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Fredric Neuman M.D.

Why Some People React Emotionally at Weddings

Some people get angry and others cry—for good reason.

Start off with an idea that may seem controversial: whenever someone cries, it is because that person is sad—usually because of an impending loss or a remembered loss.

Most of the time, it is obvious why someone cries: something bad has happened. Someone has died or gone away. A valuable job has been lost. A close relative has developed a serious illness. Sometimes, there is only a threatened loss, such as when a boss yells at a female employee. (Because of societal rules, women are more likely to cry in situations where men only feel like crying.) The loss, in that case, may not be the loss of the job itself, but simply a public loss of esteem. A friend turning away can precipitate sad feelings and crying. Crying out of frustration is really a reaction to an inability to obtain a desired outcome—which is a loss of sorts.

Still, there are other times when someone cries seemingly because of a happy occasion. However, right under these joyful occasions, easily discerned, is a remembered loss.

When my daughter was 2 years old, my wife and I left her with neighbors who were close enough to seem like family to her. We were gone only one week. I remember our return. Our daughter was laughing and playing happily with the neighbor’s son in our back yard. I saw her before she saw us. As soon as she saw us, she started to cry; and for the next hour or so, she pouted. Plainly, she was crying because we had left her. She was not crying because she was glad to see us. She was angry.

Similarly, I suggest that these familiar “happy occasions” can provoke sad feelings:

  1. A returning soldier is greeted at his home town with a band, and starts to cry. He is experiencing or re-experiencing, the pain of having been away from his loved ones for a long time.
  2. A performer, or a scientist, or a novelist, tears up when receiving an award. The award brings with it the memory of struggles that have gone unrecognized. Similarly, someone may cry at a movie climax, when the hero who has been struggling wins the race or is appreciated finally by others. Parades can stimulate similar feelings in those who may at other times feel lonely.
  3. A mother cries putting her child on a bus to go to camp. It is a happy time, but not just then—not for her.
  4. Someone cries at a surprise party, or at receiving a letter from a long lost friend—for reasons similar to those mentioned.

And people cry at weddings.

Not everyone cries, but the mother of the bride often will. The father may very well feel sad even though he does not cry. It is all very well to say that they are not losing a daughter, they are gaining a son. But the fact is that they are losing a daughter.

When a couple marries, their primary loyalty is to each other. Everyone knows that. Parents have less say. They see their married children less often, and then only at their children’s acquiescence. They have less influence. It is a very real loss. Of course, caring parents want their children to get married and to have their own lives; but it is not an easy adjustment to make. Some parents struggle against these losses and behave badly in one way or another. So do siblings, since they too experience a loss. They may respond angrily to that loss. Even friends can misbehave at a wedding, seemingly for little cause, but really because their importance in the life of their friend is suddenly diminished. Anger is a natural response to loss, just as natural as sadness. So ...

1. One sibling (one of five) decides not to attend her brother’s wedding, because she was not consulted about the date.

2. A woman and her spouse choose not to attend the wedding of a friend because they received an invitation a week after others received theirs.

3. A close relative does not attend the wedding because he is not allowed to wear his favorite jacket.

4. A cousin will not attend because his children have not been invited.

5. A woman will not attend at all because she was not chosen to be in the wedding party.

6. There are endless wrangles because the groom’s side of the family has more guests than the bride’s.

7. Quarrels between the mother of the bride, the mother-in-law of the bride, and the bride about everything you can think of: the dress, the flowers, the music, the food, the venue, the date, the guest list, and who is responsible financially for the odds and ends. Is the money everyone is spending too much or too little? (It is not likely to be just right.)

During the wedding, the father of the groom, who has been asked not to take pictures, takes pictures nevertheless. A friend who has been asked not to wear the same dress as the maid of honor wears the same dress anyway. The mother of the bride innocently directs everyone away from the parking area. Someone spills wine over the marriage contract. Someone who seemingly is not closely related to anyone starts to cry hysterically. And so on.

I submit that the reason why people wrangle over who gets the table flowers, or gets into the family pictures, or speaks at great length while giving a toast, or who gets drunk ostentatiously, or argues about all of the inconsequential things that they argue about, is that each of these people are threatened in some way. The family dynamics shift with a marriage. Sibling rivalry may be reactivated. Competitive feelings between friends rise to the surface, and previously important people feel left out.

And that is why some people cry at weddings. And some people go home complaining about one thing or another. The fact that the wedding can cost $80,000 or $100,000 or more makes everything worse. And that is a contributing reason why, at least in one or two cases I know of, the groom stays drunk throughout the honeymoon. It is because he, too, has experienced a loss of sorts. A loss of family. A loss of freedom—at least that is what some men think.

(c) Fredric Neuman 2013.

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