Just after I quit my job to pursue the things I loved, and just after my family left sunny southern California to return to the frozen Minnesotan lakes, my marriage completely fell apart. Somewhere between my husband’s propensity to consume a day’s wages in booze nearly every day of the week, and his obvious lack of concern for my worsening depression and stress-related issues, I simply ceased to care about what became of our vows. I wanted out. It was a short run, but looking back, I can’t remember a time when we didn’t struggle with some kind of issue. I want to go through the events of our marriage and separation, but it will take a few posts. In this post, I will cover the marriage event itself, and how my body image issues and depression affected every choice I made. If you’re struggling with any type of mental illness, you know how debilitating they can be. For me, writing about it does seem to help. So with that said, I hope you’ll enjoy the story.
We were married in June of 2010. My wedding wasn’t anything spectacular, by any means. A small ceremony in Vegas with minimal planning, it fit right into our travel-heavy schedule at the time, and coincided with friends’ vacations, so we even had a few attendees. I got that pink, gorgeous hand-made dress from Etsy. I had it tailored to fit my body. I never had fairytale dreams about weddings or marriage, but I was excited to celebrate and get dressed up. I thought that by choosing everything from the music to the vows myself (with input from my husband, of course), and by trying to stick to my feminist values and goals, things would turn out great. I thought that a wedding was supposed to be about me, and my husband. But more on that later.
I know we all wanted to be drunk, party, and live the crazy, carefree life in Vegas for a few days. We stayed in the gorgeous, yet expensive Encore, and one of the first things my husband did was complain about the cost. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ll cover this.” We did agree that this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so it wasn’t terrible to spend the money. However, the complaints started up again after some booze. I’m pretty sure he spent as much paying for our friends’ drinks and food as I did on the hotel. But I decided to say nothing, because I just wanted everyone to be happy, and it wasn’t worth fighting about. My car got hit by a drunk driver trying to park, and the hotel couldn’t locate the footage on their roaming cameras. So now my driver’s side mirror was destroyed, and we had to cover it. Then we drove over a broken wine bottle while parking our second night there. My husband replaced the tire, thankfully, even though he was pretty angry about it. Again, I tried not to complain, because I didn’t want to make it worse. I now felt terrible about the choice of hotel, even though I’d defended it earlier. “Why’d I have to choose this place? Why’d we have to drive? If only I’d chosen to fly.” The nagging, insecure voice inside my head was already ruining everything. But it was about to get much, much worse.
We went to see our professional photos the day after the ceremony. We were already irritated with the heat, the stupid car problems we’d run into, and his parents complaining about every food choice we made (it’s Vegas; everything is expensive). The lady we were meeting had this nice, elaborate slideshow ready of all the pictures – and there were so many of them. Like 200 of them. I knew she was going to try to upsell some packages, but again, I just wanted something simple. The wedding package I’d paid for included six poses, so I was determined not to make it more expensive or complicated than it had to be.
Now, I have never been a fan of photos, especially of me. But I was not prepared for this. I took one look at them and almost had to leave the room. First of all, my husband had cut his own hair before the ceremony and messed it all up. He looked completely unlike himself, but I wasn’t too concerned about that (although I knew he was pretty embarrassed). No, what I was focused on was myself. Like most wedding photographers, the greatest attention is lavished upon the bride. Photo after photo of me getting ready and making weird faces at myself in the mirror while I concentrated, me bending over to adjust my shoes (which had actually caused my feet to bleed) and my fat cleavage hanging out, my stomach looking plump as I tried to get the damn corset lacing as tight as it could go, my arms looking as wide as my head in nearly every shot, and my keratosis pilaris ruddy and obvious on my arms, because I’d picked at it out of nervousness. (“Don’t worry,” both the photographer and the saleslady assured me, “we can edit the redness out.”) That fake, forced smirk-smile I do when I’m told to smile for a photo. That squint I make when I’m outside, causing my face to look rounder and even pudgier. My pale white skin nearly blending in with the pale pink dress. And to add the cherry on top: The stupid poses that they wanted me to do: Having him lean me back for a kiss so my back fat looks more prominent, me leaning my head on him like I’m some kind of frail flower who wants him to pet my hair. It was all foreign to me. This was us? I paid for this? I was hoping we’d look moderately cute. At least, I’d felt moderately cute. But here it was, the truth, in my mind: I was some fat, pasty Midwesterner marrying another fat, pasty Midwesterner. Hallelujah, pass the deep-fried cheese balls.
