I am not by nature a screamer. Nor am I a diva, or a drama queen, or a princess.
Yes, I get my hair colored every few months in a futile attempt to recapture those awesome sunny blond streaks from childhood; yes, I've been known to enjoy a mani-pedi from time to time—but honestly, I'm pretty low-maintenance. Half the time I walk around with dog hair on my shirt; empty water bottles roll freely in the back of my car; lipstick loves to melt in my purse. And I'm okay with that. It's life, right? Life is messy.
Or so I always thought, until about a week before my wedding, at which point I turned into a demon from hell. There I was: a sleep-deprived young woman who hadn't eaten in three weeks, standing in her parents' kitchen with an enormous three-ring binder in her hands, screaming at her half-asleep 20-year-old college-student sister for not having gotten up before dawn to write out place cards.
"Dude, you need to relax," Suzanne said.
"Relax?" I snapped, feeling my jaw begin to tremble, the blood rushing to my face. "Relax? Actually, what I need right now is a maid of honor who gives a shit about me and my wedding."
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A shouting match ensued. She was a lazy, self-involved child, according to me. I was a psychotic, self-involved bitch, according to her. Doors were slammed. Tears were shed. I remember thinking I was surrounded by the most selfish people in the world. I remember thinking nobody understood me. And then, about an hour later, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought: Oh, my God, I'm that girl. I have become the Bride from Hell.
We all know her. Movies have been made about her. Reality shows have trained their cameras on her mascara-streaked face and been rewarded with stellar ratings. And it would all be very funny, if it were just Kim Kardashian and the big-haired Jersey drama queens who went bananas over their weddings. But the truth is, most brides find themselves having a meltdown at some point in the planning process. Getting married may be one of the most exciting events of our lives, but studies show that it's also one of the most stressful.
"There's this idea that a wedding has to be perfect and the bride has to be perfect, but of course, nobody's perfect," says Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., a North Carolina-based psychologist. "We have very high expectations of this event, which have only grown in recent years. Along with that, we have a lot of different parties to please—parents and family in particular. People may be feeling stressed financially and become more reactive. There can be control issues."
If my demon-bride self had heard that quote, she would have said, "Um, you try planning a party for a hundred and twenty people with your psychotic future mother-in-law, while working out five days a week with a sadistic personal trainer, subsisting on caffeine, and living in this weird netherworld of white taffeta and gigantic soup tureens. See if some control issues don't come up for you, lady."
As it turns out, my personal control issues barely register on the scale of offenses. My friend Claire (*her name has been changed for privacy)—dismayed at her future mother-in-law's off-theme choice of dress—went so far as to compose a "look book" for her mountain-town wedding , in which guests were instructed to dress in 19th century-inspired finery, and then mailed it to said mother-in-law with a note attached: Just so you know what I'm thinking!
"When my parents didn't want to hire a caterer from the fancy neighboring ski town—they wanted somebody local—I called them hillbillies," she said. "I was chain-smoking, lost eight pounds, and walked around with a scowl on my face for months. My housekeeper, who barely spoke English, effectively communicated that I was at risk of losing my fiancé if I didn't snap out of it. She was right."
Another friend became so irate while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to her rehearsal dinner that she unleashed her fury on the limo driver. "I started screaming at the guy that I was going to be late for my own rehearsal dinner and that he was going to ruin my entire wedding," says Lily. "I just lost it."
Then there's Molly Guy, who found herself so traumatized by the planning experience that she later decided to open Stone Fox Bride, an edgy New York showroom that, in addition to selling unexpected gowns from designers like Electric Feathers and Daryl K, also offers "transition counseling." It refers stressed-out brides to life coaches and massage therapists to help them manage the complicated feelings that can arise during engagement with a little more grace. "I don't get stressed out about anything," says Guy. "But when I was planning my wedding, I suddenly got insomnia. I felt fat and horrible, so I went on a colonic fast. I got five colonics in a row. I was only drinking green juice. I had symptoms of severe anxiety. I got crazy." It didn't stop there.
Because Guy didn't want her seamstress to have to trek out to where she lived in Brooklyn, she demanded that the dress fittings be held at her best friend's apartment in Manhattan. "Poor Piper had been trapped in her apartment for eight weeks with a broken leg, but I woke her up five days in a row at seven forty-five so I could have my dress fitted there. I was so insensitive, but I was hell-bent on getting what I needed."
Callous, hungry, self-obsessed, crazy: It's classic Bridezilla. However, if you're lucid enough to recognize that torturing yourself, your friends, and your family isn't the ideal way to begin a new life with someone you love, there's still time to turn the ship around. Guy found support from The Conscious Bride, by bridal counselor Sheryl Paul, which encourages women to step back and focus on the emotional roots of the event—as a celebration of love, not a fashion show. Paul recommends keeping a journal in which you can "vent and acknowledge difficult feelings," as well as talking honestly to your fiancé about any doubts and fears you may have. "Even the most composed women walk into this nineteen-fifties bridal world and feel vulnerable," says Guy, citing societal expectations and the psychological toll of starting a brand-new life as likely causes of a bride-to-be's angst. "It helps to remind yourself why you're doing this in the first place."
The next step is to de-stress. Planning a wedding is like working a second job, and while it may seem as if the last thing you have time to do is take a few hours for yourself, trust us: You need them! Reverend Laurie Sue Brockway, author of Wedding Goddess: A Divine Guide to Transforming Wedding Stress into Wedding Bliss, recommends that when you feel steam starting to come out of your ears, you head to a yoga class or the gym (hello, endorphins!), or treat yourself to a few hours of escapist fun at the movies. In a pinch, even sneaking away for a manicure or massage will clear your head and help put things in perspective. Fact: Aunt Pauline's tantrum because she can't find a hotel that will take her Pekingese will seem a lot less dire after an hour of shiatsu.
Brockway also suggests setting clear boundaries for yourself. One of the main reasons brides wig out is that they're trying to please too many people. In the end, it actually is your day. Figure out what you want, and calmly but firmly stick to it. As you may have already learned: If you aren't happy, no one else is going to be happy either.
And if your inner demon bride has already wreaked havoc, take heart: You can still make amends. According to Thomas, co-author of The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships, a heartfelt "I'm sorry" to offended parties will go a long way. For an abused baker who's churned out endless unsatisfactory cake samples, adding on a generous tip ought to mend the fence. With friends and family, be sure to cover the five "languages" of apology: 1) Say you're sorry. 2) Admit you were wrong. 3) Ask what you can do to make things right. 4) Tell them you'll try not to do it again. 5) Ask for forgiveness. And here's one don't: If your "sorry" includes any kind of excuse (i.e., "I'm sorry I'm being a maniac, but it's because I'm starving myself"), it doesn't count.
Finally, don't underestimate the power of humor. Laughing at yourself and the things you've done can work magic. Talk about your wrath in a witty toast, for example, or host a fun bridal lunch—your treat.
When my sister was helping me into my dress at the church, she got her apology. I was so glad she was there to crack jokes and ease the tension of the day, and I told her that. And even though the marriage didn't last (I've been happily married to someone else for seven years), Suzanne is still my closest confidante.
"After we exchanged our vows and had our first oyster, I felt pretty okay again," says Molly Guy, who was ultimately so inspired by her big day that she changed her career to help others through theirs.
And here's the thing: Once the rings are on and the band starts to play, Bridezilla vanishes as quickly as she appeared, dragging her hand-beaded train through the rubble behind her.