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LOVE & SEX

Your first wedding is about being a bride. The second is about you

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Sali Hughes is planning a wedding for the second time. She didn't think she wanted a big bash, but she's had a change of heart

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By Sali Hughes on

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“I’d just like to go with the kids to the town hall, then take them to Pizza Express or somewhere afterwards,” I said. This was my ultimate wedding fantasy, I promised. No big frock, no swanky cars, no top table, cringey speeches, politically sensitive seating plans, hierarchically appointed bridesmaids in dresses they loathe, no disingenuous hymns, nor even the slightest pretence that we haven’t already been shagging for years. No interminable photo sessions on the lawn, clumsy first dances or family “friends” no one has seen in 16 years. A wedding of, well, nothing weddingy. This was, surely, the dream – happily making a lifelong commitment with minimal effort, fuss and financial outlay. I say “dream”, because it existed only in my head for about five minutes. 

My boyfriend wouldn’t hear of it (I know, I’ve tried, but I just cannot describe him as my “fiancé”. Like “serviette” and “settee”, it’s a word too appallingly naff to say out loud without blushing). He’s never been married before and I have. His parents have never had their day, when they can proudly watch their youngest son, settled and happy, stand before his loved ones and attach a new branch to their family tree. He himself hasn’t enjoyed a bigger party than his fortieth in the upstairs of a pub. And, despite being a modest chap with similar discomfort around grand gestures, and as someone utterly devoid of any groomzilla instincts, he wanted his one and only wedding to have a greater sense of occasion than a table for four on a Monday after school pick-up. I had my big day 15 years ago and I loved it. Why should that deprive him of his? 

He had a point. And, he argued, he wasn’t asking for much. He had zero desire for me to change my name, or to wear a meringue and veil, or to convert to Judaism. He could lose the speeches, wedding party and slow dance. But, at the same time, he also didn’t want to enter what should be an exciting process with someone determined to ditch all tradition and occasion in the wilful manner of an anti-marriage bore. But it’s not that I hate weddings, I protested. I adore them and will basically attend any to which I can blag an invite. And nor is that I hadn’t enjoyed my own big do – I genuinely loved it. It’s that I feel the young me was better suited to the bridal role than the middle-aged me, who he’d fallen in love with knowing full well I’d rather die than wear white or weep in public. Besides, after a wonderful wedding and an often-very-happy, but ultimately, failed marriage, I was adamant I wouldn’t focus on what is surely the least important part of the deal. A second wedding between fortysomethings is an overlay, not the foundation, of a lifelong relationship. It doesn’t trigger a process in the way a first wedding does – it sort of hands it a water bottle and foil blanket along the home stretch.

A second wedding doesn’t trigger a process in the way a first wedding does – it sort of hands it a water bottle and foil blanket along the home stretch

And to make a fuss would be needlessly expensive. “Hang the cost,” he effectively said, while I listed all the things we could fund instead, like five family holidays or a moderate loft conversion. In my twenties, thousands of pounds felt abstract, like Monopoly money for playing grown-ups. Now, it seemed like a significant dent in our future finances. And so we accepted that marriage is a compromise and entered into negotiations over every last detail of the October wedding, an organic process of dialling up and toning down fuss, pushing and trimming the budget to satisfy us both. We’re still in a register office, but pizza for four has become curry for 90. My quiet night in somehow morphed into a large piss-up at a drag club. Determined to make the pennies go further, I decided to find a dress I could happily wear afterwards, while he opted for a once-in-a-lifetime suit. A delicious, but no-frills, cake will come from one of my oldest friends, the minimal flowers from another. Yet more friends will DJ; others are cheerfully ditching their plus ones for a girls’ night out. Any saved money went into the bar fund, where it actually mattered.

Consequently, the proposed big wedding began to feel cosier, more intimate, more us. I soon realised that, much like having a second child, a second wedding is an inherently more relaxed process than the first. You no longer care much about what looks right to others, only what feels right for your family. Not beholden to your elders, you can book your favourite restaurant and not give a thought to Great Uncle Grumpy who only eats steak, well done, hold the sauce. You can invite friends in the certainty they’ve made it through the rocky, fickle years of young friendship, and you’ll consequently still be pleased to see their faces in wedding albums a decade from now. You can not invite people you don’t feel like seeing, because you’re at an age when you realise they probably couldn’t care less. All the disparate groups you were once fearful of cross-pollinating in the same room have by now already met, and either bonded very happily or made the unpanicked decision to politely avoid one another and cluster in likeminded boozing circles. And you can more cheerfully ignore traditions without a care for what the golf club thinks. Being given away by a man seems particularly odd when one is 42 with two pre-pubescent sons, so I’ll walk down the aisle with my kids. Likewise, gift lists when you’ve already been through five toasters, three mortgages and two microwaves seem a bit embarrassing and can be cut to reduce the already significant cost of attending.

And, fairly quickly, the enthusiasm of your loved ones becomes contagious. Your sons start designing the Nike trainers of their dreams that you’d previously denied them; your friends begin booking hotels for their first dirty weekend away in ages and sending links to dresses they fancy wearing. And the wedding you never wanted becomes less a selfless compromise for the man you love and more about feeling thankful for the opportunity to see the day through his eyes. As his energy and excitement increases, so does yours, and you realise the problem with second weddings is partly a fear of visibly raising the stakes, of being so outwardly confident of success, of allowing anyone to draw parallels with what you know was a different past and a different you. Against your demons and better judgement, you let go and start to have fun. You realise that while the first wedding was about being a bride, the second one is about being yourself. And both should equally be about embarking on a future with a fitting and memorable celebration. Most of all, you realise that after infinite mistakes, this marriage is among your very best life decisions. And so you should let it go off with a bang.

@salihughes

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