Let me set the scene.
You’re at an Arab wedding, in a room full of vapors, scarves, vibrating percussion, glitter, and gold. The bride is a shining, spinning mess of fabric and perfume. The crowd of strangers blur by in endless circles, clapping when she twirls and whispering the second her bright smile momentarily fades. All the while she is being pulled back and forth, bouncing to the noise of a string orchestra.
I dislike weddings. I dread the day I may feel pressured to have my own. That is not to say I am against marriage. Getting married and starting a family is definitely one of my goals for the future. However, as most of us know by now, weddings are not about celebrating marriage. They’re about pleasing the loved ones of the people to be wed. In many cases, weddings are also about showing off how much cash one family can blow on a party for hundreds people they’ve never met.
I don’t believe I should have to please anyone after making a decision to marry. I do not want to be put on display for people, regardless of whether they know me or not. When I imagine myself in the bride’s (uncomfortable) shoes, I can hear people wondering why I’m not smiling, if I’ll make a good mother, or if I’m pretty enough for the groom. I’ve seen and heard it all before as a wedding guest. And it’s absolutely brutal.
Even without the judgment, attention from large groups of people makes me want to pass out. I generally go into classic panic mode with shortness of breath, dizziness, sour acid churning in the stomach, the whole thing. Cold sweat on your wedding dress is not a good look.
So why the stress? Why not just cut out the festivities and have a stripped-down religious ceremony?
Let me back up.
Islamically, a couple wishing to get married must sign a marriage contract together in front of at least two witnesses. This usually happens in the home, with parents and siblings present. The couple can be considered engaged at this point, and continue getting to know each other. After the “engagement” period takes place, a festive banquet is held for the marriage to be “official.”
So in theory, I can just sign the religious contract and keep the ceremonial bits simple, yeah? Town hall and a family dinner?
Arabs don’t know how to not go all out. We are complex in history, in politics, in tea etiquette, and most of all in wedding celebrations. We invite everyone we have ever met and never met, dropping tens of thousands on an extravagant multi-day event of dancing, food, and loud music. This may sound great for a lot of people, but it’s a horror for extreme introverts who will be the center of attention at these spectacles.
I’m all for retaining my culture, but not at the expense of my mental welfare. Just the idea of all eyes on me is nauseating. But then I have to sit and consider the passive comments my mom and dad would deal with for letting me escape deep-rooted marriage traditions.
That’s the problem. Our traditions don’t take into account our individual realities. This is why I think my social anxiety partially stems from the constant judgment I felt throughout my childhood. I was living a double life as both an Arab and an American without ever understanding that the two were allowed to merge. I saw this perceived culture clash when my parents started getting flack from conservatives in our community for letting me move across the country to attend college in California. These same people will expect invitations at my future wedding, a perfect opportunity for them check out if my wedding dress is indeed made of Muslim wife material.
As I’ve matured, I’ve learned to reconcile my identities, as they are not mutually exclusive. I also got pretty good at letting the negativity of others roll of my back. That still doesn’t mean I have to pander to the one-track minds that believe weddings and rituals are requirements for a religiously valid marriage.
Who knows? I may change my mind. I may find ways to manage my anxiety, or discover new alternatives that will make a wedding more acceptable to me. Either way, I have resolved that growing up means finding your own way to achieve happiness, and not letting others dictate your life choices.
So if marriage is my choice, so is the method by which I get married.