I am a selfish person. Not a sh*tty person, just a selfish one. I practice things like empathy and respect and so on; I don’t ricochet through the world, stepping on other people and grabbing at the things I want with disregard for those around me, but I recognize that selfishness is a compulsion that I have and is, in almost everything, my first impulsive response. I chalk it up to a difficult childhood. I chalk it up to emotional abuse and mistrust borne of instability and mental illness, and while I do think that my selfishness is mostly a defense mechanism, I also think it’s easy. It’s easy to say, I would rather be content than anxious or alarmed or uncomfortable and so I will do this thing that I want to do rather than something that might cause me alarm or anxiety or lack of comfort. I startle easily. I could go days without speaking to anyone and be comfortable inside myself.
And now I’m planning a wedding. My wedding day, according to popular culture and glossy magazines and an infinite array of TLC programming, is one of the few days in my life when I am afforded an astounding level of selfishness. My mom called the other day with a lilt of discontent in her voice because the manager at our probably-almost-for-sure wedding venue kept referring to “the bride” and what “the bride” wanted and how to make “the bride’s special day” the most special day in the world.
“But it’s not just you,” my mom said. “It’s you and Brandon. It’s supposed to be his special day too.”
I agreed. I agree. I’m getting married in Iowa because my wedding day is not just about me and my love of the Catskill mountains and my preference for having our ceremony at a drivable distance for my New York City friends. I’m getting married in Iowa as a woman in her twenties whose 20-something friends might not be able to fly out for the weekend, and I’m absolutely okay with that. My selfish little heart is singing. I’m getting married in Iowa because my fiancé’s grandparents can’t fly out to the East Coast. They can go as far as the transportation service at their nursing home can take them.
My fiancé told me, when this planning began almost a year ago, that we could get married wherever I wanted. Our wedding could be, according to him, whatever I wanted. You’d think that I, being selfish, would have said, “fine, we’re to be married in my parent’s backyard on the East Coast because that’s what I want and I don’t care who comes because it’s all about me.” My way, my day, my trellis of flowers. But I’ve realized that what I want is less important to me than what makes the people I love happy.
This may not be an epiphany for anyone else. It is for me. That’s not to say that I’ve never put other people first. See above. See respect and empathy. I am capable of putting other people first. I love my family and my friends. When my sister was born I was startled by the fierce protectiveness I felt for her. I spent two hours the other night helping her pick out her 8th grade graduation dress when I had a million other things to do. And that made me happy. But planning this wedding, plotting this special day for the bride and the groom, goes beyond the warm fuzzies that doing something good for someone you love makes you feel. That kind of “goodness” in itself is a kind of selfishness, I think. Sure, feeling good because you’re making a decision that makes someone you love feel good is a good thing to do, but it’s still selfish. You’re still getting something for yourself out of it.
I know that I would be happy getting married in the mountains here on the East Coast. I know people would come and celebrate, and I could wear a gorgeous dress and be pixie queen of the world for a day and no one could say (out loud) that I was a selfish shrew. But I don’t want that. I want to compromise. I want my wedding to be a joy to the people that I love, as much, if not more, than it will be a joy for me. I don’t get anything extra from feeling this way. The pleasure center of my brain isn’t going gangbusters. I won’t get everything that I want. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s going to be a dream (as much as an expensive societal construct can be dreamy). And more importantly than having it match up exactly to the picture in my head, it’s going to make the people I love happy.
Maybe I'm "growing up." Maybe I'm not as selfish as I think I am. Maybe this not-selfishness is a sham because I haven't been dreaming about my wedding day since I was a little girl, and I'm happy to get it over with and move on to the next thing. But wedding planning, a self-focused act to be sure, is making me look inward in a way that I don't always have to. And I like this not-as-selfish-as-I-thought-I-was person I see.