Elisabeth: The Great Nail Meltdown of 2012

I tend to tell people I handle mild stress really badly—think wailing and gnashing of teeth—but that when there’s a real crisis I am calm and competent. I spend days agonizing about what prints to buy from the photographer, but I easily take charge standing on the side of the road near to our decimated car.

For the most part, judging by my extremely poor reaction to it, wedding planning fell firmly into the “mild stress” category. A week before leaving for London, when I had not yet gotten my immigration papers back from the embassy (yeah… the immigration saga is long and unpleasant and not yet over), I was screaming full-throatedly at my little sister over proper vacuuming technique by day, and crying hysterically to Amin over the phone by night. However, I comforted myself, with no small amount of pride, that I would almost certainly pull it together for the wedding.

And I did. As I had predicted, once we arrived in London I was suddenly calm, confident and self-possessed. I, who had dug in my heels over every tiny issue during the lead-up, was making snap decisions like the Queen of England. What do we want to do for a guest book? Bam! Delegate. We don’t have time to go to dinner and to get my henna tattoos? Easy: order in. Do I want my hair high on the top or big in the back? What the heck, let’s go for the big-bootied hairdo. On the day of the wedding, as I entered the venue for the first time, I was accosted by our day-of coordinator who wanted to know what kind of music I wanted to hear when I walked down the aisle (something my panicked pre-wedding self had been unable to even consider). Within thirty seconds, we had made a decision. It was lucky that I didn’t really care about any of these issues at that point—I was laser-focused on the two-pronged goal of “Get married. Be married.” All of my friends and family noted repeatedly how calm and in control I seemed, and I must say I was pretty impressed with myself as well. That’s right, I was The Decider. The Fortress of Calm. The Bride Who Would Not Be Fazed. I had found the Wedding Zen and it was good.

However, there was a surreal dimension to the whole wedding lead-up, which was that I barely saw Amin the whole week.  We sent a lot of business-like text messages and had awkward conversations in the full hearing of our entire families, but spent literally not a single moment of time alone from the day I set foot in the UK to the moment we got into the car at the end of our wedding. I think I was calm at least partially because Amin and I were given absolutely no time together to process the enormity of what we were doing. On the day we had our civil registration (we did only a religious ceremony on the day of the wedding), we showed up to the borough registrar, hugged awkwardly, and suddenly we were saying our vows to each other. And then we took a couple of photos, had family lunch, went to our respective homes, and, talking on the phone later, had the following conversation: “Dude, we just got married.” “I know!” “Woah.” “I know, right?”

And that is, perhaps, why my masterful control ultimately slipped.

If you’ve ever met me, you know I am not much of a makeup person. The father of one of my best and oldest friends recently told me he barely recognizes me in the wedding photos because he has literally never seen me in makeup aside from this.

But I wanted the wedding to be fancy; I wanted to dress up and get my hair and makeup done; and I wanted to impress the Pakistani family I was marrying into who are used to seeing brides wearing clothing covered in sparkles so heavy they can barely hold their heads up. So before we went to London, my mom and one of my sisters went with me to a local spa, and we got facials and my first ever mani/pedi. And I felt goooood. I decided that the day before the wedding, when many of my girlfriends were going to be around for an impromptu bachelorette event, it would be relaxing to go get my nails touched up.


It was a fiasco from the beginning. First, the manicure took longer than I expected, so I had my best friends arriving at my apartment without me there to greet them. Then, I went to pay, and they did not accept the only form of payment I had. And, in an unfortunate additional problem, my American debit card had been cancelled and I had not yet activated the replacement card I had received that morning. So I groveled and told the lovely owner that I would go home, find my debit card, acquire some cash, and return posthaste.

The salon was probably a twenty minute walk from my apartment, and I did it in ten. I was huffing and puffing as I raced into the apartment, and the panic had already begun. My dearest friend had arrived while I was gone, and she got up excitedly to give me a hug, but I brushed past her and said “HI I CAN’T TALK NEED MONEY NOW!” People tried to get the story out of me but I am told I would say nothing besides “I NEED TO GET MONEY. MUST. GET. MONEY. NOW. MONEY.” To be honest, the whole thing is a bit of a blur.

