The Band Aid Marriage Project

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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.

Going the Distance

A year into my first proper relationship and I was a bit out of my depth.  I was in London, he was in Leeds and a year of weekend meetings followed.  He would catch the coach to London one weekend and I would get the train to Leeds the following weekend.  I got to know Leeds train station and Victoria coach station very well.

I didn’t feel very welcome in his house in Leeds.  His friends were a bit reserved but above all it was a house of 4 lads.  It wasn’t very homely and washing up never happened.  However we were getting used to the situation of our weekend travels when Jack applied for a job with the Royal Antarctic Survey.  Yes, seriously, the Royal Antarctic Survey.

You couldn't get a great deal more remote from a girlfriend in London.

You couldn’t get a great deal more remote from a girlfriend in London.

‘Moving to Leeds wasn’t far enough away?’  I asked.  ‘What does your family think about it?’

‘They think it would be an amazing opportunity,’ he replied, ‘My mum says I will always regret it if I don’t give it a go.’

I had never been all that sure that she liked me. The first time I visited their house, she turned to the dog and said,

‘Well Gonzo?  Shall we let her stay?’

However like all mums she wanted what was best for Jack.  He had studied Marine Biology.  That was one of the things I liked about him.  I had always enjoyed Biology in school and very nearly took it to A Level.  It was a subject I might even have been studying if I hadn’t gone down the route of languages and literature.  I loved the fact that he could tell me things I genuinely found interesting and that he was studying how sea urchins moved for his thesis.  We went to the Natural History Museum and visited aquariums and he told me cool facts about fish that glowed in the dark.  It was like dating a National Geographic Magazine!  However it was a very limited field.  To get a job that was directly related to the degree, you’d need to be one of the students who excelled.  He wasn’t one of them – competent, by no means unintelligent, not hugely original and not one of the ones who would be invited to stay on and carry out research.  While living in Leeds, he was scouring the broadsheets job adverts for something where he could use his qualifications in Biology and he wasn’t finding much.  He was working in an airless lab, sieving soil and providing data to a road building company on soil composition.  He was very bored and not a little fed up too.  The Royal Antarctic Survey was a bit extreme but it was the first thing that had caught his eye and captured his interest.  He asked if I would let him go, if his application was successful.

Jack and I sat in bed talking about the practicalities of him working in Antarctica, how at the time (this being pre-internet) he would only be allowed 1 airmail letter every month and that included hearing from his family too.  It seemed pretty clear to me that as things stood if he did get the job, that would be it, unless he was coming back for something committed.

‘OK,’ I said eventually, ‘if you get the job, you can go, but if you do, I need you to be coming back for something definite.  Let’s get engaged.’

He agreed and with very little idea of what exactly marriage entailed when it comes to keeping a relationship going long term, we hugged each other and basked in naïve happiness that we were going to get married and were now engaged.

The Break Up

Borough Market

It was the third weekend of May 2000 and I was in our newly acquired offices, sitting at what was going to be my desk and crying my eyes out.

As the person responsible for managing development of the burgeoning Borough Market, under the auspices of my cheese shop employers, I was supposed to be working a busy Saturday as the monthly market rolled around.  I’d got in bright and early for a 6 o’clock start.  We had set up an immense display of cheese, the shelves of the shop were brimming over with chutneys, pickles and condiments, outside on the cobbles a veritable harvest festival display of bread beckoned people in off the streets.   The shop looked fantastic, it was buzzing with happy shoppers and I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away.  So  I had rung my fiancé and told him that that not only could I not marry him, but I’d actually been in a relationship with my boss, for the past eight months.

‘You are not breaking up with me over the phone!’ he told me, ‘I’ll come in.’

To be honest it was a bit of a waste of his time.  He was never going to change my mind.  He came.  We talked.  I agreed that I wouldn’t go back to our flat that evening and he left.

It wasn’t that long before I became aware that I wasn’t alone anymore.  Jacob, one of my managers who was also a friend, had come in.   He was a bit surprised.  I have no idea what I looked like – vaguely molten I expect.  I just about sobbed out that I’d called off the wedding and he left as well.

I didn’t get any more work done that day.