The joy of NO: What offbeat-types can teach you about saying “no,” even to yourself

Guest post by TorchyBlane
alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)
Nope Patch by Culture Flock Clothing

One thing I love about Offbeat Bride is that it's such a big, weird, wonderful tent. An unnumbered horde of households, all alike in dignity, united under the banner of doing things a little left of center. You and your burner, poly fiances planning a blood-sharing commitment ceremony on Fire Island at the Solstice? Come into the tent. Join the Kappa Gamma sister who is super excited about wearing her skull shoes and walking down the aisle to the Harry Potter theme song. You're both offbeat. You're equals.

Except… not really. I don't mean that our blood-sharing, poly, burner is cooler than our John Williams sorority sister — fuck that noise. Judging's for losers, that nosy bitch in your mom's yoga class, your Aunt Mildred, and the kids you went to high school with.

It's just that there are certain levels of offbeatness that can sometimes exist without engaging the ire of the judgers. If your offbeat tastes aren't too many standard deviations away from mall-culture lite, you can, for lack of a better term, squeak by. If your personal offbeat tastes run to skull shoes and Harry Potter music, then I give you mad props. But that bitch in your mom's yoga class might let your dangerous proclivities pass uncommented. The same is less likely if you're a poly burner on Fire Island.

Call this, for lack of a better word, the offbeat spectrum. On it, I fall definitely toward the tame end. I'm HOPELESSLY bourgeois. My idea of a night on the cultural vanguard is going to see a Shepard Fairey show and eating Ethiopian. I have a cat named Genghis Khan, and owl-print pillows, and I covet Le Creuset. No one in their right mind could possibly consider me subversive or countercultural.

Except I know how it feels to be on both sides. I grew up in the company of people who, for the most part, treated me like I was the second incarnation of Karl Marx mixed with Andrea Dworkin.

Being on the wild end of the offbeat spectrum does confer certain disadvantages and benefits. Disadvantages in that you can't pass for mainstream — you're always a threat, always a target. People attack you for no reason. But benefits in blocking all those attacks gives you some pretty sweet armor. You've gotten really good at deflecting or ignoring criticism, maintaining internalized self worth, and just generally saying NO. NO to feeling bad about yourself, NO to apologizing for your choices, NO to altering your life to suit the preferences of others. NO is a goddamn survival skill.

This is fucking invaluable as shit when wedding planning.

Never again will you be grabbed by as many different cultural and familial forces and pulled in the direction of as many senseless YESes. YES, of course I will be having a wedding in a church. YES, I will invite Aunt Mildred and the bitch from mom's yoga class. YES, of course we will buy that custom-monogrammed toilet paper. You say the one YES — the big one, to the partner — and everyone expects, like dominos, that a thousand other YESes will follow.

If you have been on the tame end of offbeat most of your life, your defense mechanisms, your armor, your NOs might not be sharp enough to initially resist this onslaught of YESes. Oftentimes, I find when I read Offbeat Bride Tribe entries, the writer is sad about a YES that they feel they have to say but don't want to. My budget is too small to do all the things other people want me to do; how can I possibly say YES to them? So-and-so will not understand my choices, so how can I say YES to theirs?

I don't worry about those brides; they're going to be fine, because they're here, and they have fairy blogsisters and Tribesmaids who will help usher them into the wonderful world that comes with getting really good at NO. Saying NO is about the single most liberating thing you can do, in life and in wedding planning. NO, I won't follow this tradition. NO, I won't buy that crap. NO, you don't get to make me feel bad about myself. Once we really wrap our heads around NO, are going to find our lives get a lot easier.

If you haven't been schooled by life in the fine art of NO, then saying it can seem overwhelming, even annihilating. But it's not. It's an event horizon. Once you cross it, the world doesn't necessarily seem easy — there's still the pesky matter of helping those you love accept and deal with the consequences of your NOs — but it does seem like it's a place you can walk through with integrity.

For example, when I bought my wedding dress, the entire process was landmarked by a series of graciously delivered and gently enforced NOs. The first NO was to my mother, who thought that bridal boutiques, and their white satin jeweled cupcakes, were the only dresses that were even conceivably appropriate for a wedding.

