We decide, over Christmas, that we will get married. We both want to. But there’s a big difference between getting married and having a wedding. We agree instantly on the ceremony aspect of things, and agree, after arguing (because being engaged is not all about necking fizz) that we want to have some sort of celebration, to mark the day and have our families and friends celebrating with us. A small party, we both say. Tiny, in fact. Restrained. No ice sculptures. No owls bearing rings. But we are still unsure. Neither of us feels it is natural to celebrate ourselves.
We set a date, the minimum three months from the date of our licence. People seem chuffed for us, and express themselves with such sincerity we know we’ve been right to include them. “You must be so excited,” they grin, uncorking with abandon (because being engaged is partly about necking fizz).
In the face of their chuffedness and sincerity, I am graceless and awkward, and perhaps inappropriately honest: “Actually I think I’m dreading it.” The grins drop. I don’t think any of my mates have been expecting to have the Are You Sure About This chat with me. “Not the being married bit, the getting married bit. Getting trussed up in a frock. People staring at me. Listening to us doing something private. Seeing how much weight I’ve lost, or whether I’ve managed to make my hair look tidy.”
It takes my sister to be appropriately brisk. “What do you mean, people looking at you like that? Who the hell are you asking to this wedding?” She is right. I realise we have not actually invited anyone who works for the Daily Mail. “Just do what you want,” she says, and friends echo her.
We are both Dubliners, and want a city wedding.
We keep numbers small, but when it is announced that the Obamas will be in Dublin (and Moneygall) in late May, I send them an invitation, along with a gift for their daughters, a secondhand book I think may amuse them. They do not reply. How am I to know whether to include them in the vegetarian option? Perhaps they have been offended by the mention of Teddy Roosevelt.
There will be no big white dress. I have been married before, and am pushing forty, or brushing lightly against it, anyway. I decide against bridesmaids. I will not be given away. Can I be given away a second time anyway? We decide against a first dance, a cake, speeches. We change our minds. And back. We are like willows in the wind.
Despite the simplicity we intend, I have to go shopping. I realise there will have to be some sort of dress, or at least that I will have to be clothed. I listen to other people and pay for a dress that doesn’t suit me; my patient sister mops my tears over the wasted money, the foolishness, and takes time off work for a mercy shopping dash. I enter younger sister mode, plodding behind muttering sulkily how pointless it is, but she ignores me and marches around Brown Thomas collecting armfuls of dresses for me to try on.
“Just try it for shape. Just try it for colour. Just try it for length. Just try it for the beading.” We find two dresses, and when I buy one for the wedding, she buys me the other “because you always need a party dress”.
I try a spray tan. I cannot stand the look of fake tan. I know this as I make the appointment. I do not want to be brown but I want to see if my skin tone will be evened out. I stand like a starfish in front of a beauty therapist who mists a chemical all over me. “This one has no smell,” she says, gesturing for me to turn my thighs out like a ballerina. It reeks. It makes me bright brown and does not give an even skin tone.
“Are you wearing fake tan?” asks the man I am about to marry, partly amused and partly horrified.
“Yes – it’s a trial run.”
“Please don’t wear it for the wedding,” he says kindly. He rarely sees anything negative in the way I look; when it comes to me, these words from his lips are as harsh as they come. My shins are patchy, my wrists and heels grubby. My brown hands on the steering wheel look old and stained. Pippa Middleton and I would struggle to find common ground. I will have to spend a week exfoliating. Down the plughole with thirty euros in the shape of scrubbed-off bits of dyed epidermis. At least I will be married in my own skin, though.
I cannot find a cream leather shoe or sandal. Friends text me pictures covertly snapped in shoe shops around Ireland. One suggests I go barefoot. “Romantic,” she points out, and it would be, were I eighteen, with daisies woven into my waist-length hair.
My sister phones. “I was thinking about that dress last night. You need a wrap. I can make you one if you like. I have to go now, I’m at work.”
A friend organises a makeup lesson and invites my sister and mother as well as other friends. She provides supper and wine and refuses to let the visiting makeup artist do her face or eyes. “Nope. This is for you,” she says. “Bridie.” I have known her since we were about five. She offers to make me a necklace for the wedding day. We neck fizz.
I have a hen night. We neck fizz. A friend has come over from London. My future sisters-in-law have made me a collage of photographs of my future husband as a child. A friend gives me a bag of luxury beauty treats. Someone who has returned from India brings bindis, and we decorate one another. We have dinner. More people come. Someone fastens a necklace around my throat. Everyone is good company and looks beautiful and I am delighted that they are my friends. I neck more fizz and start to witter softly and tearfully about how much I love them all. I am that sort of drunk. My shoes are killing me and I cannot walk to the nightclub. A friend produces a pair of pumps from a bag and I spring about Dawson Street. I dance in the pumps until three in the morning, when my bindi slides away on a film of sweat. The following day I have barely swallowed a coffee before a friend has emailed around Bracelet of Friends, a commemorative hen night poem she has composed.
After the hen night I know I am looking forward to the wedding, though I still feel traces of awkwardness about being the centre of attention. I have not been a bridezilla, but my reluctance and awkwardness have been another form of self-obsession. When I raise my eyes from my own irregularly tanned navel I am overwhelmed by the generosity, good will and sense of celebration that surround us.
The 30-Day Shred has improved my arms (slightly), but even in the dimmest candlelight they could not be confused with Michelle Obama’s. Perhaps it is for the best that she is not coming. Anyway, a stranger’s face would be out of place among those of everyone we love.
Yes, I am definitely looking forward to it now: our exchange of vows, our bracelet of friends.
Next Saturday, when Leinster wins the Heineken Cup, we will be married.