Reluctant bride: Joanna Kiernan tries on wedding dresses at the Barnardos Bridal Rooms in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Damien Eagers

The Vow

Joanna Kiernan: 'I'm a bride-to-be, get me out of here!'

Weddings have never held much interest for Joanna Kiernan. Now, with her own nuptials fast approaching and everything from the cake to the colour theme to be decided on, she writes that it's a case of I'm a bride-to-be, get me out of here…

I am getting married. There I have said it. I am in love. I am in a long-term, fun and committed relationship. I've even got a nice little rock to prove it to the world now; so why does the mere mention of the word 'wedding' still fill me with dread?

I have never been the type to dream of my wedding day. As a little girl, I was never really into fighting over the one Barbie wedding dress, which myself and my three sisters had to share. Perhaps, I am - as Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw once contemplated - 'missing the bride gene.' Even as I grew up and friends began tying the knot, the whole wedding issue never actually sprang to mind.

One of my closest friends has known the exact location of her future and apparently very lavish and expensive wedding reception since we were 13. All of her friends were warned not to take 'her day' - St Stephen's Day - if we got to that stage first.


The dream wedding phenomenon never really took hold with me for some reason. I would nod blankly when it came to discussions, both hypothetical and real, about hen parties, centre-pieces, bridal designers and table plans… comfortably removed from what seemed like a very adult situation.

Even when friends in shorter relationships than my own began getting married, the thought never struck that it would be my turn some day. For years relatives and friends have been joking at weddings about how we were 'surely next!' and I would laugh it off, quite content with being a care-free guest.

That was of course until last summer, when my lovely boyfriend of nine years, (I still haven't got my head around the term fiancé) proposed in a very romantic, thoughtful and surprising way, despite the fact that a part of me had been expecting it for a while.

It was one perfect moment I will never forget, and for about an hour afterwards we sat together, away from the world, keeping this very exciting and sacred little secret. Then we told our families, close friends and Facebook because that is apparently how you let everyone outside of your inner circle know about such milestones these days.

For a day or two, I could have exploded with excitement, there was love all around, relatives called to say how lovely it was to hear 'some happy news,' and I was delighted to be, at least partly responsible for creating this nugget of joy.

In the weeks that followed an excited shrug got me through most of the initial interrogations; have you set a date? What's your theme? Where are you thinking for the honeymoon? Who are your bridesmaids? What colour dresses will they wear?

As the weeks turned to months, the arched eyebrows and disappointed expressions increased and my resourceful other half quickly began throwing out vague dates to fend off the panic.

It is not that I am anti-social; it's more that despite what my very close friends might see after a few too many drinks, I am positively allergic to attention, particularly in a group setting. And from what I can gather at least, the bride is pretty much epicentre of fuss throughout most wedding days.

The marriage part is not the problem; it is the thoughts of the wedding that brings on the palpitations. I don't think any other individual on this earth bar himself, could have convinced me into all this jazz.

I have been to some great weddings, but there is always that little bit of me that feels slightly sorry for the bridal party; the panic-stricken best man running around with envelopes, the nervy father-of-the-bride who can't relax until his speech has been both delivered and declared a success, the renegade bridesmaid making faces on her way up the aisle, unhappy with some small but apparently irritating detail. It all just looks like a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress.

But alas, eloping to a beach somewhere is not an option; not if I want to marry this particular person because, firstly, neither of our mums would forgive me, and secondly he loves big parties and I love him.

That is really the only thing about this whole wedding business I am sure of, the rest makes me cringe and, if I am honest, feels a bit showy.

It is not the sentiment of the day itself that is lost on me; I fully expect to be the blubbering mess of emotions - which I tend to be at anything in life that tugs on the heart strings - on the actual day itself. And I find the thought of all of our loved ones and friends being there to celebrate with us truly beautiful and special, despite that irrational part of me, who would prefer to schedule every guest in for a more intimate, one-to-one meeting on the day.

We were engaged four months before we set a date, which my groom-to-be decided would give us a nice lead-in time of 18 months to get used to the idea.

I should have been prepared, we are together a long time, but as a first-timer to all of this wedding business, the avalanche of dress, venue, band and seating-plan related queries was overwhelming, not to mention the onslaught of eerily on-point wedding-related Facebook and Google ads I have had to contend with every time I log on to the internet.

Getting engaged is like passing through a wormhole and into a parallel universe where everyone speaks 'wedding.' As the bride-to-be you are expected to have ideas, themes and colours in mind; there is apparently supposed to be a dress silhouette 'that you have always dreamed of.'

And if you make the mistake of revealing that you have never given it much thought, the general response to this revelation will vary somewhere between utter disgust and strangers literally querying your relationship's long-term potential to themselves... aloud.

The random sales people, who sing-song how exciting it is that I am getting married when I call to request a brochure or rates for anything wedding-related, also make me incredibly uneasy. Not to mention the general wedding chit-chat, with literally everybody who cops my engagement ring.

