My lawful wedded life
If you marry, you’ll be the same schmuck you always were. But one aspect of your personal behaviour will permanently change.
Are you unmarried? Single? De facto by choice? Do you ever wonder what made married people sign up to what appears, from the outside at least, to be the world’s longest endurance event? Are they more hopeful or optimistic than I am? Luckier? More secure? Apart from the house deposit (if single) or the square-cut diamond (if de facto), would getting married change me?
Let’s cut the crapola, unshackled ones. I’m here to tell you that your married self will be a lot like your unmarried self, except now you have cake forks. Marriage is not an alchemical experience: it does not alloy your fundamental personality into precious metal.
You will be the same schmuck you were the day before the ceremony, unless you became the Duchess of Sussex; but even Meghan Markle hasn’t fundamentally changed since her marriage, apart from the depressing fact that she now wears shiny cream tights.
If you’re not a ring person, you can still go ringless. Nor need you let yourself go, although I recommend this. Why blow $20,000 on a wedding unless you spend the next 30 years in drawstring pants eating olives from the jar with your fingers, or texting on the toilet with the door open?
No, there’s only one aspect of your personal behaviour that will permanently change upon marriage. Every time you happen upon another married person, you will compare your marriage to theirs.
When you were de facto, it didn’t occur to you to do this with other de facto couples, because that would have been comparing apples with pears. But if you’re married, and they’re married? Everyone in this scenario is now an apple.
There are examples of equivalent behaviour in the animal kingdom. It’s like when dogs meet in the park, pause, and sniff each other cautiously. No dog consciously wants to nose under another dog’s tail, but they can’t help themselves: they’re reduced to their biological impulses. As Jennifer Aniston might say at times like this, here comes the science. If she was a dog.
Anyway, let’s imagine you’re married and you come across another married person. Something unspoken will signify their married state: a chin-length bob, perhaps, or a Toyota Rav 4.
Instantly you’ll feel a connection with this person. They, too, know how it feels to pay $150 for a bridal posy of three peonies and some ranunculus. You’ll get talking and eventually, one of you will tell the other one how long you’ve been married.
This will be an entirely natural extension of whatever point is being made. For example: “I can’t remember hail that big since the winter we got married, so that would be (let’s see) 16 years.”
If your marriage exceeds 16 years, you will feel a strange backwash of satisfaction. SIXTEEN YEARS IS NOTHING. TRY TWENTY-TWO. But if yours is rather less, you’ll feel a pang of inadequacy and think,
IT’S ONLY BEEN FOUR. AM I EVEN MARRIED?
You eye them with more respect. There’s something suddenly zen-like about them, like they’ve earned a state of higher relationship consciousness through practice. They’ve pushed through the romantic phase, the slog of raising small children, Christmases with the in-laws. They’ve survived a kitchen renovation. They’re probably in a wine club. You’re nowhere close to this in your marriage: you still open a bottle of merlot the day you buy it, and the day you finish it is the day you run out.
After this encounter, it will start to nag you. Your marriage is a mewling infant compared to theirs, which is large: it contains multitudes. In martial arts terms, theirs is a black belt and yours is only yellow. A featherweight. Little League.
So, they’ve been married 16 years, you’ll grumble to yourself as you crumb that evening’s terakihi. That doesn’t make them deep, or anything. It just means they got Stockholm syndrome 12 years before you did.
But that night, as you lie in bed with your spouse, replete with fish, you reach for their hand and wonder:
Marriage is not an alchemical experience: it does not alloy your fundamental personality into precious metal.
are we going to last the distance? Apparently, this is the easy part, the early years. We need a few newsworthy hailstorms under our belts before we can confidently read the weather. WE ARE 45 AND WE STILL DON’T HAVE A FANGING CLUE.
This, perhaps, is the sweet hidden kernel of marriage. It’s inscrutable. There’s no knowing when you’ll wake up and go, on this day, I totally understand why we did this.
It’s the triumph of hope over inexperience. You must bluff your way through it, until you stop bluffing. Then, metaphorically speaking, you’ll hold out your jar, and your person will dig out an olive with their finger. The two of you, slobbing out together, for better or for worse, but hoping for better.