THE 'NO WAY, NOT ME EVER' BRIDE
LENA DE CASPARIS, 31, JOURNALIST
By midnight of New Year's Eve, three of my best friends were engaged. The first did it over dinner, the second while watching Jools' Annual Hootenanny with a bottle of champagne, and the third in a nightclub. Each texted me an emoji diamond ring within hours of their news.
Sure, it's a great excuse for a giant cake, but I'm constantly surprised by how many of my friends decide to get hitched. Don't they know it's a risky business? About 42% of marriages end in divorce*. It costs a fortune, and none of us can afford our houses, holidays or those Joseph sandals we really want, let alone find another £27,000, the average cost of a UK wedding**.
These days, surely you can have a highly respectable life without marrying? I've always thought you could. In fact, it's never been in my plan. Perhaps it was because of my anti-establishment parents, or the fact they separated when I was three, but
I never had the fluffy white approximation of a bridal gown in my head as a child, nor did I play bride and groom in the playground. Growing up, my indifference turned to distaste as I read studies proving that men benefit from marriage with an increase to their health, wealth and happiness***, while married women are no better off. But before you dismiss me as an emotional scrooge, I really do love 'love', and I've spent my adult years in committed relationships .
Five years ago, I met a 6ft 4in Keanu Reeves lookalike called Scott. I knew within weeks of first kissing him at a Christmas party that I was no longer alone in the world. I'd met the person I would drink whisky with at night and care for the next morning when hung-over. We bought a house, set up a joint bank account and now we have a baby – but I've never longed for him to be my husband. In fact, his total agreement that we could build our lives together without getting married was one of the things that made me adore him all the more.
Our reluctance to get married is partly down to the priorities in our relationship. While I hope we keep what we have until we're old and grey, I try not to view 'forever' as the goal of our affections. Unlike marriage, which swears you together for infinity, I aim for day-to-day adulation. If that disappears, why would we want to be together? And if that moment does come, I won't have to deal with a divorce alongside selling my home, sharing childcare and losing my best friend.
Of course, deciding not to marry isn't complication-free. Calling the father of my child my 'boyfriend' or 'life partner' makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I mostly call him Scott, and that works just fine.
But what if one of us runs off with the neighbour, or has a freak accident – where are we legally? Turns out this is nothing a lawyer can't solve for a fee considerably less than that of renting a marquee.
We're lucky we don't have any pressure from our families or friends. My dad often proclaims his relief that I have no desire for him to give me away. While some friends roll their eyes and insist we'll 'do it one day', most are grateful not to be coughing up for another hen-do, John Lewis gift list or a hotel in the Cotswolds.
Sometimes, I have brief moments of doubt, mostly in the summer, when I'm surrounded by big rings sparkling in the sun and pretty white dresses. I've felt myself asking, 'Why them, not me?' No one wants to be the odd one out. But then I think of all the above, and remember: as a guest, you can still eat plenty of cake.
THE 'NO-EXPENSES-SPARED' BRIDE
KATE HALFPENNY, 42, BRIDALWEAR DESIGNER
I've always fantasised about weddings. I love the romance and the tradition of them. As a child, I used to draw stick figures in giant, meringue-shaped dresses. It's ironic, because my designs now are mainly simple silhouettes.
My parents had a traditional wedding in the Sixties, but divorced when I was nine, which made me crave being part of a family unit. I admired friends whose parents were still together and I was drawn to the sanctimony of marriage.
Hearing all the stories from working with brides-to-be made me realise what the priorities would be for my own day: a big party, no fuss, and friends and family involved in some way. But throughout my twenties and thirties, I didn't think I'd ever get married because of the relationships I was in. This never made me jealous of friends' engagements or resentful that I made wedding dresses for a living – it just meant that my own wedding day was more a dream than a reality.
Before I met my husband, James, I was with someone for seven years – from my mid-twenties to my early thirties – who wasn't into weddings. So I played down how much I wanted to get married. If being with him meant not getting married, then I was prepared to pretend it wasn't what
I wanted either. Having said that, I bought myself a diamond ring that I wore on my ring finger so I could pretend that I was engaged. It sounds crazy. People would say, 'You're engaged!' and I'd just say, 'Oh no, it just doesn't fit on any other finger.'
