Marriage is a strange thing isn’t it? Let’s assume we live to be eighty (Google tells us this is a fair assumption). And let’s assume again that during those eighty years we will cross paths with thousands of other human beings. Of those thousands, there will be hundreds of potential ‘mates’. Well, if not hundreds, at least more than two handfuls of seriously viable propositions. And yet we choose, often long before we really know who we are, to commit ourselves to just one of them. We stand before friends, family, and our version of god, and we promise to love and honour, for the remainder of our lives, someone we have known for what is, in essence, a miniscule portion of our existence thus far. When we have no idea how they will change, how we will change, and really that’s the only thing of which we can be absolutely certain…that both of us will change.
If you’ve read any of my previous writing, you’ll know that I have mixed feelings about this whole marriage thing. If you think carefully about what it is that you’re doing…you know, till death and all…then traipsing down the aisle becomes a walk of extreme courage, and no small leap of faith.
I confess that not much thought went into my decision to tie the knot. As a little girl I never dreamed of princes in shining armour, or fancy white weddings. Couldn’t bear the thought of wearing a “pouffy” dress. And don’t get me started on diamonds. But one day my husband-to-be said he felt like throwing a party. Why didn’t we call our closest friends and just get married, he suggested. And yes, the party was a whole lot of fun. Although you’ll have to take my word for it. There are no photos. No invitations. At the last minute the caterer threw in a wedding cake. And someone organised music. My father-in-law eventually interrupted my new husband’s Zulu warrior dance to tell him that it’s customary for the bridal couple to leave before the other guests, which still seems an awful waste to me. But what would I know?
I never realised that wifehood and motherhood came with rules…so I ignored most of them. After we got married, we sold everything we owned and went backpacking through Europe and North America. We were on Vancouver Island when my father died, by which time I was pregnant. I went back home to South Africa for the funeral. My husband joined me a few weeks later, and when he learned that he was to become a daddy, he did the responsible thing and found a job – theoretically in the same town, but he travelled for more than half of every month. Another baby, and a few years later, we decided to emigrate, living in three countries in as many years. And still he travelled. There really wasn’t much time to think. Less to spend with each other. He worked extremely hard, providing a roof over our heads, food on the table, hockey skates, ballet shoes. I raised children, drove, did groceries, drove some more, cooked (not very well), drove again, did laundry (also not very well), and continued driving, teaching ballet whenever I could fit it into the kids’ increasingly busy schedules. We spent occasional Sundays together. And we were indeed a happy, healthy, extremely blessed little family.
And today….after more than two decades of working so hard at creating a family, it’s just me and my husband again. Both children have new homes on the other side of the continent. It seems like just yesterday that they were helpless babies. And now they’re completely independent…well, except for that little ‘needing money’ thing. Our family no longer exists. Oh, we’ll always be parents…at least, that’s what I hear. And my mother tells me I’ll always worry about them. But everything is different. And once again I have no clue what the rules are.
I sat next to an old friend at a party recently. He has four children, the last one just leaving home too. He summed it up by saying: “I look at her (his wife) and I realise it could be over just like that. After all these years of raising a family, of being parents, we no longer know who we are as just plain people. We have to decide whether we want to put in the effort of getting to know each other all over again, find out if we still love each other. Or is it easier to simply call it a day? After 30 years of marriage, it’s a decision we can make in an instant.” And he’s right.
My daughter asked me, and only partly in jest, as she set off blithely into her new life: “Do you think you and dad will get divorced?” Many of her friends’ parents have recently done just that. Because what do you do when you look at the person lying next to you, the person you chose to love and adore… forever… and realise that you no longer have any idea who they are, whether they have any unfulfilled desires, fantasies, desperate dreams…and then you find yourself wondering whether in fact you care enough to find out. This same person you skipped merrily towards not so terribly long ago, starry-eyed with love, blinded by happily-ever-after.
I believe in magic. Miracles. Or luck. Call it what you will. I look back over the past twenty-one years…marriage and motherhood and me…and I am astounded. It has been like nothing I could have imagined. And I know that the next twenty-one years will likely be just as profoundly unexpected. I have no idea what will transpire. All I can do is the same thing I have done every day for nearly five decades. Wake up in the morning. Take a deep breath. Feel my heart beating. And surrender to the dance that makes its way through my body. One step at a time. With gratitude. Wonder. And anticipation.