My Wedding Wasn’t Good Enough

Or that’s what my anxiety tells me

A bride and her wedding party walk away with their backs towards the camera.

On a quiet Monday afternoon, I got a call from my close friend (and soon-to-be-bride) who wanted to double-check my new address as she prepared to send her wedding invitations. As we chatted, an oldies song suddenly started blaring through the phone.

“What is that?” I yelled over the noise.

“It’s one of the songs from our band,” she answered. “They told me they like to end events in a certain way, so I’m trying to pick a song to be the last slow dance of the night.”

Immediately, I felt the familiar pang of bitterness and self-criticism that I experience all too frequently as someone whose brain has a nasty habit of comparing myself and my every action to everybody else’s from the time I wake up until my head hits the pillow at night, racing with thoughts about what I did that day and what I should have done differently. That’s because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which causes me to second-guess, self-doubt, and pick apart every move I make every minute of every day.

Just like that, my anxious little brain cells began to fire and flood my mind with thoughts about how we should have ended our own wedding. While I would only have the memory of us walking out to my husband’s old car (sans sparkly sendoff) after dancing with him twice during the entire three hour reception, she would have memories of ending the night on the dance floor with her new husband, swaying gently to a song they both loved…

As my friend chatted on, regret and sadness clouded my mind as I began to replay every decision and event leading up to and during our wedding in my mind for the millionth time. I should have… Why didn’t we… If only I had… on and on. Ever since I got married last fall, I’ve struggled to cope with the anxiety that colors my experience at every wedding I’ve been to and every wedding I’ve agreed to be in since my own.

Every Day I’m Struggling

You see, although it hasn’t yet happened, I already know my friend’s wedding—an expensive, multi-day, flower-filled affair—is going to be better than mine. So was the chilly, alcohol-soaked winter wedding we attended two months after our own. So will the hometown church and social hall wedding my husband and I are attending next weekend. No matter how big or small, how expensive or frugal, how simple or lavish, every wedding I’ve ever seen, been to, or helped plan since I got married has been a hundred times better than our own.

Or at least that’s what it feels like to me as a person who struggles to live with at-times unchecked anxiety.

Reading this, you’re probably wondering if my wedding was some huge disaster that I can never forget or live down—as in, the venue burned, the photographer was a no-show, the food was cold, AND the sound system went down all in one spectacular failure of an evening! In reality, our wedding was amazing—not perfect, but pretty damn close. The venue was gorgeous, the photographer was great, the food was delicious (yay barbecue!), and the DJ kept people dancing all night. It went by quickly, but I know we both loved it. When my husband and I looked at our photos afterward, we both shed silent tears while lying on the couch in our first apartment, reveling in the fact that WE DID IT and IT WAS AWESOME and we were going to spend THE REST OF OUR LIVES together.

But just a few days after our wedding, the anxiety began to creep in and twist all of my memories from that day. (Such is life when you live with a disorder that makes you replay every moment of your life, pick it apart, and plan what you would do differently—with no way to actually change a thing.) Where my bridesmaids had seen a beautiful bride, I saw a dress that just wasn’t quite right. Where others saw a series of beautiful photos of us newlyweds, I only saw the photos that I wish had been taken. And where our friends said they had a great night celebrating with us, I only wished we had sprung for the tent heaters after the sun went down and the temperature dropped. Whenever I thought about our wedding, all I could remember were mistakes, missed opportunities, and bad decisions.

For months, I agonized retrospectively about every detail of our wedding; I lamented my choice of table decor, flowers, bridesmaid dresses, food, location, EVERYTHING. I didn’t share any photos of our wedding online because I didn’t want my friends and family to have evidence that our wedding was such a lame, pitiful affair compared to everyone else’s. Those doubts, those ugly whispers and distorted thoughts in my brain made me believe that nothing good happened that day except getting a piece of paper that meant I would have someone around to cook for me (almost) every night for the rest of forever.

