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WHAT took us so long? We had lived together for 20 years. We were soulmates, best friends, inseparable, Darby and Joan.
Anyone observing my partner, Julia, and me together, so at ease with each other, sharing so many interests, would have said we were prime candidates for matrimony.
Yet something stalled the inevitable, and kept on stalling it. Until now. Two months ago, Julia and I, with more than 120 years on the clock between us, walked down the aisle. So what took us so long?
Partly it was the caution born of experience. We had both been married before, for 13 years apiece. When you have learnt the hard way that marriage is no guarantee of living happily ever after, you hesitate before marrying again.
Also, it was simple logistics. I am English and Julia is Australian, so we could not have married in one hemisphere without disappointing loved ones in the other.
As the long years passed, com- promises were pondered. Once we found ourselves on a Greek island, outside a church, and toyed with getting married then and there and telling people when we got home. Some couples take that route.
But mainly, if I am honest, it was apathy. Why go to all the trouble and expense of organising a ceremony whose significance, as we saw it, would be largely symbolic?
Neither of us is religious. We could not muster the enthusiasm to take a step that did not seem particularly momentous. And we were not alone in our apathy.
For in this largely secular 21st-century, nobody seems to mind whether couples are married. Some people wed, some don’t. And with more and more women retaining their maiden names, and the wearing of rings becoming more haphazard, there is often no way of telling if Bob and Wendy are Mr and Mrs or Mr and Ms.
Fifty years ago, people might have told us we were living in sin. Friends would have urged me to make an honest woman of Julia. Nowadays there is no such peer pressure because so many couples have taken the same course as we have. In the latest census figures, the number of unmarried adults in the UK has crept ahead of the number of married ones for the first time.
One friend did urge me to get married, but only to save money in death duties. There has been not a murmur of disapproval at our living arrangements. We were “partners”, and happy with that designation.
So why now? I’d like to say it was the result of long, hard thought, but nothing could be further from the truth. When I proposed to Julia – on holiday in France – it was more impulsive than premeditated. I simply suggested that, as we were flying out to Australia for a wedding in November, we might as well get married while we were out there. She agreed, in the same matter-of-fact spirit.
It was typical of our approach to life – simple, easy, calm. But there was nothing calm about what followed.
The prospect of marriage, and arranging our wedding, had a galvanising effect. To the settled routine of our lives, it brought a sense of soaring excitement that neither of us had foreseen. As we sketched out our plans – a small wedding in Julia’s birthplace of Melbourne, followed by a big party in our home town of Oxford – and took others into our confidence, we realised we were surfing a tsunami of goodwill. Before, we had just been two people in the crowd. Now we were the bride and groom, principal actors in an age-old drama which society invested with profound significance.
The first people we told were my two daughters from my first marriage, now grown up. “I never saw this one coming,” gasped the elder daughter. Her sister let out a great yodel of excitement.
The reaction of our friends was equally heartwarming. We composed a round-robin e-mail, pressed send and waited gleefully for the explosion.
Some explosion! The excited phone calls, the tears, the whoops of joy, the clamour for more details.
“How good that you have finally decided to join the Establishment,” e-mailed one old friend, Lionel, who had just celebrated his silver wedding anniversary. The tone was ironic, but not the sentiment.
In free-and-easy 2014, married couples do not exactly feel beleaguered, but they do vaguely worry that they are an endangered species, fuddy-duddy in their attitudes. For Lionel, as for other married friends, our decision to join the club was not just a cause for celebration, but a validation of their own lifestyle.
As we threw ourselves into planning the wedding, we not only found ourselves giggling like a couple half our age, but realised how much pleasure we were giving others. Our postman chortled when he heard the news. The local newsagent beamed his delight. Neighbours stopped us in the street to congratulate us.
It was if we suddenly possessed a magic aura. At the jewellers where we bought the ring, they insisted on serving us bubbly at 10 in the morning.
Did the fact that we were 30 years older than the other couple in the shop, who were also buying a ring, make us feel self-conscious? Not a bit of it. Marriage makes no discrimination on grounds of age.
I dusted off my old suit, and Julia started shopping for a suitably funky wedding dress. All low-key by some people’s standards, but we felt simultaneously self-conscious and quietly proud.
The chorus of congratulations was still ringing in our ears when we boarded the plane for Melbourne. There were still arrangements to be finalised. We had found a venue with an appropriately British feel but not briefed the celebrant, the florist, the harpist, the chef, the sommelier or the rest of the supporting cast.
It was all pretty hectic and, having promised friends in England we would make a video, we had to rush around taking shots of kangaroos, surfers and barbecues to prove we’d married in Australia and not the Home Counties.
Organising even a small wedding – ours was just 15 guests – involves so much time, trouble and expense that you can see why some couples are put off the idea. But we were buoyed by so much goodwill that the days before the wedding flew by in a happy blur.
The warmth of our welcome Down Under at least matched the enthusiasm in England. Julia’s 90-year-old mother was thrilled for us. So were all her other relatives. As the big day loomed and guests started to gather, I felt such boyish excitement. Outside I may have looked like an old fuddy-duddy; inside I was a teenager again. SHE, in all her elegance and beauty, was marrying ME!
The most electrifying moment came just before the wedding. Of our guests, all Australian, I was told I had met everyone except Garry, husband of one of Julia’s old university friends. “You’ll like Garry,” Julia assured me.
Like him? I loved him! “Garry” turned out to be a cunning disguise for my sister Claire who, unbe- known to me, had flown 16 000 kilometres to be there. As I stared at her in amazement, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. And they welled up again later as I intoned those ancient vows: “... for richer for poorer ... in sickness and in health ... so long as we both shall live ...”
Julia looked me in the eyes. I looked her in the eyes. The celebrant pronounced us husband and wife. Guests applauded. Cameras clicked. What had we done? It was not something trivial or ephemeral. It reverberated like thunder across the room.
The day after the wedding, we strolled along the beach. After the giddy emotions of the day before, it was a time for sober reflection.
How will marriage affect our relationship? Will we be more or less inclined to take each other for granted? For simply by making such a public commitment, we have altered the landscape of our lives.
Cynics would say that nothing has changed. Somehow I hope we can prove the cynics wrong.
A month ago we were mere partners. Now we are husband and wife. It feels like a promotion. – Daily Mail