Anxiety about engagement and weddings
January 30, 2016 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I love my boyfriend, I want to marry my boyfriend. I am deeply uncomfortable with being a bride.The idea of being engaged makes me want to hide under my desk and have a panic attack. Please hope me.

I broke off an engagement three years ago for good reason. I now have a wonderful boyfriend who proposed to me a couple of months ago. I was immediately gripped with anxiety. I ended up calling off the engagement again. After some soul searching (and me going back on my antidepressant), we are back together but I am not wearing my engagement ring.

When I think of where I want to be in 10 years, I know I want to be with him raising a family. I don't understand why I can't handle the engagement period.

I feel like the engagement ring on my finger is an excuse for strangers, coworkers and acquaintances to exclaim and ask me about the wedding. For some reason I hate having to react to this and it makes me deeply uncomfortable. This makes me feel guilty because I love him and brag about him and bring him up in conversation constantly, so I don't understand the disconnect.

I have a beautiful engagement ring I want to wear, but I feel like if I wear it with a wedding band there is less to comment on... Like, I'm married and that's that, there's more to me than being a bride so let's move on, you know?

My boyfriend would be 100% happy with eloping or having a tiny 10 person ceremony with immediate family, and skipping the whole engagement period, considering the amount of anxiety it has caused me and the strain it has put on our relationship. My only concern is that I worry my parents will be sad that it wasn't bigger, or that I will look back with regret that I didn't walk down the aisle or have a first dance.

Please advise me. This has turned me into a ball of nerves.
posted by pintapicasso to Human Relations (53 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you have a courthouse ceremony then just a party at your house with family and close friends? You can still have a first dance at your party and celebrate with the people who want to celebrate with you. If you parents want to contribute, have them cater a party or pay for a honeymoon. And definitely wait until you are married to wear your engagement ring if that makes it feel better for you.
posted by greta simone at 8:17 AM on January 30, 2016 [16 favorites]

It sounds like you dislike the attention and expectation to perform in a certain way and being a bride comes with plenty of that.

It is totally ok to have your tiny 10 person ceremony. I'm getting married this summer and it's around 40 people, no cake, no head table, no first dance, just ceremony and afternoon reception.

Maybe spend some time meditating on what you want rather than what you think other people want of you and maybe this will relieve some of the pressure?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:17 AM on January 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

All sorts of people have small, warm, loving, memorable weddings. (They will be along shortly with the details.)

How many people do you need for a first dance? Your dad. How many people do you need to line an aisle? 10 would do, if it was a short enough aisle. Go big with 20 if you must.

I doubt that your parents really favor a big wedding over your happiness. Have a small wedding you'll love this spring and get on with being married.

(Your fiance will also probably be totally OK with you cherishing your engagement ring in a place of pride in your home for a few months until you can wear it with a wedding band. Ask him/tell him if this is what you want to do.)
posted by rosebuddy at 8:18 AM on January 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do it. The only regret I've ever heard anybody express about their wedding is they wish it had been smaller or that they'd eloped. I put myself in this camp--I wish it had just been a courthouse wedding. Looking back on all the hoopla (at a distance of a quarter century now) it just seems a silly, juvenile waste of money.
posted by HotToddy at 8:19 AM on January 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Heck yeah, elope! Then call up friends and family and say hey, we're married, let's party! Sounds like your anxiety is about the engagement but you are very excited about being married, so why not skip to the part that excites you?
posted by chaiminda at 8:24 AM on January 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

You also don't have to wear your engagement ring if you don't want to. When you think about it, it's a bit patriarchal anyway. If you're not wearing it, the topic of your engagement will come up a lot less. And if you like the idea of wearing it with your wedding ring later on, then just do that.
posted by lunasol at 8:27 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just performed a marriage for a former co-worker last night. She contacted me about two weeks ago and asked if I was available. There were about 15-ish people there, they used the sanctuary of her home church (her grandfather is the custodian and got the okay from the pastor). There was no rehearsal dinner (we had about a ten minute conversation about how the ceremony would go), no bridal party, no music, no flowers...just the groom in a suit, the bride in a pretty dress, me, and the guests. She didn't even tell anyone about the wedding until like two days beforehand.

