Some brides-to-be are far more interested in big wedding parties than the hard work of marriage
'I t was the season to be jolly, and now it seems engagement season is upon us. Or, as one Twitter user put it: "It's engagement season, also known as 'consume an entire bottle of wine before logging on to Facebook' season."
Some 40pc of proposals happen during the festive season. It stands to reason that my Facebook and Twitter feeds are rife with engagement announcements and pictures of women dewy-eyed with joy.
Everything's all sparkly, slushy and glitzy around Christmas, and thoughts are often trained towards family and loved ones – it's a hugely romantic time of year.
However, not everyone is as enamoured of engagement season as those who have taken the plunge. A picture on the social networking site Reddit (right) of a girl making a "shoot me" gesture while surrounded by recently engaged pals went viral, summing up the entire idea of engagement season for many – me included.
Before I get dragged through the village ankles-first for being a bitter, witchy singleton, I should point out that I think marriage is a splendid idea. Done right, marriage is truly beautiful. There's nothing wrong with wanting to stand up in front of your loved ones and proclaim a lifetime commitment. In a world rife with negativity and cynicism (much of it mine), true love provides a counterpoint.
While marriage is perfectly wonderful, some weddings stick in my craw. Some girls have been conditioned from an early age to dream about a fairytale wedding complete with dress, castles and presents. The unpalatable truth that daren't speak its name? Despite pretences to the contrary, the love bit is sometimes a distant second.
Society sees engagement as one of life's basic milestones, and thus it is afforded the royal treatment. Certainly, celebrations should be a huge part of life, but an engagement – and the ensuing wedding – is little more than a celebration of a woman's ability to land a man and organise a party.
When weddings are as ostentatious as they are, the subtext is clear: getting married is viewed in society as the zenith of a woman's accomplishments. Yet engagements don't usually come out of hard work, merit or even talent. Sometimes, a man wakes up one morning and decides that he will marry because his mates are all at it. Whoever happens to be his bedfellow at the time is the lucky recipient of the proposal.
In other cases, the proposal is borne out of little more than cunning and persuasion. Case in point: some months ago, a friend confided in me that she was going to get her man to put a ring on her finger within a month, by hook or by crook. She had drawn up a military-style operation to persuade her boyfriend to propose, all the while making him believe it was his own idea.
Sure enough, the breathless phone call came within weeks. "I'm engaged!" she trilled, feigning surprised delight. And thus began an unending, tireless carousel of party-planning. Whether she's prepared for the lifetime commitment bit is anyone's guess – it hasn't come up in the "vintage lace or tulle?" discussions.
It has long been said that many couples plan every detail of their wedding, while the marriage itself is little more than an afterthought. Yet being a bride and being a wife are two entirely different kettles of fish. I wonder if it's a coincidence that, of the flashier castle weddings I've been to, none of those couples are still together? Rather, they're still drinking their vintage reception wine. In separate houses.
Why is there such a feverish desire for a wedding? Is it because some women have been to so many, they're damned if they're not getting their fair share of Newbridge Silverware booty too? Or is it that we can't let go of that dream we've had since girlhood of being queen for a day?
Now, it's every woman's right to enjoy the glitziest, most lavish wedding party that money can buy, if that is indeed what she wants. Who am I to complain if I have to buy a toaster or steak-knife set so that she can exercise this very right?
What I'm more concerned about are women's achievements that go undocumented. I'm talking real triumphs, borne out of hard work and dedication and talent.
I know women who have written books, become company directors and obtained PhDs. One even won an IFTA. These are accomplishments that get little more than a few likes on Facebook. Where are the parties and the lavish events for these accomplishments? Why don't they get to draw up a registry of PhD gifts in Brown Thomas? What message would a directorship party send to little girls dreaming of adulthood?
Adding insult to injury, most of these single friends of mine went home for Christmas and suffered the humiliation of their extended family asking why they haven't got a husband yet. My grandmother is no slouch in this department. She's barely able to hide her conceit and confusion as she spits: "Och, what's wrong with you?"
Despite our achievements, and despite ourselves, we spent much of the festive season feeling slightly inadequate. It sounds a bit far-fetched, but the notion that weddings are a very real aspiration still holds firm. We've come a long way in Ireland in many respects, but in truth we're only a generation or two away from a mindset where the unmarried were a curiosity. The problem is this: with the likes of today's weddings and baby showers where a woman is essentially placed on a proverbial lily pad, there is scant regard for the decades of hard labour that follow.
If you've been the recipient of a delicious piece of meaningful bling this Christmas, good for you. But for all our sakes, don't let your inner seven-year- old run the show (as for the alarming advent of the multi-weekend wedding, let's stop that right now).
And if you demanded said bling from your partner instead of a present, or you dangled a messy break-up in front of him by way of ultimatum, it might be time to ascertain whether you're ready for marriage.
After the party, there's hard work ahead. It's not for the faint of heart, or even the ones who simply think they're in love. But that's where the achievement and the rewards really lie.