March 25, 2023

An Instagram reel caught my eye recently. It was one of those “surprise” marriage proposals, where a phone just happened to be mounted on a tripod. Cue some hackneyed theatrics in a lakeside setting. Visible in the background was a dog scooting its bottom along the grass in search of relief. An amusing and welcome dose of reality and, it could be argued, more symbolic of the long-term relationship.
Let’s face it, in the intensity of those early days, we’ve pledged to each other that we’ll never turn into that couple next to us in the restaurant staring into the middle distance contentedly sipping silence. We’ll never discuss anything as pedestrian as what day the tip is closed. We’ll never “let ourselves go” like the leaking bin bag.
We’ll be buffed and polished, having “film sex” at every opportunity after passionate arguments, discussing the latest Wes Anderson over an artisan ristretto and taking a sabbatical to join the kids in Lombok during their gap year.
Marriage will be a rolling high-definition Insta reel. If this is your relationship, all power to you. However, the new series Marriage, starring Sean Bean and Nicola Walker, perfectly captures the nuances of a long-term marriage.
Some find it dull, depressing even, but many of us are nodding along in fond recognition. Most marriages have their “ketchup moments,” a reference to the characters Ian and Emma discussing being charged for a sachet of ketchup.
For us, it’s demerara sugar. My husband has to remind me to add it to the shopping list despite my eye rolls. He prefers a sprinkling on his Weetabix. I never use it, so it’s low on my radar of a million things to hold in my head. Yet this seemingly inconsequential, unglamorous thing, speaks to something bigger: a respect and regard for another person’s wants and needs (even if that happens to be demerara sugar).
The “ordinary” aspects of a long-term marriage may strike fear into those seeking seduction from the high octane, the different, the unique, but there’s a huge comfort in the small gestures and the unspoken understanding that comes with sharing your soul with someone.
Sara and David Roddis, both 27, have been together for 12 years – since they were just 15. “Our joy lies in the ‘everyday’ – the bit that some find boring but that for me and David is the ultimate comfort,” says Sara.
“It’s the little things that mean the most, like the cup of tea at the end of the day. Our thrills come from reconnecting after life has been busy, thinking of each other during the rough and boring times in life and making the everyday a little happier. The honesty, and knowing each other so well that chatting to each other from the toilet is something you don’t even bat an eyelid at, that’s real love.”
Like the characters in Marriage, Sam, 54, has been married for 27 years. “I think longevity does strange things. It can make you, break you, close you down, open you up. Having now entered my 28th year [of marriage], I would say it’s better than it’s ever been. You can branch off in different directions at times; they go at their pace and you go at yours. Often those paces are out of sync. As time goes on, you find out about the person you married and about yourself.
The ‘tests’ start: tolerance, patience, listening skills, knowing which battles to choose. We’ve worked on our marriage. There were times when I thought it wouldn’t continue. The frustrations were maddening, but here we are, mellower, calmer, clearer and looking forward to what might happen next.
“We can’t party like we used to, nor do I wish to. There’s something to be said for sitting down at 9pm with a cup of tea together and moaning about all the rubbish that’s on TV. It’s refreshingly mundane!”
In almost 25 years of marriage, my husband and I have seen each other at our most raw and at our best, supporting each other through stress, pain and loss and celebrating each other’s achievements. We’ve become attuned to each other’s emotional weather; whole sentences can be conveyed via a glance. With each other, our guard is down and we gain perspective.
We talk pants and politics, washing up and books. There’s value in the mundane; it’s what you crave when things go awry. Ultimately, all anyone wants is to be loved and understood. It’s fitting therefore, to leave the last word to John McAteer, 65, who will be celebrating 41 years with his wife Mary at the end of the month:
“I awake each day and am so grateful for the joys of my long and happy marriage. To have someone who returns my love so unconditionally is a true blessing. I like to think we enrich each other’s life and understand and respond to each other’s needs almost telepathically.
“My wife, to me, will always be beautiful and charming, as magnetically attractive as the day I met her. The joy of loving togetherness is awesome.’
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