You don't *have* to have the long, announced engagement or the "typical" wedding with all the trimmings. Do what you want. It will be okay.
posted by cooker girl at 8:27 AM on January 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

While I support you doing whatever you wish to do, and I think the suggestions above about getting married and having a party later are good, another alternative to addressing the anxiety about strangers asking about the wedding would be to simply wear both your engagement ring and a wedding band.
posted by AugustWest at 8:27 AM on January 30, 2016

We skipped an engagement entirely and went to the courthouse one Saturday, got married, and didn't bother to tell anyone for a couple of weeks. I do not regret it at all, and my parents were actually relieved that they didn't have to help plan or attend a wedding.
posted by coppermoss at 8:28 AM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your parents already GOT married. This is your wedding, not your parents' wedding. Elope or go to city hall whatever you want to do, ASAP, and let them throw you a big party or whatever they want to do later.

If there are regrets, well whatever. You're not going to regret it as much as not being able to get married.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:31 AM on January 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

We sat in our favorite restaurant wondering what to do for our wedding - I definitely want(ed) no pomp and palaver. So in the end we booked out the resto, had dinner with close friends and family, invited a few more folks for an after dinner quick ceremony with this awesome humanist minister and then had a great party.

Your only regrets will be about not making it honest and authentic for you and your partner.

Best wishes.
posted by parki at 8:32 AM on January 30, 2016

Do the very small wedding. I promise, your family doesn't want you to have a big, expensive party if it makes you unhappy.

You can still be attended by your parents in a meaningful way in a very small courthouse ceremony with only immediate family.

Wear your engagement ring. If anyone asks, simply tell them, "Bill and I got engaged, I hate being the center of attention so we're having a VERY small ceremony with only our immediate families. I'm one of those people who hates having Happy Birthday sung to them, can you IMAGINE the whole 'big wedding thing?"

Your other friends and family know you, love you and accept you for who you are. You are a person who would prefer no fuss. In this, you get to have exactly what you want.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:33 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also declined to be part of the Wedding-Industrial Complex. Mr. Ant and I were married by a retired county commissioner at our favorite coffee shop. I wore jeans and had my hair in a ponytail. We had about thirty friends in attendance, and the (brief, civil) ceremony was followed by coffee and sandwiches.

I believe strongly that most people put too much emphasis on their weddings and not nearly enough on their marriages. Maybe you can reframe some of your anxiety as a mindful decision to do this your way.
posted by workerant at 8:34 AM on January 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure if you have a decent relationship with your parents but you may be able to just come clean with them. "I want to be married to $boyfriend. I do not want a wedding or a lengthy engagement period. I love you very much so I wanted to let you know that we are going to have a courthouse wedding and would love to have you come to $special_event with us afterwards to celebrate. How do you feel about this?" If that's an option, it's a totally acceptable one. I am a JP and I have married people at large weddings but especially small weddings. There are ways to make a wedding day special and memorable and meaningful to you personally and your fiancee without it turning into A THING. It's okay to just keep your own counsel with yourself and your fiancee and learning to manage other people's expectations is actually a good exercise in being part of Team Us which is sort of what a wedding/marriage is meant to signify. I wish you the best in working this out and if you'd like to get married in Vermont I'm available at basically any time.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on January 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Consider finding a therapist to help you plan how to have a wedding. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I did that and it helped immensely. I realized much of the stress I was feeling was related to the potential drama of having different estranged family members interact, and also just that I dislike crowds and being the center of attention. My therapist was able to help me pinpoint the exact source of my stress and find ways to handle it. For me, a big thing was designating a friend who helped talk to one of my aunts who is a big shit-stirrer. Designated friend sort of distracted aunt throughout the day so I didn't have to deal with her. It worked! In hindsight nearly a decade later, the therapy was a great idea and I don't regret it. I think the wedding could have been even better if we had eloped. I didn't think we could afford it at the time, but even our very budget wedding in a park ended up costing $7,000 - largely due to photography and catering costs for 150 people. (Also in hindsight, the park did not save us money. Using a reception hall would have worked just as well because the park entailed renting chairs and supplies and also just meant lots of work doing set up). I do love the photos we have, but we could have used that money to travel with our parents for a small beach wedding somewhere. I didn't like the idea of excluding my extended family, but now that I'm an old married lady, that idea doesn't really bother me at all. I think the extended family would have been understanding and I also recognize that my priority should have been more focused on me and my new family: my husband. Best of luck to you! I can completely relate.
posted by areaperson at 8:36 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi, I am also engaged. I'm fine now, but the first six hours were utterly terrifying. It meant I was getting older. It meant everyone had to know about our relationship progression. Life was speeding up. Six solid hours of feeling like I was in the dolly zoom scene in Jaws.

