I'm ten years into my second marriage, and we've had plenty of good times. But it is weathering the storms that truly strengthens usby Cathy Rentzenbrink / March 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
My husband Erwyn and I have just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and it does feel like a significant achievement. It’s my second time around, which definitely makes me more inclined to put in effort. With my first marriage I thought a hint of a problem meant that we were not right for each other and should immediately decamp to new arrangements. Now I’ve learned that marriage—and probably any long-term relationship with another human being—demands hard work and perseverance if it is to survive and thrive.
This isn’t rocket science but the dominance of romance in our culture, and the vast amounts of books and films that end with the tying of the knot, presents us with the idea that a wedding signals our arrival into a safe haven. We have found our soul mate! All we need to do is pledge to stay together for better for worse, for richer for poorer, without much idea of what that will actually mean.
We are spending more on weddings than ever and yet almost half of us will end up getting divorced. We collude in a mass act of denial about this, though surely many wedding guests privately speculate whether a union will last as they sing along to “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” and hope that we will all be forgiven our foolish ways.
My first marriage was a lavish extravaganza for 170 at the local stately home, paid for by my parents. All my relatives and the customers from our pub got hammered on the unlimited open bar as the more middle-class golf clubby, bridge players from the groom’s side probably looked on aghast… though I can’t say for sure because I was too drunk to notice. Two people ended up in hospital and my Dad fell over on the dance floor while singing “The Irish Rover” and cut his face open, splashing the ludicrously expensive floral displays with his blood.
My second try felt very different and more grown-up. I didn’t think I’d want to get married again, but I was pregnant and suddenly decided it would be nice for us to feel like a family. We went to a registry office and then the upstairs room of a nearby restaurant and paid for it ourselves. It was Easter Saturday, there were 30 of us, and just a few vases of daffodils on the tables. “Are you sure you want to change your name?” Erwyn said. “You’ll get very bored spelling it out for people.”
Ten years on we have had lots of good times but it is weathering the storms that strengthens us. The sudden death of my father-in-law, other family illnesses, my own dips in and out of depression, hard times at work, the drudge of daily life, the cocktail of love, fear and boredom that is raising a child. And Brexit was a curve ball we weren’t expecting. My husband is not the only EU national married to a British person who sometimes wishes he wasn’t so tied to this country that doesn’t seem to want him anymore. We do it all together, not always gracefully, not always without resentment and grumbling, but with a pinch of good humour and the knowledge that we are both doing our best. We muddle on through.
On our mantlepiece we have a photo of my maternal grandparents on their wedding day. They too got married on Easter Saturday and she was pregnant, which was still a matter for shame in 1950. The photo is black and white but I have a newspaper clipping that tells me the bride wore a pale blue taffeta dress, wore pink gloves and carried a spray of pink carnations. The reception for 20 guests was held at the home of the bride and their honeymoon was one night in a hotel in Newquay 30 miles away. They never had much in the way of money, but their marriage lasted until death parted them and wasn’t harmed by the absence of multi-venue stag and hen nights or a dove release at the moment of the vows.
The advice that I yearn to give young couples caught up in the wedding hoopla is to lower their expectations of each other. It’s not romantic, is it? No one will have that iced onto a cake, but it’s the most important thing to keep in mind once the romantic comedy of the wedding turns into the long-running soap opera of marriage. Soul mates you may be, but this advice will give you the best chance of your partnership outlasting all the kitchen appliances that somehow ended up on the wedding list and that neither of you can work out how to use.