Getting married can happen at any time, though. I was 37 when I married James. It wasn't about being sure of what I wanted when we met, he just blew every other relationship out of the water. He blurted out the proposal in New York after a boozy lunch and I didn't believe him. We'd been going out for a year and he'd been married before, so I didn't think he'd want to do it all again. We had to call my dad before I was convinced.
I spent 10 months moodboarding after the proposal. I wanted to be the bride who made everything, but it soon escalated into a mammoth event and we hired a wedding planner to help. I still did a lot of the styling, but James let me run with it – even when a flock of pink, plastic flamingos arrived in the post.
I spent 10 months moodboarding after the proposal. I wanted to be the bride who made everything
The day turned into a weekend, and the few balloons I'd envisaged turned into hundreds cascading from windows of the Derbyshire manor house we'd rented. I made the bunting from homemade silk (yes, I made the silk at my kitchen table) and used Diptyque to scent the marquee. Guests told me it was the best-smelling wedding they'd ever been to, and everyone took home a candle as a wedding favour.
There were 21 bridesmaids, and page boys dressed as owls, because I wanted my best friends and their children, plus my nieces and nephews, to have a role. We had 200 people for a sit-down meal and silver-served a hog roast because there wasn't room on the table for food.
On Sunday, there were people in the hot tub with bloody marys; everyone left on Monday morning with hangovers. I don't know how much I spent because I didn't do a budget, which sounds a bit irresponsible, but I genuinely didn't care. James and I paid for it all ourselves; it was probably in the region of £50,000. Despite the wedding being a massive party, I still think of marriage as sacred; you need to work at it. Just putting a ring on your finger shouldn't make a difference, but I know how it made us feel. It's that sense of belonging to somebody. Everything changed once we got married. It was as if we'd tied a bow around our relationship. A handmade silk bow, that is.
See Kate's bridalwear at halfpennylondon.com
THE 'MARIE KONDO' BRIDE
LUCY FOLEY, 30, AUTHOR
The morning after our engagement, over breakfast, we discussed the wedding. The thing is that we love big parties, but neither myself nor my fiancé, Al, enjoy being the centre of attention. (I still have vivid memories of bursting into tears at my sixth birthday party as the cake arrived and my guests started singing.)
We agreed that the wedding should be as low key as possible: family, London, great wine and food. But wasn't it too soon to be discussing such things? Not soon enough. To anyone who's engaged, a warning: prepare for 'helpful suggestions'. They're made with love, but if your vague idea is a tad radical, be ready to fight for it. Without either of us knowing how, our wedding planning ballooned into a 150-person extravaganza, with a procession through my parents' village from the church – all because we hadn't made our own plans quickly or decisively enough.
We were swept along with other people's ideas of what our day should be; the sort of wedding I'd enjoy attending, but not the one I wanted. Neither of us had set foot in a church and I was convinced we would be struck by lightning as we said our vows. Then there was the centre-of-attention part: I had visions of myself – or perhaps both of us – sprinting back down the aisle, like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride.
We realised what madness it would be to spend so much money on a day we didn't want, and we'd prefer to spend the time planning our honeymoon. A big bonanza would have been so out of character and inauthentic. So we pared it back: we'd get married in a library in Marylebone, in November 2015. I'd take a taxi from a hotel, my husband-to-be would take the bus from Streatham. We'd have lunch at Somerset House with just 14 guests, then the two of us would sneak off to our hotel. I bought a dress online and put in possibly the smallest wedding- flower order to Wild At Heart: a single bouquet of white roses and herbs.
You might think whittling down a guest list from 150 to 14 would be difficult, but it's far simpler than reducing the number to, say, 50, which we considered but would have meant having to choose between aunties and cousins, and making difficult decisions about other halves. With a tiny wedding, you're not offending anyone, because you're leaving everyone out. Our guests were both sets of parents, siblings, and my brother-in-law's kids.
