Will we ever get married?

I always cry at weddings. I’m a sucker for romance and I love the moment when two are finally pronounced one. But at a wedding last summer my tears fell for an entirely different reason: envy.

The happy couple repeated the words that would make them man and wife then, marriage certificate in hand, they made their way outside, to be met only by the cigarette smoke of the next bridal party. It was a functional wedding without any ceremony, but that didn’t matter; the legal stuff was taken care of. The real fairy-tale was to unfold next day where the couple – my (future) stepson and his new wife – would make their own carefully-scripted promises to one another in a second, far more lavish celebration; and it was a production of epic proportions, full of friends, family and photo-opportunities… a wedding with its own hashtag: #bestdayever

We announced our engagement and even bought our wedding rings… Then, somehow, we let life and its responsibilities get in the way.

I know many believe it’s an outdated, unnecessary institution, but to me, marriage remains a relationship deal-sealer. So yes, I was in awe of everything this adorable couple had organised in just a few months (there were lots of spreadsheets) and yes, I was fully invested in helping them make memories that would last a lifetime. But I also envied the youthful self-absorption which had allowed them devote so much time and energy to arranging what my man and I have so far failed to accomplish: marriage.

Should have, could have … My story

We met (for the second time – we’d worked together in the mid ‘80s) six years ago and very quickly decided that we wanted to be together forever. I’d been on my own, professionally successful and fiercely independent, for a long time.

Facebook brought us into contact again… one impulsive message led to a few weeks of online chatter and, eventually, an agreement to meet for a drink. The moment he turned up on my doorstep all 27 years were forgotten, and a couple of weekend visits later we were ready to meet one another’s children. My son’s approval was instant, my daughter and daughter-in-law fell a little bit in love too, telling me that if ever we broke up, they’d keep my new man for themselves. Within a few months I’d sold my house, quit my job and moved 100 miles. His son, too, was excited, encouraging and gracious – even as I turned the minimalist lads’ pad he’d shared with his dad into a cosy, comfortable family home.

I’m sure our experiences are similar to those of many 50-somethings – we’re simply not very good at putting ourselves first. Exhaustion, expense and emotions have put any thoughts of ‘us’ on the back-burner.

Marriage was something we spoke of often – the battle scars of previously-broken vows had faded and, having already made so many changes in order to be together, we wanted that one final commitment. Mindful of what might lie ahead, we had the awkward but necessary discussions Wills, and put pension plans in place. We announced our engagement and even bought our wedding rings…

Then, somehow, we let life and its responsibilities get in the way.

I’m sure our experiences are similar to those of many 50-somethings – we’re simply not very good at putting ourselves first. During the past half-decade our offspring have sought support with (in no particular order): a house renovation; a wedding; a miscarriage; an ectopic pregnancy; a baby; a broken heart; university; a car crash; and, of course, countless financial crises. Time, know-how, shoulders to cry on, energy, and money: we’ve given all selflessly and without complaint – happy, in fact, that our kids still turn to us in their hours of need. In addition we’ve had our own house move (followed days later by a burglary), supported our closest pals through a messy relationship breakdown, nursed my mum through a terminal illness and coped (just) with all that has to be done after someone dies. We’ve each had emergency hospital admissions and we’ve continued to run our businesses. Exhaustion, expense and emotions have put any thoughts of ‘us’ on the back-burner… I suspect it’s an all-too-common scenario for people our age.

Reminded once again that I was ending another year bearing the name of the man I divorced more than a decade ago, on January 1 we resolved not to neglect our nuptials any longer.

We will!

Fortunately we’re surrounded by friends who love the fairy-tale side to our story; they’ve supported us while we’ve supported everyone else, but also urged us to be less selfless and to name the day. Sensing that their excitement might soon turn to exasperation, and reminded once again that I was ending another year bearing the name of the man I divorced more than a decade ago rather than the one with whom my life is now so entwined, on January 1 we resolved not to neglect our nuptials any longer. This will be the year in which we say “I will”!

We can feel the weight of expectation as Valentine’s Day approaches; it’s already been suggested that we could sneak off and make our vows in secret. It’s a nice thought. But though marriage might be about the two of us affirming our love and commitment to one another, ours is always going to be very much a family affair. So I’m afraid February 14 won’t be the date on which we’re finally wed… not all the kids can make it that day!

 

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Gillian Bendall

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