I was a guest at two friends’ weddings within six weeks after my own last summer. With every beaming photo-op and tearful champagne toast, I would pose a ludicrous, dark question to myself that I am embarrassed to admit to, and have never verbalised to my husband: Remember when you were that happy?
I wasn’t unhappy because my new marriage had descended into a pit of unmet expectations and loneliness (although my husband did go on three business trips in quick succession, which didn’t help matters any). The bigger culprit for my post-wedding blues was the gaping hole left in my heart and my brain where “wedding planning” used to be.
My wedding exceeded my expectations. It was an overwhelming display of love, support, and joy that I know I will never know the likes of again in my lifetime, at least not on that large of a scale. But, beginning on the last day of our honeymoon, as I sat trying not to cry in front of my husband at a romantic little restaurant in Prague, I felt the wave of post-wedding blues descend upon me.
The vast expanse of “happily ever after” stretched out menacingly ahead of me. Soon, our 15 minutes of fame in our local community and families would be at an end. The pictures were yesterday’s news on Facebook, and the positive energy would be refocused toward the next batch of engagements and nuptials.
Maybe we need the post-wedding blues to humble us, slow us down, and help us conserve energy.
My husband and I would have to do that thing called “adult life” without the pointed anticipation of our special day on the horizon — the magical, rite-of-passage event that had inspired us in our quest to come out on the other side of adolescence intact. It was our victory lap. The reward for two idealistic high school sweethearts who beat the odds.
Now, as a mindful, young couples therapist, I had anticipated the post-wedding blues. I would joke about it with my colleagues and friends, and (I thought) I had wholeheartedly accepted that there would be an adjustment period that would eventually pass, much like the many temporary discomforts of a relationship. But what I often forget is that forethought doesn’t stop life from knocking you down a peg.
Insight didn’t stop me from shrinking into isolation while my husband was away on business. I felt sorry for myself and cried into my crocheting instead of stepping out of my comfort zone to reconnect with friends and build a new social routine. That summer was also when I finished my Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and I had to say goodbye to some of my closest colleagues and friends as they scattered across the country.
The last four months of wedding planning were a convenient, powerful diversion from this difficult life transition. Not only was I about to be separated from the people who had seen me through one of the most challenging and poignant journeys of my life, but I was about to be unleashed on the adult working world for the first time after six consecutive years of higher education.
The vast expanse of 'happily ever after' stretched out menacingly ahead of me.
I would no longer be Nicole Valdez, student and fierce relationship underdog trying to beat the odds with her longtime childhood love. I would be Nicole Brown, wife and 24-year-old pre-licensed couples therapist (which some older adults in my life find laughable. What could I possibly know about marriage?).
Planning our 125-person wedding in the Poconos, where my husband and I had both spent our childhood summers, bore all the weight of this transition and then some. Investing my whole heart into our wedding, from the big decisions to the small, was natural and invigorating to me. As a therapist, I value the heaviness of complex emotions and metaphors. I don’t feel healthy and alive unless I have at least one night every few months to look at old pictures, listen to Oasis, and cry (my husband crudely refers to this as “emotional masturbation”).
So when all the beaming photo-ops and tearful champagne toasts were over, and the dust settled on our victory lap, I was left standing face-to-face with the life I had worked so hard for, and the initial emptiness this left inside of me was more bitter than it was sweet wedded bliss. But the funny thing about emptiness is that it leaves room for more creativity, fresh ideas, and new dreams.
To quote Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years, “Growing up doesn’t have to be a straight line, but a series of advances and retreats.” Maybe we need the post-wedding blues to humble us, slow us down, and help us conserve energy, so that we stop and look around before sprinting toward our next big adventure.