Society fucked up my perception of weddings, my gender, and my disability

Guest post by Aurora
Society fucked up my perception of weddings, my gender, and my disability -- wedding perceptions as seen on @offbeatbride
Remixed photo by: cloudzillaCC BY 2.0

Societal expectations, and how they manifest themselves, are funny things.

Take societal expectations surrounding relationships and, specifically, weddings and marriages. Particularly as they pertain to women with mental health concerns or disabilities.

I just obtained a marriage license. In the state of Massachusetts, this means that I have sixty days to become a Married Lady™. I'm currently binge watching “Say Yes to the Dress” on TLC. One might assume that the reason I'm doing this is because I'm a BRIDE so I am doing BRIDE things because BRIDE.

Not so much.

I'd say that “Say Yes to the Dress” is a “guilty pleasure” of mine (although I use that term colloquially; I really don't believe in feeling guilty about something I like or don't like). It has a little bit to do with the fashion and more to do with pondering sociology and how the times change.

It's much the same reason I've been reading the Offbeat Bride blog since… the year after it was founded. I wasn't engaged at the time, but the SUBCULTURES. It was SO INTERESTING. You know what else is interesting? Seeing how society at large has become more okay with things like same-sex weddings and colorful wedding dresses, while at the same time creating a narrative in which weddings are a huge to-do and there are so many TRADITIONS you MUST adhere to (suffice to say, this culture surrounding WIC weddings was only in its infancy when my parents got married; when both sets of my grandparents wed, it was practically non-existent and those “traditions” weren't around either).

But, because I'm a woman, it's assumed that I'm wedding-obsessed and that's why I'm watching it. Because I'm engaged and actively planning an elopement, it's assumed that also has a role in my television choices.

For years and years, I was hyper-focused on getting married. Not necessarily the wedding, although I did think about that. Society would tell us that this was exclusively because I am a cisgender woman, and this is apparently a thing women do. XX chromosomes and whatnot.

It wasn't until I got engaged after making a conscious choice to seek out relationships with people who wanted the same level of commitment I did that I re-evaluated why I'd always hyper-focused on marriage. The thing is, I'm disabled. I've been in treatment for my mental health since I was nine; they put me on meds when I was twelve, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at fourteen. I did not have a lot to go on when it came to examples of healthy marriages when one partner has a mental health concern. The divorce rate for neurotypical people is at 50%. For people with bipolar disorder or other mental health concerns, it's ninety percent. Statistically, I have almost a fool-proof chance of NOT having a happy marriage, even though it's something I want, because I'm disabled.

I didn't hyper-focus on marriage because I'm a woman. I hyper-focused on marriage because society taught me that my worth as a disabled woman with a mental health concern was dependent on whether or not I could sustain a healthy marriage.

My aunt, who also has bipolar, and was diagnosed when the mental health movement was even more problematic than it is now, simply exemplified this. It was never explicitly stated (but certainly implied) in my family, but I knew that I wasn't supposed to turn out like my aunt. I was supposed to learn from her mistakes and do better. It didn't help that the first major relationship I was in during high school was with a young man who also had bipolar, and it was pretty unhealthy (to note, it wasn't unhealthy by virtue of the fact that we were both neuro-atypical; there were other things going on).

During that relationship, I learned some very incorrect things from him that society re-enforced: I shouldn't have kids because I would be passing on faulty genes; I should expect any romantic relationships with neuro-atypical people to go badly because apparently disabled folks need a neurotypical person to “rescue” or balance us out; anytime a relationship ended, it was specifically because the other person couldn't handle the fact that I had bipolar disorder. Every time a relationship ended, it was my fault, because my disability somehow made me unworthy of a healthy romantic partnership.

I didn't hyper-focus on marriage because I'm a woman. I hyper-focused on marriage because society taught me that my worth as a disabled woman with a mental health concern was dependent on whether or not I could sustain a healthy marriage.

Um, guys, this is bullshit.

