Have weddings got out of hand? – Good Housekeeping uk

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Sophie McCartney

Sophie McCartney and her husband Steve on their wedding day.

Many of us will have had childhood visions of our ‘dream wedding’ but I’ll bet they never involved an Excel spreadsheet, a panic attack about chiffon chair covers, or a deeper analysis of your family tree than Who Do You Think You Are? I’ll say it – wedding planning is out of control. There are so many decisions to make and if you, like me, are someone who finds decisiveness challenging, it can feel like a never-ending maze.

While getting married is often the expected trajectory of a relationship, it’s a huge decision and not one to be taken lightly. Even in 2024, the societal expectation is very much, “When are you two getting married?” rather than, “Are you two getting married?” But marriage is a life-long, legally binding contract, and the wedding itself is likely to cost a small fortune.

“We were in ill-prepared for the reality of planning a wedding”

Of course, nowadays you don’t need to be married to live with someone or have kids together, so is a wedding still necessary? If fancy outfits, toasters and glittering centre-pieces are high on your agenda, a shopping trip to John Lewis could suffice – and it’s much easier to return an unwanted item than a spouse if you change your mind!

I got married in 2009, with my husband and I deciding marriage was the right choice for us. Even so, we were in ill-prepared for the reality of planning a wedding. Even the most mild-mannered of couples can find themselves in passionate arguments about relatively inconsequential issues, such as whether to choose chicken or beef for the main (just go for chicken, it’s a crowd-pleaser).

“I panic-purchased a lace mermaid tail dress”

My husband and I, for example, had a spectacular row surrounding whether or not Eminem’s song Stan should make it onto the DJ’s playlist. And I’d argue that finding ‘the dress’ is quite possibly as difficult as finding ‘the one’. By the 756th try on, I was ready to get married in one of my mum’s fitted sheets, just like I’d practised as a child. There was no chorus of angels, no friends sobbing at my breath-taking beauty and radiance as I emerged in each number, rather everyone was keen to wrap things up so we could go for lunch. Eventually, I panic-purchased a lace mermaid tail dress, which was lovely but a logistical nightmare as I could barely walk in it (and don’t get me started on trying to go to the loo!).

But of course, in addition to choosing the most expensive dress you’ll ever own (and wear once), and selecting a decadent, multi-tiered cake (which you won’t get to eat), there’s the hen party. Depending on your bridesmaids, this tends to involve anything from a prosecco party bus in your local town, to a ludicrously expensive tour of over-hyped beach clubs in Ibiza. Your only saving grace as the bride in this instance, is that you don’t have to be part of the dreaded WhatsApp planning group (over to you, Maid of Honour), involving hundreds of indecisive messages about venues, drinks packages and a local stripper called Graham.

“We had a ball, and we made memories that I will cherish”

I decided to have my hen do in Spain, the same long weekend that my husband-to-be was on his stag in Latvia. The logic was that it would prevent me from sitting at home obsessively checking for news stories of familiar looking, now one-eyebrowed men being banged up abroad.

While the beer halls of Eastern Europe called the stags, I wanted sunshine and for Graham’s sparkly G-string to be as far away as possible. We tried (and failed) to blag our way onto a millionaire’s yacht, one friend nearly lost her kneecaps during a misjudged pool dive, and we rescued a fellow hen trapped inside an inflatable donut who rolled off the edge of the marina. There are few limits to the amount of chaos which can be caused by a group of margarita-fuelled women, light-headed from the restrictiveness of their shapewear. But you know what? We had a ball, and we made memories that I will cherish, and laugh about, for decades to come.

Mother Hens

Mother Hens

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That’s why I wrote a novel, Mother Hens, about women allowing themselves to let loose and have a little fun. Don’t we all wonder what life might be like if we weren’t so busy putting everyone else first? What better way to do that than on a wild weekend with the girls, in celebration of such a joyful occasion? And so what if occasionally the hen do might just be more fun than the wedding? I won’t tell if you won’t.

“We were just two people, promising to love and care for each other”

While I wouldn’t change my hen, there are some things I wish I’d known before the wedding itself, and more than a few details I’d do differently. My very questionable, jaunty-angled wedding photography, the impractical dress, my husband’s Moss Bros suit and early 00’s Kelly Jones inspired hair do, for example. But, despite all of that, when it came to the day, it was just the two of us, promising to love and to cherish each other until death (or another fight about Eminem) do us part. As our vows tumbled nervously out of our mouths, the disagreements, the family politics, the seat covers and canapés – all of it paled into significance as what was truly important became clear. We were just two people, standing before those closest to us, promising to love and care for each other.

“Marriage means something different to everyone”

There are matrimony cynics who will say that a wedding is merely a patriarchal trap, that it makes no difference to a relationship’s strength or that marriage is little more than a piece of paper. Marriage means something different to everyone, but, for us, it cemented our bond and took our relationship to a whole new level. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but seemingly out of nowhere we unlocked an extra 10% of love and commitment we never knew we were capable of.

Having come out the other side of the wedding factory and weighed everything up, I’d say that yes, the day was worth it. Standing up and publicly taking lifelong vows makes your connection feel unbreakable and unstoppable. It’s a secure commitment which no one gets to storm out of just because someone forgot bin day.

But when you’re in the midst of those wedding season years, it can feel like an endless merry-go-round of hen parties, cab rides, budget hotels and toaster purchasing – crippling your finances and annual leave in one fell swoop.

Looking back, however, I find I rather miss it all. A marriage is more than a wedding, of course, so before you get into your lifetime of working out what to pick on Netflix and whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher, I say yes to hen-do-heroics and memorable wedding days. Now, when the very rare opportunity of a mums-on-tour hen do does arrive – Graham and all – you can bet I’m going all in!

Mother Hens by Sophie McCartney is out now in paperback, ebook and audiobook, published by HarperNorth

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