Weddings are meant to be joyous occasions to celebrate love and togetherness — and they usually are. But anyone who has ever been to a wedding, been in a wedding, or thrown a wedding ceremony knows that they're often filled with stress, and can even leave people feeling bummed out.
You might feel like a grinch if you're less-than-happy at someone else's wedding, but Mariana Bockarova, PhD, a behavioral scientist, says that it's completely normal to feel a little down at weddings, and there are plenty of reasons why you might feel that way.
"The reason we become so sensitive about weddings — or even not being invited to a wedding, or not having a coveted space in the bridal party, or maybe even being single at these events — is because at the end of the day, as social animals, we want to be included," she says.
So if you're single and don't want to be, a wedding might heighten the sense of not keeping up with your peer group, leaving you feeling dejected. Dr. Bockarova says that in hunter-gatherer societies, we as humans were evolved to fit in with a group, and not fitting in could have meant being left behind and dying. Feeling left out at a wedding because you're single might not be that serious, but we still get that sense of anxiety about not being included.
"Our brain finds it very difficult to understand that not being included means we’re still going to be okay," she says. "We have a very visceral response to rejection or perceived rejection which often happens at weddings."
On the other hand, weddings might be depressing no matter your relationship status, because seeing someone else live out a relationship milestone tends to breed the tendency for comparing your own life to someone else's.
"A lot of it has to do with what’s known psychologically as social comparison," Dr. Bockarova says, adding that if you're in a relationship, a wedding might make you reevaluate your own life because you're seeing another couple's highlight reels and comparing that to what you have.
A lot of it has to do with what’s known psychologically as social comparison.
Mariana Bockarova, PhD
"You’re not looking at the fights, you’re not looking at what that relationship looks like without a fancy dress or the makeup on," she says. "You’re just looking at a really happy moment in their lives, so if you compare that to what you know of your own relationship which is the not-so-nice parts like fighting and bickering, it might make you reevaluate whether you can find greater happiness elsewhere."
The fact that we, as a society and culture, place so much importance on weddings definitely doesn't help the matter. Dr. Bockarova says that not only do we have a fairytale idea of love that manifests itself into weddings, these celebrations are also essentially a chance for people to show off what they have.
"Weddings set a standard for how much you’re willing to invest in the other person and display your happiness in front of people, and in a lot of cases it’s very materialistic," she says. "The fact that they’re extremely important and a display of affection and wealth and your family — it would make perfect logical sense that it’s really difficult to get away from comparison."
But just as you can't compare your own real, messy life to someone else's perfectly curated Instagram feed, you can't compare your relationship or relationship status to what's meant to be one of the happiest moments in another couple's life.
As Dr. Bockarova says, "It’s really important to evaluate your relationship based on your standards and not based on comparing yourself with other people."