What I learnt about marriage, two years in

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Two years ago, I married HWSNBN. In front of friends of family I vowed to:

‘love you til the seas run dry, until the sun grows cold and the stars grow old. And if there is another life beyond this, I will love you there too. With these words, and all the words of my heart, I marry you and bind my life to yours.’

One of the oddest things about being married is how natural it feels. I never dreamt I’d be this conventional. Growing up I wanted a loving partner eventually, but a husband never seemed part of my story. As HWSNBN delights in telling people in the early days of our relationship I vehemently announced I didn’t believe in marriage. But I love being married, and here’s the important bit, to him. Here is what I learnt about my marriage two years in.

It feels odd talking about our marriage even to a compulsive oversharer like me. It’s just not done. Other people’s marriages are another country, with their own secret languages and minefields. I am insatiably curious about what goes on there. (Seriously people, tell me more about what goes on in your relationship.)

In the first two years of a relationship you talk endlessly to your friends about ‘what’s going on.’ Why do the conversations about relationships stop? Is it because I don’t want to see the look of fear in their eyes when I tell them that sometimes when he has a cold he coughs in such an intensely irritating way I want to jab an icepick in his ear. Is it because if I have to hear about how my friends boyfriend prowess in bed or lack thereof and then sit opposite him in the pub, I might jab an icepick in my ear. Or is it because it gets bit boring.

People talk a lot about the wedding but not about the marriage. That ratio feels wrong. A wedding is day and if you’re lucky and I was it’s a really fucking good day. But marriage is what happens when the confetti has blown away, when the champagne is long drunk and live begins again. I really want to ask people questions like: how do you fight? How do you listen to somebody tell the same boring story about their day again? How do you stay together even when tragedy drops the sky?

Marriage is half luck, half work. As is said in our wedding reading. ‘Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.’ The fortunate accident is that in this big world we found each other because I cannot imagine doing this with anybody else. And yes, Tim I get the odds. But I still feel so lucky to have met you HWSNBN. As in I must have saved children from a burning building in a previous life lucky.

I try to not be complacent about marriage. I went into it knowing that half of marriages end in divorce. Statistically we have a fifty/fifty chance at best. I wouldn’t bet on anything else with those odds but I bet on us. And that’s not including the odds of us being separated by something outside of our control: death. So we try hard to be there for each other. To carve out little oasises of time for us. There are some things I just tell him. And vice versa. And whenever we can we dance by the light of the moon. It’s work but it doesn’t feel hard not yet anyway…

I love this quote from Tim Dowling: ‘A little paranoia is a good thing in marriage; complacency is the more dangerous enemy. You should never feel so secure that you are unable to imagine the whole thing falling apart over a long weekend. I can’t give you an exact figure for how many sleepless nights per year you should spend worrying that you’re going to die alone and unhappy if you don’t get your shit together spouse-wise, but it’s somewhere between five and eight.’

In recent months I seriously haven’t had my shit together spouse-wise. I work full-time and also am out most evenings counselling. When I’m not doing those things I am mostly staring at the wall and rocking. Connecting with my husband has moved further down the list as I struggle to find time to do the most basic things to keep myself functioning. I asked him if he felt abandoned expecting anger or hurt. But he simply said: ‘I miss you but I understand. This is not forever and it’s for us.’ I am so much harder on myself than he could ever be. Reader I loved him even more. For example: tonight instead of doing anything elaborate or romantic we’re spending it at home as I am bedridden with a cold. That is love.

People ask me what’s changed. Nothing has. Everything has. The most concrete difference is we fight differently. Before for me, at least, when we fought things felt unstable. There was always the nuclear options of running out the door. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Now when we argue it feels like we are both in the same ship bailing out from the tide. Sometimes we bicker fiercely over the tiller. But we still have the same goal, to keep the boat afloat. That helps. Knowing the way I know which way north is that we are in this together.

It’s nice to have somebody on on my side. So on my side he’ll call me on my bullshit.

