I was a bridezilla.
Most brides-to-be never plan on becoming bridezillas. They start off with the best intentions to make themselves and all their guests happy. But you’ve heard the horror stories:
A bride asks her red-haired cousin to dye her hair so that it doesn’t clash with the bridesmaid dress color.
A bride forces her bridesmaids to “weigh in.” They have to be thin, of course, but no one can be skinnier than the bride.
A bride asks her friend - who recently had a stillborn baby - not to attend the wedding because it will 'take the attention off her' on her 'special day.’
These are bat-shit crazy examples of brides who have crossed the line. In most instances, though, bridezillas are just women who are tired of catering to everyone’s wishes but their own. They’re stressed out and chances are, they’ve got a short fuse.
In these less extreme instances, I would love to put some blame on the wedding guests. I would love to tell them that from now on, whenever you are invited to someone’s wedding, you should throw your preconceived notions of what a wedding should be out the window. If you decide to attend, you are deciding to participate in whatever it is that the couple has in mind.
But that’s not fair. You can’t blame people for expecting things to be the way they’ve always been. The only way out of this, then, is for the bride to set boundaries, which Brene Brown explains is a very difficult thing for us to do:
“We are not comfortable setting boundaries because we care more about what people will think and we don’t want to disappoint anyone - we want everyone to like us. Boundaries are not easy, but they’re the key to self-love and the key to treating others with love and kindness.”
Instead of expecting others to act a certain way, a bride needs to set boundaries. This will require tough conversations, a strong united front with your partner, and yes, even making some people unhappy. Because the bottom line is this: if the bride tries to make everyone else happy, she will not be happy.
The beginning stage of planning your wedding is the most magical stage because there are only two people involved - you and your partner. My husband, Sam, and I met at a week-long wedding celebration in Mexico, so we knew that we wanted to do something similar. Figuring out the location and itinerary required a lot of research, phone calls, and conversations, but after a few weeks, we felt really excited about our plan.
So excited, that we assumed everyone we told would be just as excited as us. We chose our destination in Puerto Rico so that our families wouldn’t have to get passports, so that everyone had no trouble communicating (most people speak English), and because we had found three of the most gorgeous villas for lodging. We didn’t anticipate pushback because we had given everything so much thought. Everything seemed perfect to us!
This was our first mistake. There will always be pushback. There is absolutely no way to make everyone happy. This is the time to thoughtfully discuss how the two of you will approach telling your guests that you’ve decided to do things differently. How will you respond to pushback? Have those conversations now.
The Peanut Gallery
It starts with things that don’t seem like a big deal. Sometimes you might even think you’ve set a boundary by saying what you want, only to realize that it’s fallen on deaf ears. Just saying, “We’re not having kids at the wedding,” is not enough.
My mother-in-law, Jan, assumed that we meant everyone else but my husband’s two nephews. With people who are close to you, this sometimes requires a sit-down conversation. They need to know exactly what you mean - are the kids invited to Cocktail Hour? The reception? Where will they go? Who will watch them? And WHY can’t they be there?
These questions all need to be answered in a thoughtful way. If you can’t sit down with them face-to-face, it’s got to be laid out for them very clearly on the phone or in an email. If you are doing something that is out of the norm or against what you know they would prefer, it’s best to show some understanding of their perspective.
“We understand that you want the boys to be there, but we’ve decided that we want it to be an adult-only party. It wouldn’t be fair to invite some kids and not others. We’ve given this a lot of thought, and we appreciate your support.” And then lay out the plan, in detail, for the babysitter you’ve hired, all of her details, and where she will be with the kids.
Next came pushback about the guest list. Jan had “requests” for certain people to invite, even though Sam barely knew them. She made it sound like it was so obvious, so certain, that we didn’t even have room to share our opinion that we’d rather not invite a stranger. If Sam did try to voice his feelings, he would get shut down. First, with a story of how his parents - not him - were invited to their kids' weddings. And how it wouldn't be right not to invite them. When that didn’t settle well, she assured us that they surely wouldn’t come to the wedding, anyway. But we HAD to invite them.
When I look at Jan’s perspective, I realize that she felt an obligation to invite these people. She felt like it was the right thing to do, but Priya Parker explains in her book, The Art of Gathering:
“The desire to keep doors open—to not offend, to maintain a future opportunity—is a threat to gathering with a purpose.”
Jan’s expectations did not match our own. Even though we did concede and invite those people and even though none of them did attend, it was one of the first resentments that I tried to suppress because I was too scared to set a boundary and say no. I made Jan’s happiness a priority over my own.
The Bridal Party
Things start to get worse when the very people you chose to stand by your side have strong opinions that differ from your own.
I really, really, really wanted my bridesmaids to feel special and happy to be a part of my wedding. I wanted to keep it simple. I had this idea that everyone could wear a floor length green dress - any shade, any style, all different.
But when I pitch this idea to my younger sister, Jessica, she is incredulous.
"What do you mean, any shade of green? You realize that's a big spectrum of color. What if one person wears olive green, and everyone else wears kelly green, you're okay with that??"