I lost sleep for months after our wedding as I lay awake worrying about every way in which the next event my husband and I planned to attend would be better than ours. I began to obsess over ideas about how to “re-do” one’s wedding day, and I reviewed our photos daily to convince myself that I did actually have fun because my brain was constantly telling me that the whole thing had been a disaster. At a particularly low point, I had a panic attack on the way to a wedding soon after ours as I imagined our mutual friends comparing our events and arriving at the same conclusion I had (i.e., that ours was infinitely worse). Eventually I couldn’t even look at wedding or engagement photos, discuss friends’ weddings, or engage in wedding-related conversations as a bridesmaid without getting anxious or teary-eyed because all I could think about was how our own event didn’t measure up.

And while I was busy trying to stay afloat in this sea of sadness and self-doubt, in came the battering waves of save-the-dates, invitations, and “Will you be my bridesmaid?” asks. I tried to be excited, but it felt like no matter which way I turned, I couldn’t get away from the “fact” that we had had The World’s Worst Wedding and everyone else was making it their mission in life to remind me of this fact every few months. I felt like I was drowning, and I didn’t know how to find my way to shore.

It didn’t help that none of my friends or family knew how much I was suffering in the months after getting married. Far from being the “joyous newlywed,” in reality I was barely keeping it together. I could hear the frustration in my friends’ voices when I told them for the ninth time since our wedding about all the “mistakes” we had made and how much I just wanted a chance to go back and “do it right.” Everybody said the same thing: “Your wedding was great! What are you even talking about?” And because I didn’t want to risk losing friends or sounding like an ungrateful, self-absorbed, no-longer-bride, I stopped talking about it.

But I didn’t stop struggling with the soul-crushing anxiety that had taken the joy out of my wedding—and out of my life.

The Light at the End of the Aisle

My brain (and all of its anxiety-prone neurons) wanted me to believe that every other person in every other wedding did (or will do) everything right, and everything I did was exactly wrong. That no matter how gorgeous I felt in my gown or how much my husband tells me he loved it, there would always be something missing. My brain had me thinking that nothing we did was good enough, and that we would be at the bottom of the barrel for the rest of our lives.

But here’s the thing: a small part of me knew that none of these weddings I was so worked up about were anything like ours, or even worth the worry. I didn’t want (and didn’t have) an outdoor ceremony in Virginia in December, a three-course dinner with adventurous foods, or a reception in a barn. Sure, there were many things about these other weddings I enjoyed, and even felt a pang of envy for (hello, spiced cider on a cold evening!). But I didn’t enjoy any of them as much as I enjoyed my own. So despite what my brain was telling me, my heart knew that our wedding was truly one of the best days of our lives, even if other people seemed to have had “better” days.

I see a counselor now, and I talk to her about this issue often. She is always encouraging me to focus on the 80 percent of the day that I loved rather than the 20 percent I agonize about and wish I could change. I pray and go to church, and reading Scripture helps me remember what our wedding day was actually all about. It’s hard work, but as time goes on, I am finding it easier to reframe my negative thoughts and reflect on how lucky we were to be able to get married outside on a beautifully clear fall day without a rain plan, have both of my parents walk me down the aisle, and spend a few hours laughing and dancing with friends and family from all over the country. Sure, it still sucks for me to see the bride and groom attached at the hip and greeting guests at other weddings, as I remember how little time I spent with my own husband at our reception. But I’m learning how to cope and accept the fact that just because something didn’t go exactly how I wanted it go doesn’t mean it went wrong.

So as this season of life marches on and I am faced with ever more tulle, toasts, and turnt-up dance parties, my plan is to try and enjoy the festivities as much as I can. I know I won’t be able to stop every negative thought that flits through my mind, but I can think back to how amazing it felt to be the woman in white with all eyes on her, how my now-husband looked at me when I walked down the aisle, or any of the other millions of moments from that day that warm my heart and let me know that we did so many things right. And I can know without a doubt that anyone who thinks there’s another wedding out there that was better than mine is absolutely wrong. Including me.

