I had the good fortune to attend a hens' night last weekend. My dear sister-in-law is getting married and to send her off in style we headed to Kings Cross. As you do. To kick off proceedings we went on a scavenger hunt, collecting appropriate, or inappropriate depending on how you look at it, items from around Sydney's underbelly, to prove we had solved the clues.
Something from an adult shop for the bride to use on her wedding night, a coaster with a hot guy's phone number on it, a condom, not bought, but from someone's wallet. It's been a long time since I've asked a complete stranger if he had a condom and a foreign bank note, but to my credit some nice young Irish lad did invite me back to his backpacker's hostel so he could get them. To my credit, I politely declined.
During the afternoon and well into the evening the guests, a good mix of friends and family, including the mothers of both the bride and the groom (and there's nothing quite as confronting as running into your own mother-in-law in a sex shop), the conversation quite often turned to things marital. Once we'd stopped laughing at Wendy's* good fortune of finding an in-uniform boy scout for her cougar photo (we did wonder if it meant he'd get his cougar badge - OK, you had to be there … OK, you had to have had a few champagnes.)
We wondered, firstly, when the whole concept of hens' nights, and bucks' nights too in all fairness, began. I had a hens' night, where a handful of girlfriends and I headed back to Orange to my parents' house, stopping off for a shandy at every establishment along the way. The barman at Boorowa made quite a nice little tipple from what I can remember - it seems so long ago, he's probably long retired by now.
But the more mature ladies (had to think about that title given some of their behaviour at the Cross) among us said hens' nights were something they never had. There was a shower tea where you'd get your kitchen equipment stocked up, another had a cellar tea where people all brought a bottle of wine to build a collection (a rather neat idea), but there was nothing involving drink bottles shaped like penises or spanking complete strangers. I wonder when, and why too, the celebration of an impending marriage turned from fondue sets to strippers.
Later in the night the conversation got a little serious (not too much so) and I started to think about what marital advice is ever really passed on from woman to woman. I can't remember my own mother ever sitting me down for a talk, pre-wedding, and telling me some truths about what lay ahead. We picked up things from movies and books and as much as we thought we learned from our own parents' relationship. It's only with the hindsight of almost 17 years of marriage that I can say as much as you swear you'll never have a marriage like your parents', it's scary how parallel they sometimes are. We repeat mistakes, we make mistakes, we bumble along, learning as we go.
As we sang along to Lady Gaga and popped balloons between our legs, I got to wondering about how the night would have been better spent passing on marital wisdom to the bride-to-be. How we all should have lined up to whisper something in her ear. He'll leave the toilet seat up. You'll clean it. He'll snore. So will you, probably louder.
The bride and her friends (with due respect to all of them, because they were all lovely, well-educated, attractive, intelligent women, with fine careers) are from a generation that expects things to be just so. I'm sure they expect marriage to be the same. You know that generation I'm talking about. The one whose mothers fought tooth and nail so their daughters could grow up stretching themselves too far.
Or, now that I think about it, is that my generation, circa birth years between 1965 and 1975? Perhaps this next generation of girls do have it sorted.
They came out of school expecting to go to university, to get jobs, to travel, to find husbands, be promoted, have babies, find childcare, stay slim. And to their credit, for the most part, their life has gone to plan, whatever stage they're at. But it's early days. The hard work is ahead of them. After 20-odd years of marriage, for as joyous as it still is, the shoes aren't quite so shiny and it's much harder to fit into the dress. If you get what I mean. Let alone after 40 years of marriage as some of the older women on the night would attest.
But how do you pass on realistic advice without taking off some of the gloss? So much time and effort and money is spent on making the wedding day perfect when that's the easy part. You think a guest list is hard, wait till you have to choose a school. How much time is ever spent on thinking about how things will take shape after the wedding. It's like pre-natal classes. What's the point really? Before you know it it's all over and you've got this baby for the rest of its life. Same goes with marriage.
But it's not right to be cynical in the face of love. For every bride a wedding day is a truly special day. It stands for hope and love and the promise of a future.
Perhaps those of us who have been married for a while now would do best to look at brides and grooms to be and remember what it was like to say love, honour and cherish, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, and actually start fulfilling that contract again.
And that in itself is probably the best advice you could give. If you think about the words of your wedding day and actually follow it through, you'll be right.
But, if you're a realist like me, and ''I do'' seems too certain, perhaps a little ''I will try my very bloody best and if I don't quite get it remember I still love you'' will have to do.
* Her real name