There is a sweet spot between connection and distance. He’s my crack. If I could spent every moment together I would because I like the way he makes me feel safe as if nothing bad can touch me. Even if I know that’s not true. But it’s not good for me to always be together. It’s not for us. It’s not for our friends and family who want to spend time for us as people not as a couple. Spend too much time together and I begin to take him for granted. Being alone feels great the first night. I get shit done. I indulge in secret single behaviour (you know eating salted caramel sauce from a saucepan. With your finger. Just me eh?). But my day two I feel hollow as if some part of me has been amputated. I hate it. But I need time apart like a drink of fresh water to remind me of who I am without him. To remind me of how much I love and miss him.

Sometimes I spy him from a distance and I fall in love him all over again. His posture. That vulnerable spot at the nape of his neck. The way he throws his head back exposing his molars when he laughs.

We are stronger together. Without him, I would be a social recluse happier with books than people. Without me, he would be a bear in a china shop unaware of the undercurrents of polite behaviour.

We’ve been together ten years now. I’m not the same girl I was when I met him. My hair is shorter, my waistbands bigger. He’s changed too. But at moments I get glimmers of the boy he was when I first met him faintly like seeing something through water. His fluffy hair, the interest he takes in everything, the way he holds my hand. Softly as if I am precious.

Marriage is a choice we both make daily. I chose him when he’s popping to the supermarket and I chase after him kissing him ‘goodbye’ as if we’re starring in brief encounters. In case something awful happens I want him to know how much I love him. He hasn’t lived a life in the shadow of uncertainty like I have but he choses me when we kisses me back even though he thinks it’s silly. It’s on such small compromises that a marriage is made.

I chose him when I want to gnaw apart our relationship like an animal in a trap because I cannot stand another repetitive fight about who left crumbs on the bathroom floor but I stay. He chooses me when I woke from my frequent nightmares and he holds me close, strokes my hair and tells me I’ll be OK. He never seems to get bored or frustrated with telling me things are OK.

Over the last year we’ve been struggling with some tough things. But it’s only made us stronger. I chose him when I collapse in pieces on the bathroom floor knowing that he will catch me, always. He chooses me when he picks me up and patiently pieces me back together. He chooses me when he says he is sad knowing that I will hold him until it fades. Even if it takes days.

There are only two pieces of relationship advice I have. The first is figure out: what are you really fighting about? HWSNBN and have two main fights we’ve perfected through long and tedious repetition. The first fight is he loves order and cleanliness and although I like tidiness, I want a flat I can live in more. It was when we were conducting this fight like old pro’s for the 50 millionth time that I realised what we were really fighting about. He was really saying: I want you to respect my need to feel in control of my environment. And I was really saying: I need a space in our flat and to feel like I matter in this relationship. Once we discovered that we could talk about what we were actually fighting about.

My second relationship lesson? Be kind. This less a relationship lesson than a life lesson. You will never regret being kind.

OK, so talk to me in the comments about your relationships past and present. What have you learnt, what have you unlearnt?

2012: the rollercoaster year that was

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2012 has been a real rollercoaster year. It contained the most magnificient high as I said ‘I do’ and married the love of my life surrounded by my friends and family. I felt so full of absolute joy that day I worried my body would not be able to contain it. I know it’s a total cliche but it really was one of the happiest days of my life.

But 2012 also hosted my lowest day as my best friend Lianne lost her battle with brain tumours and passed away this summer. I still miss her like I have lost a limb and this world seems quieter, duller and empty without her. At points, I really wasn’t sure how I would survive the tsunami of grief. But somehow I have and battered and bruised it’s time for another year.