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  • emilyg25

    Ah, what a great essay and insight into what life with anxiety is like. I really love the book Feeling Good, by David Burns. It focuses on depression, but it walks through the common fallacies that your brain tells you and helps you learn how to identify them and let them go (though it’s super weird living when you know your brain is a liar). I think there are similar handbooks out there for anxiety.

    • elliejay23

      Thanks for the reading recommendation! I definitely plan to add it to my list. :)

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  • The suckiest thing is being at that time of life when everyone is getting married means the only way to avoid anxiety triggers would be to deny yourself events you want to attend. It feels like either way the anxiety wins. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say, but it’s a mental habit that takes some serious CBT to break.

    One of the things anxiety is so good at latching on to is the highlight reel of other people’s lives. I know this is often talked about in terms of social media, but I think it’s a been a normal part of life as long as humans have interacted. I find it useful sometimes to really think things through when I’m falling into the comparison trap: am I actually comparing like to like? In your head, the end of your wedding was an exhausted car ride after a long day and your friend’s is a beautiful slow dance frozen in time, but unless your friend has the ability to teleport, that same slightly nauseous, utterly exhausted, why-do-my-feet-hurt-more-now-I’m-sitting-down-than-when-I-was-standing-up, oh-god-did-we-leave-auntie-mabel-in-the-loo-and-she’ll-come-out-and-wonder-where-everyone’s-gone, sitting on her veil as she gets into the car and yanking her hair out will be the end of her night too. Will she even remember that slow dance she’s painstakingly picking out the song for?

    • elliejay23

      Essay author here — I really appreciated reading your thoughts, and you’re totally right about breaking the mental habits that lead me into those dark places (thanks, CBT!). I have a pretty deeply-entrenched habit of imagining what others’ experiences MUST BE and comparing them to my own, without really considering whether or not it’s a realistic comparison. It’s something I’m definitely still working on, and I’ll be keeping your advice about thinking things through in mind.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    PADude has social anxiety, and it pops up in ways I don’t expect. He’s been rolling between “invite 3 people from work because they’re friends outside of work” and “invite 25 guys and their spouses because I see them every day and will feel weird that we can’t talk about the wedding as a common experience.” We’ve talked about it some, but he’s also come to the conclusion that no matter what we do, he’ll feel badly about it, and I hate that I can’t logic him out of that.

    • elliejay23

      I always wonder what it’s like to be the partner of a person who struggles with anxiety of any kind, as it really does seem like an exhausting battle to constantly try and find solutions for a person for whom every answer is the wrong one. :

      Not that you need an answer for your situation, but I can say that as a person with at times panic-inducing anxiety, I appreciate it most when my husband just listens to my ramblings, is a figurative (or literal) shoulder to cry on, and tries to help me see the situation from a more “realistic” perspective (i.e. whoever you choose to invite, even if they’re a little upset with the decision, they’re probably not going to be losing sleep over the whole thing for the rest of their lives!).

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        When it happens, I definitely spend a lot of time wondering if I’m doing or saying the most helpful thing possible. I generally come to the conclusion that no, I’m not, but that’s not really his fault or mine.

        • ssha

          You’re right that it’s not either of your faults. Sometimes my partner is actually able to very kindly logick me out of things, not totally because my self-doubt will still kick in, but it helps me calm down when he says things like “You prepared all you could” or “You did what you thought was the best option.” When he’s totally logical (“I don’t understand why that makes you anxious, it shouldn’t”) that doesn’t help at all, but when he’s logical with some emotion thrown in it helps me. Sometimes it helps to be reminded that he trusts me to make a good decision even if I don’t trust myself.

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Thanks, I really appreciate your insight. I try to offer different ways to think about things, or offer another question that he can answer on his own. I think it’s important to acknowledge that he does feel the way he does, and that’s what we have to deal with, regardless of whether it’s rational.

  • Leah

    So well said! Anxiety, like depression, Lies to us, and it’s so great to go see the good professionals who help us start seeing through those lies, dismantling them, doing what we need to do live better in our own heads and the world <3.

