Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

Guest Article

07/31/2021 8:30 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)
Amy McManus

Amy McManus, LMFT

Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride

Wedding season is back, and it’s back on steroids! Most of the weddings that were supposed to take place in 2020 were switched to 2021, so this year many of my young adult clients are doing double-time as wedding guests, bridesmaids, and maids-of-honor. This timing combined with the millennial expectation that every step of the process—from proposal to honeymoon—is not only tender, but also public, spectacular, and, well, expensive, means that 2021 is the year many young women both feel inadequate and go broke.

Bridezilla is something that people have long joked about, and certainly there is some merit to this characterization. The pressure on brides to have a wedding that is absolutely perfect is high, even if it is something they put on themselves. Often brides-to-be are trying to plan the perfect wedding for themselves, while also pleasing multiple other people, most notably their own mothers. It’s a setup for disappointment, and the stress makes it tough for the bride-to-be to be a good friend at this time—a period during which her good friends are spending literally thousands of dollars to go to proposal parties, showers, bachelorettes, and, eventually, the wedding.

Young women who are spending a huge portion of their disposable income on someone else’s perfect scenario are in a good position for feeling disappointment, inadequacy, depression, and even self-loathing.

If you have clients who are “at that marrying stage of life” it’s important to be aware of what is going on in their emotional life. If your client comes in talking about flying to Cabo for a bachelorette party, then going back home the next weekend for a shower, then joining friends for a surprise proposal party at the beach, don’t just assume her life is all fun and games. Take some time to dig into all the feelings that surround these activities.

Many young women feel resentment at having to spend so much time and money on someone else’s big life event. Many feel sad that they don’t have a partner themselves, or that their own partner seems lightyears away from proposing to them. Certainly, those who are not yet partnered worry that by the time they get married, no one will have the time or energy to spend on them the way that they did on the ones who were sooner to the altar.

But . . . worse than the resentment, the sadness, or the worry, is the shame. And this is where therapists can be invaluable.

First there is shame around not being married yet—and this will only get worse now that they are once again able to travel to see families at home and have to explain to Aunt Minnie for the umpteenth time why they don’t “have a nice boy to marry.” As much as our culture tells women to be independent, the more subtle underlying message is that they should also be married. And given that humans are social animals, and have evolved to live in groups, we tend to want this for ourselves as well. Everyone wants to have their “person.” And when you don’t have that special someone, you start to wonder . . . is it me? Hence, shame. All the work we do as therapists on self-esteem is going to be more important than ever during this extended and super-charged wedding season.

Another kind of shame is even more insidious, and this is where therapists can be particularly helpful. Young women might gripe to their friends about how much money they are spending on a particular event, but they won’t go so far as to say how much they really resent having to continuously celebrate other people’s happiness. And how much they dislike themselves for feeling that way. Normalizing feelings is hugely important in this situation, so be sure your therapy room is a safe place for your clients to express all their complicated emotions around weddings.

You may need to open the door with a comment that shows how you understand the demands of all the wedding hoopla. I sometimes tell my clients stories about how other young women feel in this situation. It helps that I have loads of clients in this demographic, as well as three daughters of my own between 25 and 30. I have heard this story many, many times.

I have had clients break down talking about how they will be spending literally thousands of dollars on other people’s weddings this year, but they can’t get people to commit to coming to their own birthday party, since birthdays are seen as not being that important. It’s critical to get to the totally raw moment where they can see all of their feelings—the resentment, the anger, the insecurity, the sadness—so that you can help them have empathy for themselves rather than turn these feelings into self-loathing.

Self-loathing is the young woman’s go-to emotion these days. It doesn’t help that they may be trying to squeeze their 15lbs-heavier post-Covid body into that bridesmaid dress they ordered in 2019, so be on the lookout for that, too. Body dysmorphia is so common among young women, and when they all get together for a shower or a bachelorette party, they may end up leaving feeling worse that when they arrived.

All this being said, weddings are happy events, and even my clients who have unhappily gone stag to their friends’ weddings have had a lot of good times. All of the above is simply a warning to therapists, especially those of you who don’t have very many clients who are young women and don’t see the same overall pattern that I do in my practice, to dig a little deeper into the shadow side of the emotions surrounding weddings, so that your clients can process those emotions and land at a place of understanding and self-acceptance.

Amy McManus, LMFT, helps anxious young adults build healthy new relationships with themselves and others after a breakup. Amy’s blog, “Life Hacks,” offers practical tips for thriving in today’s crazy plugged-in world. Learn more about Amy from her website www.thrivetherapyla.com.

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