And it was at this point of near-hysteria that I looked down at my newly painted nails, the cause of all of this drama, only to find them covered in a fine layer of fuzz from my shirt.

Friends, I lost it. I have never been so upset about anything in my life as I was about my fuzzy nails. The world ended in that moment, and I am not proud of the things that came out of my mouth about death and disowning and the ruination of my future marriage. How could Amin ever love a woman with fuzzy nails?

For those of you wondering, I activated my card without problem, withdrew money, and returned to the salon, where the lovely lady took one look at my face, and then my nails, sat me down, and wiped them clean quite easily. And then I walked home, where my nearest and dearest were waiting to mock me mercilessly.

I think I had really thought the whole wedding thing would be no big deal. People get married every day, right? And besides, once we signed the papers and said the things, then we would have the time to sit around and process (this turned out to be very untrue, since now I’m back in America without my husband thanks to ongoing immigration issues). And I was so proud of my focus, my zen, my live-in-the-moment mentality, that I squished the bits of me trying to comprehend that I was marrying the love of my life.  Those bits came back with a vengeance during the Great Nail Disaster. They also made a brief appearance as I walked down the aisle, but that’s a story for another day.

Is there a moral to this story? I guess it’s that whatever you’re going to feel, you’re going to feel it, and if you’re anything like me, it will be caused by something completely ridiculous at a very inconvenient time. So my advice is to just give in now, and enjoy the ride.

Photo by: Kelly Benvenuto

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  • Paranoid Libra

    Another fantastic post Elisabeth. I only hope that when your grad post comes out you can actually be with your now husband. I think your melt down was an artichokes moment in which a break down was coming and for you, the focus was the nails. You had to get worried about something as this big deal was about to happen and well it’s probably better for the focus to be your nails vs say upset at a friend.

    Congrats on being married :)!!!!! boo immigration being slow.

  • Granola

    Mine was my hair – It took twice as long as expected, I hadn’t eaten anything and I just lost it. I’m glad it got better. AND that you got married!!! Can’t wait to hear part two!

  • Shiri

    Mine was, and I’m not proud of this, my fiance’s hair. He got it cut on Tuesday, we got married on Saturday. I had told him to get it done weeks before so it wouldn’t be too short. It was too short. I cried all afternoon – no hyperbole, literally, the entire afternoon, I couldn’t stop crying. Every time I looked it him, it would all start again (you can imagine how that made him feel). He finally came in and said, “I feel like I’ve ruined the wedding.” I’d like to say that was when I stopped crying, but, nope! Couldn’t control it.

    In the pictures, yes, his hair is a little bit too short. Do I notice it? Yup. Did I notice it day of? Yup. Do I care as much now as I did the afternoon I cried? Nope. Did it ruin my wedding? Hells no. And that’s the best I can ask for of myself. Sometimes, you aren’t the person you want to be. Sometimes, you do things and react in ways you aren’t proud of and hurt other people. The little things may get to you – some of them definitely got to me – and as much as we prepare for it and hope they won’t, we’re all only human. Which, thankfully, also means hair grows back.

    • KB

      I feel like cutting and pasting this comment into an email to my fiance and saying, “THIS is why you get your hair cut WAY before the wedding, yo…”

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Our wedding is in less than two weeks. I keep wanting to have a good cry, but nothing has quite set me over the edge yet. And it sure feels like all my stresses are because men have procrastinated – my future husband on any number of things, the Priests on the program, my father on his tux rental. I’m trying not to get down on men in general or these individuals in particular, but, gosh, these last 4 weeks before the wedding have been rough.

        /end rant

        But, since I can’t get my future husband’s hair cut for him, there’s nothing for me to do but sit and stress, and I try to turn it all into an APW post.

