Why Is It…?

“Why Is It…?” was designed by Dr. Steiner to address readers’ questions about human behavior from a social psychological perspective in order to inform and stimulate dialogue about the ways in which our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by the presence of other people. Dr. Steiner holds a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology. In addition to working as a university educator over the last 17 years, she conducts individual and group consultations in matters of social relationships and behavior. Readers are invited to submit their questions anonymously in one paragraph or less to Dr. Steiner at [email protected].

Q: Why is it that some brides act like prima donnas?

My best friend is getting married next month and has recently become impossibly demanding, self-centered, and unbelievably rude to everyone around her. I realize that she may be a bundle of nerves, but this is ridiculous!

A: The behavior you’re describing is actually quite common among brides. And in the weeks and months leading up to the “big day,” many – otherwise mild-tempered – women may begin to manifest high-strung, bossy personalities. In fact, mass media is currently showcasing (and capitalizing on) this dynamic in a weekly series entitled, Bridezillas (WETV, Sundays, 8 pm) – likening the temperament of brides to that of the iconic monster, Godzilla.

This “reality-based” program depicts brides as selfish, egotistical, and utterly irreverent as each episode reveals brides placing unreasonable demands upon friends and family – complete with temper tantrums and hysterical outbursts. And while this series clearly “sets the stage” for these contrived and exaggerated displays of self-absorbed melodrama, there are grains of truth that need to be taken into consideration.

Through marketing, literature, products, and media imagery females are consistently encouraged to spend much of their childhood fantasizing about their future wedding day. They imagine walking down the aisle toward their admiring “prince charming” in a beautiful, captivating gown – as the eyes of admiration, from all in attendance, fall upon them. Some females place so much value and importance on this one, single day, they may develop outrageously high expectations as their real wedding day finally approaches. Because they want everything to be “perfect,” they become super-vigilant, obsessing about every minute detail – to ensure that the “real thing” measures up to their decades-long, fantasized image.

From very early childhood, females are socialized to place a disproportionate value on marriage – so much so, that many women sincerely believe their lives will have no meaning or purpose without a husband. From the diamond ring-bearing, kneeled proposal to the wedding day itself, many women have conjured up the details of their “ideal,” romantic image of what a wedding and marriage should be – frequently dismissing or overlooking the concrete realities that await them.

When viewed in conjunction with the all-pervasive “princess” messages that also permeate the childhoods of most females, it’s no wonder that so many women aspire to be “queen for a day.” This dynamic, in part, is associated with what Feminist scholars refer to as the “Cinderella Complex” – where women lay in wait to be rescued (proposed to) by their prince charming (romantic partner). Notice how our fairy-tale maiden, Cinderella is instantly transformed from an undesirable life of toil and drudgery into a glamorous, ball-gowned princess – and all with the wave of a magic wand!

These stories, as told and retold in a myriad of ways, eventually become internalized into the psychologies of many women, culminating in a set of unrealistic expectations and an over-inflated sense of self and others. It’s not uncommon to hear brides insist, “This is my day and everyone should be doing what I want!” And while it’s natural to anticipate one’s wedding day with great expectations, there’s often a disconnect between the cold, harsh realities of true life and the dreamy, fairy-tale based imaginings of little girls. The role of “fairy god-mother” is often thrust upon family and friends, and when the “magic wand” fails to produce the perfect gown, venue, honeymoon or other desired trimmings, the glittery bubble of wedding-bliss fantasy simply bursts into flames.

I once owned a wedding photography business and worked with hundreds of brides who had “created” their perfect wedding. But in 10 years, I encountered only three weddings that reflected sincere sentiment, reverence and a heart-felt bond between bride and groom. The vast majority was nothing more than a wasteland of elaborate “Broadway” productions – competing for the coveted award of the “most enviable, expensive, and grandiose.” From fireworks displays to 100-foot yachts, most were big on bucks but small on substance.

However, what’s most compelling about this scenario is why we “teach” young girls to aspire to princess-like expectations and conduct – only to criticize and condemn their efforts when applying their lessons to real life. If we want girls to grow into brides that are thoughtful, reasonable, and realistic, then why are we feeding them a steady diet of unrealistic illusion and fantasy as children? Perhaps it’s just that weddings are “big business” – in which case, we’ll have our wedding cake and choke on it too.