Expressions of eternal love - and an open bar
Of course, my mother warned me about all this. Long ago, she prophesied the pimples, the teen binge drinking, the fresher 15 kilograms, the damp student flats, the wisdom teeth, the yard glasses at the 21sts, the friends lost to OEs.
Later, she predicted the sudden onset of my friends' astonishing fecundity, their attentive grooming of lifestyles, their stress leave. And now, their flurry of weddings.
Weddings cramming the summer, weddings at opposite ends of New Zealand, weddings requiring six months' worth of savings, a long country drive and a nice frock. I can't understand how it all happened so suddenly. How everyone seemed to agree at once to get married, and how my mother knew it would happen between the ages of 27ish and 30-odd.
There's no real impetus to get married today, and yet we still do, with great gusto, in a big, $10,000-plus party - albeit in increasingly smaller numbers, increasingly later in life.
We guests grin inanely and brush away a tear, drink too much and roar at the jokes, try to think of something pithy yet heartfelt to write on the wedding-memory prayer flags, Polaroid snapshots, photo booth blackboard, quilt square or thumbprint poster, or in silver pen in an album.
There are a few guarantees. There will be spare singles, who'll have at least one quiet moment of feeling intensely alone. You'll talk to someone and try to ignore the food in their teeth.
There will be someone who mistakes a guest for a waitress, someone who'll misuse the bar tab, and another who'll steal something. Someone else will try to work out how much it all cost and whisper about it in the toilets.
In the past few years I've seen friends and family hitched in Tekapo, Karitane, Arthur's Pass, Portobello, Wanaka, Taupo, Brisbane and South Korea. Two in a church, one in a family lounge, the rest out under the sun.
Thirty-two rings exchanged, three guitar serenades, one avenue of swords, four photo booths, three moonlit campsites and three morning medicinal swims, two karaoke machines, several downpours, one wardrobe malfunction, one Crohn's-friendly dinner, several home-killed pigs, one slash of my toe on a decorative historic pit saw, one back injury, one excruciating encounter with an ex-boyfriend, and one best man whose speech openly, nakedly, declared himself envious of the bride and groom's relationship and announced his hopes that he might find such bliss himself one day.
His girlfriend sat straight-backed and grim, collecting glances. He repeated the sentiments at length in the wedding book, in silver pen on thick black pages.
By now, I'm well-seasoned in the pleasurable art of being a guest. I drove south last week for my 15th ceremony, and flew north this week to attend my 16th, and I have three more to look forward to this year.
Up north, the cornstalks are taller, the world greener, softer, rounder, the placenames stuffed with vowels. It's the wedding of my oldest friend - and thankfully, she did not do me the dishonour of making me her bridesmaid, a duty I've performed four times in my life, including once as the maid of honour.
I was terrible at that. I let the train of the bride's dress trail in the dust on the way up the aisle, I forgot about manicures and spray tans, and I signed the marriage licence messily and failed to keep it in my possession. It's still lost.
Worst of all, I forgot to bring the bride and groom's luggage to their wedding night chambers, so the bride was left tear-stained and sozzled, searching for her toothbrush at midnight, all her guests gone.
Useless. I live with the guilt to this day.
But I love weddings. I can't resist the whole loved-up, stressful shambles. I suppose my friends' ones will dry up soon, until a statistically accurate one-third of them begin their second round.
It's a lovely time of life. Once, up home for another wedding, I went for a walk and a coffee with Mum. She stopped every few metres for a chat with her passing mates, swapping details of skin cancers, bad knees, heart attacks, parents in rest homes, deaths, wills. I listened. It all seemed very far away and incomprehensible. Impossible, actually.
My newlywed friends - blooming in their summer dresses, beaming and glowing and slow-dancing until the band packs up - wilting some day in a ghastly pockmarked rest home? That's for other people, not us. Never us.
That's the thing about life, I guess. It's nothing new until it happens to you.
- © Fairfax NZ News