Everything I've learned from my first 10 years of marriage
This summer I will have been married for 10 years. Ten years!
I appreciate that most couples I know have been together for at least twice that long, and to them the first 10 is still the honeymoon period. Still, you could argue that should you marry late in life — automatically inheriting three live-in stepchildren — you pack a lot of marriage lessons into a short space of time.
Ten years in second marriage years is probably equivalent to 25 in real terms, or it feels like it. So… for what it’s worth, this is what I have learned thus far.
Some things I anticipated that have not materialised
- Practical input: I think I assumed (this being a small gap in my own skill set) that a husband would bring order on the practical front. I was anticipating that once we entered the home-making phase of our relationship, he would develop husbandly tendencies, similar to my dad’s. Knowing everything about the car and maintenance thereof, for example, and anticipating the pipes freezing and taking action accordingly. If nothing else, I thought marriage meant never having to worry about bleeding a radiator or checking a tyre pressure. But no. Turns out that husbands are just as useless and ill-equipped, so you have to keep on ringing up your dad.
- Romantic mini-breaks: There was some of that in the early days, but after a while you feel a bit of a fraud checking in to a hotel to watch TV in bed.
- Double-dating: Something I never really enjoyed when I was single was having dinner, in a restaurant, with a married couple. You feel like their security detail, or their not-all-there eldest child who has refused to leave home. I was looking forward to lots of double-couple dinners with mutual friends, showing off and flirting. I don’t know why, but this doesn’t happen, ever.
- Dividing up the dinner party duties: Again, to an outsider, one of the top envy-stoking aspects of marriage was the labour sharing when “entertaining” — the husband on gravy while the wife checked the potatoes, or the husband rustling up a quick horseradish sauce (for fun, while carrying on an animated conversation). Not happening. If there is any assistance in our kitchen then you can cut the tension with a knife and no one can relax until the task (draining the carrots) has been successfully completed.
Some unexpected bonuses
- Having someone to watch TV with: If you take watching TV at all seriously, having someone similarly inclined doubles your pleasure (See Gogglebox). I know people who are married who don’t see eye-to-eye on TV watching at all, and I don’t get it. TV watching for two is a top bonding leisure activity.
- Someone to leave the party with: Firstly, someone who is prepared to keep on diving back in, patiently coaxing you towards the door (because that is a thankless task that can take up to half an hour). And then someone with whom to dissect the party on the journey home, and, possibly — okay probably — to continue drinking with around the kitchen table, although it is 3am and there is nothing in the house but Noilly Prat. No more post-party blues. (Not until the morning anyway).
- Spending money: Because there are two of you, for richer or poorer, the fear is spread.
- Someone to make you a hot cup of tea in the morning: Just kidding! Though I hear that does happen in some marriages.
Some things nobody tells you
- Marriage makes you fat! You make a ritual out of eating, unlike when you are single and you dash between drink engagements, occasionally pausing to wolf down a scotch egg and some chocolate.
- It’s a good idea to have a different tone of voice (not your serious voice anyway) which signals a rudeness free-for-all. You can say anything you like providing you stay in ‘The Voice’, and it doesn’t last more than 30 seconds.
- Date night is a slightly creepy idea that actually works, especially if it does not involve a “romantic” plan and you enforce the “on no account mention the children (or these days, the parents)” rule.
- Don’t go to the dull side socially. By which I mean, don’t let it all become about the children’s friends’ parents; people who also go to baby and dog yoga; the couple who live locally, and are very persistent…
- You’ve heard of FOMO. In my experience both sexes have FOPMA (Fear of Partner’s Middle Ageing). I saw raw panic in my husband’s eyes when I bought a pair of French sole ballet pumps instead of my usual trainers. Men get sad, too, when you hang up your rude shorts. (The equivalent panic for women is husbands getting into their short-sleeved pilot shirt and beige chinos).
- On no account say the things that pop into your head during an argument. Like the massive horrible things you just want to test out to hear how bad they sound.
- You get marital telepathy. You can tell by the way they are standing at 100 yards, from the back, whether it is time to go.
- You will arrive at the showing-off belching stage, and the “look at this, it’s like dough” (while gripping and waggling your spare tyre), moment. This marks the beginning of the comfortably settled-in phase. But you need to keep a handle on it. Both of you.
- Romantic gestures — meh. A year into the relationship and you are thrilled he booked a restaurant and bought you a ring. Ten years on, making your 91-year-old mother laugh and somehow persuading her to walk once across the park beats that hands down on love points.
- About now you will be giving him a sex pass. Joking! You are having sex negotiations, like all married people always do, which roughly speaking goes like this: “Yes! Yes! YES!”; “Tomorrow!”; “When we’re not up at 6.30am, and I have not just accidentally had thirds of chicken dhansak and cut my lip with the corkscrew.” Yes, you may have the teensiest bit less sex as time goes on, but there is bonding value in both agreeing to pass out instead (I think it’s called “letting go with love”).
- Sometimes you need to just keep quiet. Say nothing. Even if you have something to say that betters their thing.
Some things your mother told you about marriage that remain true
- Husbands appreciate you making an effort once in a while. Your mother would say “a man wants a woman who looks good on his arm”, which is very annoying and enough to make you wear overalls and a full beard to his office do. But do scrub up sometimes, because it’s good for you too.
- You will not change them. Maybe fractionally. Not really.
- Most situations will be improved by a largely meat-based blow-out dinner and a chilly beer.
- Don’t forget to be someone who is fun to be married to. Not just the one with the list of things to do.
- Hide food (especially what she would refer to as “goodies”) or he will have the lot, even though you clearly bought said goodies for the people coming over on Saturday night, which is why they were hidden at the back of the cupboard.
- You need a shared hobby. Ours is sitting around the kitchen table late on a Saturday night singing all the lyrics to both sides of Ziggy Stardust. May or may not count.
- Couples who say they never argue are either lying or dying of boredom.
- Don’t marry a gardener unless you are a gardener (ie. You can’t be an early riser married to a late-to-bedder. You don’t want to get out of sync on that one).