Then I NO'd dresses left and right, faster than she could blink. “Do you like this one?” “NO.” “But it has this fancy beaded vagina protector…” “NO. I said I don't like it. Let's keep looking.”

The last NO I said was to myself — I refused to talk myself out of loving the dress I chose, simply because it was a very popular style obtained from a chain bridal boutique. That was the hardest NO, I admit — denying myself the ultimate Offbeat Bride narrative, of having a fashion sense too refined and idiosyncratic to possibly be satisfied by an anonymous big box store perched between a Food Lion and a Radio Shack off of I-90.

Maybe that's the hardest test of our powers of NO, those of us who grew up on the wild end of the offbeat scale — do we have the power to say NO to ourselves? I know I'm not perfect when it comes to that, but as with many things this wedding business is teaching me, I am finding that kicking down the walls of my comfort zone is making my life — and the life I anticipate having with my husband once this wedding is over — something I'd happily say YES to.

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Comments on The joy of NO: What offbeat-types can teach you about saying “no,” even to yourself

  1. Being on the tame end of the offbeat life, I know that I can’t say no. I just can’t. I’ve been trying to work on it now that I’m planning the wedding, but it’s just so much easier to handle when you just say yes and get done with it.
    It’s nice to read such an article, I agree with every word. I just wish I had the courage to start saying NO.

    • Nathalia, as Sarah said – you can start small with No. It gets easier the more you do it, like exercise or deep frying. Like both exercise and deep frying, sometimes it will hurt you, but ultimately it will be worth it. Do you really want to look at pictures of your wedding day wistfully thinking how it would’ve been if you’d done something you actually wanted? Other than marry your husband, obviously.
      There is no good to come from being a doormat – first it’s your wedding, then how you raise your kids or keep you home. Anyone who isn’t you or your husband may have a right to voice their opinions, but it is YOUR RIGHT to tell them what you are going to do instead. Be polite, thank them for their input, but remind them that this is your wedding, not theirs.

      Strength and courage can start small, and from little things big things grow.

  2. This is the number one piece of advice I give to friends who are soon to be married, to learn to say no. It can make you feel like an awful person, like something you should apologize for, but it’s not! Saying NO means saying YES to who you truly are.

  3. Thanks for this! The hardest part of the wedding planning for me is learning when to say “no” and stick with it and when saying “no” is not worth the stress that will be caused by having other people be unhappy. For the most part I haven’t compromised on anything I feel super strongly about, but lately I have been second-guessing my dress purchase. I wanted a super cheap and super “offbeat” dress, possibly from a vintage shop somewhere. I ended up with an expensive (although cheap by bridal boutique standards) vintage style dress from a bridal boutique, after going there to satisfy my mom’s wishes of seeing me up on that traditional pedestal in front of all those mirrors. I didn’t compromise with the style I wanted, but I did compromise with the price and going to that cookie-cutter bridal boutique. I think you made me realize I’m only second-guessing because I’m having trouble with the fact that I actually like my bridal boutique expensive-to-me dress!

  4. I am in the middle of it all I think. I have long been steeped in the traditions of a churchy christian wedding. But I grew up and went off to college and started wearing black and watching R rated movies *gasp*. However I chose not to get married in church by a pastor. In fact I’ve said no already more times than I can count! I’ve tried very hard to keep my parents relatively happy but they seem to understand (even if they’re hoping I’ll call the whole thing off any day now). I am wearing a white dress though. I have been dreaming of wearing a white dress and looking EPIC since I was a little traditional girl. I think my wedding will be just a enough of both ends to please everyone!!! Oh my goodness…I’m a people pleaser…

  5. Holy god where has this post been for the last 8 weeks of my life. I just wrote about finally getting to the point of being able to consider “No” in a real way to my mother’s terrible treatment and selfishness with regards to her participation in my wedding (or not… check out the post if you have some emotional endurance and want to know more 😛 ). Not to shout, but seriously, THANK YOU!!! from the bottom of my heart, for writing this. Talk about cathartic.

  6. I agree, the act of saying NO can be so hard! My fiance and I walk the offbeat line too, and it can be hard to make the wedding feel like us without it feeling like we are trying to make it offbeat just for the sake of offbeatness.

