father of the bride
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Wedding planning is supposed to feel like December – the most wonderful time of the year! And for some people, it is.

But for me it was a messy, often uncomfortable season of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to be getting married. Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec put it well when she said, “I hate the feeling of not being married to you.” That’s how I felt every single day leading up to marrying my husband, Ian. But there was grief mixed up in there, too. I missed my dad.

There’s a weird thing that happens when you get engaged: women you don’t even know decide to tell you, in extensive detail, about their own wedding or someday-wedding plans – all the way down to the mason jar centerpieces and the color of the bridesmaids’ shoes.

The trouble for me was that a lot of these memories and wedding itineraries involved touching speeches by their dads and father-daughter dances.

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For the first year of being engaged, I just listened politely, and then changed the subject as quickly as possible.

I’d lost my dad so conversations like that hurt. But I didn’t know how to tell someone who was so ridiculously happy for me – and so excited to talk about weddings – that my dad was gone, so their stories hurt.

The more excited everyone else was, the more I felt like I wasn’t having the “right” engagement feelings. People happily exclaiming, “You must be so happy!” began to feel like a command – you have to be happy! And I wasn’t always happy.

While investigating potential wedding venues, Ian and I went to a local park with a view of the water. It was the perfect sunny day. I grabbed his hands, pretending we were in the middle of our vows. “What do you think?” I asked him. “Does this place feel like us?” He said he thought it might work, and we talked about where we could set up chairs and tables.

And then, suddenly, I began to ugly cry in the middle of the park.

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As I imagined my wedding, the reality that my dad wasn’t going to be there kicked me in the gut.

My dad wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle, giving a speech, or even sitting in a chair as he wiped his eyes and smiled. He wasn’t going to be there at all. If anyone had noticed Ian holding me as I sobbed into his t-shirt, they might have wondered if I’d only just found out about someone’s passing. But even though it had been years since my dad passed away, the grief felt so raw at that moment — I might as well have found out five minutes before.

I’d never felt as fatherless as when I was wedding planning.

And I’d never felt such intense pressure regarding how I was supposed to be feeling.

People who were over-the-moon happy for me regularly used words like “perfect” and “adorable” and “wonderful” to describe my life. And if that was the script, my life and emotions weren’t following it.

Usually I was careful to hide the grief behind a fake smile and waterproof mascara. I didn’t talk about what wedding planning was actually like for me because it didn’t seem to be a part of the appropriate engagement-feelings packet.

It wasn’t until I read an article by a woman expecting her first child that I began to feel less like I was somehow screwing up emotionally. She’d written about how she hadn’t felt a connection to her baby, and the fact a human was growing inside of her didn’t feel thrilling. Eventually, the excitement had kicked in. But for months, she fake-smiled her way through awkward conversations because she felt like she wasn’t having the “right” pregnancy feelings.

I cried when I finished reading the article. It was okay to not have the “right” feeling while wedding planning. And I decided right then that I was going to try to be more emotionally honest with myself and with others.

Shortly after reading the article, I went out for breakfast with a friend. As we sat there, sipping orange juice and coffee, she asked how wedding planning was going and how I liked being engaged.

And for the first time I admitted, “It’s actually been hard.”

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I told her how, even though people say that the wedding is all about the bride, it was feeling like weddings were really all about the bride and her dad. I told her how frequently well-meaning, excited people said painful things. And I told her how I felt like I wasn’t having the “right” engagement emotions.

It was hard to talk about missing my dad, but I walked out of the restaurant feeling less invisible and isolated for having told her.

I didn’t bare my soul to everyone who happened to enjoy talking about weddings, but when people I trusted asked what it was like being engaged, I started to be honest. And talking about how I was really doing helped me to accept the fact that my engagement experience was different than the expectations.

Later, when I cried on my wedding day because I missed my dad, it didn’t feel like some form of emotional failure.

Between the excitement, joy, grief, and social expectations — being engaged was one of the most emotionally messy experiences I’ve ever had. But in the middle of the emotional storm, I learned how to be a little more little more emotionally honest. And it’s something I’m trying to continue.

Even though it’s been several years, once in a while someone asks me about my favorite part of wedding planning.

It wasn’t all smiles and cake tasting, and that’s okay.