Tag Archives: marriage

Three years on

Three years ago today, Tom and I were married at Stroud Registry office. For those of you who have not followed this saga from the outset, Tom was in America when we were first put together by a publishing house. As we could neither afford nor feel comfortable about commuting back and forth across the Atlantic, he moved to marry me. There are no halfway options available, no interim testing periods. If you’ve got an international romance and you want to explore it, it’s either commuting, or moving to marry. We were sure enough of each other to take that plunge.

From the point at which the visa to enter the country was issued, we had six months to get him here, get married and get the next round of paperwork handed in. There was no time for anything elaborate.  It was a mad dash to get everything done in time with the added pressure of knowing that if we failed, or were too slow, we would be forcibly separated from each other.

The last three years have kept us on our toes with many challenges of numerous different shapes and sizes. We made Hopeless Maine Book 2 whilst living on a narrow boat, with nothing like enough electricity or internet access to get the job done. We survived setbacks, and all kinds of external pressures. Faced with hardships and trials, we pulled together, hung onto each other, coped, survived, made the most of the good bits. In the last few months we’ve emerged into an easier life, the good contracts and the royalty cheques are coming in, and it’s all getting a lot more viable and comfortable. I do not imagine that success is going to put much strain on us, but it looks like we’ve some scope for exploring that.

During the last three years we also made some fabulous friendships, met some amazing people, had wild and incredible low budget adventures, shared stories and laughter and delights. We’ve spent very little of that time apart, working side by side in all things, and find we are able to live closely, intensely without suffocating each other. We’ve deepened our knowledge of each other, and our mutual trust and I know we have both changed a lot, becoming more able to relax, laugh and play. We both have shadows in our past. Big, serious shadows, the sort that will follow you about and suck on the marrow of your life if you aren’t careful. Rather than be consumed by the amount of darkness we both brought with us, we’ve been able to make hefty changes, and that’s been a truly remarkable sort of process.

There are no huge or dramatic gestures planned for today. That’s fine. One of the things we have found along the way is that if you get the small things right, if daily life is rich with love, with gestures of affection and things enjoyed, then there’s much less pressure on the ‘big days’ to deliver some spectacular proof that all is well. We know where we are with each other, and it is a good place. So, I did serenade him with an impromptu song this morning (a silly one) and we are going out for lunch, and we leap into the next year of being together with joyful enthusiasm.

Thank you everyone who has shared the journey with us so far.

Happily Ever After

I haven’t had a vast number of relationships, although there were some flings along the way that have not been terribly visible to those of you who know me personally. Most of my relationships have not lasted more than three years. Some just gradually disintegrated. We ran out of things to say to each other and things we wanted to do. We stopped being interested in each other. We moved on. Mostly that was fine, and seemed normal. One limped on in an undead state for far longer than it should have done, but the rot had set in by the three year mark.

Tom and I have been a couple for four and a half years now, and married for nearly three of those. I’ve been conscious in recent weeks that we’re into the time frame when usually things have fallen apart for me (assuming they hadn’t fallen apart way before then). Life has tested us, repeatedly and extensively. The initial challenge of being a long distance couple. Narrowboat life, poverty, a protracted period of horrendous stress with going to court, professional setbacks, work challenges, bouts of illness… it has not been an easy few years. Yet we’ve made the best of things through all of that, and in face of hardship have pulled together rather than pulling away.

I look at us, and I feel more confident than I’ve ever felt about any relationship ever. It’s not the big, dramatic stuff that seems most critical here. It’s the smaller, every day stuff. We like each other. We get on. We enjoy doing stuff together. We can laugh at things, and together, and we find joy in sharing the small things. It’s the little stuff, the hugs and warm words, the daily exchanges and the small tokens of affection that are the glue. Drama and passion we’ve had aplenty, but you can’t live there full time, and if there isn’t the gentler, day to day stuff, passion burns out.

