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.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - LEAH MCFALL -

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,


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.

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