After crying in the shower, then feeling excited for an hour and calling and telling everyone I know, and then feeling scared again, I read every marriage and commitment thread on metafilter. What helped me most was a comment by nickrussell: The moon doesn't care. Focus on being present, and seeing that the universe is just as it was before. Don't worry about a wedding yet. Just work on enjoying being engaged, and if people grill you repeat after me: "No plans yet. But I'll let you know!"
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 8:39 AM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

No regrets about my own 10-people-including-the-officiant wedding 7+ years later. We booked a space that had a hard cutoff at 10 folks (a tiny garden in a larger botanical garden for $300) and that relieved a ton of my anxiety about the remaining planning. When you go that small (or elope), it becomes much harder for other people to suggest adding on more people/complications.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:42 AM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sit down with a pen and paper, put aside all the TV and movie weddings in your head, and write down what would actually be important to you in a marriage event.

Maybe you really do want to go to the courthouse, or you want an ordained friend or acquaintance and one witness. If you do, that's totally fine. But if you know that the feeling of having excluded your parents and closest friends is going to make you feel bad - not the big foofaraw, but just the bit where people who love you show up to support you - design yourself something that will make that possible without all the extra fluff you don't like.

Unless your parents regularly make the society pages, they don't care how big your wedding is. They may be deeply hurt if you exclude them completely, though, which is worth factoring in as long as you have a relatively good and healthy relationship with them in general.

And yeah, just come up with a stock set of replies for inquiries. It's just small talk, and a lot of people come from cultures where it's rude not to ask and make a big deal about it. Very few people actually care, they just ask because it's a thing people do. With all but your closest friends, after one or two "we're going to do a small thing with our families" people go back to not caring at all.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:44 AM on January 30, 2016

Also, let me tell you about another way a wedding could work: One of my good friends got married at a courthouse. The witness was a stranger, a passer-by who they wrangled into helping them out for a few minutes. They then hosted a big dinner at a local restaurant. They reserved the rooftop patio and had free gyros and beer for friends. They did not tell anyone it was their wedding party until weeks later. This might seem strange, but it worked for my friends and they've been together almost thirty years!
These kinds of casual weddings were the norm just a few generations ago. The couple got married privately and then hosted a reception at a local restaurant (or just had cake in the church basement). It's probably how your grandparents were married. Let's go back to those good ole' days!
posted by areaperson at 8:45 AM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm fully on team Do Your Own Thing. If that means no ring until after the wedding, great. If that means eloping, great. Letting go of the pressure to do things to make other people happy and instead focus on yourself is freeing and a lot less anxiety-provoking.

We eloped and I've never once regretted that decision. Marriage and weddings comes with a lot of baggage, and there's no need to take on more pressure than absolutely necessary.

And I know it is an AskMe cliche, but if things are stressing you out, therapy is a great option and is way better than waiting until there is a huge life-altering crisis.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:49 AM on January 30, 2016

Also, I had friends who did the courthouse thing then a dinner of 5 afterward. They had to rush it a bit bc of green card issues. But a year and a half later they had the big formal wedding. So you don't really have to decide. If the idea of being a bride is what freaks you out, get married beforehand! Then, if you feel like you missed out, have a wedding with the vows and the cake and all that.
posted by greta simone at 8:51 AM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

My husband and I were married at a lovely old historic hotel in Ulster County, NY. The only guests were our parents. It was beautiful, and 29 years later, we have no regrets.

We did not even do the engagement ring thing -- just wedding rings. If you feel uncomfortable wearing your engagement ring now, why not wait until you are married to wear it? Or wear it only for special occasions between now and the wedding?
posted by merejane at 9:12 AM on January 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I too am engaged, to someone I want to make babies with and keep a home with and all the other stuff that usually comes with it. I hated the idea of outsiders (anyone but close friends) knowing about how our relationship is evolving and how I am transitioning into a deeper sector of Adulthood, even if it's something I deeply want and am looking forward to.

