Confessions of a divorced wedding blogger
What it's like to work in weddings after your marriage abruptly ends
|Ariel Meadow Stallings||Sep 19, 2019|| 32|
Back in 2015, I was nine years into my career as a wedding blogger, and 18 years into my partnership. Most of my days were spent managing the staff of my bootstrapped media company, doing stuff like reviewing wedding editorial content, navigating sponsorship deals, making sure the web server wasn’t melting, moderating comments, marketing content across six different social media properties, and then going home to my kindergartener and his father.
My marriage very abruptly ended that fall. As a newly-single mother, I needed to keep paying my bills, which meant I needed to keep doing my job, and my job was publishing a wedding blog. That meant looking at wedding pictures all day and reviewing posts about how to DIY wedding centerpieces. That meant co-producing 500-person alternative wedding expos. That meant answering questions from journalists about my own wedding, while going through the process of dissolving the marriage.
Admittedly, the first couple months, I was stuck between catatonic shock and hallucinogenic grief and couldn’t do much of anything. My staff covered most day-to-day tasks and only bothered me with mission-critical questions. Even the sight of my company’s logo filled me with nausea: Offbeat Bride? I WAS A BRIDE ONCE. Now I was a divorced husk of a woman, a failed fraud who’d built a business on an imploded identity.
After the grief fog lifted, I got back to work. Over the course of the next few years, I moved through three stages of reconciliation with weddings:
Ah, the business of looking at pictures of happy smiling couples all day. Many of Offbeat Bride’s posts are wedding profiles, with each post featuring the written story and photos from a real couple’s wedding.
Scrolling through posts that my editors had carefully crafted, I’d grit my teeth and bite my tongue so as not to scream at the smiling faces on my screen “RUN, CHILDREN — RUN!”
All these couples looked so young. They were all so happy and excited, but I became convinced that I could read each couple’s dysfunctional relationship dynamics through their body language.
Still tripping balls on grief a bit, life felt sort of magic and weird (ask Joan Didion!) and I was sure I could visibly see a newlywed couple’s demise in how they were holding hands at the altar, or by the way the groom was looking down when exiting the ceremony, or the curve of the bride’s spine in the first look photos.
If I unfocused my eyes a bit, this picture of a smiling bride tossing her bouquet would gently morph into a vision of her in her living room years later, tossing blame at her partner.
The wedding photos that included extended family were even more overwhelming to my grief-addled mind. Suddenly, it became blindingly obvious to me how every couple was just replicating the fucked-up family dynamics they’d grown up with.
Suddenly, every wedding photo illustrated how many of us match up with someone who reminds us of our childhood dynamics. We’re all marrying our avoidant mothers (he ignores me in such a familiar, comforting way!), or our alcoholic fathers (I know how to handle her when she gets like this, I’m used to it!), or our domineering siblings (of course I feel small and belittled — that’s who I am!)
How had I never understood this? For many of us, the reason relationships feel “right” is because they feel like what we know. When you’re young and haven’t untangled the ways that what feels “right” might actually be detrimental, of course you’re just going to replicate the wrongness of your childhood!
Over and over again, I stared at my screen and screamed in my head, RUN, CHILDREN!
IT’S ALL A LIE!
ALL THESE YEARS, I’VE BEEN SELLING YOU A LIE!
Then I’d start crying at my desk, my fingers shaking too hard to hold the mouse, and I’d give up on work for the day and go back to bed.
I think it was working the wedding expos that eventually pushed me past the bitterness. Early 2016, I spent two months flying across the country, dressing up in sequin gowns, greeting newlyweds and glad-handling wedding vendors, and getting hugs from readers who’d driven hours to have me sign a copy of their Offbeat Bride books, and I just couldn’t stay bitter.
As I circulated the wedding expos, smiling at the wedding vendors promoting their adorably artisanal ice cream sandwiches served from the back of a bicycle, fondling the succulent flower wreaths perfectly assembled for bohemian bridesmaids, I just couldn’t stay grumpy. I wore my red heels with the hearts on the fronts, and I took selfies with Offbeat Bride readers overflowing with joy, and I just couldn’t stay mad about it.
As the bitterness faded, it was replaced by a sense of resignation. It all felt so inevitable: of course this is what happens.
It didn’t matter if I tell people to run: they won’t, because they’re in love and they want to make it official.
It didn’t matter if I wrote really useful relationship advice about non-violent communication, conflict resolution, and establishing healthy boundaries: people will just keep getting married, fucking it up, and inevitably getting divorced.
It didn’t matter if I put on fancy dresses and smiled and hugged strangers at this wedding expo, or if I jumped on stage, ripped off the sequins in a grief-stricken meltdown, and grabbed the microphone out of my co-producer’s tattooed hands and screamed IT’S ALL LIES, I’VE BEEN SELLING YOU LIES, DON’T DO IT!!
It didn’t matter if I published a wedding blog or didn’t publish a wedding blog: it’s inevitable that we will just keep getting married.
It didn’t matter if I got divorced: weddings would just keep marching on.
It didn’t even matter if I died: people would keep googling “wedding invitation wording” and finding my old posts and copying and pasting the words into their invitations.
It didn’t matter.
After another year or two of resignation, I went around another bend.
I realized that it wasn’t just inevitable that we would replicate our family of origin bullshit in our first marriages: that’s the way it has to be.
Of course our youthful relationships replicate the fucked up dynamics we knew in childhood… we recreate these dynamics because that’s the only way we have the opportunity to overcome them.
Replicating our family-of-origin dysfunctions in our early relationships isn’t a mistake to be avoided… in fact, that’s how we create the opportunity to finally outgrow the dysfunctions!
As a child, you don’t have the resources to navigate your distant father, or enforce boundaries with your needy mother, or stand your ground with that demanding sibling. You don’t know how to push back against your father’s neurosis, or unentangle yourself from your grandmother’s self-esteem issues. You don’t know how to have boundaries with that alcoholic family member, or how to have compassion for your disabled older sibling.
As adults, we recreate these familiar landscapes in our lives and then, if we’re lucky, we’re able to develop the skills and maturity to deal with them in more functional, productive, useful ways.
I don’t mean to imply that this is an easy process. It takes awareness to see what’s playing out in your life. It takes a lot of insight to understand how your childhood dynamics are meddling in your ability to live your adult life.
But once you see the patterns, they cannot be unseen… and then comes the hard work. It takes practice and patience to unlearn default behaviors left over from childhood, and make new adult choices. It is profoundly uncomfortable to interact with your life in different ways. You have to see your defaults as choices, and try making new mistakes. It’s agonizing and disorienting and feels like you’re dying but also being reborn.
Four years on the other side of my divorce, I’ve come to understand that failed marriages aren’t mistakes. These days, I look at photos of newlyweds and don’t want anyone to run… I think to myself, “Ooh, I hope you’re ready to sink your teeth in!”
Weddings stopped being a tragedy. Instead of looking at photos and seeing the echos of each couple’s demise, I see the threads of the personal development they’ll each have the opportunity to address.
For some of these folks, working through the issues together will be the greatest gift of their lives. For others, the ends of the relationships will be their greatest growth — the chance to finally stand up for themselves and leave, the chance to finally learn their own strength in abandonment. The stories are all different, but the lessons are all remarkably similar.
Of course we spend our 20s and early 30s building things up, only to burn them down. Of course we marry someone who reminds us of old familiar pains.
That’s the way we grow. I’m not bitter about it, I’m not resigned to it... I appreciate it.