When I first started dating my fiancée, the very first thing I said to her when she messaged me on OkCupid about how awesome I seemed was not, “Thanks, you seem awesome, too!” It was, “Just to warn you, I have bipolar disorder and I can't work because of it.” So she Googled “relationships with people who have bipolar disorder.” The internet was filled with forums dedicated to the tl;dr sentiment of “THIS IS A VERY BAD IDEA DON'T DO IT.” She sensed something fishy with all this, so she talked to a therapist she knew.

The therapist basically said, “Check in with her during her manias to make sure the typical bipolar symptom of hypersexuality isn't leading her to infidelity, and make sure she takes her medication consistently and as prescribed.” And… that was it. That was all she had to go on when electing to enter into a serious relationship with a person with a non-visible disability.

Honestly? If, for some reason, I was presented with the same information — legions of anonymous online persons telling me dating this particular person was a bad idea because of their disability; a medical professional telling me that this person was likely to cheat on me and that bad things could happen if this person didn't willingly comply with their treatment — I'm not sure I would go into the relationship based on that alone. Would you? Would anyone?

I'm not watching a TV show about bridal gowns or thinking about happy, healthy marriages because I'm a woman. Those two things are not exclusive to one another. Is my behavior a manifestation of a societal expectation? Does a marginalized person's enjoyment of their ability to “pass” as a privileged person mean they secretly hate themselves, or that the status quo really is all that jazz? Do you prefer your PB&J sandwiches to be more heavy on the jelly, or have considerably more peanut butter?

We could debate these things all day (in fact, if you'd like to debate them in the comments, go for it. Especially the sandwich part. I haven't had dinner yet). But, like I said, this is funny stuff — “tricky” funny, not “ha-ha” funny. I don't find any of this particularly amusing.

I'mma turn up the “trashy” TV and put a ring on it. Expectations be damned.

So, world-at-large, you don't get to tell me that my disability makes me less worthwhile than a neurotypical person. You don't get to tell me that the only kind of good relationship is one that results in a happy, life-long, government-recognized-legally-binding marriage. You don't get to tell me that, because of my disability, I don't get to have one of those “good relationships.” You don't get to tell me that I'm a “stereotypical, crazy female” for hyper-focusing on the “good relationship” you say I can't have or the inferiority complex I got from you telling me a bunch of other bullshit that, frankly, isn't true. You don't get to critique my television choices based on a bunch of that frankly-not-true crap, and you don't get to do any of this to anyone else.

I'm the kind of person who goes ahead and does exactly what you say I can't do because I want to and then revels in the fact that I've proven you wrong. So, world-at-large: I'mma turn up the “trashy” TV and put a ring on it. Expectations be damned.

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Comments on Society fucked up my perception of weddings, my gender, and my disability

  1. It is funny how non-disable people think they know it better what other people can/can’t, should/shouldn’t do. I love when I see stories like yours that just prove them wrong.

    • “Oh, I’ve NEVER experienced what you have, but I still have a better idea of what you’re going through than you do.” – privileged people talking to marginalized groups

      It never fails. Call it mansplaining, whitesplaining, neurosplaining… it becomes even more of an issue when a doctor does it. I’m thinking of switching my PCP because every time I go in for a physical and tell her I’m not working because I’m disabled, her response is, “But what do you DO all day?”

      • Ha bit weird. Do you think it’s because of your disability? Or do you think she would ask the same thing of a woman who chose to stay home? Lots of parents make that choice now to do lack of affordable childcare and I know a lot of women who get asked that by everyone! But I know some women who didn’t work because they relocated with partners and couldn’t work in the new place or chose not to work and they spend their time doing volunteer work. Which society doesn’t tend to count as real work since there’s no pay cheque attached to it. Could she just be a slightly A type working woman who just doesn’t get that there are other choices and paths to being happy?

        • Oh the feels! Coming to terms with my limitations due to fibro during wedding planning has been its own challenge. @Aurora, I generally try out about 3-5 doctors before settling on one (both specialists and pcp’s). If your doc says things like that to you, they are not capable of providing the care you’re looking for (not to mention paying a pretty penny for). Thank you for the encouragement. Rock on!