  • Moose

    I have relatively minor anxiety and have IDEAS in my head about how I want things to go (events, conversations, etc.) and even if they go fine, though not according to my carefully crafted and wholly fictional scripted narrative, I find myself regretting not having had the experience in my head (which is always more perfect).

    So this part of the essay was like a gut punch of wisdom: “just because something didn’t go exactly how I wanted it go doesn’t mean it went wrong.”

    I need to laminate this statement and carry it with me at all times

    • Lawyerette510

      This is very much how my anxiety functions as a baseline. I’m really working on redirecting myself before I get my whole carefully crated and scripted narrative of how things should play out.

    • Jan

      I do this a lot when I’m preparing for a tough conversation (read: fight) with my partner. When I’m upset I need a little time to wrap my head around why, and sometimes I imagine what the conversation we will eventually have will be like, and then when we are actually having it, I’ll start to panic a little when it doesn’t go how I’ve already played it out in my head. It is the most absurd, nonsensical thing that I can. not. stop. doing. Praise the heavens for patient partners.

    • elliejay23

      It’s so interesting for me to see that other people share this experience of developing “carefully crafted and wholly fictional scripted narratives” for the events in their lives…and then lowkey falling apart when life happens and you end up “off book,” so to speak. It’s not something I’ve ever really discussed openly, but that’s part of why I love APW — this is a place where I can share my experience and connect with other people who maybe have similar challenges.

  • This was a great essay! From my experience, I think wedding come-down can be A LOT if you have anxiety… My worst anxiety meltdown happened about 6 months after my wedding and while there were some other triggers and my mental fixations weren’t wedding related, the anxiety ramp-up definitely started right after our wedding on the honeymoon, and I definitely think it was connected.

  • H

    This essay hurt my heart. I also have generalize anxiety disorder and related to so much of what you said. I’m sure you’re very well aware of the huge difference medication can make for someone with our disorder, but as someone who refused to consider medication for years, finally broke down and started taking it, and now can’t imagine life before it – I just want to put in a plug for you to consider it. If you and your doctor or therapist decide it’s not the right choice for you – absolutely fine. But please just consider it – it made a huge difference for me, my career, and my relationships.

    • elliejay23

      Thanks for your honesty and concern. I have struggled with the decision about whether or not to try medication again, because I didn’t feel like it made much of a difference for me in the past. But I’m open to giving it another try, perhaps in conjunction with counseling this time…we’ll see!

  • ssha

    I love this essay. Most of my anxiety was pre-wedding, losing sleep over dress colors and did-I-contact-so-and-so. Post wedding, the wedding anxiety brain has definitely shut down, and I can open Pinterest without a panic attack. We left our wedding with the sense that everything had been perfect, and it’s only in retrospect or as I hear from people that the anxiety ramps up, fixating on a small comment from my grandma, realizing things that were missing or didn’t go to plan or got lost in translation, while looking at photos or talking to family. I have to remind myself that I am thinking about this way more than other people are, and everyone I’ve talked to has told me how much they loved our wedding, not how Horribly Insulted they were that no music was playing when our grandmas walked down the aisle or that there isn’t any evidence of their presence in our photos.

    • elliejay23

      That’s funny, I was the exact opposite! The whole time I was planning I was just as slack and lazy about everything possible. But as soon as it was over I started FREAKING OUT. And the “reality orientation” part of what you said (that nobody else spends this much time thinking about their wedding, how everyone else enjoyed it, how nothing really went “that wrong,”) is something I’m still working on. It does get easier with the more time that passes, and I’m still looking forward to the day when seeing a friend’s wedding photos online doesn’t make my stomach flip flop! But I’m getting there, a little bit at a time.

  • Jan

    I struggle with anxiety and can relate to this essay a lot. I don’t feel so much anxiety about my wedding, but the picking-apart of everything I’ve ever said or done, the self doubt, the self-consciousness of how others perceive me… that shit shows up in all kinds of other fun and exciting places. I don’t have much to add, except that I empathize.