When I've dug into my feelings a bit more, I realized that, more specifically, I hate hate HATE feeling like people are involved in our relationship any more than I want them to -- even by just knowing the status of my relationship, that was too much for them to know about me, e.g. wearing a ring. (Still on the fence about that one, even though I too have a pretty ring that he bent over backward researching and picking out.)

And also, for me personally, it's not necessarily that I'm anxious about the wedding itself. The wedding is one big excuse to gather my friend-family close and party like we're on a rock hurtling millions of miles through a black abyss. I just don't want my interior life's milestones to be put on display for the whole world to comment on. Even calling him my fiancé is too much and feels weird in my mouth -- husband is better/weirder. And it extra special feels weird being the center of attention for something as mundane/profound as putting on open display what I already know to be true: we are partners, no permission from strangers necessary.

I have no clue how to get over or past any of this, just doing my best to roll with it. But you're 100% not alone in this. I am going the route of planning the expensive destination wedding I want and enlisting the help of a couple close friends to help keep my head on straight. I've been given the chance to design one of my own memories, so fuck the whole earth and fuck my anxiety, we're doing it the way he and I want to remember it.

If I can just manage to do what feels right, and what feels true to who I am right now, that seems enough most days. I am hoping the rest will come out in the wash (for both yourself and me).

Also: best wishes and all the happies <3
posted by Snacks at 9:12 AM on January 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ms. flabdablet and I got married in an immediate-family-plus-bridal-party-only ceremony with a civil celebrant at the registry office, then had an all-comers catered party with a big marquee in the backyard at my parents' place. It was a really good day. And we've just had our 15th anniversary, so it seems to have worked.

There is absolutely no need to turn your wedding into what seems to have become the customary Busby Berkeley production. We were all for "bring a plate", but my parents insisted on paying for catering, we let them, and honour was satisfied.

If your parents love you then they will want your wedding day to be arranged in whatever way makes you happiest. If they don't, then their opinion doesn't matter.
posted by flabdablet at 9:15 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the rings? They're all in the back of a drawer somewhere. We don't wear them. They get in the way of holding hands.
posted by flabdablet at 9:16 AM on January 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

you mentioned weddings, and this is askme, so my god we're going to hear about everyone's wedding now.

but this seems to be a mix of your response to a previous engagement and problems in how you work with others (handling their interest, or meeting your obligations). in short, you seem to feel like you're being pushed, pulled, scared, and generally not yourself - not centred, in control, or strong.

none of that is really about weddings. if you look at why you feel as you do, and how you can be stronger and clearer in dealing with others, i think the wedding will look after itself, and you will be happier with life in general. the obvious solution is therapy (the other subject this place does so well). but you could also look at being more assertive - that doesn't mean being a pain in the ass, but having a better sense of what you can do, and say, and how to negotiate what you want with others. there are various books on the subject - "asserting yourself" is a pretty standard one/
posted by andrewcooke at 9:20 AM on January 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Here's one approach (I'd discuss it with your boyfriend first, and of course do what _you_ both want, but here's an idea):

Go get some wedding rings. Keep them in a box.

Sit down with your boyfriend. Make a list of the things you want to promise each other, and a list of the things you love about each other, and the things you are looking forward to. Maybe think of something you'd like to do each year or so to remind yourselves of what's important, or to consider how to adapt to changing circumstances. Spend time on it, do some reading and research, etc. Maybe start one day, come back to it on a different day, finish when you finish.

When you have a list you like, and you are feeling inspired, sit down somewhere quiet, read the list together, get the rings out of the box, and put them on.

You're married.


Now, if you want to have a public thing that looks like a wedding to other people, go ahead. Start planning it after you have worked out the relationship between you and him.

The specifics of the event and people's perceptions won't matter in the same way, though, because the event will be just for your community (parents, friends, coworkers, whomever you invite) and your relationship with the people in it.

Your relationship to your spouse, though, is private, and already set. That's not in question anymore. You and he should still assert your own desires in this community event, because your desires and personalities are important and you should probably let your community know you in this way. But it's no longer about creating this special bond between you and him; that's done and not in question.
posted by amtho at 9:20 AM on January 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is no wrong way to have a wedding. Even if its not exactly 'you', it'll be ok - it will end with you having a great husband and a fantastic life to look forward to living.