    Also, thank God someone else had trouble with the chain store dress thing! I had grand plans for a homemade steampunk tuxedo dress when I fell in love with a decidedly on-beat dress from David’s bridal. It was a battle with myself to give in to that love and be true to myself. It was great to hear I’m no the only one!!!

    • My fiance put it a funny way: If we did the more traditional thing of getting married after knowing each other for a couple years, we would have had a crazy gothbeat wedding. But since we did the non-traditional thing and waited (9 years), we’re having a more traditional wedding. It’s hard to walk the middle of the road between “yourself” and being unusual for the sake of being unusual. It’s awesome to hear the same thing from other brides!

  7. I found it helpful to couch some of my “NOs” in gentler terms. Some concept, different verbiage. I practiced saying, “I’m the bride, it doesn’t bother me that (fill in the blank.)” As in, “I’m the bride; it doesn’t bother me that we’re all going to the venue in mom’s minivan.” Or, “I’m the bride; it doesn’t bother me if the bridesmaids dresses aren’t identical.” I found that it made other people more accepting of the outcome and even freed them from pushing bridal concepts they thought I needed. Turns out my mom was happy to drive me and the bridesmaids and was relieved at not paying for a limo when the ceremony and reception were happening in one place.

    She wanted me to have a limo because she thought that a good mother of the bride would want one for her daughter, even if she privately thought it was wasteful. By hearing that it truly didn’t bother me not to drop $400 for what would have worked out to exactly 10 minutes in a limo, she was able to drop the idea without feeling like she was shortchanging me. I got said NO LIMO without having to say the words “NO” and “LIMO.” No is a hard word for me, but “I’m the bride; it doesn’t bother me” was easier.

    • HA! I had the exact. same. scenario. with my mom and the limos. She was so worried about making sure to find one because we ‘needed’ one, and I kept trying to tell her I didn’t want it/ need it/ wouldn’t die if we didn’t get one. She went all over the county asking for prices, and came back shocked every time. Finally, it got to the point where saying “I’m the bride, and it will make no difference to me whatsoever if we don’t have a limo” actually had an effect. It all worked out even better in the end without it, anyway!

  8. I appreciate what this article is saying, but I am really, really cringing at the use of “pass”.

    • KJ, original writer here. I’d like to address this concern – how did you interpret my use of the word ‘pass?’ I know the term from its use to refer to lgbt people who don’t effect stereotyped mannerisms – and of course those people aren’t any less authentically lgbt.

      • Historically, the term has been used for black people “passing” as white in an effort to assimilate and avoid discrimination, and I bristled a bit at connection… while I appreciate the idea of an “offbeat spectrum,” the comparison read as inappropriate.

        In no way do I think it was meant that way – it just read that way.

        Thanks for following up!

        • KJ, that is a completely valid criticism – I wasn’t even thinking of the racial antecedents of the term when I used it. I will ask the mods to change it to something else. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

        • I definitely read your original comment as referring to “passing” as trans* nomenclature, so I deleted my original reply.

          Which is sort of odd, considering that I am on Offbeat Bride in order to shirk my homework, which is a film analysis of 1959’s Imitation of Life, and “passing for white” is sort of the main impetus of the whole dramatic arc of that movie. Maybe I should just go to bed.

    • “Pass” is pretty polysemic. It refers to a certain way of being superficially appraised by a hegemonic figure or group and found to be superficially acceptable, or, more specifically, absolved of any further questioning. It’s not exclusively trans* nomenclature, if that’s what you’re referring to.

      However, if you’re referring to “passing for white” i.e. Imitation of Life/Human Stain/IRL historical “one-drop” rules, then I could perhaps understand the squirminess.

      But still, it’s not like a ‘reclaimed’ slur or anything like that…

    • Hi KJ, thanks for your comment. The use of this term got flagged at our weekly meeting and we decided that it should be changed to “pass for mainstream” because we too saw the issues you saw (not just “pass” as term for passing for white but also passing for heteronormative, cisgendered, etc.). Unfortunately, the change was never saved properly. Thanks for flagging it again and for the dialogue with the author, who then submitted an edit to the post itself.

  9. A beautifully written piece, funny and insightful, with the perfect balance of profanity and sincerity? Be still my heart! A rare beast, especially on wedding boards. Very nice read, thank you.

