I can’t exactly identify when it happened, but I’m sure it was sometime this spring semester. I hadn’t had this experience since about fifth grade, so I didn’t recognize it at first. But it kept happening. More and more. And I still can only guess at why: My self-esteem had plummeted.
I blame the wedding planning. But of course, there are some other confounding factors, the most obvious one being my first year of graduate school. Does graduate school make someone’s self esteem plummet? Since I had never had that experience before in my many other academic and professional endeavors, and since I basically feel okay about how I am doing in school, I am going to continue to attribute this phenomenon to the wedding planning process.
It’s a strange sensation, because rationally I still know that I am a great person in a lot of ways. But there is something about the social, emotional, and commercial challenges of this process that really got to me. As an attempt to dissect what happened, I am going to use the break-down for “Confidence” that we use in our research on adolescent development.
Confidence in Physical Appearance: I started out with loads of this, but I have to admit the constant focus on the details of my appearance during this one day are making me much more self-conscious than I enjoy. How will my dress fit? Will there be any blemishes on my face? Will my legs be adequately smooth, my fingernails properly groomed, and my hair not too flat and not too frizzy? I think a lot of my approach to dealing with my appearance is to wear bright colors. Since deciding to wear white, my usual strategy for telling myself I look stunning has been taken away. At least I will be wearing a kittel (ceremonial robe) during the wedding ceremony, so my attention will be completely taken off my appearance for the most important part of the day.
Confidence in Peer Acceptance: I usually have loads of this, also, but the contradictions in wedding planning mean that with every decision I make, I know there is someone who disagrees with me. I know there are people I love and respect that would have wanted me to make the other decision. Also, the more and more that I argue with people, disagree with people, fail to compromise with people, and am unable to give other people what they need from me, the worse and worse I feel about myself. A large part of my identity is based on my ability to nourish my relationships and to contribute flourishing friendships. The more conflicts I have with friends and family around the wedding ceremony, the more my self esteem plummets. And it is a vicious cycle, because with low self-esteem, I find it thoroughly difficult to hold my own when I experience tension with loved ones.
Confidence in School: As much as I hate to admit it, planning this wedding definitely affected my performance as a student and as a budding professional in my field. At the same time as I find this fact difficult to accept, I rationally believe it is completely understandable. I think it is incredibly important to strike a balance between one’s personal and professional lives. But when the wedding itself is already making me feel like I just can’t do things right, going to school and struggling there because I am overwhelmed, exhausted, and overcommitted makes me feel even worse. I gain a lot of confidence and self-respect by excelling as an educator, researcher, and activist. Scaling back from those activities this year, and performing slightly worse on the activities I did do, made me feel bad about myself.
Confidence in Area of Interest: I think the main reason that wedding planning led my self-esteem to plummet is that I didn’t feel like I was good at it. I didn’t have a real vision for what I wanted before I started, so that meant each detail was a new thing to navigate. I also haven’t been part of planning a lot of weddings previously, so a lot of conflicts were completely unanticipated. And sometimes I would come up with my own answer to something, and I would just be told that I was wrong. Most of those times I really was wrong—I didn’t really know what I was getting into and thus couldn’t really imagine what I needed. So a lot of the time I just didn’t feel competent. With the tasks for which I had no interest and no talent—such as selecting flowers—I just delegated completely (thanks, Mom!). However, sometimes I really did want to be part of the conversation, I just felt unprepared for the tasks at hand. Spending such a great amount of time and energy doing work in an area in which I felt truly unskilled really hurt my self-esteem.
I want to add something about the Wedding Industrial Complex, too. Because the Wedding Industry is just that, an industry and a business, it is set up to make you feel you lack something, or have specific needs, so that you will go out and buy something or hire someone to make everything better. The wedding industry is designed to kick-off this self-esteem plummet. However, the self esteem is then supposed to be rescued through purchasing and hiring. I really tried to hold myself back from extra expenditure, so I do not know how I would have felt if I had been more commercially-oriented. Or, on the other hand, I don’t know how I would have felt if I had fully committed myself to an anti-commercialist wedding.
In conclusion, I have this to say: last weekend was my bachelorette party. Two of my best friends in the whole world threw me an absolutely fabulous celebration full of surprises. I had friends present from childhood, high school, college, and these post-college years in Boston. If all of those totally fabulous, smart, caring, and fun people chose to spend a weekend celebrating with me, then there must be something good going on with me. The weekend reset me, centered me, and built a foundation for my self-esteem. I am feeling a little more ready to go into the last stretch before the wedding knowing that I am a good person, I have tried really hard to go through this process with integrity and care, and many outstanding people will be there to celebrate with me. I know my self esteem will continue to grow and get stronger, and I actually think the wedding is going to help, in the end, because of all the people that will be there.