I thought she would be excited about this. I start to second-guess myself. Jess then asks about the material and I say that I don’t care about the material. Any material is fine.
"NO. If we're all wearing different colors AND different materials, it's going to look really weird."
I tell Jess that I just want her to buy a dress that she actually likes and that she’ll want to wear again.
She snaps back, "I hate to tell you this, Charlie, but I will never wear a long green formal gown to anything except your wedding."
I hang up the phone, exhausted. Then I spend a few hours on Pinterest and have a brilliant idea. Floor length black dresses with a floral print. Any floral print they want. All different.
And I don't give a fuck if they like it or not.
(Note: At the rehearsal dinner, Jess wears a beautiful, solid green floor-length dress.)
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of pushback from Jess. It's not until months after I've asked my best friend to be my maid of honor, that I'm on the phone with my mom and she asks, "So who's your maid of honor?"
I'm flabbergasted. “Uh, Kylie. Who else would it be?”
"I don't know, I just thought maybe you would ask one of your sisters."
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Clearly, Mom is referring to Jessica. She is the sister I'm the closest to, but all things considered, we're not that close.
I call her on the phone, thinking that she will say she's not mad and that Mom is blowing things out of proportion. But I'm wrong. Her feelings are hurt. I quickly become that crazy person on the street screaming into her phone, oblivious to the people around her.
She says, "Most people - unless they have a terrible relationship with their sister - ask their sister."
This is what I keep hearing every time I say something about our wedding that isn't cookie-cutter traditional. Most people do this and most weddings have this and didn't you get the memo? Didn't you read the wedding by-law book??
I ask Jessica point black, “If you were to get married tomorrow, who would be your maid of honor?”
"Stephanie, but that's not the point."
My head is going to explode. Stephanie is Jessica’s twin and I knew this was the answer.
When I can finally calm down - which doesn't happen until many days later - I try to look at this from Jessica’s perspective. Maybe she always assumed that I would ask her. Maybe she's concerned with what other people will think.
But I didn’t anticipate this, and as a bride, you will not anticipate every road bump. That’s okay. It’s only natural to have moments of frustration and freakouts. Nobody’s perfect. It’s really about how you handle it in the aftermath.
For the day of the wedding, I wrote letters to all my bridesmaids. In my letter to Jess, I wrote how I was sorry that I hurt her feelings and how if I were to pick a sister, it would have been her. After she read it, she walked over to hug me. And then she didn’t let go. As soon as she didn’t let go, we both got very emotional. She just wanted to know that I loved her and valued her.
Which I do, so much, but in the many months leading up to the wedding, I was too worried about hurting her feelings that I wasn’t able to articulate my own feelings.
The Breaking Point
The closer it gets to the wedding, the more inevitable it is that the bride will start to feel like she’s losing her mind. Little things start compounding as questions and comments from guests feel like incredulous demands:
“Aunt Nancy can’t eat gluten. What are you going to have for her?? What do you mean you're not having a wedding cake? What about the cake-cutting ceremony?? How are we going to get there from the airport? How many people should rent cars? You HAVE to have a bridal shower. You HAVE to have a registry. What do you mean you're not wearing white at the Rehearsal Dinner? Can’t you do ANYTHING the normal way??”
Brides have actually started to identify as bridezillas, which might seem odd because it has such a negative connotation, but identifying as a bridezilla is easier than having a tough conversation and setting a boundary. It’s easier to send out this tweet:
If someone were to wear white at my wedding, I would literally spill red wine on them. #bridezilla
This is an unhealthy way of communicating wishes to your guests. Instead, we have to look at boundaries in a new, positive way. More from Brene Brown:
“People think that boundaries are just a wall or a moat around our heart, but they’re not. They’re not fake walls, they’re not separation, they’re not division. Good boundaries are a drawbridge to self-respect. Because here’s what’s okay for me and here’s what’s not.”
Brides are never prepared for everything that comes at them during the wedding planning process. They’ve been told since they were little girls how their wedding is the most beautiful, most important moment of their lives, so it’s difficult to cope with not only trying to plan the perfect event, but also be the perfect bride. It’s completely unrealistic.
The Wedding Day
The bride is in complete control of how she experiences her wedding day. If she loses her shit, there’s a good chance she didn’t set enough boundaries for herself along the way.
It’s okay for people to disagree with you. People will disagree with you no matter what. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. Your wedding day is not about your guests. Your wedding day is about you and your partner and what the two of you want the experience to be for your guests.
“Sometimes generous authority demands a willingness to be disliked in order to make your guests have the best experience.”
The day after the wedding, my mom pulled me into her chest and hugged me tightly.
“This week was incredible. You did such an amazing job planning this.”
After months of complaints and questions and problems, the end result was an amazing week for all our guests. Sam and I had executed our vision perfectly. If I had a do-over, I would take the time to set boundaries for myself. Then, when met with pushback, I’d try to be thoughtful in handling that pushback, and force myself to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.
If you can set boundaries for yourself it will all be worth it, because instead of compounding resentments that bubble up until you reach your bridezilla breaking point, all of the expectations will be put in place BEFORE your magical day, and you will be a most grateful and happy bride.