Even if you were to have the big wedding of your family's dreams (I'm assuming this is something they want, which might very well NOT be the case), people will have opinions all over the place and you won't end up pleasing everyone anyway. So, do what you and your husband want. You can make yourselves happy, and in the end, that's all that matters.

There's also no way to guarantee you won't have regrets about the options you didn't take... But it's not a guarantee that you will regret them either. So, there are no wrong choices. Do what feels right to you , at this time in your life. You will have happy memories with whatever you choose.
posted by Fig at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2016

I didn't have an engagement ring (not a tradition in our family and since I didn't want an engagement ring, I clung to that tradition). Then we had a courthouse marriage with 7 people. It was perfect.

After helping my sister with her traditional wedding, I had my lifetime amount of that planning and hoopla.

Zero regrets. We'd do it all again the exact same way. This is your marriage. Do it how you like. Good luck! And, congratulations!
posted by quince at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2016

Oh, and the legal marriage: I'd do it _after_ the actual, private, between-you-two marriage.
posted by amtho at 9:22 AM on January 30, 2016

Work with your therapist on the social anxiety of this. For the rest of your life people will be asking about your husband, pregnancy, kids, house, vacations you go on, clubs you belong to, etc. It's what people do. You should be comfortable with getting these questions and answering them in as much or little detail as you choose and feeling no qualms with the choice.

As for the wedding, you should see it as a chance to have witnesses and support for your commitment and a chance to throw a party for the friends and family who have gotten you to this point. If money is not an issue but areas is HIRE SOMEONE TO DO EVERYTHING and invite everyone who would want to come. If money is an issue, throw a party you can easily afford. (It's a passing twinge for me to be uninvited to a wedding it would be fun to attend is to be invited but I feel terrible to be a guest at a wedding knowing the couple will be wearing the credit card debt for 5 years.)
posted by MattD at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2016

Do you want to have a big wedding but are anxious about it, or do you actually just not want to have a wedding?

I have been married twice--once in a courthouse, and currently common law--and have never had and never wanted a wedding. I think they're kind of weird, they make me uncomfortable, and while I'm happy* to go to other people's weddings, I have never wanted one myself.

I genuinely, really, honestly don't like weddings and don't want to be responsible for one. If you're like me and don't want a wedding, you don't have to have one. You can go to a courthouse, have a small gathering or none at all. Weddings and marriages are not the same thing. I am very happily, legally married according to my state laws, and the closest thing we had to a wedding is when the bagger at the grocery store asked us if we were married, and we both said yes, thus fulfilling the final requirement of holding ourselves out to the community as husband and wife. As far as the rings go, you could get married and just start wearing both rings at once if you want to avoid wedding questions. All of these little social conventions are optional, and have almost nothing to do with the reality of marriage.

As far as your family, they're going to have to deal. Marriage is for grown assed adults with agency who make decisions independently. Worry about what you want, not what you think others want. If someone else wants to have a big fancy party, they can still do that. There is no law against getting dressed up with your friends and eating fancy food and dancing for whatever reason they choose.

If you do really want a wedding, yes, work through your anxiety about it, but if you don't, don't go get therapy to convince yourself to be a different person. A lot of people seem to honestly believe that thing about little girls all fantasizing about their wedding day. I still have friends who seem to think that I'm going to change my mind and have a wedding someday, and I'm pretty danged old. The myth is really that pervasive, but I can assure you it is not true. I am in my 50s now, and still haven't regretted not having a wedding, so I'm pretty sure it's not about to start happening when I get even older.

* Sssh. Don't tell, but I actually sort of dread that, too, but I go to show my support.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:42 AM on January 30, 2016

I feel like the engagement ring on my finger is an excuse for strangers, coworkers and acquaintances to exclaim and ask me about the wedding.

Well yeah. That's why people wear them. Just don't wear it until you're married, as you said. I didn't have one but I would not have worn it. It's kind of like having a baby bump; complete strangers (and of course also people you know) feel perfectly free to touch you. No one would dare dream of coming up to you and touching your stomach otherwise (ugh), but for some reason people feel free as can be to touch you without your permission when there's a baby in there. It's kind of appalling, actually. Same thing with a ring; its existence gives people an excuse to ask questions and be way more invasive than you are obviously comfortable with. Me too. I get it. Women are the ones who are on the receiving end of the brunt of the wedding questions and demands for details and it can be really annoying if you're the sort who doesn't like to share too much.

