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Bride and gloom: the rise of post-nuptial depression

When the wedding day’s over and the bubbly all gone, many brides are hit by feelings of anti-climax and sadness

Sad bride with groom asleep in background

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 Imogen Edwards-Jones

“I am good at the wedding,” declared the actress Whoopi Goldberg, 53, in a recent interview, “it’s the day after that I am not so good at.” Neither, it seems, are the one bride in ten who finds the promise of happily-ever-after elusive. Research by the Californian psychologist Dr Michelle Gannon has found that 10 per cent of American couples seek counselling after experiencing post-nuptial depression — remorse, sadness or frustration — and experts believe that the wedding blues will hit a similar proportion of Britain’s 275,000 brides a year.

“I am not sure if it’s the pressure they put themselves under to achieve the perfect day,” says Andrew, a wedding planner who works in West London, “or if it is the comedown after such an enormous event that has been the focus of their lives for so long. Either way, when they wake up the next day, they find that normal life is a little boring.”

Talk to brides, as I did while researching Wedding Babylon, a look behind the scenes of the happiest day of your life, and the symptoms are obvious. They all spoke of feeling flat after the wedding, of being in tears on the honeymoon and the dreadful empty feeling of anti-climax?” Compound this with the fact that the average couple spends between £20,000 and £24,000 (the equivalent of the annual national wage) on the wedding and that 20 per cent of couples start married life in debt, it is no wonder that new brides are so miserable.

Claire, 31, spent a staggering amount on her Somerset wedding. “It was all over so quickly,” she says. “Then we went on honeymoon and all I remember feeling is hollow and exhausted, as if I had been in a fight. In fact, all Greg and I did was fight.” Annabel, 30, who married in London felt similar. “I spent nearly two years planning the wedding only to think ‘is this it?’ when we got back from the honeymoon. I just sat on my sofa feeling miserable and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t snap out of it.”

It seems that the more we spend on our weddings, the more disappointing they turn out to be. “It is ironic that when weddings were not very expensive in the Fifties, a high proportion of women would consider marrying for money, and now that weddings have reached an exorbitant cost more women than ever say that they would marry only for love,” says Oliver James, the clinical psychologist and author of Affluenza.

What used to be a nice glass of champagne and a slice of cake of an afternoon in the village hall, with all guests getting home by 6pm, has morphed into an epic event. “It’s like going on some long-haul flight,” says James. “It starts at lunch and finishes somewhere after midnight — it’s no wonder that the couples finds the whole thing too much.” Once the adrenalin wears off, the downer is often physical — exhaustion, colds, flu and other viruses.

I remember spending the first three days of my own honeymoon ten years ago in Positano, Italy, in tears. I had never felt more tired and my ability to cope with anything stressful evaporated. My poor husband thought that he’d married a neurotic woman who cried at the menu and couldn’t even decide whether to go to the beach or sit by the pool. One bride spent the first week of her honeymoon in Thailand in bed, not with her husband but with flu.

Another, Katherine, who had a five-day marathon £50,000 wedding in Ibiza, spent her Kenyan honeymoon so feverish that she was convinced she had contracted malaria. “Which was of course impossible,” she says. “As I had only just arrived. But we came home after five, instead of

ten days. “The honeymoon is notoriously bad,” agrees James. “The run-up is like Christmas times ten and the couple are totally worn out by the time they get there. Then they are supposed to have sex and they have usually been living together before, so that stopped being exciting long ago, and will inevitably be some sort of let-down and then when you get home everyone wants to know ‘how was it?’ Just another holiday, really.”

The novelist Rachel Johnson agrees: “The honeymoon is when the wheels come off. There is too much pressure on it to be perfect. It’s better to save it for later. I spent my ‘honeymoon’ chairing a meeting of Euro policy planners in Brussels and took it much later which meant that we had something to look forward to.” Daisy Waugh, the author of Bed of Roses, adds: “The best thing to do is to get away from each other as fast as possible. It is the only way to deal with the grim sort of life-is-at-an-end, jail-doors-closing claustrophobia that nearly always hits post nuptials.”

According to a vicar who presides over a popular Central London church, couples focus only on the wedding and don’t think about married life. “Most couples spend more time planning a holiday than they do thinking about what it is like to be married,” he says. “Also, many come from broken homes so that they don’t have any good examples to follow. They see the wedding as an end in itself when it is only the beginning.”

Eve Pollard, the author and former editor of Wedding Day magazine, agrees. “The first year is difficult. You need to set boundaries of behaviour. I remember watching the pile of freshly laundered shirts stack up and I thought it behoved me to try and iron one. I did it very badly indeed, slightly on purpose. I never saw the pile again.”

For a generation of women brought up on the I’m Worth It culture of celebrity, their wedding day is the one day when they get to have their hair done, drink champagne and live the dream. “It is the Queen Bee syndrome,” says James. “The only problem is that, much like after you’ve had a baby and people stop visiting just as the baby blues set in, so all the wedding attention disappears just when you need it most.”

He blames the growth in “princess culture” epitomised by Katie Price’s ill-fated marriage to Peter Andre when she wore a huge pink net gown, arriving in a large pink pumpkin coach. All the brides I interviewed talked about wanting to be a “princess for a day” or about wanting the whole “Cinderella package”. “It seems mainly to affect women born after about 1970,” says James. “They have moved in the opposite direction to feminism. Young girls have been infected with a pink princess culture that embraces an overt and conspicuous femininity.”

No wonder then that when the attention dies and the focus moves elsewhere so many brides feel flat and miserable. So where do they turn? They call their old mate The Planner, of course. Repeatedly. Sometimes obsessively. Andrew has had phone calls in the middle of the night. Drunken calls. He’s even asked to organise other parties, any parties, just so that they can carry on talking to him.

“You can see why it happens,” he says. “I have been their confidant, their friend, their ally. We have shared a lot. I’ve spoken to them anything up to eight or nine times a day. The problem is that they get married, go on honeymoon and when they come back things have moved on. I am on to the next bride, giving her all my attention, and often they find it a little difficult. They mostly call up for a few weeks afterwards. I always have a drink with them, a glass of champagne, so we can talk about the wedding, look at the photos and I tell them how pretty they looked, and we usually get some sort of closure,” he smiles.

So how not to end up like one bride I spoke to whose husband left after her eight months while she was still paying off the wedding? Suggestions range from keeping a treasure chest of mementoes to organising a reunion dinner and taking up yoga to fill in those hours not spent thinking about flowers and shoes. As Andrew counsels, perhaps a little more abstemiousness wouldn’t go amiss. “Then again,” he says, “it wouldn’t be a wedding, would it? And I wouldn’t have a job.”

Wedding Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous, Bantam Press (£14.99)

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