A wedding is a rite of passage, a day to take on adult responsibilities
Published 08/03/2014 | 02:30
Weddings: I love them. I'm always suggesting to couples that they should get married. "Go on," I say, sounding like Mrs Doyle in 'Father Ted'. "You will, you will." And in the end, if they stay together, they often do.
Sometimes it's just because they grow fed up with calling each other "partner", as if they were a law firm or one half of Marks & Spencer. "Partner" must be just about the least sexy moniker known to man.
Or sometimes it's because they start having children, and it seems simpler to be husband and wife – or that nice gender-neutral word derived from the French, spouse – with family in tow.
Because, although it is emphasised nowadays that having children is not the point of marriage, at all, at all – it's all about two people loving each other and being happy together – in practice the arrival of babies or the aspiration to start a family is frequently the prompt for a wedding day.
As there is no taboo now about couples living together without the benefit of wedlock, why should they marry unless there is a real reason to do so? Commitment is good, but when is the moment of a pledged commitment? Usually it's buying a house or the occurrence of a pregnancy.
Weddings are beguiling because they involve a ceremony, a rite of passage and a party and a conscious moment of taking on adult responsibilities. One of the most memorable weddings ceremonies I attended was that of my cousin Brendan who got married in France in the 1990s.
As everyone knows there is an obligatory civil ceremony under French law – a religious ceremony may follow, should the couple choose – which the local mayor conducts. Standing before a bust of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, and adorned in his chains of office and draped in the banner of the French flag, this Bordelais alderman gave one of the most exacting sermons about getting married I have heard.
He told the bride and groom they were now fully taking up responsibilities as adults, as members of the community, as potential parents or as part of a wider family constellation, and as citizens of the French Republic, to which they owed a duty of respect. It wasn't hectoring, but it was sombre: few clerics would have delivered such an authoritarian tutorial on the married state.
And yet, Monsieur le Maire was right to take this opportunity to remind his audience we are not just atomised individuals making personal choices: we should strive to be part of a wider community, to whom we have obligations, as well as "rights".
That was my most memorable wedding experience. My least memorable was my own wedding day, which was, altogether, a bit of a shambles. I wore a grey two-piece which more or less dissembled a pregnancy bump, and my Matron of Honour trilled – "marry in grey, rue the day!" Thanks!
Richard took a handful of Valium to steady his nerves and was in half a daze.
One of his oldest friends, a bluff Yorkshireman, declared before the ceremony: "Yes, you'd better marry one another, for no one else would marry either of you!"
This was supposed to be a compliment in the "Yorkshire charm" genre, but I've often reflected that it contained a scintilla of truth.
Afterwards, there was a chaotic lunch in a Fleet Street pub called the Val Ceno, a location where we had perfected the art of boozing through the afternoon (for younger readers: pubs used to shut for a time during the afternoon, known in Dublin as "The Holy Hour") by ordering a dozen bottles of wine in advance to tide us over the hours of closure.
Let this be said, all the same: the wedding day itself does not necessarily predict the course of the marriage. You can have the most splendid wedding ever, with a white horse-drawn carriage and a cloud of doves bursting forth from the cake, and the marriage may hit the rocks within a year.
You can have a car-crash of a wedding day and the union may still endure.
Unbelievably, I'll have clocked up 40 years before the mast later this month. (Yes: I know that old comedian's jest – I'd have got less for murder ... )
Obviously, people shouldn't be forced to marry, or railroaded into the relationship, the best decisions are always voluntary. But it's good for society – as Monsieur le Maire would have said – if there is an attitude of general encouragement towards wedlock.
Commitment is important, and sharing that commitment with family and friends turns a personal choice into something greater and more meaningful.
For those of faith, a spiritual and sacramental dimension deepens that vow. And the wedding ceremony is one of the most universally observed rituals, prominent in every culture. It has usually involved the joining together of families with glances back over past generations and towards those yet unborn: "Would you like to be buried with my people?" was an old Connaught marriage proposal.
When I occasionally put my oar in and encourage young people to marry, they often reply they'd love to but they don't have enough money. There are some high material expectations of what a wedding day should involve.
Nothing wrong with wanting it to be a perfect event which everyone will remember joyfully, but sometimes the best is the enemy of the good, and maybe there should be a more extensive menu of wedding budgets, from a simple grey costume to a confection of tulle and lace.