20160716_202933People that eat ice cream live ten times longer. And if you’re planning a wedding, you probably have a love-hate relationship with ice cream right now. But this silly statement is something that I can say I ‘learned’ on my second trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the first time traveling with my in-laws-to-be after getting engaged.

I expected my second trip to the Outer Banks to be… different. Not only different from the first, but different from other trips I’d taken. To say it was the same isn’t true, but to say it was “different” isn’t either. I’d expected it to be enlightening in some way, or give me some kind of insight into what life as a married woman might be like.
It was my first time traveling with the whole group after Chris and I got engaged. There were also lots of other family things going on, and attention to be paid to varying issues. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. And to be even more honest, I hadn’t had much time for anticipation to build prior to going down.

We went to see a venue for the wedding we didn’t end up planning, and we met with a potential caterer, who talked to us for so long we were exhausted by the end of the conversation. We also took a few engagement photos that we later used on our null wedding Save-the-Dates. I guess it’s fair to say we were absorbed in ourselves and our own plans. It’s also fair to say that we were more nervous about the wedding already than excited, and it was over a year away.

Chris’s mom was there, and it was one of the last times we really got to hang out with her. Her chemo had already started. We hung out with her and played cards. She slept a lot. She laughed a lot, but maybe a little less than usual. She played cards with us. She ate mostly liquids because her throat was burned from the treatment.

Looking back, I wish I had talked less and listened more. I wish I had I wanted them to like me, but they already did. I also wish I had been more present and absorbed more of my future mother-in-law’s presence, because she’s gone now.

I realized that on one of the last nights we were there. I was too concerned about the wrong things; it occurred to me when I saw the sign at the ice cream place that said people who eat ice cream live ten times longer. We were all concerned about my mother-in-law, and the concept of living longer was very much on our minds. But when I noticed that sign, it slowed down my thoughts and reminded me that even when grave seriousness confronts you, it’s important to stay in the moment you’re in. But I also realized that it means to go beyond the idea of “stopping and smelling the roses,” and it goes beyond noticing the pretty glint of the sun on the water, or the way even dust particles glitter when the light is right. You get from the moment what you put into it. So if you put in distractedness and worry, you’ll get back a buzz of blurry memories. If you put in selfishness and self-centeredness, you’ll get back a feeling of loss and missed opportunities.

So, my advice to brides is not some kind of morbid “you never know when it will be the last time you see someone,” nor is it to enjoy the now in case tomorrow never comes. You already know that.

Instead, my advice is this: Start internally. Put your truest self into the moments you have. Don’t worry about whether your future family likes you or dislikes you. Don’t worry about whether you are given more domestic duties than your sister-in-law-to-be. Check in with yourself periodically and ask if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Is there something you can do to be in a better mood? Is there something you can do to make yourself feel useful? Is there some way you can see your future family’s true selves more clearly?

No matter what kind of family you’re marrying into, you need to be able to be yourself. If you try too hard to be liked, at the very least, you’ll crack. At the very worst, you’ll miss out on important moments.

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