The tabloids will be full of it on Sunday. Lurid headlines will attempt to add drama to the occasion to attract the public’s attention as they browse the news stands.
“We’d a grand lunch”
“Chatted away fine”
On Saturday, two wonderful couples will meet for the first time in a restaurant somewhere in Cork. They will enter into a relationship – not in a car keys in a bowl sort of way – which they will hopefully have to maintain for the rest of their lives. Because within a few weeks, they’ll be in-laws. Whether they like it or not.
Many people spend time wondering whether they will find someone with whom they are compatible. But they do have a certain amount of control over it. The transition from glassy-eyed stare in a crowded pub to lifelong commitment is full of small incremental steps, each one building up the infrastructure of getting along.
But spare a thought for the parents. They’ve no choice as to who they get as in-laws. They are thrown together by their self-obsessed offspring who, completely unreasonably, thought only of their own happiness.
It’s like a reverse arranged marriage.
“Mothers, Fathers, my fiancée and I have been discussing this and now that we are getting married we’ve arranged that you are all to become friends.“
“But we don’t even know each other”
“You’ll get to know each other and you will like each other”
“You can’t just make us like someone. We want to choose who we fall in like with”
“That’s enough of that silly talk now, behave yourselves.”
In our case I’m confident there shouldn’t be any problems. All participants are pretty sound with no strange foibles. I don’t expect any of them will make occasional yelping noises during dinner or insist on leaving a space at the table for Lady Tonkles the Pixie Queen. (She’s away this weekend anyway).
One can only imagine how much of a strain these meetings must be though, when one side is at a completely different social level. For example if you happened to be hanging around Rome in the early 1500s and started doing a line with a woman called Lucrezia Borgia, then you were storing up one hell of a tense lunch for your parents.
Lucrezia was in fact the daughter of the Pope. If your son was marrying the Pope Alexander VI’s daughter, it’s fair to say the suit you wore to the GAA dinner dance would not do. You would also be well-served learning every edition of grace before meals you could find (including the old, harsh version which said that you must gouge out your neigbour’s eye if he didn’t eat his broccoli). And no matter how well prepared you were, it must still have been a very fraught experience. How would you engage in small talk?
Pope: So Finbarr, Lucrezia tells me you work in insurance. How’s business?
Finbarr: Ah not too bad, Your Holiness. Busy enough now, although this latest Plague has put the kibosh on a lot of things you know. But sure we’ll struggle on I suppose. And yourself, how are things going for you?
Pope: I’m the Pope – so things are going pretty well
Also it would probably be best to let the Pope lead the questioning lest you say something you shouldn’t:
Noreen: And how about your lady wife, your Eminence, will she be joining us?
Pope [Silent stony Papal glare]
Noreen (blushing):… I mean like.. em…These new potatoes are lovely altogether. They’re like balls of flour.
Looking further back in history, to antiquity, there are many florid accounts of epic love stories but usually the narrative lacks the essential ingredient of the drama when the hero and heroine’s parents meet for the first time.
The story of Helen of Troy has fascinated historians throughout the ages but there is no account of what happened when Paris’s parents, Priam and Hecuba, met Helen’s mother and father, Leda and Zeus, leader of the Greek gods.
Priam and Hecuba were themselves no slouches, being the king and queen of Troy but even so, they must have been on tenterhooks.
If talking to the Pope would be hard, imagine talking to a fully fledged god. Expressing even the mildest of complaints about the weather could lead to a bolt of lightning zinging its way across the table. Alternative topics would need to be chosen:
Hecuba (Smiling nervously): So Leda tell me how did you two meet?
Leda: Oh this fella. He’s such a charmer. He landed in my yard, disguised as a swan. One thing led to another ….
Hecuba: [blushing] Oh… right. There’s a grand stretch in the evenings these days isn’t there?
Zeus: I did that.
When Saturday comes, thankfully there will be no human/swan anecdotes at the inter-parental conference. There will be a frank and open exchange of views, mostly about Nama. And on the sidelines, herself and meself will be watching. All proud.