Now we’ve been married for as long as the three-and-a-half weeks I was in Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital before my transfer to the Rusk Institute, I thought it might be time to scribble down some thoughts about what just happened – figure out what it was all about….
The first thing to note is how happy I am that Beth and I have had a chance to share this experience together. I’m reminded of the perseveration and emotional lability that followed my stroke, and how they combined into a terror that the beautiful young woman who had helped me through the worst would surely eventually in her exhaustion run out of the sense of duty that kept her hanging around with this broken and often disappointing old dude. But it turns out, if she was going to pack me in, her greatest justification would have been in me underestimating her!
And now we’ve gotten married, I’ve discovered that, kind of like a stroke, when you’re going through one, weddings seem to pop up all over the place.
Recently, I’ve stumbled across articles like 13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married (a good one, I think), Love in the Age of Living for Ever: Could your Marriage Last 80 Years?, Men Who Don’t Wear Wedding Bands, and So What if You’re Wedding Day Isn’t Perfect?
Which I guess all goes to show there’s still bank to be made from the ol’ Wedding-Industrial Complex.
And last week, BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed covered a new research piece in Sociological Review called Wedding Paradoxes: Individualised Conformity and the Perfect Day. The article, by Julia Carter, a senior lecturer in sociology at Canterbury Christchurch University, asks
[when m]arriage rates in twenty-first-century Britain are historically low, divorce and separation are historically high, and marriage is no longer generally seen as necessary for legitimate sexual relationships, long-term partnership or even parenting… why have a wedding, especially an ornate, expensive and time-consuming wedding, when there appears to be little social need to do so?
And she asks this by conducting “a small qualitative sample of 15 interviews with white, heterosexual celebrants,” natch.
In their conversation, Julia Carter and Laurie Taylor discuss how respondents cite motivations like romance, religion, and tradition, and how tradition isn’t always what it seems. To my surprise, Julia Carter says that while white weddings might be traced back to Queen Victoria, their popularity was thereafter mostly within the upper classes, and they didn’t become a thing more generally until the 1980s.
Some years ago, pre-stroke, Beth and I discussed how we didn’t see marriage in our futures. So I’m wondering, “What changed?”
Among all sorts of variables, I suppose that going through a health crisis together raises for a couple the fact that so much within the areas of healthcare and crisis and, Gord forbid, death, is simplified by the legal fact of marriage. And that’s not, says this former lawyer, to discount romance – the British government has examined the way Beth and I conduct our romance in great detail and come to the conclusion that Our Thing is A Thing, piece of paper or not.
But there is, I would say, something deeply loving about legally and consciously agreeing to put your most vulnerable self in the care and trust of someone you trust and love. And something just as deeply loving about agreeing to accept that responsibility.
So it was kind of odd to find in the face of that import and weight that the fairly progressive field of Scots family law only offers the legal option of civil partnership – without the connotations of patriarchy and religious rites – to gay couples.
Not that I’m getting all jealous, or anything. I assume that the existence of Scots civil partnership is a hangover from its introduction during the prior illegality of same-sex marriage. It was certainly a relief that the time Beth and I felt the need to tie the knot didn’t pre-date the introduction of same-sex marriage in Scotland.
Dan Savage, the relationship guru pictured above, is particularly interesting on the subject of what constitutes a successful marriage.
If your mother had been hit by a bus on the way to the lawyer [to divorce your father], everyone would have gone, “Oh, 49 years together — they had a successful marriage.” But 49 years and then they part — that’s an “unsuccessful marriage.” Because we define success in marriage as death…
And this sobering thought is brought into sharper focus by the article Love in the Age of Living Forever. As marriages increasingly run into spans that exceed, say, 40 years, it’ll be increasingly important to view marriages as evolving arrangements.
And perhaps that’s another contribution our collective battle through stroke has had – Beth and I have had to adopt different roles at different times, and see our relationship adapt and deepen. One of the most novel aspects of now being married after years of being partners has been the opportunity to try on new hats as spouses.
That particular article ends with various pieces of advice for long-term relationship – learn how to argue, for example. And it’s been great for me – as a historically buttoned-up Scot – to be with a woman who is archetypally American in her forthrightness.
As a Scottish friend once remarked to Beth when she asked him how he found it, dating an American –
“It’s great – she actually tells me what she’s thinking!”
Which is great advice for all of us, men and women alike – use your words.
Some of the other advice is pretty good, too – not least continue to flirt with each other. And the one where this post seems to be heading – embrace change – “Don’t let this make you anxious. Be open to finding out that your partner isn’t exactly as you had imagined.”
That’s great advice. At least, I think so. Maybe I had better confirm that with my wife.
P.S. – That New York Times article this weekend about Men Who Don’t Wear Wedding Bands? Yeah, the psychotherapist they consulted said it signifies pretty much what you might expect. So it’s unfortunate that within a day of the picture at the top of the post, my ring was either (A) in my favourite airport, or (B) somewhere else in the world.
But perhaps it’s more encouraging that we knew each other well enough to know that this was a possibility, and therefore the rather cool Edinburgh skyline ring could be easily and reasonably replaced before it had accrued even more sentimental worth. Here’s to my wife for being so forgiving of my uselessness when tired, while being true to herself in her justified disappointment.
So I added not losing the replacement to my vows when Beth placed it on my finger!