The first year of marriage

May 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s early morning.  My husband is sitting outside on the verandah in the cool morning air with our three cats, awaiting the delivery of the newspaper.

Tomorrow is our first wedding anniversary.  It’s been years since I’ve completed a Year That Was post, but I am compelled to look back over our first year of marriage and reflect on our journey so far.

Getting married was something of an internal struggle for me (or perhaps it wasn’t that internal).  When I was a teenager I thought, like most other teenagers, that I knew what I wanted out of life.  I was going to get married young, have a nice rich husband and be a stay-at-home mum to our five kids for most of my life.  So intent was I on this destiny that I almost dropped out of high school in my final year.  My parents managed to convince me to stick it out for the last few months, but my TEE scores weren’t what they should have been and at their behest I ended up half-heartedly enrolling in a uni degree with some vague and wafty title of mass communications.  Realising very quickly that further study was not for me (read: I was never going to find my rich husband mooching around a uni campus) I pulled out and got myself into full time work in the heart of the city.  It’s at this point in my life, around 17, that I was introduced to the yuppie lifestyle of hard work and hard play, hot men and sexy women, drugs, alcohol, restaurants, bars, ridiculous amounts of cash and constant party, party, party.

After immersing myself into this lifestyle for several years, I came out the other side realising two things.  One, I was very unlikely to ever have children.  Two, marriage wasn’t the answer to my life like I had once thought it to be.  In fact it was more than just that as I realised I had become deeply conflicted about the concept of marriage.  

After doing a serious lot of growing up over the last five or so years, I realised just how independent and fiercely strong I could be if I wanted to.  My alter-ego, Chase, was the confident, independent, sexy free spirit that came and went as she pleased.  Men (women) and relationships were just a game; it was all for entertainment.  She could manipulate people to get the things she wanted or needed in her life without the tangles of commitment.  And this one had no intentions of ever being tied down to a husband.  Just give her a soapbox to stand on and she would go for hours about the idiocy of such an outdated, sexist and constraining institution called marriage.

But my real self was just as fragile as she always had been, if not more so after years of reckless behaviour and too much alcohol and drugs.  My real self craved the security and safety of a committed relationship, she craved the true love that would keep her buoyed throughout life.  She needed the weight of a ring on her finger to keep her grounded and prove to her that she would always belong to someone, someone who would look after her when she herself couldn’t or wouldn’t.

After falling in a bit of a hole in my very early twenties, I was very much in touch with the fragile part of myself and consequently came quite close to being engaged.  I had fallen in love with a much older man named Rome.  He eventually fell in love with me too but our paths in life didn’t end up joining like we thought they would.  Over the years as he was slowly falling in love with me, I was slowly falling out of love with him.  Tragically, I didn’t realise this until after we had put a deposit on a diamond for my engagement ring and I honestly believe his heart broke when I came home one night and told him that I couldn’t marry him.  It was a horrific period of my life and while I wholeheartedly regret hurting him the way I did, I also know that I escaped the fate of an unhappy marriage by the skin of my teeth.

Conversely, after Adam left his wife and family I was too quick and eager.  I wanted to get married but for all the wrong reasons.  Adam was my ultimate catch, my triumph and a wedding would just seal the deal – it would be the cherry on top of the sweetest win I’d ever had and ever would have.  He did well to placate me at the time and murmur agreeance in all the right places, knowing that over time I would slowly mellow out and settle down and continue to grow up.  Which of course I did, and it was at this point that we started to grow together.  After shuffling around each other for the first couple of years, trying to find our own niche in this new partnership, we ended up settling into a very comfortable, very secure, very loving relationship.  And I inevitably returned once again to the question of marriage.

My Mum used to say to me that “she just knew” that my Dad was “the one”, or some such thing.  I thought it was total rubbish at the time, being a staunch disbeliever of soulmates, destiny, “The One” or other similar nonsense.  But, as with many things, my Mum was right in the end.  Though several parts of my subconscious (and conscious) were screaming in protest, I knew that Adam was the one.  Maybe not my soulmate or “The One”, but he was the one I was going to marry.  Perhaps he wasn’t going to be the only one, but he was definitely the first one.  It felt easy, it felt safe and most of all it just felt right – there’s no other way to explain it.

After we got engaged, there was some debate around the wedding – namely that I didn’t want one.  It seemed I wasn’t completely done with my alter-ego who stomped her foot, crossed her arms and fiercely announced that it was a registry wedding with two witnesses or no wedding at all.  Adam, friends and family gently (then not so gently) pushed the traditional ceremony/reception/white dress etc, believing that it was the best thing for me and that I would eventually come to regret not having a wedding.  I capitulated in the end and I roll my eyes as I think of the irony which is that I do have regret, but only that I didn’t hold my ground and stick to what I really wanted.

