Although there were any number of reasons why this was a resolutely BAD IDEA, I decided it was time Jack and I got married. We’d been together for about six years. We were comfortable with each other. We lived together. My friends were all getting married. I didn’t imagine anything would happen with Eadmund nor was I admitting to myself that I secretly wanted it to. I assumed that as Jack and I were reasonably compatible together, I should marry him and spend the rest of our lives together.
Being now so adept at turning a blind eye to reality, I ignored many warning signs but some things stand out in my memory that really should have made me stop and think.
Signs of not caring.
Since our early days of relationship when I was having ‘THE FEAR’ and wasn’t easy to live with, if Jack had wanted to go down the pub with his friends, he hadn’t let me know. Most of the time it would just be a quick pint and then back home. On one occasion, it was the whole night. To be fair, in the 90s and in a halls of residence, it would have been hard to get a message to your girlfriend as, inconceivable as it seems now, there were no mobile phones. All the same, it was possible to leave a message with a receptionist who would put a note under your door. It would have saved me panicking for the whole evening as I sat alone in his room waiting for him with no idea where he was, what he was doing or why he wasn’t coming home. When he eventually did stumble in, he was far too drunk to explain himself. He slurred something along the lines of talking about it tomorrow and then, reeking of beer and spread-eagled across the bed he fell asleep and snored.
I stayed up distraught and wondered whether, if he could care so little about how upset I had been, I should end it there and then. I wrestled with this all day through lectures which I somehow managed to stay awake in. I calmed down, we talked it out and he apologised. Disaster averted for now. But it set up a pattern. Even when we had a house with an answerphone and worked in places with an office phone (still no mobiles) so we could easily call at the end of work, we didn’t bother. In the end, the tables turned. At the cheese shop, I had a group of people whose company I really enjoyed and who I would happily head down the pub with to have a post work pint. We were good friends. On the other hand, he didn’t get on that well with the people he worked with. When it came to stumbling home the worse for wear without having rung first, I was the major offender.
‘You used to hate it when I did this to you!’ he complained, ‘I’m not saying don’t hang out with them, but just give me a ring and let me know you’re going out.’
I tried to be better at it and for a while I was, but I resented him curtailing my freedom. And I didn’t stay home any more often. Looking back now, I can’t quite believe I didn’t see it, but the real relationship in my life was with the company I worked for. We used to joke that it was a cult around a charismatic leader. We even called ourselves the White Welly Cult (white wellies being part of the uniform). One thing was for sure though, my job, my friends at work, our shared passionate interest in hand made cheese and the fact that they were all unique, unconventional and interesting people to be with was far more important to me now than my boyfriend.
‘You have nothing in common!’
A few years into our relationship, Jack had a phone call from his mother. She was upset, she’d had a nightmare in which we divorced and since waking up she had had a bad feeling.
‘She was really worried,’ he told me, ‘She’s convinced we’re going to split up. She says we’re really different people these days and she thinks we’re not going to work out.’
Given that I’d never been entirely sure she liked me, I took this personally. She didn’t like me. I was changing Jack to be more like me. She wanted me out of the way.
‘That’s stupid,’ I said, ‘We have loads in common.’
‘That’s what I told her,’ he replied, ‘I said she really didn’t need to worry and we were fine.’
Both of us were choosing not to face up to the fact we had largely separate lives. We were also forgetting the one day break up we’d had a few years earlier, before we bought a flat of our own, when Jack had faced me, miserable, eyes downcast and said he was unhappy and we should split up.
I took rejection badly. I flew out of the room and retired to our bedroom to cry my eyes out and reflect on my misery. My flatmate Carina, gave me a pep talk and promised that she’d make sure I didn’t remain single for the rest of my life or get eaten by Alsatians. I rang my sister, who by this time lived in London and was at university and she promised to leap out of bed and come round to see me.
I returned downstairs, where Jack sat red-eyed on the sofa. He could barely look me in the eye. I had been the picture of devastated womanhood and he felt awful. I looked at him and I felt removed. I had no empathy and no pity for his distress. He had wronged me.
He tried to apologise and it started a conversation. He tried to explain himself and his reasons but it was difficult and he wasn’t very articulate. I tried to understand but to this day, I don’t really know exactly what had made him unhappy, just that he was. I asked him if he had stopped loving me. He tried to re-explain. I repeated:
‘But do you still love me?’
‘Yes,’ he admitted, ‘I do.’
‘Then don’t split up with me,’ I replied, ‘If you still love me and I love you, we can work it out. What’s important is that we love each other.’
He agreed. We got back together. As usual when we had a difference of opinion, I had won.
Gia arrived shortly afterwards having raced out of bed, into the shower, thrown some clothes on and run to the bus in order to come and comfort me, only to find that everything was ok again. I took her out for lunch in Islington and felt justified in having a strong pre-lunch cocktail. I was impressed by the fact that she didn’t.
The urge to win
Unfortunately for Jack, who, at home, had been the cleverest of the bunch, winning arguments with his dad, mum and sister, he had met his match in me.
My dad recently admitted that he wanted my sister and me to be independent thinkers and to that end he encouraged us to argue our case with adults and with him. He felt it was not only good for us but that he would enjoy our company more if we were capable of independent thought. There is such thing as making a rod for one’s back.
In addition to this, I have inherited from him, by nature or nurture, a very stubborn streak. It has even been described as pig headed.
I was by no means the most intelligent of my friends at school but I was always quite good at formulating an argument or debating. University honed these skills. With my parents we delighted in the intellectual exercise of arguing a case or making a point. While I could be shy, quiet, loving, caring and gentle, I could also argue black was white if I felt like it.
Poor Jack didn’t stand a chance. Early on he reflected ruefully that I tended to beat him in every argument.
‘And I’ve always been so good at it with my family,’ he laughed.
I laughed with him, not unkindly, but felt proud of myself. I liked winning arguments. I liked being good at it.
As time went by, though, my laughter became less kind. My enjoyment of winning began to erode my respect for him. I could think quicker, I could think more inventively, I could reason where he lost his temper and got annoyed. I remained calm. I was persuasive. It was an intellectual game. I had even managed to talk him out of leaving me.
So, of course, what better idea than to spend the rest of our lives together?
My two best friends were both getting married. They were both doing it for the right reasons and were blissed out. We met up and they could talk for hours about flowers, place settings, design of dresses and tiaras. I felt left out. It seemed they had changed. I now recognise that this wedding fever happens to all brides as they start the immense planning that is a wedding, but at the time, I was disturbed.
‘Who are you and what have you done with my friends!?’
It made me think about my own life but still with a blind spot. I was conscious that they had a ceremony and a joy that I didn’t. I should have noticed that they were more committed in their relationships than I was. I should have observed that with their partners they functioned as a team not as two diverse individuals linked largely by a shared mortgage. I didn’t.
So, on a cold autumn day when I was in the company van with Eadmoud and another of my fellow cheesemongers on a visit to cheesemakers in the midlands and north of the country, I looked at the autumn leaves, thought they would look very pretty on wedding photographs and decided we should get married. We were as good as married anyway, I reasoned to myself. We owned a flat together, we’d lived together for years. Why not have the piece of paper, the party and the fancy frock?
I described it the same way, when I talked to Jack, two days later. As usual, I persuaded him.
Which just goes to show how little either of us knew about what marriage really is.