Róisín Ingle on . . . for better or worse
Recently my children have started to object to me calling my boyfriend Daddy. They don’t know yet that I call him my boyfriend but when they find out, I’m sure they’ll object to that too. I might start calling him my companion, even though that sounds as though one of us in incapacitated and for that reason isn’t ideal.
I’m glad they pick us up on the Daddy thing – it’s a bad verbal habit of mine. I’ll say something innocent like “Daddy is coming with us to the park” and they’ll say “but he’s not your Daddy he’s your husband”. I’ll say “well, okay, he’s my love” and they’ll say “duhhh . . . you mean your husband” and by my silence I will seem to agree. Our children, who like most children tend not to complicate things, have married us off in their minds. For better or worse.
We’re not married though. Our significant anniversary, which we celebrate with more enthusiasm some years than others, is the day we met. Love at first riot, in turbulent Portadown on a hot July afternoon in the year 2000. Nearly 14 years later here we are, unmarried, parents of two almost five-year-olds, wondering whether we should take the plunge.
Ever since she could form words, my fairy godchild Hannah has been pestering us to make things legal. To fob her off we told her it was kind of like a jigsaw, you have to have all the pieces before you can make a marriage fit. She bought that story for years, every now and then asking us how many pieces were left. Now she’s a teenager. She knows the jigsaw story was a not-very-effective smokescreen. There’s no pieces left, the smoke has cleared and we’ve nowhere to hide.
Sometimes I fantasise about it. I’d like a wedding in a forest, with tents and fairy lights and bonfires, a raucous village fete. I’d tell people to wear comfy clothes, jeans if they liked. Billy Bragg would be singing protest songs under a tree, there’d be no speeches. Sometimes it’s a different fantasy. We just go and get married without telling anyone, strangers as witnesses, suddenly, secretly legal. Just a piece of paper signed.
I went to see Fiddler on the Roof with marriage on my mind. In the musical, marriage isn’t so much a choice as a necessity for young women, a method of survival. Tevye, played by Paul Michael Glaser, him off Starsky and Hutch , says at one point about his impoverished daughter and her husband “they are so happy they don’t know how miserable they are”.
I’ve seen the movie 50 times – at school I played one of the daughters resisting the ways of the Matchmaker. I had to sing the line: “Up to this minute I misunderstood that I could get stuck for good.”
I’m already stuck for good, and not in a bad way. Stuck in a way that means ’til death do us part. To us. We don’t need a piece of paper for that. Other everyday events bind you, stick you together with emotional glue. Events Good and events Bad. Like yesterday morning (Bad). I was on my laptop and he was reading a newspaper, it was the kind of scene sometimes described as companionable. Then suddenly he noticed the silence. The sound of no children which, I’m not going to lie, I was kind of enjoying. He searched every room and as he did I remembered that one of them realised, just yesterday, that they could open the front door by themselves.
They had escaped. My love, my not-husband, took off out the door and down the street like Usain Bolt. They were on their way to my mother’s house, clutching their coats, running down the lane hand in hand when he found them. I didn’t even notice they’d gone but he did. I’d have been quite happy for the silence to have gone on for at least 20 minutes. But if it had gone on. If we hadn’t noticed. It didn’t bear thinking about.
Good and Bad. Like yesterday morning (Good). We shook our heads and laughed about their escapade, the audacity of them, our abject fear shifting into a strange sort of pride that they were brave enough to venture out alone. It was a moment of mutual appreciation for these two girls we are lucky enough to be with every day.
The domestic set-up – married or not married – can be difficult. There are days when if you’re not griping, you’re compromising. On the good days, the love sits between us, and we bask in its glow. And on the bad ones? Sometimes we are so miserable we don’t know how happy we are.