Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A Few Stern Thoughts on Marriage

Obviously, I've been thinking a lot about marriage lately. About what it means for me, for us, for the future; both the good things and the bad things, and I think there are numerous of each. For a while I didn't want to get married at all, ever; I wasn't prepared to take part in an institution that didn't accept all humans as equal, and I don't and never have considered marriage to be a pre-requisite of anything, or proof of the validity of any relationship.

I felt, and still do feel, that a wedding and a marriage are two almost separate things. Having been engaged for over a year now I can confirm that my worst preconceptions about weddings are in fact truths: weddings are about women, not men; they appear to be designed to play to the most traditional and repressive stereotypes that exist between the sexes, and women seem to love it. There are no bows on our invites, which has caused a stir in a way that truly terrifies me; ours will be a wedding free of all the sentimental feminine cliché: no bows, no love hearts, and no pink roses. There will, however, be an off-white (oyster?) dress, I will walk down the aisle by my father, and I will - probably - shave my legs for the occasion. I was originally planning to wear a green dress and for us to come into the ceremony together - as a couple, the way we plan to spend our married lives, incidentally - but having picked apart every traditional aspect of the wedding day itself, I have settled for those traditions that can actually mean something to me. Because let's not pretend that a woman is walked down the aisle by her father as a symbol of ownership and a dowry trade-off; in 2013 I think we can safely assume that the father is not playing any symbolic role, but is actually just supporting his daughter in one of the most important commitments she will make. Personally I'm looking forward to that precious few minutes with my Dad, linking his arm for maybe the first time ever, and knowing that the whole gesture is probably just as emotional for him as it will be for me.

In my Mum's wedding dress. One of the many weddingy things I've encountered that just wasn't 'me'!
So I have tried really hard not to lose sight of the fact that my wedding day is about a commitment, one I will be making with every inch of my being, and not about the guest list or the invites or the table decorations. It's been hard when faced with dozens of enthusiastic sales people, all trying to sell me the most beautiful and traditional wedding a woman could ever dream of. In the midst of all of this a friend confided that the parts of the day she remembers the most - and the parts she found to be the most emotional - were the vows and her husband's speech: that is, the words she and her now-husband exchanged, most notably those words that made the essential commitment to their lives together. So far this is the single most important piece of knowledge that any married person has shared about their day, and I've kept it solidly in mind for the duration of our planning so far.

I've found myself fiercely defending our choice to get married, both to those who are outwardly cynical about the whole idea, as well as to those who I suspect may be cynics of lifelong commitment. We were recently at a neighbour's party where almost every other guest was divorced, and we were both self-conscious about our perceived naivety among the crowds of knowing hindsight. But still I defend our decision to get married, completely and whole-heartedly, and I believe that we have a right to the optimism that we share in these earliest years of our relationship. Without optimism that it's all going to work out - that we'll still be madly in love in 50 years' time, let's say - then what do we have? What is there without hope and good intention? That's not an existence that I want to be involved in, anyway.

The defining moment in my continuous dialogue with myself about my feelings towards marriage was on the train to Leeds after work one day. The journey was an extension of the Carlisle-Settle line, and there would often be day-trippers travelling back to Leeds armed with a flask of tea, some scones and a guide book on the treasured route that the train takes, which shows off much of the North's most incredible scenery from the comfort and warmth of a train carriage. An old couple, probably in their 70s, were sitting together with their flask, not talking much but occasionally pointing out of the window at something noteworthy. When the train began to pull in to Leeds the man got up, brought the coats and bags down from the overhead rack, and then helped his wife into her coat before they painstakingly made their way to the door. It was then that I saw the importance (to me) of marriage, the idea of lifelong love, but more importantly friendship, that we will inevitably need more and more as time goes on. When my Gran was in a nursing home she said that her biggest regret was not realising until it was too late that her husband was her best friend. Luckily for me, I've already realised what an amazing friendship Daniel and I share, and I intend to take this on into the best and worst bits of my life to come.

So I'm having a lot of thoughts about marriage. And about the wedding too, which I am getting increasingly more excited about as time goes on. But already I feel a change in myself, as I see Daniel as the person I'll be sharing forever with and not just the other half of my relationship. We're a team now, and I stop and remind myself of that each time I find myself snapping or getting impatient with him: dealing with disagreements has become almost a pleasure, as we wind our way through the complicated dealings of life together. My journey to my wedding day has already been a long one, and the decision to leave the bows from the invites was just one of the many superficial choices we have made in an effort to signify what the day is about for us (not just for me). But I'm paying a great deal of attention to the words, because somehow we have to make an out loud commitment to something that is becoming more and more deeply routed inside us with every day we share together - as I said to Daniel after he proposed, the commitment has already been made, and now we get to find a way to make it outward-facing, with all of the optimism and wonder that lies between us.

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