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Seventeen: a gift

I’ve thought about writing this post for a few weeks now; thought about how I would start it, at least. Every angle I approached it from made my mind go off on a ramble about a different issue. I think this is partly because I am incapable of totally encapsulating any thought – I have a mind like a curious child darting through a labyrinth of rooms and passageways in a massive stately home; eyes constantly lighting upon something new – but also because something that has been a big part of your life for so long can seem to incorporate everything else in some way, somehow. It all overlaps. Eventually. Trust me.

But it’s an interesting story and there are interesting issues. So how do I fit it all into one blog post? Shall I start at 22 years ago or shall I start at 17 years ago? Perhaps I could do a Wikipedia-style page with links to each reference? (That was intended as a humorous comment but I am now wondering if it could work!) I tell you what: let’s not try to fit it all in. Let’s just get to the point.

So. What am I talking about and why am I writing this?

I wanted to discuss identity – about becoming a person in one’s own right, yet part of something and yet not part of someone. I wanted to talk about honesty, endurance, disillusionment, realisation, self-improvement, stress, togetherness, stubbornness, instinctiveness, knowing when to give up and knowing when to stick with something. (I can feel another tangent coming on now, discussing my understanding of the word instinctiveness and how I use it to mean intelligent intuition and not impulsiveness or spontaneity). I wanted to share something on my blog that brought all that together in one piece of writing.

So now I tell you why?

Why? Well firstly because even though I like neat, tidy, rounded symmetrical things and numbers that make pretty patterns – like my birthday for instance: 9/9/69 – how cool is that?! – I also feel pressured by Occasion. To the point of wanting to run away and hide. So weddings, or any birthdays or anniversaries which end in a five or a nought fill me with the dread of social expectation and the requirement to have celebration and fun – even if I don’t feel like it. And what about all the other numbers? The other years? Are they not worth noting? Poor little twelve, poor lonely twenty-three and poor neglected seventeen!
And secondly because I think sometimes we are so geared up for Occasion that we forget what it is behind the whole event. The real stuff we should be working at, the life we should be concentrating on, the people we should be appreciating get forgotten behind things, behind show and behind expectations.
Take Valentine’s Day, for instance. Who wants a gift, a card and a pointed-“because-this-is-the-day-I-have-to-do-it” gesture just once a year? Why?
And here’s something incredibly controversial – which many people will disagree with and that’s fine because this is only me talking about my life: I hate big weddings, loathe them. I didn’t want to celebrate ours with loads of people. I wanted a commitment between two people, a shared identity, and a sense of coming together to build a future and to be settled. Just me, my partner, and our future children. Roots down, hats laid, all the corners scented. All I wanted from the day we got married was a piece of paper and I wanted us to get on with our life. I didn’t want us, my parents or my new in-laws to fork out loads of money for one afternoon and surround us with people we only vaguely knew.

So when, after living together for two years – and being engaged for one and a half of those, we discovered we were expecting our first child, it was a perfect excuse to rush off to the registry office in Barnstaple and have a quickie cheapie wedding. See above photo. It’s a quite beautiful, romantic setting I think you’ll agree 😉

I also wanted to have achieved something worth celebrating first. The first three years of our relationship had been awful, the next two a bit lame…

22 years ago, a rather inebriated young man leant heavily across a busy bar, late at night, looked up through his thick, shiny brown floppy fringe and asked me (the new barmaid), in almost comic slur, if I’d ‘like to go out for a drink shum time.’
I knew nothing about him, other than his name, but had already spoken to him once or twice and had found the wide innocent eyes, tatty t-shirts and dirty jeans, combined with square broad shoulders and a suntan, attractive in a vulnerable, yet masculine, way. There’s something about that look that makes a girl want to mother a man even if she doesn’t agree with her inner mother! But there was something else: I’d seen that he had an open, amicable posture, that he turned himself physically to greet people and be involved with them and he would talk to anybody about anything as an equal. I knew that there was something special about him and, although I couldn’t quite pin down why, I found him intriguing.
‘Maybe you could ask me again when you’re sober,’ I replied, smiling politely and walking off.

He didn’t know it but at that moment an invisible claw soared across the room into my gut and hooked him onto my hardwiring. Call it pheromones if you like but sometimes you really do get physically hooked against your wishes and better judgement.