I had thought myself to be a loner. I used to spend hours alone every day, working mostly. I can do bursts of intense social contact and extroversion, but on the whole need a lot of quiet time. I would have said there was no way I could spend most of my waking hours in the company of another person and not end up strangling them. But here we are, and hours I spend away from Tom are rare. I haven’t strangled him at all. This still surprises me; both that I could be so comfortable with another person, and that anyone could find me tolerable in large doses.

As a younger human I did not believe anyone would want me, and was ridiculously grateful for any attention at all. It did not lead to me making reliably good choices. I spent my twenties and early thirties thinking I was an awful, difficult person to deal with and that only some kind of saint would be able to put up with me. I thought this because I was being told how hard I was to live with on a very regular basis. I’d come to understand that I am unreasonable, demanding, difficult, moody, irrational, impossible to please, and a whole heap of other things that made it very hard to look at my reflection in the mirror of a morning.

Then in these last four years or so, I’ve had a totally different experience. Having it reflected back to me that I’m fun to be around, good to share things with, interesting, reasonable, not so demanding, co-operative, kind even. A whole other person. Someone I don’t have to hate and feel ashamed of. It’s a very different sort of life experience, feeling valued and loved for who I am, rather than grudgingly tolerated. Maybe I wasn’t so awful in the first place. I’ve not noticed any dramatic changes in my behaviour, except that I laugh more and cry less, because I am happier.

I spent most of my life believing that the onus was on me, to bend and shape myself into something other people would find pleasing, so that they would put up with me. All the time I was doing that, I wasn’t terribly happy, nor did I seem ever to be good enough in the people pleasing role. These few years of not feeling like I have to do that have been revolutionary for me. To be good enough as I am. Not needing to apologise for the shortcomings of my existence. To feel liked. The smallest, most basic and essential things, so easily taken for granted if you are used to them, but an absolute miracle and wonder for me, having mostly not known what that would feel like.

He’s not perfect, and he knows that. He doesn’t expect me to be perfect either. When things go wrong, we deal with it and move on. No big deal. There is trust between us, and respect, and mutual need and a deep, deep love that has been tested in all manner of ways and that does not crumble in face of adversity. I can easily imagine doing this for the rest of my life. I just wish someone had sat me down when I was fourteen and told me I was worth this, and that I should not accept anything less than someone who would love me as an equal, value me as I am, like me as a friend and respect me as a person. But I got there in the end.

Planning a handfasting

We had six months, from when Tom first got his paperwork, to physically get him to the UK, get married and submit the next round of paperwork. Apparently there are people who think you can just walk into a Registrar’s office with a couple of witnesses and that’s a marriage sorted. Not true. There’s a lead time of at least a month on the quickest of weddings, and if you wanted something a bit more involved and romantic, the 6 months of moving to marry visa will not allow it. Most people spend more than 6 months making wedding arrangements. One of the upshots was that we did not attempt to do a handfasting at the same time.

We had two years, before the next round of paperwork, which included a hefty form and Tom had to pass the rather silly Life in the UK Test. A heady mix of the painfully obvious, and things no actual resident ever needs to know around what the Queen can do but mostly leaves to the Prime Minister.

Getting married was a hasty process, and we didn’t have the luxury of time to enjoy it as much as we might have done. The knowledge that we only got two years, and then officialdom could, in theory, force us apart, has been really hard to live with. I’ve felt it as a physical weight on my body, most particularly my heart. But, paperwork dragons have been duly seen off, and this week we had confirmation that Tom has been processed and can stay forever. Last night I was crying with sheer relief. It’s taken us four years, from the point of declaring love to each other, to get to a place where we can live together for as long as we choose, without having to get permission from anyone. Having that which many straight couples can take for granted, for the first time in our relationship, is a really big deal. And yes, this process has made me even more sensitive to the plight of other people whose freedom to love and marry is restricted by law, but that’s a rant for another day.

