Triona McCarthy. Photo: Tony Gavin

Wedding Talk

Tríona McCarthy: My secret wedding - Low-key, drama-free, and one of the best days of my life

Not every wedding requires a hashtag, a sponsored florist's flower wall and a dress deal done with a designer

Well now, are you all wedding-ed out of it, what with the royals and Rosie Connolly's glam gatherings?

But what if I told you there's a different way to do weddings?

"Are you not married yet?"

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"You'd want to hurry up!"

"You're not getting any younger."

"Somebody else might snap him up."

"When are you giving us a day out, for goodness sake?"

"Is Will ever going to make an honest woman out of you?"

"Maxi and Mini will be married before you at this stage!"

I've heard all these sentences a hundred times and more. But what if I told you... I'm already married.

I said "I do" in a secret ceremony in Dublin many years ago now, and nobody knows, except family and a few friends.

We decided to have a marriage, not a wedding.

Surrounded by our closest friends, Will and I became husband and wife.

Why the secrecy?

You have to remember I work in a world where self-promotion is everything. Even for weddings. It was my choice to keep mum on matrimony, and I decided to say, "I don't" to the social-media madness.

Maybe the unwedding is the new wedding: Vogue Williams had the same idea when she shunned the spotlight and married Spencer Matthews in Scotland recently.

Not every wedding requires a hashtag, a sponsored florist's flower wall and a dress deal done with a designer. Mine was low-key, drama-free, and one of the best days of my life.

The best bit of all? Nobody knew about it.

Nobody knows what I wore, even though "Triona McCarthy wedding dress" is one of the most googled things about me, bizarrely.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love going to colleagues' and friends' fancy weddings. I cry at the vows and I could listen to wedding speeches all day long, but it's just not for me. It feels like a fantasy world, or something. Often held in a castle or a lavish country-house hotel with a (borrowed) vintage car that looks great for photos.

However, Will and I wanted to create our own genuine little bit of magic with something simple and special that we'd cherish for the rest of our lives.

We celebrated our love with none of the traditional 'things you must do'. Except sign on the dotted line, of course!

I was never one of those say-yes-to-the-dress divas. Hysteria provoked by the sight of a sparkling ring was also not my thing. I was the un-bridezilla.

Sharing the deets

Right so, some deets about the day, I suppose. Hmm, what shall I share?

Following the 'I dos', Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud was where we all dined, before continuing the celebrations in Ballyfin House hotel in Co Laois. Yes, that place where Kimye - Kim K and Kanye - honeymooned. The kopy kats!

And the dress, let's not forget the dress. I actually didn't wear one. No, I wasn't naked, I wore a white McQueen tuxedo-style suit instead - Bianca Jagger style. Designer Dawn Fitzgerald, Will's Best Woman, designed a delicate silk and lace number for underneath the jacket, while Wayne, my Best Man, and Will wore coordinating pocket squares.

Billy Idol was belting out, "It's a nice day for a white wedding. It's a nice day to start again." It was the perfect song for the new Mr and Mrs White.

Many marriages, I think, are built on dreams and, inevitably, many won't come true. I've noticed the most successful marriages are those with the greatest capacity to cope with disappointment.

Because ultimately, marriage is not about getting something, it's about giving something. It's about love. Which is something I choose to give. Time after time.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

Stop rolling your eyes - I can see you.

So yeah, I've bared my soul on these very pages for over 15 years now, and on the one flipping occasion when it is perfectly acceptable to draw attention to myself, I don't! Never expect normal from me, eh?

At least I'm predictable in my unpredictability.

So why the big reveal now?

As my GBF and Best Man, Wayne, says: "It's been a really hard secret to keep, and it's been such a long time now, we've forgotten why we kept it secret in the first place. It's time to celebrate the love."

Wayne has been by my side through the good times and the bad. Through thick and thin, sick and sin. He's my gay husband.

You see, I was 37, almost 38, when I met Will, and I'd already been engaged four times.

Yes, you read that correctly - four times.

I was like the Elizabeth Taylor of engagements.

I'm not gonna lie - it wasn't the men that were the problem. It was me. I was the common denominator. Me! I kept winding up in the same relationships. I had appalling taste in men. I seemed to be attracted to the wrong type of guy for me, and, total disclosure, I wasn't the best person I could be in those relationships.

They say people seek what is familiar, and if your past was filled with feelings of inadequacy, you are likely to seek scenarios in which you feel the same way as an adult.

