuse to get the people we love together, and let them see and celebrate their love of each other. Weddings (and yes, anniversary parties) can give you the weird feeling of celebrating yourself, of having all the eyes in the room on you. But they’re also about celebrating community, family, friends, and the people that allowed you to survive this far.
They’re really important.
Our anniversary party was this last weekend, and I can assure you, it was meaningful AF. But it was also just a damn fun party, for my family, who’s dealt with far too much tragedy in far too quick succession of late.
So for those of you struggling with the idea of celebrating yourself, and being the center of attention, let’s talk. Because you are so so worth it.