  10. Almost 1.8 years after the wedding, I can say it’s far easier to say “no” now. Partly because I can look back on the wedding process and see where I didn’t say no, out of fear of how the no would change things. The consequences of not saying no were hideous, and I’ve learned that I really do need to listen to myself. Not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m hoping it will be worth it.

  11. I find it very interesting indeed how many people truly struggle with boundaries in this day and age. (Well, maybe it’s been this way for eons. Haven’t been around. Couldn’t say.) If you think about it, a lack of boundaries is the cornerstone for many of the “hilarious” misadventures that the stars of sitcoms and movies find themselves enmeshed in. A whole grand, dramatic scheme evolves (destined to fail, of course) to get them out of the mess they “somehow” landed in, when the whole thing could be solved simply and effectively by some truth, a few balls, and some good, healthy boundaries.

    Maybe one of the reasons those getting married struggle with this is because weddings are–as previously pointed out–inherently and traditionally community-oriented. This means that you open yourself up to the community who now feels as though they have a vested interest in every aspect of this wedding they’ll be attending. In a way, they do, but in many ways they don’t.

    I suppose it’s just like a little microcosm of life, then. We are surrounded by family, friends, co-workers, etc. who, by virtue of just being a part of our life, feel that they have a vested interest in the nuts and bolts that will create a certain outcome. Well, yes… but no.

    Boundaries. Gotta have ’em. And lest I come off sounding all boundarier-than-thou, can I just say that I literally did not have boundaries or even know what they were until I started doing some intense counseling and self-work a few years ago? That’s probably why they’re a passion of mine 🙂 And oh, man, did I TOTALLY enjoy this piece! Loved it.

  12. I just wanted to say that this post was beautifully written and I love the level of thought you’ve given this. I appreciate that this applications not only to wedding planning but “justifying” any aspect of my (not very) offbeat life.

  13. I can really relate to this post! So many people have been asking me how the planning is going and if I am butting heads with my parents about my less-than-traditional wedding. My answer is always No!

    My life as a young child, teenager, and adult have prepared them for my weddding. I constantly had to say No to my parents growing up. As a 5 year old I was saying No. No to anything uncomfortable, no to pink, no to dresses, and yes to elastic waistbainds and velcro shoes. As a teen, I had to fight to wear my rediculous 42 inch bell KikWears, or die my hair blue, or pierce by face, or listen to the music I loved, attend the alternative school, and endless fights I had with my parents along the way.

    I fought my battles young. I did things my way. As the black sheep or the “difficult one” I was constantly compared to my older and younger siblings. As an adult, my siblings always tell me that they admired how strong I was growing up. I just wanted the freedom to be me without anyone’s expectations burdening who I really was. I won the fight young, I claimed my independence, so my wedding planning has been a breeze.

    My mom and Dad respect me more now for standing up for myself and creating my own path to happiness and success. So, my siblings will probably to have my parent’s version of a wedding and I get to have mine.

  14. Saying NO doesn’t just apply to weddings but every day life. I remember people outside shopping malls handing out leaflets or people on the streets handing out the latest nightclub offer, and I always used to take them for fear of being impolite, but over time it’s amazing how easy it has become to say NO. Also telesales callers, I always use to listen to their spiel before saying NO at the end, now I just say straight away, NO THANK YOU. I do agree though Weddings are incredibly stressful enough without adding to it by engaging in all the stuff we don’t actually want.

    Great article and very well written.

  15. I have recently had a falling out with my parents about the location of the wedding. They want it in my hometown, my partner and I would like a weekend away wedding. (I haven’t lived in my hometown for over a decade and never will again) We found the most perfect venue and when I excitedly told them about it they refused to attend.

    Trying to discuss it with them has been a nightmare. They keep saying how can I not take their wishes into consideration.. I keep thinking.. but..this is our wedding. We should be able to have our dream wedding they way we would like.

    It has caused a huge amount of grief. We’re 2 months into the engagement and my parents refuse to speak to us and even ask other family members not to mention the wedding to them!! Nightmare….. this has been a really useful post for getting my language right!

