Once your children have grown up, there is a feeling of a ‘job done’. The next stage of one’s marriage is an opportunity to make of it what you want, if you choose to take it. I remember, when our youngest reached 18, thinking that we’d finally done it – brought them all up to adulthood and now our responsibility was of a different, voluntary kind. 8 months later, when my mother died, it was a completion of another responsibility. A couple of months later, we celebrated (quietly) our 30th wedding anniversary. At last, I felt that we could say that we had a long and (goodness, this feels like tempting fate, but I’ll say it) successful marriage.
At the time, actually, I felt pretty low. It had been a difficult few years and my resilience had been strained. Part of my ‘job doneness’ was just relief that it was over and I had no more obligations – this sounds a bit awful and I’m reluctant to write it down, but I think that some of you will know what I mean, so I’ll say it – I could, if it came to it, die with a clear conscience that I had not left a job uncompleted. I had a bit of a death-wish at the time. I was tired and drained and a bit depressed. I’m over it now.
A bonus of this time is the Sage’s and my appreciation of each other. It’s rather lovely. And, in conversations with other long-together couples, I can see it in them too. You’d think that, after all these years, a partnership (for not all my friends are married, nor all couples of different sex) wouldn’t need to grow any more, but it can, if you want it to. There are a lot of us about, you know, more than you might think. We asked friends in Mousehole round for dinner one night last week* and it came up that one couple is about to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The others are about 18 months behind. We went to a wedding on Saturday – the bride’s and groom’s parents were there, looking happy and united, and the next day we had lunch with other friends – I’ve known L. all our lives, as his parents were best friends with mine. He and his wife got married the same year as we did, when he was 22 and she was 32. In all these couples, the deep unity is palpable and heart-warming.
Funnily enough, at the wedding breakfast (do you call it that in other countries? It is ‘breaking the fast’ following the wedding, so can take place at any time of day), I sat next to a schoolfriend of my sister’s and of the bride’s mother. She is a nun and has lived in Rwanda for most of the past 40 years. At one point, she asked me, and this could have been disconcerting, what is the most important, to me, thing I have done, and what ambition do I still have. It was not disconcerting at all, of course, because I had my answer ready, and she was quite impressed by it. She told me, when we said our goodbyes, that I must tell the Sage what I had said. Heh heh. I might. If I feel smoochy enough one day.
Over 30 years, we’ve gone through periods of taking each other for granted, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in itself, if it indicates trust and comfort rather than indifference and complacency. We have been, more recently, very appreciative of each other. We have time to think about each other now that we don’t have to worry about children or careers or, now the offspring are independent, money.
Is this an achievement, luck, hard work, complacency? Luck, for sure, and I don’t underestimate that at all and am deeply grateful for it. For a start, we’re both alive, and I’m not being facetious. Too many of my friends and family have not been so blessed. I guess I could sound complacent – but that’s why we (all we long-married couples) don’t talk about it, you see. We don’t want to sound as if we’ve done better than others, that we’ve ‘succeeded’ and some have ‘failed’, because that’s not what we think. We all know all the downsides as well as the ups of life and sometimes the smallest factor can make the difference between staying or leaving.
I’ve always said I’m the luckiest person I know, and if it were to end tomorrow, that wouldn’t change. And I am not being complacent in saying that it’s the care that the Sage and I have put in to our marriage that makes it a good one. I’ve not put as much effort into anything else – bringing up my children, yes, and they are our dearest treasures, but they are a credit to themselves more than to us.
Dammit, I’m stopping now. I said this wouldn’t be too long. I wouldn’t want to start getting sentimental or anything.
Glad you asked, Penny? ;-D
*Cornish asparagus risotto followed by gurnard flavoured with chilli, ginger and spring onions (okay, scallions), baked whole en papilotte with white wine, with Cornish new potatoes and salad, then cheese – Cornish Yarg, of course.