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Old Enough to Know What You Want
By Darryl McGrath

One advantage to getting married for the first time in your 40s: It’s easier to decide which rituals and expectations to embrace, and which ones to ignore

Dino Petrocelli

I was 42 years old when I got engaged in December 1999, with a wedding in the works that would fall shortly before my 44th birthday. My fiancé was the same age, and neither of us had been married before.

And as we quickly found out, a first marriage for two fortysomethings like ourselves would come with blessings and curses.

On the one hand, our combined decades of single adult life meant we avoided those nightmarish scenarios you read about in advice columns. You know, the kind that go: Dear Abby—I’m getting remarried five years after divorcing the world’s biggest jerk. But I’m still friendly with most of my ex’s family. Should I invite my former in-laws to the wedding?

That’s the good news. The bad news is that no matter how old you are when you get married for the first time, the only part your family hears is first time. And your family will want a wedding—bouquets, attendants, a cake and some dancing—not an intimate ceremony on a cliff overlooking the Pacific at sunset, witnessed by three or four close friends, which was our original idea.

But long before you fortyish brides-to-be get to that point, you’re going to face a much more difficult dilemma: How far do you immerse yourself in the elaborate ritual of wedding planning, an indulgence traditionally em-braced by much younger women? Should you register? Should you go to a bridal fair? And what about shopping for a wedding gown?

I mulled these questions over, feeling conflicted about embracing a concept that was completely alien to the way I had been living for most of my life. As a little girl, I never dreamed about my wedding. My personal style as an adult was about as far from frilly as you could get.

In the end, I never registered, but I did go to one bridal fair. It was a practical decision: I got to sample our caterer’s cooking, and I got ideas about wedding cakes from local bakeries—an important consideration, in case my best friend’s promise to bake our wedding cake turned out to be more than she could handle.

The bridal fair had a comical side, like just about everything else in this process. I wasn’t there five minutes before I realized that I was the only almost-bride who wasn’t toting her mother along—mine lived 500 miles away—and that I was old enough to be the mother of most of these sweet young things flashing shiny new diamonds on their left hands. I walked around cautiously, sampling cakes and smiling at vendors and thinking, the first one who asks me when my daughter is getting married is going to get my glass of champagne in his face.

I came away from this experience certain that neither I nor the sales staff would survive my going to a bridal salon to look for a wedding dress. Besides, a cursory glance through a stack of wedding magazines dumped on my desk by a just-married coworker convinced me that no matter how many times I read that a first-time bride can deck herself out in full wedding regalia at any age—white dress, veil, train, the works—the fairy princess look at 43 wasn’t me.

I solved the wedding dress problem by flipping through the J. Peterman mail-order catalogue. And there I found it: ankle-length, sleeveless, pale pink silk, utterly simple and unbelievably affordable. I pulled out my credit card, and this garden-party-dress-turned-wedding-gown arrived in a small padded mailing bag five days later, size medium and no fittings needed.

For the big day itself, my fiancé and I struck a balance between what we wanted and what our families expected. We skipped many traditional trappings: limousines (I rode to the ceremony in my mother’s Saturn station wagon, but at least it was white); a ceremonious cake- cutting (my friend came through with a three-tiered confection that our guests reduced to crumbs, it was so good); and throwing the bouquet. (Anyone who had been to as many weddings as I had would never have inflicted this ridiculous custom on her own friends.)

I did surprise myself by conceding to one tradition: My mother—the only one of our parents still alive, and looking gorgeous at 81—walked me down the aisle and gave me away. Did I really need to be “given away,” after an adult life in which I had moved eight times since college and lived on my own in cities ranging from Boston to Chicago? Not really, but I wouldn’t have swapped that moment for anything.

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