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What about marriage today? 8921 views
When I was 13 years old and probably listening to Total Eclipse of the Heart
(’94 version – Nikki French) I wrote in my blue-sequinned diary that when I got married it would be in an outdoors ceremony at dusk, in a peach orchard. I’d wear a wedding dress with a halter neck – satin and clingy. I’d be carried barefoot into the sunset by my new husband and I’d be twenty-two years old.
Eleven years later and I’m impressed by the definite nature of those plans. It seems that as life plays out, it’s simpler not to make anything too fixed, or too hard to get out of. The world is big and it’s waiting. Chock-a-block full of choices and distractions and work-to-get-done and good times.
We’re all making the years count, not counting the years, and I’ve missed my sunset wedding date by two years, but don’t stop to think why I haven’t noticed. It’s funny and startling what is thrown into people’s paths as they live their everyday lives. It’s heartrending and astonishing what is taken away from them. And it’s a huge, unexpected world.
The idea of pinning everything onto a set of vows – choosing one person, one path in life, for an entire life, out of all the possible ones out there… No wonder I don’t think about that too much. Another coat of varnish on my nails, a week-to-view diary in my bag and no need to flick too many pages ahead.
I haven’t lived a quarter of a century yet and it’s no surprise I’m reluctant to map out my future. But I see and hear people wondering about the same things as me, and I’m realising that age doesn’t give you the right to all the answers either. We’re told we can have it all. It’s a brave thing to narrow down so much possibility – rest everything on one fragile relationship and decide now for forty years ahead. Can there really be one person for us, and is that a question that’s new, or as old as marriage itself?
When I worked in hospitals, I saw the graceful bowing-out of marriages that had lasted half a century. I used to watch the wives and husbands by the beds of their spouse, and I was watching with respect and wonderment. It is no small thing to have your lifetime partner with you at the end, and those couples had made it through it all. You can’t sum up a life in a word, but I wonder what they’d say if someone had asked them to try?
In a hospital ward that was grey and stale, in the eyes of the sick and scared where you see emotions laid out bare, what I saw was gratitude as they watched and held onto each other. I don’t know anything about their marriages but I imagine that it was sacrifice and resolve and humour that carried them through tough years, and not much to do with trying-to-have-it-all.
It’s easy to be nostalgic about a past I don’t know much about. And nowadays there is cynicism at every turn and news stories that make you shrug or shudder, and gloomy statistics, and any number of reasons to think that a happy marriage is a dying privilege that doesn’t fit into our world any more.
I don’t think that’s correct but I’d struggle to argue my case in a debate, because the only thing I know is right, is that scepticism gets beaten hands down next to truer feelings. People get married and people get divorced and I think that the most important of those facts is the first… It says that we don’t change that much through the generations. The divorce statistics may reveal that something is wrong, but there is a starting point that is real. The genuine faith people have in another person, the boldness and strength they get from that person, the happiness, the future planned together and no other way – it’s nothing to do with impracticable romance and everything to do with a human spirit that can’t be altered. So maybe marriage is a proper celebration of such sincerity in a world that’s gone a little off kilter.
“Humans are meant to be in twos” is what I said to someone last summer as we split up. It wasn’t a great statement and it wasn’t a finest moment – said in the sticky early hours of one of the summer’s hottest days, in a dress from the night before and just a slick of lipstick to gloss over any trace of vulnerability. But it was the best way I could express why I didn’t want to be with someone who wouldn’t stay faithful to just me.
I don’t think this left much of an impression on the man, and it didn’t make me run into the arms of someone with strong arms and a loyal heart. But it was a little jolt – a realisation, probably long after everyone else, that in a fickle world, I’m kind of old-fashioned and in the end it’s too damn complex trying to be too much of a modern girl. The way it has always been done works just fine – you stand by your man and you hope and pray that you’ve picked the one who’ll stand by you.
What I said that summer dawn pretty much sums up all I’ve got to say about the whole subject for now. That’s my starting point and I haven’t got much further. I’ll carry on; race through my life until something or someone wakes me up one day to stop me in my tracks. And I guess, then, I’ll be no different to anyone else… pinning my hopes and my heart on a gut feeling that, even if so many others can’t, we can make this thing work.
Because I like the idea of a white dress that is satin and clings. An imperfect fairytale in a world that keeps changing, and a ruby wedding anniversary.
Posted in category: Wedding Talk