        • KB

          Sometimes, when you’re the primary planner, male or female, it’s really hard for the other people in your life to get a move on with their share of duties because they haven’t been stressed out enough. Like, you KNOW these things have to be done and you can’t understand why you would dilly-dally when you KNOW that it’s just going to be a huge bottleneck of to-dos later. But they’re kind of like, “Meh, it’s my one thing to do, I’ll get to it…” It can be so hard to just say, “You know what? It’s your problem now” and just let it go. But I totally hear you – you just want them to understand that their procrastination is making YOU feel badly, in a “Why can’t you just do this one thing for me right now, please?” when they just see it as another chore.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            That was the attitude I tried months ago, when it first became apparent we were falling behind. I can’t be such a “good girl” now. Partly this is just general last-minute stress, partly it’s because their procrastination is making more work for me. For example, because I’m the primary contact person, I’m the one being nagged for information (Today, it’s how the groomsmen want their names to appear in the orders of service.), so I’m the one saying two times a day now, “You’ll know as soon as I do,” and the like.

          • I reached a similar point not too many days before my wedding and finally told my fiance “Look, I know it’s the only thing you have to do. But I have a list of about fifty things that need to be taken care of and it’s stressful when I’m running around trying to get all this done and you keep putting item X off. Will you please go take care of it today? It will make me feel a lot better and less stressed.”

        • Shiri

          I stressed about his hair cut for a looong time, both about when it would actually happen and if it would be ok. Turns out he had a whole thing about his appearance wrapped up in his hair (which, in 6 years of relationship, I’d never heard about) and the stress of needing a haircut for The Biggest Day of His Life (cue spooky voice) was making him feel terrible about himself. I had no idea. And then I cried all afternoon, which definitely didn’t help what turned out to be the underlying issue.

          I feel you ladies.

      • Senorita

        Ha! That is exactly what I just did. No one’s shearing off my man’s sexy curls the day before our ceremony.

    • Kyley

      After getting engaged, I spent the first few weeks having meltdowns (of the ugly cry variety) in which I was so adamant that I “would not get stressed!” That I got completely fucking stressed. The crazy, it comes for all of us.

  • Ohhhh man. This was me my wedding weekend. I never broke down in tears, but I kind of walked around in a anxiety-ridden daze and ran to the bathroom a lot because I felt like I was going to puke. Maybe someday I will figure out what caused it, but I really wish I could’ve done what you said: just given in and enjoyed the ride.

  • HUGS Elisabeth. I also had to experience the “newly wed – oceans apart” ordeal with immigration and papers and stuff. Best wishes and positive thinking that visas will get sorted out for you and your husband very soon!

  • Marina

    This probably isn’t helpful but… my gut reaction to this post is that I am SO GLAD I am all done with wedding planning. :) Over 3 years out and my husband and I still look at each other and say, “Aren’t you glad we’re not planning a wedding right now?” Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the planning was a lot of fun, and I did really appreciate all the emotional growth I got out of it, but… geez, being married is just so much more fun than getting married. :)

  • I loved this whole post, but especially the part when the lady fixed your nails. <3

  • Oh man, this is so real and thanks for sharing! I know when I was engaged I would have been so thankful to read a play by play like this that sounded so similar to my own random furries of emotion. Can’t wait for the wedding recap :)

  • (Another) Elisabeth

    First off, it is always so cool to run into another Elisabeth with an S!

    Secondly, I’m also marrying into a Muslim South Asian family and came across your post on trying to find a dupatta to go with a “American” dress because I am trying to do the exact same thing. I then came over to this post wondering if you had the same problem as I’m facing about nails – that my mother in law reallllllyyyyy wants me to put mehndi on my nails in addition to the hands/feet. (I’m all for mehndi on skin, but I hate it on my nails). Anyway, you didn’t, but this was a great post :)

    I’m definitely going to be reading all of your posts, but I’d also love if we could email and see how to balanced doing a blended wedding!

  • Kara

    My meltdown was leaving Sephora 4 days before the wedding after a second test run. I sobbed. Like, stopped the car and put my head on my mom’s lap and sobbed. Glad things worked out for you and that the salon owner was so kind to you.

