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 living in London I used to do door-to-door sales as a way to earn money. In hindsight I earned nothing from it in terms of financial gain but I certainly have a few fantastic memories and experiences. In the company I worked for, there was the opportunity, if you were good enough, to work alone and open up your own branch of the main company. The only catch was that you had to make a lot of sales first. You needed to be pretty good at getting people to trust you and buy into what you were selling. Firstly you needed to reach the daily sales targets and then you could be in charge of a team of other sales people. Once you were a team leader you needed to make sure that all the people in your team reached their targets everyday and then after doing that for a while you got to open and run your own branch. It was hard work but apparently the benefits were well worth the effort.
The manager of the branch we worked at always told us that we wouldn’t make it unless we closed our back doors. What this meant was that we needed to put everything we had into our work. No holding back, we needed to be willing to become completely vulnerable and be ok with that in order to make targets and go big. We needed to keep our eye on the goal and be willing to walk towards our goal without looking back. The way he explained it was like this. When we embark on something new we keep a little escape hatch handy so that if it doesn’t work out we still have a way to save ourselves. When you start something new it’s easy to tell everyone you’re all in and to close the door that they entered through but you need to close your escape hatch too. Only once that’s closed will you be able to succeed in what you have set your mind to.
Getting married is the ultimate in closing that back door. You can’t leave when you are bored. If he sucks between the sheets you need to deal with it. Either you can talk to him about it or you can keep quiet and pretend you love making love to him. When he makes you angry, you can’t just get up and leave him. Maybe he has not put the toilet seat down and in your urgency to get to the toilet and have a wee you sit directly on the bowl. Maybe he hasn’t come home from work when he said he will. Maybe he keeps inviting his family over and keeps making excuses why yours shouldn’t visit. Whatever he has done to make you feel under-appreciated or worthless you can’t just leave him. Well not easily. Getting married is saying to him (and him saying to you) that you trust him completely with all your heart and mind. You know that he will look after you when you need him to and you know he’ll be completely honest with you (these are of course reversible). When you are married you need to try your best to make the relationship work, especially when it’s not quite meeting expectations. You can’t just leave when the other person stops making an effort. We all remember the first days of a new relationship. For us girls, our legs (and any other body part usually shaved) was kept smooth, consistently. We were always in a good mood when we saw him, even if we’d had a bad day. We made sure to keep the conversation sparkly even if we’d spent a long time with our new man. We always looked and smelled best. Once we got used to him though, it became perfectly acceptable to climb into bed next to him with the hairiest legs you’d ever set eyes on. It became easy and understandable to be in a bad mood over dinner, and even to take that bad mood out on him (assuming he didn’t cause the bad mood). Why is that ok? More importantly why don’t we think about these things when we get married? That is after all exactly what will happen in 5 years after the big day.
A friend of mine says that having kids a big deal. The things that don’t normally bother you when it’s just the 2 of you make you consider murder when a baby enters the house. She gave an example. You’re making dinner for the 2 of you and he is reading the newspaper. That’s ok, you don’t mind. Cooking isn’t an unenjoyable pastime. You wouldn’t say no to help but it’s not like you really need it. Now add a baby to the scenario. You are making dinner, he is reading the newspaper. Baby is crying, she wants a cuddle that’s all, but he refuses to get up and cuddle her. Well it’s not that he refuses his help; it’s more like he is completely oblivious to the sounds of her loneliness. As the childhood rhyme goes; Jill and man sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a golden carriage. Babies are a reality in the whole marriage story. When you get one you get the other. Why, you ask? It’s because people stop using condoms and other birth control devices.
On the topic of not using condoms I heard a horror story when I was at the tender age of 16. I was at the age when youth club at church was a pretty fun thing to go to. It was a good way to meet guys and a good way to get out of the house to hang out with them. This particular Friday evening, after a pretty thorough mouth examination by my boyfriend at the time using only his tongue, we went into the hall to hear the “message” of the evening. We all sat down and the youth pastor told us of a young woman from that particular church who saved her virginity till she got married. All her life she dreamed of meeting “The One” and when she did, she waited until the “Big Day” before she had sex with him. So far it was a pretty romantic story. They got married and they had babies, as you do. She had remained faithful to her husband throughout their marriage and she loved him dearly. One day during a routine medical check-up she discovered that she had HIV. How did she get HIV? She wasn’t using drugs, she waited until her wedding day to have sex and she stayed faithful to her husband. He, the swine, had decided that she wasn’t good enough between the sheets and had paid a prostitute for sex. Kick in the face. After telling her husband, indirectly, that she trusted him, he took that and gave her HIV. I can’t remember what the youth pastor’s point was in telling us about this because I was too busy considering her pain.
Closing your back door when it comes to love is a scary and horrifying thing to think about, let alone do. You need to be prepared to take the good with the bad. Marriage is not about a big party in a white dress that you dreamt about since you were 5 years old. It’s about the nitty gritty of building a life together with another person. But if you don’t close that back door in order to prevent the draft from blowing your love away will you keep a hold of that love and have a fulfilling relationship anyway? Does love need to be declared publicly and cemented in marriage registers for an eternity for it to be real? Is it really any of society’s business how I feel about you or how you feel about me? When you date someone it’s quite easy to keep that back door open. It is easy to make sure you have an escape route handy. It’s a lot harder to actually pull and lock that back door behind you though.