2012 ripped back the veil I had been hiding behind ever since I was a small child faced with my sisters accident. As children we don’t have the resources to conceptualise sudden tragedy so I decided that if I looked after people and tried to control everything I could keep tragedy at bay. This belief was a comfort blanket but it cost me in guilt as people I love got hurt despite my efforts. Unable to realise that this is how the world works I thought it was my fault: for not planning better, for not loving more. This year I realised that no matter how many plans you make, or how much you love somebody, you cannot keep them safe. Life is random, chaotic and tragedy falls from the sky. You can love somebody so much and still they might be hurt or die. You can do your best and try with every fibre in your being but your life might still fall apart to ashes in your hand. I had a full-on existential crisis. This was both very exciting (as a newbie counsellor I had read about this in books but to experience one first hand!) and horrifically painful and disorientating.

However as my mother, a very wise lady, reminded me it isn’t just tragedy that falls from the sky but serendipity. Life’s a rollercoaster and sometimes you’re at the top and sometimes you’re down and the only guarantee is that everything will change.

And so my wish for you, all my readers and for myself, is sadly not that the year ahead is smooth upward climb for that is outside of our power. But that when the lows come you, and I, have the courage and resilience to hang on tight to that rollercoaster and get through that low until the climb begins again. And when all is going well, we’ll appreciate every tiny moment of it. Here’s to 2013 and whatever it may bring.

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8 things to do and see around Farnham

So, a couple of wedding guests have now asked me if I’ve got any tips on places they can visit before or after the wedding to make a long weekend. I lived in Farnham for thirteen years. I’ve been to Birdworld world (tip number 1) more times than I can count. If there is any vaguely entertaining thing to do in the surrounding area, I’ve done it. I’ve tried to feature a range of indoor and outdoor activities for all weathers and for all budgets (the last tip is free).

NB, might be worth checking all the websites to see if these places are open over the Bank Holiday as I am too lazy to do this for you, sorry.

1. If you like birds (and fish too), visit Birdworld

When I was a child no holiday weekend was complete without a trip to Birdworld and it’s sister site and my personal favourite Underwater world. Birdworld is on the outskirts of Farnham and plays host to Penguin beach (watch the penguins swoop underwater), owls just like in Harry Potter, parrots, and scary ostriches. If you have kids or if like me you just like petting strange animals def pay a visit to the Jenny Wren petting farm inside Birdworld to touch goats, rabbits and even a tiny horse!

2. If you like retro entertainment, visit the Hollycombe Working Steam Museum

Think steam trains, steam carousels and steam big wheels. Basically if you like steam  Hollycombe Working Steam Museum has it. Cool retro fun.

3. If you like swinging from trees, visit Alice Holt Forest

If you’re an adventurist than the Alice Holt Forest is for you. Not only does it host Go Ape where for medium-sized fee you can dangle from the trees miles off the ground. There are also bikes for hire, wildlife walks of varying intensity and plenty of kid friendly adventure playgrounds.

4. If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice (and if you’re not, why are you coming to my wedding?), visit Jane Austen’s House

Chawton was where Jane Austen spent the last 13 years of her life. The house has been perfectly perserved in its (tiny) historic beauty. I loved seeing her writing desk by the window where she would hide her writing beneath letters if guests arrived and know that here she wrote Persuasion and revised the great Pride and Prejudice. If you want tea and cake or something more substantial visit the lovely Cassandras Cup across the road, they even do gluten-free food.

5. If you’re a scientist visit Gilbert White’s House

Gilbert White is an amazing 18th century naturalist and his house is full of manuscripts and intricate drawings of his observations.  But when I think of visits to his house only one word comes to mind: tortoises!

6. If you’re a history buff visit Farnham Castle

Overlooking the town is the distinctive red brick of Farnham Castle. Built in 1138 AD by Henry de Bois, William the Conquerors grandson the castle has been continuously occupied for 900 years. It’s surrounded by 320-acre park, with great views over Farnham which we spent our teenage years getting drunk in and rolling down the hill. Fun times.

7. If you like beer, visit the Hogs Back Brewery

The Hogs Back Brewery  brews yummy real ales and offers tours of the brewery as well as a small shop stocked full of beer and beer related goods.