Now, I don’t think that fat, pasty Midwesterners don’t deserve love and happiness. In fact, they represent the body shape of so many Americans today, and everybody who wants to be in a relationship deserves to be happy with someone who loves them, no matter their race, sexual orientation, weight, physical or mental issues, or their financial situation. Hypocritically enough, though, I didn’t want to be that person. In my head, it meant I was less than. I was hideous, and I did not deserve nice things ™. And now it had been commemorated forever. I watched in horror as my mom bought all the worst, most unflattering shots. I would have to look at these every time I saw her. She would show them to her friends, and they would try to think of something “nice” to say. “Oh, your daughter got married? How, um, nice for her. Oh, her hair sure looks pretty.” There’s nothing like Minnesota Nice to let you know when someone’s just trying their hardest to be polite. I managed to pick out six where you couldn’t see me very well and hurriedly signed some papers. The second I was done, I left the room, and immediately burst into tears. Why did I think that I could ever look pretty? My thoughts wandered back to the ceremony, where my mother couldn’t resist making that comment about how much I was “built” like her as she watched me get ready. That old backhanded compliment. My mom has complained about how fat and ugly she is her whole life. Then she draws a direct comparison between our body types. I know what she’s saying. I get it.
A month later we visited our families for the reception. Our mothers had taken the reins on the planning here, an event they seemed to enjoy a lot. I gave my feedback for many of their suggestions, but they did the lion’s share of the planning. The reception was scheduled in Fargo, North Dakota, because I knew most of our friends and family members couldn’t afford to go to Las Vegas for the ceremony. My mom also wanted photos of the reception, so she’d hired a professional photographer for this event. I tried to tell her no repeatedly out of fear, but she didn’t listen. She assured me this person would do a much better job. So I brought the dreaded dress again and prepared for round two of my self-esteem being crushed into nothingness. But before I continue, allow me to tell you how my family affairs have always functioned.
My parents divorced when I was 12, which led us to have two separate holidays and celebrations for every event in our lives. This was fine, because at the time, our parents didn’t get along very well and my sister and I would rather just not deal with any drama at two events, rather than try to force two people who seemed infinitely angry at each other in the same room for obligatory pleasantries. However, this has continued into adult years. Everyone has their own version of events. Mom has her parties, Dad has his, even my grandparents have theirs. Add in extended families, and my husband’s families, and this gets to be too much. So I asked that everyone who couldn’t make it to Vegas come to Fargo for the reception. If there’s one day I can ask people to get along in the name of love and peace, it should be a wedding reception, right?
Photos came first. I arrived on time so my mom could do my hair. She wanted this to be a mother-daughter bonding moment, and I wanted her to have this. I sat in my sweatpants, talking to her while she took her curling iron and started working. She immediately tried to tease my hair a la Beauty Pageant participant. I told her to just leave it down in pretty curls. “That’ll look bad in photos.” But I’d worn my hair down before. “No, it will look better like this.” I fought with her. So much for my mother-daughter moment. Needing a break from her trying to pull my hair and make me look completely ridiculous, I went to the bathroom to talk to my sister. I had to put on my dress before she finished my hair, anyway. So I put on my shapewear that I bought, thinking it would help. But I saw myself in the mirror, and started to panic. Oh my god, I look hideous. Fat. I have to go out there like this. People will see me like this; they’re going to want to take pictures of me. I nervously picked at my nails without thinking about it, and chipped some of the polish. Oh, shit. I called a friend and asked her to bring nail polish remover with her. I returned to my mother, where she finally got fed up with my bangs and I simply pinned them back with a bobby pin.
A few of my friends began to trickle in. Even though they hadn’t been present at the wedding, I wanted them to be in the reception photos, as if I’d had bridesmaids. They all had different body types, so I told them to buy green dresses, whatever kind they’d feel confident in. One had opted for a taffeta prom dress, another for an empire-waist silky dress. We all mismatched and I loved it – my mom did not. But she was just plain mad at this point. She was fuming about my hair, my nails, and my friends’ dresses. She was angry at my sister because she had dreads, and dreads are not proper wedding hair. “You better take those out!” She told my sister, who kind of laughed and offered to wear a hat. My sister also feels extremely uncomfortable in dresses, so I’d helped her pick out a suit with a matching green shirt (which she had worn to the wedding, and my mother was quite upset with her for this as well). I don’t remember what she had to wear for the reception, but my sister mysteriously couldn’t find her suit when it came time to get dressed.