So it was 2011, and I had just split with fiance number four. The one before The One, if you Will. Geddit?

Braver to back out beforehand, and all that. It was the best decision, fully supported by everyone around me.

I got engaged to him a month after my beautiful, beloved sister Tricia passed away. On her month's mind, actually. And I was out of my mind with grief.

It had been a rough few years, dealing with her cancer diagnosis at only 26 years of age and her subsequent and traumatic treatment.

She died when she was only 30. Wrapped in my arms, my tears on her head; her bald head, where once the cutest curls were her crowning glory

Unknowingly, I was very vulnerable at that time, and looking after my own emotional needs was too hard, so I looked after somebody else's by agreeing to a premature engagement.

What a f***-up that was.

We parted and went our separate ways.

I had given up on ever finding The One.

I might have been engaged four times, but that doesn't mean I had ever actually wanted to marry any of them.

If I look back on the romantic choices of my 20s and 30s, they certainly don't seem like the best selections for someone seeking commitment, domesticity and children.

In Diane Keaton's memoir, Then Again, she wrote about how she "never found a home in the arms of a man" and that really resonated with me.

There were men, but none of them ever felt like home.

Everyone talks about being single, but nobody ever talks about what it was like to live with a partner while longing for The One. And as anyone who's ever found themselves in the wrong relationship knows, being alone and living alone are very different things.

Anyhoo, the truth is, if you live in Dublin, rent is ridiculous, so it was easier to stay in a relationship and split the rent, rather than leave the relationship.

I'm not proud of it, but that's how it was. I stayed in relationships waaaay longer than I should have.

As soon as couples live together, they become much more difficult to disentangle. They sign a lease, share a Netflix account, buy a sofa, maybe a dog. Breaking up is hard to do.

Although, getting engaged was easy for me!

I genuinely feel embarrassed now, as I write this. If you think about it, years ago, marriage used to come at the start of a relationship, whereas nowadays, with couples cohabiting so quickly, a wedding is almost like the finale.

So there I was, nearly 40, and everything in my life was a mess.

I went to see a therapist. To deal with the death of my sister. Or so I thought. She wanted to know all about my childhood, my parents, my relationship history. What did that have to do with anything?

OK, so, my mum was only 19 when she married my dad, and by the time she was 34, she had eight children. Yes, eight children under 13 years of age!

So there was always one on her hip and one in her tummy. I don't know how my mother did it.

Sadly, my dad was suddenly struck down with renal cell cancer on Whit weekend 2002, and became independent of us all on the following July 4.

When I think about it now, mum was only a bit older than I am now when my dad died, leaving her with children still in school and college, and a business and a farm to run.

So yeah, I was one of eight children, and it was a very busy house growing up, filled full of family and farm labourers and fellas in the garage - 'the men' who had to be fed first every day. Some children have dolls and toy kitchens to play in, I had real babies and a real kitchen.

Mum says I was always desperate for attention. From when I could walk, I loved escaping to our next-door neighbour's, to a lady I called Barry - Mrs Barry to everyone else. She would let me sit on her lap and try on all her jewellery. I adored her. I'd spray on her perfume and put make-up on us both. I even had my own chair in the house, where I'd sing songs and make up poems and get to act like a child. It was marvellous.

A father's love

But back to the therapist, who explained how a father is the first model of how a relationship with a man would be.

OK, I didn't really know where she was going with this - like I said, my dad died years ago, I was here to deal with my sister's death, silly.

"For better or for worse, children love their daddies unconditionally and believe that the love that is or isn't given in return is normal," she continued.

Hmm, my dad was a workaholic.

It's just how things were back then, but apparently "women often seek love in dysfunctional relationships, tolerating distant, non-nurturing men similar to their dads".

Suddenly, I got it.

In the same way they say you should never go food shopping when you're hungry, I was father-hungry, I guess, and pretty much dating on an empty stomach. So I came home with, well, junk food, I suppose.

I often settled for less with men who gave me just enough attention to keep me around.

I stayed too long in unhealthy relationships, because I was so afraid to let go.

Now that I have a three-year-old daughter of my own, one who worships her daddy, I am very aware of the role Will plays in nurturing Mini's sense of confidence and steering her towards her future.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes, I had missed the boat, basically, and was on my way to being a spinster, or so it seemed.

"You have more of a chance of being blown up by a terrorist bomb than getting married after 35."

"You have more of a chance of being struck by lightning than getting married after 37."

