It’s my wedding day, and I look hideous. The one thing I was the most worried about — paying top dollar for a decent hairstylist, only to emerge with Bad Bride Hair — has come to pass. My head is a gargantuan, Medusa-like mess of terrible, tacky curls. The white flowers placed here and there look like innocent birds that got stuck in a deadly bramble and were left to die. I look as effortless and natural as a “prom”-themed Barbie doll circa 1985.
I did everything in my power to prevent this. I enlisted four close friends to come to the salon with me on the morning of my wedding, to watch over the proceedings, observe, and prevent a disaster from occurring. I knew I would be too stressed out to speak up without sounding like a bridezilla. I was counting on them. But my hair took a long time, and my friends were hungry. They ran downstairs to fetch lunch, but the lunch place wasn’t open, so they walked down the block. They have been gone for 20 minutes. WHERE ARE YOU? I text them, and then ask the stylist, in an almost-whisper, “Can you maybe make it a little less … big?”
“Like this?” the stylist says, and starts brushing out some of the ringlets. Now I look like a Barbra Streisand–themed Barbie circa 1978.
This is when the tears start to flow. My very expensive makeup job is running down my face, and the one person who stayed behind, the boyfriend of my close friend who’s been taking photos of me getting my hair done, continues snapping photos as tears run down my face. I am paralyzed by frustration and sadness and pure, white-hot rage. This was supposed to be the most magical day of my life. Now everything is ruined.
Your wedding day will get ruined, too.
Your wedding day will get ruined, that is, if you expect everything to be perfect. Because weddings are never, ever perfect. It’s a testament to the inherent masochism of the human race that people even associate perfection with weddings. Because weddings are (generally speaking) stupidly expensive events that require the cooperation of not just brides and grooms and an army of service professionals, but also the cooperation of close friends and family. Family! Not just one family — two families, two completely different, possibly emotionally unstable families! You not only need your lifelong-partner-to-be to play nice, but you also need pliancy from your closest friends and your old college roommate and some caterer you hardly know and a hairstylist you met a few months ago and your crazy aunt with the tendency to ask prying questions and your partner’s cousin, the one with the drinking problem. You need all of these completely unpredictable people to behave in predictable ways. How and why would you ever expect such a thing? How deluded are you, anyway?
Even when you think you know people well enough to predict how they’re going to behave, you’re wrong! Because people get crazy around weddings. My mother, who tries her damnedest to never ever rock the boat socially, least of all in front of 100 people, stood up at my wedding to give a toast and blurted out that she and the rest of my family had just been to my brother’s wedding the previous weekend, so — and I quote — “We’re all a little bit tired of weddings, honestly.” My mother denies that she ever said this. Luckily, there were 100 witnesses present.
Six of those witnesses — my fiancé’s siblings — remind me of this toast every other time I see them. They were appalled by my mother’s words, and concerned over what those words foretold of their brother’s fate. Luckily, I didn’t notice their horrified faces at my wedding. But I had already been disappointed and embarrassed too many times in the previous 48 hours to notice. The horrors had begun within a few minutes of arriving at the hotel in Palm Desert, in fact, where I greeted my future sister-in-law relaxing by the pool, only to discover, vis-à-vis her nervous glances at my stomach, that my fiancé hadn’t told her I was pregnant yet. I’d gone off the pill right after we got engaged, figuring it would take months for a 35-year-old to get knocked up (if it ever happened at all). Instead, I got pregnant immediately. Now there I was, three months pregnant and extremely anxious, informing my husband’s entire family, one by one, that they had just flown in for a shotgun wedding. When I confronted my husband-to-be about it, he replied, “Oh, I guess it just slipped my mind.” Please note, this is as clear an omen of how it feels to link your fate to a man’s as has ever existed. Luckily, though, I didn’t know that yet.
And luckily, I was so overwhelmed by a heady mix of anxiety and elation and horror through all of the toasts that I kept laughing uproariously at everything happening around me. Everyone probably thought I was losing it. I was on my third nonalcoholic beer, because that’s what drunks do when they can’t drink: They chug pointlessly caloric, ineffectual wheat-based liquids. My aunt walked up and saw the beer bottles and told me to slow my roll. I showed her that they were nonalcoholic, then I realized that to my assembled guests, I was a drunk pregnant bride with a mother who didn’t want to be there. I would’ve been mortified if I weren’t already experiencing such a strange mix of giddy terror, disbelief, and confusion.
