Friday 24 January 2020

Confessions of a reluctant bride: how do you plan a wedding when you hate them?

Tanya Sweeney has spent years giving out about ridiculously over-the top nuptials. But now she's actually engaged herself. So just how do you get married when you hate weddings?

Potty for each other: Tanya Sweeney, with Brian Cregan, who recently got engaged with a teapot proposal. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Potty for each other: Tanya Sweeney, with Brian Cregan, who recently got engaged with a teapot proposal. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Tanya Sweeney

'He did it with a teapot."

"A teapot?" It's fun to watch people's reactions, from horror and confusion to wry amusement.

I'm not a betting woman, but I'd happily put my house on the fact that I'm the first woman in the world, ever, who was proposed marriage with a teapot. Specifically, a handmade teapot with Peig Sayers, a palm tree and a chicken on it, emblazoned with the words, 'will you marry me?' Honestly, how could I say no to that?

We were never going to be an Eiffel Tower couple. Nor a top-of-the-Empire-State-Building couple. There was never going to be a gobstopper of a solitaire ring. In fact, there is no engagement ring, nor will there be. Brian was not the type to get down on one knee and simper up at me beseechingly with a tumble of romantic platitudes.

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Instead, he stood beside me laughing as I unwrapped our Peig Sayers teapot. We laughed together. "I was going to ask you on holidays in September," he says. "But sure we were fighting for half the day, remember?" It was low-key, fireworks-free and very, very us.

Given that I had been single for nigh on a decade before I met Brian, I'd been happy enough to tell anyone who listened (and anyone who paid me to write it) that marriage was an outmoded institution. Why would any smart, independent, life-loving woman bother hitching her wagon to anyone else's? For years, I prided myself on being the type of woman that didn't want to be tied down, not to mention being the sort of woman that no man would actually want to tie down.

Marriage was for basics, I posited. A cliché. 'Husband' was a deeply unsexy word to me. Marriage is not an achievement, nor a reflection that you're a decent or functional person. It bothered me - still does, in fact - that brides get lavished in gifts, cash and parties when all they've managed to do is convince someone to share doing the dishes with them permanently.

Women who start businesses, get PhDs, or buy their own houses, get nothing of the sort for actually achieving something.

Big, flashy weddings, I wrote with regularity, are abhorrent; an elaborate and expensive pain for everyone. The bigger the wedding, I intoned, the higher the likelihood of a split. A case, probably, of someone doth protest too much. (Actual research backs this up. Spending more than €25,000 on a wedding apparently increases the risk of that marriage ending in divorce. Which is always helpful to know when you can feel your bank accounts draining next time you're at a wedding in Castle Leslie or some such).

The more I wrote about weddings, the more I thought them a complete nonsense. I reached Peak WTF when I researched 'honeymoon parties', where a bride's friends hold a party (in addition to the engagement party, hen and bridal shower) and shell out for personalised flip-flops, beach bags, passport holders and the like.

Weddings also seem to make people take leave of their senses. When someone - a woman, usually - updated marital status, surname and profile picture on social media before they'd even sat down to their wedding meal, I rolled my eyes so much they got cramps.

Women who describe their pals as their bridesmaids a full year before their wedding day would make me want to lie down (it's a day, my love. You get one day). Similarly, anyone renewing their vows after five years of marriage with a big bash and wedding registry to boot could pretty much get in the sea.

And then there I was, in the middle of a massive volte-face about marriage. Not just rowing back on my long-held opinions, but actively spurning them. Getting tied down, and feeling rather okay about it.

Honestly, being engaged doesn't feel any different. Brian and I made a serious commitment to each other a year ago when we had our daughter. We've just come through the most challenging, thrilling and emotionally wringing 12 months of our lives. We've been like the two squabbling interns in The Devil Wears Prada most of the time, hoping to impress or appease our new 'boss'.

Having a child is like running the least glamorous charity in the world. Most of the conversations you have with your 'colleague' are about dirty nappies, matching up tiny socks, mashing carrots and cradle cap. To be asked about marriage was nice insofar as it proved that Brian was not just okay with our new unglamorous arrangement; he wanted to stay in it permanently.

And then, I surprised myself with a strange nod to convention. "Hope you asked my dad first," I warned him. He hadn't. Brian didn't have me down for the traditional type. I didn't have myself down for the traditional type. How did I get from there to here?

I was surprised at how quickly people began pressing us for a date for the big day. I've heard 'give us a day out' more times in the last week than I've heard in four decades. Problem is, I still hate, hate, hate weddings.

Some friends eloped to New York some years back and secretly married in City Hall, telling everyone a good six months after the fact. I always thought it was the ideal set-up.

They spent their wedding day not worrying about fighting cousins or an unruly groomsman. Knowing no one in the city, they were fully enmeshed in each other. They pulled two strangers off the street to be ceremony witnesses. In a Little Italy restaurant, waiters made a fuss over them. And of course, once they arrived home and told people what they'd done, they enjoyed several retroactive hen parties, stag nights and shindigs.

People were thrilled, it would seem, that they hadn't been dragged to a hotel in the back arse of nowhere for three days and nights of 'Our Friends Are Now Acting Like Celebrities'.

Does every couple swear that they will have a low-key, no-frills nuptial affair, only for a wedding to swell and inflate to theatrical, Kardashian proportions the minute they turn their backs? Planning a small, convention-free wedding seems like a challenge now.

Not because my latent princess tendencies have finally been unearthed and given free rein. Not because I had secretly wanted a massive wedding the whole time and only gave the alternative lip service when I was single.

Because a wedding is about more than the two people getting married, isn't it? Families want a reason to celebrate. Mine in particular, besieged by death and illness of late, have more reason than most to want to attend a positive event. So that's eloping off the table, then.

And then, the considerations start to mount up. Would Brian's parents be aghast at a registry office wedding? Would my father be upset if he didn't get the chance to walk me down some kind of aisle? What happens if we invite this friend, but not that friend? Would guests get pissed off if they didn't get a proper sit-down feed? Would I in time regret not wearing the sort of dress that befits the occasion?

Would I regret not making a fuss over us as a couple, when I had the one chance? I'm still determined to keep any future wedding pared back, and to divine a balance between special celebration and ostentatious nonsense. It's not a chance to become Beyoncé for the day. Marriage is not a meritocracy. Marriage hopefully cements the love, the trust and the good stuff that a couple already has, but being married does not make you a better, superior or more well adjusted sort of person.

Sorry if I sound like some sort of confetti curmudgeon, but the sooner that wider society figures that last bit out, the better.

Irish Independent

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