It took me a while to realise that I hadn’t felt able to handfast because of the paperwork, and the permission to stay. We’ve talked about this one a bit. We are free to commit to each other totally now, because we are free to be in the same place. It also seems like a good reason for some celebrating. So I’m thinking about where, and when, and how. Somewhere public that anyone who wants to be with us can get to, would be the first consideration. We’ve got one volunteer for the celebrant team already, we’ll be looking for others, and there’s going to be cake, and ice cream, if I get this right. I’ve vows to ponder, and a dress to buy, because this seems like a fine excuse for buying a dress. And a thing to make for the tying of hands together. Perhaps a broom to make, too.

Alongside this, we’re house hunting, and talking to publishers, and all the things that constitute our lives and futures are starting to fall into place. Exciting times. It’s been a long, hard fight to get here, but we have a future and a lot of scope to chase dreams right now. It’s been a relationship built on dreams from the very start. For some people, dreams are flimsy, untrustworthy things, distractions from real life. For me, they have always been the essence of what I do. Dreams of better things, dreams that turn into books and images. We dared the dream that we could be together, that we could work together and do what we love. It’s not been an easy path on any count. And while ‘living the dream’ tends to imply ease and convenience, with a bucket load of cash, in our case it means living out our beliefs and values, making ideas into realities, and so forth. Often that’s not an easy path to walk, but we’ll keep doing it, hanging on to each other when times are tough, as no doubt they will sometimes be.

Happily ever after, for the first time in my life looks like a realistic option.

Rites of passage

Celebrant work tends to focus on the biggest and most obvious rites of passage – birth, marriage and death are most commonly dealt with ceremonially, we might also mark coming of age and entry into being an elder. However, life is full of rites of passage, or life initiations, as I’ve heard them referred to (Chaos Magician Barry Walker first coined the term, I believe).

The first time I was really conscious of this I think, was when I was heavily pregnant. There is only one way forward from there – by some means, the baby will leave your body, hopefully alive, possibly not. You too could die. Pre-birth it is impossible to realistically imagine what the birthing process will be like. There’s also the huge change of having a child, which again I don’t think anything truly prepares you for. Everything changes.

There are many other life events that you can see coming and know are going to bring the unimaginable. Moving home, changing job, entering and giving up on relationships, the deaths of family members and loved ones, and many other tests and trials. A significant number of the challenges we face come out of nowhere, and it may not be until much later that you get to sit down and make some kind of sense out of what happened to you. These upheavals are dramatic and taking the time to honour and recognise them can help make the process more coherent and palatable. In celebrating, we may also make public, and that can bring the benefit of advice from others who may have gone through something similar. It’s not until you’re an initiate of certain life rites that others will tell you they’ve been there too. The women who also lost babies. The men who were also abused… and the good stuff as well. Once you know, there are things that can be shared because there’s no need to explain, and some things can only be understood once they’ve been lived.

Not everything is event, either. Not all transitions are sudden and dramatic, puberty and aging are not events really, parenthood is a work in progress and so forth. Sometimes it pays to stop and look back to see where you’ve been, because often it’s only then you realise that you have come a very long way, one step at a time.

There aren’t any formal ways of marking these passages, but I think it helps to take them seriously in your own, private practice.

Wife, lover, partner

I’ve been married to Tom for over a year now. We’ve faced a lot of challenges together in that time and been through some hard stuff. I can’t imagine being without him, or wanting to be without him. It makes for an informative contrast with my first marriage, and I’ve been reflecting on the nature of relationship, what it takes to make a good marriage, a good partnership.

I was a lot younger, of course, when I married the first time. I felt strongly about wanting to be a good wife, to make a good home, give love and support and all of that. It was never a conventional relationship. There weren’t excessive external challenges – a normal smattering – but it did not work, and I spent most of my time lonely, unhappy, frustrated and burdened with guilt for things that were not of my making.
Although those years changed me, I am in many ways the same person, with the same feelings, impulses, desires, needs and so forth. So, what makes one marriage a miserable failure, and the other a rewarding, joyful partnership? I’m mostly drawing on personal experience here, although I know of other relationships where some of these things have happened too, the good and the ill.

