This December, I am getting married. I am 50 years old. I have four children aged between nine and 20. The man I am marrying is 57 and has two children of his own aged 20 and 24. Nothing about what we are doing follows any rules. We are getting married a week before Christmas (“What? Last day of Christmas shopping?” is everyone’s horrified response.) We are getting married on my 50th birthday (“What? On your birthday?”. We have no proper invitations, just an e-mail. There’s no dress code, no bridesmaids (although my four children and an assortment of their friends will be following me down the aisle). Our two dogs might well appear as the ring bearers and it wouldn’t surprise me if the children brought our cats along in the confetti baskets (grown naturally by two friends of ours, the confetti that is).
It’s a pretty bohemian affair and anything goes. There’s no dress code, no colour code, no seating plan. Lots of friends and family wanted us to get married in a church. I have never been married before but my future husband has so we are having a registry office wedding. It won’t be sunny or warm. There will be no posed photographs and we are spending the evening eating foraged food in our local pub.
Yet we are both delighted with our wedding plans.
We have been together for the past four years and feel we know each other pretty well. We met two years after my long-term relationship with the father of my younger three children broke down. At the time, I never thought I’d meet anyone else. There were times, after yet another disastrous desperate date, when I’d feel really depressed. And yet, now, I am about to do something I have never done before. I am going to walk down the aisle and say ‘I do’ to a man I truly love surrounded by children, pets and anyone else who cares to join in.
I imagine it in my mind, me in my floating long skirt and vintage blouse, hair up, my children walking behind me. There will be a string quartet playing She, which is a favourite song of ours. My eldest son is giving me way (my father died many years ago). My next son down is giving me the ring to give to my future husband’s finger. There will be readings and music and the lighting of candles and every time I think about walking down the aisle towards this man who means so much to me, I want to burst in to tears.
For, in many ways, I was never sure I would actually get here at all. I always meant to get married and I always assumed I would and yet, at nearly half-a-century old, it still hadn’t happened. It’s not that people didn’t ask. The two men who I had children with (helpfully both called Michael) had both asked me to marry them. I’d said yes to both and yet, somehow, by the time we got round to planning it, we’d drifted apart.
Yet many, many years ago, when I was a child, I used to sit at the French windows of my family home and daydream about who was going to come and take me away on their white charger. I loved fairy stories and was convinced that, one day, my prince would come and we would live Happily Ever After. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that maybe my life wouldn’t work out quite like that.
During my 20s and 30s, I still clung on to that traditional fairytale that we are somehow sold from a young age. Back then I had a very different set of criteria for what I thought love was compared to now.
I thought love was about being committed but not necessarily in a truly spiritual and emotional way. I thought it was about houses, jobs, children, wallpaper, gardening, dinner parties, getting on with the in-laws. I though tit was about being worshipped and adored but had no idea how two people can worship and adore each other in a mutual way.
I was desperate to be ‘normal’ – we had to live together to be happy and cook dinner together and have Sunday roast and two cars and well-behaved children who went to ‘good’ nurseries. I thought love would be eternal sunshine but it proved to be difficult and have drawbacks and dark sides. I was young then when I was with Michael No 1, in my mid-20s, and not able to cope with any of it. In truth, I ran away. I picked up my small son aged two and ran home to my mother.
I then met Michael No 2 and we had many happy years but the pressure of money problems, three small children and many other concerns, meant that we also broke up. Once again, I was heartbroken. Why on earth couldn’t I make relationships work?
Over time, I realised it might be because of the fact I was asking for too much. I was trying to create a perfect household and a loving family and home-cooked meals and domestic bliss. It was just all too much to ask of anyone including myself. I was playing by the rules but I wasn’t sure whose rules they were.
After Michael No 2 and I broke up – and once I had ceased to feel quite so raw – I decided I should just change the rules. Who says we should meet people at work/through friends/at a party and fall instantaneously in love? That’s not how I met my husband. He actually chatted me up on Facebook. We had mutual friends and he just started communicating with me. He seemed funny, kind and genuine. His missives were thoughtful and gentle. I started to really look forwards to his online chats with me.
Our friendship gradually grew and we got to know each other, finally meeting up in the flesh and going for picnics, taking my dogs for walks and hanging out with my children. The stigma that was once attached to meeting people online seems to have faded.
Eventually we realised we had deep feelings for each other and decided to get together in a more public way. But even then nothing was very ‘traditional’. He was living in Suffolk, hundreds of miles away from where I lived in Oxfordshire. His job as a posh builder means he just moves where the work is. I have no idea where he will be in the next few months let alone years. He is even going back to work on the Monday after we get married.
But it doesn’t matter to me because, by then, he will be my husband and I will be his wife and that means we will endeavour to keep each other safe, secure and happy.
For me now, love is an intention not just a feeling. I love my future husband and I can see who he is and what he is capable of being, at his best, and what he is able to grow in to. I hold his future for him, letting him love and live as fully and freely as he can be and he feels the same way about me.
We have both moved from ourselves towards each other and we have connected with an openness that I have never experience before. This is probably why our marriage looks not very traditional to other people. For, in this spirit of letting each other fully be the people we really are at heart, this means we don’t want to live together at the moment.
This is not because we don’t love each other. It’s because we are just not really following the rules. We hear it all the time; we are too old to be married, why can’t we just live together? What about our children? What sort of message are we giving them about marriage if we choose not to live together?
My response is, I know I have to allow him to be who he is and he is not a man who wants to live full time with me and my four children. My home is chaotic and mad and all sorts of teenage emotions fly around all the time. It’s not easy living here and sometimes I want to bail out so and I understand why my husband doesn’t want to be here all the time. I also don’t want to live with him full time. I like having my family unit. It’s not that he isn’t part of it – he is lovely with them – but I am aware that the children still enjoy some access to me whereby it’s just us. I love that time with them, where we just hang out, make popcorn, watch a movie. He likes to sit in his chair and do the crossword.
It’s our commitment to each other that carries us forwards, not the fact that he puts the bins out and I cook dinner every night.
For this is what I know now, you can’t put rules on love for then it will always disappoint. My husband will do whatever he will do. I will do whatever I will do and our marriage is about supporting each other in a way that is not about money or bricks and mortar. It is about something deep and quiet and, ultimately, reassuring and wonderfully, utterly heart-swooningly romantic in a rather old-fashioned way.