For some reason I hate having to react to this and it makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Yeah. I get this too. Having to put on an act and make happy noises for others is way outside my comfort zone too. I mean....if you're like me, you ARE happy but don't like having to be so expressive when you don't feel like it. It's fine. It's a socialization thing in that the women are expected to gush and blush and all of that other crap. It's not really expected of the future groom but it is definitely expected of the future bride.

It is OK to do it any way you want to. Other people's expectations should not influence you. Most people that you think are going to be disappointed won't be, and the ones who are....well guess what. They will get over it.

I had a tiny wedding and a big party the next month and it was so fun. And this was in the 80s when everyone was already doing the big slammin' shindig weddings. I never wanted that and am still so happy with my choice.

Guess what. Besides the year I got married, no one has ever asked me about my wedding. Ever. At all. I have never been asked ever in life. All of the people that mattered to me were at that party the next month, and after that, people you meet and befriend years later are about as interested in your wedding as you are in theirs. People don't ask you about your wedding all the days of your life. And things are changing; lots of people do what you're thinking of doing.

Right now my son is going through the same thing. He and his gf (they aren't even actually officially engaged) are probably going to secretly get married next month in another state, and then when they have the time (this summer prob) they're going to have a big dinner or party of some sort. I really think it's great this way. You can just freaking get married without any expense or expectation or stress, and then have a big blow out IF you want to. It's a nice way to get all the peoples together.
posted by the webmistress at 9:51 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

We had a tiny ceremony (a planned elopement, I guess) and had a party much later. For some reason, a party felt less ridiculous and unnatural than a capital-W Wedding. It worked out well overall, and we spent some of the money we saved on a completely awesome honeymoon.
posted by wintersweet at 10:30 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband and I had a non-existent engagement and a 10 person courthouse wedding. It was awesome. We decided we wanted to get married, but didn't do a proposal or engagement ring. We told our immediate family about a month before the selected date (the out of town in-laws were visiting for a week, so we scheduled it for their visit; other family was within driving distance). I told my closest girl friends the week before and they came over in the morning to hang out and help me get ready. No one else knew until after. I have no regrets. I was always in the "we'll probably elope" camp, so my mom was just happy that she was invited at all. It was a great day and even better because the two families could properly hang out and get to know one another at the dinner afterwards.

If your parents want a big to-do, they can throw themselves an anniversary party and renew their vows. Your wedding day is about you and your spouse and should reflect what the two of you want.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:34 AM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do what makes you feel most comfortable right now. If that is a civil ceremony in the courthouse and you don't talk about it with anyone until it's done and over, so be it!

Sure, your parents may be sad that you didn't have a bigger affair but wouldn't they also be sad if you forced yourself to have a bigger affair that made you deeply uncomfortable and unhappy the entire day?

And whether you will regret having a small event down the line? Well, there's nothing to say you would regret having a big uncomfortable party either. All you can go with is what works for you guys right now.

(also realize how much money you will not be throwing on one day of your entire life and use that money for an amazing vacation or something instead. whee!)
posted by joan_holloway at 11:05 AM on January 30, 2016

Googling "engagement anxiety" produces 56 million results, so I'd hardly say hat you're alone in this matter – this one seems quite to the point:

There are plenty of people who feel happy throughout their engagement, but there at least as many – if not more – that struggle with the common emotions that arise during any transition: grief, uncertainty, doubt, fear of the unknown, a sense of being out of control, loneliness, and vulnerability.

The piece goes on to say that there is such a "cultural event" built up around marriage for women, that the engagement period can go far beyond the intent to marry, and into themes of personal validation, social norms, and an entire wedding industry. Concerns that you seem to have echoed above in a few places:

My only concern is that I worry my parents will be sad that it wasn't bigger or that I will look back with regret that I didn't walk down the aisle or have a first dance.

That's three concerns around the same theme – that you have competing emotions. One is that you feel super comfortable with a small ceremony, and the other is that you feel that there's a "wedding moment" that you either should have, or may regret not having one day.

There's a useful way of thinking which is to divide the world into "the inner scorecard" and "the outer scorecard". The inner scorecard is how you are doing in any matter based solely and unapologetically on what you want. You want a small wedding? Have a small wedding. If your parents are disappointed, then put high marks on the inner scorecard, low marks on the outer scorecard, and decide which one you want to live by.