Where a relationship is underpinned by love and respect, neither party wants to do something that would not please the other. That’s especially true in a sexual context, but important other times too. Where there is love, there is a shared goal of mutual happiness. Sometimes it takes work and negotiation to find out how best to achieve that, but again, where there is love, that does not seem like hardship.

If the two people take joy in each other’s company, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, or how much money you have, or how long you’ve been apart, or if you’ve got to spend the day on boring practical things, you can still be pretty happy. The ongoing affirmation of mutual love, care and appreciation makes an epic difference. Again, all manner of hard things are easier to take if you know you are sharing life with someone who values, respects and delights in you. The partner who forever finds fault, who says ‘you would be attractive if…’ and finds other ways to undermine, is no kind of joy to be with.

Competition between partners can be a form of slow relationship death. Where it matters who earns the most money, or who works the longest hours, or has the better car, or is further on in their career or making more headway with OBOD, or seeming to be more spiritual… you are in trouble. Where there is good relationship, seeing the other one progress and develop is a happy thing. If one partner is afraid of being left behind, not being needed, not being important, that can stifle the other. You can find your partner only seems happy when you are crushed, demoralised or miserable. If success is unbearable to the other, you can find you are forever being knocked back when things go well. That is not a recipe for a successful marriage.

There has to be a balance of responsibility and power. If one person has the power – especially control of resources and money, that of itself creates problems. If the other person carries the responsibility for fixing, arranging and figuring out, but without the means to carry through, that’s a nightmare. If one person has the emotional responsibility, that’s impossible. Equally, if one person is forever being blamed and there is no scope for sharing responsibility, the relationship is not in a good way. True partnership shares, in all ways and in all things. It matters less who was right, or wrong, what matters is how you go forwards, how you improve things, do better in the future, learn, know each other more thoroughly, build understanding and all that.

All relationships have sticky moments, conflicts, times when needs do not neatly balance or external pressures threaten to overwhelm you. The measure of a good relationship is not the presence or absence of these things, it’s what you do with them. If you’re coming out of the hurricane with arms around each other, the rest is just detail. If crisis makes you pull together, that’s very different from a relationship where it’s used as an excuse to lash out and injure. And equally, if one party is always looking for opportunities to justify anger or selfish behaviour, it’s never going to be good. Good relationship can include conflict, strenuous disagreements, even fallings out, if that overall intention to care, support and be with, is there. It’s always better to air a problem than to hide it. Where there is genuine love and good intention, the hardest things can be worked through and dealt with. Where there is only an intention to use, the smallest problems turn into nightmares.

This is a very superficial sketch, I could probably write a whole book. I feel grateful in knowing what the differences are, in being able to fully appreciate what I have, and in having a husband who is most worthy of being loved and admired, and who loves me as an equal, in return.

Gay marriage, druidry and the slippery slope

Catholic Bishops are, I gather, up in arms in the UK about our government’s plans to make same-sex marriage legal. We’ll skip quickly over the hypocrisy of a church that deliberately covered up child abuse crimes and head for the slippery slope.

One of the most readily trawled out concepts by people who do not like a thing, is that it provides a gateway to something much, much worse. Thus you can get up in public, suggest you don’t think gay people are entirely awful, but question where this is going, what will it lead to? We must stop now before the rot really sets in, and so forth. It creates fear, Lovecraft-style, of some nameless dread, too terrible to describe.

Pagans get hit with this one regularly too along, no doubt, with plenty of other interesting minority folk. A bit of nature worship isn’t so terrible, but where does that lead, eh? Next thing you know there will be naked dancing, virgin sacrifice and Satan will personally turn up, and then things will happen that are too awful to put into words. Better to be very frightened right now and say ‘no’. It’s such an easy trick to pull. It plays to people’s fear of the unknown, very deliberately. And of course because the objectors are never going to pin down the nature of their nameless dreads, there is no scope for having a debate with them.

