I have a tattoo. A great little number that my sister designed for me more than 3 years ago and which I have been living with for just as long. My tattoo is on my left forearm, pretty apt as an engagement ring graced my left ring finger for a less than a third of the time prior to me getting inked. I get to wake up every morning and look at my tattoo and think of how much I love it. Any time I need cheering up its a simple matter of turning my arm over slightly and gazing at the beauty of my tattoo. I miss my tattoo in Winter, it takes much more PT to look at it in these chilly months, but it makes me love it that much more each Summer as I run around in short sleeved t-shirts free to gaze at this declaration of difference and individuality. My tattoo is a statement that will remain on my arm until my skin rots and disintegrates off my bones one day.
As the popular saying goes, Kanye West uses it in lyrics to one of his songs, “Diamonds are Forever”. Sterns and various other jewelers have also coined the phrase. Hence, giving diamonds as engagement presents and setting them in wedding rings. Diamonds are meant to represent something that isn’t going to end. In this case, the relationship, the love you share as a couple. Marriage. I am completely freaked out about this whole forever thing, perhaps also why I’m not so keen on diamonds. I know what you’re thinking. “Why does this mad woman have a tattoo then?” And that is a valid question. Good thinking.
I guess my tattoo represents everything about who I am. And although it was pretty painful to get I want another one. This one a little bigger and a little brighter and certainly more expensive. To me my tattoos set me apart from everyone else, they’re an expression of my freedom. A wedding ring would be an expression of my non-freedom.
But its more than that. With a tattoo its me only. If I make a mistake and choose the wrong artist or get the wrong colours that’s my fault. My mistakes don’t bear on anyone else’s life and there is no one else who’s mistakes can bear on mine. My tattoo isn’t going to cheat on me. I won’t outgrow it. Well I might but lets see how we go [If I keep eating cake as often as I do I just might stretch it out of proportion!]. And even if I do outgrow it, my tattoo and I certainly can’t grow apart. It’s impossible.
When it comes to another human being, saying forever is a promise I’m not sure I can keep. And I don’t know if it’s fair to expect them to keep it either. When it comes to people, forever is naive. I don’t know what the future holds and I have no idea how things will pan out. I cannot make a promise that is just so expansive and so difficult to see to the end. People do outgrow one another, I know it makes us sound like jerseys or jeans, but it’s kind of how we are. There is the possibility that just like your favourite top when you were in your 20’s just isn’t your favourite top now that you’re in your 40’s, your life partner may not be your favourite anymore either.
And what about death? When we say “I’ll love you forever” do we really mean “I’ll love you until you die and then I plan to love someone new”? All relationships end. Any good lawyer setting up your prenuptial contracts will tell you that “all relationships end, in death or divorce”. Not the greatest thing to hear months before the big day, as my friend will attest to. But never the less the truth. Does forever in this case mean, “I’ll move on but I wont forget you”?
So it’s not that I’m afraid of commitment. I certainly am not. I have had several long-term relationships (not only with my tattoo). So it can’t be that. And I am not afraid of change. I just know that it’s probably the only thing that will remain constant when it comes to people, whether it’s us or others we can always count on someone changing (not necessarily to our will though or when we need them to) but if its not them it most certainly will be us.
When I was 12, I decided that I would not get married. I planned to have a boyfriend, live with him and perhaps have kids with him. It would all depend on how I felt in the future. When I was 12, I also had a very religious Bible ed. teacher (which is understandable I guess) and a very religious Sex ed. teacher (which is not so understandable). They both maintained that if one decided to have pre-marital sex one would find oneself dwelling in Hell for an eternity. For a fearful 12 year old, reliant on people not being angry with her this was a terrifying thought. I did not want to spend the rest of my (after) life in Hell. However, I also did not want to die a virgin. New plan; I would wait until I got married before allowing someone to pop my cherry.
