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‘Symptoms’ of a Bride: Listening to the Objects of Gaze

A wedding is a major event in a person’s life. The event comes with many dreams, hopes, expectations and desires. There is chaos around feelings and a tussle between one’s wishes and that of the other. There is brimming happiness about what is to come and a spilling anxiety around what is happening; there is both dreaming and dread. Imagine all of this, only magnified – and there you have brides in a straightjacketed and compulsive social setup! Women born into naturalised and pressing patriarchal scattered residues across the world, who have breathed at the cusp of emotional deprivation and social obligations, have seen most maternal figures fragmented and stretched in their relationships. The idea of marriage as wrapped in the language of helplessness and adjustments, doesn’t come from afar. It is travelled to us through the women we’ve known closely and internalised. If they ought to establish the foundations of marriage as a ‘surrender’, then an entry into The Day ought to be wearing a malleable skin. No wonder the women gasping through the androcentric ideas do not simply enter marriage as a space of coupledom, rather, they meet it at the juncture of reckoning and reconciliation with the un-lived pasts – the pasts of their mothers and foremothers that they are connecting and reconciling with.

Alas, the brides deserve our wonderment in two directions  – first, why is it the ‘bride’ who becomes the reservoir of these convulsions shared by many others like themselves, and second, how does the bride survive these constant psychic ruptures? Since each of these directions contains layers of meanings, snippets of trans-generational violence and frigid social obligations, it is essential to weave each part closely so that we don’t end up repeating the pattern of precipitating the bride’s breakdown. For the purpose of doing justice to the internal world of the brides – the ones that have been, the ones that will be and the bride inside all of us, let’s listen to the bride who survives perforated reality.

The bride who emerges on the aisle, with her constructed demeanour and radiant smile, is essentially putting her best face forward after months of disintegration. It is an amalgamation of dissociation, idealisation and courage that enables her to walk as if nothing has occurred. Interestingly, it is not so much about her partner or their relationship; it is more about ‘The Day’ that demands mechanical transactions from a human with her own complexities. There are clear celebrated ideas around ‘what a bride should do’, ‘how a wedding should look’, ‘when she should smile’, or even, ‘when she should weep’. It is almost like planning what has already been planned for you, so at best, you can either match up to it or fail miserably.

Alas, since the bride is always more than just a person, she understands she’ll be an object of gaze whose life choices are to be evaluated by a faceless spectators. She is weighed down by unconscious expectations of parental figures, temptations of an idealised idea of a wedding and more so, the fear of losing out on her day. Mostly, the idea of a wedding operates from a space of fear, and even the wise reflective brides collapse into a blurry gap between “this is what I want” and “this is what is wanted of me”. This blurry, confusing state demands stark decisions and panic about things one otherwise wouldn’t care about. With so much perforation in the internal world and barely any time to make sense of it, the best the mind can do is ‘just breathe, until it passes’.

I remember a friend who developed an acute rash on her ring finger that caused extreme itching. It was right before her wedding and no dermatologist could make it completely go away, until one day, it just did. Around the same time, a patient of mine getting married within a month felt her eyes to be drying out. She had to be prescribed eye drops, which she used almost erratically, but well, the symptoms went down in few months. It is no surprise that so many brides-to-be develop problems such as allergies, rashes, constipation, sleep difficulties and so on. Often for what our mind cannot speak, our body becomes the canvas. It becomes the scream that the bride’s own mind cannot bear to hear. This essential dissociation from oneself and one’s feelings allows her to keep walking towards the constructed dream. Though I wonder how many brides really take a pause and ask themselves, “Do I want this guest coming over?” or “Why should I partake in this ritual that goes against my dignity?” Or “Maybe it’s unfair that my own mother is asking me to ‘not think’” – she dare not enter this state or she’d destroy the inter-generationally legitimised idea of the wedding, or, of herself.

“As I was walking down the aisle of St. Paul’s on my father’s arm, I thought, ‘What on Earth am I doing here?’”

– Princess Diana (in Diana: I’m Going To Be Me – The People’s Princess Revealed In Her Own Words by Phil Dampier, 2017).

It is no surprise that the wedding day demands a loud show of music and glitter and laughter, so that the fundamental violence in the process can go unnoticed. I use ‘violence’ to encapsulate the crude butchering of individuality, the stepping over of each other’s desires and needs in the name of social obligations and an exhibition of intimacies through intrusive rituals around bodies, and the showing off of gifts and personal items of clothing and jewellery. How then, does a person, torn in her mind and reality, think and feel so much, alone?

The mind does the best it can, and with a million dreams in her eyes and a vague sense of discomfort, the woman becomes the bride, oblivious to all that she feels and all that she cannot feel. Between the mind and the body, the psyche and language, between dissociation and preservation, and her heart and the world, here (be)comes the bride.

Who in their sane mind can do this?

Having to survive within the framework of patriarchal weddings, who cannot have the ‘symptoms’ of being a bride?

Cover Image: Pixabay

Article written by:

Aanchal Bhatnagar is a Trainee Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist in New Delhi, India. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and the recipient of the APA Div39 (Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy) Scholar Award 2019. Her current works include archiving the narratives of loss and psychic continuity. With a keen interest in films and mythology, she holds a discussion group in New Delhi around their varied strands.

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