As they said on The Now Show last night, what gay marriage will probably lead to is some people having better decorated houses. Gay marriage is a move towards inclusion, tolerance and generally being a nicer society to live in. If you don’t like gay marriage, it’s very simple, don’t marry someone of the same sex. Perhaps the Catholics fear it’s going to be made obligatory! But what could be on the slippery slope? How about polyamorous marriage? More than two people who want to commit, being allowed to do so. Forgive me if I fail to see how that’s going to destroy Western civilization any time soon. It will very likely keep a good few lawyers in gainful employment though.

Laws do not prevent people from loving. They also don’t prevent people from cheating, abusing and perverting the system. Laws provide a framework in which we can try to rub along with each other, but they never have, and never will cause people to live in a moral way. The whole point of morals is that they have to come from within, you can’t enforce them. By giving people maximum choice, you also give them the freedom to be moral. Surely for a gay Catholic, making the sacrifice of not adopting the mainstream attitude to your sexual preferences would be a far more meaningful spiritual action than just not being allowed in the first place?

Slippery slope arguments tend to be employed by people who do not have a decent case. It’s one thing if you can prove a causal link, but usually the links are all imaginary. Of course one of the known causal links is that when you allow people freedom of conscience, they don’t always do what you want them to. If your spiritual power base depends on legal enforcement, the last thing you want is people having the power to choose. But real faith, real love, real commitments are chosen, not enforced. You can be a better sort of Catholic in a system that doesn’t oblige you to turn up and confess every week, but where you do that because you feel it and believe it. I think you also get better marriages where people are there by choice and can get out if they are miserable. Choice is good, and the slippery slope is frequently a work of fiction.

The rules about love

Robin’s excellent guest blog yesterday created an interesting coincidence, time-wise. Today I have a short story out under the other name, very much about gender identity and the rules surrounding it. There’s a lot of personal story tied up in this as well as the gender politics, so I think it makes sense to begin at the beginning.

I fell in love with an American. I’m English. Now, if you happen to have a ton of money, then I get the impression moving to a different country is not so very difficult. Border control agencies are very happy to welcome your wealth into their nation. For ordinary people who fall in love, all you can do is move to marry. If you can’t afford to be running back and forth between countries to date each other, this means either you don’t do it, or you take the plunge. I took the plunge, and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. But, the rules about who can move where make life very difficult if you and your soul mate did not arrange to be born into the same area of legal jurisdiction.

Most countries can cope with the idea of international heterosexual couples. I didn’t get very far into the process of paperwork with Tom before it dawned on me that a gay couple would have a very hard time of it. The UK has something akin to gay marriage, but plenty of countries don’t recognise it at all. What happens if the person you fall in love with is not of the opposite sex, and neither of you were forward sighted enough to be born in a country that accepts gay marriage? What then?

People should be free to love each other. The only rules we have should be the ones we agree between ourselves, aside from laws that people all hold in common, whether they happen to be sharing a bed or not. I also feel very strongly that there should be no laws about general human conduct that do not reach into the bedroom. It ought to be even handed.

Relationship is central to druidry. We understand ourselves as being in relationship with all things. There are justifications for protective laws around relationship – avoiding power imbalances and vulnerable people being taken advantage of against their will. However, when it comes to consenting adults, there should be no legal barriers to love. Nor should we prioritise one kind of relationship over another. It bugs me that there’s also this huge emphasis on marriage as sexual relationship, and that being the only kind of partnership recognised under law. Why can’t people enter true civil partnerships, as people who wish to live together and take responsibility for each other, but are not identifying as a sexual couple? Why not make that available to anyone who wants, or needs it, as a strong foundation for dedicated relationships of all shapes, that gives easy legal cover to the parties involved?

Relationship is so much more than sexual coupling. We have such narrow definitions about how people are supposed to love each other and interact with each other. They aren’t rules, just habits of thinking, and if we discarded them and started over, with relationship as the core concept, not sex, I think we could do amazing things. I’d bet people would still have sex with each other too.

If anyone is curious about the fiction title, It’s part one of a three part series, the first being He comes and goes – http://www.loveyoudivine.com/index.php?main_page=document_product_info&cPath=26&products_id=879