My new decision to wait until marriage was going well. In other words, I was so terrified of all that fiery brimstone and the devil himself, that I did nothing with any boys. My first kiss came at the ripe old age of 14 and nothing else followed that. Until I met Gavin *. Gavin was a little older than I was, 18 was not that old, just a little over a year, but it wasn’t so much him that affected my new resolve as myself. I already had developed sexual needs and wants and Gavin, while still a virgin, was somewhat more experienced in these areas than I was. He accepted my rules and told me that he’ll wait for me. Less than a year later, I had broken my promise to God and myself to wait until I got married. I do not blame Gavin in any way, this was my decision to take and if there had been any forcing, it was probably me forcing him. Now I would be damned, forever, according to my helpful teachers. I felt guilty, not for having sex but for breaking my promise, for going back on my (relatively new)resolve, for actually enjoying the experience, for relishing in the feeling that I was a rebel. But I couldn’t escape that nagging memory that I would be relocated to Hell when I died and not Heaven. New plan; I would marry Gavin, that would be sure to set things right.
A month after having my cherry popped, I began falling out of love with Gavin faster than Kryptonite kills Superman. Gavin became stifling and unbearable. I felt unable to breathe when I was near to him (it wasn’t his aftershave) and I dreaded visiting him or seeing him. This was a major problem especially if you consider my new plan. But this plan was the only way I could redeem myself, and keep having sex. Five years later, Gavin popped the question. I knew it was coming. I couldn’t run. The smallest and most expensive handcuff I had ever seen (my engagement ring) was housed in a camel coloured box punctuating the question scrawled across a beach near Durban. To say I was disappointed would shatter his fantasy. To say I was disappointed would mean confronting a fear I had locked away in a box with plans for the key. I said yes, reluctantly.
A week later, we were in the car heading back to Jo’burg. I felt like being ill the whole way back. It wasn’t car sickness and it wasn’t morning sickness. I was ill from nerves and a clear non-desire to go ahead with this. I denied this non-desire and called it excitement. Gavin and I got down to the rather expensive and stressful business of planning a wedding. We set a date and booked a venue. To those of you who are married you’ll realise that booking a venue means paying half of the cost as a deposit. Onto the next task which, according to the wedding magazines I felt more embarrassed to buy than tampons, was to choose and book a photographer. Also, the next expensive item on the list. Luckily we were still in discussions and hadn’t made any payments or definite decisions.
A week after our 6 year anniversary, 5 months after our engagement and 7 months before our wedding I broke up with Gavin. He didn’t see it coming. Nor did anyone else. Who would after recently getting engaged? It shows how well I had hidden my feelings from him, myself and everyone else we knew. I’m not proud of it. I had denied how I truly felt about this guy because of some prescription about sexual relations preached at me by 2 teachers who used their experience and my age against me. I had lied to myself for 11 years about what I wanted, about what would make me comfortable and happy. Just because of some prescription designed to protect (I hope) people hundreds and thousands of years ago. How could I let this happen? How could I be so out of touch with myself and so needy for acceptance from a being I couldn’t see and those I shared the Earth with? I hurt Gavin really badly. I wasted 6 years of his life because some old hags told me that I would go to Hell if I had sex before I got married. I took his love, returned it half-heartedly and then threw it to the ground so that I could stomp all over it. All because of a sense of obligation and a selfish need not to be judged too harshly. New plan; no more obligations.
When I was 23 I made a new decision. If I ever find myself being with anything or anyone for any reason other than the fact that I love it and can’t bear to be without it, I need to get out. I need to pack my stuff and move along, before things get as out of hand as I allowed them to with Gavin. I need to give them or it the opportunity to find someone else to take my place. I’ve decided to trust my gut and my inner feelings regardless of what society says, thinks and approves of. This might mean that I never get married. It might mean that I do get married. Whatever it means I know that I need to be honest with myself about what I want and what I need in order to be happy and to keep those around me as happy as possible. My ideas, thoughts and feelings change as often (as the saying goes) as I change my panties, especially when it comes to the fairly contentious topic of marriage.
*Names have been changed.