Overall, I'd urge you to go easy on yourself in this one. You had an engagement, and broke it off. Now you're engaged again and don't want to wear a ring. You don't know what kind of wedding you want. There's a lot of anxiety.

The questions that I would have here are:

1) Is your anxiety about the wedding, or is your anxiety about being married?

2) Is breaking off your previous engagement (since it's the first thing you mentioned) have anything to do with your anxiety about this one? Do you feel perhaps that you trusted yourself before to get engaged, then your feelings changed and you were forced to make a decision that you didn't want to make?

3) There seem to be a lot of external expectations coming into play here, from people commenting on the ring, to what your parents expect at the wedding. Does that replicate in the rest of your life? As in, do you have difficulties with people's expectations in other places in your life, or is this a unique situation?

If your anxiety is about being married, that feels very different to me than if your anxiety is about the wedding itself. Both are natural, but I would imagine they have different places of origin. A wedding is a community ceremony that lasts a day. A marriage is a daily act that lasts much long. If your anxiety is strictly about the wedding, one way to think about it is that it's one day out of your life. However it goes, it's going to be over within 24 hours.

This is a trick that public speakers use, which is that most people never remember what you say. At best, they may remember they saw you speak. But generally, they go on with their lives. Same with weddings. You've been to weddings as a guest before. Generally, you have a great time, or you have a good time. The next day, you get up and go on with your life.

If you're having spillover from the previous engagement, that's something that you may want to have a think about. That was a different man, a different time, and you were a different person. You may say you are the same person, but I assure you that you are not the same person, for each of us is changing every minute of every day. Without going too deep into the philosophy of the matter, you have changed. You have become a different person, and while the past is always worth keeping in mind, it's certainly not as relevant as the present. You've said your in love and can see a happy vision of the future. It's natural to have doubts about that. It would be unnatural not to have doubts about that.

Finally, if this is something that replicates elsewhere in your life – the anxiety – than you can be quite assured that this is not unique. Rather, you tend to have a slightly anxious view of the world, and this is not a unique situation. In that case, choose here as you do in the rest of your life and have confidence that this is no different from anything else. If anxiety doesn't replicate anywhere else in your life, you can be confident that you are seeing marriage for what it is – a true transition in your life – and you are being open and honest that transition both excites you, and that you have doubts.

Overall, I think this comes down to what you really want and taking it for yourself. Your fiancé sounds supportive, and you guys sound like you're on a good page. Now, you just have to decide what kind of wedding you want. If anyone is to disagree with that, you then have to decide if you really care. It's your life, it's your day. Inner scorecard.
posted by nickrussell at 12:43 PM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

[I feel like the engagement ring on my finger is an excuse for strangers, coworkers and acquaintances to exclaim and ask me about the wedding.]

Well yeah. That's why people wear them.

Maybe... many people just wear them to remind them of their beloved, and as a marker that they're not available for dating, and because they like to look at a pretty ring.
posted by amtho at 12:45 PM on January 30, 2016

Take off the ring, go get married privately, and let the family throw an informal party for you after the wedding. It worked for us, now married 45 years. Get rid of the anxiety and do what you are comfortable with. If you are religious, you can still have a very small wedding with a clergy person. My parents were married by a priest with only witnesses during WWII and were happily married for 58 years. What matters is what you and your fiance really want to do.
posted by mermayd at 1:05 PM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

We had a tiny wedding because we needed pics for a visa application, still wish we'd eloped! I am just like you and completely sympathise.

You are going to do lots of things your parents don't like, especially if you have kids. It is ok to live your own life; if it upsets them that's their problem.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:05 PM on January 30, 2016

I wanted to be married, but I didn't want a wedding. We got married at the courthouse without telling anyone. We have never regretted it.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:07 PM on January 30, 2016

Just so you know you're not alone, I also totally get the heebie-jeebies about the idea of being a bride. The whole concept of "it's your day all the attention is yours" feels super creepy to me. Like, having a big ceremony to supposedly celebrate your most intimate feelings feels like a weird and invasive thing. It's great if other people want to do it and I will happily go and celebrate it with them, but I'm not putting myself through that embarrassment. Since my boyfriend and I have plans to live our lives together, (and have actually bought a house together) but neither of us cares about marriage, we are skipping it altogether. And that makes us happy! it's ok to do what makes you happy, and to hell with anyone else's expectations.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:41 PM on January 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a similar distaste/anxiety issue.