But that’s just how it feels to be a bride! You (not-so-secretly) want to be the world’s most amazing sparkle princess for just one day, but you’re a little ashamed of this desire, so you also want to crawl under a rug and die. You feel so many things — so much love and so much indebtedness, for everyone in your life, in all of their misshapen, mutant, misfit glory! — but you also feel like a weird robot playing the “gracious, glowing” role of “bride.”
My glow was real. It was 107 degrees outside, and I was wearing a big white dress that felt exactly like a giant, puffy comforter on my legs. I felt like an impostor in white — a scary, sweating, pregnant slut impostor. But three days earlier I’d panicked and chucked the ethereal, hot-pink empire-waist dress I’d chosen months earlier for its off-kilter, pregnancy-hiding qualities. I had looked like a goddess in that dress when I first tried it on, but a few days before the wedding, I tried it on again and I looked like a husky child in a pink nightgown. I did not want to look like a Sleepytime Tea illustration on my big day. And I knew exactly what I needed to fix it: one of those big white dresses that make all women look gorgeous. I’d been to the Bridal Barn or whatever it’s called, and I’d seen regular, mortal women turning gorgeous as they pulled on their white comforters with the magical boning around the waist.
I looked great in my comforter, I really did! I didn’t look even a little bit pregnant, as long as you weren’t paying attention to my flushed, sweaty face or my enormous boobs or the rumbling of my intestines under three feet of blanketing. As long as you didn’t notice me drinking gallons and gallons of water to prevent passing out and dying, or hear me hissing at my now-husband that he should’ve used the microphone (AS DISCUSSED) because nobody present heard a goddamn word of the entire ceremony from the third row back, you wouldn’t even have known that I was pregnant at all! You would’ve just thought I was really angry and sweaty. Or “blushing” and “glowing,” if you prefer a fairy tale to real life.
Trust me, though, fairy tales are pretty hard to come by. Unless you have an army of planners and assistants and maybe a therapist or two on hand on your wedding day, and you also have another army of handlers and assistants to prep and coach and manage your family and friends and to police the children and the drunks, you are not going to get your perfect fairy-tale wedding. You’re going to have to settle for a real-life wedding instead.
I did not have any assistants. I only had me, a newly pregnant woman with what felt like a permanent hangover, and my husband, who is maybe the least detail-oriented person I know besides me. Every single detail of my wedding was bungled. The food was terrible — a wilted salad, some really bad lukewarm wedding chicken. The caterer was kind of an asshole. I remember that there were random grapes rolling around on each dinner plate. Why? Our families didn’t mingle much. They were awkward and weird around each other. Only the drunks got drunk — a sure sign of a wedding gone awry. Toddlers dominated the dance floor. That was bullshit, the kind of bullshit I would like now but hated then. I stood up with the band and sang a song by Superchunk, which seems gratuitous and unnecessary in retrospect, the exact opposite of what a legit sparkle princess bride would ever do. I only got a few good photos, and my really good photographer friend only gave me negatives, which I never even got developed. The videographer friend never gave me the footage because he wanted to edit it together, then he procrastinated about it forever and eventually he lost the footage completely. Some of my friends who were there that day are no longer my friends now. A few of them drifted out of my life. A few others moved far away and didn’t stay in touch. One of them died. The whole event was stressful and way too expensive.
But after it was over and everyone had gone to bed, I have a very clear memory of saying to my husband, “I finally understand why everyone gets so worked up over weddings. This was the best day of my life! I’m so glad we did this.” That’s how it feels to get married. That’s how it feels to see all of your favorite people in one place, celebrating the fact that you finally tricked someone into spending the rest of his life with you. It’s all wrong, and it’s still so right, somehow.
So when your wedding day gets ruined in a million little ways — and it will! — don’t try to fight it. Don’t try to shut out the drama, the bickering friends, the controlling mother-in-law, the bad boyfriend of the friend you never should’ve invited in the first place. Don’t try to tamp down the fact that you feel stupid being the center of attention, yet you also want every single photo of you to be stunning. Breathe in the unbearable melancholy that’s embedded in sky-high expectations. Breathe in that sullen, sociopathic streak that rises to the surface when you’re asked to “seem” like a “good wife,” whatever the fuck that is. Savor their disappointment in you. Savor your disappointment in yourself. Weddings are a fucking clown show, full stop. Weddings are a foolish extravagance. Let the expensive stupidity of it all, the unpredictability of it all, trample you into the dirt. You will be embarrassed and ashamed. You will be angry and afraid and deeply in love. This is a good foreshadowing of things to come. Everything about my wedding was wrong, all wrong, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.