    • Wow, that sounds terrible! It kind of sounds like they need to have this wedding put in perspective for them. It’s still relatively small thing in comparison to continuing a relationship with your children… Maybe there is something else that is bothering them, and they don’t even realize that this is how they’re taking it out on you? Blah, I don’t know, but good luck. I hope everything works out. Being confident in who you are and what you want can be rough, but you’re far less likely to regret it.

    • enna31, I’m so sorry that your parents aren’t being as supportive of you as they should be!!! I hope the Universe lends you a hand in this.

      Hugs, and stay true to yourself and your relationship with your fiance.

  16. I want to see a picture of a dress with a fancy beaded vagina protector…it must exist…

    But another giant YES to all of this!

    I was pretty good at saying NO and compromising, except one thing. And the reason I couldn’t stick to my NO-ness, was because my now-husband jumped on the YES bandwagon with my parents and my cousins and everyone else in the world, so I was this lone, single NO-meister without the solidarity of having my partner in crime NO-ing right there with me. I couldn’t handle that… I gave in. He said, what’s the worst that can happen? So it’s not quite what we wanted, they’re so adament… I couldn’t fight all of them.

    But in hindsight, I should have. We should have talked out our unified front of NO before ending up in a situation where I was prepared to stand ground, but he wasn’t. Gotta stick to your gut! And be in agreement with your partner about where you stand, unified, on the front on NO.

  17. From the very start of planning our wedding, I have had to say NO, no, no no no… to so many things.

    First, it was who the officiant was going to be. No, I don’t want a priest or pastor or any religious affiliations. Oh, you know someone? That’s nice, I’ll be happy to meet with them, but we will be meeting with other people. We have specific requirements. Maybe a tibetan monk… who knows?

    We’re going to be MCing our own ceremony… No, it’s not going to be 4 hours long. No, I’m not going to have naked men dancing and beating drums.

    No, rustic with BBQ for catering is not going to be a ho-down western. No, just because there is a barn on the site doesn’t mean we are wearing jeans or boots.

    I wanted to budget 300 for my dress.. why would I want to spend thousands of dollars on it? It just didn’t seem logical to be in some designer dress that I’m going to wear once. Oh the fight over that… “No daughter of mine is going to wear rags down the aisle” So at what point price wise does it count as rags?

    And now it’s about the dishes and the linens… No, I don’t want table cloths.. it’s too formal for me. We’re eating BBQ – they are patio tables with benches.. no there are no chairs… think of it like.. a picnic.. but not a company picnic. That’s not formal enough, my mother says… I don’t care… I said no. NO.

    Are you having any live music? No. I can get someone to sing. I said NO. No live music? NO, N-O… I don’t want live music, I want things to be simple. Pressing a button is simple – and it’s music I want specifically.

    I finally told my mom to visit this site if she wants to know what kind of people we are. I know this is TLDR, but this is exactly what I sent her:

    “Mom, this is a website you should look at – this is who we are. This is what we’re trying to do with our ceremony… when we said non-traditional, when we say, making the ceremony and reception our own. Josh and I identify with this culture. We’re gamers… we’re geeks.. we’re foodies. We love Dr. Who, Walking Dead, Star trek, BSG, Stargate… campy movies and shows and playing video games.

    We love internet cat pictures and Nyan Cat, we spend hours looking at imgur.

    This is going to be the best resource for us because it caters to our tastes. Also there are some super cute things in it Also, these are our circle of friends, the guests we are inviting. Embrace it! ^.^”

  18. Here, here!! I’m guessing this means I’m the extreme – as long as my Mr and I are happy, and our parents aren’t going to disown us, I couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks! They don’t have to come I’d they don’t like the sounds of it, and if they’re sticking their nose in too much they won’t be invited!! Its our day, me and my fiance, not the aunts you never see, or the cousins you can’t remember the names of, or the “friends” that came out of the woodwork when they heard of an engagement, OURS!!!!! X

  19. “You say the one YES — the big one, to the partner — and everyone expects, like dominos, that a thousand other YESes will follow.” – this has been the most unexpected experience for me. I had no idea how many people would have so many options about everything. I’m pretty good at saying no, but I’m definitely having a hard time sticking to my guns. I want to be happy, but I also want my family and friends to be happy & excited as well. It’s hard to be excited when so many important people are unhappy about your choices.

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