        • @Katie – I think both? She has also said some insensitive things about weight, and doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of me having a history of an eating disorder. Given her age and the fact that she owns her own practice, I’d also attribute some type A to that as well.
          @makecation – I am so with you on the doctor bit… I’ll look into it more once the insurance changes are finalized (yay legal marriage in ‘Murica). Do not even get me started on the hell I went through to find a new therapist after the clinic I used to go to kept assigning me therapists that weren’t what I asked for, and then blamed me when it wasn’t a good fit. I’m so glad you were able to relate – I hope you rock on, too!

    • “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I would not be surprised if you were absolutely correct.

    • My dad’s bipolar and he and my mom have been together my whole life. My dad’s uncle is also bipolar and happily married. Having a mental illness does not mean you can’t have love. 🙂

  2. I always thought I was “crazy” for being so obsessed with weddings. I have borderline personality, anxiety, and depression. This was like reading what my brain couldn’t put into words. It makes so much sense. I started off my last two relationships letting the guys know that I had mental health issues. They didn’t care. The previous one didn’t last because I ended it knowing that my now husband would be a better partner for me in my “condition” when thinking about the “until death do you part.” Thank you for this. I needed to read this as I plan for the BIG wedding.

    • I’m so glad you were able to relate! I’ve had providers suggest that I might have borderline and not bipolar (or both), but it tends to be such a loaded diagnosis that it’s never been formally attached to me for fear that MEDICAL PROVIDERS will stigmatize me and refuse treatment. You got this!

  3. Omg I was reading this and just saying to myself over and over “yes yes, damn this reads like I wrote it!” (Bipolar, Say Yes obsession, feelings that happiness is out of my reach because of my bipolar…) Then I got to your bio AND WE HAVE THE SAME NAME AAAAHH. Thank you for writing this, seriously. Bottom of my heart. xo

    • That’s kind of… creepy. In a good way. I’m sooo not used to having to share (our) name! :fist bump of name-share-edness: xo to you, too!

    • Question: Did you just start following my “marriage advice” board on Pinterest, and do we even (almost) have the same last name? #thesimilaritiescontinue

  4. As a random aside, I spent a semester at the Fashion Institute of Technolgy with “Say Yes…” host Randy Fenoli. The Randy I knew would be among the very first to stand by you in support and solidarity. You go, girl. This!

  5. How did your partner respond to the fact that you are unable to work? What you wrote to your know fiance about being disable and unable to work is almost exactly what said to my boyfriend when we first started talking to each other. I’m disabled, I have severe chronic pain and I’m unable to work. My boyfriend is able-bodied and in a career where he will be able to support both of us. He is very understanding and is willing to be the “bread winner” but I continue to have a difficult time knowing that in our relationship I will not be able to contribute monetarily. How do you deal with this, in your relationship?

    • Things are shifting now that I’m participating in a Clubhouse program and using the MRC’s services (Mass Rehabilitation Commission; helps disabled adults find work), but basically all the housework fell to me. She is/was very supportive when I had off days and needed a break, but it was nice for her to come home to a hot dinner and a clean house. Your mileage may vary, since you deal with chronic pain and housework may be more difficult for you. But remember, he’s not paying you to be with him – you’re not a commodity, if that makes sense. His providing monetary needs in the relationship and you not doesn’t make this some sort of transaction where you have to think, “In the real world, my skills would be worth $X-dollars and that’s how I’m contributing.” You have value as a human being and the things you contribute emotionally (and spiritually, whatever that means to you) are SO, so important. I hope that makes sense! <3

  6. I really like the advice the therapist gave your fiance. When things get weird with me my boyfriend goes down a list:
    1. Did I do something that upset you?
    2. Did something happen or is there something going on that upset you?
    3. Have you been taking your medication?
    4. Would you like me to wrap you up in a blanket and bring you a snack and some water?

    I appreciate that his first response to a mood swing is not to blame mental illness.

  7. My grandma was bipolar, and she and my grandpa were married over 60 years before they passed away. Eloped while still in high school, had a teen pregnancy, treated for mental illness starting in her early 30s (later diagnosed bipolar). It seems like every statistic would have predicted they’d fail. Props to you for still working hard to be happy in the face of illness, and congrats to you and your wife!

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