Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself from the past and thought, “I’d like to actually talk to that person?” Even if you haven’t, I’d like to argue that there are sanity-inducing benefits to conversing with your past (and future) selves. I have found this approach particularly relevant as I simultaneously plan my wedding, finish graduate school, teach/organize swing dance events and attempt to retain a semblance of sanity.
When I find myself stressing out about wedding details in particular, I actually imagine that my past and future selves are attending the wedding, and reflect in detail about what specifically they would find important about the event. I have detailed this thought experiment below, along with some additional ideas in case this approach doesn’t resonate with you:
5 year-old Cheryl: 5 year-old Cheryl surveys the room and quickly ascertains what this is all about. There’s a cake. There are presents. Delicious food abounds and people are dressed up. This is obviously a BIRTHDAY party, and birthday parties are awesome.
I like to think about 5 year-old Cheryl when I lose perspective on the importance of material aspects of the wedding, such as centerpieces and whether the napkins match the bridesmaids dresses. 5 year-old Cheryl truly does not give a crap about those things.
5 year-old Cheryl wants to play with friends, dance, and have a good time until way past bedtime. 5 year-old Cheryl also wants CAKE!
14 year-old Cheryl: 14 year-old Cheryl is overwhelmed with the concept that someone could really love HER and want to be with HER for the rest of her life. In her gut, 14 year-old Cheryl believes that this will happen to her some day, but does not really understand how she will get from here to there, and hopes that the person she ends up with is kind, funny, smart and interesting.
Thinking about 14 year-old Cheryl reminds me to focus on the significance of the actual event and commitment, and reminds me not to take Gabe for granted even if he hasn’t answered my email entitled, “PLEASE RESPOND: Cupcakes and other misc decisions to be made this week!” 14 year-old Cheryl wants to love, and be loved, for the rest of her life, and she thinks it’s pretty damn awesome that this is happening.
Mid-twenties Cheryl: Mid-twenties Cheryl has learned a lot about relationships through experience. Mid-twenties Cheryl has come to terms with how the decision to marry is about more than (romantic) love, and mid-twenties Cheryl is overwhelmed with the concept that she has to find someone that she not only loves and loves her back, but with whom she is compatible on the important things in life. Mid-twenties Cheryl knows that there are probably many potential people who fit that description out there, but she doesn’t know how to find them.
Although she’s been burned by love in the past, mid-twenties Cheryl still yearns for it with every fiber of her being. Mid-twenties Cheryl is IMPATIENT. She looks around the room, closes her eyes, and wishes that she could just get from today to the day where she gets married in one big leap, skipping over all the little moments in between. Of all the elements of the wedding, mid-twenties Cheryl pays closest attention to the ceremony, and reflects over what that commitment really means.
36 year-old Cheryl: 36-year old Cheryl is happy, but tired. She has at least one infant/toddler at home. Her marriage has been put to the test through the disruption of the relationship ecosystem when it transitions to a 3-4 person system. 36 year-old Cheryl is in love with her child(ren), and with her partner, and she gazes out at the couple being married and holds the following thought in her mind: “Girlfriend: get some SLEEP while you can. You sleep the entire honeymoon. Trust me. Just sleep. It will all be ok in the end, but dear lord, sleep while you CAN!”
Thinking about 36 year-old Cheryl reminds me to take care of myself, and enjoy Gabe’s and my childless years and the luxury of our flexibility at the moment.
50 year-old Cheryl: This Cheryl has observed many marriages and divorces. She observes how the couple looks at each other and makes a private prediction about whether or not they will last. Thinking about this Cheryl reminds me of how brave the decision to marry is, and inspires me to think of Gabe’s and my relationship as a marathon and not a sprint.
Older aged Cheryl: This Cheryl knows how tenuous and precious life is, that it can be abruptly ended in an instant. This Cheryl has the wisdom to savor every moment shared with loved ones.
I like to think of this Cheryl as a Tuesdays With Morrie type character who reminds me to take time to dance, and (similar to 5 year-old Cheryl) focus on everything BUT the material aspects of the impending wedding and (more importantly ) marriage!
So, I’ll be honest: I’m the LAST person in the world whom I thought would ever get swept up into the “Wedding Industrial Complex.” I did not envision my wedding day since I was a little girl and have always focused more on relationships than material things. However, I was shocked when I found myself internalizing pressure from what Meg Keene at A Practical Wedding calls the “WIC: Wedding Industrial Complex.” Imagining my past and future selves as attendees reminds me of what’s really important about the occasion, and also repositions the event in the larger landscape of my life. If this approach doesn’t work for you, I suggest Keene’s approach: ask whether your great-grandmother would recognize any given aspect of the wedding as important (such as wedding favors). If she would not, then it is not worth stressing over.
I find that this approach works in many different situations in life, beyond the current wedding perspective challenge. We all know that “keeping the big picture in mind” is important for overall life happiness, but we often lack a cognitive strategy to actually achieve the perspective we know we need. Imagining your past and future selves as attendees to any portion of your life can really bring the big picture into vivid focus. For example, I’ve used this strategy when I find myself upset over something I know is petty or unimportant; I imagine my life playing as a video reel and the audience members being my past and former selves. What would they be yelling at the screen at that moment? Or, more importantly, would they just be sighing and wondering why I was worked up about something that is ultimately frivolous/unimportant? I hope that this approach works for you; let me know in the comments section!