The Bride I (Never) Wanted to Be

Okay fine, I give up. I keep saying I’m going to post a bit of my most recent essay for Etsy Weddings *just this once.* But then I keep doing it because I love the topics I get assigned so much. This month, I wrote about how our childhood wedding dreams intersect with reality, and you know, feminism. Perfect for this week. Plus, I polled a bunch of you on Twitter and Facebook, and summing up your answers is basically my favorite thing.

I run an indie-wedding website, so what I’m supposed to tell you is that I grew up as a feminist tomboy who never imagined getting married. And I sort of wish I could tell you that story, because frankly, it sounds a lot cooler than the truth. The truth is, somewhere around the age of four, I discovered my parents’ wedding album on the bottom of their bookshelf and spent hours slowly paging through the photos. Not long afterwards, I announced that I never wanted to cut my hair again.

After some puzzling, my mom discovered that I thought her cathedral length wedding veil was her hair, and that you needed to have hair that dragged on the floor before you were allowed to get married. I’d done some basic calculations, and decided if I wanted hair that dragged on the floor when I was an adult, four years old was about the right time to start growing it out. And that’s not even getting into how I dedicated my first piggy bank to buying my (Glinda-the-good-witch) wedding dress, much to the horror of my feminist mother.

These are all funny stories, except I never exactly grew out of loving weddings, I just started loving them very differently, and then I got married. (My hair does not drag on the floor though, just for the record.)

Little Girl Bridal Dreams

For those of us who dreamed of our weddings as children, it seems there are two models for getting married: realizing that we are not, in fact, the same people we were at four, and throwing a wedding for the person we are now. Or, trying to live up to that castle in the sky we envisioned.

The pressure to plan your childhood dream wedding is huge. A woman who was trying to plan a wedding that reflected her real life said that, while at the bridal salon, “I said the dress [I wasn’t going to get] made me feel like a princess, and the saleslady wanted to know why I couldn’t be one.” Because on some level, the wedding industry is built around the dreams we had as children: bigger, fancier, sparkly-er.

And some let their childhood bridal dream go. One respondent commented, “As soon as we got engaged, the bride I’d imagined disappeared from my mind completely. She was just ludicrous.” For others, it was people they loved who hadn’t let go of that little girl and her plans. Someone said, “I did envision myself as a bride when I was younger. It was problematic because I was also vocal about my pint-sized musings (apparently), and those conflicted heavily with what I wanted as an adult bride. This created a lot of tension between my mom and me, for some reason.” But in the end, there was a firm consensus: “Imagining did conflict with reality, but reality was so much better.”

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Photo: Hart & Sol West

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  • I was one who always imagined my wedding. Little girl me was going to have Maria’s exact cathedral length veil from The Sound of Music. Adult me is getting married on the beach and has no desire whatsoever for a veil. (Little girl me also really, really wanted to be a cowboy. Or, if possible, a cowboy/princess.)

    • LMS

      I was just going to comment that, for a time, little me was dead set on getting married in the cathedral from The Sound of Music! Adult me definitely has no interest in a cathedral wedding. Although I may still be holding out for nuns to sing How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria as I walk down the aisle.

      Seriously, though, I love this whole discussion. I sometimes feel sheepish admitting that I did have little girl wedding dreams. (Which in retrospect were all about dressing up and being the center of attention.) But that doesn’t mean I won’t take a thoughtful, mature, feminist approach to my real, grown-up wedding.

  • Marcela

    I would have loved to meet 4 year old self you :)

    • Marcela

      Oh, and I wanted to be Nobel Peace Prize winner, UN Secretary General, an Oscar winning actress (I practiced crying in front of the mirror, to be ready for the acceptance speech) AND an air hostess (to travel the World) ;)

  • Alexandra

    You know, I don’t know that little girl me had any idea what her wedding would look like. And teenaged me always felt like I was getting ahead of myself, picturing a wedding already, and any wedding thoughts were met with an imaginary slap on the wrist. So now engaged (and indecisive) me is stressed because I have no well thought out ideas about what I want, and is terrified that the whatever I decide is going to make married me look back and wonder what the heck I was thinking.

    • Marina

      Whatever you decide is going to make married you look back and think, “Yup, that’s exactly who I was in that moment.”

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I had my first dress fitting Sunday. My wedding dress is the same dress I imagined up at age 4. [In researching dresses, I realized that what I dreamed up at 4 was basically a composite of what was most popular for wedding dresses when I was 4.]

    And it felt very satisfactorily finally using the 1958 etiquette book I acquired in middle school (and practically memorized as an adolescent) to address my wedding invitations (with APW’s updates – thanks).

    Nothing wrong with having consistent taste, as long as it’s only a matter of taste, not manners (or budget). Even during wedding planning, like Meg, I’ve changed my mind on other things – music, bridesmaids’ clothes, centerpieces. So I’m not cloning my 4-year-old wedding dreams, just grafting them.

