The Vow

When it comes to weddings, have we forgotten about love?

For a time in the Noughties I had a phobia of vellum.

Thick envelopes would land with a thud on the hall floor and I’d be filled with dread. A wedding. It peaked the year we had seven, seven full-on Celtic Tiger nuptial specials.

We did go to some great, beautiful, fabulous celebrations so it wasn’t that I didn’t like the weddings or love or confetti or new outfits, it was the palaver that had come to surround the whole event.

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Where was the love? During the dizzy heights of the Dreaded Tiger everything went a bit mad. No-one complained about stupidly priced coffee, we pretended there was nothing wrong with crapola suburban semi-ds costing a million euro or cars that cost a hundred thousand.

Nothing quite summed the madness up like the wedding. Couples getting married were under pressure to out-wedding previous couples, spending thirty, forty thousand euro for the Big Day.

Or the big weekend, it got to the stage where it wasn’t enough to just have a wedding day. There were helicopters and balloons and firework parties and ice sculptures.

Parents were under pressure to remortgage houses to pay for the festivities. “Normal” is a fluid concept, normal becomes normal when enough people do it and then the pressure is high to be that kind of “normal” too.

A wise man said that all little boys grow up wanting to be cowboys and all little girls grow up wanting to be princesses. Bar City Slickers-type experiences and shifty craftsmen, most boys outgrow the cowboy urge.

But the princess thing often lingers and finds its full and final expression in the nuptial fantasy. There aren’t too many occasions for people who don’t have a regular slot in a period drama to wear a hooped frock.

The wedding was a lot of women’s one chance to go for the crinoline. We got married in 1997, before thed readed tiger had started roaring too loud and, perhaps most crucially, before any of our friends had married.

There was no precedent, no-one to outwedding. It was a new thing for all concerned so really we could have had it in a barn and coasted in on the novelty factor. We wanted somewhere nice, we didn’t have access to any barns and I did want a cool guna, not maybe a crinoline.

He wanted a cool car, we wanted nice food but many of the things that became standard wedding fare a few years later hadn’t even been named. Back then a wedding favour was letting someone invite a bloke they had met in Club 92 to the afters.

Having procreated out of whack with everyone else as well it meant our lives were quite different to most of our friends’ when the wedding onslaught started. By the time the Tiger Weddings began in earnest the cost of getting married had skyrocketed.

By then I had two small kids with the entirely different financial set ups that that entailed. If the cost of having a wedding had shot up, so too had the cost of attending one. No-one from Dublin seemed to even consider getting married in Dublin. For some reason it needed to be a castle in some other county.

Being a guest meant not only a new outfit – or some cunning new accessorising to make an old outfit look new – the childminding, the time off, the overnight, the ubiquitous upstyle, the travel, the drinks, the suit rental when they decided it was black tie because, well, who knows why?

Then there was the gift, you couldn’t bang twenty quid in an envelope and wish them well, there had to be at least two zeroes attached to whatever number it was. Or you could pick something off a wedding list where the minimum price was €150. Anyone want to go halves on this copper pot rack?

At one point I worked out it cost about €700 to go to a wedding. If you cut corners. And if you didn’t goon the stag/hen where you were supposed to drop another few hundred on getting trollied for a few days with the bride/groom and her/ his cousins. It sounds stingy to resent the financial cost of celebrating someone’s love. But that was the thing. Love sometimes seemed to get lost in the wedding.

I remember even thinking that in the mad panic that was the run-up to our, by later standards, very modest wedding, that I was so busy faffing with table plans and corkage charges that I hadn’t thought about the love part for quite some time.

Fortunately it turned out I did love him, but the whole point of the marriage got blurred in the faff. The money was a factor, I’m hardly alone in not having hundreds to chuck around on weekends drinking cocktails named after sex acts. But more than anything it was the increasing feeling that you were less of a cherished guest and more of a prop at someone’s nuptial fantasy.

What had started out as a tradition to celebrate two people who had decided they had enough love for each other to last them until death, had become a showcase.

BRIDEZILLA

In some cases it brought out the worst, for these princesses the term Bridezilla was coined. I know of a bride who, every sunny day for months before the wedding, issued a Facebook warning to her bridesmaids not to get strapmarks if they were sunbathing.

“There’s nothing worse than a bridesmaid in a strapless dress with white strap marks!” Indeed, an abomination. Couples found ways around the cost, they could still have a lavish affair but save a bit if it was during the week.

Two days off work for the guests then. Or for the bride and groom it might have worked out substantially cheaper to have a fandabbydosey wedding in another country. But it wasn’t cheaper for the guests to attend. Couples argued that “Sure you only do it once” to justify what they spent and what they were asking others to spend.

If it needs justifying is that maybe a sign things have gone a bit odd? With one or two weddings a year it could be nice to get away with a group of friends, but the year of the seven weddings was a bank-breaking stress and I ended up opting out of some because it simply wasn’t feasible. When the couple will be paying off the party for several years, hasn’t something gone slightly mad?

When your guests can’t afford to go to your wedding, isn’t a point being missed? I knew of a woman who had to turn down the honour of being her best friend’s bridesmaid because she couldn’t afford the flights to the Caribbean for the wedding.

And she felt bad.

ILLUSION

But that was back in the days of the Delusional Tiger, right? Well apparently not, even now, when no-one is labouring under any illusion about having money, the average cost of a wedding is over €20,000. Weddingface.com did a survey and found that the most is spent on weddings in Leitrim, Kildare, Mayo and champion at €22,280, is Wicklow.

The biggest expense is the venue and reception, over €6,000 at an average wedding, then the honeymoon at €3,800. The average spend on clothing is a surprising €2,150 (and extra €450 or so on makeup and hair), the average spend on music is nearly €2,000, with the same on photographs and videos. The actual marriage ceremony, the vows, the love bit, costs €225.

We’re down to a wedding a year now. My vellum phobia has been cured, it’s great to have an excuse to get out of the trackie. Finding someone you think you can love until death do you part, especially in sickness and in health, is worth celebrating. But when the celebration becomes a monster that overshadows the reason it exists, perhaps it’s time for a rethink.