I wanted to know more about him, ready for if and when he did ask again, but the faces I asked told me I didn’t want to know. I was a pale, young, 19-year-old, still living with my parents and still trying to figure out who I was and where I was going. He was clearly too old, too experienced and too well-travelled for me.
I was told that he had been the British surfing champion 5 years previously and hadn’t quite got over himself. Why should he? Everybody loves a local hero.
Trouble in a pretty package, then.

The hook dug in deeper.

At a party, I let him pull me down into his seat from where I was sitting on the arm of a chair and kiss me.
It was then that I found out he had “unresolved issues” with at least one of his previous girlfriends and all the voices in my head began to scream, ‘Uh-oh! Run! Run! Stay away! Stay AWAY!’
But the hook had grown roots.

Within days I had a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t have a relationship with this man but one morning I found myself in his kitchen, looking at 20 unwashed milk bottles lined up on the windowsill – each one with one green squirt of Fairy liquid in the bottom – and knew then that I wanted to be his other half; the one that saw things that needed doing, the one that knew when it was time to leave the pub, the one that he would miss a surf for.
He was a challenge and I got bored when things were too easy.

It was a disaster, of course. I didn’t know anyone from his past, we didn’t like the same television programmes, I was jealous of the sea, of his friends, of his ex-girlfriends, of anyone he spent too long talking to in the pub.
He didn’t want anyone telling him what to do, asking him too many questions, criticising his taste, changing television channels. In fact it was his remote control that he wanted to curl up with every night – as he had done for years, not me.
I began to loathe the way he fell asleep so easily at night; as if he was so sorted, so complete, so perfect. And I hated the way there was some unwritten rule that, because he was good at it, surfing came first, no matter what. Even on my birthday. There were unexplained codes of behaviour that I had to learn and I didn’t learn them well.
I broke the rules by complaining and I didn’t fit by having different opinions.
After about eight months, the woman in the village store correctly predicted the end of the relationship.

But there was still the matter of the hook burrowing deeply and shifting regularly so that I could feel it. And I still worked in his local. All his friends and acquaintances had gradually become my friends and acquaintances. And he was still stood there, drinking, and being lovely to everyone. When I saw him, I just wanted to hug him.

We found ourselves together again a couple of months later. But the same problems were there and it all fell apart again. Only this time, something was different: we’d got used to each other – there were no more nasty surprises and it wasn’t long before the falling out and the splitting up eventually stopped. We’d both worked out just how much crap we were prepared to put up with and it did us both good to be forced to see things from an entirely different perspective.

These days he has grey hair and wrinkles and puts his family before the surf and even before his business, his home and his wife before the pub, and has learned to ask before subjecting me to football, golf or snooker on TV. He’s currently putting up with Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom for the sake of our 6-year-old.
I still think he’s one of the loveliest, friendliest people I have ever met and I now know what it was I couldn’t put my finger on when I met him:
He has a good heart.
He doesn’t look down on people, he’s not greedy, he has a deep sense of duty and responsibility that needed a girl like me to nag out of him! 😉 and his silly, childish sense of humour and people-watching passion are just like mine. It turned out that we weren’t that different after all. These days there is a lot more that we do have in common than we don’t. We like the same food, the same wine, we both prefer a quiet meal to a big party, we both despair of greedy people, of judgemental people, and we both think that North Devon is the best place in the world to live for us and our children and that being settled here is more important than cars, holidays, money, or any other badges that some other people seem to need.

And some of our differences turned out to be quite useful. I was far happier going for a walk on the beach with little children than going for a surf (something I never got the bug for) when we went to the West coast of Ireland on holiday. I was better at dealing with crying babies late at night and he was better in the very early morning. He’s good at routine, I’m good at planning and detail.
Sometimes we irritate the crap out of each other and our different minds can seem incompatible. But you have to learn in a relationship that you can’t own someone else’s mind, you can only add your side and appreciate another. It took me years to realise that it’s okay to adore someone that wasn’t made the same way as you.

Maybe we are Velcro.

I’ve learned in the last few years that anything can happen to change things quite drastically overnight and that you should never wait to say ‘I love you,’ to be romantic, to celebrate your life. After all, some of the best things happen when you least expect them and days that are specially set aside full of expectation can disappoint.