  • Daynya

    So, I love this. My wedding was 3 weeks ago tomorrow – eeee! – and, well, yes. I could literally feel myself reliving the stress and anxiety of the day before as I read this post. I am the exact same way about mild stress and major stress. Give me a serious trauma, and I’m on my a-game. Give me my wedding, and I’m a complete train wreck. I was so nervous about your nails FOR you, and so relieved when you said they were quite easily fixed. The day before our wedding ceremony was the most stressful day I can remember. We had our wedding ceremony on Thursday, and our reception on Saturday, so, I basically had two meltdown stress days. I can’t remember the main triggers, except one was about lighters. The day of our reception we needed a long lighter that would go down into the candle holders, and apparently it was the most.important.thing.ever. I was not nice about it, and I feel really badly about how I treated my loved ones over a lighter. I remember talking about it with the same conviction that I can talk about women’s rights. Serious stuff, lighters. By the time the whole party kicked off, the candles were all lit – and I had completely forgotten to obtain the long lighter. Magically, things just fell into place. Sigh. I am so thankful that that level of stress and tension is gone, and I hope to not have it again any time soon. Best wishes for a wonderful future with your husband, and hopefully your whole immigration situation is sorted out soon.

  • Great post

    We had a huge argument 4 days before the wedding over my (over) reaction at not being able to enter the Vatican Museum because the only day we had in Rome (to collect documents for the wedding, which took place in Florence), the Museum happened to be close. I think about it now and it was all truly ridiculous and out of proportion…as you said “whatever you’re going to feel, you’re going to feel it”.

    I hope the immigration issues get resolved soon!

  • E

    Mine was tablecloths. I thought they were too short, and people would think we had run out of fabric or were too cheap to rent regular floor-length table cloths.

    Our venue was a Cross-Country ski lodge, surrounded by tons of trails, so soon after the great tablecloth debacle, I took off into the woods for what I intended to be a thirty minute run. And promptly got horribly lost. I ended up wandering around the woods of Western Maine for almost two hours, much of which I spent worrying about spending the night in the woods and missing our wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner to boot. By the time I finally got back, lights were hung, the dance floor had been put together, flowers were out, and the space looked amazing. Also, nothing like fearing spending the night in the woods to put things in perspective.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I keep waiting for this event that puts things in perspective. I’m really looking for it. Honestly. I thought about “What if the wedding were this weekend and guests from the East Coast couldn’t come?” “What if the wedding were this weekend and on the East Coast?” But, like Elisabeth, the completely-out-of-my-control doesn’t phase me.

      Also, I feel like I’m waiting for people to step up. For something to get done ahead of schedule, and to find out about it ahead of schedule (as opposed to what usually happens, where it gets done, but no one tells me, and I worry about it for a couple extra days). I’m looking for this, too, and was touched to see my future husband writing out a thank-you note before I even had a chance to put the gift with the others, but still, the to-do list looms and looms.

    • Brittney

      I think I’ve commented maybe once before in the many years I’ve lurked on this site, but I’d like to say, as someone who’s worked at a wedding venue & dealt with many, many, many brides– the linens were the catalyst to many of the pre-wedding breakdowns. And so many times I wanted to shake my brides and tell them, “Tomorrow, when you’re married, it just won’t matter at all what length your tablecloths were!!” but had to remind myself that to them, it wasn’t really at all about any of the linens. And, thankfully, in many of their follow-up thank you notes, they acknowledged that the linens were actually quite lovely.

  • Lee

    Oh man! First-hand knowledge of the wedding breakdown here (and fair enough, it’s about the guest list, a little more than artichokes) but a night spent sobbing this week is even making me rethink what we’re doing in the first place! I don’t do well with stupid little stress, but like the OP give me a real crisis and I’m all woman, but at this stage I am practically having panic attacks that I’ll have FUTURE panic attacks for the next 9 months (not kidding, future attacks) and especially in the days/hours/minuts leading up to it where we have to GetAllTheDetailsInPlaceOrEverythingWillBeRuined in order to pull of the ‘budget’ affair for 90. Anyone else decide to relaunch their wedding 2.0 into a much smaller affair and be super happy about it? A little part of me just wants to be able to show up, get married, have someone else deal with everything for the reception (i.e. go out for a fancy lunch or dinner at a resto) and call it a day, and keep it small and at 1/2 the budget (no band, no decor, no details, no catering, no rentals, no venues, no bar, no activities, etc…).

    • Whitney

      I did! Was going to do a whole traditional thing in my hometown and was MAJORLY panicking. I finally got to the point where I was like, “This is not fun. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever done.” Now we are doing a courthouse and then restaurant lunch with about 12 people. Broke my mom’s heart for a bit and I still have anxiety about things but there is not doubt swirling in there about, “This is not me.”

