I wrote this up on Medium recently and I am asking you to forgive me for replaying it here – I’m in a silent moment right now, when words need to be coaxed and bullied to come, so I am offering you something already shaped into a form that is transmissible…
All the little girls in the world are supposed to dream of this. The dream that is encapsulated in the image — the fairy tale dress, the beautiful (and probably virgin) bride, the powerful princely groom… the full happily ever after, in other words. The happy ending. This was where all our childhood fairy tales ended, with the prince and the princess stepping up to be married. Happily Ever After, The End.
What followed that big white extravaganza, the flower strewn aisles, the wedding guests in hats — even, if we took it just a little further, what followed the party that came afterwards, the emotive father-daughter dances, the feasts, the cake, the champagne…?
Why is nobody owning up to looking forward to the MARRIAGE, not the wedding?
I never wanted a “wedding”. Not like that. I didn’t want the drama, the invitations, the planning, the menus, the seating charts, trying to keep a handle on problematic relatives or fractious family sagas and whom to keep away from whom so that they wouldn’t spoil the party, all of that. I ‘married’ my husband when we agreed that we would share our lives together.
The concession I made to the “wedding” part of this was that I put my hair up, and put flowers in my hair. I carried a small posy of flowers. That was it. We had gone to a thrift shop, the day before, and bought rings — a dainty little “wedding set” with bevelled edges and a minute little diamond chip in the “engagement” ring for me, and a plain gold band for him. That was pretty much it, in terms of planning, or preparation.
The courthouse ceremony which was supposed to put an official seal on that was merely dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s — a necessary legality. In fact it was supposed to be only him and me and the officiant — except that his friends (I’d moved into HIS world, his sphere, none of my friends were even remotely near enough to consider it) kept on hearing about the event and asking to come and eventually they had to open up a courtroom for us, because we ended up with some dozen people or so who made their way there to be present at the ceremony of unification. Our officiant must have been slightly flustered by the unexpected audience because she very seriously asked me, “Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded wife?” And I said, “I… suppose so…?”
Everyone laughed and she pinked up and then tried it again and got it right but theoretically I got both a husband AND a wife out of this particular transaction, which doesn’t make it a bad bargain at all.
Our “Reception” consisted of repairing to a nearby restaurant after the official part of the proceedings was over, where one of his friends had managed to procure a cake — not a “wedding cake” multi tiered concoction but just an iced cake with our names on it. It was wedding cake, it was eaten in celebration of a wedding, that was all that mattered.
We didn’t have a registry or even that many “wedding presents” as such.
We just went home and started the rest of our lives, together.
The wedding was in the rear view mirror. It was the MARRIAGE that we were looking forward to.
And what a marriage it was. Full of laughter. Full of sharing. Full of belonging. We were friends and partners as well as husband and wife. We did what was necessary to help and support one another when those needs became known. Whether you consider such a relationship to be two people standing back to back against the world or two people standing side by side and looking resolutely in the same direction, we did that. We looked out for each other, and found a thousand ways to do small things to make one another’s lives better and easier. For me that meant caregiving duties when he was felled by his stroke, and helping him fight his way back from that, step by difficult step. He balked at nothing, nothing was too much trouble or too hard, because whatever he did it was for us. For that shared life, together.
We treasured each other.
There was a large age gap, and it was inevitable that conversations of “not if but when” took place; he told me, “I WANT you to find someone else, when I am gone.” I said, “Don’t be silly it took me more than thirty years to find YOU.”
I was not that “virgin bride”, I was just an ordinary woman. He was not that powerful prince, he was just an ordinary man. (well, he was extraordinary. And he was a prince amongst men, to me. But you know what I mean.) And I never planned a big wedding with a DRESS WITH A TRAIN and FLOWER GIRLS and someone in embroidered vestments and a pointy hat standing at the altar pontificating about “mawwiage”.
But what I got, after the certificate was officially filed and we were considered to be husband and wife, was a shared life. One that I would not have traded for a single one of those trappings that were supposed to be signifiers. It really is not the measure of a marriage, how complicated and exquisite and, well, theatrical the wedding ceremony was. That’s so fairy tale; in modern times, so Hollywood, and even some of the glitziest Hollywood weddings that cost as much as the annual budget of a small independent nation often fall apart after a bare handful of years, if that. It doesn’t matter how zhuzhed up the promise making was. It’s the promises that matter. It’s what comes after the wedding. It’s the weaving together of two hitherto separate lives until they are a single shared life that is led together.
I had that, for twenty years. And then he left me, to “find someone else”, as he expressed a wish for me to do — but even if that eventually, unlooked for and unsearched for, eventuates, it will never fill this hungry shadow that he left in the world in his place. The shadow which knows all my memories, which echoes with a thousand shared laughs, which owns hands that remember holding me if I cried. The shadow that used to be him, and is gone.
I have — I have been told — a somewhat odd sense of humor. We once went to a local restaurant, and the ketchup bottle had a very strange label on it:
There is an odd double meaning there, now. It was funny, back then. Now it makes me want to cry. I wonder which of us is being “recycled” in this metaphor, after having been “used for marriage”.
All I know is that the moment is upon me.
And I am not ready for it.