It occurred to us that while marriage may not be important to us, it may mean something to our parents
MAYBE I’M A CYNIC but it seems to me that unless you’re a close relative of the couple – and often even then – few people find other people’s weddings particularly fascinating. Getting married in front of family and friends is an essentially narcissistic thing to do. A ‘look at us’ moment. See how lucky we are to have found each other? How gorgeous do we look?
And those who attend, who stand around and throw confetti and clap for elongated speeches, often do it, I suspect, in the hope that some day other people will do it for them.
Geoff and I had been together for nearly ten years, with neither of us remotely interested in getting hitched. As a solicitor I had seen so many marriages break up that, in my view, getting married at the beginning of a relationship was nothing more than an – overly optimistic – expression of intent. It made more sense to me to celebrate a relationship once it had been lived, after 30 years or so, maybe.
I knew others disagreed. At a Dublin Fringe show, which was interactive – I hate interactive Fringe shows – Geoff was asked if he thought we would ever get married, and he said no. The questioner (female) turned to me with sympathy and said, ‘Get rid, love!’ while the audience (mostly female) cheered. I was baffled, not only by the assumption that it was he who didn’t want it, but that marriage seemed to be the default position if your relationship had lasted a certain period. Instead of explaining why you wanted to get married, you had to explain why you didn’t – or at least the man did. It was like a reverse presumption of innocence.
Then, in 2016, we went to a wedding with a difference. An old friend of Geoff’s was marrying his long-term partner in California. As we watched these two men from different countries stand in front of the San Francisco skyline, the city they had made their home, there was such a feeling of love and positivity that something shifted for us.
Two families had travelled from their respective countries to witness a commitment between their two sons. And it occurred to us that while marriage may not be important to us, it may mean something to our parents. Geoff’s father, in particular, had suffered a devastating stroke a year and a half before – but still relished a good crème brûlée and a decent glass of red! Suddenly there didn’t seem to be as many reasons not to do it any more and a week later, at the top of a mountain in Oregon, we made a decision that we would marry. And then promptly forgot about it.
Nine months later we remembered but kept the decision to ourselves until a trip to Bruges where, on the spur of the moment, we told my parents, and their reaction sealed the deal. At first, they didn’t believe us. When they realised we were serious, they burst into tears and kissed each other. And then hugged us.
It was all very straightforward. Very quickly we had a date and a venue, for both the ceremony and dinner. We chose the restaurant across the road from Geoff’s dad’s nursing home because it meant we could wheel him over. Next, clothes; since we were doing something which felt a little old-fashioned to us, it made sense to go with a second-hand clothes theme.
Geoff bought a new shirt and secondhand jacket and trousers. My mother said I could try on her wedding dress but that I’d need to drag it out of the attic and scrape the bat droppings off it first. I did both, and – after I’d had it cleaned! – I decided to wear it.
The ceremony lasted ten minutes. Our families were there, our brothers acted as our witnesses. We used our grandparents’ rings.
We followed it with a champagne picnic in the park. And sure, it was lovely. If I’m honest, despite having a great celebrant, I didn’t feel anything much during the ceremony. Geoff and I had a conversation about that as we raced up the street to meet our friends in the pub after the family dinner. We felt a little guilty about that. But the following day it felt as if something had shifted – we were more solidly on each-other’s side – family, if you like.
Today, a year later, we forget we’re married most of the time. We don’t wear rings, and we still struggle with the H and W terms. We were committed to each other anyway so I don’t think marriage changed that, we simply used a common currency to demonstrate it to the people we loved.
Our wedding was no different to anyone else’s. We’re under no illusions that we did anything special or interesting or even necessarily enjoyable for the people who came. But the decision to do so made sense at the time, and we’re glad we did it. And it doesn’t seem to have damaged us. Yet!