Before Dan and I were engaged, I remember attending bridal showers and thinking mostly, “Man, my kitchen would be SO much better equipped if we would just hurry up and get married!” (And, “Geez, I really need to replace our bath towels…”) But my perspective on bridal showers changed a little bit when we actually got engaged and I attended my own showers. Don’t get me wrong—the presents were amazing, my kitchen is stocked with much better cookware, dishes, flatware, and appliances, and I use and treasure those gifts every day. But what actually hit me when I was going through the experience myself was how amazing it is that our society has these traditions around marriage and starting families where we all come together and support one another by offering the things that might help you begin that next stage in your life.
Obviously the institution of marriage, particularly the starting point of that phase, has changed a lot in the last few generations. For the most part, brides today are much older and more likely to already own the basic necessities for operating a home (most likely having had independently lived in a home for at least a handful of years, possibly with her future husband). So it’s not so much that we desperately need a new soup ladle, as it is that our closest friends and family still want to show up, give gifts that will be used in the home where your marriage will grow, and support you in this giant leap of faith that you’re taking to tie your life to another human’s. It’s this simple act of showing up and of giving a gift that will be useful in your daily married life that shows an overwhelming amount of care, when you really think about it. Easy to miss that with all of the “who can make a better wedding gown out of toilet paper” games, so I don’t blame you if you haven’t seen it. But it’s there.
I think it’s really beautiful and touching that we’re so great at supporting our loved ones in these new, scary stages of life. I love watching my friends and family become expectant mothers, and passing around teeny tiny onesies that their bambinos will wear at a shower is the best. I took so much love and warmth away from the gifts and cards and well-wishes that we received leading up to our wedding (to the point that I was just so filled up with emotion I thought I might burst, and I don’t lean toward “all the feels” very often.)
But, might I also point out that we’re much better at supporting people in the happiest, most hopeful phases of these life changes than we are at supporting them in the challenging times? It is much easier to show up to a wedding, or a shower, or a birthday party, than it is to show up when a friend is struggling with addiction issues, or facing an illness, or fighting with a spouse, or experiencing depression, or facing infertility, or failing at work. It’s more comfortable to sit with a friend who is happy than one who is sad. We struggle, as humans, to support one another in our difficulties because we feel insecure about our own reactions and abilities to make the situation better. What would I say? Would I make it worse? Offend her? There’s nothing I could do to make that better. It would be so awkward to have that conversation.
It is completely understandable that we experience this tension. We want our loved ones to be happy, and it causes us pain and discomfort when they are not. But I’d like to offer this as a simple reminder that you should not allow the pain and discomfort you feel to make you shy away from showing up in the hard times just like you show up in the happy times. Pay attention to that discomfort and shine a light on it, so that it doesn’t keep you away without your noticing. Because it’s even more important to show up for your friend who is a new mother, covered in spit up and completely sleep deprived, and hold her baby so that she can take an actual shower than it is to show up at her baby shower. It's more important to bring a meal to a friend whose family member is in the hospital than it is to bring her a wedding gift. Do both, ideally. But don’t be absent in the moments that your loved ones really need you. Just show up, with a hug and your listening ears and an understanding that it is not your job to take away the difficulty, it is just your job to be there. To show up in the darkest moments and just be present, because those are the moments that count the most.