On the first of September two years ago, I was my mother’s bridesmaid. I wore the dress she’d donned back in 1983, when she married the same groom she stood beside thirty years later – my father. I had flowers in my hair and tissues up my sleeve because cry, I did.
I joke that I’m Girl Most Likely to return from a two-week yoga retreat married to a man I met on the first night, photographs proving how a chap dressed as Elvis told us to solemnly treasure each other til death (or the first signs of general inconvenience) do us part.
Because I’ve seen friends, cousins, bloggers I stalk like I’ve been trained by the mafia, chase that blood diamond like a hunting hound, changing their name and their character to get a joint bank account, I’ve not taken weddings – marriage – seriously.
I just didn’t get it.
Why get married, I often declared at parties and dinners, when there’s so much paperwork to file when you divorce? Girls like me dance in clubs with husbands like yours, I’ve thought to myself, remembering men kissed in dark corners of bars who tell you about their wife at home afterwards, if at all. I’ve had work colleagues sleeping with new fathers and seen domestic abuse too close to home. Little lies. Big deceptions.
The hurt we cause each other, the things we’re capable of doing, well. I’ve wanted no part in it. And I thought anybody who did was a goddamn idiot. Staking your life on somebody else’s fidelity are odds not even the biggest gambler would put his cash on. There’s too much evidence to the contrary.
Part of those doubts exist most likely because I’m yet to meet my own husband. Part probably reside in us all. Part of them, though, definitely cemented when Mama stopped wearing her wedding ring six years ago. Dad never wore one in the first place.
I work really hard to make sure the only story I tell in my writing is mine, and the story of my parents doesn’t belong to me. But it is a part of my history when I say, yes, there’s not a single marriage I hold up as an example of what I want my own commitment to look like, because none are without problem.
Most marriages, as far as I can see, are business contracts and sperm donations. Mutually beneficial transactions. Love must play a part somewhere, and sometimes even the biggest part, but most relationships I see don’t continue for love alone – there’s too much pain. I’ve spent a long time understanding implicitly that people cheat. That we self-sabotage and deliberately screw over our lovers and willingly make choices that rip apart the lives of not only the one we’re pledged to be with for eternity, but also our children’s lives, and our parent’s lives, and our neighbour’s lives; our whole community.
When Mama told me she was getting married again I resolved not to care. I hardened in the same way I did when my good friend Carla got engaged and I found excuses not to go to the wedding. We don’t speak any more. But I can’t not speak to my parents, and so my mantra became, whatever they want. It’s none of my business.
Of course, it absolutely is my business. That’s what I realised as I stood at their alter. That’s what I understood when their vows promised to use the pain and the mistakes and the difficulties of the past thirty years to lead them into the next thirty, and the thirty after that.
Their vows thanked the friends and family present for supporting them through every up and down. For championing them. Their vows requested that their support never waver, for a marriage isn’t about two people. A marriage is about everyone present who watches them say “I do.” If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an empire to guide each other in love.
We need each other to survive. Collectively. Not as a two. As an everybody.
I’ve not seen examples of how to construct a relationship of my own because I haven’t understood what it means to be part of one. And I don’t mean in one—I mean the role I play in the relationships around me. I’ve been utterly selfish. Totally uncomprehending. I didn’t get it at all.
And then my parents told their world they couldn’t do it without them, and I understood. We do fuck up, we do make mistakes, we do hurt the ones we say we love because we’re fallible and shit happens. But, with enough courage and love from everyone else when maybe we’ve misplaced our own, we can fix it. We can pull through. We can build something stronger.
But it takes us all. (Dear Mum and Dad: I love you, so much x)