The Bizarre Internet Rabbit Hole Only Brides Know About

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I was so cocky when I got engaged. I thought I’d be a chill bride, and that our wedding would be so much easier, cheaper, and more relaxing to plan than everyone else’s. Surely, there was a better way to do this, and all these stressed-out brides were just getting worked up over nothing.
I had no idea what I was getting into.

Engagement is supposed to be this happy, exciting time, but it can also be incredibly lonely. Even if you have friends who are engaged at the same time as you, you’re ultimately planning different weddings. Their battles are different from your battles, and though you may meet eyes across the tulle-filled trenches, you can’t save each other.

Enter: the internet. I’m big on research. From the time my boyfriend and I started talking about ring-shopping, I was asking Google my wedding-related questions. That sent me into the world of wedding blogs. However, I found that even “alternative” wedding blogs lacked the grounded realness I desperately wanted to hear. In the name of creating safe spaces for people planning weddings (and vendors selling wedding-related services), these blogs have become echo chambers of yes-people, supporting every decision equally. I just wanted someone to tell me, honestly, if flower crowns are played out. I’m a grown woman; I won’t take it personally.

That’s how I fell into the weird, wonderfully candid world of wedding message boards. Sites like The Knot, Weddingbee, and Reddit’s r/weddingplanning host online communities for people (mostly women) who are planning weddings to gather and talk shit. I found them utterly addictive. Finally, here was a place where I could indulge in all the gratuitous wedding talk I wanted, anonymously and guilt-free.

What drew me in at first were people posting stories about wedding-related drama with their families and bridesmaids, looking for advice. I’m an advice-column addict, and a sucker for stories of interpersonal conflict, and wedding drama is so much more heightened than regular drama. To put it delicately, people lose their fucking minds. There was the maid of honor who got upset over a card box. There was the mother-in-law who threw a fit over grandparent boutonnieres. There was the bride whose family was planning on crashing her honeymoon. There was the father who hired a private investigator to break up his daughter’s engagement.

Like any online community, wedding message boards have their own language. It’s a language rich in abbreviations: FMIL for “future mother-in-law,” PPD for “Pretty Princess Day,” and FI for “Future Intended” (the strangest way to say “fiancé” I’ve ever heard). STD and BM are also, hilariously, in play, standing for “save-the-date” and “bridesmaid,” respectively. At first, I snickered at posts with titles like “Too Many BMs?” and “Show Me Your STDs,” but eventually, even these abbreviations just became a part of the fabric of this world, as I went from a skeptical observer to a happy participant.

What I love about these forums is the honesty on display. Anonymity tends to do that.

There are certain concepts that seem to only exist on wedding message boards, and that spark discussion again and again. “Dress regret” is a phenomenon that occurs when a bride has chosen her wedding dress, and then has lingering doubts about it. I find it to be an amazing metaphor for engagement in itself, which is a time of questioning everything, and putting enormous pressure on one day (and, in this case, one dress) to be everything you want it to be.

There are whole sub-forums on most of these boards devoted to “Waiting,” or “Pre-Engagement,” when one person in the relationship is ready to be married, but is waiting for a proposal. Many, many posts have been written about the question of whether to “fire” a bridesmaid, boundaries crossed by future mother-in-laws, and boundaries crossed by grooms at bachelor parties. And hand-in-hand with the online wedding world seem to go discussions of trying to conceive (or TTC — that’s right, the abbreviations never end). Those boards have an entirely different subculture, with posts about charting, temping, and “squinters” (pregnancy tests with faintly positive lines). They also feature the most unusual euphemism for sex I’ve heard to date: “BD,” or “Baby Dancing.”
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
What I love about these forums is the honesty on display. Anonymity tends to do that. If you ask someone whether an Etsy centerpiece looks ugly, or if a certain way of wording an invitation is tacky, they’ll tell you. There are certain subjects that are always divisive, like whether cash bars are acceptable, which guests should get plus-ones, and whether to invite kids. Yet even when these discussions get ugly (and they do), I appreciate that at least they’re showing a truthful range of responses. When you’re trying to make wedding-related decisions, there is so much noise. There are people trying to push their agendas on you, at the same time as there are people who say well-meaning but utterly unhelpful things like, “Well, it’s your day, and you should have whatever you want!” Sometimes you just want an honest read on how many people you’re going to piss off if you don’t have a chicken option.

Another fascinating aspect of these boards for me was getting to read about the unique hurdles of wedding-planning for young brides still in college, military wives, older people on their second or third weddings, and people from different cultural backgrounds who described the pressure they felt to honor certain traditions. There are also plenty of posts from people going through difficult times in their relationships, who sometimes make the decision to end their engagements, or to divorce. The range of voices and stories on these boards is genuinely diverse in a way that mainstream wedding blogs, even the ones that actively try to diversify, cannot replicate.

There are many users who continue to frequent these boards for years after their own nuptials have come and gone, but I can’t say that idea holds much appeal for me. I’d like to think of wedding-planning as a temporary descent into madness, not something that will permanently consume me. I’m looking forward to the day when the posts on these boards won’t feel so immediately relatable, when weddings will seem silly and frivolous again, and when I can look at the stressed-out bride in our wedding photos and laugh.

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