      I think that’s how you decide if you should do something else. Are you panicked because it’s overwhelming or because it doen’t feel right? If it doesn’t feel right, I suggest going back to the drawing board. It’s ok if you end up doing something people don’t get or the WIC says is dumb or “not special”.

  • I’m not even close to my wedding day yet and I’ve already had multiple “fuzzy nail” freakouts.

    At least (it seems) you can laugh about it now!

  • Joanna

    LOVE this entry! Your retrospective humor is brilliant. Now I’m glad that I made a pact with myself: “Joanna, you will allow yourself to feel your emotions fully from now until the wedding.” At least I know I’m not alone!

  • One thing that still *to this day (5+ years on)* bugs my mom is that there is NOT. ONE. SHOT. of her being escorted down the aisle at our wedding. I’m the only girl, I’m the first cab off the rank for getting married, and there’s not one picture of my brother escorting my mom in. Why? Because my husband and I had decided ahead of time that we’d be married barefoot. He’d taken off his shoes and socks after he’d escorted his mother in. All the cameras went straight for him, not my mother. Still rankles her to this day. (Highly amusing I might add that no one told her the back of her jacket dress was sticking up and wasn’t smoothed down properly. That one bugs her too.)

    Also, her insistence that *she* do the seating plan for our reception, not my husband. (Who had absofrickinlutely nothing to do with the wedding planning as he was in Australia up until 10 days before we married… and wanted to do something that contributed to the day instead of it being wholly done by/focused on my side of the family.) Terse words were said, paperwork and a nearby checkbook of mom’s was thrown into the air before she gave up. Her reasoning? “He doesn’t know anybody and he’ll seat people together that shouldn’t be!” (Um, yes. That’s why he’s having me as a helper as I know the ins and outs of which relatives are toxic to eachother and are to be placed clear across the room……)

    Oh boy.

  • JenMcC

    This is so great. And also hilarious. And definitely reassuring to read. I am also someone who handles mild stress really badly (and boy, has wedding planning been giving me some opportunities to do that), and it is good to hear someone else speak to this. Also, it is good to hear that meltdowns happen and it’s okay to just feel your feelings. That’s one of the biggest things I’m trying to remember: there are a lot of big emotions surrounding getting married, and feeling them is the best way to be with them (you know, as opposed to stuffing them down, down, down). Also, my cousin had a total breakdown the day before her wedding over her manicure appointment, and it was terrible at the time and hilarious afterwards. Many congratulations to you! I hope you and your new husband(!) get to be together soon!

  • Sarah N.

    Ahhh, yes. I fondly remember the Great Flower Fiasco of 2010. And by “fondly” I mean “horrifically.” It was the day of the rehearsal dinner, the day AFTER my last-minute bachelorette party. I was hungover and late, and desperately needed a shower. (My mom: “You smell like chardonnay.” Gee, thanks.) My bridesmaids were stopping for coffee on their way over, and I looked at the dozens of roses yet to be made into boutonnieres or bouquets, and freaked. My mom was out doing something she thought was important, and I decided she wasn’t being all that helpful. After a little bit of crazy from me, my bridesmaids helped out, my now-husband cracked jokes, and then I got my ass in the shower. The hot water and peace & quiet cleared my head, and I had a great night. But yes, my biggest pre-wedding meltdown was over some boutonnieres. We have our moments, y’all.

  • Gloria

    hurricane sandy just ruined my birthday/bachelorette party yesterday….and while i’m very grateful for everything i have, and that all of my friends and family are safe. we had a subdued party last night, i got one birthday gift from an awesome friend who’s sister works at l’oreal, and i totally had a good time.

    and then sat in bed and cried because my birthday was nothing like it was supposed to be, and therefore sucky. however, i did finally get my power back today (huzzah!).

    • Heather

      Oh man, Gloria! I’m just now catching up after Sandy (which is why I’m reading this over a week later) and I wanted to tell you that I feel for you. That had to be so hard! If you’re anything like me, you could have added an extra layer for being mad at yourself for feeling down about it. Man.

      I hope your wedding is everything you want it to be and more!

      (and I’m glad everyone is safe and you got your power back the same day I did)