Our wedding ended up being a beautiful day with perfect weather, a long white dress, a gorgeous ceremony, good food, good wine and great company.  It also involved a terrible cake, the world’s worst Canadian DJ, a strapped ankle and a lot of other small compromises.  Adam had a ball and while I did enjoy the day and more importantly what it represented, I will always, always feel like I sold a piece of my soul by not getting married the way I really wanted to.  I secretly imagine being in a little white dress with peep-toe kitten heels and a birdcage veil, holding my husband’s hands in the registrar’s office with our parents beside us.

Thankfully the style of wedding hasn’t and doesn’t impact on the nature of our marriage.  So what is the nature of our marriage?  What wisdom have I gleaned in the first year of married life?

Marriage, like any other relationship, is hard work.  There’s no two ways about it.  What really, really, really annoys me is people who prattle on about how wonderful and happy their relationship is while totally glossing over the imperfections or the fact that they are unhappy at times or things aren’t going so well or it’s really hard work.  If people were as concerned with their actual relationship as they are about what others think of their relationship, surely there’d be a lot more happy people out there.

Sex and the City had it right though (at least in their second movie, not the first one).  The trick to marriage is making your own rules and finding what works for you – not what works for your friends or your parents or anyone else you know.  Just what works for you and your partner.  My marriage with Adam is unique in many ways from a “traditional” marriage.  We have an age difference of 13 years that spans between us.  We only have kids half of our time – which is by no means unique these days, but certainly different from the very traditional marriages of old.  We swing occasionally and allow the freedom of different sexual partners if the circumstances are right.  And we both understand that nothing is forever, that nothing is guaranteed – not even marriage.  We understand that we may fall out of love or become different people or maybe even one day divorce.  It’s what we do in the face of that risk that defines our commitment to each other and to our marriage.

Though unexpected, there was quite a honeymoon period for me after we first got married.  It surprised me because we had been together for almost five years but after getting married, it was like falling in love all over again.  Everything seemed sweeter because we were husband and wife.  Taking Adam’s surname was a very exciting part of the marriage experience for me – in truth one of the main reasons I wanted to get married at all.  It’s very anti-feminist and very anti-alter-ego of me, but I loved the idea that I could be identified as someone’s wife just by my name.  In the same way that a ring makes a statement about who I am, so too does the surname.  Both these seemingly trivial symbols became surprisingly significant to me.

After the honeymoon period of six or so months settled down, I found myself in a startlingly different position – I wasn’t sure if I was happy.  I had been doing a lot of heartfelt writing and it occurred to me one day whilst I was going back over some of it that I had also been doing a lot of crying over the last few months as well, mostly in secret.  So I sat down with Adam and we talked about why I was struggling.  It was mostly about the kids and how I was coping (or more to the point, not) with them.  We had been going through peaks and troughs with our sex life which had been unpleasant for both of us.  And I was worried that we weren’t talking and really connecting any more.  Overall it was an icky period for us as it’s not something that can just be resolved out of one or two deep and meaningful conversations.  And shortly after that conversation, I got it in my head that I wanted to have sex with this boy I had met through work.  I won’t rehash all of that as a lot of the subsequent fallout and exploration is documented here already, but looking back on the whole debacle it’s almost like that was the jolt that our relationship needed.  We came close enough to the edge that we got that giddy rush of fear and so we both pulled back from the precipice, clinging to each other breathlessly.

And you know, if that’s what it takes to keep us happy and together, if we’re destined to go through this cycle every year or every couple of years, it’s what works for us.  I would rather face all these trials and fears and challenges together than sink into a quiet, habitual, lonely marriage where both parties are just keeping up appearances for the sake of it.  I would rather yell and scream and drive off to my parents house after an argument than sit in the bathroom and silently bawl; I would rather admit my lust for another man than deny my feelings or worse, cheat on my husband.  I would rather sit in front of my husband in tears and tell him that I’m not sure if I’m happy than suck it up for a decade and realise after all that time that we fell out of love nine years ago.  This is the nature of marriage for us.  We are always honest, regardless of the price, regardless of the pain.

I like to think I know a lot about love and relationships – I’ve had a fair bit of experience with them both in my short years.  In reality, there is no way to measure or compare what I know – we don’t know what we don’t know.  As Tolstoy says, there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.

What I do know is that my husband and I share the same love.  I know that I wear a ring and a surname that he gave to me and I wear them with pride.  I know that we will give our marriage everything we have for as long as we possibly can.  I know that our first year of marriage is only the beginning.

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