Polly Bartlett on the joys and confusions of being the first one to get engaged in your friendship group…
Getting engaged at Christmas time is a cliché. At least that’s what I thought until a month ago when, you guessed it, my boyfriend of three years got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Now, just like everyone else, I’ve got a centre gooier than a chocolate fondant and a Pinterest history comprising ‘colour schemes’ and ‘cute wedding reception ideas’.
To my shame, I used to roll my eyes at the ring selfies captioned ‘#ISaidYes’ that are two a penny on social media around the festive period. ‘How basic’ I thought. Little did I realise, the reason why so many have the same idea is because funnily enough, it’s a good one. You already have plans to see your friends and family at Christmas, so there’s none of the faff involved in arranging to see 50 separate people who all Whatsapp you to get a celebratory drink in the diary. If that makes me basic, then pass me the avocado toast and so be it because that shit makes sense.
It’s not just the time of year that has been unexpected, in all honesty – I’m a little surprised by my age. Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon to be getting married to my best friend but with modern society dictating that people are generally getting married later, if you’d told me age 19 that I’d be engaged at 24, I’d have laughed in your face and asked you to hand me another jaegerbomb. What feels to me to be perfectly natural and wonderful now, might seem a little 1950s to my teenage self. But the best marriages are done on your own terms, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ guide to matrimony. Shoving a cookie cutter ‘modern’ idea of marriage at people in their twenties only serves to alienate those who want to take the plunge sooner rather than later.
The subject of who might get married first was a topic of common discussion in my group of girlfriends (usually when we’re three bottles of Prosecco down). It normally goes as followed; ‘Definitely Anna, her boyfriend’s mates are all married anyway so it MUST be on his radar!’ ‘Nah, gotta be Rachel – she’s been dezza for a ring on holidays and Christmases for the past two years!’. Not that I’d given it a whole lot of consideration, but like most women, I thought I might be the third or fourth in line to be served up my portion of matrimony, not the first. As much as we tried to rationalise and reason, and take our guesses, these things rarely happen when you most expect them.
Most brides-to-be have the comfort blanket of having been to at least one or two of their mates’ weddings. There’s a basic understanding of what to do, what is expected and an experience to form the basis of most of the wedding-related decisions. Where to find the best (affordable) dresses, whether to have a sit down meal or informal buffet and the most pressing question for some; whether singles tables are really a thing. When you’re the first, you’ve got no clue when or where to begin beyond your mother’s advice – which might be a little outdated.
Unfortunately, wedding magazines and google searching are only good for window shopping. Most of the content available is designed to be aspirational – think £5,000+ wedding dresses and flowers that’d put Kew Gardens to shame. If you don’t have eighteen months to plan the whole thing, most suggestions are idealistic. I have eight months, and the fear of God is in me. Like most things in life, sometimes a tip from someone who’s been there and done it is more valuable than a two-year subscription to ‘You & Your Wedding’.
The guest list seemed like a sensible starting point for me – even if you know nothing about planning a wedding, you might at least know who to invite, right? I was craving simplicity for my first foray into the world of weddings, but the reality is trickier than expected. Everyone tells you how quickly you fill up over 100 names and it’s true, they really do fill with frightening ease. That might sound like a thinly veiled #humblebrag (which it is), but when you factor in family, friends and plus ones of both you and your partner, the tally really racks up. Making brutal decisions have to be made about who’s in and who’s on ‘in case of dropouts’ felt like an almost negative start to the whole process. It seems harsh, and even impossible, but some evils are indeed necessary. If none of your friends are married and have therefore never tackled the beast that is the guest list, it’s a breeding ground for awkward conversations. Shortly after my engagement, a friend who I hadn’t seen to in years messaged to congratulate me, and wax lyrical about how excited she was for the wedding. I felt sick that she hadn’t even made it onto the ‘maybe’ list, let alone the invite list and I’m ashamed to say I avoided the topic. I wonder if I’ll ever find a way to tell her.
While most of my friends can’t get enough of hearing about wedding favours and whether I’ll be walking down the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon (for the record, I will not), I feel constantly aware not to let the W-day chat dominate the conversation. Conscious that this is a stage in life that many of my pals are some time away from, it terrifies me that I might turn into the ‘smug married’ type best saved for the ‘Bridget Jones’ films. I’m determined not to make planning a wedding my raison d’être and still do all the stupid, irresponsible stuff you do in your twenties – putting a ring on it doesn’t magically turn you into a 24/7 responsible adult, and I don’t think it should.
It’s not all blind leading the blind – there are advantages to being the first down the aisle. You can do whatever the hell you want without the worry of people drawing comparisons between yours and another friends wedding. Similarly, the novelty of the situation means no one is fatigued by the ten previous hen dos they’ve been to in the same format. Everyone is up for as many cocktail master classes, strip-o-grams and trips to Marbs as you can muster up – something I’m frankly buzzing about repeating for all my friends over the next ten or so years.
A note to my bridesmaids though, if you’re reading this; please go easy on the willy shaped paraphernalia.
Follow Polly on Twitter: @PollyVBartlett