Othering: the ways offbeat types push ourselves away

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Are we ALL othering ourselves? Original photo by Cherie J Photography. Remixed by Creative Commons license.

Over the years, I've seen something come up time and time again from Offbeat Bride readers: people will send an email, post on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, or leave a comment that basically amounts to, “Do I REALLY count as an Offbeat Bride? Do I really belong here?”

Most recently it was a post on the Offbeat Bride Tribe, wherein a Tribesmaid admittedly (guiltily!) she was working with a sizable wedding budget.

Thanks to the reader survey, I can tell you that exactly 21.0% of Offbeat Bride readers have budgets between $10,000 – $20,000, with another 10% having budgets over $20,000.

High budget weddings can be offbeat. Church weddings can be offbeat. Courthouse weddings can be offbeat.

Over the past six years, we've featured a lot of different weddings, all of them in some way a noteworthy and authentic expression of the couple getting married.

They all belonged here, and yet still: there's a huge amount of anxiety from Offbeat Brides about not belonging.

I think of it as the Offbeat Bride's version of othering: those of us who've defined ourselves as non-normative push ourselves away from other people. The push makes sense, of course — if you live in a region where your politics aren't aligned with those around you, of course you're going to feel a push, and like you need to clearly define yourself as “not that.” There are a lot of social and cultural contexts where it makes perfect sense that people who feel a little bit off the beaten path would push against the people and society around them.

What makes less sense to me is when I see us push against each other.

  • Oh, I'm not offbeat enough, so I can't even read the site
  • Oh, someone shared advice that might hold a piece of truth for me, but it's not EXACTLY a match with my situation so not only will I ignore it, but I'll point out the ways in which it's not relevant to me and therefore stupid.
  • Oh, my aunt offered to help with the flowers and we're totally broke but I bet she'd just do stupid carnations from the grocery store, so I'm going to turn her down even though we could really use the assistance.
This picture was taken the night of the dance event in question.
This picture was taken the night of the dance event in question.

Let me not cast the first stone, here: I am absolutely guilty of othering. I went to a community event recently that was about 90% just right for me: hippie-ish dance event in a yoga studio with electronic music being played by a DJ I know and like. It started early in the evening, so I wasn't fighting against my circadian rhythm. It was all ages so even my son could go dance. I had several friends there. And yet what did I spend most of the night doing? I stood back and “other-ed” myself, finding all the ways in which I didn't relate to the people around me. Ew: people are doing contact improv? I hate contact improv. Ew: that old hippie guy wants to give me a massage — BOUNDARIES, people! Ew: are those people actually doing yoga on the dance floor? Too much: stop being so pretentious. I spent most of the night making my bitchface.

Sure: maybe the event wasn't a perfect fit for me… it happens. But rather than sink into the joy of finding the pieces that did lined up (dancing! connecting! authentic aha moments!), I spent most of the evening setting myself apart, other-ing.

Some of this is just human nature, of course. But some of it is a unique challenge-point for people who've grown up defining themselves by their otherness. If you were the weird kid in high school, you probably have a lingering alienation fetish. Feeling different and “other” can become comfortable and almost reassuring. It's your jam. You're the weird one! (Even when you're surrounded by other weird ones!)

You might think, then, that our more traditional readers wouldn't deal with this as much. Since many more traditional readers are a bit less “out there,” a bit better integrated into mainstream culture, and a bit less other-y, you'd think they would wrestle with the siren song of other-ing themselves.

And yet, we see it constantly on Offbeat Bride, with more traditional readers writing in fretting, Oh Noes, I Think My Wedding Will Be Normal! and asking, Am I still offbeat if I love white chair covers? I worry that sometimes, this sense of alienation is what binds Offbeat Brides to each other — I might be weird feeling marginalized by mainstream society, and you might be normal feeling marginalized by some nontraditional wedding website!

I worry that I contribute in some way to this anxiety, despite the fact that over the years I've practically written a second book about how brides do not need more ways to feel bad about our weddings, your wedding is not a contest, and engaged women don't need another voice telling them they're failing. (Nor do they need another voice tell them they're an outsider.) But what I'm recognizing more and more (both in myself and my readers) is how often that voice is internal.

No one made me feel like an outsider at that dance event I went to. I was offered back rubs, approached to dance, hugged and smiled at. So why did I spent the evening finding all the ways that I had nothing in common with anyone else in the room?

I think of it as like picking an emotional scab. It's a familiar sensation (ah… delicious alienation where I am the specialist, most differentest snowflake!) and can even be deeply motivating. Heck, I started this website as a reaction against feeling “othered” by mainstream wedding websites, and not even disliking the way nontraditional wedding websites were structured. Pushing against can be powerful… but it can also be tremendously isolating, and a huge waste of time. Construction is so much more valuable than demolition!

I would argue that Offbeat Brides need support as much or more than other couples, because they're questioning wedding traditions and a wedding industry and a wedding culture. But in our efforts to find our ways to a wedding that feels like an authentic, realistic expression of our relationships and communities, we must work not to push away those who want to help us or those who want to relate to us.

As I recounted over here, sometimes we'll get blog comment saying something like, “We're wearing Converse at our wedding, and my parents think we're crazy!” And I'll reply with “Oh, you're not crazy… lots of people wear Cons!” I'm trying to be reassuring (“…other people have overcome these same challenges!”) but sometimes the response is heartbreak: “Oh, I thought we were special. Now I feel unspecial.” If you've developed your identity around a sense of alienation… it can be disconcerting to suddenly be part of a larger community.

In the push to define your wedding as your own, you have to watch yourself carefully to make sure you're not pushing away the family and community members who are ready to support you. They might be clumsy, or old fashioned, or have a different vision than you, but their intent is most likely good.

Likewise, even the most offbeat of us have more in common with folks planning more mainstream weddings than we may be ready to admit — everyone's stressed, everyone's dealing with family and money and event planning; we're all just freaking out.

I worry that sometimes we're all in such a hurry to “other” ourselves that we push ourselves away from the communities that are waiting to embrace us. I think it's critically important that we step back for a moment, stop fiddling over the differences, and start finding the shared experiences.

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