From what I have been told by some, weddings are expected to be neatly choreographed and colour coordinated affairs; code for how well we are matched as a couple - which also poses a problem in our case.

My husband-to-be is quite stylish. I, on the other hand, have little or no 'signature style.' I float somewhere between office chic (even though technically I no longer work in an office) and a practically dressed foreign-exchange student whose suitcase was packed by their mother.

However, the wedding industry has little time for an anti-bridal bride-to-be.

So, in a bid to tackle my fear head-on and get 'into the spirit' as one well-meaning, but largely unhelpful friend advised, I started by buying a couple of bridal magazines.

It was a short, rather disheartening trip into the inner psyche of a bridezilla; with articles feeding on every insecurity you could possibly dream of mixed in craftily around advertisements for all sorts of procedures to heal these ailments ahead of the big day, because you need to look perfect on your big day because everyone will be watching YOU!

By the time I was finished, I had a to-do list of augmentation procedures - everything from dental implants to more, ahem, intimate surgeries - which added up to considerably more than we hope to spend on the wedding itself. And that's before I discovered the whole new world of wedding stationary and 'what it says' about us as a couple.

On a good day, I can clearly see the absurdity of it all, but on a bad day I find myself wondering if I am doing this wedding thing 'right.' Thankfully from the get-go I had my three sisters as ready-made bridesmaids, which relieved me of having to make any actual decision on the issue. And eventually we found a venue, which we, or perhaps more specifically I, liked, because as things have progressed I have noticed my groom-to-be stepping in on occasion to manage and placate me, like some sort of wild, unpredictable beast.

I am aware of the irony of me turning into a bridezilla, even though I'm a reluctant bride. My groom-to-be has even explained that he would gladly take over all the planning if it would make things simpler and/or less neurotic, but I won't let him. It is too late. I am now determined to master this bridal buzz.

And somewhere along the way, despite my better judgement, the message has managed to seep through. I have found myself becoming more particular about things that did not matter before. I have even had one or two bridezilla episodes, complete with tears - just not the tears everyone has been expecting. And I will even admit to uttering the words: 'but it's my day!' on one occasion.

A few months ago, I began dress shopping, motivated partly by the loud voices, which seemed to be coming from all angles telling me that it would take at least six months for my dress to arrive and partly by my need to get a hold of the situation; it seemed like as good a place to start as any.

But for someone, who is not into wedding dresses, trying them on is a bizarre experience. It feels like playing dress-up. At first it was quite fun, as I took the opportunity to try on the biggest and most elaborate dresses I could spot on the rails, much to my bridesmaids' initial delight - and then, after one too many, exhausted disapproval.

Eventually things had to get serious and when pressure to produce the 'happy tears' I was expected to deliver became too much, I would take a couple of weeks off bridal shopping. In total, I visited nine bridal shops and tried on at least six dresses in each, bar one - where there was literally nothing I liked, so I tried on two dresses to be polite. I would have tried a third, but the sales assistant grabbed it out of my hand and announced "that's a size four, it won't go near you," - cue a protest by my bridesmaids, who really came into their own in that instant by stomping dramatically out of the shop.

Then there was the shop which was literally straight out of a rom-com, so chock-a-block with appointments that about five brides were scheduled in for the same time and forced to parade each and every dress simultaneously, (there were just two mirrors) in front of not just their own entourage, but everyone else's also.

After about five minutes it became abundantly clear that I was the odd bride out in the enthusiasm stakes. And the situation was not helped by a sales assistant, who made inappropriate jokes about a dress that cost more than my car, which would take six months for "lots of little hands" in China to sew.

Last month, I had reached a point where if one more plastic-smiled person tried to sell me a dress that I clearly didn't look good in (I may be style-challenged, but I am not actually blind) while telling me "not to compromise" on "my big day," I was in danger of rebelling completely and getting married in my yoga pants. The ninth shop was a slightly off-kilter, alternative bridal boutique and thankfully it was exactly what I needed; a private bridal room, some lovely dresses and a sales assistant who was not at all pushy. She laughed at my feverish disapproval for all things wedding and gently guided me towards a little part of this wedding bubble which I hadn't realised was there.

When I had spent almost an hour twirling around and making sure I could dance and sit in the dress I had chosen, she asked with her tongue firmly in her cheek - and in an ode to the American TV show, which I told her I had been studying in order to pick up some bridal tips - "Are you saying yes to the dress?" The spell was broken.

This time next year, almost to the day, I will be a bride. The whole thing still unnerves me slightly, but as I make my way down through the to-do list, the fear is lifting and the excitement has begun to slowly creep in.

There still won't be any dancing into the dining room, choreographed first dance routine or cake being squashed into my face, while I laugh heartily for the camera. And the jury is still out on the idea of speeches. But I am looking forward to at least two things about my wedding day now - marrying that man and wearing that dress.

Photographs with thanks to the Barnardos Bridal Rooms, Dun Laoghaire and Wexford. To book an appointment, visit

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