When we were all ready, we went to take the photos around the Avalon in downtown Fargo. It doubles as a dinner theatre and event hall. It’s actually a very beautiful building, but since Fargo is not very big, many wedding photography sessions take place here. So it’s not the most unique setting to those familiar with the city, but the photos still turn out nice and with a bit of an antique flair. In fact, I had taken a camera out during my college days and photographed many of the old buildings in this area; there is a lot of history there. I clung to this idea, hoping the scenery would be vintage and dreamy. I have no idea how they turned out. My mom never told me.
At the actual reception event, we were going to do dinner first, followed by a dance. I’d made sure to provide vegetarian and vegan options as well as meat. A whole buffet of food came out, looking absolutely delicious. I was very happy with this moment, because everyone just talked, ate, and seemed to enjoy themselves. It was as close to normal as it could be. But my husband’s father and brother left abruptly after the dinner, barely saying hi. My dad showed up briefly after the dining, but my stepbrother was ill, he said. I know it was hard for him to be there in the midst of my mother and her meticulously-planned event, but it still disappointed me. The moms were doing okay, until after most people had eaten. “Oh, I don’t think there’s enough food.” “Oh, there’s too much food!” “Why isn’t everyone eating?” “They won’t let us take home the extra food!” “What a waste of money.” “I wish I’d planned this somewhere else.”
I’d also specifically requested NOT to do a special dance. I just wanted to mingle and try my best to have fun. But of course I was made to do it because it’s “traditional” and I’d opted out of pretty much everything else, so, being put on the spot, I did it to make my mother happy. Thankfully they invited other couples out on the floor about 30 seconds in, so it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d imagined, but it was a very long 30 seconds for someone who can’t tolerate being looked at. “What if I trip? Are they all watching me? I want them to stop looking at me, I know I look terrible. Oh, they’re taking pictures, that’s great. More pictures I won’t want to see.” Trust me, I know you’re annoyed with me at this point. I get annoyed with that voice, too. But for some reason, it never ceases to tell me how terrible I am. I wished I could feel happy and enjoy the moment, but I was filled with dread and wanted to run away, to a place where no one would make me do these superfluous things.
Over the course of the night I drank quite a bit. I wasn’t completely drunk, but close. It was the only way to stop my self-consciousness from ruining everything. I just wanted everything to stop. I wanted to go hang out with friends and be myself. I didn’t want to put on this spectacular show of gender performance, of being the beautiful bride that the little girls all wanted to be. I wanted to be a badass that the little girls wanted to be. I never changed my last name, and made it very obvious that I wasn’t planning on doing it, and yet I was repeatedly referred to as “Mrs. Husband’s Firstname, Husband’s Last name.” What, I don’t even get to keep my first name now? Gee, thanks, guys. But most of all, I wanted my mom to respect my wishes about what I wanted this event to be.
But you know what? A wedding, with as much attention as they put on the bride, isn’t about her. It’s not “her” day. It’s a day for the parents, really. It’s about performing senseless rituals that are outdated, steeped in sexism and female ownership, and defended as tradition, in order to prove to the older generation that you have successfully navigated to this marker of a “normal” life. Other markers will include having children, owning a home, having well-paying and “respectable” jobs, and writing stupid Christmas letters to people that you’d otherwise never talk to, and that ultimately, no one bothers to read. Okay, that last part was glib, but the rest is true. It was the night I realized that as hard as I fought to have secular vows, to retain my identity, to respect my sister’s gender fluidity and to include everyone in a way they felt comfortable but to still appease my mother, that I failed to grasp what the whole event means to others. People will always see me as an extension of the man I married, and to some extent, that I have certain duties I am now required to fulfill simply because I chose to take part in the ceremony of marriage. If I’d planned the wedding between my husband and myself alone, I could have a certain level of satisfaction with my choices. But because I wanted everyone to be happy, I was not happy myself, and it became about everyone else.
If you made it this far, I’m surprised. I wanted to retell basic events of my wedding and reception because mentally, I am not calibrated to deal with the kinds of things that undoubtedly will arise with matrimony. But I also wanted to tell you this because I am twenty-seven years old and I have been married and separated already. I have dealt with severe body image issues and depression, and I am finally learning how to navigate through these things now that I am free from a toxic relationship. I’ll write more about the relationship in another post, which will hopefully come soon.