Most people don’t know this, but I have a tattoo. It’s a pretty sizable one, on my back, in the shape of wings. I got it with my mother shortly after I turned twenty-one as a way to commemorate my late sister and the things my mom and I have had overcome in our relationship. I love my tattoo. It makes me feel like a badass, and once upon a time it was shaded with the colors of the rainbow (it’s a little faded these days).
I had been planning on getting a tattoo for years, so when the decision was finally made and plans were being planned, the act of getting a tattoo somehow managed to work itself into becoming something of a symbol to me. It was going to be ultimate bonding moment between my mother and me. I would have her full attention for a whole day, away from my siblings; together, as we inked our bodies in solidarity, we would break down any walls that had built up between us over the years. On this one momentous occasion, everything would be perfect. If only for a moment.
No Body’s Perfect
But of course, the reality of the situation was that my mother and I were going to be doing an activity together, and no matter how important, the complications of daily life were going to work their way in. I had one idea for a tattoo artist, my mom had a recommendation from a friend she wanted to check out. My dad had made the mistake of telling my younger sister that day that we were going to have to put our dog down, and she ended up calling repeatedly during our bonding moment, interrupting our one-on-one time. It was still an amazing experience, but when I left, something felt off. I hadn’t gotten my perfect moment. I wanted the kind of story that you could tell to future generations, one that was unmarred by imperfections. Not to mention, this moment was literally going to follow me around forever. How could I look at a permanent marking on my body and not remember everything that went wrong?
What’s funny is, I know the tattoo itself isn’t perfect. I never expected it to be. The lines are a little rough, the tattoo artist was decent but not phenomenal, and now the shading is faded so you can no longer see the rainbow. And still, I feel no guilt about the physical properties of my ink. Actually, I love every single thing about it. So why do I feel bad about the moment in which it was created?
As Long As Everyone Has A Good Time…
The answer is that I do this to myself all the time. I’m always chasing after the perfect memory. When Michael and I got married, I was adamant that I did not care about the details. We’ll decorate however! Wear what you want! I don’t care about anything, as long as everyone has a good time!
But that was the problem, right there: as long as everyone has a good time. You see, I thought that if I was a good girl, and didn’t care about the details, and lowered my expectations enough, then I could achieve the impossible and have the perfect wedding.
I told myself that by sparing myself the headache of caring about tangible artifacts, I was focusing on what really mattered: our people. But what I left out of this fantasy narrative of mine was the key ingredient in my plan: the people. You see, somewhere in my WIC-averse brain, I’d convinced myself that by eschewing all of the traditional wedding details, I would be rewarded with a wedding that featured nothing but smiling faces. I mean, I’d seen enough Bridezillas to know how weddings go bad. I knew that the reason other people had horrible weddings was because they were simply doing it wrong. They were pouring their energy into things like shoes and cake flavors, and therefore were missing out on what was really important! And I’d cracked the code.
So I lowered my expectations. I didn’t worry about the details. I poured my heart into putting together a wedding that would yield me the elusive perfect moment.
And of course, I was all wrong. Because what I’d done was try to control the one thing about a wedding that I had no power over: the people.
Not Worrying About The Details Didn’t Save Me
Now don’t get me wrong, I had a lovely wedding. It is one of the most joyous events of my life to date. But still, things went wrong. One of our groomsmen had to back out of the wedding at the last minute to take care of his ailing father. Important family members weren’t getting along. Emotions ran high. Fights were had.
By the time the day rolled around, I felt conflicted. Where was my unabashed happy high? I felt like I hadn’t asked for much, and still the universe had failed to deliver. I thought I had made a relatively unselfish request in hoping that everyone would be happy and getting along and having a good time, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just have that on this one day.
But the reality is, what I’d asked for was unfair. I hadn’t lowered the bar at all. In fact, I’d asked for so much more than a pretty wedding with carefully constructed details. What I’d asked for was a perfect life.
You see, I think the reason I keep chasing down perfect moments is because I want these big events in my life to be representative of who I am. Isn’t that what we’re taught? The wedding itself is supposed to be the moment that ushers us into the future. If that moment is marked with family quarrels and complicated feelings, what does that mean for the rest of our lives together?
Embracing The Beautiful Mess
What I’ve learned since getting married is that big moments are indicators of the future, but not in the ways that I imagined. I used to think that if I couldn’t pull things together for one damn day, nothing would ever be good in my life. But I was missing the point. The reality is that I never had a perfect life, and I don’t have a perfect family, and frankly it’s a rare occasion that I am afforded a perfect moment. And yet, here I am. So maybe I didn’t need to pull it together after all. Maybe I was doing just fine without perfection. Our wedding day was full flaws, and yet we still got married. The imperfections didn’t stop the magic from happening. And years later, after countless setbacks, challenges, and the imperfections of daily life, we’re still happy.
I used to think that my wedding would be like my tattoo. If I was going to be stuck with it forever, I wanted at the very least for it to have a good origin story so that I could reflect back on it fondly. But the thing is, I have always had control over my own story. Perfection was always in my control, because I set the standard for what that meant. And since I was the only one gauging it against my own standards, I was the only one who knew if things went wrong. Now I realize that my wedding is exactly like my tattoo. The result is permanent, but the origin is just a narrative that I can tell however I see fit. There are parts of it that I tell over and over again, and there are details that I let fade into the background. Over time, my story has become what I always wanted it to be. In a few years time, maybe I’ll touch it up again and it’ll be a whole different story. But in the meantime, I’ll worry less about where it came from and more about where I’m going with it. And that will be just perfect for now.
Originally published on APW June 2012.