  • Granola

    “We can only be who we are in the moment, and if we create a wedding for a past or future version of ourselves, we’re fools. The best we can do is give a wave to our past self and tell her we love her, and give a nod to our future self and tell her we’ll be thrilled to meet her, and then get married just as we are. For me, that meant a short vintage dress that was exactly what I said I’d never want to wear. Three years later, I look back at it and grin, because that past self, she is awesome and happy. And she knows exactly who she is. Cheers to her, and the tiny four-year-old too!”

    EXACTLY what I needed to here. Off to print this out big and sparkly and hang it somewhere conspicuous.

  • Jaya

    Little-girl me wanted to get married, but wanted to do so in jeans and a t-shirt. She also wanted to build circus tents for a living. She was weird.

    • Diane

      “Weird” kids always grown into the coolest adults.

  • Lauren

    Little-girl me, teenage me, and feminist college me all dreamed of it. But rarely admitted it to other than a chosen few!

  • Adi

    I started imagining my wedding at nineteen, when my sister got married. Let me tell you–reconciling my 19-year-old-self’s idea of a wedding with my now-28-year-old-self? Might even be harder than losing the princess dreams. (I, for one, was going to be a mommy, president, and a horse trainer. In that order.)

    • KB

      Totally!! I think my wedding dreams have evolved from general childhood concepts of what is pretty and sparkly to different weddings planned in my head when I was 16, 21, 25, and now almost 30. All of those versions will hopefully get expressed somehow and in some way.

  • Jo

    I never dreamed of having a wedding, it just wasn’t important to me. But I certainly believed I’d find a partner to share my life with.
    So here I am now, with a solidly committed relationship, feeling happily married, and I succumbed to the pressure to “make it official”. About a year ago, after attending those for a bunch of family and friends, I became certain I wanted a wedding. But having never pictured myself as the star of a wedding, I had no idea what to do. My feminist anti-WIC anti-consumerist self had a huge list of what I DIDN’T want, but no picture of what I DID.
    Cue the many different family voices expressing what we should do. Cue fights, frustration, and tears. Cue an inability to reconcile an abstract desire with any real vision.
    Guess what? I think I’m still that little girl who couldn’t picture herself in a wedding, and my partner is still that little boy who couldn’t either. So we’re not doing it.
    We have plans to elope. We’ll do it in a few months on the anniversary we’ve always thought we’d continue to honor anyway.
    There will be fall-out for sure. And there will be a lot of reminding my family that I’m still that little girl.

  • Denzi

    My 12-year-old altar girl tomboy self had two things she wanted at her hypothetical future wedding: a reading from the Jewish/Christian apocryphal/deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, and for the best man and maid of honor to dance to “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” by Elvis.

    24-year-old me and 25-year-old husband ditched the dance, but kept the reading from Tobit. :)

  • Natalia

    From my limited adventures in wedding-land, I haven’t noticed a lot of talk about how a vision of “wedding” can be fluid. This piece is nice in that it acknowledges that some stuff changes.

    I’m a waffler, and there were actually times when I thought that marriage just wasn’t in the cards for me. However, when I was actively imagining a wedding, the wants were usually (but not always) from the mind of a child who thought she was going to actually be a princess or a Jedi (or a Jedi princess?). None of those were realistic. Heck, even the ideas I came up with when I was 24 and had wedding-brain are mostly things I don’t want now.

  • Sarah

    4 year old me desperately wanted to grow up to be a border collie. I swear it. But a bride? never in my thoughts.

  • KB

    When I was trying on wedding dresses, I swear to God, I saw one in the store that looks exactly like Glinda’s dress from the Wizard of Oz. It was blush-colored with HUGE layers of tulle and sparkles. I told the saleswoman, “I MUST try that on” – which confused the hell out of her because I said I wanted white lace, mermaid/fit-n-flare style, no poof. I explained that “Kindergarten KB” just had to try it on and see what it looked like. And it was gorgeous. And, aside from being $6,000, I also realized that I couldn’t get it because it just wasn’t me anymore. But I did have fun swishing around in it for ten minutes and remembering what it was like to be “Kindergarten KB.”

  • A bit late to this but just wanted to say that I really, really loved this post, Meg.

  • Little girl me spent more time focusing on the teddy bear babies than the wedding – but then fast forward to when I was in my early 20s when the “early wedding adopter” friends started planning their weddings. I noticed that there was a lot of pressure in the childhood dreams of the wedding. Bridezilla moments came out. Huge amounts of time, energy and money were spent during the planning and that pressure came out with not just the couple but the friends of the bride and groom. It doesn’t need to be like that. You learn a lot from other people’s wedding days and the mistakes made by trying so hard to have a princess wedding. The best weddings I’ve been to have been the simplest and ones where friends just chip in using their own natural talents. One included a picnic in a local park! It was memorable and showed the union in its most heartfelt and raw moments.

  • It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or suggestions. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read more things about it!

  • Many thanks Getty! We will not wait around to have began!