8. If you only go to one place on this list make it Waverley Abbey

Waverley Abbey is where HWSNBN proposed knowing that is my favourite place. The Abbey is actually the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey torn down by Henry VII and one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been to. From the Abbey you can walk alongside the water meadows to Mother Ludlam’s cave which is full of bats. Most of all, it’s free. So there are no excuses. Go. Go now!

Farnhamites current and former, have I missed your favourite place? Tell me in the comments.

You old romantic

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In relationships I always used to believe there are two types of people: the romantics and the pragmatists. One will spend hours writing a stanza about the soft creamy skin on the inside of their beloved’s elbow and the other will fix your fridge (thanks HWSNBN). And I’m shit at fixing fridges.

So I find it truly irksome that when it comes to romance, He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN), is so much better at it than me. Yes, he’s better than somebody who spent her teenage years in romantic training, wafting around in floaty white dresses, writing melancholy odes and constantly on the look out for her dark prince. The dark prince probably put off by the odes and the wafting never came. Admittedly my romantic expertise is more down the tragic ‘let me die on your grave’ end as opposed to ‘let me buy you a cappuccino’. But still HWSNBN likes science and Myers Briggs personality types, how can he be more romantic than me?

Lake Tepako after the rain

Allow me to present the evidence as well as my jaw-droppingly romantic proposal let’s go back to HWSNBN and my first Valentine’s day together. We were travelling around the south island of New Zealand and due to spend V day in Lake Tekapo. Google Lake Tekapo, go on I’ll wait. You back? Right, you’ll have seen that Lake Tekapo is teeny, remote and at the time played host to two restaurants of which one was open on Valentine’s night. We had been going out less than a year and I was still at that stage where everything mattered and after years of singleton life I wanted, no needed, a Big Romantic Gesture. And I may have not so subtly let him know that. Our lovely travel buddy knew this (hey Beth *waves*) and made HWSNBN buy me a card. The night before Valentine’s HWSNBN disappeared he wasn’t in the bedroom, he wasn’t in the common room, finally I located him in the toilet. He couldn’t come out he had tummy trouble. For three hours. Romantic right? However it was all a cunning ruse. On Valentine’s night when we were dining in the one and only restaurant and he handed me a card and a mystery package. Inside the package was a cloth envelope and a Valentine’s card he had sewn out of his trousers. Yep, when were backpacking he had cut up one of his only three pairs of trousers and spent three hours in the toilet sewing me a Valentine’s card. I bought him chocolates. FAIL.

At this point I can practically hear the cynics among you poising to tell me how Valentine’s day is a crass commercialised day and why limit your expressions of love to just one day. But you know what I like Valentine’s day. I liked it even when I was a singleton because it was an excuse to sit in my bedroom with my best friend, eat ice cream, watch crappy movies and bitch about the world.  And I like it when it means I get to show HWSNBN how much I love him. This was our 8th Valentine’s day together and I wanted it to be special.

Unfortunately on Valentine’s Day I had a head cold. And if you can be romantic or do anything when your world has narrowed to trying to stop your brains dripping out your nose, you’re a better person than me. So Valentine’s day was postponed until last night. When HWSNBN got home from work he found a trail of these.

Using a great template I found on the ever-useful Atypical Type A blog I’d laid a scavenger hunt of clues throughout the flat with prizes along the way such as sweeties, a funny handmade card and finally the grand prize: a gluten free plum and almond tart. He got me a flower. Then we went out for a gorgeous candle lit dinner. And I ended the night throughly satisfied (hur, hur) after finally, officially,  being more romantic that HWSNBN. Win!

PS. Big apologies for being a bad blogger recently. So far February has kinda sucked. HWSNBN sister has  been seriously ill although thankfully it seems like she is on the road to recovery now. Work has been crazy. And I got over the flu only to come down with a stinking head cold. Blogging has slipped to the bottom of my priority list along with brushing my hair and eating anything more nutritious than a monster bag of wotsits. Damn you Student’s Union shop. However, I’m finally getting back on top of things and I have lots of great posts in the pipe line including revealing our wedding theme, invites and updating you on how I’ve been doing with my life list. Clue: badly.