"You look tired."
Those were the words a well-meaning relative said to me minutes after I walked down the aisle and married my husband in front of our family and friends. Not "You look radiant" or "I'm blinded by your ecstatic joy" or "Truly, you are a vision in white," but "You look tired."
And she was right. I was really tired. I'd spent the weeks prior preparing to host 200 people for a giant party with a million details to consider. After days of making sure out-of-town relatives were comfortable, organizing and making lists, cutting and pasting and stamping, and sleeping very little, I was supposed to emerge from my insanity cocoon as a beautiful butterfly bride.
But I felt like my wings were still drying out when suddenly, the weekend of our wedding arrived. I wasn't ready to switch off the part of my brain that gets shit together and switch on the part of my brain that is fully immersed in experiences and a delight to be around.
The weekend flew by in a stressful blur and then it was Monday and time for my husband and I to drive off into the sunset for our "minimoon." And I still couldn't relax. Had people enjoyed themselves? Had we destroyed my in-laws' lawn? Had someone handed out the programs? WTF, no one handed out the programs?!
I felt sad and guilty that it hadn't been a magical day. I hadn't forgotten to worry about the details and just soaked it all in like everyone had promised I would. I'd fixated on things that didn't matter. I'd bullied my siblings into making weirdly complicated place cards. I'd been a shitty bride.
Weeks later, I finally got up the courage to admit to my sister that—aside from a few truly transcendent moments—I hadn't actually enjoyed my wedding all that much. I was relieved when she admitted it had been stressful and exhausting for her, too. There were highs, but "it didn't all feel like a magical fairy tale in which I was the princess." That's when I realized complaining about my wedding was something I could use to relate to other women. I was back in the normal woman club! Yes!
Once I admitted feeling disappointed, other friends opened up about their lame wedding days. One friend says she "was so focused on trying to make sure everyone else was having fun I barely focused on myself." Between missing bouquets, a bridesmaid who left to get a pedicure between the photos and ceremony, and a band that accidentally announced a dance between the groom and his mother (his mother had recently passed away), she summed up her wedding day as "stressful."
My wedding day was marred by a caterer that ran out of steak, temperatures in the 90s, and the fucking programs (which I will never, until my dying day, forgive my friend for forgetting to give out. Never). Nothing important had really gone wrong, but at the center of it all, it was hard to tell if anything had gone right.
Being a bride is hard. I used to direct plays, and there was a similar level of manic activity and anxiety in the days leading up to opening night. But on opening night, nobody expected me to be serene and otherworldly—legs shaven (yes, that is otherworldly imho), skin perfect, eyes un-poofy. I got to wear all black and hide in the booth. Oddly enough, my husband also compared our wedding day to a play: "It reminded me of being in a play: there were months of preparations, then on the day of, it was exhilarating, stressful and I really wanted to make a good impression on the 'audience.' And then, it was over." He added, "I'm super happy I married you," but after I told him I'd be quoting him in this article, so.
Despite being an "alternative" bride—knee-length dress, buffet backyard wedding, keyboard instead of violins—I still on some level had expected a Disney-style magical transformation involving woodland creatures.
As another disappointed bride put it: "there's a lot of pressure to hide any discomfort or wedding stress." She said she was relieved when her wedding was over with and that she's "been much happier as a 'married person' than as a 'getting married person.'"
Which is a good point. Your wedding is just one day. I think as often and with just as much delight about a random winter day about six months after our wedding, when my new husband and I took a long walk in the cold by the river, made fresh pasta for dinner, and watched Battlestar Galactica. Why that day, aside from Battlestar Galactica being the best show ever on television?
I don't know. It was just a really nice day. But luckily for the modern disappointed bride, there's a wonderful thing called photographs to transform your wedding memories into something altogether more sublime.
Five years later, I remember being tired and sweaty and stressed out, but I have begun to be fooled by my glossy, beautiful wedding album into believing the fiction that my wedding day was Cinderella magical. My two-year-old loves to flip through the pages and point out everyone he recognizes, and hot damn, one child and 20 pounds ago, Mommy and Daddy look sexy as hell.
So no, your wedding day might not be the best day of your life. It might even be one of the hardest days of your life, especially if it rains or your family doesn't get along or you're struggling to justify the amount of money it cost or your ex shows up drunk or some weird DIY detail you obsessed over actually just looks really dumb.
Enjoy the parts you can enjoy. Feel free to stress out over the rest. And hire a really good photographer.
Also, maybe get a mashed potato bar. That's some classy shit.