The big white wedding con

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The last thing on earth I ever wanted was a big wedding – what on earth is the appeal?

Formal weddingI was astonished the other day reading an article in the Guardian about the cost of weddings.

It wasn’t the costs as such – £20,000 has been the average cost of a wedding for nearly a decade, but I’m gobsmacked at the fripperies people will willingly spend money on rather than – for instance – saving for a mortgage deposit. 

"Do people really need sugared almonds, I wonder?" an old friend once asked me by email, about to marry her partner of 16 years, who was also the father of her two children. Well, er, no, is the answer. They don’t need hand-made invitations either, nor a live band in a marquee on a lawn surrounded by flowers specially planted out of season for the event (I kid you not – a workmate of mine did this, using spring flowers in September – cost, £5,000).

I suppose I am hopelessly unromantic about weddings because my father always made it clear that he had no intention of ever paying for mine. He didn’t think getting married was something to celebrate. Staying married, yes. Getting married, no. Of course, he couldn’t stand my mother, which may have had something to do with his jaundiced attitude.

However, I am also pretty snarky about the obvious fact that the modern wedding ‘event’ is all about making money: money for the caterers, money for the florists, money for the dressmaker, money for the honeymoon resort. What a load of cobblers. For confirmation of the extent to which some women can be gulled, check out Disney’s hard-sell wedding offerings complete with fairy-tale coach, kitschy bridge and pavilion and God knows what else ‘you owe it to yourself’ trappings. A work colleague of mine went for one of these packages, so let’s hope her violent thug of a fiance didn’t give her a black eye to match on the day. Far better to have a quiet ceremony and a reception at home, with only the people of your choosing.

When you’re paying for your own wedding, though, and it’s your own cash you’re chucking away, it really concentrates the mind wonderfully. Do you really want to sit down to a three-course silver service lunch with 200 people you’re only inviting because they’re rellies? Mmn. Most of my friends married in recessions and had only their parents and siblings at the wedding. When it came to my turn, the choice was for friends.

The truth is, for me, rellies are not a big part of my life. After I left home at 18 I rarely saw any of them again.

I am also a private person, though you might not guess it from this blog, and if I could have gotten married by going into a room alone with the DH, signing the register and leaving again, that would have been just fine by me. I didn’t like having witnesses AT ALL, and the idea of sharing such an intensely private moment with a group of people leaves me absolutely horror-stricken. It would be like walking naked down Oxford Street.

Other women, I think, are more clearly performers. Their wedding is their BIG DAY, when they get to play princess, and they relish it – for me, that seems like a nightmare (I didn’t go to my graduation ceremony either – just picked up the certificate from the Dean’s office). Perhaps it is because it’s the only time most women ever get to commission an item of clothing, too – but then if you saved money on the wedding, you could have your clothes made for you for years to come…

When we came to get married, the DH and I decided what we’d like to do on the day, and since we had to have witnesses, chose to share the day with two mates. He was the DH’s oldest friend, and she was his partner. He did the pictures, and she made the rings. There were no other guests – and in particular no family. 

I’d originally decided not to let my family know I was getting married at all until after the event, and in retrospect I wish I had. When you tell people you’re getting married, they want a slice of the action, and feel insulted if they’re not invited, whereas if you leave it till afterwards, it’s a fait accompli. But both of our fathers were dead and our remaining families were full of warring factions, with my sister and I not speaking to my mother, the DH’s brother not speaking to THEIR mother and the odd prodigal brother here and there on both sides whom nobody had seen for 20 years. We decided to do without the lot of them.

Wedding dayInstead, we lavished our cash on just the four of us: vintage Rolls-Royce (with champagne), lunch at Le Gavroche (best food I’ve ever eaten), a box at Covent Garden to see La Traviata (more champagne), and a suite at Claridges (more champagne, and they were classy enough to upgrade us from a double room when they found out it was our wedding night). We didn’t have the time or money for a honeymoon and went back to work two days later.

We offended a lot of people by the way we got married, and frankly I don’t care. Our marriage is our business, not anyone else’s and I still remember our wedding day as about the most fun I ever had. It was great – the food, the company, the clothes, the not having to pose for pictures. (I gave in in the end, and posed for six – one of which you can see here – but the remainder are documentary shots, shot by Doug on the hoof.)

In the end, we got exactly the wedding we wanted and it was a totally relaxed day with no worries of any kind. I wish the same could be said for other brides. Ursula (of the spring flowers in September) and her new husband were STILL arguing about the bill a year later, and also about how her mother had cut him out of the equation as if he was an irrelevance. Their wedding, to tell the truth, affected the happiness of their new marriage. Is that a good idea, I ask you?



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