It was my first wedding since splitting from my long-term partner. It did not go well…
Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, running into your ex is always awkward. When it’s been less than a month since your heart got broken, you’re wearing a pink bridesmaid dress and you’re faced with a long walk down the aisle, though, things quickly escalate from merely ‘awkward’ to ‘Christ, this is an actual nightmare’ status.
“If it is to be done, it must be done with grace,” I whispered to myself, shamelessly lifting my mantra from Phillipa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance. After all, if Anne of Cleves could walk into her murderous ex-husband’s palace and embrace him and his new wife – despite him having branded her “too ugly” – then I could walk down the aisle towards the person I’d loved for six years and keep a smile pasted on my face.
And, as it turns out, I was right. All I had to do was keep my eyes fixed anywhere but him, fold my shaking hands together in my lap, and smile, smile, smile forever. Bloody hell, did my face ache by the end of the ceremony. But I kept it going, all through the champers, and the canapes, and the milling about awkwardly waiting for photographs. In fact, I was still grinning like a Cheshire Cat by the time I sat down for the wedding breakfast…
…only to discover that I’d been sat opposite the asshole from hell (TAFH).
At first, TAFH kept his distance. He smiled at me over the roast beef, asked me how I knew the bride and kept himself mostly to himself. Whenever I looked up, though, he was staring at me quizzically – and, as the speeches wrapped up and dessert (an array of mini puddings, if you’re interested) was served up, he finally gave in to his curiosity.
“So,” he asked, “are you married?”
All too aware that my ex was sat just a few metres away, I smiled brightly and shook my head.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” he persisted. “Or a partner of any kind?”
Nice side-step around the LGBT+ issue, old man, I thought to myself.
“No,” I said out loud. “Not at the moment.”
TAFH furrowed his brow in disappointment. “A nice young girl like you? It seems a shame, when all your friends are married off. Still, you’ve time, I suppose. How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“29,” I informed him, biting down hard on a brown-sugar meringue.
TAFH mimed shock and dismay, as if I’d informed him that I’d been diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease. Then, shaking his head, he told me: “Oh dear, you’re leaving it a little late, aren’t you?”
For a moment, I was speechless. And, naturally, TAFH took advantage of my silence to press on with his single-shaming agenda. “No woman wants to believe this,” he told me confidingly, leaning in closer, “but every single man would prefer to date a younger woman if he had the opportunity. Literally every single man. Look at that chef!”
Being a journalist, my brain immediately switched gears: which chef was he talking about? Was it Paul Hollywood, who, at the age of 51, recently announced that he’s dating a 22-year-old? Heston Blumenthal, who split from his wife last year and was immediately linked to a much younger French property developer? Or 45-year-old Dane ‘Not A Chef, But Has A Food-Related Surname’ Cook, who quietly entered a relationship with a 19-year-old earlier this year? Indeed, I was so distracted by my musings that I only tuned back into TAFH as I heard him mutter the fateful words of, “tick tock”.
“Pardon?” I asked.
“I just don’t know how people your age meet anyone,” he continued, entirely unperturbed. “It’s all done online, but it’s so dangerous. You could wind up going home with anyone, and anything could happen. Do I sound like your dad now?”
Thinking of my dad, who has always told me that I should avoid marriage at any cost, I shook my head.
“What you need to do,” he continued, “is join a walking group. It’s easy to talk to people at a walking group. You get lots of fresh air, a bit of exercise, and there’s plenty of nice, sensible people there to talk to. Lots of our divorced friends have met people through there, haven’t they?” he added, in an aside to his wife.
“I’ll bear it in mind,” I said stiffly.
“I’d think about it a lot,” he warned me, jokily wagging his finger. “You’re already 29, remember!”
“Oh yes,” I replied. “I remember. Now, will you excuse me a moment?”
That’s right, dear reader: instead of ripping TAFH a new one and challenging his archaic assumption that every woman a) wants to get married and b) has an expiry date to contend with, I went and had a brief, noisy sob in the toilets. Afterwards, I washed my face, took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror and returned to the party. Where I smiled, smiled, smiled forever.
What I wish I had done, though, is channelled the immortal wisdom of Bridget Jones’ Diary – and Shazza in particular.
“You should have said ‘I’m not married because I’m a Singleton, you smug, prematurely ageing, narrow-minded moron,” she tells me, via the pages of Helen Fielding’s iconic book. “And because there’s more than one bloody way to live; one in four households are single, most of the royal family are single, the nation’s young men have been proved by surveys to be completely unmarriageable and as a result there’s a whole generation of single girls like me with their own incomes and homes who have lots of fun and don’t need to wash anyone else’s socks.
“We’d be as happy as sandboys if people like you didn’t conspire to make us feel stupid just because you’re jealous.”
She’s right, obviously: TAFH isn’t just the asshole from hell, he’s also an ignorant bloody bastard. Indeed, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of marriages between men and women has hit a record low (“marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early Seventies”).
But, as dating and relationship coach Ané Auret points out, this doesn’t mean that people don’t want to get married.
“It’s not that millennials don’t want to get married, they just wait longer,” Auret tells BBC Three.
“For my parents’ generation, the milestones for your early twenties were getting married, buying a home and having children.
“Today, having the freedom to focus on what you want to do as an individual is more important to people in their twenties than it was several decades ago.”
Exactly. Exactly. I may not have worked through all the emotions that come with a big break-up yet, but I’m not freaking out over my single status. My life’s goal has never been to “get married, have children, the end”. Instead, I have always strived for happiness and fulfilment – and I’ve no doubt that I can find it, with or without a husband.
With this in mind, I have only five words to say to TAFH: “F**k off, you miserable turd.”
Hardly mature, I guess, but so what? Apparently men prefer a younger woman anyway.