    And, FWIW, my wedding ended when we were like, “I guess it’s kinda late. Okay, last song people!” and then three songs later it was actually our last song. I think it was Tupac? I honestly don’t even know. Then we got in our Chevy and drove ourselves to our hotel. Weddings are for you, about you, and none of the other noise matters.

  • Nell

    This, this. It took months for me to decide that I could stop re-imagining my wedding and obsessing over what was wrong with it. My wife helped a lot – she was baffled by how much I held on to the negative, and she held those good memories in place for me.

  • ManderGimlet

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s hard enough to be a bride because your emotions are constantly being policed and judged and evaluated, but dealing with depression/anxiety or other issues only amplifies that (and basically it’s like “you had your time to think about your wedding, let it go already” so you don’t have a lot of outlets to process). I don’t have any advice or practical knowledge to impart, but I did want to say thank you for giving me some food for thought and a reminder of other ways to be empathetic and compassionate to others on a different path, dealing with different challenges.

  • Lexie

    I witnessed a pretty disastrous family fight at the end of my wedding, left the venue in the wrong Lyft, and ended up sobbing for a good hour and a half after my wedding. I only calmed down when my husband and I reread our vows to one another and then met up with friends a few hours later. DEFINITELY not at all as planned, but I do what others have suggested and focus on the 80% of the day that was absolutely wonderful rather than what went wrong. I do get angry sometimes when I think about the amount of money and planning that went into trying have a day without drama, but it’s a wedding– It’s still real life.

  • uggggh

    Something that helps me when I get stressed about planning my wedding is thinking about how little I remember about weddings I’ve been to. I’ve been a bridesmaid twice and have no memory of what I ate for dinner at either wedding. I went to a wedding at the end of August and don’t remember what the colours were. I remember getting teary-eyed as my friends walked down the aisle and having interesting conversations with the people I was seated with. And that’s mostly it.
    Chances are that, a few months after my wedding, it will be just as hazy in my guests’ mind. If I mess something up, no one will remember it a month later.

    • elliejay23

      This is so true!! I only wish I had realized this sooner in the wedding planning process. Of course that doesn’t mean that you can’t make thoughtful choices about things that are meaningful to you (food, vows, decor, guests…whatever!), but the fact is that unless something goes REALLY wrong, most people will just chalk it up as another fun/sappy/happy/tasty event they attended. Happy planning! :D

  • quiet000001

    Has your counselor suggested making lists? Perhaps with your spouse or someone else whose perspective you trust so they can help keep you from focusing on the negatives. (Not so they make the list for you, but so they can go “oh, what about …?” when you start getting side tracked by negative stuff.) Then when your brain gets going you can refer back to your list and try to really think about those good enjoyable things instead of letting it keep running off thinking of bad things. I do this for stuff – something about writing things down apparently helps.

    (You could also discuss with your counselor writing down some of the ‘bad’ stuff and maybe what you’d like to learn from it for next time. Sometimes when you get the stuff written down your brain can stop thinking about it because you don’t need to worry about forgetting – but you also don’t need to regularly revisit the list. You can just know it is there if you ever need it.)

  • macrain

    It’s rare that I read such an honest depiction of anxiety that closely mirrors my own experience. Not necessarily with post wedding anxiety specifically (I had it, but for me I couldn’t stop obsessing over my personal appearance, especially after I got our photos back), but with just dealing with anxiety in my day to day life. I create a narrative in my head and then obsess over it, and even if I can convince myself it’s not 100% true, I’m still fairly certain that it’s at least a LITTLE BIT true (it’s not). I’m doing a job search right now and it’s a minefield.
    You are showing a lot of bravery by facing this head on with a counselor, and by sharing here. Your writing is beautiful and honest, and really spoke to me. I’m really hoping that with help you can make strides in managing this issue (and then come back and tell us!). <3

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