I’m glad we got married seventeen years ago. I have regretted it many a time – but only ever for five minutes. Not one whole day has gone by without me feeling huge love for my husband. Each year I am happier and more settled and see a kinder, fuller person in both of us. Each anniversary has been crap and ruined by babies, young children, illness, or too much alcohol and I value the impromptu days in between where we have sat up late talking, or have both been in a very good mood at the same time; the days when the sun suddenly comes out and – wow – nobody’s actually ill and we all laugh together, the odd time where we find that for once there isn’t a whole list of stressors to relay to one another at the end of the day.
Right now things are just right. Whatever happens next.

For me, finding out who I was and where I was going couldn’t begin until I had a life partner and was settled. Once I was secure in a relationship I could stop fighting.

I have learnt that you can’t own people, and you shouldn’t use someone as part of your own identity. But I’ve seen that people can and do change. They can change quite a lot and you can learn to put others first.
And when something good happens you should make the most of it.

So I’d like to say Happy Anniversary to my sometimes infuriating, imperfect, salt and pepper-haired, kind, funny, dishwasher-filling husband. My Come Dine With Me-watching pal, my wine-drinking pal, the other half of Team Parent, a brilliant surfer, a community-spirited man – with the most enormous list of contacts in his phone and who he is always available to. My childish, pointless-argument-partner. (A game of Wii Golf, darling? 😉 ) We’ve been through a lot together, we’ve put each other through a lot. I have to fish for compliments, I hate the way you say, ‘Uh…loveyoutoo,’ unconvincingly before you go to sleep. You still cuddle the remote control more than you do me. You still sulk horrendously and I have to work out why by going through a check list – but not before I have completely blamed myself and wondered what I am doing wrong and if I should divorce you to make you happy. You make me laugh, you make me cry, you are my wonder drug and you are my best friend. You are the reason I have sat at the computer for 2 hours, writing this as a gift for you and hiding this from you every time you walk past. (Thanks for the cup of tea, by the way)

We have both learned that even when it infuriates us and is totally inconvenient that we must give the other an opportunity to do what it is that makes them tick. Not always though. We have also learned that, even when it infuriates us, for the sake of the other person, we can’t always do what makes us tick.

Happy Seventeenth Anniversary, Rich! Well done to us both for sticking with it.

Oh – and sorry for running the cold tap to rinse the grapes while you were in the shower!

Perfect marriage? No such thing.

And because I’m such an unconventional, hell-raising rule-breaker. I’ve written this and read it to Richard a whole night before our actual anniversary. Go me and my outrageous attitude…

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rachel – Whenever I read your articles, I’m always inspired to write my own piece on the equivalent subject. Two hours later, I’ve written nothing, I’m totally frustrated and an emotional wreck. I just can’t do it. I don’t know how you write these things so well but I’m glad you do. Happy Anniversary to you both!


    • Thanks, Pete.
      But, you know, if someone had said, ‘Sit down now and write about your marriage,’ it would have been very different.
      It’s easier when the mood takes you. In fact, I started something 2 days ago and deleted it. Many of the above sentences came to me as I was wandering around doing other things.
      Thanks for the anniversary wishes. 🙂


  2. Congratulations! It sounds like you were each lucky to have found the other. I wish you many more happy (and infuriating) years together.


  3. Tracy Tidswell #

    Happy anniversary you two. I love the way you write Rach and I had tears in my eyes reading this.
    T xxx


  4. Thank you Rachel for your insight and your honesty. I have not been fortunate to find my soul mate until current and my hero, my third husband. I love the roundness of things too as mine is 06/06/61. I used to feel guilty when he choose to spend time with me instead of the surf and although I love to watch him on the waves, I could not join him. I prefer to walk along the beach with him or dogs, prerably both. Although born in Plymouth and he in Glasgow, we both feel at hom in North Devon and can’t wait to move down. Happy Aniversary to you both. xx


  5. Claire McComisky #

    Happy anniversary to you both. I love how honest this post is and like Tracy, it brought a tear to my eye. x


  6. Thanks for your lovely comments, Nettie, Tracy, Lesley and Clare x


  7. “Maybe we’re velcro.” I love it!
    Happy Anniversary to you both! Congratulations xxxxxxx


  8. Hazel Katherine Larkin #

    Ah Rach!

    *wiping tears from eyes*

    This is yet another gorgeous, gorgeous piece from you. I love the honesty of it – and that you were brave enough to share it with us.

    Bless you both and your union – may you have at least another 22 x 17 years together.




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