As if you needed more incentive to have a low-key wedding versus going on the fritz to art-direct the Best Day of Your Life ™, here you go: Brides who view their wedding as the end-all be-all of milestones are often super bummed when the giddiness of the champagne and shrimp puffs wears off.
In a piece at Daily Life, Kasey Edwards asks why so many brides get the post-wedding blues. She references a very very small study that is so small we cannot call it compelling — only 28 freshly hitched ladies were interviewed — but also digs into the lore of online forums and other reporting on the issue. Edwards writes:
I'd always thought that marital discord built up over years, but new research shows that things start turning sour soon after the bride tosses her bouquet.
A paper published last week in the Journal of Family Issues found that just shy of fifty per cent of brides suffer from postnuptial blues. This can range from temporary sadness and discontent to full-blown depression.
Half is a lot. But when you look at the mania surrounding weddings, it's not hard to see that after all the soul-grinding minutia of the planning, and the soul-killing stress of the dieting — to say nothing about the anxiety over guest lists, etiquette, and other assorted mayhem covered in great depth here — I am frankly shocked that figure is not closer to 85 percent. I mean, having to even think about what it would take to plan a super small wedding is why I eloped.
According to Edwards, the researchers found these differences in the feelings of blue brides versus happy brides after the wedding mania died down:
- Blue Bride: Uncertain if she'd picked the right dude
- Happy Bride: Felt super happy post-wedding because a sense of security and commitment kicked in
As one [blue] bride told the researchers, '[T]hings…pop up where you think, "I kind of wish I had known that prior to committing to this person. Not because I would have chosen not to commit to them, but just because I would have had a more complete picture of what I was signing up for"'.
- Blue Bride: Held the view that the wedding was "all about her" and "fulfilling her childhood fantasy"
- Happy Bride: Thought the wedding was as much about the her family and the groom and his family as well
As one blue bride told the researchers, '[Y]ou want to make every decision. You want everything the way you want it, and you want to stomp your feet, and you want to say, "This is my day and, you know, bugger off, because I want it the way I want it."'
- Blue Bride: Felt a sense of loss/grief after the wedding was over, because they are not "in charge anymore" or "special."
- Happy Bride: Thought the after-wedding experience was the "beginning of a new chapter" and had a lot of positive anticipation of life as a married unit.
You…think, it's…this fairytale, and the wedding is the climax, and then you come home and you have to go to work the next day. And nothing is different. Nothing is different at work, nothing's different with your friends, nothing's, nothing's different,' said one bride suffering from post-wedding depression.
Yeesh. As Edwards goes onto explore, the messages we get about the cultural significance of weddings set us all up to lose our shit a little about the Big Day. She rightly notes that we should not dismiss these women as superficial or narcissistic for this reason: "For many women, 'I do' is seen as the end point in a lifelong romantic narrative," she writes. "It's therefore not surprising that so many brides wake up the next morning with a sense of grief and fear that nothing in their life will ever compare."
But I would argue that we do this about so many milestones in women's lives that we notably make less of a big deal out of, or a very different kind of big deal, for men. Take virginity, which is noteworthy for everyone, sure, but for men it's treated as something to get over with, to go on to keep scoring (and prove you're not a loser). For women, it's a precious commodity you can't give up too soon less you spoil the goods and ruin your entire life (and prove you're not a whore). Much more emphasis on getting it "right" for women here.
Having a baby — for everyone who has one, it's a milestone, to be sure. But for men it's often treated as just completing your family. For women, it's completing you. Weddings are no different, and who would blame a gal for succumbing a little to the pressure. (Not to ignore the degree to which participating in these things can also be fun. But that's almost secondary).
We also seem to do this as a culture about anything that is supposed to be "fun." Putting all your must-have-an-awesome-time eggs into any one basket is the same reason New Year's Eve sucks, Halloween sucks, first dates suck, parties suck, prom sucks, and pretty much anything else involving more than one person and a specified time of arrival. Real fun is organic, man. There is an art to it: The art of knowing how much or how little to give a shit so you don't get too disappointed if it all goes south.
So even if the research is not airtight here, still please allow me to point out that the women who were happiest post-wedding shared the above attitude. They wanted to have fun at their wedding, of course, but they were not relentless about it, and it was much more in harmony with everyone's fun.
I blame Pinterest. And Oprah. And the cult of lifestyle magazines. All things which I absolutely enjoy in small doses (PS: am sitting next to a stack of home/décor catalogs I can't wait to browse). But all things which, in some way, have created this sense that there is no aspect of your life that can't be art-directed to infinity, and made pointlessly anxious now that you're aware there's a more perfect way to pull it off.
I have no problem with the revival of the domestic arts. Such pursuits can be a fun hobby, or even a full-scale personal brand, and can be loads of fun if you have the time, money, energy, and inclination to immerse yourself. But we should remind ourselves that it is still quite optional. And not for everyone. And certainly not a prerequisite to a good time or a more meaningful marital union. And that it may very well come at a high cost.
Because the alternative is blowing your wad too soon on a day that is significant, sure, but doesn't hold a candle to the rest of your life. Now that is truly depressing.
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Illustration by Tara Jacoby.