"You have more of a chance of…"

Whatever scenario was said, it always made the same point: I was on the shelf! But better to be on the shelf than in the wrong cupboard, right?

Single and nearly 40, and I felt everyone - friends, family, even you readers, I'm guessing - had kinda given up on me.

I had to start all over again at 37, and it felt to me like I was in one of those flipping chick-lit books I despise. You know the ones where the poor unfortunate, unlucky in love, with big knickers on, goes through a brutal break-up, then relocates to a lovely location, has a gay sidekick and a crazy friend for support and must get her groove back. This was not the way it was supposed to be.

How the hell had I ended up in the wrong book?

As for Sex and the City... well, actually, the TV show, following the lives of four single women looking for love in NYC, gave me hope. I watched Samantha, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte, who were all in their 30s, and far from settling down. It gave women like me hope! False hope.

Now on the 20th anniversary of the show, I can't believe how I was such a sucker for Carrie's happy ending. A wealthy aul' lad rewarding her with a walk-in wardrobe - by way of an apology - for jilting her at the altar! Sorry, what?

OK, you're not gonna like reading this if you're 40-something and single, and I apologise, but when we meet someone who hasn't married by 40, we wonder what's wrong with them and want an explanation.

"Oh, she's too fussy."

"She's married to her job."

"She's a bit of a commitment-phobe."

But what if there was no reason?

I didn't know what was going on. And that, my friends, was not something I was eager to deal with.

Without going into it too much, at this point in my life - just before I met Will - I didn't care much about myself at all. I was drinking too much and up to no good. I was miserable, often unsafe, and it was exhausting. It was, to be blunt, absolutely shit.

It wasn't my choice - it was the outcome of a whole host of scenarios and situations. But I was desperate to turn things around. I wanted to reclaim my life, get out of that goddam chick-lit book and make my own happily-ever-after.

Four of my friends from that time are now dead.

But good things come to those who wait...

I made it through the WILLderness, Somehow I made it through, ooh, oooh! Never knew how lost I was until I found you, oooh oooh!

Sorry, the silliness is taking over at this stage of the story. I met Will, and, just like that, everything changed.

The therapist taught me so much about myself in two sessions, that it propelled me to change my life.

Will was only 31 when we met, yet, he told me straight away that he wanted to have children. With me! While I could still run after them and before my hips gave out and I'd be the one wearing nappies!

It could so easily have happened that I didn't have children, and I had, funnily enough, been fine about that, aligning myself to friends in the same sitch.

Now I just feel incredibly lucky that I managed to have my first just before I turned 40, and my second at 41.

Will was so far from my old life. With him by my side, I finally felt what it's like to feel safe. To feel at home in his arms. I felt hope.

I'd go through all that shit again, 10 times over, just to get to him.

Will makes me feel like anything is possible, and brings out the best in me - always.

He tells me I'm just the way I'm supposed to be. He tells me I'm silly when I get worked up over nothing.

He - sometimes - lets me win when I'm being stubborn and gives me that little smile when I'm being 'chicken oriental' - our slang for mental - that says 'Stop it, let's go have some fun'.

I was crossing my fingers so tightly for a little boy when we had our first scan back before Maxim [aka Maxi] was born, because I knew how excited Will would be to go model car racing with him and take him camping. Even though there's a little girl called Seren [aka Mini] here now as well, who might just like that kind of thing, too.

Will makes me so excited about the future, our future, but you know what - the present isn't so bad, either.

Our marriage started that way, and is still that way; it wasn't always that way, but it's here to stay.

I finally found the love and care I deserve. That everyone deserves. Will saved my life.

Trust you will survive

I'm not brave enough to write about other factors that contributed to how I got to being so fucked-up and nearly 40.

There were things that happened to me when I was a child that I had no control over, and things I did to myself as an adult as a result.

For anyone else who is going through bad times, here's what you need to know: accept your heart will break, and trust that you will survive, because you are enough.

Please don't let the past determine your present. And your future.

As an adult, you have the power to set the course of your life. Please remember that.

You have the power. So use it.

I think I'll finish up now with a poem, as regular readers know I love to do.

It's from the Sex and the City movie. I know, I know!

Read it and remember to never, ever, give up on love.

His hello was the end of her endings
Her laugh was their first step down the aisle
His hand would be hers to hold forever
His forever was as simple as her smile
He said she was what was missing
She said instantly she knew
She was a question to be answered
And his answer was 'I do'