An encounter with marriage

An encounter with Marriage

I met Ross in 2002, at a party. A friend enticed me there with the words, “you should meet Ross; you’d like him.” I remember this conversation, and I am still flattered. I blush at the idea that someone considered Ross, considered me, and thought we might get along.

Ross was in the garden when I got there. It was too dark to see his face. He told me a story about Nelson’s column: a surreal, hilarious story about which I remember nothing, apart from being enthralled by his telling of it. At one point we went inside — me first, Ross following — and as we walked through the kitchen, I turned round to see his face for the first time.

“Oh my God!” I thought. “He’s beautiful!”

It was the summer after I left university, and I was staying with my parents. Ross lived in the relative sophistication of a house-share, so I stayed with him every night. Six months later we moved into a new house-share together. Two years later we moved into our own one-bed flat. Seven years after that our son was born. Two weeks ago, we got married.

Of course, that’s not the story of our relationship. It’s just the story that some of the paperwork might leave behind. Here is a different one: the second time I met Ross he did an impression of Nelson’s column, if you can imagine such a thing. It was audacious and funny, and I have never met anyone else whose mind works quite like Ross’s.

Here is a different one: earlier tonight our four year old son suggested we go for a walk before bed, so we did. The three of us, strolling round the block, doing silly dances, calling each other silly names. My son scrambled into my arms so he could whisper in my ear.” I can’t wait for Daddy’s birthday,” he said.

“Oh my God,” I thought, “You are both so beautiful.”

Love is an everyday miracle — it happens to everyone, but when it happens to you, it’s everything.

I used to say that I wouldn’t get married until gay marriage was legalized. You can’t pretend marriage is about love, I would say, unless everyone who is in love is allowed to do it. But then gay marriage was legalized, and marriage still smelt strange to me. In a few short years most of the women I’d grown up with lost weight, wore white, and spent thousands of pounds on a day when they’d say nothing. These ambitious, hilarious, brilliant women changed their names and smiled while their fathers said they looked nice, and everyone applauded as if something had been achieved.

I forgot my old friends’ new names. I started to get emails from people I didn’t recognise.

Here is a different one: I can hear Ross right now, laughing on the sofa. He laughs a lot. He laughs at happy memories. He laughs at jokes he has just made up in his head. He literally laughs out loud at funny things he reads on the internet. His laughter gives rhythm to our lives. I have never met anyone who laughs in private as much as Ross.

I used to say if I ever got married I would have to do it differently. No weight loss. No white dress. No expense. But what kind of passive aggressive fuck you would that be to the people who take it seriously? I may not understand why weddings are important, but I know that they are, and I jump wholeheartedly into my friends’ celebrations. I learnt to love weddings because I love my friends, and I want to celebrate them in whatever way they choose.

If you feel so strongly about it, people used to say to me, heads tilted in faux concern once they’d enquired when I thought Ross might propose, why don’t you do it your own way? We don’t feel strongly, I used to say, staring straight into their eyes, reminding them that I don’t wait mutely for men to propose ideas to me. Why bother holding an alternative wedding, just to prove a point?

Here is another one: one day I was sitting on the balcony of our flat in Hackney, sobbing and smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap wine from the shop downstairs. Ross crouched down next to me. “What if everything is ok?” he said. It was a revolutionary thought. What if everything is ok? What if someone loves you, unconditionally? What if someone smiles when you come home? What if someone lets you lean your head into their chest, wraps their arms around your body, and makes you feel like you belong?

It would be everything.

I used to say, the only reason to have a wedding would be to tell everyone how much I love Ross. “I won the lottery of life when I met you,” I say to him, regularly. But that’s the point — I already say it to the person who needs to know. And while it is everything to me, there is nothing remarkable about our private miracle. There are no words more meaningful than the ones we say at home. There is no room more meaningful than the inside of our flat. There is no ritual more profound than the one where I lean my head into his chest, and he wraps his arms around my body.

Here is another story: one night we were travelling home on the night bus from Oxford Street. It was crowded and hot. One woman was stretched across two seats, asleep on a bag of clothes, as if she was homeless. A man looking for a seat woke her up, swore at her, told her she was selfish. Fear ran through the top deck.

“Don’t speak to her like that, mate,” said Ross. Silence. I thought Ross had just started a fight. Actually, he had started a movement. Everyone else suddenly found their voice, too. The more aggressive the man became, the more reasonable we were. His anger dissipated: absorbed, willingly, by the force of us all defending his intended victim. When the man got off, the whole bus applauded. I have never met anyone with as strong a moral compass as Ross.

I used to say that getting married wouldn’t change anything, but that it would be a lot of hassle. Then an accountant gave us some advice. We have acquired family responsibilities and financial products and precarious incomes, and our feelings mean nothing without the paperwork. In other words, not being married is a lot of hassle, too.

All of a sudden I realised that all of the time I thought I was exercising a choice, I was also benefiting from the cultural assumptions of legitimacy afforded to the middle class, the heterosexual, the working, the able bodied, the British citizen. It is because we (are seen to) occupy these states that we could survive for so long, without making ourselves seen to the state. We got married in case any of these privileges fall away. We got married in case one of us dies, or can’t work, or falls out of love with the other. We got married not for love, but in case of crisis.

Here is another one: Ross reads our son bedtime stories every night; he does all the voices. Ross made our son a full sized Iron Man costume out of cardboard. Ross and our son collect Lego Minifgures together. Ross dropped our son off for his first day at school and called me up to reminisce about the baby and the toddler that our son used to be. Ross and our son look alike. When our son was a baby, Ross said, “I can see everyone I love in him.”

I tell my son he’s beautiful on the outside and on the inside. I tell him I can see it on the outside because it shines through his eyes.

I used to say that I didn’t want to get married. And I still don’t. My wedding ring is the wrong size, and I haven’t corrected it yet. I wear it on my middle finger, like a fuck you and a symbol of commitment, at the same time. Our son was at our feet during the marriage ceremony. He was feeling shy, so he hid under the registrar’s table; I had forgotten to brief him on the rituals. At one point he sneaked his head up to ask what we were doing. “Are you telling stories about yourselves?” he said quietly, as we confirmed our names.

Yes. Telling stories. But by and for whom?

The wedding was a strange experience. It felt disconnected, like a hustle between the vision of the state and the feelings really coursing through my veins. It’s not just that they don’t match up. The surprise was how much I wanted them to.

And so I thought I would write a feminist critique of weddings.

I thought I would try to unpick the patriarchal histories that hang around in wedding rituals like a poisonous gas.

I thought I would describe how marriage is a concept so thick that it trails millennia of oppression, apparent from the moment the registrar asks for your father’s occupation (and not your mother’s), all the way through to the compliments people pay about how they’re sure you’ve lost some weight. I thought I would write about marriage as a system of ownership and exchange, of trade and power, of abuses of power, and of the social reproduction of all these things. I thought I’d write about the retrogressive stereotypes of the modern bride, a symptom of a kind of consumer-pseudo-feminism that leans into the patriarchy as if that’s the only way to appear.

But then I started to write about Ross. And I realised I would rather think about him instead.

Here is another one: when I ask Ross why he loves me he never gives a reason. “But I can give you dozens,” I say. “I don’t need reasons,” he says.

I think about it and realise this is everything.

It’s limitless, and it’s true for me, too.

I could tell you any story about me and Ross and the final line would always be the same.

Oh my God. He’s beautiful.