My boyfriend would be 100% happy with eloping or having a tiny 10 person ceremony with immediate family, and skipping the whole engagement period, considering the amount of anxiety it has caused me and the strain it has put on our relationship. My only concern is that I worry my parents will be sad that it wasn't bigger, or that I will look back with regret that I didn't walk down the aisle or have a first dance.

Just do this. Your parents might be sad, but part of being a parent is being sad. It comes with the territory.

If you're healthy-ish and happy-ish, though, I doubt it will be any great sadness. This is trivial compared to the other ways in which children inevitably break your heart. (Ask them how they felt the first time that you reported that a friend didn't want to play with you! Now that's sad.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:51 PM on January 30, 2016

I so appreciate all of your answers. You have given me a lot to think about.

What I would like to do is have a small ceremony at city hall with just my boyfriend and then go out to lunch. Then I'd send out announcements that say "we got married! come celebrate with us!" and several months later I would like to have a big casual afternoon bonfire at my parents house to celebrate.

This would eliminate the engagement period but I would still get the gathering of friends and family without the hoopla/general stuffiness/fussy details I do not want.

My boyfriend and I are living separately until spring and I think we will go to the courthouse when I move back in.

Thanks again for assuaging my anxiety.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2016 [16 favorites]

Your fiancee sounds excellent and supportive!

With one exception, I have never met anybody who had a small wedding, or a courthouse wedding, and regretted it. My partner and I did. The only exception is friends whose families so disapproved of their marriage that they refused to show up. A couple of years ago, for a milestone anniversary, they re-married, surrounded by loving friends, and their six children, some of them grown to teenagers.

Jumping past the part that stresses you out right now is great. When you are happily married, you can, at your convenience, celebrate that marriage at any time and with anybody you want. You could marry quietly this spring and throw a party over the summer, or at your 1-year or 5-year anniversary. The people who love you will be happy to share your joy any time. You'll know when the time is right, because it will feel like something you want, and it will feel meaningful to you.
posted by not that girl at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

You should do exactly what you want and I'm not trying to be your passive aggressive auntie, but I do want to point out that you can get married at that bonfire. I know that's easier said than done but some of your friends would consider it a mitzvah.
posted by ftm at 4:13 PM on January 30, 2016

Doing whatever you want is the way to go, but know that while my anxiety was massively aggravated by wedding planning (and the day itself), I'm glad I did it. I'm also glad it's over and never coming back, but I am glad we had a wedding. It was no more than 50 people, we paid for it ourselves, and it was pretty laid back. Even that drove me a little insane. But I remain glad that it happened anyway.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 4:39 PM on January 30, 2016

Your plans sound awesome! And won't break the bank either! And I'm sure your parents will be happy you are happy. (And if they aren't, they should be getting therapy to deal with that).

Very best wishes to you!
posted by kitten magic at 6:50 PM on January 30, 2016

I was so sad when I read through this question and you didn't say what you wanted for your marriage. Then I was so happy to read your follow up! So glad that you have a plan, and it sounds like a very good one. I just want to assure you there is nothing wrong with what you're proposing. Best wishes!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:30 AM on January 31, 2016

Oh god, everyone wants to talk about your wedding plans when you're engaged! I was engaged for an insanely long time (partially due to my anxiety about a wedding!) and I started to just refer to him as my husband in casual social situations where I'd never see the person again, because it was easier.

We have a lot of family complications on top of my anxiety about weddings, and we got married at City Hall and it was perfect! My husband's sister and her boyfriend were our witnesses, and we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant after. I did end up getting a white dress but it was not super wedding-y, and I got my hair and makeup and nails done, and hired a photographer, which was fun because it made the whole day feel more special...but honestly even if we had worn jeans it would have been special, because those vows were important and meaningful, and it was exactly the ceremony we wanted.
posted by radioamy at 11:47 AM on January 31, 2016

In case anyone is looking at this thread, I wanted to let you all know that we didn't want to wait and my new husband and I went to the courthouse on Tuesday and got married. It was perfect. Thank you so much for the advice.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:15 PM on February 7, 2016 [18 favorites]

Ahhhh! Mazel tov!!!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:45 PM on February 7, 2016

Every happiness.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 PM on February 7, 2016

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