Wedding Stress and Family Traditions
It is a beautiful summer day. Sarah walks in. She is so excited she cannot stop smiling as she walks fast down the hall touching every single dress she sees. This is the second bridal salon she is visiting today. She has been waiting for this day for a long time. She tries on three dresses and falls in love with the third one. She is now euphoric.
She loves how the dress fits her and defines her waist. She loves how comfortable she feels. She dances around the big room with mirrors looking at her dress from every angle. Amazed by the sparkly details and seduced by the feel of the soft satin, she seems to be already living her wedding day.
As she looks in the mirror, she makes small changes to make sure her dress captures who she is. She loves the dress, but she is Muslim, so she needs to cover her arms. She wants the dress to respect the traditions, but at the same time, she wants to feel feminine and show her personality. This is her second wedding, so the dress needs to be ivory or champagne. I write down every detail, and I tell her that now we just have to wait for her dress to come in.
Her dress takes 50 days to come in, and she texts me every single one of them. She has doubts. She has fears. She has hopes. Sometimes she panics because she cannot remember the details of the dress. Sometimes she panics because she is afraid the sheer back is too sheer for her more traditional family and guests... and then finally her dress comes in.
She comes to the store. She tries it on. She loves it. She takes it home. She calls me 2 hours later because she is uncertain about the dress. She is now terrified she made a mistake.
She feels she does not look good in it. She wonders if the dress should be more form fitting, so she will look skinnier, If the neckline should be more covered, If the back should be more covered, so she comes back to the store again.
She is overwhelmed. She looks lost. She cannot describe what she does not like about the dress. So, she sits down and start to look for a picture of when she was19 so she could show me how she wants to look in her dress. While she looks for the picture, we see a picture of her wearing her first wedding dress. She is 13.
As we look at the picture, she tells me about her wedding day... how while walking down the stairs on the way to the altar, she is thinking of running away. Just running as far as possible. How she has it all planned in her head, but she is trying to build up the courage to run, and how she feels stronger and stronger as she removes her arms from her father's arms to run away, but then she looks at him and decides to stay. She wants her father to love her, so she says yes to an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.
She is now crying as she tells me about the traumatizing years where she struggles to build up the courage to leave. She finally does leave her husband, but she is devastated to lose her family and community with her decision. She moves to another state, and that is how she ends up in Texas alone with her daughter.
She is now 45 years old. Her family has barely started to talk to her again only to tell her they do not approve her new fiancé, they do not approve her dress , and that she will end up alone again by choosing to marry someone neither the family or the community approves.
As we sit there, I can see her excitement is gone. The family pressure has now replaced joy and hope with embarrassment and fear.
She is now wondering if the fiancé is too good to be true. The anxiety takes over. The dress is not the problem, the whole wedding is the problem. She cries. The tears are now all over her face. She has to cancel the wedding.
I do not know what to say. I think about how none of us really know if a marriage will turn out to be a amazing or a disaster. I think about how horrible it must feel to think of marriage as a possibility of losing your family, your community, and your friends.
She cannot stop crying. She keeps saying she was so happy about the wedding. She keeps telling me stories about how amazing and caring her fiancé is, and how hard it will be to end it all, but she has to do it because she cannot see how her family and community could be wrong, so she has to be wrong.
So I ask her, if you get married to this amazing man wearing the dress you created to match who you are, and it turns out your family is right and now you are alone again, can you survive it? can you overcome it ?
She stops crying, and to my surprise, she looks at me and smiles. She gets up. Gets her dress. Gives me a long hug, and leaves the store as excited as she was when she first came in. She leaves without changing anything about the dress, and most importantly without changing who she is. She had already created the dress she wanted, and now, as she walks to the car, she is finally embracing being the fearless strong woman who create it.
She is still happily married.