Mine was the kind of wedding that little girls dream about. Exquisite floral arrangements and tapered candles lined elegant tables in the ballroom of a luxury hotel. The food was impeccable, the dress was designer, the band was pitch perfect. There was no expense spared. No detail overlooked. It was somebody's dream wedding. But not mine.
I wasn't the girl who'd ever given thought to a color scheme or a white dress, let alone getting married at all. When I accepted Jonah's proposal, it quickly became clear that my mother-in-law intended to celebrate the wedding of her youngest son in a big way. I'd always found those weddings where families spend ungodly amounts of money to parade the bride and groom around like prized ponies dreadfully un-cool. But since I didn't have a wedding fantasy, I was happy to be flexible. Amenable. Inclusive. It's just a wedding. Right?
Living 3,000 miles away, there had hardly been an opportunity to get to know my future mother-in-law.
Her own wedding boasted 800 guests, and at 21 years old, it was the best day of her life. It was decided by the mothers that Jonah and I would get married in our mutual hometown, Toronto, which was not our first choice, given that much of our lives had become firmly planted in Los Angeles. But I gave in willingly, understanding that weddings are as much about family as they are about the couple themselves. Friends lauded my reasonable approach to wedding planning. I balked at girls whose selfish demands had them at odds with their in-laws. That could never be me.
But things began to change, in small ways at first. My mother-in-law arranged for us to shop for wedding gowns and I smiled through it, even though I felt beyond awkward standing in my underwear while she and the saleswoman dressed me up like Bridal Barbie. She casually suggested I cut my hair, selected outfits for wedding related events. Apparently my look in general was going to be a team effort.
Given that we'd conceded to the extravagant wedding, we opted for an intimate, casual, backyard barbecue in lieu of a formal engagement party. As the date drew closer, my mother-in-law explained to us that it was a strain for her to entertain at her home, so she had moved the venue to the patio at her country club. Okay. That was okay. Jonah and I arrived at the club on the evening of the barbecue to find 160 people in cocktail attire. The club's ballroom was decked out, place cards, floral centerpieces, and all. Our charming backyard barbeque had been hijacked and transformed into what could have been a society wedding unto itself. I must have said, "Hi, nice to meet you, thanks for coming" at least a hundred times, like a kind of Stepford Wife in training, expertly greeting her guests. I nearly had a breakdown, but it was also a revelation.
I naively thought that once I expressed how excruciating that night had been for me, the family would relent. Who would want to spend one of the most important moments of their life surrounded by hundreds of strangers and spectators? I felt justified in wanting a truly meaningful experience amongst close family and friends. I did not want to go through with the big wedding as planned. I laid it out honestly, diplomatically, firmly. Or so I thought. I had no idea that with this single statement, I had officially declared war on my mother-in-law. Ultimate Bride vs. Anti-Bride. It was on.
Over the next few months, when reasoning and pleading were unsuccessful, yelling and threatening became a regular occurrence on both sides. Things were getting ugly. My father, who was powerless against the determined women, did what he could to show us his support. From time to time, he'd make stealth calls to me from the garage, informing on the other side. "They're not changing their plan at all" he would whisper. "They're going to tell you one thing but do another". The calls would abruptly end when my mother would burst in and demand to know who he was talking to. I'd hear "Ahh, yes doctor, I will be in for my appointment next week." Click.
Relations hit rock bottom when, pushed to the absolute brink, I threatened to kill my mother-in-law if she didn't "stay the **** away from me", I believe it was. Not my shining moment. I'd become a crazy, raging, unrecognizable version of myself.
Over a blowout during Christmas, Jonah and I finally gave in. It may have been the first time in my life that I lost a fight. Ever.
On the day of the wedding, we fulfilled the illusion of perfection. I played my part, looked like a princess and politely greeted as many of our 400 guests (only 20 of which were my personal guests) as possible. Everyone sincerely wished us well, but the time spent meeting so many new people left Jonah and I without time to do much else, like dance. Or celebrate together. Or eat.
I envy those people who speak of their wedding as "the best day of their life". It wasn't for me. It was mostly exhausting. But from the ashes of all the hurt feelings and bad blood emerged a truly happy marriage.
In the grand scheme of things I understand that this single event is pretty trivial, but still. Sometimes, when I let my guard down, this anti-bride dreams about getting a do-over someday. On a beach. At a villa in Italy. In a pretty garden. Surrounded by a close group of friendly faces. Optimistic that the best day of my life is yet to come.
Danielle Shamash is a writer and director for film and television. Her next project, HUMBUGGER, is currently in development.