Sarah Caden: Your wedding present is your presence - or not
At school gates and watercoolers last week, the online furore over an unhappily received £100 wedding gift was a hot topic. The newlywed's audacity in asking a guest for more was the jaw-dropping starting point, but there was more to it than that. What it really showed up is how most of us are so over weddings.
The rush, online and elsewhere, to encourage the insulted guest to cancel the cheque and tell the happy couple to go to hell said it all.
We've had it. With the far-flung locations that require shelling out for a night in a hotel, not to mention a second night (and outfit) for the second-day barbecue celebrations.
Okay, we can't really expect many newlyweds to understand just yet that nights away often require paying overnight babysitters too, but it's a major headache. And don't get us started on the going-abroad option, which was once a way of saying, "We don't want anyone to go to the expense of coming," but is now nothing like that.
The desire to punish this pair as representatives of wedzillas everywhere spoke of an exasperation that goes beyond the gifts, although they are pretty high on the list of irritations.
Last week, a colleague told me about a wedding to which she was invited. It was a moderately well-heeled affair and, as has been the way for decades now, there was a wedding list. It was a wedding list on a wedding-list website and some of the gifts ran to up to €500. Not for cut crystal or even electrical wares, but for flight upgrades for the couple's honeymoon, boat and wine-tasting trips and contributions to the "honeymoon fund".
It's just a roundabout way of asking for cash, this friend said. On looking at the website I saw that, yes, all honeymoon-fund trips and excursions bought are transferred into money form after the wedding. So, yes, gift-buyers are simply transferring cash to the bride and groom, with which they can do what they wish.
And as the site doesn't employ passwords, by simply entering some common Irish surnames I had a good old look at other strangers' wedding lists too.
Most also had flight upgrades and excursions, or variants thereof, on their lists, which they can convert into cash while hoping that you don't ask them anything about the whale-watching trip you bought them when they come back from the honeymoon.
Now, like most Irish people, the person who told me this has no problem with giving cash to a wedding couple.
Most of us understand that weddings aren't cheap and that, these days, the happy couple often shoulder a lot, if not all, of the expense and that they could do with a dig-out. Instead, this woman, who is ten years married, was bothered by the perceived subterfuge and, I suppose, the pomposity of it all.
It's not so much the handing over of money that irked, as the self-importance attached to it. Or was it just that it was a wedding?
Weddings are out of control and we all know it.
Unless we happen to be the bride and groom in question, who are, of course, "doing it differently". All of them. Which is another modern source of irritation entirely.
Once upon a time, the wedding rules were simple. Not all the way back when Mammy and Daddy paid and it was a day out for their generation really, and the bride and groom "went away" at midnight. No, even as recently as 20 years ago - around the time when I got married myself - it was all a bit more clear cut.
There was a church/registry office. There was a hotel. There was food and music and corny speeches and it all went on until the small hours of the morning and that was that. Gift-wise, wedding lists were just catching on, but in general, parents of the happy couple discreetly communicated that a few quid would be most welcome, given the expense, and the rule of thumb was that people covered the cost of being fed and watered. Everyone knew where they stood.
Then, during the money-mad phase, everyone developed the desperate need to be 'different'. Which meant better, obviously. The venues went five-star or foreign, the dresses became unique, the place-settings were handwritten in gold by Santa's elves, the expense was not spared. Now, since obvious expense became gauche, wedding guests find themselves tramping through fields to dine on foraged food in yurts, and vows mean nothing unless they are unique and overseen by a shaman.
It is all, of course, an effort to signal that the marriage of this fine pair of young people will be utterly different, more equal and less mundane, than the generations who married before them.
What remains unaltered, however, is the fundamental need of a newlywed couple for a few quid. Even if getting to the yurts has cost guests half a grand in accommodation, attire and childcare costs. But the couple are paying for the woodland-mushroom feast and the prosecco, so one should shell out uncomplainingly, right?
Yes, because it would be mean not to. Or, as many who now receive wedding invitations with sinking hearts will testify, the easiest option all round is to be busy that day and unable to attend. And there's no denying that this is the option that many more choose these days. That way, you can be super-generous and send a few quid without costing the happy couple a cent and, sadly, everyone's happy. The joyless option? Perhaps. But less of a headache, and with far less opportunity for post-wedding reproach.