I'm going wedding dress shopping with my mother tomorrow. I didn't really want to go and still feel ambivalent about it. My mother can be a loving, generous, supportive person. However, her insecurities can easily and unexpectedly be triggered, turning her into the Witch of the West. She can be mean and offensive in the most passive of ways, making it difficult to call her out on it. I fear she'll hurt my feelings at some point and take the joy out of the moment.
I also realized recently that she's not a selfish woman but definitely self-centered: everything is about her. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of attention, and I don't ask for much from others, but I do feel the moment I try on wedding dresses for the first time should be about me.
This all makes me sad because I want a relationship with my mother and I want to share these special moments with her, but I've learned that she's so limited and I don't want to be too disappointed in the end.
I decided to bring a friend along for protection, (so sad that I need this) but I'm not sure it will be enough. And with 13 months left until my wedding, how do I continue to protect myself and set appropriate boundaries, while trying to connect with her through this experience?
The Naked Bride
Dear Naked Bride,
This is your homework, for the rest of your engagement: practice saying no.
Start small, with someone who wants you to give them money for some charity you’ve never heard of (“Not today, thanks”), or the person who asks, “can you watch my dog while I go in this store really quick?” (“No, I cannot, sorry”), or your co-worker who wants you to finish their work for them (“I can’t get to it, unfortunately”). No, no, no, and, guess what? No.
Then when you need to put up boundaries with people you really do care about, like your mom, you’ll be able to do it with a little more grace, because you have practiced. It won’t come out in an adolescent rage fit in which you bring up every little way she’s hurt your self esteem since you were six. You’ll just say, “No, I’m not wearing that hideous doily of a veil that’s been in your family for 6 generations. I totally get it if that is disappointing to you. But it’s not going to happen, so let’s talk about something fun we can do together. What song do you want to dance to with me at the reception?”
It’s really sad, but true, that we have to manage our expectations quite a bit with our parents, once we are adults. We get to this point where we can see them for who they really are, how far they’ve come, but also what their limitations are. We want our parents to be superheroes, but they aren’t. They’re just people. Who had children.
Weddings are ritual events, and all good ritual is acts as a cauldron that brings out everything in people---all the ways we are transcendent beings striving to love one another in the face of impossible struggles, and all of the little wounds that are still festering, and cause us to react in unflattering ways. They show us who we can be and also where we still need to work. Rather than seeing this wedding as one day in which you pledge your love to your partner in front of your loved ones, start seeing it as a whole process of creation---you are actually going to become a different person through bonding yourself to another.
So yes, your mom is probably going to hurt your feelings in this transformation process. But the ways in which she does will give you so many clues to where you are still growing, what sensitivities your partner can help you with. The best thing to do, rather than protect yourself from all those barbs she’ll throw at you, is to catch them mid-stream, as they are flying at your face, and inspect them. Ask yourself, “can I use this? Can I bring this to my partner and let it draw us closer as we go through this together? Or do I really just not need this shit right now, and need to say a hearty NO?” Then decide whether you can take that on right then, and use it in your becoming, or not. As the time draws nearer to the celebration, you’ll be saying “no” all over the place, as you’ll really have to focus all your energy on fighting your way out of the cocoon.
Weddings and marriage are not the smiling photo shoots we see. They are deep transformative acts, and they unsit all of the important relationships in our lives, especially the ones with our parents. In the end, however, hopefully it all helps us fly.
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