Of course, we had moments of doubt along the way, worrying that it would feel like an anticlimax and not enough of an 'event'. Something someone said about weddings being about friends and family, not us, made me wake up at 2am for a week to prod my fiancé and ask if we were making a mistake. I also realised I was desperate to have my two oldest friends there, who were gracious about the last-minute invite. We were nervous about telling people, but were reminded of what good friends we have and how well they know us by how quickly they got it.
Our day was perfect for us. In writing this, I've asked myself honestly: do I have any regrets? The answer is no, not a single one. For us, there was great romance in how small it was. Even the briefness of my dress: Lanvin, cut just below the knee for dodging November puddles. And then just the two of us at the end of the day, getting drunk at the bar in Claridge's.
Lucy Foley's latest novel, The Invitation (Harper Collins, RRP £12.99), is out now
ALEX HOLDER, 33, JOURNALIST
I've nearly booked my wedding twice. The first time, I was distracted by a Netflix show I was watching; the second, I got to the first form you have to fill in and my eyes clouded over and started to roll to the back of my head in a way that only happens when I'm faced with admin. I love my fiancé, but by God, not more than I hate admin (sorry Mark, it's the truth).
Mark asked me to marry him in the middle of the Californian desert while our two-month-old son was strapped to my chest. I greedily said yes – it's difficult to remain cynical when you're presented with a diamond ring at sunrise. And I was ridiculously delighted. A proposal is a real bonding experience, something I'd never thought about before, and it left us high and sickeningly loved up. I immediately texted my close family and friends the obligatory selfie with the ring held aloft. Cheesy, I know, but I was drinking prosecco at 11am. The replies came in, and straight after the 'Congrats!' was 'When will the wedding be?' and 'Who are your bridesmaids?' It was already exhausting. I did spend a few evenings scouring Pinterest, idly thinking about having a mini festival in an English forest or a party at an Ibiza villa.
Then something about the effort of it all made me cringe and it quickly dawned on me: I'll never be able to make any of that happen, as neither my bank balance nor my organising skills are up to it. When I was 10, my dad (the ultimate feminist) explained to me that paying for your daughter's wedding is the modern-day equivalent of a dowry. I didn't like the idea then and, 23 years later, I'm glad he punctured any princess dreams I may have had, because I've truly never spent time dreaming about the aesthetics of my wedding. I have no longing to sit on a hay bale surrounded by tulle, and there are no images in my head where I'm stood under a pagoda in a white dress.
When friends asked about the wedding, I shrugged my shoulders because I hadn't thought about it. Mark and I have had a few casual chats since, and we've decided three things: first, we want all our friends and extended family there, so it won't be a small do. Second, we want great outfits (bespoke suits for the both of us, not matching). Third, this wedding will not be stressful.
Then something about the effort of it all made me cringe and it quickly dawned on me: I'll never be able to make any of that happen
We've watched friends drown in moodboards, worry whether the time assigned for mingling is too long and cry because the venue was cancelled, so we're treating our wedding as a piss up in a pub. This leaves us a long list of things we're not doing: no food, no seating plan, no bridesmaids, no speeches, no unvetted dad jokes, no table favours, no band, no stag, no hen, no gifts, no photographer, no timing plan and no marquee. Instead, the ceremony will be in our local town hall, followed by drinks in the pub next door. That's it. We'll work out how we're getting there when I've chosen my shoes.
A friend expressed concern that I'm cutting off my nose to spite my face, but I don't see it that way. Organising an event isn't something I want to do, and I can't think of anything less romantic than sorting out planning permission for a large tent. I don't want to resent my big day in the lead up to it, or have any regrets because it didn't live up to expectations. Our laziness has borne a happy accident: a romantic, totally chilled-out wedding. Without meaning to, we're making the stand that love isn't about canapés or money. Zen-bride – or 'bridechilla' – isn't a movement yet, but it should be. I can't wait for our simple ceremony and a pint afterwards with the people we love. Even I can organise that... eventually. ■
This article first appeared in the July issue of ELLE on news stands now