There seemed like so many ways I could fail at The Dress.
To start, it seemed like I could fail via losing my mind. What if I was one of those women who did become convinced through salesperson voodoo that I was my most beautiful ever ever in a dress that cost thousands of dollars, and I recklessly sold all of the pets in order to buy it because it was what I deserved on my special day? Also, what if no dress in the store would fit me? I imagined three petite salesgirls rolling their eyes as they explained that they had nothing in stock appropriate to my… size eight hugeness. (As I do not normally suffer from body dysmorphia, I mention this in order to give you an idea of the direction my mind was running.) Finally, I didn’t even know what kind of dresses I liked. I had not yet seen a dress on Pinterest or through daily email and text suggestions from my sister that I really envisioned myself walking down the aisle in.
So I hatched a plan that I was sure left me less room for failure. Instead of searching—and obviously failing—to find something I felt beautiful in, I would go in a new direction. I would seize the opportunity for righteousness. Since people wouldn’t be able to talk about my gorgeous dress, they were going to talk about how smart and frugal I was. I would look totally fine (every gal’s dream for her wedding day, no?) in some very reasonably priced dress. Also, I would buy this sucker myself—probably with whatever I had left from my weekly lunch budget, because that was how screaming the deal was going to be. I would get no help from anyone (despite the fact that our families were already generously and willingly contributing to other aspects of the wedding). I would be the anti-dress bride; I would be the champion of ascetic over aesthetic.
Then I started making plans with my mom and my sister to actually go dress shopping. Since this was the one part of wedding planning that they had both been the most excited to be a part of, more and more people got invited. And I started to realize that my carefully crafted dress shopping strategy could quite possibly be undermined.
On the shopping day, my entourage of eight squished onto two loveseats and an ottoman. Everything was going according to plan until I tried on the third dress we had pulled. No one said anything. We all just stared at it. I looked tall, and curvy. It was comfortable, soft, and well made. It was an awfully pretty dress. I hesitantly asked the salesgirl about the price. It was definitely not the cheapest dress in the place. It was not more than I could afford, especially because it wouldn’t need altering. It was actually only thirty-five dollars more than the amount I had originally budgeted. But it seemed like a lot to spend on a dress I would wear exactly half of one day. Also, it wasn’t on sale. Also, I couldn’t buy it with my leftover lunch money. Also, I was going to impress exactly no one with this shopping story.
At the conclusion of our appointment my auntie called us all into a huddle in the dressing room for the conversation that had been making me nervous since we saw the dress. This aunt doesn’t have children and has always done special, generous, extra things for my cousins and me. She offered to team up with my grandma and buy the dress for me. I said no, although I was so grateful for the love in the offer, it was too much money to spend on a dress. (And also, I was going to buy a super steal dress myself or what was I going to impress people with?) She said it would be their shower gift. I said it was too much money to spend on a shower gift. She snorted.
Here’s the thing about being righteous—it helps you cover up the fact that you’re scared.
The problem is, getting righteous when you’re scared doesn’t actually work. It’s like that old saw that plays in the back of my head every time I’m about to trounce my fiancé Julie in an argument with my well-reasoned, articulate, and, of course, completely correct viewpoint: you can be right, or you can be happy. In this case, I could be righteous, or I could be gorgeous.
I work with teenagers for a living, and they’ve taught me that it’s much safer in life (and in wedding planning) to pretend like you don’t care.
You don’t have to discuss messy or unpleasant emotions like fear, or disappointment, with anyone, because you can’t be afraid of or sad about things that don’t matter to you. I felt tied up by the idea of the dress. It mattered to the people I love, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, but I didn’t want to please them so much that I lost sight of the things I valued. My aunt and my grandma helped me find my way out of that. Their gift gave some meaning to something that had confused me before. My students are right: caring about something is risky. And all of the things I like the best in my life, like my family, my work, and my upcoming marriage are things I enjoy because I care so much about them, they’re worth the risk of failure. The thing that my wedding dress helped me remember is that sometimes deviating from the safest path is where you find the joy.