It’s been six months since I got divorced.
In the time elapsed, I’ve met my soul mate, and with the usual Sufi tendency of throwing normality to the wind, we are already wondering when we’ll be able to do our own sort of marriage – albeit more of a picnic affair, with a bit of wedding thrown in for good measure.
Most people will clearly think I am one currant short of an Eccles cake for even contemplating throwing my lot in with a new man, not only so soon after my first marriage was dissolved, but that being a marriage that I’d also rushed into (four months after we’d first met). But there’s been a long, slow evolution in my understanding of marriage, and I’d like to share it with you.
The word ‘marriage’ sends tremors up the spines of most of the Western world. Either it’s a woman contemplating the horrors of bra strap tanlines when putting on a strapless wedding gown, or a groom wondering if he’ll have a panic attack and stuff the priest’s face into the bride’s bouquet, or the in-laws jointly hoping that it’ll be worth the cost incurred and all the hoo-ha generated.
What seems to worry us is not so much whether everything is fine now between the happy (though slightly nauseous with stage fright) couple, but how everything will be in the future for them. Most of this, it must be said, is going through the heads of potential brides, often before a potential mate has even shown his face on set. It sounds a something like this:
“How will we earn a living when I have a baby? What if he goes off me when I’m saggy from breastfeeding? Would we move to the countryside? Will I ever like his friends? Where will we send our kids to school? Would we go on holiday to places like Tuscany and the Algarve, or would it be more of a Manhattan/Tokyo type relationship? Where will we retire? Will he be rugged and sporty but tend towards paunchiness and early hair loss later in life? AND WILL I HAVE TO CHANGE MY SURNAME TO ‘BOGIE’??”
In short, the concept of marriage does not mean ‘letting it be known publicly that these two are in a sincere, close relationship and want to celebrate it’, but instead it means ‘the plan of how two people’s lives will be forcibly intertwined forever and ever, mortgaging their souls to the lifelong expectation of wedded bliss’.
Well, maybe you could call me just a tiny bit cynical. I’m certain there are plenty of soul mates out there who are up to their eyeballs in wedded bliss, who are so easy in their togetherness that they don’t ever need to worry about how things will pan out.
It’s true that in the petalled flush of love no obstacle seems too great to somersault. And I’ll bet that if that love is strong and sure enough, it would be so rooted in their reality that the winds of change might knock out a few bird’s nests, shake off leaves, ripen and strike down fruit, but the love would keep thriving. Like two trees that have grown around one another, sheltering each other’s shape. This love does exist. It is rare, but real.
So when does the tingling momentum of love start crystallising into shapes like the Bogies’ imaginary wedding, above? When the euphoria of sharing your life – this present moment – sigues into the plotting of shared lifetimes that stretch away into the future in rows of neat articles, numbered one to fifteen trillion. Now you’re not sharing your lives on the horizontal plane, in every facet, sickness and health, good times and bad, but on the vertical plane, in the undefinable, unplannable realms of what comes next.
The sharing slips into comfortably physical forms. Instead of telling your lover about a funny dream you had about the cat, and a moment of total joy you experienced while watering the geraniums, as your partner listens agog, eyes molten pools of adoration, you are sharing bank accounts, the sofa to watch the telly, a nice bedshirt you rather want to nick off him. Instead of hugging under a cloud of duvet and wishing this moment would never end, you are scheduling activities for later that week: cinema trips, the weeding, fixing a kitchen cupboard door, even (shudder) washing up rotas.
I’ve done it. I’m not immune. It is too easy to ignore what is going on inside when it is nebulous, confusing, unhappy, angry, hopeless, or just plain numb. Some of us have been so well pumped with brainly information that we haven’t got a clue where our hearts are at. So relationships drift into tensions, covered up with plans, thinking ahead, worrying. Stoppering up our ears when our hearts are screaming for attention.
The sane ones nurse their limping relationships back to health by doing whatever is necessary to find out who they are. The really sane ones find out who they are before getting into a relationship, before the surprises happen, the disappointments sink in, the resentments ferment.
Instead of looking for a person who will plug a gap in their personalities, they fill those holes for themselves, from the inside out. There’s no need for dependencies, insecurities, power struggles: you are whole, and when you find another person who is likewise whole, you overlap like two circles of coloured paper to find a new colour in the overlapping Vesica.
So that is my vision of why people would want to get married, why I want to get married again. I feel like it’s already happened spontaneously, and all that remains is to have a party. It is not a state to enter into, contriving it, but one that you might find yourself in already: your present overlaps with his. With trust that you can share anything of importance with this person in your life, the future gleams with bold, vivid blankness.
Heraclitus wrote: “You cannot step into the same river twice”. Time is a river; we don’t know where it’ll take us. But there’s only one way to enter that current, and that’s to step into the water.