How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach… Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
A few days ago is was my wedding anniversary but I forgot. What’s more, he forgot too! We fell into each other’s arms and laughed concluding that living the life meant more than cards and flowers. There was some talk of long service medals, however.
This is a marriage that went to work and loved it, that had flowers in its hair, that wore sober suits and hippy skirts. It walked children in prams, and went to PTA meetings. It took holidays by the seaside that needed two ponchos to keep warm. It went to the races, to rugby matches and to school plays. It waved off children to their new life and welcomed them back again. It watched cricket and football and cop shows on TV. It read newspapers at length. It read books and wrote them and delivered heavy manuscripts to the Post Office. It visited clinics and hospitals and held its breath. It is a marriage that travels and continues to relish the boy who eats chocolate. It is a marriage that still holds hands.
Once, when we’d been married for about six years (still very young…) I went to my place of work without my wedding ring, having left it in the bathroom. A woman colleague shuddered at the sight of my naked finger, saying, ‘I couldn’t do that, leave my ring off. I’d feel as though I didn’t belong to my husband.’
I thought about this and decided that I’d never felt as though I belonged to anyone. In fact, growing up had been the process of establishing just that fact.
So, for the next ten years I wore no ring at all, thinking people had to get to know me without the ring label. I didn’t want people to have rigid expectations of me, especially the expectation that I belonged to someone. Then, when I felt I’d made my point, I wore a ring again. In fact, in the end, I wore two.
These were the decades when Romance and the quest of belonging to or owning someone were Rife. We’d never had it so good and one symbol of this was the rash of Romance. Romance was the big selling point for films, books, magazines and advertisements for perfume, soap and Martinis. Novels published by Mills&Boon and their imitators steepled into millions.
Bridget Jones disguised her quest with suitable irony but Romance and Lifelong love are there in the subtext, like Blackpool printed through a stick of rock. These days chick-lit and mum-lit novels and films - for all their savvy street style – rehearse the same quest for Romance, although the lifelong bit may have slipped a bit.
The pity of it is that none of us can measure up to the glamorous puppetry of such fictions. In fact there is a yawning gap between these polished creatures and the chunky ill-shapen bodies, mussed up hair and the harassed lives of both women and men in real life. The billion pound glamour industry in all its forms promotes itself very nicely in this gap, thank you!
It’s a good thing then, that despite our lack of glamour, so many of us rejoice in long term relationships that evolve and develop through the years – larger this year, narrower next, disappointments this year, surprises next. Living here. Living there. Jobs gained. Jobs lost. Clinging together. Mourning together. Running away. Coming back. Making time for yourself. Arguing your corner. Holding hands.
This life is no film or fantasising storybook; it’s no jolly idyll that leaps from passion to idyllic parenthood to empty-nest-adventure. It’s a bumpier but much more exciting ride than that. It’s two separate people making it up as they go along, becoming lifetime comrades and mutually appreciative buddies whose relationship continues to change, evolve, soften, sharpen, as the years go by.
These days I rejoice in wearing two rings on my wedding finger. The second one is my mother’s which she wore for the short fifteen years of her happily married life and for the thirty six years of her not so happy widowhood. I am touched and honoured to wear it.
Perhaps I’ll have another ring – a kind of long service medal. I’d buy him one, but he would never wear it. He doesn’t believe in men wearing rings.